The Sparring Lecture
The First Step to a Centered Life

Connecting Drills

In class Wednesday night we did some "connecting" drills. I first encountered this concept when I trained in Yi Li Chuan kung fu (Yiliquan) in Omaha under Sifu Phillip Starr. It was the first time any martial arts teacher made philosophy a key part of the art, and it spoke to me.

Remaining centered and connected to the people and the world around you is a noble pursuit--one that we naturally fall short of at times because of human nature, but that's true with any philosophical or religious pursuit, isn't it? We can really try to be good, but there's always the occasional slip-up.

The practice of kung fu, at its core, is about mastering ourselves. Let's face it--I hope I'm never in another real fight. I haven't been in a real fight since high school. I've managed to calm down potentially violent situations several times as an adult, and I've always felt good about that. The reason we practice the martial art is to gain control over our minds and bodies.

But if we fail to control ourselves in daily life, our martial arts training isn't very effective.

I've told this story before, but the first time I realized I was incorporating the philosophy and the centering skills into my life was when I worked at KMTV in Omaha as the producer of the 6:00 news. One night, a wall cloud was passing the station, ready to drop a tornado into the city. People were running around, frantic, screaming, rolling studio cameras out the station doors to carry the wall cloud live. It was around 4:50 and I was in charge of the 6:00 news. I was at my typewriter banging out some copy when I heard someone laughing.

I looked over and a sports guy was looking at me, laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked.

He pointed at me. "Doctor Chill," he said. "Everyone's going crazy and you sit there just getting the job done."

I realized at that moment that I'd been centering myself, keeping part of my awareness on my dan t'ien, and relaxing my body while I focused on the job at hand. Also, when I produced the news, I never yelled at people and threw temper tantrums like some producers did. I was much more likely to crack a joke when the going got tough.

I had kung fu training and chi kung training to thank for it.

So in class Wednesday, we did a connecting drill in which one student stands with his hands together in front of him, and his partner stands with his hands at his sides and tries to slap or touch the first student's hands before they can be snatched away. The student that's holding his hands out has to connect with his partner, trying to know when he's about to try to slap his hands, and move them before they can be slapped. It's also a great reflex drill and one that teaches you to relax (you can't move out of the way very easily or slap someone's hands when you're tense).

These drills represent something very deep, however. From a martial perspective, when you connect with a partner during sparring and you know when he's going to attack, you have a distinct advantage. From a personal perspective, learning to connect can improve every relationship in your life. Practicing chi kung and learning to calm your mind and put part of your awareness on your dan t'ien takes time. The goal is to take that same calm feeling and recreate it when you find yourself in a stressful, tense or angry situation. When you can react to stress, tension, or an angry person by calming your mind and body and focusing rationally on the task at hand, you'll gain the true benefits of the internal arts.

As Ringo Starr said, however, it don't come easy. It takes work--it takes practice--but it's worth it in the long run.


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