I used to have a weird abnormality (as opposed to a ‘normal’ abnormality!) with my spine – one vertebra in the middle used to stick out from the rest by about 1.5-2 centimeters.
It was so bad that any physical exercise or movement wasn’t fun anymore. This uncomfortable-ness, resistance to doing stuff, with inability to adapt reached its peak when I was about 23 years old.
Chronic tensions sucks.
And it was pretty depressing because, as a kid & teenager, being extremely active and able to move & adapt to new activities was a key feature of my life.
For example, the first time I tried water-skiing with mates I got up and stayed up. Albeit with my arms bent and legs getting spread apart, much to the howls of laughter of said mates. But most people fall off straight away. Or don’t even get up, being unprepared for the initial thrust of the boat to get you out of the water.
My point is I was good at sport and physical activity but then chronic tension sent me down a hole.
Then I read a book.
It might have been “Healing Back Pain,” by John Sarno. I’m not sure. But there was one idea which stuck with me:
“To end back pain & discomfort you first have to
make the decision to heal yourself.”
This was inferring two things:
- Hoping that a masseuse, physiotherapist, chiropractor, personal trainer, whoever, will fix you is taking the responsibility away from yourself and doesn’t work; and
- Once you assume responsibility and start looking for solutions – and actually try them – you will eventually stumble upon what your body needs.
Eventually, I stumbled upon Wing Chun kung fu.
It introduced the principle of active relaxation.
Initially, I trained in Australia as part of an instructor’s course at the International Wing Chun Academy. This peaked my interest in the Art, however, it wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong and trained with my master, Sifu (Master) Jim Fung‘s master that I started to see fundamental changes in my body.
His master was a man called Sigung (Grand-Master) Chu Shong Tin.
I spent a total of of 6-7 years training at his place in the last phase of his teaching evolution.
This consisted primarily of standing for hours on end performing very slow (or sometimes no) movements with the first empty-hand form of Wing Chun called, Siu Nim Tao.
The focus of Siu Nim Tao (roughly translated as Tiny Idea or Small Thought) is to relax the muscles so your skeletal structure naturally aligns itself in the most bio-mechanically advantageous way possible.
You perform slow arm movements focusing on using the rotation of your joints to drive them. This is opposed to focusing on the conscious engagement of muscles.
You want ‘space’ in your joints, even those which don’t ‘move’. Most importantly, the spine. Awareness of the spine helps you to find your ‘center of movement’, a tiny point just below the navel.
You are inviting Nim Tau, or Thought-Force, to emerge.
In this state, your being and movements adopt an effortless nature where you can generate incredible amounts of power using your whole body-mass as well as being able to withstand incoming force from someone else.
It’s an elusive state.
Many people have become much more relaxed & powerful, and can replicate what Sigung Chu could do, to a degree. But not in such a comprehensive & undeniable fashion.
I was able to soften my muscles and reverse a debilitating back injury, including that abnormality in my spine.
Quite a feat, I reckon!
Here is one way my training came out in real life for me.
On New Year’s eve after I first moved to Turkey in 2015 I went to a party with my wife and her circle of friends. About 30 people all up.
It was a cold, snowy night in Istanbul and shortly after midnight, after a few drinks, one young miss started tackling people in the snow!
Soon there were about 5 or 6 people falling down, rolling around, getting back up, laughing and trying to ‘get each other back’.
It was fun to watch!
Then the original young miss tried to tackle me. I deflected her attack and she fell by herself into the snow. This only encouraged her to try again with a big grin on her face. And again. And again.
Until she decided to get some help.
Soon there were 3 or 4 people coming at me trying to take me down. With no luck!
Finally about 6 or 7 people, including some big, tall, strong guys were hanging off me pulling me this way and that.
All I was doing was standing in my Wing Chun stance, relaxed, thinking through the spine.
They had no chance, literally. And they soon ran out of energy and let me keep drinking my red wine.
The ability to relax is a skill.
One that positively pervades everything you do.
My point is you might not be interested in Wing Chun kung fu. But I encourage you to welcome active relaxation into your day-to-day living, in some form or another.
You can download an 8-page article which I wrote a little less than halfway through my stint of training with Sigung Chu in Hong Kong. It was shortly after I had passed a critical point in letting the abnormality in my spine start to resolve itself.