Sunday, December 10, 2017

Still Here...

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart

I'm still here... and preparing to leave "the mountain" once again. For all intents and purposes, this first semester is done. The day after tomorrow will be our final oral Qigong examination with Dr. Yang and Friday is the official last day of training.

I am so looking forward to soaking in a hot bath with Epsom Salts and essential oils! Here, we are limited to maximum 6 minute showers and/or doing a sauna (only if there are a minimum 3 people who want to sauna at the same time). My joints and muscles need more care and time for recovery than what a 6 minute shower or weekly sauna will ever offer ...

While the sky is cloudless today allowing the sun to shine brightly, it is pretty chilly outside (38F). We haven't gotten the usual amount of rain for this time of year either. By now, you must be aware of the recent new surge of fires ravaging Southern California as a result. Thankfully, we are far north of those fires.

I can imagine in ancient times, when bare hand and weapons' fighting skills easily determined whether you lived or died, that training in the cold may have been a minor distraction. For me however, once my feet get too cold, not only is it a distraction, it also becomes painful. I appreciate the potential hardiness that training in cold, wet weather confers, but it "ain't no fun..."

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart
You ever have that "feeling" that grabs your awareness and makes you move contrary to how your conscious mind prefers? For me, it's a feeling around the back of my neck and the base of my skull--like an itch/tingle. When that happens, I've learned to pay attention because something important and revelatory is about to occur. Early one morning about two weeks ago as I passed by the trampoline, it happened. Now, I've passed by that trampoline every time since I've been here. I've seen other students on it jumping and tumbling as well. Not once has it ever attracted my interest or attention. In fact, I've never been on a trampoline in my life. The closest I was to one was back in 1966 in the gym at DeWitt Clinton High School. Even then, I didn't get on it. I preferred the parallel bars and climbing the vertical rope.

Photo credit: Jamie Urquhart
That morning, two weeks ago, I felt compelled to get on the trampoline. So I was obedient and nervously clambered up there. I felt wobbly at first and then it happened. I didn't jump up an down like I've seen others do, but instead felt how the surface of the trampoline gave way under my weight as I moved about. It felt like walking underneath myself. I got so excited because this was a visceral feeling of connecting to the ever-elusive roots mentioned in Taijiquan training. By deliberately pressing downward into the trampoline and it giving way, I experienced the joint spaces in my ankles and knees like never before. In fact, my overall stance was lower and my mobility in that stance was softer, more graceful, and free of the typical discomfort I feel doing so on the ground, pavement, or bricks. This was amazing to me because it has always been a physical struggle to get lower, still move with ease, and feel grounded! I knew that I had been gifted with a KEY that morning and immediately shared it with my classmates to confirm its universal applicability. Most agreed that this revelation was valid. I've seen them since then moving on the trampoline; even doing centering partner exercises on it.

Dr. Yang mentioned that part of traditional White Crane martial arts training is done while standing on rafts and/or logs on water. There you cultivate the ability to maintain exquisite balance while generating your power from the waist rather the feet and legs as in Taijiquan. Being on the trampoline has given me an inkling of what that process and experience might be.

I use the trampoline on a daily basis now. Rather than jumping up into the air from it, I focus on pushing down through it deliberately and slowly. It's helped me become aware of my psoas muscles and how they assist in generating power through my legs. My ankles, knees and hips are becoming more fluid, too. And, my legs have gotten stronger. I'll do upwards of 800 to 1000 repetitions on it and have recently included doing the Soft White Crane Qigong patterns with weighted wrists. Because the trampoline gives with every motion, it also increases proprioceptive awareness and balance and may hold promise for those who are challenged with gait issues.

This semester was a major shift from the previous two for me. The emphasis on moving partner drills highlighted the dynamic nature of Taijiquan beyond practicing the solo form itself. And the focus on martial applications has opened another door as well. More and more, the analogy between this art and the art of jazz music becomes so clear to me. Ultimately, having the type of strong foundation in the basics that so informs my creativity to, at a moment's notice, respond improvisationally to any circumstance is where I see my Self headed.

Recently, Dr. Yang shared with us the original meaning of the word 'martial' from the Chinese (止戈為武 Zhi Ge Wei Wu). You may be surprised to know that it means "stop the weapon is martial." So not only is Taijiquan translated as the Grand Ultimate Fist of the Mind, it's original intent and, therefore, design is defensive...

If you've been reading my posts, you know that I had set as a goal this semester to climb the vertical rope in less than the 12 seconds I did previously. Unfortunately, I had to alter my preparation for this due to straining my left elbow from overtraining (climbing both the vertical and horizontal ropes too often). While I've decided to not challenge myself with a speed climb for now, I am happy to report that I'm almost 100% recovered after having taken 2-3 weeks off from climbing and nursed my elbow with ARCH Oil (Arnica, Ruta, Calendula, and Hypericum) combined with Castor Oil daily. In fact, I was able to climb the vertical rope all the way to the top without any pain or discomfort today! I'll slowly work my way back to speed climbing and go for it next semester.

I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends and indulging in desserts I cannot treat myself to while on the mountain during this break. I wish each of you and your families the very best in all things this holiday season!!! Sincere thanks to all of you that continue to support me morally and financially to be here. I will resume the second semester mid-January and soon thereafter, I'll be celebrating my 67th birthday!

Your tax-deductible PayPal DONATIONS made directly to the Retreat Center on my behalf are greatly appreciated. Please include a note indicating it is for: Dr. Woodbine 3-YP. Thank you, kindly!!!


All things are possible once you clearly see it, commit your every action to achieving it, and know that what appears to be a roadblock in your way or failure is just preparation for more than you even anticipated achieving. Don't give in, don't give up!