The good, the bad and the bitter standing
The following is an observation of a daily internal dialogue that often rambles its way through my mind (I never get lonely).
I remember a guy wanting to learn taijiquan once when I was in Miami. We had him stand in Wuji for half an hour of qi-sinking. He wanted a taste of what it’s all about. Afterward, his only comment was, “Man, this must be really hard to market.”
And if you’re like me, you’ll hate it. You’ll think of a million reasons not to do your sinking practice. Maybe I should just work on form today. Oh, I gotta send that email. I have to do laundry. I haven’t cooked dinner in a while. One more episode of Hannibal. I haven’t worked on the book in a while. Anything. Anything… but that. When you finally get around to the doing, it’ll only be because your Sifu’s voice will ring through your mind with that painful reminder, “There is no other way, young (relative) Jedi.”
When you’re standing post, the burn will come. Stretching, pulling, burning, and tensing. I like to call it “letting the Devil chew on your legs.” At some point, your legs start shaking. A bubbling well of tension will rise up in your body like a slow snake tightening up around your bones, and at first you won’t even notice it. Then you finally do, and you let go again, which in turn puts you back in the suffering. And it’ll rise up again, and you’ll have to let it go again, and again, and again, and again. Your mind’s reaction is insanity and frustration, and it will fight you all the way. Even in all that pain, your mind will skip around to everything from pizza to work to how much you still hate your ex-wife (but still hope she’s doing well). You might also worry that the other people will see how weak you are. “Look at this weakling. Can’t even do two minutes.” And it will flicker around among all these things, inside and out. But the good news for you is that everyone is going through the same process.
And as you get it more correct, the fire in your legs will grow. No doubt, it will. It’s not so much like stamina training, as in, “I can’t wait until this gets easier.” Although, stamina will develop as a side-effect if you follow the rules. But it won’t get any easier. Sure, you’ll be able to stand longer, but once you can do it properly long enough, you’ll get a brand new set of equally (if not more) frustrating tasks to work on. The real work is ultimately how you let it affect your mind. Don’t let the fire consume you. Eventually it will today, but don’t feed it. Just accept that there’s nowhere to run to.
Something to consider, and a big part of training, is not to let fear seep in. Fear of pain. Fear of what others think. Fear of losing this battle.
Fear is to pain what a transformer is to electricity. If you latch on to it and react to it, it takes moderate pain and turns it into all-hell-breaking-loose in your mind. Don’t let it. A guy with awesome power told me not long ago, “You’re answer to pain is relaxing deeper. “ It’s another way of investing in loss. So, first, be the Master of your legs, not the other way round.
Also, know that your limit is farther than you think it is.
How do I know when my limit is reached? Well, if we imagine a measuring scale for endurance, at one end you’ve got aversion to pain. That’s the first inclination at any thought of discomfort at all. Well, obviously you’ll never get anywhere with that kind of thinking. At the other end—stand the full time as if your life depends on it. Like, if you come up, you die. I’ll admit, that second one is nasty hard, mostly because you know you’re not really going to die, and it’d make a full grown adult cry if it were a torture device. But there is also a place somewhere in between that can help you get to the hardcore (if you want to go there). My kung fu brother once posted a note on our wall: “Stand as if Sifu is watching.” If you can do that, then you’re doing well. Regardless, though, always, always, always go past the point when you want to give up. Even if it’s a second. Then next time go two, then five.
Always add. Always make it harder.
And when the time is up, don’t treat it like you’re just coming from the bottom of the sea and breaking through the surface of the water gasping for air. Let go of the stance with control. Always be the Master. After all, that is the goal isn’t it. Command calm in your body.
The Chinese have a saying, because they love idioms more than any other group of people on earth. That saying is ku jin gan lai (苦尽甘来). After bitter, the sweet comes.
The sweet comes when without thinking you can toss other people around who are bigger and stronger than you. The sweet comes when someone yells at you, and your second-nature reaction is calm. The sweet comes when life presents you with misfortune, illness, and suffering, and you don’t let the fear seep in. You meet hard nastiness with lucid calm, because this is what you’ve trained for. The sweet comes when people see that your character has changed. And they tell you that you look different, somehow better.
And lastly, when you think about how NOT EASY this is, just remember, you are having the same experience that everyone else has. It is painful, scary, and frustrating for you. It was painful, scary, and frustrating for your Sifu. It was painful, scary, and frustrating for his Sifu, and his Sifu, and his Sifu. It goes all the way back to every Master who ever existed. Just remember, the ones who accepted it, lived with it, and just kept relaxing through the horror are the ones we call Masters.
Everyone else gave up. There’s a reason so few are good at the internals. Because it’s never easy. There never existed a Master that didn’t have to experience every mental obstacle that you do on your path. Have faith in that.
I leave you with a final quote from our Laoshi Mizner. “If you’re not absolutely hating this, then you’re absolutely doing it wrong.”
This post was authored by Jason Shelton