Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Workshop Spotlight

Peridance Martial Arts Instructor, Joseph Zeisky will be teaching a Bagua/Qigong Workshop this Summer!

The workshop, "Three Saturdays" (July 23rd, August 20th & August 27th) focuses on a unique principle of Bagua. Unfamiliar with the practice myself I asked Joseph if he would give me an introduction to Martial Arts and explain what drew him to make it a life practice.

1. How did you first get involved in studying Martial Arts?
When I was 8yrs old my Father took me to see the classic martial arts movie, "Enter the Dragon", starring the iconic movie star Bruce Lee. Like most kids who saw that movie in the early 1970's, I too was greatly inspired to start learning martial arts. Soon afterwards I begged my Father to sign me up at a local Karate school near our Sunnyside Queens, New York home. Most of my martial arts exposure and influence, from early childhood up to my teenage years, came from New York City's martial arts movie theaters, especially Chinatown’s Music Palace Theater, which was located off of Canal St. and Bowery. Almost every Saturday after work, my Father and his good Chinese friend “Uncle Ho” would go for Chinese food and Kung Fu movies and they’d always take me along...It was great fun!

2. What drew you to select the particular forms you have chosen to focus on in your career?
Most of those martial arts films I was exposed to as a kid usually demonstrated the more dramatic styles like Karate, Shaolin Kung-Fu, Snake, Tiger, Monkey, Crane, Praying Mantis, boxing, jujitsu and other external styles. So as a teenager, when I first encountered the much more slowly performed and less dramatic forms of the Internal Martial Art of Tai Chi Chuan, I was simultaneous mystified and intrigued. At the time, it was quite the radical departure from what I was used to in terms of what I thought a martial art should look like and feel like, but I was pretty much hooked the first time I saw Taichi performed at an art gallery/Taichi school in Soho, NY in 1984. Even though I couldn’t explain exactly why I liked it so much, I intuitively knew there was something there well worth exploring further. It’s now been twenty-seven years since my first Taichi class and I’m really happy I followed my intuition. The core principles and practices of Taichi further led me on another exciting journey of studying and practicing other dynamic and equally powerful Internal Martial Arts styles such as: Bagua, Xingyi and Aikido. Presently, Bagua and Taichi are the primary arts that I teach and practice.

3. What’s the main difference between Internal Martial Arts and External Martial Arts?
External Martial Arts like Karate, Jujitsu, Judo, Boxing, Kung Fu, Shaolin Kung Fu, Wushu, Wrestling and many others, first emphasize the importance of being physically fit and learning very specific and practical self-defense techniques and forms, with very little focus on meditation or energy cultivation in the beginning; they usually appeal to a younger more athletic people. In contrast, Internal Martial Arts like Taichi and Bagua greatly emphasize meditation and internal energy cultivation practices right from the beginning and usually teach self-defense/fighting applications much later. The "internal" path of learning martial arts is a much less practical and generally slower way of gaining self-defense/fighting skills, but is much less jarring to the body and can be a more balanced/sustainable method of training the whole-body in the long run; it usually attracts older/mature adults, injured athletes, sensitive artists types and or very introspective individuals. Traditionally in Asia, children and young adults first gained essential life skills such as respect, discipline, confidence and the importance of physical fitness through the practical no non-sense approach of the "external" arts. Later in life, they would refine and sustaining those life lessons with the breathing/meditation skills of the internal arts. Today, in our more open society, these different approaches/schools have been influencing each other greatly, helping more open minded stylist to upgrade their skills to a more integrated approach.

4. How would you introduce the field of Martial Arts to potential students who are new to the practice?
Since every individual is truly unique there is no set formula for everyone, a good teacher has to intuitively and patiently adjust forms and core principles to fit each unique need and circumstance. But, there are some universal principles of proper breathing and bone alignments that applies to all situations, so we strive to make those principles as clear as possible. New/beginners and more experienced students alike, are always encouraged to appreciate the subtle power of CHI (life-force/bio-electric energy) and the simple practices found in Qigong (life-force cultivation/breathing skills) that consciously trains this force, such as: learning to breathe more fully and naturally from the belly, holding specific postures for a few minutes to help build internal strength, and simultaneously practicing these two things together to achieve greater stillness and better energy flow. Then we teach the integrated slow-moving version of those same static postures, in order to warm-up and increase whole-body coordination. And finally, we progress onto testing the quality and power of those specific postures with a partner, to have a practical hands-on experience of how it all comes together. Most of our training has this three-stage approach: theory, practice and application. These three aspects, just like the mind-body-spirit connection, needs to flow seamlessly between each other in order to have a more complete training experience…no one aspect is more important than the other, they are all interdependent and supportive of each other.

5. What are the main benefits students can expect to discover in their lives from taking up Martial Arts?
Philosophically/Spiritually, one of the great metaphors Martial Arts training teaches is the ability to better distinguish reality from illusions, such as: one might believe that their forms performance of a palm strike through the air is very powerful because it looks and sounds powerful, but in reality it has no substance or effect when applied in real life. However, if a student maintains a consistent daily/weekly practice and strives to remain sincere and humble, accepting their loses without bitterness or regret and their wins without becoming boastful, then their emotions will be more balanced and their intuition strengthened. These combined efforts allow the mind to be clearer and free of other's projections, letting the individual distinguish what's true from what's false...a much needed skill in today's environment of hype and false advertising. Physically/Emotionally, Martial Arts training through-out the centuries has developed and refined multiple ways of simultaneously developing fitness, strength and conditioning alongside energy balancing and martial technique, helping to produce an individual who has a healthy sense of self and generally feels more vital, energetic and prepared to face life’s many challenges.

6. Explain how you balance the "traditional" principles of Martial Arts with living in the modern world?
As a young adult I realized that I was still being greatly influenced by films, TV and media in general, unfortunately mostly in negative ways and that I was also putting unnecessary pressure on myself to emulated the legacies of the great artist I had read about. So, I searched for simple ways to literally "stop" and "unplug" from potentially negative influences and conditionings; I discovered the ancient spiritual/health practice of fasting. I learned that the simple act of abstaining from foods, TV, movies, music, media, friends, family, etc. for brief periods of time and then later for a few days at a time, had an incredibly re-balancing and strengthening affect on my life energy, and, I didn't have to escape to some temple in the mountains or spend lots of money to do it. These discoveries further evolved into creating/adapting other simple energetic practices, inspired from my Qigong training such as: going on long fast-paced walks around the city and sitting next to trees in local parks while simultaneously practicing belly-driven breathing meditation, one of Qigong's main methods of circulating and balancing internal energy. Another great little trick I discovered for surviving modern-day/city living, inspired from my Taoist seated meditation training, is to consciously block-off unnecessary and excessively stimulating sounds, visuals and sensations, to allow the mind to settle and the internal energy to concentrate and center into the belly. So, I usually carry a small pair of foam earplugs in my pocket to help reduce the damage and disturbance sounds can have on the body's defenses, then I look for a bench or ledge to briefly sit-down for 2-5 minutes, to close and rest my eyes. These simple counterbalancing measures of protecting one's life-force and body on a daily basis have their roots in the ancient philosophy and practices of Taichi, the grand ultimate principle of balancing opposite and complimentary forces.
For more information on Joseph's workshop or to register click here.
Click here for Joseph's class schedule.

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