Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Spring ILC Workshop

Last weekend, I went to an ILC workshop given by Sam Chin at Stillness in Motion in Oakland. Sifu Chin visits every six months to give a workshop and this is the third one I've been to - though the first one I've been to since I started practicing ILC seriously.

The workshop started on Friday (5/18) with a short evening session (6-9) for ILC members. At the beginning of every session, Sifu gives a lecture that addresses the concepts that we're going to be working on. In previous workshops, I found it difficult to make sense of the lectures much less make the connections with the subsequent exercises but, this time, I got a more out of the lectures - as part of my training, I've been studying the ILC principles and doing so added the context I had been missing. Friday evening's exercises really focused on the basic strategies - from the inside, open out and from the outside, close in.  The main takeaway I had from that session was how to move your arm in the frontal plane to neutralize a force coming in on the perpendicular - if you are neutral to begin with, instead of fighting that force, you can neutralize it either by closing (i.e. in and down) or opening (i.e. out and up) in the two dimensions of movement in the frontal plane.

On Saturday the workshop started at 10:30 and was scheduled to end at 6:00 but ended up going on until 9:30.  The main focus of this session was how to use the 3 planes of movement - horizontal, frontal, and sagittal - in order to neutralize external forces. It was an extension of the concepts we had gone over on Friday but with more depth. The particular exercise that I recall was using the horizontal circles to neutralize a force coming from the south - you really have to get all of the body mechanics correct for it to be effective but it gives you a clear idea of the way the horizontal circles work.

Finally, Sunday also started at 10:30 and was scheduled to end at 6:00 but I didn't leave until 7:30 and other folks were still going on with spinning hands practice. On that day, we practiced qin na - joint locking.  We spent a lot of the time going over the 8 different grabs that lead into the actual joint locks.  These grabs follow the basic circle and occur at the primary points (north/south/east/west) - you can grab such that you absorb with the yin muscles (yin grab) or such that you project with the yang muscles (yang grab). Qin na is a more advanced topic and I didn't get as much out of it as I did the first two days but the advanced students seemed to get a lot out of it.

It was a long weekend and I was pretty exhausted afterwards but it was worthwhile.  Just seeing someone of Sifu Chin's skill is inspiring - the first workshop I went to, he spun hands with me for a short time and I felt like I was in an earthquake. My skills have improved since then but, when I touched hands with him again on Saturday, it was still like being in an earthquake - though I am now more aware of where the forces are coming from (even if I can't do anything about them).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Art of Standing on One Leg

In recent weeks in my Taiji class, we've been going through the second section of the Slow Form, progressing from 'High Pat on Horse' through to 'Twin Mountain Peaks Smash Ears'. I hadn't really noticed before but this section contains a lot of sub-postures that involve standing on one leg - e.g. 'high pat on horse', 'separate foot' and a variety kicks.

As we went through 'high pat on horse', I found that I was still popping-up as I made the transition into the posture. The transition for this particular posture starts from 'single whip' (with your torso facing the south-west corner) and continues by shifting your weight onto the right leg as you twist to the left so that you square off (with your torso facing west). At that point, your left-leg is unweighted and resting lightly on the floor (or just above it) such that you're able to move it easily. As I was twisting left, I was bending at the waist to the right, essentially using my upper body as a counter-balance to force my left foot to come off the ground - this resulted in my left hip being higher than my right and my balance being off - i.e. 'popping-up'.

To do the transition without popping-up, what you need to do is, as you twist left, not to think about lifting the foot off the ground but rather focus on raising the left thigh as you sinking on top of the right leg. This change in focus helps keep the hips even - as you lift the left thigh, your lower back tucks under and the left foot slowly peels off of the ground from the heel to the toes - and, in the end, you are balanced because you're solidly centered over the right foot.

As we continued on in the sequence of postures, I noticed that this general principle applies to all of the kicks in the sequence. In particular, when you kick, you don't think about picking up the foot but rather letting the lower back tuck-under to raise the thigh, with the effect of the foot slowly coming off the ground from heel to toe.

I have subsequently realized that this same principle not only applies to kicking but also any time you have to pick up one leg in order to move it - e.g. ward left, ward right, brush thigh, circle foot to carry the hammer forward, single whip, and almost everything else. I am now working on recalibrating my balance to incorporate this refinement, which means I'm losing my balance all over the place in the form. Again.