Straight up


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Receiving an elbow strike to the bridge of the nose certainly focuses one’s attention, and that’s what happened to me recently.

It’s been a productive month.

A few weeks ago, I was working in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. Having a few bits of free time, I spent them working on my zhan zhuang. I’d realised in recent classes that as I raised my body by opening the kua of the weight-bearing leg, I was actually rotating my body quite an amount. It’s something I must have been doing for quite a long time.

So, I made an effort to keep my body facing forward. Rotating the body had meant that the non-weight-bearing kua didn’t really open very much. Now, keeping the torso facing straight forward, it had to open… and that meant that I felt a tug in the tendon behind the knee, especially on the left leg. Aha… could that be why the left knee tended to tremble, as I mentioned in a previous post? So, those tendons need to be relaxed more; I can do it as a conscious effort, but I still find it difficult to send my awareness into that point, so getting them to be naturally relaxed is still some ways off.

However, I found in subsequent classes that the left knee still trembled. Trying to actively control and relax individual tendons and muscles is a complex job, so I needed to use a visualisation instead; this works on everything simultaneously.

I imagined a large beachball expanding against abdomen and torso, pressing them outwards in all directions; it also presses the thigh of the forward leg downwards, meaning that the forward foot can’t lift too much (another thing Yao Lao Shi had been repeatedly correcting me on). This meant that the foot doesn’t rise, and the knee stops wobbling; the pelvis and lower back curve better, and I began to move my head, neck and shoulders further back than I had been doing. This also made it easier for the body’s weight to sink directly downwards, and so relaxed the big muscles of the back even more.

This means that far more of my body weight is being carried by the feet, ankles, and lower calf – which is painful, and will be until these muscles, tendons, etc strengthen!

After this, as I stood in zhan zhuang in class, my posture was much better; last week, I actually felt the muscles at the very base of the spine – where they attach to the bone nubbins on the pelvis – start to quiver as they tried to maintain tension… and then give up, relaxing, loosening, and lengthening. Wow, it felt better – but wow, there’s still SO much unconscious tension in my body!

After THAT, while we’ve been practising testing force movements, I’ve felt the power from my legs rippling up through the torso, gently shaking and massaging my internal organs. That’s something to focus on for a while, perhaps, as it’s definitely one of the health benefits of neijiquan, since it encourages the organs to shed toxins and work to regenerate themselves. I’ve also found that my shoulder blades and shoulder sockets seem to be opening up more than they were. So this is all good…

While I’m speaking of organs, another good thing happened in Hohhot. After getting back to my hotel room quite early after work, I took a nap and then sat in meditation for an hour and a half. Halfway through, I was disturbed by room cleaners, who said the room hadn’t been tidied during the day (actually, it had been). After sending them away, I sat down again to resume my meditation, but I must have been in a slightly different position or something, because I suddenly felt the bai hui acupuncture point at the crown of my skull activate and open up; energy seemed to flood inwards, rushing down my meridians and energising some of my internal organs. I could feel them ‘wake up’ and start to cleanse themselves; it was a powerful sensation. It lasted for maybe ten minutes, after which my concentration slipped a bit, and the energy flow shut down. That’s another thing to follow up on…

For the last couple of weeks there’s been another foreigner in the weekend classes: an Austrian guy in his early twenties. He speaks better Mandarin than me, and originally came to train with Yao Lao Shi in 2012; at that time, the guys I used to train with were still around (the Frenchman Jean-Philippe, and a Russian whose name I never got)… He, like me, originally tried out the school of my teacher’s brother; like me, he was put off by training in a basement full of cigarette smoke, the macho atmosphere… and the cost… Heh.

We’ve been having some good tui shou sessions, and it was he who smacked me on the bridge of the nose with his elbow – quite by accident, but it really pointed out a hole in my guard!

In recent weeks I feel like I’ve been transitioning with my yiquan. Since I returned to Beijing six omnths ago, and even before that, before I left in late 2010, I was focussed on just getting my basics right. I still have a lot to do on that, for sure, but – as some of the things I mention in this post perhaps indicate – I think I’ve reached the point where I can, and need to, progress. And, as it happens, Yao Lao Shi has been a lot more hands-on recently, and is going into more detail with the techniques. This is all rather encouraging.

My motto at the moment is “When you stand, stand like a mountain. When you move, move like the ocean”.

<em>Image credit: Sea and Mountains, by user Raymond Zoller on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.</em>

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