What is the essential nature of Peng?

by Doug Gauld on 2020/09/27

…what is the essential nature of Peng?  …is there room for creativity in training processes as a PM beginner?  …could be that how we answer these questions will affect the speed of our learning and our ability in PM over time, maybe…this is a speculative piece…

pic PM website

I am a beginner in the art of PM.  I feel woefully inadequate to be positing questions and trying to stimulate discussion on the nature and acquisition of PM skills.  I possess barely 2 years of study and training with Master Allan Belsheim at the Edmonton academy.  I do not do anything else for physical activity or fitness, full stop.  My training regimen involves daily training of between 2 and 4 hrs outside of class time.  So around 6 hrs a day of PM training 5 days a week.  I have had some flare-ups of my Ankylosing Spondylitis over that time so my training has had some holes in it.  It hasn’t been seamless training.  My knowledge of PM training stage development is also at the beginner level.  One of the most difficult parts of being a beginner for me was to ‘empty my cup’ before I began PM training.  I was pretty good at a couple of external martial arts and that success made it hard for my ego to ‘let go’.  I have found I have to keep tipping my damn cup over to spill out its contents all the time, often several times per day.  In other words, to not let my previous knowledge and ability get in the way of learning PM I have to regularly check my thoughts and edit out those that have to do with what I used to do.  Focusing on the here and now of PM is hard enough without having to compare and contrast all the time; too much energy lost.  This preamble is all to say that even though I feel inadequate to the task at my stage of PM development, I am willing to engage in some creative thinking about my training.

This willingness is not based on the hubris of a new student suddenly developing some early skill in the bio-mechanics of PM, I hope.  It is, instead, filling a space created by GM last week when he was giving ‘another’ impromptu lesson to Master Belsheim, and Roy Croucher after one of Roy’s private lessons.  GM spoke about those who would teach PM needing to find ways to translate what he shows us into understandable bits of data, hopefully, consumable by students at various levels of competency.  So I am trying to figure some things out that may help other beginners get better at PM.  The two things that are rattling around in my beginner’s brain this morning have to do with the mechanical nature of Peng and with whether it is possible to be creative with practice in early PM study/practice.

I am beginning to believe that the early stages of training in PM are almost solely mechanical.  Learning how to place the body and its various parts, in relation to each other, is mechanical.  Learning how to move the body parts, in relation to each other, is mechanical.  Learning the inter-relationships of how much force is to be applied to various body parts, both in stillness/lock and in motion, seems to me to be mechanical initially.  For example, the pic of me in the half-horse posture shows many structural flaws according to PM theory/practice.   If I’d thought about making a pic that looked more correct I would have missed the opportunity to correct many structural flaws which I am obviously prone to.  The most important thing that seeing this pic stimulated in me, other than an overwhelming sense of wonder over how much work I have left to do, is to muse about mechanical containment.  A stance, a posture is a study in potential energy.

GM has tasked me with trying to get Peng energy present in my body.  I am struggling to try to understand this Peng, this ever-expanding energetic quality of the body which feels like bamboo or spring steel.  I might have a mental construct that can help me understand how to begin to manifest this Peng in my PM body.  I think that an essential pre-condition for the production of Peng is to think of a gas combustion engine.  I don’t know much about internal combustion engines but thanks to my Dad I do know that they work more efficiently when they are quiet.  By quiet I mean, not just no auditory extraneous noises, but no extraneous engine movement or vibration.  The engine works best when all the gears and other bits are moving in the correct balance and desynchronized synchronicity, inside the engine.  My Pops would get me to put my hand on the hood of my first car and feel the vibrations.  He said anything other than this balanced ‘humming’ means that something inside the engine parts is out of its correct function and must be adjusted.  My Pops taught me that all mechanical systems have their own rhythms.  Imagine your auto engine suddenly develops a huge amount of extraneous vibration upon ignition.  If your auto started rattling, swaying, wobbling, sputtering each time you started it you’d get it to the mechanic post haste.  I think that producing Peng within our PM bodies means we have to find ways to eliminate the extraneous vibration of our engine.  Perhaps, before I try to expand the space between all the joints in my hand in all directions at the same time, I must discover how to keep the rest of my body as still as possible.  If I want to produce power, Peng, in any part of my body the rest of the body must be humming in the correct way.

The next issue is one that I hope doesn’t get me in hot water.  As a beginner, part of my responsibility is to get to know the ‘norms’ of this new group dynamic.  In other words, there are spoken and unspoken rules.  One of the rules seems to be that as a beginner a student can progress much faster in PM if they ‘only’ try to copy exactly what their teachers show and tell.  It seems to me that the correct way to become good at PM is to copy GM and my other teachers as closely as I’m able.  My brain is incapable of stopping there.  Show me how to do something and after I’ve tried to copy your movements, at home, I will begin to try to partialize the move into its component parts.  I will try to analyze the biomechanical elements of the movement in relation to the rest of the body using PM concepts/theory.  I will make notes.  I will try to find ways to create stretching movements that will augment the mechanical efficiencies of the PM move.  All of this happens automatically inside me; couldn’t turn it off if I tried.  I have, over time and experience in various martial arts, learned that I must ‘check-in’ with my teachers at every stage to make sure my ‘creativity’ hasn’t taken me away from PM’s razor-thin line of correct movements.   Not all of my musings are helpful and I try to only ask at times when my questions are only heard by Master Allan or GM so my stray thoughts don’t make it harder for some other student to progress.  A fellow student said to me in class last week that I should begin to teach.  I said thanks but that I didn’t think I was really ready yet to do that.  In this art more than any other I’ve studied there are endless ways to screw up and only one way towards true skill.  I do know that as I still have to keep tipping my teacup to empty it I can’t likely offer any tea to anyone else, yet.  I don’t know where the correct balance is for me on this question of creativity in training.  I know that my natural creativity in the process of actively learning PM sometimes helps and sometimes gets in my way.  I have come up with ‘new’, mostly variations on what Master Allan and GM shows, ways to stretch my shoulder and hip girdles which have helped in my PM bodily ‘re-setting’.  I have also gone down some dead ends like the discovery the other day while working on opening at the breastbone, that I can get my clavicles to rotate like my femurs do in circles.  So let’s think and perhaps debate whether there is any place for those who want to teach eventually to open up creatively in small ways as beginners, then in bigger ways as we progress.  Let’s call it ‘contained creativity’ and much like the engine metaphor maybe creativity is essential to the balanced humming of our PM engines?

Two questions my brothers and sisters.  So what are your thoughts?

…learning to live a breath at a time…

About Doug Gauld

took one two day workshop with Master Chen years ago in Victoria...studied with Gord Muir in Victoria for about 5 yrs, during that time was coping with spinal arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis)...have moved back to Edmonton to be closer to family...trying to learn more about art...it has helped with my arthritis and perhaps if I learn it more completely and make my practice better my health will improve more than it has already...

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Moore September 27, 2020 at 10:54 am

I’ve always believed the most important training happens at home.

In my opinion class has two parts:

1. A place for us to learn and expand on what we already “know”. Time to watch and do our best to mirror what is being shown.
2. Corrections. I love this term in Taiji. This is where we demonstrate what we has been shown and what we have been working on at home.
This helps give you the next piece of the puzzle and also reigns in any “creativity” we may have accidently added when trying to work things out at home.

Next is the critical path. Go home and repeat over and over and over and… Write down the notes from your corrections.
Stretch and grind your movements beyond what you’re comfortable with. We laugh and joke constantly in class how if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right :)
It’s not about adding or removing from the movements, it’s about trying to refine your body and stretch yourself to the next level of the movement.

Doug I’m completely with you on having to constantly empty my cup. It’s human nature to look for patterns. I’m constantly fighting that within myself. The best way I can think
to do that is walk through the door of studio like it’s your first day every day. The moment we think we know something is the moment we’re unteachable. Thankfully my brain and lack
of memory has made that easier :D

Teaching is an area that I agree to disagree with one of my friends. I find teaching helps us to really solidify what we’ve been taught. I had an English teacher who roughly said: you might
know how to use a word, but if you can’t tell me what the word means, you don’t know the word. Teaching helps me focus on how to define the word (movement). Of course this form of teaching
only works under supervision so corrections can still be made, but I have found tremendous growth in the past from this type of training. That said, this was also a form of training that was perhaps born out of necessity due to distance from my teacher. We are beyond blessed in having both Master Chen and Master Allan so accessible. So much so that my previous views may be replaced.

Thank you for continuing to document your thoughts and progress. It’s very encouraging to me as a beginner to both identify with the struggles and get to celebrate victories with you.

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Doug Gauld September 27, 2020 at 2:33 pm

…I don’t need to amplify anything you’ve said…you are engaging in your learning with all the presence and deliberation it calls for, I think…but pls remember that technically you and Anton, virtually everyone in class is technically my ‘elder brother’ in the sense you’ve been in the PM family for longer than I…so in reality you are showing me, the ‘little brother’ how its done, especially in being genuine and ‘in the moment’…I love that I have such great role models in learning to teach PM…both Master Allan and GM are who they are when formally teaching or not…being genuine in the moment may be the most powerful teaching tool of all…see you in class…

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Eric Moore September 27, 2020 at 7:48 pm

I may have dabbled long ago, but I only consider this year to be the true beginning of this journey. That’s why I bring Jonah, so I won’t be the most junior

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