Alertness and Awareness

My master often mentions the principles of alertness and awareness when he talks about martial spirit.  As an assistant Scoutmaster, I stressed the same ideas to the Scouts.  What I observe, however, is that many of us in the human race are forgetting the importance of those principles.  From distracted driving, to obliviously texting while walking, to dropping your guard too much at social occasions even when you think you are with friends, we are forgetting the need to remain alert about who is around us and what is happening and aware of potential hazards that might arise.

Today I watched the shooter’s video of his murder of the news people in Franklin County, Virginia.  I watched it because personal safety is my business as a martial arts instructor, and I try to learn and pass on lessons that can be drawn from violent events.  It struck me watching this video that the murderer approached fairly close and had his gun out and pointed at the people for many seconds before he opened fire.  They did not notice the situation until he opened fire.  They were busy interviewing and videoing the interview.  It is probably part of their training as news people to concentrate on the job at hand an ignore things going on around them, probably not when covering a civil disturbance, but maybe when doing a story on tourism by a lake in rural Virginia.  Even the person being interviewed, who is not a professional journalist, did not appear to notice the man approaching with the pointed gun.

News people should be able to do a story on tourism without worrying about someone coming up to them and shooting them.  A young college woman should be able to drink a bit too much and still safely walk the sidewalks of a college town.  Passengers on a DC subway or a European train should be able to relax on their journey and not worry if someone is going to shoot or stab them.  People in a church ought to be able to conduct their Bible study also free from such fears.  A Congresswoman ought to be able to meet with constituents in a shopping center without someone murdering those around her.  The world ought to be a safe place for all of us.  It isn’t.

The odds are slim, but real, that at almost any time and place about three seconds might separate any of us from life as usual and total mayhem.  Whether it’s a distracted, aggressive or incompetent driver or a terrorist on the train or a poisonous snake on the hiking trail or candle too close to a curtain or an obstacle on the sidewalk, we need to be alert and aware of our surroundings.

In a potentially violent situation, say a person with a drawn gun approaching, we have just seconds to decide what do to:  run and try to evade, take cover and hide or take counteraction against the threat.  (Freezing in place in not a decision but indecision.)  Being alert and aware will give you a bit more time to decide the best course.  It might make the difference between life or death.

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Hit the Books

I’m taking the opportunity of Monday’s day off at the YMAA Retreat Center to rest my body and hit the books.  Does “hit the books” sound strange for a post in a blog about Taijiquan and Qigong?  It shouldn’t.  The mind is important in both arts, and not just mental focus, but also mental understanding.

I brought two books with me to review and study:  The pocket book, Tai Chi Secrets of the Ancient Masters, and Taijiquan Theory of Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming.  I might have brought more but for the limitations of reading time during the seminars and the weight of my carry-ons.  I borrowed from the Center’s book shelves the book, Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style.  If you call yourself a student of Taijiquan and if after practicing for three to five years you are not reading these and other books, I don’t understand why.

In Tai Chi Secrets of the Yang Style, Dr Yang presents a translation and commentary on Yang Ban Hou’s, thesis on “The Interpretation of Taiji’s Scholarship and Martial Arts.”  It stresses the importance of intellectual study and physical practice in learning Taijiquan.  If a student studies (reads or observes) Taijiquan without sufficient physical practice, the result is a “core” but without “application.”  If a student practices the art physically but without studying and pondering the theory, the result is “application” but no “core.”  In either case, it is like trying to build a building with only one supporting pillar or to applaud with only one hand.

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Who are you?

Some people want to gain others’ respect, so they take out a mortgage and buy a big house. Since they can’t take their big house with them when they step outside, they take out another loan and buy a fancy new car. But when they park the car they can’t take it with them, so they pull out their credit card and buy a fancy suit to wear. Fancy suits are not appropriate attire everywhere, so they raise the credit limit on their card and buy a fancy, expensive watch. But, take away the house, the car, the suit, the watch and what’s left? Just an ordinary person. Maybe they have the respect of people who admire a fancy watch when they are wearing the watch, but how valuable is the respect of someone who “respects” you for your watch? Take a martial artist out of the house, out of the car, out of the suit and without a watch and he or she is still a martial artist, even standing in underwear; and he or she has respect that is really valuable, self-respect. Learn Taijiquan.

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Root and Fa Jin

It is very common for students of Taijiquan to lose their root when they begin training Fa Jin or power manifestation. When I watch my students first try punching the BOB (Body Opponent Bag) with power or striking with Taiji Cane, I often see their heels come up and sometimes even leaning that compromises their center. Pay attention when learning Fa Jin. Sink. Feel like your legs are sinking or being screwed into the ground with a spiraling energy. Note that when you sink not only will your root be stronger, the power of your punch or strike will be greater.

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Mutual Resistance and Double Weighting

The Taiji classics warn against creating a situation of mutual resistance, also called, less clearly, double weighting. What is mutual resistance? A simple illustration would be when in pushing hands one partner is pushing and the other is responding with a Peng that causes the pushing partner to feel a push against his push and causes motion to stagnate.

One important key to understanding how to resolve this situation of mutual resistance is the word “mutual” (or the word “double” in double weighting). Take the word mutual as an indicator that either partner can resolve the situation because it is mutual. The first partner to act to resolve the stagnation will gain a significant advantage.

The Taiji classics provide the solution to resolving a situation of mutual resistance. They say that when my opponent is Yang, I become Yin. If you are pushing your partner and you feel a push back, it means that both of you are Yang. Either partner can resolve the situation by turning Yin. The pushing partner can turn Yin by coiling over the opponent’s wrist, applying pluck and leading the opponent’s resisting force into emptiness, which likely will result in the opponent being uprooted. The partner being pushed can turn Yin by coiling over the opponent’s wrist, applying pluck and leading the opponent’s pushing force into emptiness, which likely will result in his being uprooted.

Another situation of mutual resistance can occur if one partner attacks high with backfist and the opponent meets it with Fair Lady. The first to change tactics to apply Step Back and Repel the Monkey will gain the advantage.

An astute practitioner of Taijiquan can attempt to create a situation of mutual resistance in order to exploit it. A sudden push can to lure out the opponent’s resistance can be turned into a sudden pluck to exploit the resistance. In the classics this is called “suddenly appear, suddenly disappear.”

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Can’t find the time?????

Sorry, I have neglected my blog recently. I could say that I couldn’t find the time to blog. You often hear people say that they “can’t find the time.” But that expression would not be accurate in my case just as it would not be accurate in any case. It’s a self-deception. Time is not found. If you open a page of a planner, you will see that all the time is right there on the page. Time is not found, it is allocated according to our priorities and according to the amount of energy we have to work the time. So yes, I had higher priorities and insufficient energy to work on blogging recently. It does sound nicer, however, to deceive oneself and others by saying “I couldn’t find the time” rather than “it wasn’t a high priority for me.”

Insufficient energy is a problem that can get worse with age. If you don’t have enough energy to use the time you have available, you might want to change your life style or see a physician to help restore your energy.

If you “can’t find the time” to do things that you really want to do, then maybe you should take a look at your priorities. Maybe you are allocating your time without even thinking about your priorities or allocating it according to priorities other people set for you. If you “can’t find the time” for Taijiquan, Qigong or some other self-care and development program, maybe you are really saying, self-care and self-development are not priorities for me. Or, it might be that you are letting your boss, spouse, kids or others allocate your time according to their priorities.  Whatever the case, let’s engage in self-awareness and not self-deception.

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Functional Meditation–Balancing your life

During our last discussion and meditation session before the holidays, we started discussing the principle of balance.  Life out of balance makes it hard to attain the quiet and calm mind needed for meditation and has many other detrimental effects on our lives as well, from potentially ruining our health and finances to wrecking our relationships with others.

We talked about many dimensions of balance in life such as work/play, self/others, expending/storing, activeness/passiveness, acceptingness/exactingness, materialism/spiritualism.  Someone asked if it was possible to achieve a permanent state of balance, but the answer seemed to be that external and internal factors are always trying to move us out of balance so that maintaining balance is a constant and difficult effort.  The difficulty of this effort is probably one of the major reasons why persons seeking tranquility of mind and balance in life abandoned lay society in ancient times and retreated to the mountains and monasteries.

Another difficulty of maintaining balance, we thought, is that many of the dimensions of balance involve our interactions with others.  Managing our interactions with others so that they do not put us out of balance can require us to disappoint others’ desires to draw on our resources of time, money or energy, which, when it comes to our bosses in a slow growth, low-job-mobility economy, is very difficult to do.

Tonight we will continue our discussion of functional meditation and the balance principle during our Wednesday 7:30-8:30 PM class.  Come join us.  It’s $18 to drop in and $60 to enroll for all four sessions in January.

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Functional Meditation: Choose not to take it personally

During last week’s session we discussed the principle we called, “choose not to take it personally.”  Our culture tries to teach us that we must react in certain ways to external stimuli.  If you are the target of a one-finger salute in traffic, for example, the culture suggest that you must take the gesture as a personal insult and become angry.  However, we do have a choice.  In our discussion we agreed that often the external stimuli we receive from other people tell us more about them than they do about us.  Perhaps the sender of the salute is having a miserable day or a miserable life.

I told the story about being dangerously cut off in traffic, and then watching the offending vehicle make a crazy fast left turn and speed up Baron Cameron Rd.  My automatic reaction was to feel anger welling up, but then I thought, the car is heading toward Reston Hospital, maybe that person just got a call that a family member has been taken to the emergency room.  That thought quelled the incipient angry reaction inside me, and I began to feel sympathy for the other driver.  In fact, I realized, the whole incident had little to do with me personally.  I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and anyone else in the same place would have had the same experience.  I could have let the anger seethe and stewed about the incident all day.  It could have prevented me from calming down enough for my daily meditation.  I chose not to take it personally.

Of course, it is one thing to choose not to take the actions of strangers personally, and it is another to choose when it comes to people who are closer, such as family and friends.  The closer people are, the more they know how to get to us personally.  Again, however, you may want to stop and think, “what’s going on with them?”  Asking that question, rather than getting angry and lashing back, might take the personal out of the equation and create an opportunity for finding out and discussing what is really the matter.

We wondered whether being able to accept and apply the principle of choice is dependent on the experience you gain with age.  We thought it is true that age and experience makes it easier to apply the principle, but I think we also agreed that the ability is probably not dependent on age.

This week’s discussion will be about the principle of balance.  There are several dimensions to balance–self/others, job/family, work/play, spending/saving–and I think we may be working on this principle for more than one session.  Come and join us tomorrow or, if you can’t come in person, comment on Facebook or on this blog.

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Functional meditation, continued

Our discussion of how we can use the wisdom mind to control the emotional mind to reduce stress and achieve a calm state of mind has helped develop and refine the principle we discussed two weeks ago.  I am going to suggest, based on the comments from the class and others, that we redefine this principle and call it:

“Let go of past traumas and transgressions.”

Holding on to bad experiences from the past can not only prevent you from achieving the calm state of mind required for mediation; it can raise your stress level and cause detrimental physical and chemical changes in the body.  I will suggest a that corollary of this principle can be:  Grant forgiveness or ask for forgiveness.  The act of forgiving people who have hurt you in the past benefits you most of all, and you still benefit even if you cannot or choose not to communicate the act of forgiveness to the party who injured you.  If you are disturbed by a transgression that you committed, you can ask forgiveness of the person you offended or, if that is not possible, ask forgiveness of a higher power.  If you feel that an injury you suffered was so egregious that granting forgiveness is just not possible for you, then I suggest another corollary: “hold a ritual of letting go.”  You might try a ceremony, perhaps with some trusted supporters, to signify your letting go of the past.  Some people put their past in a box and bury it.  Others write out the story and then burn the paper.  Holding on to past traumas and transgressions just allows a poison to fester inside you, continuing and likely even worsening the damage you suffer.

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Change in Second Sunday Class Format

We tried something new with our 2-3 PM Sunday class today.  Instead of devoting the whole hour to Qin Na, we worked on techniques from all four categories of applications:  Qin Na (joint locking), Da (hand and elbow strikes), Ti (kicks) and Shuai Jiao (wrestling or take downs).  We focused on the beginning of the section one movement deflect downward and attempting an initial lock or hyperextension of the opponent’s elbow.  From that position we focused on the opponent’s countering the elbow lock by bending his elbow.  We practiced two Qin Na techniques:  low outward wrist press and large elbow wrap.  We practiced strikes:  backfist upward and downward and elbow strike under the arm pit.  We practiced the Shuai Jiao technique large dragon wraps arm around neck.  The kicks, of course, were either your front or back foot to the opponent’s shin.  I think it might be a good idea to video the techniques and post them on our You Tube channel.

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