I often hear martial artists talk about compression as one of the ways of gathering power, particularly in the joints.  The idea is that one can compress energy and then release it against an opponent.  This technique works.  But it has some big flaws that can be exploited, it is fragile.  When an opponent compresses themselves they create a moment of rigidity.  Whenever an opponent is rigid they are vulnerable to either being broken by a big mass crashing into them, or having their connection to the ground broken by a tiny bit of upward movement.  Even more embarrassing, if I can add some weight to an opponent’s self-compression they may tiddlywink themselves backwards or simply collapse.  

So one of the reasons all internal marital artists practice shrinking and expanding is to ensure that we can shrink without the slightest bit of compression.  This by itself has intrinsic healing ability.

In my experience, compression is painful if practiced a lot, and tends to wear out the joints.  It is probably harmful to the internal organs and I suspect it creates a lot of negative emotion.  

Yes, compression can be used for generating power but its downside is nearly unlimited while its upside is small and over rated.  (Kind of like fruit cake:)

Invest in Loss

I've written about this topic before, Not Your Grandmother’s Tai Chi and here too.  And I recommend you go over to the Yang Family Tai Chi forum and read what the expert translators say "Invest in Loss" means.

Here is the question:  

I am told of a quote from Cheng Man-ching, "Moreover, a beginner cannot possibly avoid losing and defeat, so if you fear defeat you may as well not even begin. If you want to study, begin by investing in loss. An investment in loss eliminates any greed for superficial advantages... Concentrating your ch'i to become soft is the only proper method to invest in loss." translation by Mark Hennessy.

"Invest in loss" is an expression which has become very widespread as a part of any English language explanation of tai chi push-hands.  As Louis Swaim explains in the link above, it is actually two characters, eat and loss (chi kui).  And that any fluent Chinese speaker would hear it as closely related to the ubiquitous phrase, eat bitter (chi ku).  

The problem is to make it apply to tai chi practice.  As I said in my first link above, I believe the phrase implies willingly losing as a method of learning better ways of moving and fighting.

For example, take a better position by moving your foot, without letting your opponent know that is what you are doing.  Use your mind in tricky ways.  Plan, not to win but to cheat.  

I also like thinking that Cheng Man-Ching knew he was in New York City and knew what a bear market strategy was.  He was aware that he was talking to Americans and liked a translation that had the term 'invest' in it.  Invest in loss sounds like a short sale on the stock options market.  Why not make money while you're losing?  Americans will understand that.

But I also had the great fortune to read Paul A. Cohen's book Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-Century China , which explains the origin of "eat bitter."  The premise of the book is that the Goujian story is as well known to all Chinese as Cinderella is to Americans.  And yet, most foreigners who become fluent in Chinese never have an opportunity to learn the story or to contemplate it's meaning.  The expression "eat bitter" is often explained as a rough equivalent of "pay your dues," or Muhammad Ali's "Don't quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion" or "misery has its merits."  Except that it is often explained that Chinese people kind of expect to suffer and don't necessarily expect a reward later on, although they may hope for one.  I have often heard that in the context of learning, "eating bitter" is a byproduct of dedication and subordination to a worthy teacher.  

But Paul Cohen turns all that on its head because the story of Goujian is very straight forward.  He was conquered and he totally accepted the most humiliating subordination for years before getting his kingdom back by trickery.  Then he secretly plotted a strategy of total revenge over 20 years.  The way he kept himself focussed on the task of revenge was by wearing furs in summer and going bare chested in winter, and by hanging an extremely bitter gallbladder from his doorway which he would lick every time he walked under it.  So eating bitter, or eating loss, means to accept defeat publicly while secretly planning totally revenge.  

That fits very nicely with my understanding of "invest in loss."  Let your opponent think he won, but position yourself to break his legs.  


As an aside, I am very sympathetic to those who wish to see push-hands as a way to transmit non-aggression or even non-intention, giving up control and letting go of self-assertion.  But I think the "game of push-hands" is at best a tool, if people are using it to improve skill or attain attributes they are likely to charge right past such open ended forms of daoist fruition.  The dao of wuwei has no method, no requirements and no form.


Irony Alert!  After having written the above text, I spent about two hours editing it and added another section.  The stuff I said was totally awesome, like the best writing I’ve ever done, and it was full of secrets too.  And then I hit the cancel button by mistake...I guess that’s what happens when you title a post “invest in loss.”  

I’ll just tag a few more lines on here but I just don’t have the time to re-do it.


As another aside, (and I've written about this a bit in the first link up top)  Dominance is in our genetic code.  A two week old goat has good rooting and uprooting skills because they use those skills to establish social dominance.  We are the same except we also establish dominance verbally, spatially, with money, with knowledge, with mates, etc....  So when people set out to learn martial arts they naturally frame it as a dominance exercise.  Complicating things, self-defense is not about dominance, but violence professionals like prison guards, bouncers, and police are often required by their job to assert dominance so a lot of dominance training gets totally mixed up with the larger subject of martial arts.  

Push hands can be a fun dominance and submission game.  I concede that.  It is dominance by either superior skill, sensitivity or mysterious qi cultivation. The Cheng Man-Ching school, the school most responsible for popularizing the expression "Invest in Loss," tends to teach push hands as a dominance game.  They are often so hell bent on not losing that they collapse their chests in a desperate effort to evade.  This is a tragedy because with the loss of upright posture there is a profound loss of fruition.  

When people practice push hands with perfect upright they completely discard pushing!  From there effortlessness and stillness are revealed.  Non-aggression, wuwei, our true nature (de), all manifest spontaneously. 


Quoting from Wikipedia:

The OODA loop has become an important concept in both business and military strategy. According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain the advantage.


There isn’t all that much to say.  Training can shorten your loops, allowing you to get inside a less trained person’s loop.  Fast loops are good, slow loops are bad. Being unpredictable even to the point of chaos is generally an advantage if it keeps forcing the opponent to re-loop without being able to execute an effective action.

The problem with martial arts games of all types (wrestling, boxing, MMA, push-hands) from a fighting point of view is that they limit you.  When you have a lot of training and you are suddenly confronted with a new set of rules which deny you those training options or action, you will likely get stuck.  Why?  Because you train for speed, and when you train for speed certain conditions will trigger a certain kind of action.  If you train to pull off particular types of set-ups, or throws or strikes, your body will just start doing them when the opening appears.  If the rule set doesn’t allow it, you will have to spend a second stopping your body from making the move.  Your mind can get stuck making sure that you really aren't allowed to do what your body has trained to do.  Your body won’t believe that it isn't allowed to do that thing which has worked so well in the past until it has had time to adjust to the new set of rules.

If you are training self-defense, you are training people to break the rules, to do the unexpected, to temporarily abandon social constraints.  

This is related to the observation that oftentimes martial artists aren’t able to use their training in a surprise attack. The conditions just don’t seem right, you’d have to keep telling yourself, yes, go, do it now.  The second time you get attacked it probably has a better chance of working, but who gets surprise attacked twice now-a-days?  

The OODA loop is also important for training to win games in which both people are trained with the same set of rules.  It is still possible to be faster and more difficult to predict.  There are also things you can do to disorient or shock your opponent.  A great deal of tai chi is focuses on the disorientation aspect of the OODA loop.  


One of the interesting training questions that comes up in partner work is the distance vs. action ratio.  Acting first usually trumps waiting because it forces the opponent to re-loop, dealing with an attack rather than attacking.  But if you are ready for an attack there is a certain distance where any action is a mistake because it will reveal your intent too soon, giving the opponent time and options for a powerful response.  This is why in Greco-roman wrestling, for instance, there are these long stand-offs where both wrestlers are waiting for the other person to make a mistake.   Swords and knives have this quality too, as long as both parties want to avoid getting cut any thrust of the knife makes the hand vulnerable to attack.  Tai Chi is famous for playing in this close quarters realm where whoever acts first loses.  But of course a player of great skill will disorient their opponent on contact.


OK I've said enough about that.  It came up a while back with Tabby Cat, who has a new video.

The problem is obvious if you watch it.  The guy Tabby is pushing with looks like a loaded gun forced to keep the "safety" on.  He sees ways to act, but then remembers he isn't allowed to do that: OODA loop shut down.  It's very different then two people who train with the same set of rules.  There is something else important and valuable to see here, namely that Tabby is easily uprooting his opponent by using his opponent's tension.  It is a very difficult skill to learn because you have to comprehend what is happening and melt all the tension in your body.  But what I always look for in a Tai Chi guy is, can they do it in the form?  Can they do it in a big range of motion?  Can they do it to the side?  Up, down, left, right, front, back, circle? From behind?  On the ground? or over their head?  (While sipping tea is my goal.) Notice he only has the skill upward from a low position close to the body.  That would be the easiest position.  Sort of like treading water in the deep end of the pool.  Swimming in the arctic it ain't.  

Anyway that is my conceited opinion and that is what I was thinking when I got to the later part of the video where he wraps the red pregnancy cloth around his arms.  OK perhaps it is because I've been doing too much relaxation of deep unconscious tension lately, but when I saw that, I just about busted a gut!  Now that we know you can tread water in the deep end, why not try it in the kiddie pool!


Well, if you've read this far I have a little treat for you which is mostly unrelated.  I have been thinking about advice to give beginners who what to go far in internal martial arts.  Here is my advice.  Don't try to make any technique work.  It is quite counter intuitive, but the problem is, if you try to make a technique work you will be conditioning yourself to feel either 1) a type of active resistance, or 2) success.  The problem with the feeling of active resistance is that when you actually have the internal gongfu you won't feel any resistance.  The problem with the success feeling is that when your technique fails in a violent confrontation you are likely to freeze.  Now I don't know from experience that the feeling of success in a flaw, but my gut tells me it is.  Anyway, to win by force is a mistake.  What we want is that you just practice the techniques, if there is resistance change, if not keep going.  In the beginning it is the outer forms that really matter.  Know the technique, don't try to make it work.  A subtle difference perhaps, but I'm finding it is a powerful teaching key.

Theory and Metaphor in Martial Arts

I’ve been trying to write about theory for a few weeks.  The problem is simple, but explaining the problem is not. The problem is that martial arts theories are built on metaphors.  Notice that in the previous sentence we have three metaphors.  “Built” is the most obvious one here, implying that a foundation is laid followed by a construction project.  Another metaphor in the sentence is “problem,” implying perhaps a puzzle requiring contemplation, or alternately an agent causing systematic disruption.  In addition we have “martial” and “arts” nagging for explication, “martial” implying war, and “arts” implying the harnessing of beauty while piling up skills.   

But if we look back at that sentence the most challenging term is “metaphors.”  All theory is built on metaphors, mental constructs in place of actual experiences.  Someone might protest at this point that martial arts can only be based on physics.  But physics is made up of metaphors too; we are a liquid body of mass filled with solids of various densities, structured along lines of potential force and contained by a semi-porous wrapping with an elastic surface tension.  To make that description of the human body useful in martial arts practice it has to be both simplified and abstracted so that possibilities and probabilities can be measured and predicted.  It is a lot more efficient and useful to just say, “Your finger on the end of your arm is the pool cue, and his eye is the ball.”

Metaphors are always imperfect because kinesthetic experiences are far more complex than language.  I suppose someone might want to challenge that statement, but even if we could speak in a language as complex as kinesthetic experience it would have to be robust enough to survive the learning and testing process.  And then there are mundane concepts like communication breakdown.  

So it follows that if we clearly understand a metaphor and we diligently put it into practice, it will fail.  It will fail because it was imperfect to begin with.  It was an inaccurate description of form, method and fruition.  A quick example: Many martial arts schools use the metaphor of circulation, but all the substances which are known to circulate in the body circulate too slowly to be useful outside of passive processes.  If in this case circulate is meant to refer to forces from an opponent being returned to the opponent, the liquid aspect of the metaphor “circulate” is an inadequate description of the aspects of structure and mind necessary to accomplish this function.

The majority of Tai Chi classes are containers for the trivial.  I recently heard about a teacher who had created three “new” tai chi forms, one for diabetes, one for Alzheimer's, and one for Parkinson's disease.  My first thought was, “Wow, cute.”  No doubt there is some talismanic effect from self-selecting to learn and practice a form which has a specific health benefit.  Unless of course you are that person who thinks, “Hey, I did my my diabetes form today, bust out the triple chocolate cake!”

In most of these trivial classes the students simply follow the teacher through the form and get an occasional posture correction.  The same metaphors are repeated ad nauseum; relax, root, flow, spiral, sink, be stable like a mountain, flow like a river.   

The same is true for most martial arts classes.  There is very little metaphor analysis going on.  Some schools frown on talking in class at all.  Some students just want exercise, their base metaphor being, “I am a machine that gets rusty and needs motion and heat (oil?) to maintain optimal functioning.”  Some schools cater to parents metaphorical expectations that their child will become either a robotic fighting machine or a caring disciplined servant of all that is true and good.  Some schools take enormous pride in maintaining the same metaphors over time.  Some schools are proud of their simplicity, others of their clarity.  The more systematic the approach, the more entrenched the metaphors will be.  Rotary Engine

Thus, those of us who can actually think kinesthetically are constantly changing the metaphors we use.  We need to use one metaphor to test another.  The process involves continuously reformulating and refining the metaphors we use, while also pairing and juxtaposing them to birth new metaphors and kill off old ones.

The process of training should allow metaphors to be replaced by precise feelings and experiences.  But both the maintenance of skills as well as the teaching of skills requires that metaphors function as containers for kinesthetic knowledge.  The same is true for those metaphors which define our identity.  The freer we are, the freer we are to change and adapt the metaphors we live by.  

The identity piece is also important because the martial arts we practice transit between cultures which often have different deeply embedded metaphors which can act either as  lubricants or friction in the transmission of ideas.  (For example Chinese language posits that time is a man facing backwards, while English posits time is a man facing forwards.)

I know for sure that if a teacher can describe a kinesthetic experience with perfect clarity it is wrong and it will fail.  It may however, be very, very useful.  Lion's Head Meatballs

Playing with Majia and swords yesterday, she offered the metaphor that if you put your arm too far out to the side it will get ground up in a blender.  Metaphors are so much fun.  George Xu has a similar one; cut off your opponent’s arm with your spinning airplane propeller.  He has a whole bunch of new and unusual metaphors, as well as reformulated and recycled ones.  For instance, be a giant meatball hanging in the sky.  (I believe he is referring to Lion’s Head Meatballs, yum!)  Or, be a tree trunk falling on your opponent when you chop.  Also, use your rotary engine against his piston engine.  And, punch him with three heads and six arms while being empty like Romeo staring at Juliet as it begins to snow.  

Please share your favorite martial arts metaphors.

Balance is Key

If someone gives me a surprise shove I will likely do a quick jump or stumble and quickly recover my balance on two feet.  The same is true for most people, it’s not a special skill.  No other animal can stand on two feet and take a shove with out falling down, even bears have a high falling down rate.  When we learn to walk as toddlers we naturally train our dantian’s to do this complex job.  The recovery of balance is lightning fast.  If I contemplate the physics of it, there must be an internal counterbalance functioning unconsciously.  Somehow my mass absorbs all the momentum of the push and moves my center of mass very quickly back and forth, up and down and left and right until it is directly above my feet again.  Again, it is too fast to perceive.  What I am aware of is the space around me, perhaps sharp objects, the surface of the ground, a wall or a tree.  My guess is that if I misperceived a slanted wall as vertical, or a sloping ground as level, I might actually fall down or stumble for a bit longer.  But a functioning spatial mind can make corrections very quickly.  In fact, it might actually function better at high speeds.  How else could we explain the ability to run through a forest down a steep hill.  The spatial mind controls the dantian, as a counterweight, unconsciously and instantaneously, bringing us back to balance.  

This basic function of the dantian can be transferred to higher order skills like skiing, carrying a long ladder through an obstacle course, rock climbing or gymnastics.  Of course, all animals have a similar skill which they use on four feet or in the air if they are birds.  

Normal humans however, only use the dantian for this one type of task.  When we throw a ball, or pick up a pen to write our name, we are using our brains in a very different way.  Or, like when we are rock climbing, we use the same set of balance and vertical orientation skills simply applied in a different context.  

Pure Internal Martial Arts are unique because they use the dantian to respond to forces other than gravity.  To paraphrase George Xu, “When you touch any part of my body, you are touching the dantian.”  The best video demonstration of this I know of is this one by Ma Yue Liang:


Not everyone can learn internal martial arts (that would be communism), but proof that nearly everyone has a functioning dantian is apparent in our natural ability to recover our balance.  


Martial Arts Lifestyle

I often find myself, willingly I suppose, in conversations where the notion of martial arts is limited.  I'm speaking here about the expectations of whom ever I'm conversing with.  If someone where to randomly ask me, "Hey, what do you think martial arts are all about?"  I'd be like, "I could easily give you a satisfying definition of all the elements of martial arts in a 22 hour lecture format."  And after pointing loosely to the theatrical, the actual fighting skills, the religious, the healing, the asocial, the psycho-social, the sensory-somatic-developmental, the intuitive, the improvisational, the heroic, and of course the hermit-culture ways of thinking about the arts--I might elicit this response, "Oh, you mean, like, martial arts lifestyle! yeah, cool."Self-defense Style

Wait a second.  Is that what I mean?  Not to be confused with self-defense lifestyle, I suppose.  Or the tai chi lifestyle.  

In any case, it seems really important to get the fashion correct.  I wonder about the possible usefulness of leggings, explained here, there may be some health benefits, and I would think that wraps made out of leather, silk and chain might be the next big thing in urban armor.  And I came across this umbrella page too, not really my thing but moving in the right direction.

China Beat, the blog, just gave up the scene.  The final post was a bit unfocussed, something about Twitter and social networking having made blogging uncool.  It hurts a bit.  I mean, I don't where we are going!  But the idea that I might be a representative of some kind of lifestyle is intriguing.  

I keep hearing about people who don't have jobs right now, and I'm thinking, what is a job?  Is there such a thing as job lifestyle?  Back in June I moved to the Montclair part of Oakland, California. It is like a Daoist paradise up here.  The gentle fog floats down in the valleys and all I see is a sea of spiralling mists with scattered trees poking up from the abyss.  I can sit out on my luxurious deck and absorb the warm, fresh, quiet air.  It's not that I'm consciously avoiding being busy in my languid effortlessly inspirational purple mist, it's just that the rest of the world is doing something important.  (Even my wife is doing acupuncture and milking goats.)

The idea of "lifestyle," may trigger a bit of ironic caution in me but it is a potent force none-the-less.  I remember living in San Francisco in the 1970's when you couldn't walk anywhere without stepping in dog poo.  It was a constant struggle to survive.  Perhaps we cursed the dogs, or the dog owners, but there was an inevitably about it.  It wasn't until people with a gay lifestyle decided it was cool to pick up dog poo that the average person started to think, "Hey this is a whole group thing we're doing here, we can end this!" And now it's gone.  A change in lifestyle, is a change in the social-mind fabric of spatial rightness and wrongness.

So that's what I'm thinking about, I'm thinking about the martial arts lifestyle, how can I make it happen?  I'm not sure what the elements are yet, but I'll take a jab at it.

Fashion is big, fashion is communication.  People who see us need to know we are living the martial arts lifestyle.  A type of loose fitting but strong pants? A hat that can be manipulated for view obscuring, or to draw fire?  A "business" knife?  A think-twice-about-that pencil? Nearly barefoot shoes?  A swagger? Clothing that rips easily? or perhaps indestructible tyvek?  Short hair or long? a top knot? Stretchy and tight fitting clothes or loose and flowing?  And what kind of bag is best?  Is there a martial arts smell?  Look, it is already obvious to me when a person has a bit of mojo, if we make it into a recognisable look, how far away could consciousness raising be?  

Obviously it isn't just about fashion.  It is about practice.  And practice is about making time.  

Ah time, we all knew it would come to this.  Birth on one side, death on the other.  I have stumbled into a career of sorts, teaching martial arts.  My enthusiasm drives me even more than guilt.  I'm like a kid in a candy shop, an archeologist in a tomb, a mountaineer on an ice waterfall! And yet, teaching ain't easy.  The world changes around us.  I started out as an artist, I did ceramics at the high school of the arts and then I moved into dance.  I started thinking pretty early about how I could get the time to be an artist.  How I could be free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to do it.  In the early 1990's before the Berlin Wall came down, there was a big fuss about the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  People were getting government money to make a type of art that was pretty offensive to a large swath of the tax paying public.  There was a lot of protest art being made, in general; I participated in a bunch of "no limits on what gets funded" performance projects.  For instance I danced naked at the LA Arts Festival and the Berkeley Art Museum, did the mud-people thing crawling through the financial district, weird public sex rituals, I'll spare you the details.  Fun stuff, inspired movement, iconic imagery, heck I don't know, whatever; but I came out of it thinking, "You know, I don't really see why people should pay for me to dance naked if they don't want to."  See I'm all for self expression, and breaking boundaries, and cutting edge, and protest, and offending the freaking pants off of people, but it just doesn't follow that government should be leveraged to that effect.  Some people argue that controversial protest art wouldn't get made if the government didn't fund it.  (Cricket sounds.)

Leg WrapsSo to make a long story short, if you want to practice, and have a martial arts lifestyle, you've got to get your money-time-eat-sleep-love-matrix in order.  Most people think they can show up to a martial arts class and just start learning martial arts.  But it doesn't work that way.  This is where I have to admit I have often failed my students.  The students who figure out how to practice on their own, usually have had some experience overcoming a profound obstacle to draw on.  The practice-every-day model that most music teachers try to instill is a good place to start, so is the meditate-for-an-hour-without-fail gig American Buddhists have going.  One would think that all the discipline we encounter in the world of sports and athletics would translate to a practice, but unfortunately these people are often motivated by a team, and even when they are deeply self-motivated they are often so aggressively goal oriented that the idea of practicing without a goal is too much of a leap.  The other problem with people who already have lots of movement training, dancers included, is that they are going to have to un-learn.  Un-learning is identity destroying.  To use George Xu's rather crude analogy, you have to un-pack your sausage.  Sausage, in this case, being a metaphor for muscles and minds conditioned to move in a certain way.  

In this Twitter-text(oid)-chillax moment, private lessons are all the rage.  Once upon a time, private students would get a time slot in my week, but now spontaneous flex-time is the norm.  Hey, I'm cool with it.  I'm thinking of making everything a private lessons.  In a way, I'm already doing it.  I mean, if you are going to a class, no matter what they call it, it's external martial arts.  Internal martial arts is taught one to one, period.  Even if I'm teaching a group, the instruction moves around the room, from person to person.  This, by the way, is another factor which disorients students who think they are doing exercise.  Internal martial arts might make you sweat now and then, but it isn't exercise in the sense of follow me, and now do twenty of these.  That's all a head fake.  Internal martial arts is about spontaneity and spatial mind flow.  

Okay, hold it right there!  I'm admitting I'm near the bottom and I don't know where we are going.  There are some very accomplished teachers out there who have fallen into traps.  Some become bitter, badgering their students for not being smart, or aware, or disciplined enough.  Some teachers of the internal martial arts claim enlightenment.  Some say you must do it their way!  Meaning that they try to make you feel guilty for going on a non-internal hike with your husband over the weekend, or a non-internal swim at the pool.  Yikes, it seems like there is this fence we're walking on, to one side it's all head-fakes and curriculum and goals and on the other side it's exclusive fidelity to a teacher's systematic, precious, transcendent ideology.  

Hey, at least I know where I'm not going!  That's where I got the idea for Martial Arts Cafe!  There are no rules yet.  If you want to come to a meeting of the Martial Arts Cafe send me an email and I'll let you know when it's happening next.  A space to fight, unlearn, drink coffee, and deliberately develop a martial arts lifestyle.

Cooling Gloves

There is some new technology coming our way from Stanford.  They claim it is better than steroids.  The article is excellent, please read the whole thing.  Temperature is the primary limitation on muscle performance and now they think they understand why and how to work around it.  Strength training is about to enter a new era.

In a previous post I outlined my new theory which posits that there are two categories of movement, energy efficient and power efficient.  

Power efficient movement doesn't make us sweat, it doesn't make us over heat, it doesn't give us sore muscles and it doesn't wear down the soft tissues of our bodies.  It can make us very tired, but we'll just want to find a place to lay down and sleep.  Like a cat.

Energy efficient movement allows us to walk or run for long periods of time.  It also allows us to work with our hands, carry things, and multi-task.  All these activities induce fatigue, pain, and stress.  At the risk of over simplifying I will venture that when we build muscle we are almost always doing it within an energy efficient framework.  Personal trainers have identified a long list of different types of muscle training and "conditioning" each requiring different regimes.  But repetition is the key.  We seem to be "made" for fatigue, pain, and stress because we adapt to it very easily.  Not only that, but in concentrated bursts it seems to improve our mood, and plays a significant social role in mate acquisition and status displays.  

The key to power efficient training, is to not trigger this adaptive response!  We still use repetition, but our key purpose is to refine a specific feeling and then take that feeling into more lively dynamic movement.  That "feeling" is a process of refining signals of awareness which allow us to glimpse or encircle that which has no feeling, true effortlessness.  

So we march off into this brave new world with "no limits" on adaptive capacity and with "no limits" imposed by fatigue or heat.  Where will this leave us?  How soon will we bash up against the new limits?  Because they are coming.  I'm not an expert or anything but one of the rules of systems theory is that if you speed up or improve the efficiency of just one part of a complex system, you slow the whole system down.  

I'm excited by the new possibilities, but I'm concerned that the kind of training I've been doing is drifting further away from the mainstream, not closer.  So much for the meeting of East and West.  Non-aggression, returning to stillness, and spontaneous naturalness won't disappear because we are the valley floor, but effort and aggression keep finding ways to climb higher.


(hat tip to Geoff)

Yin Yang

I wouldn't be a martial artist at all if I didn't love the "doi!" moments where I hit my self-on the forehead because I've just realized how wrongly I've been practicing for x number of years.  That's because those moments are transitions to new freedoms.  

Yinyang theory is among the most basic aspects of North Asian cosmology so I'm not going t go into it here because most of my readers already know it.

What got me excited is that I suddenly came to understand the yin and yang meridians in a way I never had before.  Or rather, I put together a bunch of discrete experiences into a coherent whole.  So I'll just make a list.

Zhang Xuexin taught that qi rises up the meridians on the insides and back of the legs, then moves to the yang meridians coming up the the back over the head and out along the tan side of the arms, and then comes from the palms inward along the yin meridians of the arms and down the face and then down the front of the body and then, moves down the yang meridians of legs which are on the outside edges and along the front.  Kumar Frantzis taught the same thing.  And generally this is part of any heaven-earth qigong series.  

Liu Ming expained that meridian flow, like the flow of qi in meditation, happens by itself, of its own accord, effort only inhibits it.

Markus Brinkman, on his roof in Taiwan, explained and demonstrated channel theory as it applies to martial arts using a finger counting system.  He was astonished at how fast I picked it up.  I puzzled on it for awhile and did a bunch of experiments.  The idea is that force is generated, defused/transformed and transmitted along specific groups of meridians in sequence.  The theory is in this book: Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine Wang Ju-Yi's Lectures on Channel Therapeutics

I figured out through my own experiments that the yang meridians are better for defense and yin meridians are better for attacking.  In the language of tai chi, pengjin takes force on the yang meridians, jijin issues force via the yin meridians.  A corollary for this is that yin is gathered when our structure is organized towards the inside edge of the feet, yang is gathered when our structure is organized towards the outside edge of the feet.  

In an attempt to reduce all structural power (jin/jing) in my body I figured out that I could put my foot down during baguazhang walking as if it were a vacuum cleaner, allowing qi to draw inward as my foot takes weight. 

George Xu said to me sometime in the last year, "The yin and yang meridians have different jobs."

Anyway, all this fit together for me recently.  All these things have to happen at once --simultaneously and continuously.  Without this piece, we can not achieve an 'I know you, you don't know me,' situation.  Without the crystal clear differentiation of the roles of the yin and yang meridians, the dantian can not do its job of meeting our opponent before our mass does.  

It wasn't that hard to say, and no doubt, I believed many times over the years that I understood it intellectually and physically.  But until it was happening in my body under the pressure of testing and resistance, it was just words.  

There are so many ways to be wrong, it feels good to get a few more of them out of the way.


• For more background read this article on making a sandwich.  Or for tai chi structure theory read this. For the concept and rationale of reducing jing/jin read here.