We’re having the storm of the century here in Santa Cruz. I see the trees in my yard bending to breaking, under a malicious, pushing wind that is nothing but movement one second, then still as a vanished squirrel the next. I think of stillness and movement, my mind chasing them both down into the next three levels. Here’ s the first. . .
A Tour of Stillness
If you are lucky enough to have a martial practice containing stillness training, you may find some new ideas a little hard to grasp. You’re able to stand still for a while, but you’re not sure what it’s all about.
Don’t worry about the metaphysics. Start learning at the muscle level (I know this will surprise some practitioners). Treat your muscles correctly and you’ll progress. The first rule here is “Melt the ice, don’t crack it.” If you find your shoulder tensed and lifted as high as your ear, you should not suddenly drop it. Instead, just relax and wait a while. Allow for self-correction, and it will come.
Next, you have the breathing itself. You may be asked to bring it in through your chest, lower it into your stomach, then allow it to rise back through the chest and exhale. This kind of control will be expected of you throughout the training. Keep asking, is this the LEAST effort needed to accomplish this breath? If you barrel your chest, tighten up and squat, then expel breath like spitting gum, you are probably forcing too much.
What do we mean by “too much?” I had an ex-student who was an emergency care unit doc. He had a patient come in with, everyone thought, third degree burns. They soon discovered that he had been doing breathing exercises in Karate, and just burst a bunch of veins in his face. It’s better to start soft.
On a higher level there will be training both internal and external, demanding entirel new skills. You may be asked to lift the stomach at the bottom of the rib cage, pulling the muscles under the rib cage upward and, at the same time, tuck in your tailbone. These internal instructions will create an external effect, holding it in a bean-shaped torso. When it all comes together, you’ll notice that you can hold this position for a very long time; you may even find you don’t want to leave it.
So the first goal of stillness training is to find positions, movements and techniques that are calm enough and integral enough that you actually want to stay there. At this point you have entered the door to a whole new set of experiences.