Sunday, April 29, 2012

Internal Arts Training

I've been visiting New York City for the week and took the opportunity to drop in at Internal Arts Training (IAT), an ILC school in Union Square run by Joshua Craig. I visited them once before when I was in NYC last fall and got a lot out of it, so I thought it would be worthwhile to stop by again.

It's always feels a bit awkward to me dropping in on a school where you really don't know the folks all that well but Joshua and the students were great to work with. I had intended to go for the first hour and maybe stay for part of the second but ended up staying all three hours. If you're ever in the New York metro area, I recommend attending a session at IAT - it will be well worth your time.

The evening I went, one of Sam Chin's advanced students - Jeff - was visiting class and he led us through the 15 basic exercises. He and Joshua worked with me during this time to help refine my form, focusing primarily on:
  • Horizontal Plane - My horizontal circles don't stay horizontal - it's a problem Mike has pointed out to me previously and I've worked to improve them but they still aren't right. Joshua suggested placing my arms lightly on a flat surface (e.g. a table or counter top) and to get a feel for doing the circles. Once the circle starts feeling more natural, I can then practice with my arms about 1/2 an inch above that flat surface, which should allow me to develop a feel for the cycle such that I can transition to the basic exercises.

  • The Loop - The transition from concave to convex has always been a bit of a mystery to me. After teaching the 15 basic exercises, Jeff worked with me to demonstrate how this transition works in the sagittal plane.  He explained it by starting with the arm above and the hand in a convex position.  As the arm pivots down, the hand moves into the neutral position at the point that the arm is parallel to the floor - this is where the problem arises - you need to transition from the neutral position to the arm moving down with the hand in a concave position but if you simply try pushing down, it doesn't work. What you need to do is press down while simultaneously pivoting around the point of contact and getting the hand into the convex position - this movement forms a loop. I still don't fully understand the technique but I did get a feel for it while working with Jeff and want to work with Mike and Keith to get a better understanding of it.
After the basic exercises, I did some spinning hands with Rich, one of the other students. We focused primarily on the first circle and particularly on the transitions from south to east (and south to west). Joshua came by frequently, initially explaining the move and subsequently refining it with us. While doing this exercise, I was struck by a number of things:
  • Initial Engagement - At IAT they stress engaging your opponent from the initial moment of contact. I have a tendency to let my guard down at this initial point and my fellow students at TToPA are nice enough to me that I get away with it but it's a bad habit that I need to break.

  • Long Stance - At IAT, they take a much wider stance then I typically practice in and the students stand much further apart from each other. This felt awkward at first but I got more used to it over time. The longer stance has the advantage of being more stable but it is harder to hold for long periods of time. Since the students stand further apart, I found myself leaning forward to engage them so I had to adjust my stance and alignment to stop.

  • South-to-East/West - In the transition from South-to-East/West, you need to keep the energy focused on your opponent throughout the movement. Joshua described the transition in the following steps:

    • equalize the point of contact - in the south position, this is on the yin side of your lower arm. He broke the contact point into four quadrants and said to make sure the energy was equal in all for.
    • for the actual transition - when first learning - you can think of the inner two quadrants as a hinge the you're pivoting around, rather then spinning your arm around the contact point, you are closing the hinge.
    • closing the hinge is a lot like using a screwdriver to tighten a screw - you can't just use rotational force you must also use some forward force otherwise the screwdriver slips out of the slot.
    over time, this transition became smoother and it feels more effective then what I've been doing.
Finally, I worked with a different student - Jeffrey - and we continued to practice the first circle but spun a little more freely. Jeffrey was working with me on balancing the energy at both points of contact - basically training my listening skills. He was able to show me at the four basic points how to recognize where I had gaps and how to go about adjusting to re-balance the energy - we worked to together on this for about an hour and, again, it became smoother over the time we worked together and felt noticeably.

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