Dear Mr. Ralston,
I just recently read your book (Principles of Effortless Power) and it is the best martial art book I have ever read! And I read a lot!!! I just want to tell you how much I admire your work and dedication to
your art, and how you made it so much more than fighting, but also a doorway into being. I'm sure you get a lot of mail from all kinds of people asking all sorts of questions. This one is no different, but I am sincerely asking for some guidance and advice. Just so you know a little about me (my
ego), this is my background. I started as a kid (9 years old) to learn karate, then I got into a phase of search for a complete and effective system. I learned some judo, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu and muay thai. I learn fast and I have a lot of natural ability. I fought a few times in cage fighting and did well. (I'll stop bragging and get to the point, before you fall asleep!) Recently I realized that only so much power can be generated by the body alone (160lbs) but also that this power will decrease with age. And more importantly this ego-driven way of training did nothing to get me closer to being and enlightenment.
So I gave up all hard styles and a promising career to look for a better way. I started reading books about internal martial arts. It is quite hard to find a good and complete work on that subject. Then your book found me -- it was misplaced in the wrong section. As I read your book it just brought everything together, what would have taken me years to discover was written right in front of me!
Now I practice standing chi kung (with much more attention on gravity and grounding) also I do ba gua circle walking, chi kung (focusing also on grounding and waist movement), I take a t'ai chi class.
But I'm still confused. Am I doing the right kind of things? My t'ai chi teacher showed us this energy circulation into the arms, but you teach to drain down into the ground when the hands move. I really like your way, it's so much easier to focus downward constantly than moving it all around. So what should I do? What's the best way to develop the energy? How should I train? Forms? Push-hand drills? Or should I train with people from hard styles and try to apply effortless power sparring?
If you can help me find the right path, I will be forever thankful!
Thank you for your time, I hope to hear from you soon.
Your background is very useful to give you a sense of the scope and reality of what people do, and how they interact; you will also have some experience of what the mind goes through in such competitions. This is valuable experience, don't turn your back on it. Essentially none of the internal martial artists you will encounter will have any of this experience and so what they offer should be balanced with this lack. In other words, they may not know what they are talking about as a reality but rather just as a belief. Sometimes what some teacher believes happens to match reality enough to be useful. But it's best to have them show you how things work rather than merely asking you to believe what they say.
Martial work, or any other work for that matter, will not bring you to enlightenment. That is a different study. The martial work helps in many ways with discipline, reality checks, feedback about your own limitations, habits, assumptions, reactions and so forth. But the goal is different. You can pursue enlightenment, or simply increasing consciousness in any way, within a martial pursuit. But you have to do it, it isn't inherent in the pursuit at all.
You may get caught up for a while in a fascination with the various ideas, routines, and promises of the internal martial field. This is fine, but keep an open mind and press yourself and your teachers for real understanding about why the body should function this way or that, or why it is important to practice this way and not that way, and so on. There are many good ideas and clever methods that exist in the internal martial arts; and some of it is even powerful and effective. But there is also a great deal of superficial thought and hollow routines that people adhere to simply because they were taught it and believe it. Try to separate the wheat from the chaff.
No one item will make the big difference. For me to tell you do this thing instead of what they suggest is minor. Understanding the principles and why you should do either or neither is more important. I highly recommend coming to the Cheng Hsin month-long Retreat. Your desire for investigating the truth of being would be empowered a great deal by attending the ENB (Experiencing the Nature of Being) which is the Ontological workshop in the first 7 days of the Retreat. Some simple hands-on play and learning in the Cheng Hsin martial arts can point you in the right direction in a big way that just reading about it rarely does. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but real study is worth so much more. Your relationship to your other arts will doubtlessly change. Some you might give up, but others you may be able to find much more value from, since you won't be as stuck on merely believing what you are told, but will havesome way in which to discern the truth and investigate the matter for yourself.
This working things out for yourself is best done in concert with someone who understands the need for personal responsibility in this search, and so a good teacher is invaluable. Unfortunately there aren't that many very good teachers. This is one reason I advise so strongly that you study with me for at least a while. Regardless of what you think about my personality or teaching methods when you do, you will be exposed to real learning by a teacher who understands what he is talking about in a deep way. This will provide for you an experience of that honest direction, and you can use that experience in your relationship with other teachers -- passing by some, and demanding honesty from the others, until you find a teacher worth studying with.
Good luck and hope to meet you soon.