Friday, April 29, 2011

Basic practices to REAL gongfu improvement

Understanding the principles and philosophy underlying your practice(s) can be the most impactful and meaningful activity when embodied within your daily life, one’s gongfu, and also with the practices of Wujifa. Having a process for simply noticing real opportunities for improvement that are both congruent with your personal and global goals is key. Then the real question must be “What are some of these opportunities, processes, practices, and principles we can use for improvement?”

In the early 1990’s I met and had a chance to study with W. Edwards Deming. I had read and studied his books and now I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few days with him at one of his 4 day seminars.  Being a student of quality improvement I considered it an honor to have had a chance to study with this “Master.” So, of course I highly recommend anyone studying gongfu of any type and all practitioners of Wujifa to take the time to read and study any of W. Edwards Deming’s books.

PDCA cycle

PDCA cycle of W Edwards Deming seems simple enough. The basic concept is to "PLAN / DO / CHECK / ACT" and then simply repeating this cycle over and over, discovering more opportunities for improvement. In the practice of Wujifa we say “The method is not the truth…” and “You are where you are and that’s where you start.” Practicing blindly (except for some specific training purposes) violates the concept of knowing where you are, that is where you are starting out at. The next step would is to know why you're doing something. Knowing the reason for training or the purpose for training is an example of understanding the basics. These basics are whats needed for making good plans.

Making a "Plan"

When making a plan one important step is purpose as we said before. Also, as you learn and grow so will your purpose develop with time and the functional experiences gathered over that time. But the question begs to be asked, what might be a good purpose for developing a plan? In the beginning one very good purpose would be to "discover opportunities for improvement." Another could be defining a set of functional “basic” exercises with a simple targetable result like the Wujifa practice of “Side to Side” and learning how the kua or inguinal crease area moves.  Another purpose might be to "verifying or discovering problem areas or opportunities for correction."

One thing for sure “keep it simple.” Over the years I have notice that people will try and tackle a number of issues at once or at the same time which become almost impossible to functionally track and realistically trace your results as you practice. Take the time to understand, ask questions, and analysis what the first basic result or purpose for a practice is before you start. An example might be the Wujifa “Side to side” practice as mentioned before and the goal or purpose being simply to understanding how the kua opens and closes or even more simply said “moves.” 

What to “DO”?

So you have your purpose in mind. Now the question of what to “do” arises. The first step maybe getting you in alignment with the basics form and function of "the plan" one has set out on. Knowing and following the parameters of the basic plan and goals. Using the methods set forth in a plan or practice. In the example of Wujifa “Side to side” this could be knowing where the feet should be, how a relaxed lower back, and the femur heads operate together, and personal limitations and functional movements in the process of this or any practice.

Time to “Check” the results!

Once you have a basic understanding of what you are doing and have done it’s time to check your work. Taking an assessment of what you have done compared to the results you had in mind. This could be another example of what they call learning to eat bitter.

Taking an honest look and compare your results to the results you set out for in your plan. Did you follow the parameters set forth in the plan? If not, did you understand what those parameters are? If you did understand the parameters, did you identify possible trouble areas or areas that fell outside the limitations of the practice? Is there something you may have overlooked and have become aware of now that you “Checked” the results of the plan and what you are doing? This concept of “Checking” has a lot to do with awareness and the development of awareness as one learns to follow the process actively.

What to “ACT” on?

Now you have checked your results and have gained clearer insights to trouble areas, opportunities of improvement captured and noted, and insights gained, now it’s time to "act" upon them. Based on the insights gained you can use these to insights to set up “Best Practices” or standards to shoot for at the current level of understanding.

Take the time and note what these opportunities and best practices are and your insights. In Wujifa I suggest keeping a note book of one’s practice and writing down notes on the opportunities discovered so they can be captured and used for future plans and practice.

Rinse, Wash, Repeat

The PDCA cycle of W Edwards Deming is a repeating cycle.  The foundation of any REAL gongfu practice is this PDCA cycle. I would suggest reading more at Wikipedia on the PDCA cycle. When you build your practice on solid ground and functional principles and practices you have a much better chance of getting the results you’re looking for.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How do you know when you’re making progress?

How do you know when you’re making progress in your martial art or internal practices? This one basic question 'How do you know?' may be the most important question you can ask yourself. This one very question is well worth the time invested for understanding what you are doing and why. Remember the lessons from the story of Alice in wonderland and the rabbit hole when you start off on this adventure.

So many people, over the years have answered the following question about making progress, how they know if they are making progress, with one simple word, “results.” They seem so confident about that and yet this idea of results can also be so very ambiguous, that is, unless they’ve taken the time to really define what that word “results” means to them.
How long do you practice?

So often people get so tied up in the amount of time they invest in something and the amount of effort that they put into something that they start to distort, generalize, or even block out whole aspects of this principle to the point where they have no real idea of what they are doing and why.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that many times the 'results' people have in mind change. The real question is “What happened to the results they started out looking for?” Many times it’s “as if” new ideas have been “magically” placed there by some external influences which creeps into their heads unknowingly.

I’ll bet you have met a sales person or two in your life who you’ve seen doing this kind of thing. The kind of thing I’m talking about, playing off of your emotions of ego, power, guilt, shame, wanting, or neediness that hook you into buying into their paradigm or product. Getting others input can be a good thing. What I’m saying is “Do you know what you want or where you are going?”

What do you want?

What do you want? There is a good question for you. What is your basic intention? How well have you defined this in terms of what you are really willing to put into getting the results and the bigger question what results do you expect in return for your effort?

In Wujifa we often say “Making tea is the highest form of practice” in the practice of Wujifa. The reason we say this is that knowing how to express yourself, influence others and get your point across in a social situation is key. It’s like a very high level of martial art expression. The simple idea of “influence” while connecting with others while drinking tea explores the many subtle levels of the understandings that take place with others and yourself and the possible intended results that may arise.

You are where you are…

Another Wujifa saying we often come back to is a guiding compass in understanding that “You are where you are and that’s where you start.” Knowing and gaining a good understanding of where you are is a great starting point. There is another saying I personally enjoy, “If you know where you’re going you know what to wear.” This addresses action steps to take. Knowing where you are and which actions to take are all about the result you have in mind.

How will you know and how do you know if you’re making progress is a very functional and personal process that involves understanding what one’s intentions are. Simply said, getting clear on your intentions takes time. This is why we suggest that people practice following through on their intention and practice. This starts by noticing what lessons show up while progressing towards your goals.

A functional example

Let’s say a beginner who just starts out practicing our Wujifa Zhan Zhuang practices for example. Let’s say you ask them the following question “How long do you stand?” Their answer is often that they really don’t know. Different times on different days, maybe 5 to 20 minutes they reply. They will tell you it depends and their answers get more and more fuzzy.

Here is a great piece of advice, keep a diary (which I suggest for people starting out) of your stance or daily practice(s). One may reply that they don't really need to keep a diary. Then the real question begs to be asked “How do you know?”

Here is a really cool trick. When you set up an amount of time to stand for example and a time of day to practice, we can call this an intention. Following though on an intention to completion is a result. When you doing this it will become a habit and even more than a habit it also develops the neurons in the brain. If you don’t follow through, then this also develops neurons and patterns, patterns that I bet also show up in other areas of life.

What do you want?

What do you want? How will you know when you are making progress? Take the time to explore these questions. Try keeping a diary of what you do and what you notice along the way. Write down what you are working on and your goals. Track yourself and see if you are doing what you plan on doing. I’m not suggesting doing this with everything you are doing in life. Just pick something simple like your intention to practice your zhan zhuang.

Simply doing a little noticing with a small chunk of your life will have powerful effects. And remember “you are where you are and that’s where you start.”