Saturday, March 21, 2020
Some ideas for your personal practice during confinement and beyond...
When I first met Master Paul Gallagher, he gave me a piece of advise that has opened doors, windows, and huge rooms of learning and insight in my martial, spiritual, and healing pursuits. Paul said I should try to find our what our teacher Master T.T. Liang's daily practice routine was. Paul told me that it was important what you practiced, when you practiced it, and in what order you practiced to make positive gain and not to undo one practice with another.
I went to Master Liang and just asked him what he practiced and in what order. In his amazing generosity he told me. No hesitation! And he gave me insights into why he practiced in the order he did, and what times of day he did different practices. Too easy! I soon found that this was an exception.
When I went to my Shao-Lin/Pa-Kua/Hsing-Yi/Tai-Chi teacher, Dr. Leung Kay-chi and asked him about his personal practice routine, he gave me a quick answer. Now this teacher learned many complete systems and was a disciple of two highest level masters, his late father in law, Han Chin-tang, and his master who he lived with Liu Yun-ch'iao. What was his answer?
I began asking all my teachers and classmates about their routines. I mostly got the same answer, go away kid! I even traveled to California to train, study, and confirm practices and sequences with Master Liang's main pushing-hands and two-person forms training partner, Master Lin Chun-fu. Master Lin was another generous teacher who told me his training sequence, and the pushing-hands practices and sequence he practiced daily with Master Liang in Taiwan.
My teacher Grandmaster Wai-Lun Choi gave me his training sequence and the ideas behind how to put different practices, styles, and training in an order that made steady progressive. Indeed he said, "One hour a day of practice is better than ten hours once a week."
From all this research, I give you my findings, my training sequence, and some reasons why/Wai. In the following blog I'll share some of the basic practices with you in movie and audio form. But for now, read and enjoy.
You can divide your practice into a daily, weekly, monthly, and even seasonal, practice. For instance, what practices are so important that you want to do them every day. Other practices are essential, so every other day will be enough. Some forms I do once a week, either because I teach them regularly or that they are simple, like Tai-Chi Fan for instance. The practices I do once a month are those I don't want to loose, but don't want to practice more regularly. Seasonally, I do more weapons in Summer because I can be outside, whereas in Winter, more meditation and qi-gong, plus "jailhouse Tai-Chi." When I have a partner, two person forms, pushing-hands, sticking-hands, sparring, and fencing take precedence.
So, how to put together a daily practice? You have to start with how much time you have. Then you have to proceed with how much you have, or want, to practice. Space, equipment, partners all factor in. If you are going to class that day/night can you put that into your practice equation? Here is a general sequence with reasons and ideas;
1.Warm-up. Warm ups are different from stretching, which I'll cover later. Warm ups raise your body temperature, get blood into your muscles, lubricate your joints with synovial fluid, and increase joint mobility. They also warm up your intuitive mind and get you into the mood for your practice. Warm ups can be short or long. Start at the top of your body and work downward.
2. Sitting Meditation. I always do warm ups before I sit, so any stress, tension, impatience,or stiffness doesn't call me away from going inward. If I'm doing a short sitting meditation, I may do that first, before the warm ups. What you do when you sit is up to you. Taoists use the formula of movement and stillness. When the body is active, your mind is passive. When your body is passive, your mind is active. For instance, when you do Tai-Chi, your body is moving, so a passive meditation like being smooth, flow, swimming in air, or lightly feeling your breath are enough. For sitting, because your body is still, use an active mind to relax, deepen your breath, and circulate your energy or ch'i to all places and points throughout your body.
3. Standing Meditation. Standing gives us the chance to work on 4 of the 5 major aspects of Tai-Chi and Internal Martial Arts: Alignment, Relaxation, Breath, Mind. The 5th, Whole-Body-Movement is done after standing. I would suggest doing less time than more time. Muscling through to hold a posture for a specific amount of time can lead to tension. Plus, when it feels good, stop! Less is more in the big picture.
4. Single Movement Training. Master Choi emphasized that if you want to develop whole body power, you have to do whole body movement training. He calls this 9 Joint Harmony. Master Liang called it "intrinsic energy." You simply take a single movement and practice it, trying to start together/stop together, with upper and lower parts in coordination, and when one part moves, all parts move and when one part stops, all parts stop. Doing right and left sides can balance the body and inform the movement/posture.For example, do a row of Golden Roosters going backward, checking to see if you start together, stop together, and feel comfortable, balanced, and relaxed, with effortless breathing. This is the foundation of all internal martial arts. Pa-Kua does single and double palms, Hsing-Yi does the 5 Fists, Wu-Dang Sword has the 13 Energies, and others all have single movements practiced outside of a sequence.
5.Solo Forms. Forms are sequences designed to combine movements and challenge your skills of alignment, balance, breath, harmony, etc. Meditation in motion, mindful movement, swimming in air, reeling silk, you get the picture! Forms also catalogue applications and techniques for self-defense. You try to extend your energy and awareness to the surface of your skin with your solo form practice.
6. Partner Work. When you work with a partner, you try to use their skin, to extend your awareness past your skin, outward. They are your bio-electric conduit! Partner work teaches you applications and self-defense ideas. You learn about your body, and other people's bodies, in a different way and viewpoint. You train your eye for recognition, your skin for sensitivity, and your spirit for fighting and self-defense. And you learn to work with another person.
7. Weapons. Swords, sabers, spears, etc help us extend our awareness through an inanimate object, sending our energy and ch'i to the tip or point. This helps in circulating energy in our solo form practices. Weapons are also for self-defense, strategy, and are a type of weight-lifting.
8. Two-Person Weapons. Fencing helps with the eyes and recognition. Sticking helps with sensitivity and is an even farther projection of our energy and ch'i. Timing and distance are of the utmost importance when sharp things are involved!
9. Hard Style/External Martial Arts. If you train in martial arts where you are trying to be faster, stronger, or have more endurance, than your opponent, this is done after the internal styles and practices. I follow the same sequence of standing, solo, partner, weapons and fencing etc, just in my hard styles.
10. Conditioning. This is where any forearm conditioning, iron palm, post, etc. training is done. When the body, mind, and spirit are good and warmed up, there is a lower chance of injury when conditioning.
11. Strength and Endurance. Weights, running, sit-ups, etc, are done now. No need to fear any tension or strength getting into your soft styles or practices. Also again, you are lowering the injury factor by pushing your body after it is warmed up, having lots of oxygen and ch'i, and a focused mind.
12. Stretching. here is where we try to increase the range of motion in our limbs and body. Our body is warm, the muscles have lots of blood in them, and we're ready to gently yet firmly try to increase our stretch limits. There are many kinds of stretching formulas and theories. I use a few different methods, but all are more effective at the end of your practice.
That is my basic sequence or formula, cataloged from many teachers, lots of personal practice and research, and over 30 years of teaching and guiding others. It is a building of energy and awareness formula. Mornings you want your practice to take your blood and energy from your core and move it out towards your extremities. At night, you want to take your energy and blood, and return it to your internal organs, You can simply reverse the order at night to cool down, go inward and be ready for bed. I would still do warm ups first, but if I had an active day, I may do a shorter set of warm ups.
Another thing I learned from polling so many teachers is that the sequence is important, but that you do not have to have something in each category. For instance, you may not have standing practice, or know any fencing. As long as you follow the general, order you can skip or have gaps, and still be progressing. If I don't have any partners, I skip 6 and 8.
You also don't need a lot of practices. Professor Cheng Man-Ch'ing, Master Liang's main teacher, had warm ups, solo form, pushing hands, sword form, and fencing. His system covered most of the items I listed. Master Liang had so many weapons and fencing forms that that part of the sequence was extensive.
One thing that is apparent, if you skip about in your practice, randomly choosing what to practice, you make be taking one step forward and two steps back. Having a clear idea and plan for practice is the fastest way to progress. I hope this helps you! I love to help people compose their own practice sequences and schedules. Let me know if you would like to have me organize your workout!
Next blog I'll share some warm-ups, sitting meditation, standing meditation, and the Golden Rooster of Tai-Chi. I'll be filming more of these practices and will share them with you during the quarantine, and beyond! Stay safe, be healthy, and relax.