After another series of issues with my shoulders (probably caused by a long layoff of training due to Covid), I started training in late 2019 with a new teacher, Bernard Langam, who runs the In Motion Center in Oakland. I started with Penjat Silat (Bernard trained with Guru Victor de Thouars) and Visayan Escrima (he studied 10 years with the legendary Maestro Sonny Umpad). I wanted to do some work that put less or different stress on my shoulders than Wing Chun, and perhaps even learn how to do Wing Chun in a less damaging way. Bernard is also skilled in various therapies such as Feldenkrais, Rolfing, Zen Bodytherapy, etc, which I thought might help me re-examine my structure.
Covid put all of this on hold for most of 2020. After I was vaccinated and was a little less worried about it, I started back training with Bernard. This time I realized that what I really should be studying is I Liq Chuan. I Liq Chuan is an “internal art,” a “brilliant synthesis of Tai Chi, Hsing-I, Ba Gua, Shaolin and Hakka arts…(and) also a merging of Taoist and Buddhist teaching.” It so far seems like not only an amazing art in and of itself, but also a great complement to the many years of training I’ve already done in Wing Chun.
So far, I’ve been learning about “internal” martial arts (a very deep subject) and what internal really means (it isn’t a magic energy like Star War’s force which can act at a distance, this much I have already learned!). I expect to do a deep dive on the subject on this site once I feel like I know at least a little bit what I’m talking about. I’m training and I’m doing a lot of reading in the literature, so I feel like I will be able to at least make some book recommendations and talk about my experiences soon.
One of the unexpected side-benefits of this study has been a deep dive into meditation. So far, I haven’t really started meditating, but rather I’m learning what meditation is and more importantly what it isn’t. Bernard has turned me on to a bunch of information which I will start sharing here, beginning with a really clear and understandable book on the subject called The Quiet Mind. This book is a memoir written by a CIA agent who was working in Asia in the late 1950s. His cover was blown and after that he was freed to pursue what had until then been an unlikely hobby, seeking spiritual truth and self-development. He traveled in India, Burma, Japan, and Thailand and met such people like Krishnamurti, Maharishi, the founder of Transcendental Mediation, and Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki. He eventually found his main teacher in Vipassana meditation master Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
This book is really well-written for a science-minded, Western skeptic like myself and his message is one I in particular needed to hear. The path isn’t more analysis, more knowledge, more books, but to let go and simplify and be quiet. And from a martial standpoint, the way forward isn’t more training, more muscle, more toughness, but a relaxation, a letting go, and a development of the mind, of awareness. Awareness is the hardest thing! Way more difficult than physical training! My mind, at least, always looks for the lazy way. How I can I turn off my brain (use less awareness or consciousness) and do this activity on auto-pilot? How can I live on auto-pilot, freeing my “mind” to wander in the fantasy future and the partially-invented past and do the mental equivalent of doodling? ? I always liked repetitive training forms, like the dummy. I preferred to just zone out and do the form a bunch of times, thinking, this is a path to skill!
The path to higher skill is through more awareness, not less.
You must strengthen your capacity to sustain your alert awareness, becoming conscious of each step, each muscle in your foot, the way the muscles of your body work, which ones are activated, which are turned off? How is your alignment? How does gravity act on you as you move? The bones, the muscles, the tendons, the ligaments. Can you feel all the muscles in your body? Many must be awakened through focused awareness. Certain ones, hardly used by most people, are key to “internal power,” such as the illiopsoas, the adductors, the obliques, and so on. Can you move the bone, the muscle, the fascia, the tendons, the muscles, independently?
But this is the path. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Once again, I find myself at the beginning! Shit!