Being present

It’s been much warmer this week, but there is a price to pay… The winds have died down, so there’s no wind chill – but it also means that there’s nothing to blow the pollution away. Going to Zhongshan Park this morning, there was an acrid mist that caught at the back of my throat. As I entered the park, I could hear a distant booming that lasted for ten minutes or so; I wonder if the weather bureau was firing shells into the clouds to bring some rain…?

Sorry if these photos are getting repetitive, but I want to keep a record of what the scene is like every time I go to train; over the months, it should track the progress of the seasons – and, hopefully, remind me of progress in martial arts!

I’ve been practicing, and my mud-stepping is improving – Kong Cheng only had to kick my heels a few times. I did a few circuits under the eaves of a park office (where a thick-set Chinese gentleman of senior years was also practicing some qigong; we politely ignored each other). After that, it was circle-walking for two hours, winding up again with a bit of push-hands.

Such a simple description of the lesson but, internally, quite a lot happened. Kong Cheng had to remind me repeatedly about posture: leaning forward or to one side; wiggling my hips a bit too much; letting one arm (usually the outer) collapse in a bit too much… It’s all good; I think these are superficial issues that will vanish as I develop the internal work.

What do I mean by that? Well, as my stepping becomes less of an issue, my mind is able to move more freely around the body as a whole, identifying tensions. In particular, my shoulders, upper arms and upper back have a clear tendency to tense up, and only relax when I send my mind to them.Of course, once I do that, the lower back is free to sink in and under, the kua can move more freely, and the stepping gets more fluid and correct. So: it’s all in the mind – and, in keeping the mind present, calm, and aware of the body. Once the mind wandered (for example, ahem, composing a first draft of this post…) then everything tensed up again…

This awareness of tension is something I just wasn’t able to do before beginning yiquan, and the standing pole practice of zhan zhuang. As I mentioned before, that explains why my bagua before was so lousy – I simply couldn’t do it before because of the tension in the areas I just mentioned, so I guess I just compensated by go fast, relying on momentum and sloppy technique…. Kong Cheng mentioned that martial arts masters say “It’s easier to learn than to fix”, but there we are: I have to fix by bad habits before I can progress. Madam Ge Chun Yan often used to say that my root was weak, and I see clearly now why she said that.

If the zhan zhuang took me quite a long time to get into, the xing zhuang of circle-walking is tougher yet – maintaining mindfulness while walking is not easy! By the end of the session I was perspiring freely, and my ankles were aching from the unaccustomed strain; I lost a lot of weight when I first trained in bagua in 2004 – with luck, the same will happen again! It’s this kind of train of thought that makes me think that finally I am on the track for learning proper neijiaquan; above all, it’s the awareness that’s important, not the form. I didn’t have that when I was training in Singapore, or indeed when I first came to Beijing. Again, it’s only since I started the yiquan with Master Yao Cheng Rong that the penny finally dropped.

So, on the whole, I’m feeling quite positive about it all at the moment.

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