Earlier today I released a blog as an introduction into some of the principles embraced and exercised in kung fu. (If you’ve not read that blog, I encourage you to do so.) It highlighted a key component to kung fu that a practitioner taps into: the created self has an integrity to it that must be utilized – wholly – in order for our intentions and actions (on those intentions) to have integrity. Anything less is an incomplete application of self in relationship to the world around us (whether in combat, work, recreation, family, etc.). It introduced you to a term used by psychiatrists and neurologists called The Flow State. In this blog, I want to build on that blog by introducing you to the proprioception principle in kung fu.
Proprioception comes to us from the Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own” or “individual”, and capio, meaning “to take” or “grasp”. It is, in a simplified manner, the sense one has of one’s self – most specifically the relative position of one’s own body parts and strength or effort – in relation to a given activity in time and space. This sense is not consciousness in the sense of a conscious awareness of a particular part of the self isolated in activity (e.g., the hand when throwing a punch); rather, it is the mindful be-ing of one’s self in relation to a given activity and the sense of the integrity (or lack thereof) of mind, body and soul in that activity.
This sense, as I mentioned above, is not derived from the conscious mind. As we all learn in the martial arts, when we employ the conscious mind in directing activity at the expense of everything else going on inside and outside our selves, our reflexes slow down, our motor skills depreciate, and we find ourselves in very compromising situations. That’s because the part of our brain that deals with consciousness deals with calculations and stress. This type of activity, when employed in various activities requiring reflexes and motor skills, creates tension; and, tension in combat makes it easier for your opponent’s energy to manipulate your structure (i.e., do you harm). (It, also, depreciates the amount of energy you can project into your opponent, harming them.)
No. This sense comes from something else. (Although, at times, we may become consciously aware of a sense, we are never conscious of every sense.)
Rather than get into which parts of the brain do what and how each relates to where I’m about to go – something volumes of books can, and have been, written – I am going to briefly describe the chemistry of our minds, so you can get a sense (ironic use of words) of what we mean by “the sense one has of one’s self … in relation to a given activity in time and space.”
Our bodies are made up of cells. A part of these cells is something called receptors. This component is a single molecule, perhaps the most elegant, rare and complicated kind of molecule there is. (A molecule is the tiniest piece of any substance that can still be identified, itself, as a substance.) These receptors are made up of proteins, tiny amino acids strung together in crumpled chains. (Imagine taking a beaded necklace and folding it over on itself, and that’ll give you a very basic idea of what we’re talking about.) The receptors act as sensing molecules – scanners, if you will – on a cellular level. They hover on the membranes of your cells, vibrating and waiting to pick up messages carried by other vibrating creatures.
Receptors are like key-holes. When the right chemical keys (i.e., the creatures we spoke about earlier) come along, these keys mount to the receptors in a process known as binding. These chemical keys are termed ligand. (The term, itself, comes to us from the Latin ligare, “that which binds”. These ligands can be man-made or natural substances.) When the right ligand (not all will react with all receptors) interacts with its receptor, it creates a disturbance that rearranges itself and its shape until its information enters the cell.
When the receptor receives the message it transmits it deep into the cell’s interior, where that chemical information changes the cell dramatically – manufacturing new proteins, making decisions about cell division, adding or subtracting energetic chemical groups, and much more – basically determining the life and activity of the cell, itself.
Now, consider this is going on in every cell of your body all of the time – simultaneously. And, consider this: These chemicals play a wide role in regulating practically all of your life’s processes.
For many people, they believe that the brain and central nervous system are all there is to sensing, but these chemicals’ activities play a large role and relate to those systems in our everyday lives. For example, they are, in fact, part of that process that relays information from a particular part of our bodies and minds to the brain, itself, through the organs and nervous system, as well as receive the information from the brain (a form of information and energy transmission from a localized part of the body through various systems to the brain and back again).
In life we are all faced with environmental stressors that create stress, tension, and struggle. These characteristics are negative to anyone considering them. In fighting (i.e., combat, martial arts, wushu, whatever you want to call it), they can be detrimental. That is why kung fu teaches principles of be-ing to avoid the application of self in such conditions. It is a means of developing wellness, maintaining wellness and defending our wellness (i.e., self defense). These exercises are what psychiatrists and neurologists call sensory integration therapies.
[Sensory integration is] A form of occupational therapy in which special exercises are used to strengthen the patient’s sense of touch (tactile), sense of balance (vestibular), and sense of where the body and its parts are in space (proprioceptive). It appears to be effective for helping patients with movement disorders or severe under- or over-sensitivity to sensory input.
Chi sau is a good example of this. It seeks to help the practitioner utilize the appropriate part of the brain without tying the mind to any one part of the body, while exercising this condition in relation to a person or group of people doing the same. It requires a wholly mindful presence able to adapt and still express itself with integrity of intention.
While there is a lot more that could be said about this proprioception principle in kung fu, I will leave it here, for now. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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