Continuation of this series of articles on my personal experience with qigong and spontaneous qigong. Part 3…
Earlier, I talked about Irish Glen who was very experienced in Qigong. He told me that he was training in something called ‘Hard Qigong’. Glen explained that this involved training all parts of his body to withstand attack. And he meant all parts.
On one occasion, during a short demonstration, he told me to push hard into his abdomen. Then he did some kind of special breathing motion and pushed my hand out with his belly. He also said at the time he was training his throat to withstand any kind of pressure or blow. It was somehow related to directing his breath to the area of impact, though I don’t fully remember his explanation. This was real kung fu stuff – like in the movies, He did mention that it was possible to train your genitals to withstand blows. He hadn’t done that training yet.
So I guess this is where this idea of Shaolin Steel Head or Iron Leg comes from. I never went any further than this demonstration with Glen. I never attended his class or saw his teacher, so I don’t know how much deeper this kind of qigong goes or what kind of training is necessary. Personally I don’t need to train my balls to withstand kicks. Perhaps if I was into fighting (or possibly S&M), it might be useful.
Or if you’re this guy…
Ow my balls!
At the time my motivation for my interest in qigong was for self-healing of a particular digestive disease I suffered from.
Hard qigong fail
Nonetheless, when a ‘hard qigong’ workshop came up, I was curious. This was advertised through the Micheal Tse organisation.
Micheal Tse is a tai chi, qigong teacher and author who had set up classes in London and around the world. It is a fairly popular system. I was attending a class in Kentish Town in North London at the time. Micheal didn’t personally teach that class. I think he was living in Hawaii at the time. One of his senior London-based teachers led it, who I thought was a good teacher.
I really liked one of the other class members. She was a Chinese lady who was in her late 60s. She told me that she had healed her arthritis with regular tai chi and qigong practice. She was very friendly to me and I was impressed with watching her leap around with a spear on one occasion.
When I mentioned to Glen about this course, I got the feeling, he didn’t consider it to be real ‘hard qigong’ training. It would certainly not be to his level.
But what can you teach in a weekend? I suppose it was a packaged training course. There were different levels. This was the basic introductory level. Once you did this and passed some training and a test, you could go on to level 2. Another course. Pay some more money. Then other levels I assume. I never went that far.
Sign me up
I still did the basic training weekend anyway and it was useful to me. It was taught by a different teacher. Not Micheal. Another Chinese man, who I don’t recall the name of. It was many years ago.
It essentially taught a type of dramatic breathing exercise combined with dramatic kung fu-type punches and kicks. Basically you sucked in air noisily and quickly through your mouth. You held your breath a few milliseconds. And then you quickly blew it out by pushing with your abdomen, making a loud grunting-type noise and either punching or kicking in a certain way.
It really looks like you are doing some kind of karate drill. And sounds like it too. It was very yang. The teacher said that health problems can be improved by doing these exercises regularly. He was a middle-aged man who looked in good physical shape. I don’t know if this claim is true or not.
He encouraged us to make our own notes and drawings of the exercises, which I thought was very good. So no spoon feeding. There were several variations of the exercises to go through.
That crazy bugger next door is making those noises again
The only issue was that the teacher advised us to do these exercises outside. Which is all good if you live in the countryside with no neighbours. But really – in London? You were also supposed to do these exercises every day.
I mean what would the neighbours think? And these movements were kind of strange to perform. It would be difficult for me not to feel self-conscious doing them with so many other Londoners walking around if I was outside somewhere.
But I was serious about giving it a go. And if the teacher said it had to be done outside, so be it. I didn’t have a garden, so I went to a park.
It is kind of strange to perform these extremely noisy and dynamic movements in a public place like a London park, or even in your back garden with semi-detached neighbours or in a terraced street.
I attempted to limit my exposure to the number of people who would see me doing them. So I went to Hampstead Heath at 5am, as it was my nearest park. Then I would search all over the park to find somewhere that seemed off the beaten track – i.e. didn’t have a regular flow of dog-walkers or joggers running past.
Unfortunately, I found this to be impossible. Because even at 5am, London parks are full of dog-walkers and joggers and they go everywhere like ants with the scent of sugar.
So I just had to do these unusual exercises whilst all number of dog-walkers and joggers passed me by – probably wondered what the hell this young man was doing in the park making all these strange noises, punches and breathing noises?
Even if I found a small corner hidden away behind some bushes and trees, I would soon hear that rustling-plodding-heavy breathing sound and a jogger would emerge like a ninja out of the bushes to make me feel self-conscious. Damned ninja-joggers with their dogs!
Note: If you are self-conscious, like I am, then you can’t practice hard qigong outside in a public area. Perhaps in China it is acceptable to do this, where they have lots of elderly people outside training in tai chi or qigong. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same culture in London.
The other downside to waking up at 4:30am to go to the park was that it was making me really tired later in the afternoon. On one occasion, I fell asleep in my afternoon class because I was so tired. Even if I managed not to fall asleep, I barely remembered anything from some of my lessons.
For that particular class in which I fell asleep, I got one of my lowest marks at the end of the term. Not surprisingly, if I was the teacher, I would downgrade my student if I saw him falling asleep in my class too. He probably thought I was up late at night playing video games. Strange, how that might have been better for me.
So in this way, this kind of Hard Qigong practice really wasn’t working out for me, so I decided to switch to regular qigong and returned to practicing in my room. So much for nature.
Motivation to self cure is perhaps misguided
To be honest, my motivation was really tied in to my attempts to heal my disease. This may have led me to take it too serious and not try to adapt this practice to my lifestyle.
With hindsight, I would say it was the wrong motivation. Qigong should be enjoyed and not be rushed. Once you start imposing desires or goals you introduce tension and ego into the whole procedure, which can actually hinder progress.
On reflection, I could have made qigong an enjoyable experience. I could still wake up early but instead practice in a relaxed way in my room. Or I could even go to the park and practice gentle qigong in the fresh air at a later hour. This would have been beneficial mentally and physically. There have been occasions, when I have practiced qigong in a more relaxed way in the park and even met other practitioners or interesting people doing it, especially at Regents park.
Not a complete waste
Many people attended this course. I assume they repeatedly ran this course. There must have been a few committed people who carried out this practice diligently and went up the levels. However, I don’t believe most people who did this workshop would continue this practice as taught. That is quite common for all sorts of workshops, especially with acupuncture. I was probably one of the few attendees that did give it a serious go outside for a few weeks, until I realised that it didn’t fit me.
The other benefit, is that I have remembered the essence of these breathing movements and occasionally I do practice them. These exercises help raise the volume of my voice as generally I am softly spoken and a bit Lung Qi deficient.
I have adapted these exercises to fit me. I don’t do a complete set – only about 10-30. Also I do them inside and away from people, so I don’t need to worry about feeling self-conscious. Nor do I have to worry about ninja dog walkers and joggers jumping out of bushes and disturbing my peace.
Dipping my toes
This was a minor excerpt into experimenting (or dipping my toes into) a different type of qigong. Not long after, I stopped attending Micheal Tse classes. One reason, is that I needed to cut down on my qigong classes in London. I had to choose between Micheal Tse classes or Kurihara’s Genkiko classes.
With Mr Kurihara’s class, I enjoyed his passion for Genkiko along with his friendliness to his members. I liked how he put his own ego aside and warmly welcomed new class members. I only met Micheal Tse once at a special London event and found him a bit distant. For this reason among others, I chose to focus on Hiroki Kurihara’s Genkiko classes instead.
End of part 3. Part 4 to come soon.
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