Thursday, August 6, 2009

Knocking Stuff Down: the first cool thing I did with baguazhang

Really, the first cool thing I did with baguazhang was to stand and meditate. But I'm going to skip over that for now, because that is harder to write about and less visually impressive.

Instead, I will tell you about knocking down a big, heavy thing.

I had been training Jiulong Baguazhang for six months, keeping it very slow and basic. That means all I did for this "training" was to stand very still for about twenty minutes a day. While standing like this, I had to work on various postural things and mental images, learning to align my body properly so that some day, later on, when I was ready to generate power by moving, I would have good structure to support this power. Think of a suspension bridge or a cathedral with a flying buttress. It's all about structure, right? Good structure provides power, even without motion. That's why we stand and meditate. You have to do it regularly and pay attention to the details, because you are trying to teach your body to hold itself this way even when you are distracted. Certain mental images/feelings help this process, because your body learns to produce the structure when you call up the feeling. It's really more of a feeling than an image, but I'll leave that for another post.

After six months of this standing, in late 2002, I attended a seminar in which Dr. Painter taught us some basic principles of movement. That is, I began to learn how to hold this structure while moving, to generate power. It was fun and amazing, and I was eager to start practicing so that perhaps after another six months I could generate some real power.

Well, it did not take six months. It was more like six hours!

I went home the second evening of this weekend seminar, I went down to my basement where I keep a floor-standing heavy bag, and with one relaxed push, I knocked it over!

Remember those old toys, the "Weebles" that wobble, but they don't fall down? They were egg-shaped plastic things with cute people drawn on them, very heavy at the base, so they always stood upright. My heavy bag has 260 lbs of sand in its base (and I weighed 180 at the time), with just some foam and hard plastic up high, so it is very Weeble-like. When I used to practice karate, I had punched and kicked this thing for hours, and it had barely moved. That was the point: the Immovable Object. I only ever toppled it a few times, with my strongest forward thrust kick.

But that night after my first seminar, I stood facing it, with my best-aligned structure. I took one step out of my stance (what we call a "dragon step"); I visualized pushing through it and far past it, beyond my house, and down the street; and I thought about "taking its space." Physically, I pushed firmly but gently a little above the bag's center while stepping boldly into the place where it had been, confident that it would just get out of the way. Bang! Down it went.

I could not believe it. It felt magical and impossible to get such a result with such little effort. But I had not prayed to some God of Force Generation or danced a silken kung fu streamer around an ancient maypole; I had merely used good body mechanics and effective visual imagery, trained into my body by daily meditation.

It is easy to see how people could develop magical fantasies about this kind of ability, especially in an ancient era without a rigorous study of physics, but what really powers all this stuff is structure, structure, and more structure. To me, this makes it even cooler than magic: "For my next trick, I will be using nothing but plain old physics ..."