Tree Climbing and Lightness Skills

The conversation started on a dark note. When I was kid we climbed trees all the time. I made amazing tree houses, often way up high in the trees. We climbed every type of tree. I would climb up the bark into trees that had no low branches. Lot's of kids were great tree climbers, even in a city like San Francisco where I grew up. Lot's of men and women my age have stories about being high up in the trees, escaping adults, spying, seeing incredible views. Now people give classes on how to climb trees. 

But where does one go with this momentary darkness? The marketing for tree climbing is two fold. There is the romantic idea that natural movement is better. That brings in a lot of people, but it is an intellectual dead end. If it is natural what do you teach. "Hey, climb this tree! Okay, that is the extent of my curriculum, now figure it out yourself." Interestingly, the second half of the marketing is modernist. The evolution of human movement and its relationship to physiology, functional strength, or spontaneous adaptability.  That can be a very cool conversation, but is likely an intellectual dead end too. The human body is always going to be more complex than any theory or methodology.  

The problem isn't a problem, the people teaching tree climbing are wonderfully creative, they are optimistic business people and movement innovators. But still, the part of me that thrives on a healthy helping of conceptual ideas and original frameworks wants a new way to think about this. I'm putting it out there, maybe someone else would like to think about it and share their thoughts.

But as fate would have it. All this thinking about tree climbing got me to climb some trees. Tree climbing is one of the best exercises imaginable. I've been climbing and hanging from horizontal limbs everyday for about a month. It seems like this is the missing piece of what are called lightness skills (qingjin) in traditional Chinese martial arts. The internal martial arts, especially baguazhang, have lots of stories about lightness skills, but I've never met anyone teaching them.  Perhaps I'm going to be the first.

Hanging from a tree limb by arms and legs tones the yin side of the body and frees the spine. It develops the cross body patterns (opposite arm and leg). It develops head and tail extension and release.  It is like magic. It is immediately applicable to advanced martial arts skills.