Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting Serious about I Liq Chuan

In mid-February, I added practicing the first five ILC basic exercises to my morning Taiji practice. Up to that point, my only ILC practice was in our Monday class and, while I had made some progress, much of my improvement in ILC had come via the work I had done in Taiji, both in the form and the four energy pattern (i.e. push hands).

The current training system for ILC is relatively new and still being refined and I had been hesitant to add the ILC basic exercises to my routine because I wasn't sure that I wanted to get up a half hour earlier every day to practice something that might not be of any benefit, particularly when I could spend that time practicing Taiji, which I knew would give me benefit. In the end, I decided to give it a try for a couple of months and then evaluate my progress and their utility.

The first couple of weeks of practice sessions were pretty rough. I really didn't know what I was doing so practice was both frustrating, because I couldn't do the exercises well, and boring, because it was just a repetition of the same thing over and over (and over ...).  When I started, I focused primarily on absorb/project and, over the last several weeks, have been working my way thorough the exercises of the horizontal plane.  Working through the exercises raised a lot of questions that Mike and Keith - and Sam's video - have helped me work through. I have improved, albeit slowly, and actually come to find practice more interesting.

At this point, I can't say that practicing the first five basic exercises has actually improved my push-hands or spinning-hands ability. Still, it was practicing these exercises that gave me the insights into the 'wrecking ball', which has noticeably improved my Taiji and, as I've started focusing on the frontal plane, I have gotten some insights on the four energy pattern. With this in mind, I have decided to continue my morning practice of the exercises and expand them over time to include the first ten basic exercises. In November, I plan to take the ILC student level 1 test at which point I will revisit the utility of daily ILC practice. For the curious, I have laid out a schedule of practice leading up to the test and added it as a page on this site.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Wrecking Ball

While practicing ILC recently, I stumbled across a new insight. It started while I was in the ILC forward stance - front foot turned in slightly (5 degrees) and back foot turned out moderately (40 degrees) - very similar to a Taiji archer's stance.

I was practicing shifting my weight back and forth while keeping my balance (center of mass) between the center of my feet. I was shifting pretty much through the full range of motion such that at one extreme most of my weight was on my front foot and then gradually shifting back until most of my weight was on my back foot. As I was doing this, I was keeping my upper body square to the front and, after a while, I started to feel a small internal twisting toward my back leg as moved back that let off as I moved forward.

After feeling this for a while, I started to twist my waist in sync with this internal twisting - all the while keeping my leg motions exactly the same - so that as I shifted backward, I followed the internal twist by twisting to the back leg and as I shifted forward, I followed the internal twist by twisting to the front leg.

The important point was that the twisting of my waist was not being driven by my legs, which is the way I have always tried to twist my waist. The twisting of my waist was actually independent of my leg motion - it was just a matter of opening the hip I was shifting away from while closing the hip I was shifting towards. It gave the most peculiar sensation, as though my stomach was a pendulum swinging back and forth from leg to leg although, as I've played around with this movement, sometimes it feels more like a wrecking ball than a pendulum.

Not this is anything new - early in the beginning Taiji class at TTOPA they teach an exercise in 'merging twisting and shifting' that emphasizes this exact point and the Taiji classics speak about 'loosening your waist to drive all movement' - but it's the first time its ever clicked with me such that I've gotten a real taste of what's going on.

I've been playing around with this technique when practicing ILC and Taiji and it  makes a difference. In the Taiji slow form, I haven't been able to apply it to all of the movements but it has changed how I do a number of them where twisting and shifting dominate - it's been particularly noticeable with cloud hands and I now sometimes feel like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine when doing it - I'm probably going to need to tone that down a bit but, for now, it's a lot of fun.