No ‘ski jump’ at the bottom

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I saw something on Facebook recently, which went along the lines of “The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t create cures, it creates customers“. This is quite true.


As I mentioned in a recent post, now that I’m back in Beijing, and no longer in the ‘permananent crisis’ life of the last few years, I have a few health issues. Of course, I’ve gone to a Western doctor, and am taking medication. Equally obviously, this won’t cure anything, and isn’t intended to; the doctor only talks about ‘managing the symptoms’. Well excuse me, but screw that – I want to get better!

So apart from the herbal tea I got from a TCM doctor, I’ve been for deep-organ massage at a traditional Chinese “blind man” massage clinic, which was followed by cupping. Call it coincidence if you like, and I’m sure many will, but the fact remains that I saw an immediate improvement in my condition, and I’ll continue to go for these treatments. I’ll also need to keep going with the taijiquan, naturally, as I’m pretty sure that’s also helped.

This was the first time I’d been treated with cupping, so afterwards I decided to look it up, and see how it works. The very short answer is that the vacuum inside the cup pulls a lot of internal tissue upwards, thus acting as a kind of ‘reverse massage”. It was rather surprising to learn that cupping isn’t only a Chinese treatment; apparently it was a part of Western medicine until comparatively recently, and is still widely used throughout the old Soviet bloc. I saw people with the characteristic skin markings of cupping while I was living in St. Petersburg, and had just assumed they’d been to a Chinese clinic, but perhaps not…

Something I found very, very interesting during my Googling was this article in the Daily Mail: Is ‘cupping’ a miracle cure or the silliest celebrity health fad ever?. As one would expect, it has lots of eminent scientists and doctors dismissing traditional medicine. The interesting statement, though, was this, from David Colquhoun, who is apparently a Professor of Pharmacology at University College London:

“There are many medical conditions — back pain being one of them — that we can’t do much about, or even find out what the cause is. That’s sad, but spending thousands on something as daft as cupping won’t help”.

I read that, and I thought really? What combination of complacency, ignorance… and arrogance.

For what it’s worth, I had chronic back pain for years, in my left shoulderblade and in the lower back. I now know exactly what caused it, and it was cured by standing in zhan zhuang as part of my yiquan training. I assume that Professor Colquhoun would assert that it never happened, or that the pain was never there in the first place, or something.

Anyway, I was reminded of this by an article that also popped up on Facebook this week: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain. It seems that Western doctors and journalists have been astonished to find that there are cultures which don’t share our diseases and ailments! The article suggests that the spine may not necessarily be best in an ‘S’ shape as currently believed in the West, but should rather be in a ‘J’ shape; the article helpfully includes a picture of tribesmen in Borneo, who have straight backs and their bums sticking out.

Well, I don’t want to be in any way negative about Bornean tribespeople. I can anticipate, in fact, a flood of books, DVDs, and magazine articles extolling the ‘Sarawak Way’.

Still, in the Chinese internal martial arts at least, the bum shouldn’t be sticking out at all. If you put your hand on your back and run it downwards, there’s shouldn’t be a little ski jump at the bottom as it bounces off the top of your buttocks; it should just slide off, because the back and coccyx form a ‘C’, or a ‘bow’ shape, with the pelvis tucked forward. That’s necessary for the power from your legs to be transmitted smoothly up your back and into your arms.

Which brings me nicely yesterday’s yiquan lesson.

Much of the class was spent working on boshui shili, or “water testing force” – first standing, then stepping. We also worked on cepi shili, “chopping to the side testing force”.

It’s very easy, when doing these exercises to move the arms independently of what the rest of the body is doing. If I’m correct in my understanding, what should actually be happening is that rather than striking using the power of the arms and shoulders, the arms are relaxed and simply channelling the strength of the legs and back – which requires a ‘C’ shaped spine, otherwise the power ‘jams’ at the bottom of the spine. This is what’s happening to me at the moment. More zhan zhuang! However: with the water testing exercise, if it’s being done properly, a opponent who’s holding you from behind should be dragged forward; an opponent in front who’s grasping the back of your neck should be uprooted and pulled forward (these at different phases of the movement). Well, I can at least do that; we were all working on it together while Yao Laoshi had to take a call.

As an aside, what we’re doing with these movements gave me a sudden insight into how to perform “White Crane Spreads Wings” and “White Monkey Presents a Peach” in taijiquan…

We finished off, as usual, with tui shou, partner practice. The big thing in this, for a lot of students, is to uproot their partner, get them turned around, and push them into the wall. I generally can’t do this, so don’t usually try.

There were about six of us yesterday, and I got to practice with everyone. Some are visitors – I gathered one was from Shaanxi, another from Guangdong – who are staying for a few weeks. Others I hadn’t met before; some were much more experienced, and it was really interesting to train with them. One in particular was really helpful in pointing out to me things I was doing wrong. This is one of the things I like about the atmosphere at this wuguan: it’s very mutually supportive, with students helping eaqch other out.

Last week, during the tui shou, my heart was pounding very hard, and I was put of breath and panting quite quickly. Yesterday, my heart rate didn’t rise too much, and I wasn’t doing more than breath a bit heavily. I’m not entirely sure what made the difference but, taking a Sherlock Holmes approach and looking at what’s changed, I wonder whether the TCM treatments made a difference in some way…?

I haven’t seen any other foreign students yet; during my last stay in Beijing there were a few others apart from me. The school’s website used to be maintained by a German TCM student, who spoke both Chinese and English; I note it’s now Chinese-only, so perhaps he’s moved on.

Image Credits: Public Domain image of the Vertebral Column, obtained from Wikipedia.

one responses

  1. […] a proper squat. Look at the shape of the back: a proper ‘C’ shape (as I discussed in a recent post). The leg muscles aren’t taking any weight at all; the body is supported by the bones, and by […]

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