Friday, November 13, 2015

New Facebook on training

I have just created a Facebook page on Training Notes (Beta). Each post will be written in both Chinese and English. The contents will solely be on techniques. Interested readers can take a look as per linkage below. You will need a Facebook account to Like the Page and be alerted to future posts though.

Inpsired by Tao Te Ching - Chapter 51



My translation of chapter 51 of Tao Te Ching:

Tao gives birth to everything
Morality nurtures everything
Physical form gives expression to everything
Nature brings about changes without human intervention
That's why everything honors Tao and values morality
To honor Tao and to value morality
follow the path of nature

Tao breeds and morality nurtures
are the natural orders of things....
Let things grow or make things happen
Let things stand or poison things with push
Let things be nurtured or topple things with action

Therefore a sage nurtures things without taking credit
perform without being recognized
deliver results without boosting
this is called profound morality of Tao

Paul's comment: The Taoist way of the sage is based on the Taoist understanding of nature.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inspired by Tao Te Ching - chapter 50



My translation of chapter 50 of Tao Te Ching:

Letting go survives
Holding on dies

A third survives naturally
A third dies naturally
A third chooses to die
Why so?

Those who survive
have strong survival skills

Those who have survival skills
won't meet rhino nor tiger when traveling
won't be stopped by soldiers when crossing battle fields

'cause rhino finds nothing to aim her horn
'cause tiger finds nothing to target his claws
'cause soldiers find no target to aim their weapons
Why so?
Tao holds on nothing

Paul's comment: The bravest man is one who has nothing to lose. The enlightened man has shed his ego. The religious man puts everything to God. And Tao got nothing to hold on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The importance of tendon conditioning in tai chi

Although there are different ways to practise tai chi, the importance in training one's tendon is universal to all serious tai chi practitioners. Tendon conditioning usually means lengthening and strengthening one's tendons, in particular tendons around one's shoulder joints and hip joints. There are however lots of confusions around the practice of tendon conditioning in tai chi.

The main issue is: How is tai chi tendon conditioning differs from normal stretching?

Before I tackle this question. Let's see how important is tendon conditioning in tai chi. In tai chi classics muscle training is usually associated with external martial arts, while tendon training belongs to tai chi, in particular as it is the power behind Fa Jing (發勁), or the externalization of internal power. So much so, some tai chi purists will insist that only tendon conditioning belongs to tai chi. They only train their tendons and refrain from training their muscles. They practise tai chi pushing hands with only tendon fa jing (also know as long jing 發長勁) in which people will be pushed to "fly" but without harm. It works on condition that both are of high skill level and both are focusing on tendon connectedness during practice: i.e. prepared to act and prepared to receive the act.

My training philosophy is that every training program shall be structured according to one's training objectives.  And for most people (in both training for health and combat) both muscular training and tendon training will be needed. Muscular training in tai chi is similar to core-muscle training and the power base is our Dantian. Tendon training on the hand is training the connectedness and power of our tendons. The combat execution of the former includes short jing or more popularly called inch-punch (as popularized by Bruce Lee) which is useful in close combat.

Now let me get back to the issue of stretching versus tendon training. Both involve lengthening our tendons. In tai chi tendon training there are more to it. Firstly, the lengthening mechanism is spherical in nature rather than two dimensional and secondly, tendons in our body should have interconnectivity (the internal sensation is like chi running from tendon to tendon) and thirdly the muscles around the tendons will vicariously be trained too (which involve aligning or fitting our joints). However, the above features also create a constraint: our joints will not be conditioned to as flexible as in conventional stretching training.

(The above is a set of condensed notes to the subject)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Spirituality according to Mother Teresa

"People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. "

The above poem written on the wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta was credited to Mother Teresa. I have italized the last line because it holds the gist of her spirituality.

Being a highly pious person can create a number of problems for the person, including firstly people may be suspicious about your kindness ("He or she has a hidden agenda"), secondly people may exploit your kindness ("You are not kind enough in giving us so little!"), and thirdly your own unconscious can build up a reaction force like a time bomb that is going to explode sooner or later.

The last problem had raised much concerns for Buddhist masters. In Platform Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch raised this issue when he first met the young monk Shun Hui (who later became one of his top disciples). "If I hit you with a stick, do you feel pain or not feel pain....if you feel pain, as a human you are going to bear a grudge against me and will seek revenge one day; and if you do not feel pain, you are not even human, you are just a piece of stone." (my paraphrase)

For Buddhists the solution comes from deep meditation, in particular for Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. Enlightenment is essentially the attainment of inner spiritual experience, which psychologically speaking is a dissolution of our ego without losing control of our personality (losing control will mean insanity). The test of enlightenment is the always the "stick that is going to hit you the next time". For the pious person "He or she has a hidden agenda" is like a stick that hits his or her head.

Mother Teresa once said she had no direct spiritual experience. Hers is another route to spirituality. It is through her strong belief system that is demonstrable or actionable in real life. A belief system that her ego is not responsible to herself nor people around her. Her ego is solely responsible to God, and a most kind God. The criterion of success is demonstrated by one's ability to lead a happy life as a member of Missionaries of Charity for the rest of one's life.

The above poem not only speaks the core of Mother Teresa's spirituality, it also explains what Christianity is all about.

Mother Teresa

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How to do full lung breathing

When I learned how to play Chinese flute (笛子) in high school, I had to do full lung breathing. Chinese flute is a loud instrument. The sound it created is being maximized by a reed membrane. It usually plays the theme in group ensemble, which part is played by violin in Western instrumental music. I was so amazed by my sifu's ability to increase his lung capacity when he played his instrument. "Takes time to increase your lung capacity" that is what he said. Somehow I got it after a year into training.

The benefit about playing the flute for increasing lung capacity is that there is always a feedback. Lacking in powerful air outflow, the reed membrane cannot be fully vibrated, and that can be readily noticed! And without the required length of breathe, the tune will have to pause in the wrong places The negative part is flute teachers do not know how to teach you how to do full lung breathing "Takes time to increase your lung capacity". Your only advice.

In doing chi kung, the case is just the opposite. You do not have the necessary feedback but, given a good teacher, there are ways to train you to do full lung breathing. Below is the way I use in my coaching. Please use it only as a reference, you will need the personal attention of an experienced teacher to do it properly, which essentially means your teacher needs to judge whether your are using the correct muscles and be able to correct you on the spot.

Your lungs are caged in your body in the bottom by your diaphragm, at the top by the muscles around your neck and shoulders, and at the sides by your rib cage.  Full lung breathing means expanding your lungs maximally downward, upwards and sideway. During the whole process, your hands are to be in "zhan zhuang stretch" (that's way zhan zhuang is so important) and the power of the stretch has to be synchronized with the contraction of your breathing muscles. In other words, you have first to learn zhan zhuang before attempting to do full lung breathing in chi kung.

The next thing you should note is that you should image your lungs in the form of a cauldron, or housed inside a cauldron. Cauldron visualization is of paramount importance in Taoist meditation (Neidan). A good practice of Taoist meditation presupposes the ability to do full lung breathing. The mental focus during full lung breathing is on the outside (the shell) of the cauldron. A success criterion is the internal sensation of feeling your cauldron expanding and contracting sluggishly.

The mechanism is not complicated. The steps are important. The first step is a deep breathing focusing on expanding your cauldron upwards and downwards only. Expanding means breathing in, contracting means breathing out. Expanding downwards is what people call abdominal breathing, but that is NOT enough, slight expanding upwards is also required. Expanding upwards is difficult because it can easily make you raise your shoulders and your breathing will be out of good control. To counteract this tendency, your head shall bend down synchronically. And your sternum shall be relaxed (in tai chi lingo: 函胸), you will also feel chi running up your back during breath-in (in tai chi lingo:拔背).

After you have done the up/down breathing to its maximum, hold your breathe for just a second and you do the second left/right expansion of your rib-cage. The key is to straighten your head to facilitate the breathing. This is what people called chest breathing, in which the sternum raises as well.

Many tai chi sifu do not teach (or do not know how to teach) full lung breathing. Many meditation teachers do not teach (or do not know how to teach) full lung breathing. "Take time you will have it", a possible response. As I explained above, unfortunately there is no good feedback system in tai chi and meditation like when learning how to play a Chinese flute.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Meanings in life

Meanings in life begin with an impression. Actors are experts in remembering episodes in their lives. When an acting situation requires, an actor will recreate the internal sensation of similar situations. Professional actors will store away the internal sensation afterwards, lest it will affect their daily lives. One can't bear to have a loved one died once in a while nor fall in love with a new beauty every day (though the latter case some of us might wish to come true!)  For ordinary people, some incidents can create lasting impressions. When we said we learned from experience, we meant that such experience gave new meanings or perspectives to our lives. Our lives have changed.

A few years ago, I had a PE (pulmonary embolism) arising from blood clots from my broken metatarsal The clots were carried along my deep veins all the way up, passed through my heart's chambers and eventually stuck in the main artery joining my heart and my lungs. I was later told that if my condition was not treated immediately I could have died within a couple of hours. Most physicians I talked to afterwards told me that such condition would commonly only be found out during autopsy. Sudden death in hospital, a number in a bunch of statistics.

The previous evening I was sent from A&E to brain surgery ward of suspected stroke. My wife dialed 999 because I complained about heart pain and half body numbness. After undergoing some tests, with a brain scan, no issue was identified. Next morning the attending physician, a brain surgeon, told me that my heart pain was probably due to my misuse of medical crutches, and I was supposed to be discharged the next day. I had some urgent papers to sign, so I called, in good mood, one of my staff to bring the papers to the ward. My wife said she would come too. She is a jewelry designer and we are in business together.

Who saved my life? A dedicated intern (called houseman or house officer in Hong Kong) who probed into every minute details of the blood tests that I did during admission to A&E. He was not supposed to be in my ward that day, he came to stand for another intern who took the day off. His questions were very thorough. I replied patiently in details too, meaning to be "helping a new intern to better understand a new case"! I was told that inmates in our public hospitals would sometimes complain, among themselves, about interns - "they just look kind, in actual fact they only ask questions but will never follow up on our special requests".  My experience is different, I had good rapport with this intern. Perhaps I felt happy that I was going to be discharged the next day. Or it is simply my nature.

To make the long story short, the intern correctly diagnosed me to have PE and I had an urgent open heart surgery to take the blood clots out. When I was discharged, I tried to find his name but was surprised to learn that interns were not in the hospital's doctor list. I went back to the ward with my wife and asked around. I got his name and wrote him a thank you letter via the ward's physician, in the letter I wrote,

If most (doctors) could be like (you), I am sure our health care system can have a quantum improvement within the next few years!

What is the meaning of this incident? Some of my Christian friends said the intern must be sent by my guardian angel to protect ("He is your guardian angel. God has planned something for you in future"). Some of my Buddhist friends invoked the concept of karma and concluded with "we'd better do more good things to other people during this life!". When I wrote the above I was simply happy that we had one more excellent doctor in Hong Kong who had saved my life and who would save more lives in future. My life though has changed. Changed to the extend that I have begun looking for what meanings I can give to other people for every extra year I blessedly have.

Last year Hong Kong had this umbrella revolution for democracy. On day one the police fired loads and loads of tear gas grenades onto peaceful demonstrators. Such unreasonableness made top line in international news. The movement ended but its influence will be far-reaching in the future. On that day a number of volunteered doctors and registered nurses (many from our public hospitals) immediately came out, organized and ran on site make-shift emergency clinics treating injured citizens/demonstrators. A leading figure was a young doctor from the A&E department of a major public hospital. His name is Dr. Leung Tze Heng (Ray Leung 梁子恒) , the intern who diagnosed my PE four years ago.

Dr. Ray Leung

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