I recently travelled from Geraldton to De Glind, a small village outside Amersfoort, Netherlands, for two weeks of Cheng Hsin. The first week was an Art of Effortless Power camp. The invitation was to “a dynamic blend of T'ai Chi, Pa Kua, Aikido, Judo and Boxing with uprooting, throwing,footwork, and lots of internal work on relaxation, outreaching, intention, balance and freeing up ineffective mental patterns.”. You can review the the full flyer to learn more, or watch a few video clips of Cheng Hsin in action.
A few things really stood out for me from the week. While sharing them won’t give you the direct experience of them for yourself, it may give you some sense of the aspects of Cheng Hsin that make it so appealing, fun and profound.
- What Mastery looks like. Peter Ralston is a Master. His level of skill and insight is beyond almost anything I’ve experienced of any other person in any domain, and he’s mastered two: martial and consciousness. We were also fortunate to witness one of his students, Brendan Lea, pass “Kyu 25″ during the camp. This essentially demonstrated his own Mastery of the entire art consisting of hundreds of techniques from throwing to boxing. Almost the entire week I was in complete awe in comprehending and appreciating the commitment, skill required to really Master anything at the level some of these people have. To say I was inspired almost feels too separate…perhaps deeply affected by such an intimate experience with a Master and left contemplating my own aspirations, life choices and priorities.
- How one’s attention affects movement and interactions. We played a lot of ‘games’ that isolate, combine and explore principles such as leading, following and effortless power. In all cases, where and how one is paying attention dramatically, instantly changed my effectiveness. In terms of simple ‘pushes’ to shift another body, the difference between experiencing another as immovable or having no resistance can be affected deeply by where and how I am paying attention. The same applies to where my own centre of gravity is, whether I’m relating to the other person’s arm or centre, and whether I’m thinking ahead or really present with the body and sensations in this moment. Hard to explain in writing, but relatively easy to experience in action, and has a profound impact on effectiveness of interaction.
- Cheng Hsin’s applicability to other domains. While the Art of Effortless Power is primarily martial, practising the Zen Body Being principles really freshly reminded me of how they affect everything from how I open doors, how Roller Derby players could maintain their balance while bumping, what the act of ‘surfing’ a wave actually involves (weight shifts) and so much more. It’s really astounding the degree which I (and I suspect many people) live 24 hours a day in a body that we haven’t really thought about, investigated or figured out how to move and use effortlessly and effectively.
- The benefits of martial and consciousness work together. I adore the directness of martial arts and the immediate feedback: if I’m not really mindful and paying attention, I will get punched in the head or thrown to the ground. And while those are very gross examples, there’s many more subtle dynamics going on: from how one interprets instructions (e.g. ’relax’ or ‘yield’) through to the frustration and tears I experienced from being so resistant and slow at yielding and following another’s movements during the games. All these interactions show the ineffective habits of mind, how limited my awareness can be, and what ‘wholeness’, ‘integrity’, ‘not knowing’ and ‘grounded openness’ can mean experientially. Martial + Consciousness is such a powerful combination for me, and I suspect many others.
- What it means to be a good partner in learning. I learned so much from the other people at the workshop. Some were obsessed with outreaching, others practised non-stop during breaks, others were incredibly relaxed and every single one of them shared useful observations, guidance and direct and honest feedback. While I can imagine in some martial contexts people just sort of ‘go through the motions’ of exercises, the clarity of intention and level of awareness and attention of everyone participating was remarkable and incredibly valuable. There’s a lesson there for me about how I be a good training partner in any endeavour where there is a mutual desire to learn and improve in business, surfing or personal relationships.
- How could I practise Cheng Hsin in relative isolation, in Geraldton? Cheng Hsin is not a massive global phenomenon, so the nearest practitioner in Australia is 3000km away. While I made good efforts last year to run workshops in Geraldton, and teach the principles through Tai Chi to adults and children, this workshop got me freshly considering the many real ways (without fantasies) of how I can create the physical, social conditions that enable my own practising, embodiment and sharing with others. These include things such as daily practising and learning of Zen Body Being principles, continuing to train with other arts (e.g. Kickboxing, Judo) to maintain a level of martial interaction, and looking for opportunities to share the games in sporting contexts (surfing, kitesurfing, Roller Derby) and even workshops in corporate settings that give a very embodied and playful experience while learning fundamental principles of effective interaction. I have a real sense of ‘grounded openness’ about how this may happen…