Saturday, October 31, 2009

A System of Martial Arts Training and Objectives for Wujifa

In the martial arts system of Wujifa there is a certain progression or evolution in the process of training. In the system of Wujifa, there are certain stages or steps that should be aimed for as one trains. When someone first starts training, working at understanding very basic “methods” or “forms” of method is key. These “methods”, like a finger pointing at the moon, are not about the “methods” or “finger”, but are more about the direction one will be heading in. Methods are much like a medicine and can assist or hinder one’s progress depending on the usage of various methods and when they are used.

People in Stance

In the beginning, we start with 1234, 1234 (Zhan Zhuang Alignment). 1234, 1234 work with the structural aspect of the first Wujifa triangle. As  understanding the concepts of balance and relax are slightly more subjective concepts for the beginner, structure serves as a good starting point. As one gets a good feel for the method of 1234, 1234 we bring in the concepts of being balanced and relaxed within this structural foundation of the Wujifa martial arts and qigong training systems.

As one progresses and develops a deeper kinesthetic awareness for structure, balance and relax of the first Wujifa triangle1triangle the weight will start to sink and the new practitioner will find and become aware of the weight they have carried beginning to sink into the legs at a point in the center of the quadriceps. These are very good signs, and normally take anywhere from a few months to much longer depending on how seriously the practitioner trains. The aim is to stand for at least an hour one to two times a day. The Wujifa system is much like a doctoral program, and requires dedication by the practitioner to achieve these desired results.

At first, it is very common for people to find it very difficult to stand for even 10 minutes and that’s okay. Getting to the hour of stance, which is ultimately very important in the long run, can be accomplished by the method of slowly adding a few minutes every few days with the focus on the structural elements of 1234, 1234 and the more subjective meanings of balance and relax. When we say “subjective meanings”, we are talking about actual functional, physical results that are contributed to by the understanding of these kinesthetically experienced concepts.

The next step and objective in the martial arts training system of Wujifa is when the practitioner working with these concepts we’ve talked about begins to notice through sinking of the weight, the appearance of the fascial stretches. Commonly, these are noticed in the lower back. As talked about in other posts (The Concept of "Sit Down" in Wujifa Standing...), turning the femur heads out and relaxing the quadratus lumborum and other lower back muscles creates the space for this fascial system of the lower back to move into a more functional organization of one’s body . Training at this point creates the opportunity for the practitioner to begin to notice how the fascial system functions, and is noticed as what is commonly called in Wujifa “fascial stretch”.

At this point in Wujifa training, a practitioner is now getting a deeper understanding of the principles suggested in the first triangle of the Wujifa philosophy. Remember, the methods are not the truth. Understanding the principles and philosophies, through a kinesthetic awareness, are key to gaining this greater understanding of what balance, structure, and relax mean. As the student progresses and the body’s fascial systems open to a more functional organization, other fascial stretches are also noticed.

As one continues along this progression, the concept of connection starts to be explored. The practitioner’s goal at this point is to notice gaps between the fascial stretches by refining subtle adjustments within the philosophy of balance, structure and relax and the method of 1234, 1234 and adjusting accordingly to connect these fascial systems. This is the next step on the path of understanding internal strength, power, and movement.

Many times at this point, simple movements such as side to side (Keys for Developing the Inguinal Crease, aka Kua, with Wujifa Side to Side Practice ) have been introduced and contribute to the refinement of connection while moving and while standing. Also, it takes time for the body to adjust and strengthen these connections: it takes practice over time to develop these. For the serious practitioner, who puts in the time and effort, this can be accomplished in six months to a year from the previous step, and they begin to understand the meaning of the second triangle in the Wujifa system of connection, ease, and equilibrium.

At this point, the practitioner has come to have some skill and more advanced means of training are employed that continue to develop and refine these fascial system and connections. Working with gentle forms of resistance, light weights and partner practice have been introduced. At all times, the practitioner seeks opportunities for further refinement (gaps, breaks, and other areas) which they can gain insight from to help in their understanding of full-body movement and strength.

Now the practitioner is starting to gain some understanding of the third triangle of Wujifa which is Power, Poise, and Unity. Instead of practicing form, which can be limiting and slow the development in growth and understanding, the practitioner begins to analyze and 3 triangles 2 take more ownership, and seeks validation from someone who has skill in this area. Also the practitioner continues practicing and exploring the opportunities they are discovering within previous “basic” practices as well as developing unique methods for themselves by adding in free-form movements such as a slower form of solo combat dancing, increasing of weight bearing trainings while practicing for resistance, and issuing power by using heavy bags and sparring.

This system of objectives in Wujifa martial arts training above maps out the steps that the practitioner takes to gaining a more true understanding and skill of practice of what is called “Wujifa”. As one puts in the time and focuses not on problems, but what contributes to growth, while seeing the opportunities in the particular difficulties that might be perceived as holding them back, growth and progress within the system of Wujifa can be easily attained with dedication, attention, and focus.

For More Information on this subject these other articles may be very helpful to understand this topic in more detail:

Visit and Read: Zhan Zhuang Alignment

Visit and Read: Wujifa Triangles

Visit and Read: More on Zhan Zhuang and Movement

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Zhan Zhuang Alignment

When practicing Standing, or Zhan Zhuang, getting good alignment is one of the common difficulties for beginners. The method for Zhan Zhuang alignment in Wujifa is called “One Two Three Four, One Two Three Four”. The two sets of One Two Three Four are different and complementary sets of alignment points.

The first set of alignment points are: (these links open new windows)
2. The knees are over the feet.
3. The hip/inguinal crease/kua are lined up over the feet and knees.
4. The shoulders are lined up over the kua, or inguinal crease.

Looking at the foot first, draw a line from the center of the heel to the second or third toe. If we do this on each foot, these would be two parallel lines. This is what we mean by the feet are parallel. In this model, we extend these lines using visualization which will let us calibrate the accuracy of how parallel these lines truly are. Using these longer lines, small mis-calibrations will be easier to notice. It’s important to mention that the feet are only about a foot to a foot and a half apart. Many people stand with their feet much wider when standing. We will not address that method in this post.

Next, apply the same process to the knees. From the center of the knee cap to the center of the area on the back of the knee, we create two lines again and extend these visualized lines as we did with the feet. If the knees are turned out, the backs of the lines will intersect behind your body. If the knees are turned in, the fronts of the lines will intersect in front of your body. The aim is for the two lines to be parallel and over the two parallel lines of the feet.

The same method is applied to the hips from the center of the inguinal crease and center of each glute. If we tuck and tighten the glutes to pop the inguinal crease out in the front, the lines will intersect behind your body. If we tuck and crunch in the front with relaxed glutes, the lines will intersect in front of your body. (These are just two of many common misalignments.) Rolling the femurs out, relaxing the glutes, and relaxing the belly and lower back simultaneously corrects many common mistakes and will allow these visualized lines of the hips to be parallel, which will allow the parallel lines to stack up, over the knees and over the feet. If the lower back is arched, the lines in front of your body will be tilted down. If the lower back is tucked, then the visualized lines in front of your body will tilt up. What we seek is to have the visualized lines parallel and level with the ground and with each other.

For the shoulders, somewhere between the acupuncture points L1 and L2 and the outside of the shoulder is the point on the front (depending on the person) and the back point is relatively on the same area in the back. If people hunch forward, which is a common mistake, the extended visualized lines will intersect in the front. If the chest is puffed up with the shoulders pulled back using tension in the rhomboid and other upper back muscles, the lines will intersect behind you. Keeping the spine straight and allowing the rib heads to turn or relax naturally will allow the chest to relax and keep the shoulder lines parallel and over the hip, knee, and feet. This is the first set of alignment vectors.

The second One Two Three Four of basic standing Zhan Zhuang alignment consists of the following four points:

1. Inguinal crease "in"

2. Tailbone and lower back relaxed and sinking "downward"

3. With the spine straight and the rib heads relaxed, the sternum drops "downward" without hunching the back or shoulders.

4. The head relaxes "back and upward", maintaining a natural relaxed curve through the cervical vertebrae.

In the Wujifa system, we address the second model of One Two Three Four as puzzles. These puzzles are figured out over time through training.

The first puzzle that we normally address is the inguinal crease "in" and lower back/tailbone "down". This is different than tucking. As we’ve mentioned in other posts like "Basic Tips for Zhan Zhuang and the pelvis", and in the first model explained in this post, the femur heads roll out, creating a feeling of widening in the lower back, the glutes relax, and the lower back relaxes. This allows the inguinal creases to go in, the lower back to lengthen, and the tailbone to sink.

The next puzzle is the combination of points two and three. When the lower back sinks correctly, many people tend to hunch forward or lean backward. Keeping the spine straight and vertical and then allowing the rib heads to rotate is the key to understanding the relationship between points two and three, and is the aim of “Three” in this set and model.

In point number four (the head back and up), in connection with number three, many people pull the head forward, or back in a military “Attention” posture both which make the neck rigid. We correct this common problem by guiding them to straighten and elongate their spine by relaxing. Next we have them look up to the ceiling, and then bring their chin down by allowing the head to pivot on the top of the axis bone at the pinnacle of the spine. This results in the ears lining up over the shoulders in a natural way. Using this method allows a person to understand what is meant by the head back and up in a relaxed natural way.

An important point to remember is not to force this alignment. Some people have hunched for many years or stood with their feet turned out for many years, or have carried a lot of back tension for a long time, thereby shortening muscles in those respective areas. The mistake is to force this alignment instead of relaxing into it. So we bring the alignment as close as we can, challenging ourselves slightly so the muscles can relax and open in the problem areas. As we practice over time, we continue to adjust the parallel lines to where they will stack naturally and create better connections throughout the fascial systems of the body.

As one understands this more, one also understands how the method is not the truth, and how the connection of the fascial system of the body is what is being sought. Ultimately, these methods of alignment can be bent or broken slightly to the level of fascial connection manifested through this kinesthetic process.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wujifa Triangles

The triangles in Wujifa are a principle and a method to help people understand the aim of practicing Wujifa. In math, there is a saying that knowing any two angles of a triangle will help you discover the third, and hence, the same is true in Wujifa. Within the principle of the Wujifa triangles, there are successive triangles, which in one way can be linear… or better said “progressive” and yet because of multiple reference points, non-linear at the same time.

The first triangle consists of three points: structure on the left, relax on the right, and balance on the top. The concept of WUJI in Wujifa on the method level is to be thought of as a fulcrum on which the creation of polarity (or yin and yang ) is born within this paradigm. In Wujifa, unlike other arts, we don’t focus on polarity, we focus on discovering the connectedness or one-ness of the principle of Wuji. When attention is applied manifestation will come about to the level that one understands how Wuji works as a principle.

The first triangle, as we said, any two angles helps discover the third, so with the Wujifa triangle, the practitioner discovers the two that work easiest for them to help them work and understand the third. For example, if one understands relax and structure, this leads to an understanding of balance. If one understands balance and relax, it leads to an understanding of structure. Understanding structure and balance leads to an understanding of relax. Remember, relax is not limp. Structure is not rigid. Balance is not polarity.

As one understands structure, relax and balance, a new understanding will evolve which leads into the progression towards the next triangle of connection ease, and equilibrium respectively. For example, if one starts to develop a kinesthetic understanding of structure, relax and balance, they will start to notice the fascial connections within the body. Working with these fascial connections will bring about an ease of movement and the harmony that equilibrium will bring. The next level following the same progression would lead to unity, power and poise.

Unity grows out of connection, which is a concept of structure. Power grows out of ease, which is a concept of relax. Poise grows out of equilibrium, which is a concept of balance. Each aspect of each triangle: structure, relax and balance; connection, ease and equilibrium; then unity, power and poise; are not imagined concepts but physical manifestations of skill or kinesthetically experienced realities within the body.

Remember, these are all just words, and practice over time brings these into being through one’s awareness. Over time, and understanding, each one of these words will come to be understood as meaning basically the same things as well. Balance cannot be balance without structure and relaxation. Structure cannot be structure without balance and relaxation. Relaxation cannot be relaxation without balance and structure. Understanding the flavor of each word and how they harmonize with each other to create the same meaning is the suggestion of this method of the Wujifa triangles, and hence the principle.