We can rebuild him

How do you generate the essential power of the Chinese internal martial arts, fa jin? Occasionally I get it; usually, I don’t. In other words, I don’t understand it well enough to reproduce it consistently. Slowly, slowly, my understanding improves…

Recently I’ve been attending yiquan classes in the mornings, once or twice a week, since my schedule allows that. In fact, I should be there now, but it’s the Duanwu holiday, and my body clock evidently decided that sleep was more important. Maybe it’s not a bad thing; I went yesterday morning and we spent a couple of exercises working on just a couple of static “testing force” exercises. As we repeated the moved over and over, I gradually realized – thanks to a demonstration and explanation by Master Yao – that if I turned my rear hip and thigh this way instead of that way, then I had the ‘springy’ isometric tension that’s such an important part of yiquan technique. Aha! So, I focussed my attention on that for the rest of the class; it’s going to take a lot more practice before I can do it either well or consistently, but I wanted to fix familiarity with the sensation and action into both mind and muscle memory.

Two problems – firstly, by concentrating on the hip/leg feeling, I lost focus on what my hands were doing (I’m not so great at multi-tasking!). Master Yao repeatedly came over to correct me, and I couldn’t explain what I was trying to do. I must say, though, that he never shows any impatience or frustration! He’s really dedicated to helping us progress, even at a snail’s pace if that’s the best I can do!

Second problem – I was beginning to see how to generate power. Once generated, it had to be transmitted, and ouch, I am not as relaxed as I need to be for this to happen… I could feel it being dispersed as it passed through my lower back, and through my shoulders – although these areas are far more relaxed than they were before I started yiquan. The biggest problem was my forward leg, the right leg in the stance I was using. I’ve grown accustomed to thinking of my left leg as the weak one, ever since I really hurt the Achilles Tendon in 2005. However, after lots of therapeutic massage (plus, I am convinced, the benefits of practicing taiji and bagua), that’s pretty much fixed now. Not 100%, I gave it a painful jar when I missed a step yesterday, but functionally it’s fine.

So now, it’s the right leg, but here I’m addressing deeper issues. I’ve noticed that my right foot always tends to twist out about 45% when I’m in zhan zhuang, etc, and I’ve mentioned before that the knee/kua tend to cave inwards. Thinking about it, I can place these issues in my memory at least as far back as primary school, which means I now need to correct a life-long postural problem. Doh! It’s very important, though; as I issue force from my hips, I found that it wasn’t moving forward, down my leg, and into the ground in a clean, straight manner, the way it was meant to. Rather, it was spiralling down, wrenching my knee and ankle on the way – which means pain today! This can be fixed, but it’ll be a slow process of keeping my awareness in the muscles and tendons, gradually reshaping them so that my foot is properly aligned. A daunting prospect, but one that once again convinces me of the advantages of the internal martial arts – this is, as far as I’m concerned, an excellent example of the way neijia‘s focus on relaxation and awareness of qi, and the small physical sensations inside the body build and nurture health as well as martial ability into old age.

By the way, speaking of old age and the likelihood of me reaching it, I had a near miss recently. Lately, I’ve been cycling everywhere in Beijing; using the bike rather than public transport has totally changed my understanding of the city’s layout and psychogeography! Anyway, I was cycling home a few nights ago, along the Second Ring Road (the innermost ring, following the line of the old city walls). I was approaching an off-ramp, and was having to turn my head a lot, looking for a gap in the traffic to get past the exit… Going fast, I went straight into a pothole that I hadn’t seen in the dark! Arrgh! I was thrown forward, over the handlebars, losing my grip on them… I saved myself by clinging on to the basket on the front of the bike…. My feet, somehow still on the pedals, kept pedalling frantically, as I sailed passed the exit with my backside pointing to the heavens… Smooth, real smooth… I suppose I can thank martial arts for my balance, which meant that at least the bike stayed upright and I didn’t pitch down onto the tarmac! I regained control, but found the next day that my back had really been jarred, with lots of muscles stiffened up… Heh…

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