July 27th, 2014

In Which I Take the Boy to Church and then Dig Up Books about Internal Styles

This past week, T. asked to go to church. I thought about trying to find out who brought church up, because it was probably someone at school, and then Having Words with them, but then I thought, hey, let's just roll with this. So T. and I assessed the Concord and Acton/Stow UU churches for this Sunday and decided we'd try our own parish which had a Tai Chi service. I mean, seriously: how cool is that? I get to restart martial arts AND go to a UU service AND satisfy my kid's curiosity about what this whole church thing is, in one compact hour, traveling a very small number of miles.

We had a great time. We knew a couple people there from preschool pickup/dropoff. The service was pleasant and T. was very patient. And now I had some energy to think about finding a teacher out here, which I have meant to do for ... years and ... haven't.

I eliminated one possibility, because whenever reviews of a dojo emphasize how tight the "family" there is, it makes me nervous. This is because I am on the autism spectrum.

I eliminated another possibility, because the woman instructor there does great outreach ... that involves references to fitness boot camps. While my sister-in-law luuuurrrrves them, I Do Not. Actually, that is an understatement. I have great injury paranoia and boot camps trigger it. BJJ instructors who do boot camps make me tremendously avoidant.

Which left me with a scattering of hard styles, a couple of kenpo shops (tempting only when I am at my most mindlessly aggressive, which I honestly try to avoid) and a very traditional operation which, if it weren't _so_ traditional kung fu, I would go for in a heartbeat. I probably will give them a try, because they sound like the right kind of people with the right kind of attitude and a very good pedagogical style. In the meantime, I got out a bunch of books I haven't looked at in a long while. I started with _The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & QiGong_, which I apparently bought in August 1999 from Amazon.com (about eleven months after I left and right around the time I started wing chun do). The first part of the book is motivational: Tai Chi is great and will fix Everything!!! This has better support in reality than a lot of things, but the tone and lengthiness of the rah rah is a little exhausting. Part 2 is about why you need a class, how to find a compatible instructor, what to expect from a class. Around about chapter 9, in part 2, he's (Bill Douglas) talking about the Dan Tien:

"Now tighten your sphincter muscles, as if you were pulling up your internal organs from within, and then immediately relax. Repeat this over and over, until you experience a subtle tugging sensation inside, just beyond where your fingers are pointing in to your upper pelvis or lower abdomen."

I don't really know anything about Dan Tien, but that sounds a lot like a kegel to me.


So then I googled Dan Tien kegel. You should give this a try. It Is Hilarious. If it were just tantric sex websites, it wouldn't be that funny. It's the combination of tantric sex websites with post-pregnancy advice, with advice for postmenopausal women. I mean, that is _excellent_. And it gives a whole new meaning to the martial arts jargon "internal style".

Excuse me while I giggle helplessly for a while. It's been a really great day.

ETA: Oh, meant to say that I debated for several minutes (a long while for me) what to wear to church and discarded the skirt as too JW and the shorts as inadequately respectful. I went in capris. Every woman there was wearing capris. When we arrived, there were a half dozen cars there. Three of them (including mine) were Honda Fits. I _so_ picked a good church for us to go to.

ETAYA: This particular one that showed up on that google search is spectacularly awesome. I've never had this problem, but I think I know people who did/do, and it really sucks because it tends to get dismissed.


_The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong_, Bill Douglas

As noted in an earlier post, my son wanted to go to church, so I took him to our UU parish church in the next town over and it was a super awesome Tai Chi introduction with some lovely readings from various translations of the Tao te Ching. What's not to love? I had this book on my shelves from _before_ I started doing any martial arts and I never actually read it until today. To be completely honest, I skimmed large chunks. It really is pretty horrible trying to learn martial arts from books; videos are only somewhat better, but web videos are awesome, because they can chunk it down to exactly the right size and pair it with a written description and link it to related information/videos. Obvs, in an ideal scenario you go to a class and have a 1-1 teacher student ratio and your teacher is highly competent but ideal scenarios are not easy to stumble into.

So is this book worth anything at all? Well, it suffers from the usual chatty writing style of this series and the other one with the yellow covers. It benefits from the here's-what-I'm-going-to-tell-you, now-I'm-telling-you, here's-what-you-should-retain structure of these two series, bracketed by motivational stuff at the beginning and a little push out the door at the end. The pictures are black and white, and like entirely too much martial arts photography and video, the background and clothing is poorly match to create contrast to enable the viewer to understand what's going on.

Here's an example of _much better photography_ that makes it extremely clear what is going on:


There's a lot of stuff out there; much of it is _nuts_ because this is alternative medicine/philosophy/wtfery and martial arts, and the field is just rife with wacky ideas. And unsafe advice, I might add.

Douglas _does_ say you should adjust stuff and not force anything, but but but but. He says it in that way that is going to make a lot of people try too hard anyway. I don't understand why people do this (actually, I do, but when I do, I get mad, and I don't like being mad, so I forget why people do this, and then I go, why do people do this? round and round). So he gets a B- for safety.

Several chapters are, mystifyingly, devoted to mulan quan. I'm not sure why! On the one hand, this is probably the only book out there with mulan quan pictures and descriptions in it, so one hesitates to say it shouldn't be here. On the other hand, why? I mean, that's a little odd.

Douglas' style is Kuang (or Guang) Ping Yang. Seattle is a bit of a mecca for martial arts, but there aren't any certified teachers of this style there (altho there are apparently two in Walla Walla http://www.guangpingyang.org/find_certified_teach.htm). That makes this book a bit of a misfit for someone who is shopping their local tai chi choices and using this book. The general advice (how to find an instructor based on compatibility, for example, is good, altho at times a little non-specific) is fine, and there is obvs a lot of overlap in the movements, but, but, but.

I skimmed the QiGong, because, well, I will give you an example.

"Bone Marrow Cleansing" this is a heading that falls between "Mindful Movement vs. Mindless Exercise" and "Becoming Elegant with Mulan Quan". Bone Marrow cleansing is a set of movements (there are numbered steps and 4 not terribly helpful photos) with this claim: "the energy is encouraged and allowed to flow through the body, even the bone marrow, to cleanse this tissue of frantic energy. The tissue can function at a higher, clearer level if not burdened by old stress."

I don't have many opinions about my bone marrow, but I don't feel that it suffers from frantic energy or old stress. Perhaps this could help you, if you feel differently.

[ETA: A way better discussion of the topic can be found here, which I am much less motivated to mock, because it actually makes some sense to me. _Some_. I don't necessarily really believe it, and I'm not sure if we are supposed to. http://ymaa.com/articles/muscle-tendon-changing-and-brain-marrow-washing-qigong]

There's a box (one of the punch line boxes) in this section, which claims, "Sometimes in class, students express their concern for the environmental repercussions of releasing their heavy or toxic energy down into the earth. Look at this like our physical human waste, which becomes fodder or nutrients to the earth."

Clearly, Douglas is sincere, and this is a set of ideas that works for him. This set of ideas does not work particularly well for me.

Also, I didn't much care for his warmup exercises. Another example of risky stuff that he kinda sorta accepts has risks, but then brushes those risks aside. He's got a hip rotating warmup. "Close your eyes as you rotate the dan tien. At first this may challenge your balance, but you'll get better." That's not a great way to handle a balance issue at this point. Better to handle it by opening the ideas for the first n times, and then as one becomes accustomed, practice closing the eyes. Given how much tai chi is marketed to seniors, and given that this is a hip rotating warmup, you would _think_ there would be some recognition of the nerve issues associated with hip replacements, but, nope, nothin' here. Go check out Dr. Paul Lam, instead.


oh, and this is one of the all time best surveys of things-you-should-look-out-for-as-an-instructor that I have ever seen for any instructor led activity:


I'm very happy that I was finally motivated to read this book. It helped me navigate through a bunch of topics that are handled much better on various websites, but I would have had trouble structuring that exploration on my own. Now that I know a bit more about it in an orderly way, the book is of no particular further use to me, and I would recommend finding a more current and relevant overview if you want a book to accomplish a related purpose.