|The Chinese Internal Arts|
|issue 33||Autumn 2001/Winter 2002|
|*** this issue has been archived off ***|
|( only selected articles remain)
International Karaoke scene took off at last in Beijing in 2001
|Inside This Issue|
* Regular events
* Our Trip to China
* Building Internal Power
Beijing's midnight sun.
Due to uncertainties with Master Yao's visit, we booked our plane tickets quite late which meant we would have to stay in Beijing longer than we planned (no return tickets available) and also, as Karel calculated, we would arrive in Beijing at 2:00 in the morning! We were going to stay in a very reasonably priced hotel, which also happens to be near Nanguan Park where we train with master Yao. But it also closes for the night and so we were steeling ourselves to spend the first night on a park bench! As it happened, our plane must have passed through some time-warp because we arrived around lunch-time! All is well that ends well and we were installed in our hotel in no time at all.
Tiantan Park and Master Du.
Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) Park is the second most visited place in Beijing after the Forbidden City. As everything in Beijing, it has changed noticeably since our first visit. The area between the Temple and the North Gate has been sown with grass and a sprinkler system installed to keep it fresh and green. And very pretty it looks, too. However, people are not allowed to walk on the grass there anymore and that means that they cannot do their morning exercises as they used to. Some have moved to other parts of the park and some have moved out of the park. The new look is reflected in the entry price. When Karel went to Tiantan Park for the first time in 1994 he paid less than one yuan (about 8p), last year we paid four yuan and this year the entry was 15 yuan (35 yuan with the Temple visit included). The advantage of this increased fee is that the toilets have improved and are now free. Which is good news for those with digestion problems who have to go to the toilet at least 40 times a day - they are laughing (well, perhaps not).
Master Du, who is 83 according to our calendar (which is 84 or 85 according to the Chinese one) was in excellent form again, strong and full of vitality. This time round he concentrated a lot on applications. He also concentrated a lot more on me than before and this was fine when we were practising the form. But the focus of his attention didn't change even when we practised applications and this meant, with Karel egging him on, that I have gained a first hand practical knowledge of qinna. Great for my joints!
Our afternoons were spent in Nanguan Park training with Master Yao. There was a lot going on there for such a small park - not only exercises but also Chinese Chess, Weiqi (Go) and cards. Master Yao and his students occupy one corner of the park. By 6 p.m. it was dark and as the park was not well lit we often practised in the dark.
Once I was in a group with Karel and several young students (around 18 years of age) when Master Yao showed us some fast punches which we then practised. I thoroughly enjoyed the punching and so practised marching up and down the ground. Karel and the boys were getting tired and kept asking me whether "I was tired" so that they could stop practising. However, as I enjoyed the practice I carried on oblivious to their predicament. Master Yao finally could see that everyone (apart from me) was exhausted and so he stopped the fast practice.
One Saturday we were invited to a special ceremony called 'Baishi' where Zhi, one of Master Yao's students, became his special disciple. The ceremony took place in a restaurant in the presence of Master Yao's friends and fellow teachers, students - past and present, and the boy's family. There were several speeches with Zhi declaring his loyalty to Master Yao and Yiquan and promising to study to the best of his abilities, Master Yao promising to teach Zhi unreservedly, and then Master Yao and Zhi bowed to the picture of Yao Zongxun (Master Yao's late father and the successor to Wang Xiangzhai) and Zhi bowed in front of Master Yao. The whole occasion was very solemn with Zhi's father beaming proudly when it was all finished.
Eva eavesdropping as Chen Changxing passes the family secrets to Yang Luchan
Entering Yang Luchan's house
Animating Laojia form on the village walls
Two great men stroking their beard!
Softness and Hardness
Anyone who has practised for some time knows that there are degrees of softness and relaxation. Even when standing still, it can seem quite difficult to relax and soften the body. And we should be relaxed even when we move and during Pushing Hands! But even when relaxed and soft during Pushing hands, there is more to come.
The classics say, "The essential hardness comes from essential softness". What does 'essential softness' mean in this context? Obviously it means more than just 'softness', otherwise it wouldn't have to be qualified. It is not something that can be easily felt. However, 'essential hardness' is. When the stage of 'essential hardness' is reached, there is strength in the body that is independent of the outside muscles. For example, in Pushing Hands with someone who has reached it, you can feel that their arms and their body is moving freely with no visible tension and yet there is a hardness to their body as if their muscles were tense. This solidity or 'hardness' comes from having built what is called 'internal connections' - connections by the deeper layers of muscles that connect and stabilise our body together in standing and movement (stabilisers). This 'essential hardness' is a major component of Internal Power. 'Essential softness' is achieved by relaxing and softening these deeper layers in order to build the internal connections. A major part in this process is played by our awareness. We have to become aware of these 'inner' muscles before we can do anything with them and the problem is how to do it. Relaxation and attention are the two key ingredients here.
When practising a specific exercise (whether standing or moving), it takes at least 5 or 10 minutes for our body to relax. And it takes longer for the relaxation to spread deeper into the body. The time in classes is limited and this means that students do not get sufficient exercise time to experience their body relaxing.
This is where our residential weekends come in! It is my experience (watching both myself and others) that during a longer and more intensive training period one can make a jump in the practice and understanding that could take much longer in a normal class situation. Learning a skill is easier by the 'little and often' route. However, to make a breakthrough in understanding 'internal' sensations, often a longer an more intense period of practice is necessary. For example, those students who have attended any of the day seminars know that it is possible to progress in one day more than in the equivalent time broken down by weekly lessons. But even during these seminars we are often busy learning new skills and there is not enough time to turn attention to relaxation.
'Essential softness', mentioned above, is one of those things that are difficult to 'crack' in a class. It is somewhat easier to get to it through Yiquan training (because it is a simpler system) but I don't want to have all my students flooding my Yiquan classes! Besides, the problem of relaxation is the same in any class.
The weekend break provides an opportunity to explore relaxation. For example when making a wax figurine, the softness/hardness of the wax determines how easy it is to mould it. It is the same with the body - softening and relaxing the body heightens internal feedback. Without internal feedback, internal-energy work is extremely difficult. Learning how to elicit and interpret this internal feedback is much easier during an intensive prolonged workout/session. It can act as a bootstrap for further practice during the year.
A residential weekend can be a good opportunity not only to learn techniques and exercises that are more focused on developing internal power but mainly to experience it in a prolonged practise.
Holding a correct Zhan Zhuang posture is not dependent on placing the legs, arms and body in the right position but on adjusting the body according to the internal feedback/feeling. The same is true of movement. This must be experienced to understand it. Everyone can get it, even in the normal weekly classes, especially if they practise regularly in between. However, a weekend session can act as a great time-saver.