EKP – “Enhanced Kinetic Patterning”. This is where it comes from…
I’ve been teaching and working with people since the early 80’s. Until 1997 I was teaching what I had learned from Grand Master Raymond Y.M. Chung here in Vancouver. Master Chung studied a variety martial styles before coming to Canada. What he taught publicly was basically Taijiquan. I had been introduced to the Wu Family system prior to meeting Master Chung so he decided to teach me his version of the style. I studied with him for seven years.
My personal learning style was and still is to observe, emulate, question and research. After seven years Master Chung began urging me to get out and teach. I didn’t feel I knew enough to even think about teaching. So I resisted. After a year of his constant prodding I finally gave in and began “teaching” classes at Simon Fraser University. I really only had a ‘form’ to teach. I knew there had to be more. In fact most of my fellow Taiji students felt the same way. I think some just gave up trying to figure it all out and went along with the usual idea of practice long enough and the skill and understanding will come. Traditionally that is how these arts were transmitted. Unless you were an “indoor student” or family you just followed teacher repeating the same patterns over and over. Students were expected to “just do it” and not question. You either “got it” of your didn’t. That just doesn’t compute for me. I need to know more. The “why? as well as the “how”.
Unwilling to “just do it” I have continued to question and look for the correlation between the slow motion movements in empty hand forms and weapon forms and martial skill.
From teaching my first class at Simon Fraser University to today my understanding has gone thru some profound changes. I have met and worked with direct lineage holders of the internal martial systems as well as other practitioners like myself who have been unwilling to “wait and see”.
My first real introduction to the actual bio dynamics of this art was the result of meeting with Mike Sigman from Colorado. Mike is pretty well known in Taiji circles as the guy who stirred the hornet’s nest so to speak. In the late ‘90’s email was relatively new and everyone finally had access to so much more information – about everything! Mike and friends had created an email info exchange group focused on the actual internal aspects of what most people were calling Taiji. “The Neijia List” was a thriving email based venue to exchange, vent, argue, and debunk so much of the misinformation and downright fraud that had accumulated around Taiji since it’s public arrival in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Thanks to the Neijia List there was finally light being shed. Thanks to the ‘60’s flower power movement Taiji had literally millions of follower-practitioners. Taiji was the perfect blend of Yoga-like meditation, dance-like movement and plenty of mystical imagery and legend to take hold in the popular culture of the day. Then there was the fantasy that if one practiced “forms” long enough you would also be able to defend against physical threat with “magical” skill J Everyone knew that didn’t make any logical sense but again only a few were willing to go looking for real answers. Mike Sigman was the most outspoken. His background included study in external and internal martial systems both Japanese and Chinese. His research is grounded in scientific methodology and common sense. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
My first real insights into the internal dynamics of Taiji came during a friendly pushing hands session with Mike in my home. I began to understand something really important about all this “Internal” stuff. It actually IS internal. Internal dynamics. The slow motion stuff, the breathing, the mental focus, the body awareness is the set up, the conditioning. The idea is to remain as calm and relaxed as possible. Use the ground under my feet to help support my relaxed body. Avoid tensing physically and mentally. Stay mindful and aware of how I move my body. Learn to move in a curvilinear way. Work with gravity not against it. Learn about the actual mechanics of body movement. And so much more. I had to accept the reality that unless I know how to do all of this there was no point in trying to learn a ‘form’.
Internal skill is beyond thinking outside the box. There IS no box. It is a sphere. It is binary in nature – O’s and 1’s. One side at a time. It is unilateral movement. It is curvilinear movement. It is spiral movement. It is NOT what it looks like (floating and waving the arms). It is not dance. It is conscious dynamic movement generated from the mind and core connection from the inside out to the extremities.
What I teach today:
In early 2000 I met and worked with Master Zhang Xue-Xin and close friend and training partner of the famous Grand Master Feng Zhiqiang. It was Master Zhang who introduced me to Silk Reeling and more specifically the internal mechanics. I asked him to teach me what was supposed to be going on in the body as the movements are executed. He allowed me to touch him… a VERY non traditional method of teaching. What I learned was astounding.
What I teach is what has been missing in the art since it’s arrival in North America back in the ‘50’s (and earlier). The very real physical body mechanics and bio physics that make the art a unique muscle ligament tendon fascia and joint maintenance system. The source of relaxed strength and power.
This work is gentle. There is no emphasis on posturing or attitude. There is no “macho”. There is no brute force. There is no linear movement and no muscle tension involved. The methods are counter intuitive. There is relaxed movement. There is mindful awareness of the body.
EKP is my description of what I teach to people who are not interested in anything martial. EKP is all the internal work that conditions the body from the inside out. The “Patterns” are a series of movements derived from the martial training system but focused entirely on conditioning and healing the body thru mindful repetition of simple movement.
The traditional martial method: Standing
Starting from the ground up, standing is a traditional training practice to increase endurance by retraining the slow twitch/fast twitch fibers in the leg muscles. This method is practiced daily. A detailed explanation follows:
This type of Standing training requires considerable introspection and self awareness in order to focus attention sequentially throughout the body, releasing muscle tension wherever it is found. Success requires consistency and repetition on a daily basis, as well as guidance from an experienced instructor to aid in all important verbal and physical feedback. It is in Standing that learning correct “Shape” is studied.
Deep abdominal breathing accompanies all standing practices. Maximum oxygen intake and full carbon dioxide output while breathing as smoothly and seamlessly as possible feeds the muscles and nervous system, helping promote deep relaxation. Maximum time for a beginner session is no less than 5 minutes. Duration is increased as the practice becomes more comfortable.
Initial feedback characteristics. Initial sensations when first engaging in Standing Gongs vary but the most common is discomfort in the legs and tension in various muscle groups throughout the body. It can take considerable patience to get to a point where the body is reasonably comfortable with the process.
Practice sensory feedback: as practice time increases, the ability to let go and become quietly aware of our body weight on the ground introduces new sensations. One new sensation can be the subtle feeling of the body expanding and the body weight feels as though it is increasing. This is usually felt in the soles of the feet as added pressure and the sensation of lateral expansion the way a large beach ball expands outward laterally when gently pressed on the top against the ground. This “expansion” sensation is often accompanied by an increase in blood flow to the hands and feet.
More advanced feedback: as the ability to stand quietly, calm, and with minimum muscle tension we begin to train simple movements with the intention of maintaining the relaxed body we achieved while standing still. These movements are the prequel to learning the unique physical principles of Taijiquan such as the “open and close”, coordination of shoulder and hip, elbow and knee, hand and foot and understanding differentials and counter rotation.
The 13 Point Guide for Beginner Zhan Zhuang (Standing)
- Center of Gravity Force – Center of the feet
- Perineum pointing down to the balance beam line
- Dantien – Suction & Condense
- Mingmen – Project & Expand
- Crown – Suspended
- Sternum – Suction & Condense
- Qua – Maintain the energy on the center of the hips
- Drop shoulders over the hips
- Tucking of the ribs
- Nine solid & one empty on the feet
- Elbows always wrapping down
- Knee pointing to the toe
- Balance the body of Yin & Yang
Non Traditional (EKP) Method: Standing:
The standing in EKP is with less distance between the feet. The knees are only slightly bent. The body is thought of as being supported by the floor under the feet with attention focused on the middle of each foot. The sacrum is allowed to relax. There is no “tuck” of the pelvis, it is simply resting naturally between the hips which are thought of as helping to support the torso. The top of the head is gently held in an upward attitude while keeping the cervical curve of the neck gently stretched upward and the chin lightly drawn down.
Breathing is natural with the abdomen allowed to expand and contract naturally with each inhalation and exhalation. The shoulders are allowed to hang while gently rolled back allowing the upper arms to hang comfortably. The forearms (and hands) are lightly held bent at the elbows with the hands open and fingers extended forward.
This is the basic standing posture and is the “start” position for all other movement patterns.
This standing posture is “neutral” – that is it is intended to condition the support system for the body with as little tension as possible. Focusing on the sensation of the ground under the feet and imagining the ground under the feet is being propagated up through the legs and hips to the abdomen is the main ‘work’ of this method. In time there is a clear sense of increased strength throughout the body.