The state of unity or 'Hunyan' as we refer to it in Yi Chuan is the dynamic balance between tension and compression forces that is both discovered and refined through Yi Chuan's practice of Jam Jong, also called 'standing the stake' or simply standing. It may be more accurate to say that without Hunyan you are not actually doing Jam Jong.......without unity you are literally left standing outside the gate, near but not within the practice.
Tree Wrestling is a family of exercises I developed to help my students learn how to use their intent to manifest a change in their structure. If you are new standing practices or just want to try a different approach I recommend focusing your efforts on this exercise for at least a few weeks, before trying another rabbit hole.
Check out the clip below for some quick examples of how tree wrestling can be applied in partner practice.
In a nutshell the exercises involves wrestling with an imaginary immovable object, a tree or whatever else you can conjure in your imagination that fits the purpose. Ideally it should be practiced at least once daily for about 10-15 minutes to start and longer as your practice develops. Practicing a couple of times a day is even better, however, I would recommend against trying to over extend the training time if you happen to miss a day or two. Its better to make up missed sessions by doing 2 or more sessions spread out through the day until you are caught up.
Tree Wrestling is a progressive exercise. The practice should evolve as your understanding of how to use your intent to manifest structure changes based on what you experience while doing the exercise. Do not do the exercise the same way each day and expect results.
During the first few weeks of practicing Tree Wrestling some portion of each training session should be dedicated to practicing tension. I know that to many who practice standing exercises 'tension' is considered the enemy and should be avoided at all costs. You will have to trust me, its important to include it in your practice. However, try to limit the amount of tension to 80% of your max and less than 80% in the first couple of weeks. Additionally, I advise you to decrease the amount of time you spend practicing with tension over time. If you are practicing daily I advise you to leave behind tension training after a couple months and only use it sparingly when you feel it will help.
Below is a clip that provides some additional background on the practice.
To begin I recommend using the classic 'hugging the tree' posture and visualize that you are actually hugging a tree, a big one. That means you work to actually feel your arms wrapped around it, fingers digging into the bark, chest pressed against it and squeezing it between your legs.
You have to make the tree REAL...a solid, immovable object that you are physically latched onto. By making it real your subconscious mind is compelled to align your structure as if your were actually holding a tree. The old saying is that strong intent (Yi) transforms into strong energy (Chi) which transforms into strong strength (Li).
I use the term Feelization to describe what happens when a visualization is so strong that it results in a physical response or manifestation within your frame. When you feelalize, you short cut around the intellect and manifest structure through your subconscious intelligence.
The change in feeling state that the feelization process draws out is the real achievement you are seeking. Linking, storing and releasing integrated strength are all physical processes that have distinct feeling states attached to them. In the beginning they are non-existent or just too subtle to notice...like not seeing you nose even though you stare at it all day. It is through command of the feeling states associated with the qualities we are cultivating that we discover, develop and make useful this latent potentiality.
Tension has a bad name in internal gung fu. While I agree that deep relaxation is key to developing ones skill, so is tension. Tai Chi refers to the needle inside the cotton. Cotton, in this metaphor is relaxation and steel is the tension. The steel is the underlying linkage that is required to use the whole body as a single unit, the relaxation is so that you have the capacity to tap those relaxed yet connected muscle chains to express more force when needed.
As such, particularly in Step 1 of the tree wrestling process focuses on generating tension through the use of intention. As you will see in the next article in this series we want to engage our entire frame to create a force vector that moves against the immovability of our tree. We are going to flex muscles and coopt them to our purpose. The amount of tension we create is only limited to our ability to slave that tension to the intention. No tension for tension's sake only tension for intention's sake.
One of the great things about a tense muscle is you can feel it. If you can feel it, you will eventually be able to release it. If you can't feel it.....well..?
Throughout the tree wrestling process we will be strategically relaxing what we don't want to be tensed. In most cases we will be relaxing the tension created by feelizing our vectors (turning it into cotton) from while strengthening and refining the underlying linkages and relationships that allow for the tension (hardening our steel).
This is a process. First and foremost we are learning to use our intent change our state. Intent is powerful, imagine the panicked little lady lifting a car off her child. To develop conscious control over that power takes some time and effort.
Transmuting unnecessary tension into connected relaxation and hardening our steel also take time. We are all different, our bodies are not exactly the same, we have different movement habits, different limitations and an entire lifetime of baggage and old injuries to boot. Its a very personal process, no one can do it for you.
The steps in tree wrestling are also progressive. The most effective approach is to focus on step one for a time before moving on to step 2 and same for moving to step 3 and 4. The reason for this is that we need to bank (as in memory bank) the feelings we create in step 1 so we can use them in step 2 and we need the feeling created in step 2 to help us with step 3, etc.
I've broken down tree wrestling into 4 steps to make it a bit easier to digest. Below is a brief explanation of each step that will be more fully explored in other articles in this series.
Make your tree - we learn to feelalize a tree even when one is not there.
Single Vector Practice - we learn to recruit our musculature to contribute to the fulfillment of our intended vector
Paired Vector Practice - we learn to unite the feeling of 2 different vectors into a single feeling
Chained Vector Practice - we learn to change vectors without letting go of the others