"Flexibility is the key to stability!" -John Wooden
Tai Chi, Shaolin Kung Fu, all martial arts, and even meditation requires a certain degree of flexibility. Some more than others, but for sure it is flexibility that ensures steady progress and safeguards against injury.
Potetamo, or Bodhidharma as he's called in India, knew this very well, and implemented a variety of stretching and strengthening exercises to assist his monks in meditation. Before this change of pace he noticed many of his fellow monks were falling asleep during meditation. In Tai Chi parlance we would say too much Yin not enough Yang.
In time this balanced way of training evolved into shaolin kung fu we see practiced so prevalent today. It all began from a simple monk striving to train vitality alongside of mental calmness.
In training Shaolin Kung Fu and Tai Chi there are certain joints we should always stretch to keep open. Even if you are not training in a certain martial art we'll cover here the essential stretches we all need to do on a daily basis. =)
"The type or particular method of meditation isn't important, rather it's developing patience and persistence... The results will come, just keep practicing, and above all stay calm." - Master Feeman Ong
My personal view is that Meditation is the process by which we shape our mind to rest in the Way and internally create the life we desire to be reflected in the world. Coupling this foundation with action leads the way to our better life.
What is our better life? This we have to figure out for ourselves
How can our mind lead the way? By resting
How can we help the mind rest? By 'fasting the mind' and following the Way.
Therefore training (the mind, and in turn the body) to follow 'The Way' is how we go on the path to our better life, a path of success regardless of the endeavour. We'll start exploring these questions by quoting Chuang Tzu and then elaborating with my personal interpretation...
"Above all else, calmness is the most important thing." - Master Feeman Ong
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are 2 things to look at when we speak of living a healthy life. External influences and internal ones. The TCM view is that sickness is brought about by these two things. Traditionally external is looked at first and internal second. External being those things in our environment, lifestyle, diet, exercise, etc. Internal being our mindset and emotional state.
Both of these things can bring about drastic changes in our health and wellness. Today we'll be covering internal influences. Particularly the problems stemming from excess//unbalanced emotions and correct attitudes toward life which can deter these problems altogether. This of course includes meditation so I'll be following up this post with the most important attributes to all meditation practices.
"In training a proper stance you should imagine yourself like a bust on top of a pillar." -Sifu Dave Cial
Where the pillar is your legs and the bust your upper body. The upper body should be light and fluid, whereas the lower body should be sunken and relaxed as if deeply entrenched in the ground!
This is an atribute particularly important to the practice of Shaolin Kung Fu, however, I've found many parallels in Silat, Systema, Tai Chi, other internal arts, etc. It usually isn't spoken of in the same vernacular, although the meaning is similar. In silat they call it your base, in Kun tao or kempo I've heard it referred to as your triangle//triangulation, internal arts including Tai Chi we speak of alignment, and structure, Kwa, ming min, etc. most of these terms flow over into Kung Fu, but I have heard others.
Various arts have various methods to train and articulate the particulars on how to achieve solid base, structure etc. They all strive to achieve the same thing, solidity with mobility. Adaptability w/ ease of footwork for transitions to seamless application.
To accomplish all these things two things must always be present, forever sinking, forever rising!
The short answer is we train to push our boundaries. The long answer is we train to learn all our boundaries and strive to constantly overcome the things that hold us back.
There are 2 classes I currently focus on, Tai Chi and Chi Kung, they complement one another and one very much empowers the other. In both we seek to challenge ourselves in order to surpass where we’ve been already. I feel the distinction helps us by allowing us to pinpoint our focus. In short each practice is seeking to embody principles spoken of in the Tao Te Ching, yet with 2 different avenues. In Tai Chi we seek to yield while staying physically relaxed, in this way strength comes from allowing opportunity to come to us. In Chi Kung on the contrary we seek to empower and build ourselves while staying mentally relaxed, in this way we create our opportunities from strengthening ourselves. In both arts the foundation is essentially the same, in practice we summarize this by asking, “Can I relax more with stability?”
I feel it's far too often I get a look of surprise from massage clients and friends alike when I'm talking about the various things massage can help. Especially the dynamic therapies of Thai Massage and Tui Na. I understand I went to school for this stuff, and I've devoted quite a bit of time training my body, and feeling how all the muscles move and relate to injury, but come on I feel the general population really needs to know how much massage can help.
Being a massage therapist I can say, for sure, massage may not be a cure all. Simply because in all these things I'm going to name off, there are possibilities of a different cause for the injury or problem. What I am saying, however, is that our muscular system has a huge effect on our bodies, how we feel, how we function, and that fixing the muscular causes has great potential to alleviate a plethora of associated health concerns beyond the main issue or complaint. So, What’s the bigger picture? What issues, specifically, can massage help with?
"This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine."
The above quote, in case you didn't gather, is from the movie 300. A great movie, brutal and gruesome, moving and empowering. I enjoy it every time =). Anyway this movie, in case you haven't seen it, is about 300 Spartans standing up to an endless army of Persians. A huge piece of it hinges on the clash of eastern and western philosophies. On the one hand a massive Persian empire lead by God King Xerces built on mystics, magic, and esoteric powers, on the other a self-sustaining, Greece standing on principles of self-reliance, free will, and sheer development of personal strength, led by Leonidas who will sacrifice his character and principles for nothing. Regardless of the historical accuracy of the film, it brings up a lot of questions, particularly to martial arts and combat effectiveness. =)
What place does mysticism have in the practice of martial arts? Whether it's Russian, Chinese, or Japanese it seems to be there, why and what purpose does it serve, if any? Should mysticism be painted in a bad light? Is it ethical to use as a teaching tool?
A great breakthrough occured to me a couple of weeks ago after attending a meditation and Chi Kung seminar. My friend Rodney Owen lead the retreat, and the focus of it was mindfulness. Since the seminar I have been practicing mindfulness more and more throughout my day and it has helped tremendously with stress as well as my practice. There has also been more accute sensitivity in my Tai Chi practice and lots of emotional insights as well... The emotional work within is the pinnacle of Tai Chi Chuan, and indeed all martial arts. Working to unravel the things that hold and confine us is the root of proper self defense. As Cheng Man Ching always said "That which we relax is fear." and that is exactly what this post is about, relaxing our fear! How do we reach this state?
I have said time and time again martial arts are metaphors for life, but what exactly does that mean? In short it means all skills you need in life martial arts can give you. The most obvious of these is the ability to defend yourself. This skill, however, is simply scratching the surface. Looking deeper into self defense, beyond the base level of combative application, it ultimately means learning how to communicate effectively, keeping the advantage.
A well placed bomb, grenade, bullet, punch, kick, sweep, throw, joint lock etc. is simply one piece to the whole of martial arts that ultimately distills down to effective communication. How well can you develop report? How can both of you win? How can the conflict be dissolved? More so how can your enemy become your friend?
I know this is quite off topic from what I normally write about, however, I feel it is very much inline with martial art philosophy and outlook, which is very important and pertinent to the correct practice of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Martial arts are meant to deal with combat, and being that combat is something that few have experienced and even fewer decide to write about, I figured I'd share my response with everyone. Today on going to church I listened to a very moving sermon summarizing a classic sermon which was given by Dr. Fosdick back in Nov. 12th, 1933 titled "The Unknown Soldier" I will attach the original sermon in PDF at the end of this blog post for you to read and reference. Enjoy my friends and as usual comment, like and share. Thanks.
Daniel R. Hyde Licensed Massage Therapist OIF, OEF Veteran U.S. Marine Corps Instructor of: Tui Na, Chinese Massage Thai Massage Shiatsu, Japanese Massage Tai Chi Chuan Chi Kung Yi Chuan Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu