Conditioning has now become one of the primary ways we think about the world. It is not enough to learn good habits, we have to make them permanent. People ask questions like: How can we condition people to put their garbage in the trash? To not over eat? To work more productively? To not run red lights? To get on an airplane efficiently? To smile?
Sports, physical therapy, and parenting are all dominated by theories of conditioning. I did some boxing yesterday with gloves and mitts, issuing combinations of punches as the trainer calls them out. The whole idea is to condition a response in a cycle that is intense for 3 minutes and then rests for 1 minute. Release a combination when you see an opening, get your body out of the way when you are attacked.
Medicine is moving fast in the direction of conditioning. Like drugs that condition a particular response from the body. And more shockingly, we now have genetic engineering and stem cell research predicated on the idea that we can grow people the way we want them.
People are even trying to condition their hair!
I'm anti-conditioning. I believe in doing things form the inside out. If I said, "I believe in beginning from the heart," you could accuse me of being a silly romantic. But it's not because I want to bring out genius, or preserve mystery, I just prefer spontaneous unconditioned responses.
I try to teach people to have unconditioned responses. For me, teaching Shaolin to kids is about meeting completely self possessed human beings and presenting them with a tool they can use to keep their bodies unconditioned. A tool for countering or side-stepping conditioning. When a student enters the room the first thing they do is bow. The act of bowing is a declaration that only completely self possessed acts will happen in this room. Students are not permitted to say the words "I can't" because those words mean "something outside of you is in control." Teaching is not something one gives away, it is too difficult for that. It is something students must take for themselves.
In Chinese the term ziran means unconditioned and is often used to describe great art. It means: natural, so-of-itself, and spontaneous. There is even a style of gongfu called Ziranquan (Natural fist) famous for its loose light stepping. (Sun Yat-sen used a Ziranquan guy for his personal bodyguard.)
There is a fine line between super-high-level internal martial arts conditioning and a completely unconditioned, spontaneous, ziran response. It is the same fine line I have talked about before between "perfection," and "wuwei."
For instance, there are three approaches to jindan, the Daoist golden elixir (meditation/alchemy).
1. We could have the embarrassing idea popularized by Mantak Chia that we are moving qi around the micro-cosmic orbit (up the back and down the front), for no particular reason except "orgasmic power." That would be a type of qi conditioning, an act of inviting external forces to possess you.
2. Or we could have the perfection model of jindan, where through perfect visualization and embodiment of various deities and their attributes we become acutely aware of simultaneous movement and stillness. Here specific pathways of qi circulation become the measure of that swing between movement and stillness. That would be transcendent conditioning.
3. Or we could just naturally trust being still.