Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How do I be a beginner and gain value from studying different martial arts?

Anthony Taylor
Tasmania, Australia
Dear Peter Ralston,
Thank you for your work, your writings periodically keep me honest. I am training with Dave Higgins in Hobart, mostly enjoying the mind/body-space of playing the games and making some primitive beginnings on a slack rope. I am training in Aikido with teachers of various quality at the Uni club and doing some supplementary training with a Ninjitsu instructor simply because he is the best mover I've ever seen.
I reason that most people seem to come to Cheng Hsin with a lot of Martial arts under their belt and already have as it were, techniques to transcend. It seems true of yourself and Ueshiba that technique, instruction and discipline provided a valuable basis to find truth. It seems wise to begin in forming technique with Cheng Hsin principles and practices as soon as possible.
These different influences have kept me a little extended without causing confusion probably because they all inform each other so thoroughly, I would, however, appreciate some guidance on how best to be a beginner. Is it as simple as Goenka says, that to make a well you need to commit and dig one deep hole? Can I study a few traditions with serious and playful curiosity and come away with more than just a good time?
Good luck with the month-long.
Anthony Taylor

It is hard to say, both have value. In the beginning, however, it is probably best to look around for a while. Studying a few things can balance the dogma of any one. On the other hand, you need to delve past the hard parts to get an appreciation of any art. Some arts, or teachers, aren't worth the time; some are. After much study, then choose one or two arts and dig your deep hole.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Questions for the master. Alignment when Punching? Stance and Protecting the Body? Feeling Qi?

Michael Norman
Boston, MA
Peter Ralston,
I have completed the first two chapters of your book and have decided to stop and make sure I get them right before moving on so as not to lose anything. I do have several questions that you may answer later on in the book but I will ask anyway. If they are answered please don't waste your time in answering them since I am sure you are very busy.
Thanks again for taking time to read my letters. I think I have found answers to a great deal of what I am looking for in your book and I would truly love to do anything that I can to help you and your organization. I have a black belt in isshinryu karate so I am used to a straight punch and a forward-facing grounded stance, but after taking kickboxing and tae kwon do, I found that a sideways-facing bouncing stance makes me much quicker and allows my kicks more freedom, this is where my problems arise.
Michael Norman

Q1:Since you talk about the elbow as pointing down, do you suggest a straight punch or a twisting boxing punch as the base technique? There will be times when the other is applicable but which do you see as more effective?

PR: The elbows point down only when there is no reason for them to point in any other direction. I do neither the boxing punch with the twist, nor the karate punch. Basically, I simply reach out the arm using the whole body and put my fist on the target. The elbow should be moving into the end of the fist so that the wrist isn't bent at all -- the elbow, forearm, wrist, and fist should all be on a straight line. In a high hook punch, for example, this means the elbow will be up and out to one side so that the forearm and wrist are straight when moving into the target.

Q2: Looking at Cheng Hsin from a kickboxing standpoint, is it possible to adopt a stance which limits the amount of target space open to hit but also allows you to settle on your heels and remain mobile? Along that same line: if I am fighting from a sideways stance with one shoulder facing my
opponent, my whole body can be in line with the exception of my head which would be facing him. Does the fact that my nose is then out of line with my navel create problems?

PR: Many martial arts fuss over stance. The pose one takes is really not very important. I suggest that rather than trying to protect the body with the shape of the body, instead protect the body with your awareness. Be sensitive and completely aware in every moment of everything that is occurring with the opponent and you can always take appropriate action. This is best.

Q3: This question is the most important and one that I have had for my entire life. Ever since I was small I have been able to control small warm bursts of something to shoot through my body. It creates an extremely pleasant, warm feeling and makes my skin tingle, but I can only do it a certain amount of times in a row before I feel like I have exhausted it. I have asked doctors about it and they have no idea. Is this my qi? Speaking of qi, I am having a lot of trouble feeling it. I can see and feel its effects but not the qi itself, which is preventing me from being able to gather it and direct it as much as I would like too. Any suggestions?

PR: I will tell you the truth about that. What that is is what that is. It isn't really any more or less. Try practicing other things as well. Altogether, they help improve your ability to control your body and direct your feeling-attention. The consciousness which moves attention through the body is not itself a feeling, so the effects are all you can notice. I spent much time messing with such things and found one question that's good to ask is: what are you doing it for? It is quite useful for increasing awareness and sensitivity, and shifting states, and making new distinctions in subtle perceptive feedback and the like. But if you watch, it isn't very useful for developing magical powers all by itself. This is what many people think is going to happen. I've yet to see it. I've met a few people with some phenomenal abilities, but these didn't seem to come from simply developing their chi, and such people are very rare. Much more frequently encountered are the people who "believe" but show little beyond that. I suggest working with trainings like the Ball and Chain and such. I also suggest that you investigate what this feeling really is that you are creating. Be completely honest about it, and see what you come up with.
Peter Ralston

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Intrtinsic Strength Applied to Ground Fighting

Michael Thomas
Kimberley, England
Hi Peter Ralston,
I'm wondering how intrinsic strength applies in a groundwork context. Is it still possible to apply principles such as grounding when you're off your feet? My experience of ground fighting is that it utilizes a great deal of muscular effort, but I can't yet see how it could be otherwise. What are the options for applying intrinsic strength?

It is harder to use intrinsic strength when grappling on the ground. It isn't harder to use grounding though, since you can't get much more grounded than lying down!
First you need to learn the use of intrinsic strength before trying to use it in a more difficult situation. Usingintrinsic strength requires movement, alignment, and compression. While grappling, movement is reduced because of the nature of the art, but there is still movement. The more you can use the ground for compression the better. In grappling, positioning is very important since you have so little mobility, also leverage is essential. And yes, more strength is generally needed because of the situation, but still less strength than you might think, and much can be done in the area of yielding, maintaining the advantage, efficient use of weight and positioning, etc. All of the principles still apply, they simply must be translated into lying on the ground.
Good luck,
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Friday, January 3, 2014

Insight to become one with your opponent

Jan Bloem
Groningen, Holland
Peter Ralston,
Two small questions:
Q1: During the Cheng Hsin workshop we did an exercise in which we needed to put our hand on the body ofthe partner and move around without losing the contact. After that we did some pushing. At one moment I put my hand on a partner and I had the feeling that he was not very present. I felt the body all right, but that was it. Also with the pushing it was rather easy to "push him around." On a theoretical level, can you say that this is a case of a lack of body-being?

Q2: I have the feeling that I see more and more what you mean with "consciousness" and also the "martial value" of it. My question is (one of them) some people say that you are able to "read" the intentions of your partner. How I interpreted your remarks during san shou was that we should be very aware of every part of our body and the mechanical and physiological reactions which are evoked by external stimuli -- being a punch, kick or behavior in total. When people say "he can read the intentions of his opponent" the impression comes to mind that you need to learn to observe behavior of your opponent and you should start with your opponent. I have more the feeling that you do not read the intention of the opponent by looking at him, but by being aware of your own bodily reactions, because they are usually quicker there than any visual feedback. When you know out of experience that a certain physiological reaction is evoked by a certain behavior of your opponent, there is a great chance that this behavior will occur. In that sense you will be one step ahead. This will make it possible to "respond instead of react."
Am I on the right track?

About Q1:
What we were practicing is called "outreaching," which is making and feeling the connection with another. This enables us to pick up information about a partner or opponent beyond feeling his whole body, such as a sense of what he's up to, how aware he is, his reaction to being "touched," and so forth. We can't say that your partner lacked body-being since that would mean he didn't have a body or wasn't alive. We could say that he probably was not very conscious of his body, or not "in" his body much. When a person identifies most strongly with his mind, the relationship that mind has to body is abstracted, detached. He may "perceive" the body and even identify with it, but he doesn't occupy the position "of" the body "as" the body, which creates a serious weakness.

About Q2:
Certainly I recommend paying attention to the opponent and your own body. Although this sounds self evident, you'd be surprised how many martial artists need more work in this area. As far as your analysis, it certainly shows you're thinking about it, and it may well have validity. The particulars, however, aren't as important as the experience, and the experience usually comes as a feeling awareness, a cognition of theother person's intent and impulse, which for me comes largely as a feeling, sometimes just as a sort of knowing that is so close to my response as to be virtually undetectable as something separate from my action (but not completely). As a feeling it is as if their movement, and in some sense their intent or what they are up to mentally, emotionally, and strategically, "touches" my body. In this way, it may be similar to what you are considering. I wouldn't want you to restrict yourself to one way of thinking about it. In the end there may be many ways we pick up such information -- use them all.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Questions for the Master (Insight into several aspects of the martial arts and other training)

Nguyen Van Minh
Paris, France
(Next: Because of the amount and nature following questions, I will answer these rather briefly and as
they come up.)
1. Question: Does your kind of realization break selfishness and fear?

PR: Yes.

2. Question: Is the "I" purely memory?

PR: No. The self certainly is identified relative to what is historical and so memory is a big part, but I don't think it is accurate to say that "I" is memory. At least one other ingredient is necessary, which is the
conception that "I am." This is then followed by "I am this or that" based on identifying something that I am, which is a function of memory.

3. I can't stand firmly. What is exactly "rooting"?

PR: Attaching to the earth. There are various methods to achieve this, but the name, being a metaphor, suggests some sense of being connected into the earth. Feeling the whole body and relaxing the whole thing so that it falls down into the feet will help you stand more firmly. Concentrating on a feeling sense of being located or attached under the ground will help you root.

 4. About relaxation: Does it require that one find out and annihilate every anguish, including existential anguish? I mean anguish about one's destiny, life, death, and so on. I feel them in doing relaxation in bed, before sleeping. What kind or state of mind allows this kind of realization?

PR: Your view is an extreme one. Deep relaxation may well result in running into emotional tension produced by such things as anxiety, and it is true that fear or anxiety does not fit in an extremely relaxed body. But worrying about it doesn't help. The principle behind relaxing is letting go. If you can let go of all anxiety, something very deep is sure to relax. But don't get caught up in "biting off more than you can chew." Instead of trying to accomplish everything at once, it might be more reasonable to do what you can and then work your way toward deeper levels of relaxation when it feels natural to do so.

5. In fighting situation, does one use a minimum amount of strength when relaxed? If yes, what is this minimum?

PR: Yes. The least amount you can use to get the job done (and usually less than what you think).

6. About chi: I never understood it. How to train simply to develop it? When you push someone far away in T'ui Shou, do you use chi? Do you use a minimum amount of strength?

PR: Chi is best thought of as "feeling-attention." This applies primarily to feeling, listening, outreaching, directing movement, and whatnot, yet it is intrinsic strength, not chi, that is the main component to not using strength.

7. Did you manage to make somebody else to break the ego? I mean: is your realization "transmissible"?

PR: Yes and no. First of all if you mean by "breaking the ego" a realization of being that is not a self, then this might be called an enlightenment experience which others have had, yet neither I nor anyone elsecan "make" that happen. Others can experience whatever I have experienced (or anyone else for that matter), but they must always experience this for themselves, it cannot be handed to anyone without their responsibility. With work and commitment on the part of a student, I can facilitate such things.

8. Do you have any students who have the luck to live by you so to have the opportunity to get close teaching (your own personality is part of the teaching)?

PR: Not really. Some students live close enough that we see each other on occasion. Of course personal contact with someone who has an experience of what it is you want to know is the best way to learn (but I doubt anyone would want to learn my personality).
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