Impulsion

The other hidden powers
Of ba gua zhang
Derive from
The momentum
Of continuously flowing
Full body movement
And from the proper
Discharge of energy
Directed by
an intense focus of the mind
and a pumping
of the body’s fluids.

This flow is achieved by
The expansion
And compression
Of the joints

In ba gua zhang
A specific walking practice
Is used to develop
The expansion
And contraction
of the joints.

Page 81, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang
by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

There is a fourth criteria essential to experiencing collection and extension for horses that is easy to feel but difficult to describe. Equestrians have named this mysterious quality impulsion. Within the ba gua zhang school of martial arts training I finally found an exercise that may allow dedicated practitioners to experience that sense of impulsion within themselves.

The further development of circle walking is a conscious four-part practice that focuses on expanding and compressing the joints. Just as in schooling horses, it takes time to make it an integral part of one’s being. A solid foundation and then many hours of this specific practice are required to build this into the autonomic nervous system and the connective tissue. Even then, there must be an ongoing conscious practice to maintain it. As for how it is done:

  1. Keep the rhythm and speed of your steps steady as you
  2. Quickly relax and expand all the joints in the body
  3. as the inside foot prepares to leave the ground
  4. Slowly compress all the joints in the body
  5. as that foot settles back on the ground
  6. Quickly relax and expand all the joints in the body
  7. as the outside foot prepares to leave the ground
  8. Slowly compress all the joints in the body
  9. as that foot settles back on the ground

It sounds simple enough, but it cannot be done if there is any knot of tension anywhere in the body. The entire fabric must breath, expanding and contracting with each step, even or perhaps especially, the joints and tissue of the supporting limb(s). The physiological term for coordinating stretching and breathing is pandiculation, and the most natural expression of it is the yawn which it triggers the brain to reset the tension in the entire fabric of myo-fascial tissue that holds our bodies together.

Think of your joints and connective tissue as springs in a pogo stick- the more the spring compresses as you land, the higher your next hop is as it expands. This type of impulsive energy is absorbed and stored in the connective tissue, not the muscles. Our bones, joints and organs are all held in place by a seamless intricate infinitely interconnected web of connective tissue capable of absorbing energy because it is made up of hollow spiral proteins.

These hollow spirals, like springs or shock absorbers , may be filled and emptied as well as stretched, twisted, and compressed. They will release their stored energy and fluid as they return to their original shape. These spiral proteins will multiply and align themselves according to the physical stresses and demands upon a particular area, so do persist as connective tissue takes time to respond. Our ba gua instructors recommend at least a hundred hours of practice to establish the movement in the body. Horseback riders can easily double that amount of time as our partner outweighs, overreaches, and outmaneuvers us humans by such a huge margin.

Anytime there are problems go back to the Horse Stance and:

  1. Pay attention to your breathing,
  2. become aware of your inner environment (click here)
  3. alternating breathing into your upper chest, diaphragm, and lower abdomen
  4. allow any knots or stagnations to dissolve.
  5. When you can stand balanced and breathing with your eyes closed
  6. Slowly compress your entire body into a slightly crouching position
  7. and then quickly release your entire body all at once,
  8. returning to your base, your relaxed effortless stance

Only if you are willing to invest the focused time and effort will springy powerful effortless steps be possible. This type of movement has long been the mark of a high-school horse along with the freedom and mobility of their joints. Baucher describes the feeling on horseback like this:

The real rassembler
consists in collecting the forces of the horse in his centre
in order to ease his extremities,
and give them up completely to the disposition of the rider.

The animal thus finds himself transformed into a kind of balance,
of which the rider is the centre-piece.

The least touch upon one or other of the extremities,
which represent the scales,
will immediately send them in the direction we wish.

The rider will know that his horse is completely gathered
when he feels him ready,
as it were,
to rise
from all four of his legs.

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.
(Kindle Locations 935-937). . Kindle Edition.

Eventually , this practice may give you a sense of how the horse’s joints expand and compress while moving with impulsion. Once you have experienced this for yourself, you may come to understand how a rider can abandon the show ring and devote themselves to riding the High School movements of dressage.

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