Like Riding a Bike
A common analogy used in martial arts and any other potentially complex endeavour, is that ‘its like riding a bike’. The inference being that once you physically understand the process it becomes second nature.
There a few important areas where I think there is commonality. The first is the control of the balance required by riding a bike is too difficult for the conscious brain, so we have to use the part which controls our balance. In CST wing chun you hear the term Nim Tao, rear brain or subconscious; for me the part of the brain which controls natural balance is where I want to activate. Most martial artists are not in balance, they hold stances, postures or alignments (all good for static lifting work), but the body is designed for subtle poised movement, so better to think of a dancer or a young child playing if you want to be in better touch with your body.
If you have taught a child to ride a bike you will recognise that the hardest part is not the pedalling, it is the starting off. I am sure that there are lots of parents out there that can remember running behind your child holding onto the back of your kid’s bike with the child yelling ‘don’t let go’. Its back breaking work. Eventually you do let go, they are delighted, but when they try to do it again the fear sets in, they tense up and you have to go through the process again and again until they recognise that they will not fall over. The actual cycling part thereafter is pretty easy and soon they shoot off and leave you running behind looking like an overprotective fool.
This reveals the whole crux of the issue of why CST found it difficult to pass on his ability for so many years. He would put his hands on a student to show them how to let go of tension, how to gain their balance, and they would be able to release into balance just as a child cycling away. However, every student thereafter became obsessed with the releasing away bit and missed the most important part. The part which starts off the whole process. I believe that as children we were all told to try harder, to put more effort into what ever we did, and as a consequence the whole movement pattern of the body for the majority of people has been strangled. There is a choice… you can subtly brace your ankles, lower back and neck and then push, or release into you full length and width before you move. It’s not a conscious choice for most as they have done it as habit their whole life, but it sits on the border of the conscious and subconscious mind and its somewhere you can find if you train in the right way.
If you take the analogy back to being on a bike, think about how you start off, my guess is pushing down hard on a pedal, lock the neck and shoulders and put in some effort. Why not freewheel instead? Have you tried instead of pushing down on the pedal thinking about how the other leg comes up instead?
The way I teach at the moment is that we often get to a red pill/blue pill situation. I will set a student up several times to let them have a feel of what they are looking for, and then I apply pressure and ask them to make a choice, find a way to release into the movement or recognise that they are pushing. Once you see enough times that it is a conscious choice, one which can lead you to either habitual bracing or subconsciously controlled balance, then it becomes easier to realise that the hand shapes and movement of the art are not that important; the body tends to sort itself out. I honestly think that the obsession with forms is really missing the point of them. All movement is fundamentally easy the more we understand the primacy of initial choice we make and the consequences if we make the wrong one. Without that its like trying to ride whilst still holding the brake on.
Standing practice in CST is very important but it can be a bit of a swiss army knife which gets misused. It’s a chance to let go of habitual holding of muscles, to let go of the racing mind and also calm the emotions. But if you approach it in the same habitual manner of the everyday life you might see it as standing statically and waiting for some divine intervention. Standing practice for me is just moving in micro form; am I in process of standing up to full height or about to sit down?… well both. I am being alive. Not practicing being alive, but being alive. Not lost in some part of a meditative state, but in the room ready to interact. Not easy for an introvert like me but something which with practice that becomes easier.
So to get back to the analogy, riding a bike is easy once you are going, but its hard to get going if you have both feet on the floor for stability and are holding the breaks down. So the thing you need to practice is finding that place of decision, to observe the thought in the mind when the point comes, and see if by waiting and following the process then potentially there is something else in you. There is, I know that there is, but trusting a process is difficult when habit is easier to rely on. That is all I really practice at the moment, and mostly what I teach, so it must be working a bit or I would be a very lonely wing chun teacher.
8/31/2020 08:00:31 am
This is superb Dan! The "riding the bike" example is something I have used in my thinking/feeling and taught for years. I really like this approach to learning as opposed to mere analytics.
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