Taijiquan and the Four Minute Kilometer

A while back I posted training diary, with an associated article, Goals. I haven’t updated the article in a while – been busy with a new baby and the usual work and training.

So for the past couple of months I’ve been jogging around the lake (it’s about a kilometer) at a very leisurely pace. For at least three weeks it was all about just doing it. At first I couldn’t do a km. Then I could do two. Then I could do two, rest, and do a third.

Now I can do five.

I set a pretty okay pace, I suppose. I was averaging around 6 minutes a kilometer, over five kilometers. Nothing too backbreaking I guess. But then I decided to see if I could go any faster. Getting my average time down was tough at first. When I got down to a 5 minute kilometer over three km, I thought I was doing pretty damn good.

But then I decided to try and see how fast I could go in just one kilometer, and I was surprised when I clocked in at 4:01. Actually I was cursing. Oh my god.. one second.. four minutes and one second. What a rip!

However, the next day I got a 3:50. Then a 3:40. Then a 3:38. Now my best time is 3:36.04. Not bad. I would run fast for the first km then jog or walk a km to cool down, then I would decide if I wanted to go 3km for distance or just another km for speed before I quit. Later on I discovered that this is actually called fartlick training or interval training.

One of the things I noticed was that jogging a 6 min km felt similar to when I did wood form (beng quan) in xingyi. I could feel the qi (氣) in my fists. Well, obviously it is not the same thing as beng quan, but it did remind me of it. Interesting. When I am done I can feel the burn in the core of my body, getting smaller and smaller each time. I think it’s falling into my dantian. I can feel the heat encompassing my body. It feels hot and very comfortable if I relax into it. It’s funny, but I get it now – that is, avoid a chill wind like arrows (风如避箭, “bi feng ru bi jian”).

I am already noticing improvements in my Taijiquan. The last few times I ran a 4 minute kilometer I felt the burn but it was different. It seems to be moving to the inside of my body. The second time it felt like everything was gassed/burning but my skin and a cm under it. Weird feeling I tell you. Now, When standing it feels like the place which used to burn on the inside just explodes to fill up the rest of my body and this somehow roots me to the ground – like a vice grip. It’s a weird, hard to explain feeling, but the end result is that by relaxing, I can feel a much stronger root. If I connect this to my center I am sure it will yield a strong nei gong.

The aerobic impact from jogging is really beneficial to taijiquan. Not only does it work the legs but it works the whole body, if you relax into it and have good breath normalization. I kind of wish I had the drive to jog earlier, but I wasn’t aware just how beneficial it could be.

I did some more research. Jogging and doing Tai Chi (in a low stance) burn a comparable number of calories. From this I take it that they have a similar aerobic benefit. From this, I would definitely recommend a daily jogging routine for any beginning student of taijiquan. Why jog and not do tai chi right off the bat? Just to train your body to be able to handle the tai chi. So this isn’t a forever thing I’m proposing. It’s just a lot easier to control the impact when you’re jogging. You can push yourself and find your level a lot easier because the exercise is very uniform.

I’ve also been experimenting with cycling recently, doing ~17 km a day of outdoor cycling (not on a machine). I like cycling a lot. But I think running is good too. Maybe a combination of cycling and running?

At any rate, the science behind low-medium impact aerobic exercises is sound; after approximately one minute of low impact aerobic exercise the body will switch it’s primary energy source from carbohydrates to fat. I personally feel that it makes sense to train the body to draw energy from fat at a target impact level. I think this would greatly improve a beginner’s ability to pick up the movements properly in a low stance. I feel that it encourages continuous whole body motion, the kind of motion required in tai chi. Combined with a proper stretching program, I feel jogging will allow the beginner to reach lower stances much quicker than the usually “wait ten years” approach. This will have the net effect of shortening the time required to reach a high level.

My heartfelt recommendation for people who need to learn taijiquan is to seriously investigate daily jogging as a basic training exercise. Just do it. Anyways, isn’t this how they train in Chen Village? 🙂

Good luck out there.

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3 Responses

  1. “I am already noticing improvements in my taijiquan.” Excellent! I hope your progress continues. I can relate. I’m coming off a long period of forced inactivity (healing from spinal injury). I’ve been swimming recently, and being able to use my body again feels fantastic.

  2. Attitude makes all the difference. Is that Chinese? Your priority seems to be exploratory in delighting. I can remember when I described my jogging to myself and others as dancing. Now I seem to take it deadly seriously (again) and to be fitfully in some pain (again), mostly knees. I’ve resurrected my 24 form simplified Yang, spurred on by YouTube exemplars (Chen Si Tan, mostly). I knew peace of mind was hard work. My motto now would be, “Everything matters.” For one thing, there are no short-cuts. Bigger bicycling muscles may reduce flexibility. Sore joints need rest. What’s needed is a tai ji of the spirit: training to meet others on the way, not being bowled over by them if they are rock-like and do not grant me free passage. “The mind is the sword”, but also, the mind needs tai ji training. The goal is to let the body heal continuously, a power which I’m told by a Western internist does not lessen with age. Your discussion with Joanna about qi was fascinating. Self-justification is to be scorned. Anxiety speaks for itself but only babbles. “Hope is not a mere warm feeling in the head.”–Karl Rahner, SJ. The two guys hugging in the background of the video of tree-punching in Taiwan were exercising qi to the extent of throwing each other backwards, I think. Maybe qi is Rahner’s hope: the interpersonal virtue”, the act of recognizing the other’s physical presence. One’s own exercises may merely ready one to realize that one has a distant effect on others even as they have such an effect on one–mood is communicated. Training is to make that communication peaceful and fruitful–healing. I would say, healing is a choice.

    Renli responds: I like your philisophical sort of take on these things, as flawed as it is, as we all are. It has the quality of bringing it all together for me. It’s a bit of a secret but, this is a large component of the correct attitude you need in order to really learn taiji, to really learn neijia and kungfu in general. People who don’t get this kind of thinking can’t figure it out 🙂

  3. Here is more Rahner. See if it speaks to qi. “With this proposition the common conception of the soul is decisively abandoned, that conception, namely, which sees the soul as a kind of invisible spirit which carries on its activity in a body understood as a coordinate [parallel] part of man, which body as a material substance taken by itself has its own actuality in the first place. It is otherwise in Thomas [Aquinas]: the ‘soul’ is also the only actuality of the BODY [italics in orig.] itself as a material substance, it [the soul] is not a spiritual essence in a chemical substance which has its [the body’s chemical substance’s] own determinations from itself. The soul is visible because and insofar as the visible actuality of the body is its [the body’s] own actuality; it is invisible only insofar as….” Spirit in the World, pp. 323-4. So we can speak of seeing someone’s spirit in the way they sing or walk. To quantify this, if qi does that, is figurative: the literal sense would be of the quality of the spirit. So a Chinese man, a deep fryer operator in a restaurant where I was counter help, said to me of my tai ji, well, he did not say, he merely frowned with a look of brotherly contempt, and then made the palms sweeping down gesture, of the initial crouch, briefly. It evidently meant, “Don’t fool around!–make it happen!” This happened in Portland, Maine. It might have been different if it had happened in China. He might not have tried to help me, because I might have seemed an invader.

    Renli responds: I think if he thought of you as an “invader” he wouldn’t have tried to help you no matter where you were. Other than that, I have also come to the conclusion (after reading Chen Xin’s book) that Chi is our conception of a level of reality that we feel, that it is our feeling and our conception, and not said layer of reality itself (In other words, Chi is a feeling, we know the feeling, but we know not that which we feel). My speculation on what we are in fact feeling is related to the proprioceptive and interoceptive senses.

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