Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
Tai Chi Ruler
About thirty years ago, I did a lot of an exercise called tai chi ruler, which involves "rocking" from back foot to front foot and back while making a vertical circle with the hands, palms facing inward, in front of your body. It's a simple movement with a number of important points to keep it true: the movement of the weight from foot to foot specifically massages two major pressure points in each foot, sending streams of nerve energy up the legs and spine to the head. The movement is done slowly and continuously, like tai chi, with natural breathing. You should actually be holding a "tai chi ruler" between your palms, as well, but you can do it empty-handed.
The pattern is simple: with the right foot forward, you rock back and forth and circle the hands 18 times, with the hands at waist level. Then you do it 18 times on the left. Then you put the right foot forward again and repeat 18 times with the hands at sternum level. Then you do the left side 18 times, sternum level. Then on the right, you do it 18 times with the hands at face level, making vertical circles as you rock back and forth. Then 18 times on the left. That's 108 repetitions. It takes several minutes to do a full set.
Once you've gotten used to the basic exercise, you can hold an object, such as a bowling ball, and use heavier ones as you get used to it.
After doing tai chi ruler several times a week for several weeks, working through heavier bowling balls, I noticed that my body felt very much of a single piece and I compared it to being made of very firm rubber. Yet, I was softer and more supple than I ever had been. I could bend forward with straight legs and put my face on my knees without effort. And my legs were very strong.
I don't know why I quit doing it. I did go back to it several times over the years, but I never did it so regularly over several months as I did in the early '80s.
I was struck a couple of years ago by comments Dan Harden made about IS training creating an effect as if your body were a hard rubber statue rooted in the earth. It reminded me of my tai chi ruler experience, and I started thinking about it again.
Some pieces fell into place over a couple of years: I saw parts of one of Mike Sigman's Internal Strength videos--in particular, the four directions of power: up, out, down and in.
When I did tai chi ruler long ago, I brought the hands down with the rocking back, pushed them forward and brought them up as I moved forward, then brought them in and down as I rocked back.
In later investigations, I got the idea that I had maybe been doing the hand circle in the wrong direction. Some sources indicated that the movement should be up, away, down and in. So I started doing that way and when I saw Mike's videos, it made sense to do it that way. I actually met Minoru Akuzawa and Dan Harden and saw their various methods and remembered Dan's specific discussions on rolling the hara as the source of movement. So I started working on rolling the hara to create the movement for tai chi ruler. And specifically, I used the tai chi ruler movement to search for the elusive "raising the arms using only jin". In other words, I could move the hands forward and back using only the back and forth movement of the hips. The circle would be achieved simply by raising the arms up and letting them drop with the weight. So the only thing I had to do with my arms was lift them, but could I do that without using the shoulders at all?
Well, I only had to lift them the distance of the forward and backward movement, which is maybe ten inches or twelve. So I did the rocking movement and as I moved to the rear foot, I was searching for any impulse that could lift the arms. Since I'd gotten my first direct introduction to jin force from Jang Choe, I thought of taking a weight on my arms, as in two-hand-grasping two-hand, drawing the arms back as I shifted my hips back and feeling the load reach a limit and tipping point at which it was easy to bring my arms up with the breath and visualizing bringing the lower abdomen in and under, and pushing upward along the front of the spine. As I moved forward, I imagined the roll of the hara continuing over the top and down the front, the hands descending at the same time , drawing back as the body shifted back.
So I did that 108 times and when I was finished, I had the most impressive tingling in my hands, a powerful feeling almost like electrification that I attributed to the stimulated awareness of the direct connection of the fascial tissues of my hands to the fascial mass of my hara. And the hands felt heavy and directly connected to the hara. This accorded with so many things Mike and Dan had both discussed that I felt it must be on the right track, and then I read Haruo Matsuoka's article on Aikido Journal and was struck by his comments about learning to connect his fingertips to his hara. The new way of doing tai chi ruler had electrified my hands to the fingertips. And that's the old definition of jin--it comes from the soles of the feet, is directed by the center and manifested in the fingertips. When I showed a practice partner what I was doing, I was able to pin him in place on his feet, double-weighted just by bringing my hands forward and down as he gripped them. I was able to lock him down. He couldn't let go my hands or he'd fall backward, but he couldn't come forward, either, and he couldn't rise. And that was from his grip on me. So that was fun and it seemed like I might be starting to get some of the idea. Static demonstration, of course, but there were some dynamics there, too.
Well,so after that, I started thinking about pole-shaking and thought maybe that was the same thing--to move the far end of the pole by moving the center and sending the force down the pole. So I got some long bamboo canes that I'd recently cut and tried to shake them by using only my hara movement. Now, when I say "shake," I was looking for something like a spiraling whip movement while standing in a sort of back stance, like I'd learned at Ark's seminar. This was the stance Ark had used to slam me back 25 feet across the Roswell Budokan mats while I was in the same stance, holding the other end of the bo. It only took a few tries to suddenly understand how Ark had blasted me back 25 feet. I will try to explain.
First, concerning the bo from that stance, I've trained with it a bit since Ark's seminar, getting most of my advances through Jang Choe. Recently, I had an interesting encounter with a fellow who's seen my progress in IS development over a couple of years. He asked how that was coming along and I did Ark's push-out with him, and could completely control him. I could hold him back, allow him to come out, stop him and press him back at will. There were a few times when he made it hard for me to come out of the full back position, but when I managed to do it, if he resisted, it would send him back a bit. So then I had him get in the back stance and hold the bo while I stood on the other side in the same stance and pushed him back at will. And then I was able to push him off his stance using only my rear-side thumb on the end of the bo to push it forward. So I was using only the tip of my thumb to send this man, my own size and an extensively-trained martial artist off his stance.
So with that in mind, when I tried the pole-shaking by using only my hara movement, I suddenly felt that this was the secret ingredient Ark had used to slam me not off my stance but 25 feet back, several feet of it in the air. If you can use jin to push a grown man back with your thumb, say you suddenly added a pulse of that spiral energy and a forward shove? I was suddenly convinced that that was exactly what Ark had done to blast me back. I could feel it happening to me as I just whipped that pole around with hara movement. It hit me like wall of compressed air and blasted me back. Shaking the 16-foot bamboo, I felt that this added element to a forward push could account for that, and I recognized what Ark had been trying to tell me when he illustrated a spiral around his lower leg, from the ground up the leg and into the hip, in front of which was the pushing hand. He said to transfer the spiral from the ground through the leg and into the hand. And I thought that pole shaking could add the extra element--IF you used the hara movement to do it.
Now, keep in mind that these are preliminary insights that have not been extensively tested or proven, especially against people with refined internal skills. Next, what skills I have developed are just a foot in the door past pure external technical operation and the direct connection from the hara to the hands is only now becoming clear to me as something more than a platitude. Third, these insights came from recognizing the connection of the hara to the hands through a new approach to doing an exercise I learned a long time ago: tai chi ruler. It's a simple movement, but with influence from able people, you can find a lot inside it.
Best to all.