Yes, you read that correctly, I'm going to talk about strength.
My history with strength is that as a kid I was always winning those presidential physical fitness awards because I was very active. I could run long distances, I could do lots of pull ups, I was always the first to the top climbing the rope in gym class. When I tried out for the football team in high school the coaches looked at me, skinny, and probably thought no way, but I out-ran, out push-upped and out sit-upped all the other try-outs so they had to let me on the team. However, I was even more arrogant then than I am now and I figured why be on a team with all these out of shape losers, so I never went to practice.
I always had the philosophy that building muscle wasn't necessary, just do the thing and the body will give you what you need.
In the Sea Scouts I learned a different lesson from solo rowing with an over loaded boat in strong winds and choppy waters. Strength didn't work. What did work was perfectly smooth technique. I trained my rowing crew of 4, one small woman, one very small man, and another man, not so small but smaller than me. We raced heavy wooden whale boats against teams of 6 guys all bigger than me with big muscles and we won. They were just bending oars and messing each other up. We were smooth and steady.
In my 20's I was an animal. Dance, martial arts, bicycle riding 8 hours a day. I never tried to build muscle, I just did the thing. And I had the energy for it. Yes, after very intense work outs my body would hurt, but it always hurt so good!
In the realm of martial arts I did get muscles for a few years, but as I got more efficient the muscles got leaner and smoother. Standing practice, for an hour a day, also healed my injuries.
As the years went by my power got better, there are many ways of generating large amounts of power that do not require much muscle. And usually people with big muscles are at a sensitivity disadvantage, they don't feel the changes until it is too late.
But as I age the injuries keep piling up. In June I was backpacking with my wife and she was struggling a bit so I was taking more and more of the gear. Then we got on a route where there wasn't going to be water for two days, so I took enough water for both of us, 2 gallons. The day was very windy and I took a bad step injuring my knee. We had planned a lot more backpacking but my knee wasn't up to it. And then we did a huge amount of driving and I injured my lower back. Yikes.
Then a month went by, more driving, and nothing was healing. So I started getting bodywork and talking to my expert friends and finally things started healing. Then in September I was in a push hands game with someone who really did not want to lose. After I up rooted him, I put him back on his feet and he kicked me in the knee. Ow. I thought: I'm so dumb. Why did I agree to do this? Will I ever learn?
After that I was up at this Buddhist Center in Northern California working on my book, and clearing brush. It was often ice cold in the morning for my workouts and I ended up injuring my other knee too, which made my back hurt again. That was the first time in my life I had both knees injured at the same time.
None of this actually stopped me from working or moving, it wasn't that bad. But the healing was really slow.
All of this got me to reflect on all the crazy stuff I've done. Pushing my body into crazy pretzels. All of my dance teachers were adamant that we should never dance on concrete, that it would kill our knees. But I was doing martial arts outside on concrete everyday. I learned to land softly. I figured it was fine. I also did Kathak, North Indian Classical Dance, which was an exception to the rule about dancing on concrete. Kathak is done with five pounds of bells on each ankle and barefoot. Hard smooth surfaces like polished concrete or marble simply make the best sounds. And like clapping with your hands, you can make loud crisp sounds with your feet without hurting your them. But sometimes, I got carried away and brused the bones of my feet.
Anyway I did that fight group in Seattle over Thanksgiving. I was playing a version of mercy with a guy much bigger than me. It is a technical trick, it doesn't require strength. But I realized the guy's hands were so strong that even if he couldn't submit me, he might break the bones in my hand. Yikes. And afterwards I really felt that having big relaxed muscles in a well trained body is not the same as just having big muscles.
So I am here in the Southern Sierra of California in a cabin, still working on my book. It occurred to me that the injuries I got caused me to significantly limit my movement, and I probably lost a lot of strength. Strength I never thought about training because I always just had it.
So I've been doing this experiment with strength, it has pretty much healed my injuries in two weeks. Wow.
Here is what I did. Normal martial arts workouts but with the intention of building muscle. In other words, inefficient movement. I decided to build up my thighs for instance, engaging the muscles which normally would make the stances harder to do and reduce my range of motion. But a funny thing happened. The muscles just got big and then got out of the way. I realized that with big thigh muscles things like bridges and backbends are easier. So I started building up my biceps and triceps and doing pull ups and handstand push ups and stuff like that too.
The thing is I really know how to completely relax, so even with bigger muscles they aren't getting in the way, they are just adding protection. In a sense I'm not using them, they are just hanging on as support.
And here is the kicker. All that qigong and daoyin stuff hadn't been doing much for me for quite awhile. I long ago fully integrated it into everything I do so it was redundant. But qigong works wonders on muscle. I've been pulling out all my old "healing" tricks.
The assumption that tendons and ligaments can do most of the job of muscles was correct, and the efficiency and whole body connection and increased range of motion that comes with that approach are all real, and worth doing. And there are a lot of cool tricks to be learned from using tendons and ligaments instead of muscle. But the combination of many years of practice and age takes a toll on those soft tissues. (I think there are significant hormone shifts that effect changes in soft tissue too, also part of aging.)
I lost my jump! And I was a jumper, I used to do long strings of split leaps and straddle jumps in rhythm across the dance floor hitting the top of my jumps on the beat. Where did my jump go?
So we will see if I can get that back. Live and learn.
Feel free to offer thoughts or advice. I think I'm a beginner again.