Saturday, August 4, 2018

A(nother) Tai Chi Workshop with Adam Mizner

This summer, Sifu Wu was away once again for an extended visit to China so I decided to take the opportunity to find a Tai Chi workshop focused on push hands.

I figured I'd go anywhere I could find something interesting and, after looking around for a while, I found that the folks at Santa Cruz Tai Chi were hosting Sifu Adam Mizner for a four day workshop (July 14th-17th) just an hour away in Santa Cruz.

Some time ago, I happened into a workshop with Adam Mizner in New York City (described in this post) and, even though I was only there for a day, it was a great experience so I signed up for the workshop (which was good because it filled up quickly).

The workshop was 5 hours of training per day, split into 3 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. The morning sessions focused on solo training with emphasis on loosening, qigong, and zhan zhuang. The afternoon sessions (after the first day) focused on partner training based on the secondary four energies: cai (pluck), lie (split), zhou (elbow), and kao (shoulder).

I got a lot out of the workshop - it's given me a lot to think about - but I think the most interesting part of the experience had to do with the solo training.

On the first morning, Sifu Mizner started with some loosening drills, including squatting down. Flexibility has never been my strong suit and squatting down is particularly challenging - after squatting for what seemed an eternity but was probably about 5 minutes, I eventually had to stand up and my legs felt like they were made of lead. It struck me that burning out my legs in the first few minutes of the first day was probably not a good way to start a 4 day workshop but I took a breath and squatted back down for another eternity.

We then went through much of the loosening sequence in this video, which involves standing still while being bent over for long periods of time and this effectively burned out what was left of my legs.

After that we did 5 postures of zhan zhuang:
  1. open stance, arms at side
  2. open stance, cross-wrists
  3. commencing stance (heels together, feet in V), arms at the side
  4. empty stance on left leg, strum lute
  5. empty stance on right leg, white crane
Sifu Mizner suggested that, in general, you should only practice zhan zhuang a maximum of 30 minutes a day and he recommended holding each of the 5 posture for 5 minutes. For the workshop, we held them a bit longer.

By the time we got to the zhan zhuang training, my legs were so fried that in the first posture they were burning and shaking but I somehow managed to hold the position. And I managed to do this for the next two postures as well but, when we got to the one-legged postures, that was it for me - I could only hold them for a short time before needing to take a break and move.

After the solo exercises of the first morning session, Sifu Mizner explained that the point when things are getting difficult and the mind is telling you that you need to move is exactly the point when the training really begins. He went on to say that the body can usually do more than the mind thinks and, at the time when you want to give up, if you can instead hold the posture and release the tension, that's when you get the real benefit of the training.

After the first day, I figured my legs would get more and more tired throughout the rest of the 3 days (which they did) and I didn't know how I'd be able to get through the stance training but, amazingly, each day I got a bit better and, on the last day, I managed to hold all of postures without taking a break. I hadn't expected that at all.

Since the workshop, I've been pushing myself more in my own zhan zhuang training. I'm not doing half an hour a day and I'm not working towards that at the moment but I think it may be worth extending my zhan zhuang practice over time.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Pretzel Conundrum

This post is a little different from my normal blog posts but I think it's in line with the spirit of it.

Last Christmas Mindy and I went back to Florida to visit my family for 2 weeks (as we usually do). While we were there we took my mom to see Darkest Hour. After taking her to find seats, I told her I was going to the concession stand and asked if she wanted anything. She said she wanted a hot pretzel, which confused my because I couldn't remember her ever asking for one but I told her I'd see what they had.

So I went to the concession stand and asked the girl behind the counter for a hot pretzel. She give me a strange look then went on to explain that they had 2 pretzel options - either a box of "pretzel bites" or a made-to-order custom pretzel that weighed 1.5 lbs and cost $15. It occurred to me that $15 sounded like a lot of dough for a pretzel but, after a moments consideration, I told the girl I'd have to go with the 1.5 lb option. I felt a little bad because she had to go and prepare it herself, which took quite a bit of time (another cashier came in and took her place while she was gone) - when she finally came back she had a box about the size and shape of a pizza box with a very hot and fresh pretzel along with assorted dipping sauces.

When I returned with this monstrosity, my mom got a big laugh out of it but she also really enjoyed the pretzel. So I got to watch Darkest Hour with a pizza-box-sized pretzel box on my lap - I'd open it from time to time and give another hunk of pretzel to my mom and she put a pretty good dent in the pretzel by the end of the movie (which didn't stop her from eating a steak at The Outback afterwards, her favorite restaurant).

A few days after I returned from my holiday in Florida, I got a call from my sister saying that mom was in the hospital and that I should consider coming back. Mindy and I flew back the next day and I'm glad we did - I got to spend a day with her before she fell into a catatonic state and passed away a few days later on January 10th.

My mom's sudden, unexpected passing was  a shock to me and something I've been coming to terms with ever since. One of the (many) things I've thought about is that two of my mom's favorite things in the world were movies and anything related to WWII - so I'm really happy that I got to take her see her last movie she and it was one about WWII that she really loved.

I'm also really happy that at that instant of the pretzel conundrum - the choice of going the easy route and just buying the pretzel bites or getting the $15 pain-in-the-ass mega-pretzel - I made the right call. From my current perspective, I see that paying $15 to make my mother so happy was a real bargain.