For the second consecutive year the North American Practical Method Training Camp was held at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This seventy acre retreat, located in a mainly residential section of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provided a relaxed and private location for training. While the center is an outreach ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration it is an informal center with an emphasis on ecology and the many varieties of spirituality. It is easy to mistake the sisters for the volunteers working in the garden or helping maintain the grounds. One of the sisters, who is 80 years old and teaches Tai Chi Chih, a form of Qigong, can often be seen driving a tractor on the grounds. She took a break from her work to watch a group of us practice the First 13. Another sister told me she was happy to see our large, primarily, but not entirely, male group stay at their center, because we provided a different type of energy than is usually found there. My point in mentioning this is to suggest that the folks at Prairiewoods appeared to have enjoyed us being there
It was an amazing training camp. Any given session with Master Chen could include lessons, drills and demonstrations as well as historical tales, philosophical musings, economic discussions, cultural comparisons, and humorous anecdotes. Thirteen disciples came to the event and sixteen left. This is the third ceremony I’ve seen, and I am honored to have been present.
The secret to learning and progressing in the Practical Method seems to be:
Observe without analyzing.
Mimic without elaboration.
When it gets difficult, and it will get difficult, persevere.
Or if you want it to fit on a t-shirt:
Do again…and again…and again….
Master Chen said Practical Method does not require you to understand you just have to do. This was underscored in these quotes:
“Conditioning is everything.” and “You are not going to get it if you skip the morning.”
According to Master Chen we all have habits. We spend our lives justifying these habits, and because we are lazy and prefer to avoid bothersome issues, we never change. To change our lives we must first change our habits. However, we can’t change if we fool ourselves or are lazy. We learn by doing things we don’t like or don’t want to do.
He contended that most learning occurs before the age of 3 ½ the period in life when we observe and mimic without thinking about it. As adults we always analyze.
He also said truth is straight forward. There is no distance between us and the truth. However, we like to surround the truth with round things, which I took to mean anything that conveniently and easily distracts us from the truth.
Daoist approach to reality: The past is delusion, the future is illusion.
Here’s how a beginning Practical Method practitioner reaches entry level:
Learn the form
Smooth it out
(after which you reach entry level at point 3 below)
Body parts start to relate
Master Chen emphasized that we cannot be humans but instead must operate as machines. To successfully do this we must do what he says and nothing more. An example of this was on Monday morning when we did hundreds of repetitions of Twist the Towel, doing it for a longer time than I had ever before done it. At first I struggled to persist, but eventually I became fascinated with trying to find the optimal way to move. Master Chen had been especially helpful earlier in the workshop when on another drill he had pointed out to me that my lower arm should move only in the direction of my finger while my upper arm moves only in the direction of the elbow. When put into the context ofthe reality of this became apparent. Associated with this is the idea that when the elbow relates to the hand it aids the hand. I also managed to get and inkling of what it is like to fit through a dot, not that I can do this well or often.
Earlier in the workshop Master Chen told us how things work:
First there is a principle or rule
Next comes the concept which is the action
Thirdly are techniques which are movement
He drew accompanying images of power going down from a point of contact into a foot and out from that point of contact to the chest. Another drawing showed this separation going from the dantien into the front foot and while at the same time going from the dantien out the opposite direction to chest, shoulder, arm, hand.
My notes here say that to do this you must change your body into multiple functioning units where all parts move to conform to the line.
– full or stretch until you are full
Ji – let up and move in
Another major “theme” in the workshop was. I believe this means that once a point of contact is established then part of the body forward of this moves forward and an equal force is created within the body moving toward the rear. To do this it is important that the rest of the body get out of the way. He also said that everything moves toward one dot and fills that dot until it can hold no more at which time it explodes. This explosion is .
Not this ——–>
This can be accomplished by:
Fingers move only one way –out
Upper arm moves down the bone to the elbow
Back leg goes back, sometime the heel which has been lifted goes to the ground
by stepping backward
by sinking into one kua while rotating on central axis in the other direction
Master Chen talked about the threshold (below this I write: Pulling elbow in while engaging rear leg and sinking qi to dantien. Belly hardens and ligaments stretch.) That said, I suspect/hope this is one of those things that I will get sometime in the future.
There was much more, a good portion of which I still don’t have a handle on. However, much has been covered in the notes of fellow attendees. I also received a tremendous amount of help from the disciples, and I hope they understand just how valuable their insights, corrections and hands-on adjustments were in guiding me forward in the Practical Method.