The Core Practices of Discover Yi Chuan

This article is the second (Article One: The Discover Yi Chuan Journey) in my series outlining a curriculum of sorts for the Discover Yi Chuan Program. We will be exploring a simplified way of looking at the core practices of DYC. The next article in this series will take a look at the core exercises that are applied in these core practices.

Standing the State

Standing the State is likely one of the most well know and least understood Integrated Strength practices. Why? Because its an empty canvas that you can paint whatever you want on. In my experience only a small percentage of people who engage in standing practices actually achieve the Integrated State. One of my goals with DYC is to help re-frame this practice to make accessible to more people.

Setting aside the statistically anomaly of the savant, I think it safe to say that most of us come to this type of training without having achieved the ability to consciously activate the Integrated State. When that is the case the focus of Standing the State should be said activation of our frame aka activating whole body tensegrity.

There is no one right way to Stand the State as the state itself should be in a 'state' of constant evolution. Even passive practice ferrets out details and insights that can be missed during active practice. Specific qualities like tension, relaxation, calmness, focus, presence, awareness, sensitivity, confidence, engagement, etc. can be refined and honed to a sharp edge when specifically focused on. Furthermore, Jam Jong becomes the primary vehicle for internalization, where routes of strength are practice with less and less visible movement until the practitioner is in a calm and relaxed state but brimming with stored strength just waiting to be released.

Standing the State is also not limited to standing positions. Standing is, of course, our primary position as it is the most likely utilize for self-defense. The state should, however, should be achievable whilst sitting, lying, kneeling, crouching or any other position you choose. Identifying which shapes and routines in which to invest your time is crucial. A Brazilian jujitsuer who likes to mountain bike may specialize in different shapes and routes then the Tai Chi person who loves to snowboard.

The three phase/aspects of Discover Yi Chuan (Discover, Develop & Use) provide a simple way of looking at the standing conundrum. In the Discover phase/aspect we use Standing the State differently then we do in the Develop and Use phases/aspects. Its a cart before the horse can you develop something you have not discovered, much less use it?

Traditionally, Standing the State is the Alpha and Omega of Integrated Strength training, meaning that the skill is both born from and returns to Standing the State. What we learn from do

ing big extended movements goes into standing. What we from stepping goes into standing. Eventually the amplitude of the wave forms generated in the body harmonize into a standing wave that does not seem to move at all.

I recall and anecdote I read from one of Old Man Contradiction's students about how Wang conducted himself when around the training grounds. According to the student, Wand did not practice at all but mostly stood around doing nothing. I smiled when I read that.

Testing the State

I view Testing the Integrated State as a skill in and of itself. In essence you want to get better and better at applying the Scientific Method to test and evaluate your and/or your partner's progress with Integrated Strength.

Let me give an example. We know that one of the qualities we are looking for in Standing the State is root or inherent stability in our frame. After a period of the appropriate training we may introduce a test to see if the practitioner's stability has increased. We may have said partner add pressure to the our shoulder in a slow an methodical way to see if stability can be maintained with more pressure then before.

This test requires a few things to be useful. First, at least one of the players should have a baseline to compare the results to. This means familiarity with the practitioner's results in previous tests. Second, we need consistency in how the test is applied. Ideally the same person performs the same test the same way. Third, there must be honesty from both players to ensure the consistency of the test and the reliability of the results.

Testing Strength is not a unilateral thing. Both the testee and tester are developing skills. Ideally the tester is of higher skill then the testee and is using that skill to provide better feedback to the testee. The tester uses his or her Integrated State like a stethoscope to 'listen' to the testee while they apply their skill. Being consistent, altruistic and articulate with both the testing procedure and subsequent feedback are the challenges for the testor.

Ego of either player often ruins Testing the State exercises. The testee will often cheat on the test to avoid a negative result and/or the tester will subtly conf

ound the testee to artificially create a negative result and or the testor will over 'feed' the testee leading to a 'false positive' result. In such cases you have to throw out the result and rework the test itself for it to be useful.

As Testing the State exercises develop the tester will of course try to confound the testee, but only in ways that are useful to identify gaps in the skill. Regardless of the outcome the purpose of testing strength is to advance the skills of the players, competitiveness that does not serve this end is to be avoided.

Testing the State does not always require a partner. A heavy door, a bumpy bus ride or just standing on one leg can provide meaningful feedback IF you have developed your Testing the State skill. Equipment training is the same, when properly utilized it can provide deep insights into both strengths to further develop and weaknesses to overcome. Its a good idea to build yourself a smart collection of toys tuned to the core activities within which you will be using Integrated Strength.

Developing the State

The Integrated State is not static. Like with meditation the more time spent in the Integrated State the more deep and nuanced the experience becomes. In fact, it is this state that allows us to know our opponent through being aware of the state of our own being. Eventually, even the arrival of another's intent on our spheroid is heralded by a subtle change of feeling when in the Integrated State.

There are many, many qualities to discover an refine in the Integrated State. We learn to Feelize, intense visualizations resulting in actual changes to the body & being. We work to deepen our root and grow our branches. We learn how the right tension in the right places allows us to deepen relaxation. We learn how to be intensely focused yet remain calm and collected. We learn to engage with the space by swimming though it like a serpent. We learn to use our core like a counterweight to absorb and redirect incoming forces. We learn how our stability requires movement, the Internal Orbit that spirals and ping pongs around endlessly. Basically we learn to consciously control our state of being and tune it to our intended purpose.

The Method suggests we work the ends to find the middle. Let us use the complimentary opposites of tension and relaxation as an example.

Initially we want to use as much tension as necessary to activate the Integrated State. Once we can consistently activate we work to achieve that activation with less tension by identifying what tension is not contributing to achieving the purpose and letting it go. In the Integrated State it is also possible to achieve even deeper levels of relaxation then when not integrated, so we are also improving our relaxation potential.

We must also, however, also improve our ability to maintain the Integrated State when using lots of tension. Another exercise in separating wheat from chaff, using intent to recruit more and more of our muscular po

tential into a unified expression. We are also increasing our whole body potential strength, becoming physically stronger than before.

So...with The Method we are working to:

  • Increase our limit of relaxation (looseness) while maintaining the Integrated State

  • Increase out limit of tension (contraction) while maintaining the Integrated State

  • Increase our ability to dynamically find the right balance of tension and relaxation to achieve the intended purpose

The categories below are really aspects of Developing the State where its useful to look at them separately as they require both extra attention and tuning to your purpose(s).

Moving within the State

For most of us the Integrated State is most easily discovered in the simplest, most anatomically strong and stable positions. Think of how basic the ready stance and position number one are compared to most kung fu shapes. Also notice that the ready stance is the same shape you would take when completing a deadlift and number one the same as when you would be carrying a heavy load or perhaps a child.

We also want to take this simplified approach with our transitions from shape to shape, we start with the most simple gestures in order to address the complexity within. A great example is transitioning from the ready stance to position number one. All we are doing is raining our hands from our sides to a natural embracing/cradling position. How easy it is to forget that the whole body must actively participate in this transition, that the feet, legs, back and abdomen all play an active role.

I found and find my isolated strength habitual movement patterns difficult to change. I spent many years punching this way and kicking that, strengthening my muscles by isolating them, judging training by the amount of effort it took and being victimized by so called 'ergonomics' that cover up dysfunctional posture with a shmear of comfort. For me, Yi Chuan is like 'Kung Fu for Dummies' , it seeks to simplify and eliminate as much noise and distraction as possible so we can focus on dis-covering and deprogramming habitual movement pattern that are antithetical to Integrated Strength.

We strive not to be mesmerized by the end points...the completed moves, making them look right. What movement practice draws out is the reality that there are a bewildering number of permutations and combination as to how our body can construct a route from one shape to another.

Take our Tree Wrestling exercise as an example. Regardless of the shape we use we can apply lifting, pressing, pushing, pulling, shifting, twisting, turning, splitting (ripping/tearing), crushing and expanding vectors with our frame. Manifesting these vectors does not change our shape but rather the 'charge' within the shape and since said change requires very little physical movement it can eventually be made very rapidly.

Tree Wrestling allows us to 'play' with the underlying strength vectors of our shape and break down a route of strength into a series of vector changes. Each vector change is essentially the manifestation of a new 'frame', even if the outward shape of the frame has not changed. Like making a movie we want to increase the number of frames we can achieve 'per second' to improve the quality of the end product.

I use the term 'Memory Banking' to describe the process of imprinting the feeling of externalized Integrated Movement patterns onto our nervous system. Having solid 'Memory Bank' of feeling states on which to draw from speeds the internalization process where the feeling of the big, externalized movement is better and better recreated within smaller and smaller external movements. Eventually we can express the strength of the externalized pattern in a concentrated way with little apparent movement.

Delivering the State

Once we can consciously induce the Integrated State and be capable of maintaining it when expressing fundamental routes of strength we turn to the challenge of delivering our unity to target. The two main obstacles to effective delivery are footwork and timing.

Let's start with footwork.

The first footwork challenge is to overcome the habitual movement habit of pushing off the ground to generate strength. Common to many martial arts stances that are made strong by 'bracing', meaning on leg is working in opposition to the other in order to prop up the body. While this approach can be quite clever and effective in the hands of a skilled player it is to be avoided by those of us seeking Integrated Strength.

The reason for this is quite simple. By pushing off the ground when stepping and/or bracing when both legs are on the ground we cut ourselves off from the flow of gravity. Our leg muscles in particular must first lift our bodyweight before there is any useable strength for locomotion or our opponent. We end up severing our own root.

The challenge is to reverse the polarity in our habitual pattern, so that, our body can act as the gravity sail that it is, transmuting the endless pull downward into locomotion. Bending the legs becomes like bending a bow, the energy of gravity is transformed into an elastic springiness. Eventually, we will learn to draw the strength of our opponent into this springiness so we can use it against them.

The lowest common denomination when it comes to stepping is the half step, or more precisely the transition of support from one leg to another. Studying this transition at a deep level not only opens the door to developing stepping with the 'moving root' but builds the foundation for kicking, stomping, sweeping, trapping, throwing and tripping. Furthermore, recalling our Alpha & Omega idea from above, the same body mechanics are in play even when the feet are not moving, like Jam Jong for example.

You may have run across admonishments to 'double weighting' in stances or footwork from other arts, typically Tai Chi. This problem actually has little to do with how much weight is actually supported by each foot and more to do with the relationship within that distribution. The Method helps us discover how to yolk the legs together through the hips to work much like pistons and the crankshaft in an engine. Even when the two pistons are exactly aligned they have opposite polarity where one is going down and one is going up.

Another common habitual pattern to contend with is 'shutting off' our legs when not under load. Try this experiment, stand causally and lift one leg off the ground in the manner you normally would to take a step. Do you feel your leg 'dangling there'? Do you feel some difficulty maintaining balance? If so, chances are you are 'shutting off' your leg when you pick it up. By shutting off I specifically mean releasing the outward stretch or expansion in the unweighted leg. When this occurs the leg in question is removed from our self balancing mechanism and acts like a 'dead weight' tugging us out of central equilibrium.

The old saying of 'two arms becomes one arm' can easily be applied to the legs as well. The idea that 'my whole body is my hands and my hands are not my hands' also speak to this. The intricate interpolation of muscle chains not only increases stability and power into stepping, but it makes that strength useable from any contact point. Once we stop pushing ourselves away from the ground we can begin to appreciate the amount of pulling force that can be generated, it literally feels like pulling your foot out of thick mud.

Our legs can be a bit opaque. Typically we have less awareness in our legs and feet then we do in our arms and hands. Myself and most of my students are first able to notice changes in their feeling states in the upper body (hands, arms, shoulders) before becoming aware of the same happening elsewhere. This is logical as modern life tends to concentrate our awareness up top. It can be useful to use your upper body as a guide. Once 'two arms have become one' two legs can become one, that only leaves the spine to unite all five bows of the body into one.

Another interesting angle from which to study footwork is its application when we are not on our feet. Footwork or more accurately leg work allows us to explore how to deliver the state when not standing. Its a great juxtaposition having the legs unweighted and arms taking load. It helps to shake up our thinking a bit and give us some challenges that will make things clearer.

Now, lets take a look at timing.

A few paragraphs ago we looked at how 'pushing' off the ground severs our root or link with gravity and is a habitual pattern that must be corrected. There is another, similar habit of accelerating our contact point away from our mass that results in a break in our unity. Almost any outward gesture can fall victim to this problem.

Lets use surfing as an example. When a surfer is on a wave he or she can tap into the power of the whole wave, accelerating, turning and harnessing that force to perform all sorts of crafty maneuvers. The moment the surfer looses contact with the wave (in front, behind, above) that power disappears and all the surfer is left with is their inertial momentum.

Now, in this analogy, if we take the wave as being our Integrated Strength and our surfer as being the contact point you may be able to see the conundrum. Many of the methods I have studied use the wave to sling the surfer at the target, a punch is 'thrown'. Disconnected from the wave, the surfer still has energy but it is rapidly diminishing. I can't tell you how many time I have biffed my bottom turn, stalled and taken a beating as the wave collapses on top of me.

To deliver the Integrated State we need to keep the surfer (contact point) on the wave of Integrated Strength so the force of the surfer and of the wave is available for us to use in defense of self. My Teacher aptly contrasted this another way, comparing a bullet to a bomb. With a bullet the peak force happens the moment the propellant is ignited. The entire journey of that bullet down the barrel and to the target rapidly bleeds its energy away. A bomb, on the other hand, retains all of its power until it releases it on contact with the target.

Applying the State

Applying our Integrated Strength can begin as a very frustrating process. Habitual movement patterns combined with competitiveness and ego can long forestall progress and make us feel like we are getting no where with our practice.

From the outside looking in using Integrated Strength seems very counterintuitive until our experience changes our conceptual framework. The process begins by having our training partner set us up for success by providing a condition predicate that makes it easier for our mind to connect the feeling to the result. My Teacher likes to describe this process like feeding a baby bird.

At first, the feeling states we worked so hard to bring under conscious control seem to magically disappear when someone puts their paws on us. Muscle memory is hard to tamp down and becomes almost impossible to interrupt if our dander gets up. Bit by bit we challenge ourselves with more and more difficult tests in order to convince our nervous system to revert to the Integrated State when triggered by a threat to our person or some other stimulus.

A big caveat here. Many people that I have worked with over the years have a focus on health restoration, energy work, meditation, metal acuity or performance in non-pugilistic pursuits. They can be hesitant to build their testing strength skills because, 'they have no interest in fighting.' My response is to warn them that they may be throwing out the baby with the baby water.