Updated: Nov 4, 2022
As a journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step your Integrated Strength journey starts with your first solo practice. Having a sense of where you are, where you are going and how to get there can be quite handy, like having a map to help guide you through unknown territory.
This is the first in a series of articles where I will be communicating the DYC curriculum in a somewhat unconventional way. Typically you would see grouping of exercises and forms to be learned at various levels. We are not going to do that.
In may ways our exercises and practices (our tools if you will) remain largely the same. It is the skill with which we wield them and the quality of what we are able to produce with them that matters. A single gesture, the simplest stance or even a random snapshot of our routine should, ideally, represent the totality of our achievement with Integrated Strength. The exercises are not the Art anymore than the finger is the moon.
Let's have a look at the DYC journey from a high level. Please keep in mind that although I have arranged these stages with some order and hierarchy there is no fixation. A healthy Integrated Strength practice runs many things in parallel often emphasizing certain aspects without restricting work on the others. My suggested arrangement here is more for efficiency than anything else.
The Discover aspect of the Integrated Strength journey begins when we realize that what we seek hides within our own being, that the ultimate challenge is to know thyself. Once this realization occurs we can re-frame our external search to be for tools to crack those internal conundrums.
Our Personal Practice will naturally begin to transform with this realization. Instead of performing exercises and routines we begin exploring with them. Less becomes more and quality is sought over quantity.
In Discover we have a strong emphasis on solo practice in order to 'Memory Bank' the results of our 'Feelization' work. In the beginning these feeling states are quite fragile and fickle, having some meathead try to shove us around or punch our face is not helpful and can interfere with the solo work.
Typically in the Discover stage you will:
Build your awareness of Integrated Strength and how it differs from isolated strength
Decide that to Discover, Develop and Use Integrated Strength you need to train differently
Redesign & develop your formal training habit to focus on exercises and practices that help you SEACH for Integrated Strength
Learn the 'Feelization' skill to bring subconscious body mechanics under conscious control
Activate the Integrated State in fundamental shapes & variations
Build awareness of your Integrated Balance Reflex aka 'The Internal Orbit'
Establish feedback loops to both validate and challenge achievements
I like to think of the primary challenge in the Discovery phase is changing 'mind'. Once our mind sees the goal and accepts the method our asses can follow. What I mean is th`at the realignment of mind allows us to use our tools to transform the tissues and open up the flow of energy. Those changes open up more possibility in our minds and allowing us to evolve our practice.
Discover or dis-cover as I sometime like to write it does not end as each discovery begins a new adventure. The Discover aspect is where we learn the skill of Searching, knowing there is always a higher level, a deeper meaning and more there there to be dis-covered.
My Teacher once said to me, "Revelations are great until you realize all the work you have to do". I wrote it down, but for a while was not sure what he meant. Then came the day my conscious mind finally glimpsed the nature of my frame and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Everything had to be reworked, every exercise, ever stance, every transition........fucking everything.
So I started reworking it all, pouring countless hours into exercises I thought I knew, again rebuilding the movement patterns I had just rebuild when....I had another revelation. Shit.
The Develop aspect is where we learn why kung fu requires hard work. The skill is like a billet that must be refined with each pass from forge to anvil. The hammering not only builds the qualities we seek but exposes hidden flaws that must be cured. The journey must be iterative as there is no other way.
Typically in the Develop stage you will:
Seek to maintain and control your Integrated State within fundamental movement patterns
Strategically introduce variations into your training exercises to develop a sense of 'Freedom Within'
Methodically expand your Integrated Strength Ranges of Motion
'Memory Bank' externalized 'Feelizations'
Increase the difficulty of Testing Strength procedures to challenge your ability to maintain the Integrated State in more difficult circumstances
Begin incorporating the feeling states achieved into everyday/other activities
Shift 'Feelization' practice focus from inducing states to recalling them
Begin to increase the number of internal changes in your external gestures
Methodically build linkages between fundamental shapes
Incorporate more equipment/strength training to condition yourself to maintain Integration while manipulating objects externally
Use your 'Memory Bank' to express fundamental movement patterns with less externally obvious movement
The Develop aspect has us exploring our capabilities, identifying our limitations and overcoming them. We work in extremes. How low, slow, fast, long, short, internal, external, round, straight, hard and soft can you go?
We work the edges to find the middle, burning off what is unnecessary, illogical, counterproductive or just pure dumbass in the crucible of our own experience. Develop is where we go from knowing about kung fu to having kung fu. We hammer and fire our billet into shape and begin to refine it for our intended purpose.
Applying Integrated Strength to your purpose can be quite challenging. My Teacher has called me 'silly boy' on more occasions then I care to remember for my amusingly clumsy mis-takes.
All of the hard work that went into making my frame seemed to disappear the moment I tried to 'bounce' my training partner. I had a difficult time not reverting to my old movement habits when challenged to actually apply them. Sifu would admonish me the I was wasting his Teachings by constantly reverting to using my frame like a battering ram.
Use is where fantasy meets reality, where you find the 'misses' as I like to call them. Mis-understandings, mis-information, miss-ing information, miss-interpretations, etc. abound in this esoteric practice simply because the 'misses' can't be cured conceptually. Moreover, the conceptual mind is typically the source of the 'miss' and the shortest path is to set yourself up to fail UNLESS Integrated Strength is used.
Typically in the Use stage you will:
Creatively increase the difficulty in Testing Strength procedures to improve your ability to adapt to apply Integrated Strength under increasing amounts/types of stress
Modify formal training exercises and practices to emphasize control over the storage/release mechanism
Dramatically increase the number of internal changes within external gestures
Use the feeling states 'Memory Banked' with 'Feelization' practices to activate the same routes with less and less externally obvious movement
Use extremely repetitive practices to hardwire the fundamental Integrated Strength movements patterns and coax them to become highly adaptive
Assimilate achievements in Integrated Strength to other activities (cross train)
Blur the lines in your practice, introducing more variations into fixed routines and practicing more freestyle, spontaneous movement
Strategically set triggers to remind yourself to switch the Integrated State seeking spontaneity
Methodically replace isolated strength posture and movement habits with the new patterns that utilize your Integrated Strength
In the Use aspect of DYC failure is your friend. My Teacher always said that its better to lose with the right method then win with the wrong one. On many occasions he warned me to avoid making the mistake he made, which was, "To allow my fighting ability to cover my shame."
Like many of us, Master Fung found his way to Integrated Strength through exposure to a variety of martial arts. Back in the day he was a scrapper, often testing the waters of other styles on behalf of his kung fu brothers. In Testing Strength practices like pushing hands that fighting ability would often cover a mis-take on using Integrated Strength that would have informed his training and accelerated his personal development, if he had allowed himself to lose.
This is my experience as well. In partner practice it can be difficult to quite that need to 'win'. Old habits die hard and that damn battering ram can be hard to quit.
The 'Health Dance' is often cited as the highest expression of achievement in Integrated Strength training, but I think not as it is still a contrived thing. In my experience the manifestation of Integrated Strength in pure relationship to our Intent is where we want to be, the dormant capacity fully awakened and ubiquities in our every day like.
Unfortunately I cannot inform you of the destination on a journey that never ends. I can, however, inform you that I have designed DYC with a very specific goal in mind for its participants. That goal is to reach 'The Quickening'.
Like any meaningful endeavor we must prepare ourselves to work through the tough bits. We must dis-cover the miss-es, reclaim lost ranges of motion, strengthen and elongate connective tissue, grind through the rust and dysfunction. Much of this is not fun, it consumes time and energy and can feel like pushing a rock uphill.
There comes a point, however, when the hill flattens and begins to slope down, where the practice begins to pull you forward rather than require that constant push. I like to call this inflection point 'The Quickening' because from that point forward things start clicking into place at a faster and faster rate. Through discipline we discover freedom, what used to taste bitter sweetens.
'The Quickening' is also a point where unity and the concept of oneness become more of an experience than an idea. Two, arms become one. Two legs conspire to take a single step. Five bows unite the force of the whole body. Action becomes inseparable from intent and we learn to know our opponent by becoming one with them. We literally begin to relate to ourselves, other people and our environment in a more holistic way.
A journey within DYC is and will be as unique to you as any snowflake. May be you have been training for years and releasing a simple mis-understanding could quickly propel your practice forward. May be your frustrated in not making progress with another method and seeking help. May be you are just starting and want a shorter path to actual skill. May be you are a tourist who is not quite sure if this is something you want to invest your time in. May be you are coming along for the ride with your partner or friend.
Regardless, DYC is intended to give you the tools and support you need to reach 'The Quickening' and the foundation to take full advantage of it. In subsequent articles we will be diving deeper into how to apply the tools we have to support and accelerate our Integrated Strength development to achieve the milestones outlined herein.