Thursday, August 13, 2015

Encounter with a little dragon

I try to get down to Pennant Hills Park several times a week. It's a huge area of sporting fields and bushland, backing onto Lane Cove National Park which goes further still. The bush goes all the way to the Commenara Parkway at Thornleigh in the north, to the M2 at North Ryde in the south, to Lane Cove Road near West Pymble in the East ... and a ten minute walk from my house in the West.

There's a number of epic fire trails and single tracks, most of which I have explored, usually on foot but occasionally by mountain bike. There's hilly five and eight kilometer loops suitable for running, and I used to run them a fair bit back when I was working. Most of what running I do these days I do at North Curl Curl after Jiu Jitsu training on Wednesdays and Fridays. With four days a week of Jiu Jitsu as well, that's plenty of cardio.

Of late I've been going on long walks down to the park and doing breathing and mobility drills, bodyweight exercises and Kung Fu forms. If the eighteen netball courts aren't being used, that's usually where I go. There's a little secret spot I have on a bush track to nowhere nearby where I can sit in the sun on a rock and see only nature. I might stay there for some time and just ... breathe. If the courts are busy, there are other places in the park I can go to find a fortress of solitude.

I like to be alone with my thoughts when I practice my forms. After over sixteen years of Jiu Jitsu and non traditional training, I believe I understand the limitations of forms as a means of practice for self defence, but I find I really enjoy the precision, concentration, and effort to perform each form as well as possible.

I practise forms from Wing Chun, my main traditional art, as taught by Rick Spain, but also perform some I learned from David Crook, who teaches a synthesis of Wing Chun, Choy Li Fut, and Northern Sil Lum, with his own additions and emphases.

I'd got out of the habit of training high kicks, and most of the forms I practice regularly only contain front kicks and low side kicks. I've gone back to training my flexibility a bit more and running through a form which contains mid-level sidekicks and roundhouse kicks. I'd like to keep the abilities I once had, including these kicks. The increased flexibility and lower limb dexterity won't hurt my Jiu Jitsu, either. Plus ... high kicks are cool.

I still find parts of Chum Kil and Bil Jee, Wing Chun forms, challenging. Especially the front kick, side kick combos on one foot while keeping the hands strong and in the correct positions. I nail this probably ninety eight per cent of the time, but that extra two percent is alway on my mind and remains a challenge. The goal, I guess, is to complete the form without fear or anxiety with total faith in one's ability to perform all the movements with the correct form and feeling. Mushin. No mind.

Wing Chun is not regarded (at least not by non-exponents) as an internal style of martial arts, but I try to perform its forms as if they are. Not fast or explosive, but as relaxed as possible, flowing and with good form and structure.

The breath is very important. Full breaths into the lower lobes of the lungs, as most recently highlighted for me by Steve Maxwell, in an environment only incidentally related to qigong.

I'm a sceptic about qi and internal energy, but I still try to feel energy flow unobstructed through each movement and extend each as far as it should go without restriction. Flow, the buzzword of the oughties and ... tensies? is what I am trying to feel and achieve. As if I were surfing the waves of energy, dancing on the energy web.

Like taiji? Yes and no. I have a little taiji in my past, and in my opinion the stepping and movement in taiji is looser, longer and wider than it is in Wing Chun. Wing Chun requires a tighter and more precise stance and structure, where taiji moves back and forth like a wave, Wing Chun works by stepping back, forwards, and sideways, with the spine mostly staying in vertical alignment, vertebrae stacked in the appropriate posture for transmission and reception of power. Like a spring. A spring only tenses and resists when an outside force is applied or removed.

I personally can't feel this if I'm fast and explosive. I've generally done my forms slower than most others ... but David Crook always said the my forms were very much my strong point, and Rick Spain always had me lead forms demonstrations. I must be on the right track.

After a nice walk down to the courts, breathing ladders and forms, I usually feel extraordinarily calm and at peace, I look around, listen to the cockatoos and currawongs, and sometimes something like this stick will catch my eye. I imagined it as a big lizard or a small dragon, watching me as I watched it, linking me to some imaginary plane where sticks turn into dragons and I, at some level, am a magician.

As above, so below.

I have an active imagination. A good friend told me to "Never lose it" on Facebook. Not a chance.

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