Archive for July, 2009

A Note On Snake Creeps Down

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

A little while back whilst Greeny and I were in the throes of getting married and moving house (I got married to Annie (again) and he moved house) @ezduzit777 on Twitter posted a note on Snake Creeps Down that inspired a short conversation on how this posture should really be done. As I was in Malaysia at the time and Greeny had packed the camera we couldn’t do a short post on what you should be looking out for in this posture.

Snake Creeps Down usually conjures up images of lithe and limber ladies literally slithering along close to the ground. Now that’s not something that everyone can do, not that I was ever a lithe and limber lady. My point is, that the whole point of a good Snake Creeps Down is not how low you can go, it’s not a limbo competition. What you’re trying to do is to stretch all the yin meridians that pass through the inside leg, and if you’re practising for health and cultivation, this should be your main focus when practising this posture. So, you should go as low as you need to to feel the stretch on the inside leg, which may be higher or lower than you might think.

If you really want to do a low Snake, then you’ll have to work the posture down to a low level over a period of time like Greeny did. It’s not strictly required for health cultivation but if you want to impress the girls and stay healthy at the same time I’d say go for it.

Fu Zhongwen’s Fajin

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

One speculation as to why Fajin was not emphasised in the modern syllabus of Taijiquan is because elderly people may find it more difficult to do. Well here’s a counterexample. Fu Zhongwen, Yang Chengfu’s student doing Fajin at the ripe old age of whatever he’s at when this was shot.

Notice how springy his arms and body are. This Fajin may not be for martial purposes, but you can see that it’s keeping him supple and limber despite his age. Taijipedia believes that you need to have some fast and hard movement to balance the soft forms that are practised so often, and practising Fajin softly like in this video is certainly the way forward.

Fajin doesn’t always have to be the big issuance of energy to destroy everything in your path. Fu Zhongwen clearly isn’t out to kill anyone with what he’s demonstrating here, although I’m pretty sure that it’d hurt if he went for you. It’s very clear how the power is manifesting in his hands, and the core is moving, even though you may not be able to see it easily because of his clothing and, er… chi belly.

The great thing about this clip is that anyone can take a look at it and start to practise Fajin by themselves. My advice is not to do too much of it, don’t exhaust yourselves. Practise maybe 5-10 minutes of it if you’re new to it. Increase the time as part of you Taijiquan practise as you get better at it. The key to good Fajin is relaxation, you have to be relaxed enough for the power to flow.

The other key is being gentle. There is no need to go hell for leather if you’re doing this for health. Gently, softly, easily is what you should be aiming for.

My last bit of advice is that it feels a bit like a sneeze. It’s a sudden shake of the body that produces a wave into the hands.

What is Fajin?

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Loosely translated, Fajin means “to issue power”. There are lots of explanations for this phenomena, from relatively simple to rather mystical.

Practically speaking, Fajin is a way of generating power, more specifically short power for striking or grappling applications in the martial aspects of Taijiquan. Training Fajin can allow you to generate tremendous amounts of power over short distances, something first popularised by Bruce Lee’s one inch punch. If you’ve been studying Fajin for martial purposes for any length of time, you’ll probably have realised that that sort of power is your bread and butter power for martial Taijiquan.

This doesn’t mean to say that Fajin does not have its applications in the healing discipline within Taijiquan or any internal martial art. “Soft” Fajin is a way of practising Fajin that allows the body to experience gentle impact to stimulate the bones and allows the body’s Qi to circulate more freely. Practising Fajin is also a useful way for the Taijiquan practitioner to “self-diagnose” areas of tension or Qi blockage within his or her own body, as the wave of power will travel and stop at any points of tension or blockage. The practitioner can then practise to relax these areas in his normal Taijiquan form practise. Fajin for health is not often taught these days, and it is a point of interesting historical speculation as to why it was not emphasised in the modern teachings of Taijiquan.

Biomechanically, a Fajin is nothing more than a vigorous shake of the hips, allowing the wave of power to move up through the body and then out through the hands, much like the force travels through the hanging ball bearings on a Newton’s cradle. Whilst this principle is very easy to describe, the practise of it is slightly more tricky because the body has to be relaxed enough to allow the power to flow.

Much of the initial practise of Taijiquan is aimed at relaxing the body, because this relaxation is required for effective Fajin to take place. Once the body has achieved a baseline of relaxation, then meaningful Fajin practise can begin, and each posture of the Taijiquan form can be used as a short Fajin drill.

If Taijiquan is all about balance, the soft, slow movement of the form has to be balanced by quicker, harder movement, which we believe is the role that the practise of Fajin in the cultivation of health fulfils. In the next post, we’ll talk a bit more about why Fajin is so good for you.

Relaxation is Relative

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Photo by exfordy

There’s a blog post over at martial development on The Four Paradoxes of Standing Meditation.

The post describes the philosophy of Wang XiangZhai, a master of Yiquan boxing and a hard as nails dude in his time.  Yiquan’s training syllabus is based completely around standing meditation, and practitioners do hours and hours of standing as it is the heart of the system.

I’d like to draw your attention to two things in the blog post:

1) Perspectives: Chris gives a different perspective to what happens when you do standing meditation.  What happens to all of us when we practise standing is essentially the same thing, but we all perceive it in different ways.  Chris’s perspective on what happens is different and you may find it useful as it’ll give you another way of looking at the experience to the Taijipedia, and different perspectives are always helpful.

2) Comment: There’s a small argument that goes on in the comments section.  A reader asks about whether we can “objectively verify a state of relaxation”.   Comments 2 and 7 are the ones I’m referring to.

You can’t really objectively verify a state of relaxation.  Our senses and perceptions are relative, and thus, our perception of relaxation is relative, and by inference, all relaxation is relative.  You may feel really relaxed today, more relaxed than this time last week.  However, you may be MORE tense than last week because you had one of those days yesterday and was stressed to the eyeballs.

Your state of relaxation is much like your sense of smell.  If you step into a room with a bad smell (read tension) hanging around, sooner or later you get used to it and don’t notice it any more.  Go into a room with the same smell, but not as bad and you’ll hardly notice it (tension less than before, but still tense).  It’s only when you come out of the room (totally relax), then go back in (tense up again) that you’ll notice the tension again.

So, what does this mean for your Taijiquan practise?  The training and practise will, over time relax you even if you cannot yourself always perceive this relaxation.   It’s a proven method that’s worked for hundreds of years, so you can trust it to deliver the benefits, all you have to do is practise.

The Power of Breathing Without Breathing

Monday, July 6th, 2009

The title of this post might sound a bit like a Zen koan, but it’s something one of my teachers asked me if I could do. In typically traditional and mystical fashion, he left me to figure out what it meant.

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating the question, pondering the nature of the breath, looking at different breathing techniques, observing the breath to see if I could shed light on the rather cryptic lesson. At the time I was at the height of my Taiji nerdity, and I systematically went through all the principles to see if they would shed any light on how to breathe without breathing. Reaching the answer took a few years.

In that typically clichéd Golden Harvest Kung Fu movie fashion, the answer came to me whilst I was reminiscing about my childhood in Malaysia. It’s one of my earliest memories, and I think I was about five. One day I became acutely aware that I was breathing. My chest was moving and air was entering my lungs before I emptied my lungs. I was concentrating on breathing in, filling my lungs, and breathing out, emptying them. It occurred to me that I was controlling my breath and then it all came crashing into my fragile 5-year old mind.

What happens if I stop trying to breathe?

Naturally, this really scared me. What would happen? Would I stop breathing and asphyxiate? Was it possible for me to survive without breathing? What’s Mum going to say when she realises I’m not breathing? Ahmagawd! I’ve not even done my chores! I couldn’t contemplate the consequences to the last question, but I knew they’d be worse than when I shaved my eyebrows off for a laugh.

You might be thinking that it’s all kinda obvious, that I’d have to have been breathing, but to my little 5-year old brain predisposed to missing the obvious, it posed a rather interesting and frightening problem.

This was the point when I realised that I’d got so caught up in the retribution I’d get for not doing my chores. I’d stopped trying to breathe, but a funny thing was happening. I was still breathing! I was not consciously trying to control my breath, and I was just letting my body breathe by itself as it wanted to. I was breathing, without breathing

Naturally I was relieved that this was the case. I’d be able to get my chores done, and all those images in my mind of being a zombie child vanished (The music video of Thriller was fresh in my mind). No life of being undead for me, I’d still be alive and breathing although I’d probably not stay that way for much longer if I didn’t get my chores done.

Now having worked it out, and put it into my practise, I have come to understand the wisdom of my teacher. Here are three ways breathing without breathing can help your Taijiquan:
- You won’t hold your breath – Your body is doing the breathing so it’ll always keep itself breathing, only pausing naturally between each breath. As you’re not holding your breath, you won’t hold tension, which leads me on to..
- You can explore deeper levels of relaxation: Now that you’re not unconsciously tensing yourself up by holding your breath, your body is free to relax even further, for free! You won’t have to concentrate on relaxing as your body will start to do it for you.
- You let your body do what it needs to: Your body will take in as much air as it needs at any given time, and the best thing to do is to just let it do this. You can trust it, it knows how hard, how fast and how deep it needs to breathe.

The last point is by far the most powerful one. We sigh to release tension, we breathe quicker and more deeply to feed our muscles oxygen, our body regulates our breathing for us to do whatever we need at the time, and we don’t even have to think about it.

It’s amazing if you think about it.

One of the fundamental steps in healing is to stop doing anything that’s going to make the situation worse, and letting the body breathe and regulate itself is one way of doing this.

Even if we have bad breathing habits, our body will, if we just let it, start to breathe appropriately for our state at the time. All we have to do is get out of the way.

So how do you learn to breathe without breathing?

The principle is easy to explain and is an extension of the technique explained in the post about breathing and form.

All you have to do is to become more aware of your breathing, observe and understand it, watch how it changes and what happens to it when you do various activities.

When you become aware of your breathing, you will then know when you are messing with it, i.e. deliberately breathing like I did when I was 5, or when you are letting your body breathe.

Deliberate breathing has a different feel altogether, like when you breathe in just before a sigh.

Natural breathing just happens. Stop your breath for an instant, and then just watch what happens next. Your body will just start breathing again, all by itself, and that feeling of your body just doing it, is what you need to get to.

This can be a bit scary, the conscious mind starts to think like me when I was 5. It’ll probably say

“WHAT!!! NOT BREATHING???!? ARE YOU NUTS!!?”

Yeah, big scary caps like that. Ignore your conscious mind. If my little story from when I was 5 proves, your body will simply start to breathe as nature intended it to.