Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, December 23, 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Self Correction in Taijiquan

Over at Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was an article on muscle memory and self correction. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

I have written about things as internalising knowledge from practice, how to let it become a property of the body. In this Tai Chi blog, I have tried to explain that you work with your nervous system differently when you do something you really know, something spontaneous and effortless, as after having studied and learned to speak a new language fluently. So you might see this post on “body language” as a companion to this post and read that one first.

The next question, when you understand that there are different ways to use your nervous system and how to access that muscle memory, is much harder and more complicated to answer: How do you learn to spontaneously access that special mode whenever you need it? That place in yourself where everything comes together by itself and you don’t need to think about what to do and how?

To access that mode, or body state, when you practice free push hands with friends, might be easier than if someone challenged you to a fight. How do you do it suddenly and purely by will in everyday life? How do you switch from a normal “daily mode” to a “Tai Chi mode”?

First, before answering that question, I would like to add that one of the biggest assets, as well as one of the biggest problems, in Tai Chi Chuan, is the obsession of details. But the details we deal with are specific details on movement and body mechanics. This obsession and attention to details is really the only way to “get” what Tai Chi body mechanics is and how it should be done, as well as how to internalise this. But at some point, you really need to let go of that learning stage and instead understand how to trust your own body. You can’t really do this until it has become a property of the body.

But here is the problem: We always want to control what we do and have the feeling that we control the situation and what we do. No? You don’t see this as a problem? Well, let me try to explain why this is counter-productive to what we want o achieve.

If you want to be able to always access you greatest skill and knowledge, and really let your Tai Chi work by itself, you really, really, need to learn how to let go of that inherent wish to always control yourself and what you do. Yes, letting your Tai Chi do the work, to be able get into that Tai Chi mode whenever you want to access it, is about standing back, letting go.

Stop making yourself trip is not easy

Yes, for sure, it’s something much easier said than done. Let me illustrate exactly what I mean by offering you a passage of the Taoist classic Zhuangzi:

“When you’re betting for tiles in an archery contest, you shoot with skill.

When you’re betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim.

And when you’re betting for real gold, you’re a nervous wreck.

Your skill is the same in all three cases – but because one prize means more to you than another,
you let outside considerations weigh on your mind.

He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”

― Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

Read a couple of the lines again:

you let outside considerations weigh on your mind
He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside

Worrying about what you do, about the results, or how you do something, will be detrimental to what you want to achieve. Putting your mind outside of yourself, thinking about what could happen in a certain situation, might be the last thing you want to do.

Recently, I heard a gun expert saying that “you need to let go of technique and rely on your muscle memory”. I believe this is the same regarding many, many things in life. Just look at yourself when you are riding a bicycle. You can go on for hours without caring about how you move your feet and shift your weight.

But as soon as you try to intellectualise and to understand what you are doing when you are riding a bike, you will switch back to the learning stage of using your body, you will move clumsy and might even cause yourself to stumble or fall. What have you done? Well, you have switched from using your nervous system from the “knowing” stage, to the “learning stage”.

So what does this mean for your Tai Chi in practical practice? Yes, when you practice push hands, practice to use an application, or a real self defence or fighting method, or when you practice to punch at something using Tai Chi mechanics, first, you need to learn the details of the body mechanics and learn to use them.

But, if you want to be able to do something spontaneous in practice or in real life, you need to learn how to forget to focus on the details and the mechanics and just do it.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Competition and Budo

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full post may be read here.

There is a continual discussion in budo about the importance of competition. The argument for competition has two prongs. The first is that you have to learn to perform techniques under stress, and competition is the best way to pressure-test technique.  The second is that you have to learn  to deal with the unexpected and the only way to do that is in a competitive situation. I agree  that you have to be able to perform under stress and that you have to be able to deal with the unexpected.  If you’re not learning to do things when you are stressed, and you’re not learning to deal with the unexpected, you’re not learning budo.

I’ve heard a lot of people expound on the stress benefits of competition. The desire to win ramps up the stress, and in judo or full contact karate, the fact that effective technique can hurt, and may even leave you unconscious, ramps it up further. Add the frustration that builds when your adversary prevents your technique from being effective and the stress level can get pretty high. You can certainly learn something about stress in competition.

I know that for most of the time I was competing I found competition stressful. I would get anxious and it would become harder and harder to stay still and not fidget as the match approached.  I had to learn to apply breathing and relaxation techniques in order to control the stress so I didn’t become tense and lose my ability to move flexibly and quickly. 

Once the match starts the tension can get worse. The more skilful the adversary, the more frustration and stress. It’s a quick check on students getting cocky about the strength of their technique. It is one thing to practice a technique on a partner who isn’t resisting, and another thing to try to throw someone who is trying to throw you. The experience of learning to flow from technique to technique is great. The dynamism and volatility of competition are excellent experiences for many people.

As Rory Miller so eloquently points out in Meditations On Violence, every training methodology includes a fail. That is, there is always a way in which what you are doing fails, and specifically doesn’t mimic the real world. In competition, it’s that fact that there are rules limiting what you can do, and what your partner can do to you. The possibilities are artificially limited so people can compete with a reasonable expectation that they will be safe and healthy at the end of the competition. Just think of all the techniques that are excluded. Or the protective gear that is worn. Then there is the referee who is there to award points, but also to make sure no one does anything harmful.

This is a safe environment to train in. And the stress level never gets too high because we know it is safe going in. As much as it is a pressure-testing experience, the fact that we don’t have to worry about someone taking a shot at our throat or eyes, or attempting to destroy our knees or elbows means that we’re not experiencing anywhere near the pressure of dealing with someone who genuinely wants to harm us.

There are different kinds and levels of stress. I’ve never seen evidence that competition can rise to anywhere near the level of stress and fear and adrenaline dump that a confrontation outside the tournament area and outside the tournament rules produces. When someone swings a knife at you, the feeling in your gut is quite different from the one when someone is trying to pound you with the ground or choke you unconscious in a tournament. The fear and the adrenaline hit you  much harder. That doesn’t make competition useless; we just shouldn’t think it can do something it’s not specifically designed for.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Lessons from Steven Seagal's Aikido

Below is a video from Aikidoflow on some lessons learned in Aikido, after training with Steven Seagal.