Some thoughts prompted by today’s yiquan class…
Two images are intimately connected with yiquan in my mind.
The first is that of a sturdy sapling. Press it, and it bends; release it, and the strength you used on it will come slapping back into you. Firmly, deeply rooted at the base; strong but flexible above; force is absorbed and stored, power flows upward from the root. This is a static image.
Combine this with stepping, and the force becomes that of the breaking wave; sweeping, overturning, unstoppable.
Let me be clear: these are just my own, poorly informed, visualisations, not anything I’m being taught. Still, they help me understand what I’m trying to achieve.
I’m also mulling over the importance of meditation.
Some years ago, while I was still living in Singapore, I was a member of an online Buddhist forum, which now seems to have vanished. There were many sub-groups, and the one that I was interested in was about meditation. At the time, I was convinced that there was a special relationship between martial arts arts and meditation, but a monk who was the group’s in-house mentor was insistent that this was NOT the case. The relationship between knitting, cooking, or washing the dishes and meditation was just as relevant as that with martial arts, he told us. Of course, he was right; meditation is meditation, and is involved whenever you are mindfully engaged in an activity.
There is an important relationship between martial arts and meditation – but it’s a one-way relationship. Meditation makes your martial arts better. The reverse is not true.
This works because meditation sharpens the power of your mind (I’m talking here about Vipassana meditation, which is what I know best). Meditation practice reintegrates mind and body, allowing us to understand that they are not separate, but are different ends of a spectrum. Further meditation allows the mind to explore and control the body in ever-finer detail. For the internal martial artist, this is vital. since it allows us to identify the muscular tensions which are blocking the flow of power through the body, and to use the mind to unblock them.
Deeper levels of meditation go into territory very scary to the “rational” Western mind, as it opens up access to perceptions our culture has blocked off and denied. That’s going beyond my point today, though!
So: in my last few classes, I’m finding that my body has blockages, particularly around the base of the spine and the lower back. I can generate power, but can’t transmit it; I can absorb force, but not store it.
This is because I have muscular tensions, which are partly caused by posture and (probably) exacerbated by mental tensions. At the moment, my mind is not calm and clear enough to seep into the muscles like a penetrating oil, relaxing them. I’ll need to work on that.
Instead, I’m going for a blunter, but still useful tool: massage! Just around the corner from the office, there’s a “blind” massage parlour, so I’ve started going there.
My first session, yesterday, was with a young woman who couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. The client, ie me, lies fully-clothed on the bed, while the masseur kneads the muscles through a sheet. She was very good, but I knew that I was going to need more sessions when she stood on a stool and started working on my back muscles with her elbow… Yeah, they’re pretty tense…
All the same: I get comments in class about my strength. I’mm not strong at all; it’s just that my classmates in the small class are at a lower level than me, and they’re using arm and shoulder muscles. I’m a little bit better, and I’m using my back muscles to generate and absorb power. My technique sucks, but I’m generally able to hold my ground. That said, this morning I had a partner in tui shou who had better technique than me, as well as equal relaxation; he beat me comprehensively, and I learned a lot from the experience. We shook hands and smiled broadly afterwards; there’s no ego issues with this group.
Once I’ve made some progress, I’ll brave the larger, evening class; that’s where the more experienced students train…
Image credit: Hilton Kauai Beach Resort 2 by user Christopher on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence.