Or, now I get why Shaolin monks did all that hard work.
First a little history. About six months ago I went to a seminar with Dan Harden, on building “internal power”. Initially I thought the whole concept was a load of garbage. I’ve had so many people try to sell me books, videos, magical amulets and the works in hopes of building my qi/chi. I’ve had shaman make wooshing noises over me and stood facing walls for hours while staring at my fingers trying to get it to work. I’ve even seen hucksters and would-be “grandmasters” waive their fingers at someone and knock them down. Dan is none of those things.
Dan’s version of internal power is learning to organize your entire myofascial system to work synergistically to create power using your entire body in every movement. To put it simply, when Dan wiggles his pinkie finger, everything from the top of his head to the tips of his toes is helping him do it. The result is movement that is so clean, simple and efficient that in essence you become un-throwable, un-blockable and overall a martial arts badass.
OK, so Dan can do all this amazing stuff. The good news is that anyone can learn to do this. The bad news is that it takes hours, and hours of standing around looking like an idiot trying to make your left knee talk to your right elbow. Central to the whole concept is moving from the dantien. If you think of your muscular system of being like a very complicated marionette, the dantien is the handle. It’s where all the fascial trains connect. The sad thing is that with how sedentary and soft most of us are, our systems are so helplessly out of tune that our cables are all loose, or too tight and we can’t even feel how to use them together. So, the dantien isn’t a given anymore, it needs to be developed.
I won’t go into detail about the training. It’s complicated an extremely tedious. It largely involves initially trying to take out the slack of our systems, then trying to move with everything connected. It looks something like this. I’ve been doing this work diligently for months with what I will generously call marginal success. That is until last weekend.
My friends and I gathered for a weekend of camping way, way out in the middle of nowhere. We parked about 300 yards from our campsite, so I ended up making several trips lugging all the crazy, cumbersome car-camping stuff the whole distance over uneven terrain. Then because we decided to make a fire visible from space, I ended up chopping up a sizable pile of firewood from a bunch of fallen trees at a bunch of weird angles and lug them back to camp. Add sleeping badly, hiking (and falling into) riverbeds and in all, and hours of driving, I think I managed to offend every muscle in my body.
When I got home I napped. Sweet, glorious on an honest to God mattress sleep. When I woke up I was wound up tight from head to heels. So, I started to roll out my shoulders in bed. Then I noticed that my lower back was cooperating. I moved a little bigger and my hips rolled into the party. Soon, I was stretching whole sides of my body by pulling and rotating my abdomen. I had found my dantien. I almost jumped out of bed. Almost. Since then I’ve been able to do more and more of the movements in an incorporated way. It’s like learning to wiggle your ears. Once you feel it you get to keep it forever.
So, the secret wasn’t standing in front of the TV trying to figure out why my kwa’s weren’t talking to my ming men. It was getting out into the world and doing some dark ages type work. So all the Mr. Miagi/Mountain Sage montages you’ve seen in all those terrible movies are actually hiding a kernel of truth. So, go grab a bamboo yoke and start lugging those water buckets up and down the fire escape. Next thing you know the secrets of real internal power will be as natural as falling off a log while trying to do a vertical split.