Toronto October, 2015 Workshop
Normally I take notes at workshops, but at this workshop I decided that it might be a good idea not to, my logic being that other people take better notes than me and then post them on “Don’t Move”. I was ignoring the fact that notes are often a record of specific details that have a particular resonance because of where an individual happens to be in their practice at that particular time. Toward the end of the workshop it began to dawn on me that I had made a mistake, and when Kelvin asked me to write an account, I cringed at the irony that this would have to be the one time when he asked me to do so.
Anyway, I’ll do my best to recount some particularly significant moments.
First thing that comes to mind is the push hands drills we did on the last day. For someone who usually avoids push hands for fear of recurring injuries, this was a real treat. We all got on the mat in pairs and started off by taking turns one pushing on the other, to the point of losing balance and falling down. At first I was experiencing some pain when my hip made contact with mat but eventually, following many repetitions, I found myself managing to spread the load of the impact through more of my body.
I remembered getting thrown by Greg at the last Toronto workshop and upon landing feeling very connected with the mat. The first sensation was that of rolling and then I felt a bit like pancake batter naturally spreading out upon contact with a hot griddle albeit a lot faster. I felt no pain. In fact, it felt quite good. I see the reason for this sensation, now, as the result of one continuous stretch from Greg’s body into mine.
The drill gradually progressed to throwing each other down. I’m not sure of the correct term for the particular move so I’m going to call it a hip throw… stepping behind my opponent, placing my right leg between his legs with my right arm in front of his body then trying to rotate my right kua to turn my waist in the direction of his body in a lever action that causes my opponent to fall backwards onto the mat. During one of these exercises Master Chen tried to stop me just as I was about to execute the throw in order to make adjustments that would make the move more efficient, but it was too late as I had already committed myself. At first I felt bad because both my partner Lucus and myself had missed an important opportunity for correction. However, upon reflection it seemed that in my loss there was a gain, which was the realization that by going past the point of no return I was really falling into the move. I suppose another way of putting it is that I had lost the stretch. As Master Chen has often said, we must always be stretching. Earlier in the workshop we were doingwith Brennan and John leading. As Brennan was closest to me I was following him, and in his somewhat robotic form could see clearly the continuity from one stretch into the next. Perhaps this was the reason he and John could freeze when Master Chen shouted “don’t move”.
Lining up the dots:
The next two-person drill that comes to mind is one where Master Chen had one person holding his/her finger in a in space, the tip representing a dot. The other person practiced hand out/elbow in while trying to stay on the dot. I practiced this with John and got some really useful feedback. The most notable flaw was that while I was doing a reasonably good job of staying on the dot, as the stretch became more challenging my was tilting toward my arm. This observation by John reinforced the importance of cooperative effort and feedback, as I had no idea that my was doing that. I took this exercise a little further the next day (Sunday) while attending a practice session with Patrick, Michael, Chris and Sandy led my Kelvin. This time, after stretching out to what I thought was my maximum range Kelvin forced me into awkward uncomfortable positions where my normal reaction would be either try not to fall down/try to push back/try to get away etc. etc., all of which would eventually lead to my giving up. This experience was different in that all I concerned myself with was staying on that dot…doing whatever I had to do to stay on that dot. I found myself realigning my body without thinking about realigning, sinking down without thinking about sinking down. I founding myself staying in control even though it felt like I was out of control, and for the first time the situation didn’t feel hopeless. Even though I was on the point of collapse there was a sense that as long as I could stay on that dot, it wasn’t over until it was over.
This experience gave me a new understanding of what it means to stay on the track, another concept that Master Chen talked about at the workshop, and an awareness that Kelvin was trying to push me off the track.
Having just read Sandy’s notes, also compiled from memory, I will add a few more that he missed, in the hope that I can offer explanations in a future post, if and when muscle memory kicks in:
- Speed differential
- Grabbing floor with feet (like a hand) …how making this connection is essential for correct alignment.
4. The importance of understanding the principles.
Finally, as he often does, Master Chen talked about the importance of listening to and following his instructions as opposed to filtering his directions through our own often rigid preconceptions, something that apparently even seasoned students and disciples can be guilty of. Sandy has already touched on this subject in his notes, but thisa nerve for me and also, on an even more personal note, did the importance of paying attention to my own thoughts and words. I came away with a much deeper understanding of the word careful and a very real and liberating sense that this practice, and Master Chen’s teaching, is about more than just doing the forms and pushing hands.
At this point I’d like to add my appreciation to Master Chen for another great workshop and to Kelvin for offering a training session directly following the workshop. All who attended agreed that this was a very useful addition to the regular workshop schedule. I hope that this will be considered again as an addition to future workshops.