Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Eight - Thomas Foote

A short story Bruce Lee used often:

A highly educated man went to a zen teacher to ask and acquire knowledge about zen. As the zen teacher began to explain his teachings, the man would continuously interrupt with his own ideas or to agree/disagree.

Finally the zen teacher stopped talking, and offered the man some tea. He poured tea into the cup until it was full, and then kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the floor. The man shouted “Enough! No more can go into the cup!”

“Yes, indeed I see,” said the zen teacher. “Just like your cup, you are full. Full of your own ideas and opinions. If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”

The Mad Plumber

After a warm parting from Gravity, Path Finder led The Kid out of the forest of rock pillars. At first the land was level and Path Finder set a vigorous pace. The approaching horizon was rugged with jutting cliffs, though the intervening distance rose gently. As the two of them hiked across the rising plane, they chatted amiably.

"Where are we going now?" said The Kid.

"Toward that escarpment," answered Path Finder, and he pointed with one gnarled old finger at the glowing cliffs.

"I can see that for myself," replied The Kid, who was beginning to pant a little as the ground rose. "What I meant was, what have you got in store for me now?"

"How suspicious you have become," his guide answered, feigning insult. "I wouldn't take you anywhere you didn't need to go."

"That's what I was afraid of," he said under his breath.

Now the cliffs were close enough to reveal some unexplained detail. The rough rock surface, which rose in red layer upon red layer, like tiers of a great blood-drenched cake, was criss-crossed with a spidery web of geometric lines. The oddly metallic lines seemed to have grown irregularly from a single locus. They radiated from the singular black mouth of a cave set high among the tiers of the red cliff's face.

"Path Finder," The Kid said, his voice revealing obvious concern, "I think I know where we're headed."

At this the old guide looked over his shoulder and cast him an amusing glance, but didn't stop walking.

"We're going to that cave up there, aren't we?" The Kid demanded.

"You guessed it," Path Finder shot back. "That's the cave of the Mad Plumber, the Keeper of the Third Eye."

"The Mad Plumber!" he gasped. "What could someone with a name like that have to offer?"

"A key," was all Path Finder said.

Now that they had arrived at the base of the cliffs, The Kid could see what the strange criss-crossing lines were -- plumbing! Great irregular complexes of piping twisted across the cliff's face. Some of the heavy conduits plunged into the rocky ground at their feet, though all of it seemed to terminate at the cave above them. It was toward this point that they began to climb. By using the network of pipe to gain ground, the ascent was surprisingly easy. Even so, The Kid was sweaty, smudged, and puffing like a small steam engine as he pulled himself onto the final ledge from which the piping fled.

Before him the black mystery of the cave's entrance yawned around a mouth full of protruding iron pipes of all sizes. Around the entrance was a carved rock which only served to increase The Kid's sense of discomfort. For above the dark hole, a strange piercing eye held him in its stony gaze. It resembled a hieroglyph and had presumably been wrought by the same hands which carved the oddly tomb-like entrance to the cave.

All this so preoccupied his attention that he was slow to see the even stranger hairy visage that swung above him. Above one of the great pipes, which exited the cave to rise and bend out of sight over the rugged cliff, the Mad Plumber scampered toward he ledge with the sureness of a spider in his own web. In one hand he grasped a very business-like pipe wrench.

At first The Kid was so shocked by the wild man's sudden appearance that he thought three eyes stared back at him from an angular face, framed by a wiry halo of unkempt hair and beard. Upon closer inspection, the third eye, which occupied the Plumber's forehead, was a duplicate of the hieroglyph which stared from above the cave entrance. This eye was nothing but a subtle design worked into a headband, which failed miserably to contain the woolly main of hair. Before The Kid could gather his wits enough to seek Path Finder's aid, the Plumber spoke.

"We have company, I think," he said in an unused voice. "It looks frightened, doesn't it? Well, we must not frighten our company, must we?" And with that he began to polish the surface of a low lying pipe and indicate that his young guest should sit down.

"It looks tired, poor company," the Plumber rasped in his dusty old throat. "And it has brought a friend!"

At the point Path Finder, who had carefully held back, looked for a drink. Logically in a cave full of plumbing there would be water. With his ear to the nearest pipe he began rapping with his knuckles to seek some hint of the contents. His ear met with only a hollow ring. Somewhat perplexed, he wrinkled his brow and made for the next pipe. He followed this one just inside the cave where he found a valve, which he anxiously opened. Nothing came out. Now his tongue felt swollen and stuck to the roof of his mouth. The more he looked unsuccessfully for water, the greater his thirst became. Finally, in exasperation, he burst from the cave and shouted at the two men, who sat in quiet conversation.

"These pipes are empty," his dry voice croaked.

The two men only stared back in perplexed silence.

"The pipes," he pleaded and pointed wildly about him. "There's no water."

A light seemed to go on behind the Mad Plumber's face.

"Of course there's no water; do you think I'm a fool?" the old hermit said with relief. Then he turned back to Path Finder.

"You're mad," screamed The Kid.

"Of course," said the Plumber, at which the old men chuckled.

"These pipes are empty," said The Kid.

At which Path Finder and the Plumber positively whooped with laughter and slapped each other on the back.

What could he do? He was alone in the desert with two madmen who shrieked with laughter, while he died of thirst. Discouraged, he sank down on the floor of the rocky ledge and let out a sigh of resignation.

Finally taking pity on his thoroughly miserable guest, the Plumber composed himself and went over to comfort him.

"I'm dying," said bleak-eyed Kid stated simply.

"Now, now," consoled the Plumber, "it's going to be fine, it will see."

"You're mad," said The Kid.

"Of course," said the Plumber. "Now, by company must focus its eyes on my pretty headband.

The Kid complied. He stared at the greasy old headband with its strange third eye symbol. As he stared into the hieroglyph, the mad host's voice took on a hypnotic quality. The Plumber explained that the pipes were far from empty, instead they were quite full to the bursting with vital energy. Dreamlike, The Kid began to hear the rush and flow of something streaming within the network of piping which surrounded them. These pipes, the Plumber explained, carried the very life force itself, which was essential to the vitality of the entire 5th Dimension. It was his chosen life's work, the Plumber explained in the same chanting tones, to maintain the vast network of plumbing which originated right here in his cave.

As his head lolled forward on his chest, The Kid jerked his eyes open with a start. It was as if he had momentarily fallen asleep and dreamed of water, coursing out of huge pipes and spilling all around and over him. He got to his feet slowly and beat at some of the dust and dirt that clung to his shorts and shirt. He was still standing on the same ledge in the same desert. Path Finder and the Plumber were still quietly engrossed in conversation. What wasn't still the same was his thirst. It was gone. He felt refreshed and rather invigorated.

"Hey, Path Finder," he called.

The guide looked up from his conversation, with just a hint of the previous mirth still showing on his lips.

"What was that about coming here for a key?" he asked.

Dusting himself off, Path Finder got to his feet. "I think we found what we were lacking," he said.

With poorly suppressed glee the Mad Plumber leaped to his feet and began shouting farewells.

"It has to go, doesn't it?" he chuckled. "It got what it came for, didn't it, and I have my work to do, don't I?

With that he grabbed the forgotten pipe wrench and began to scamper up the closest pipe. Before disappearing he turned and, catching Path Finder's eye, arranged his face in an exaggerated stage wink. Then he was gone.

"That was abrupt," The Kid stammered, wondering if he should feel slighted .

"It's okay," Path Finder consoled, "he's quite mad."

With that the old guide began to slide over the edge of the cliff's lip. The Kid followed, but with a strange reluctance. Before leaving, he took one last look in the direction the Plumber had vanished. Then he looked into the black mouth of the Plumber's cave with its protruding pipe work. Oddly, he thought he could feel the pipes silently pulsing.

The Magic Key

This next step into the 5th Dimension is difficult to write about.

"What's the problem?" you might ask.

"Well . . . you see . . ." stalling for time, I stand before you like a naughty child, "it has to do with . . . magic!"

"Magic!" you gasp and roll your eyes.

"I was afraid that would be your reaction," I say apologetically while ducking an imaginary blow.

Recall the keys promised by the Mad Plumber. Keys are great symbols. In the absence of the locks for which they are intended, they represent "potential." A key promises access. Access to the 5th Dimension is limited to those few who possess the key. Early in the Journey, Path Finder found a huge key with the curious proportions of an Olympic barbell. Without that prodigious key the 5th Dimension would have remained locked. But we both know, with Path Finder leading the way, that you ventured inside. If what you have encountered up to this point seemed "strange", we may have to invent a new word for what you are about to discover.

Back in the Dojo

"Come, I want to test you," the roshi announced. He stood with his feet well apart, one hand on his hip, and the other poised at shoulder height with elbow cocked so that his fist pointed toward the sky.

"Take hold of my arm," indicating a vantage point just below the shoulder, "and place your other hand on the wrist. Now, vice-like, try to close my arm and I will resist with all my muscle."

Obediently, I began to apply pressure, forcing the arm to close as that the hand would touch the shoulder. Visibly the teacher's face reflected effort. The muscles of his arm bunched and knotted while a light mist of perspiration appeared on his brow.

I was becoming exhausted. The sputtering sounds of my effort would have reduced a lesser teacher to spasms of laughter. To both our credit, the roshi maintained a straight face. I did budge the locked arm, but just barely.

"Did you see that?" I chortled. "Your arm moved!"

Grimly, the roshi said, "Again." He held out the other arm cocked in challenge. This time I was eager to please. With relish I took hold of tghe arm, which seemed strangely relaxed, and began to battle it closed. Soon I began to tremble with the unaccustomed effort, yet he remained calm.

"You really must try," encouraged the roshi in an easy voice. "We can't be passing too much time in silly contests." As he continued in conversational tones, I was locked in a futile struggle. The arm of the roshi simply did not move. Furthermore, the rascal remained as calm as the mirror surface of a deep pond. Of course I quit.

"What's up," I panted, sinking to my knees.

"You simply lack the Ki," he explained.

"What key?" I said.

"Not key," he corrected. "Ki."

Now we're going to get down to business. The choice of the word "key" as a symbol was no accident. It is a straightforward pun on the Japanese term "Ki".

"That's really enlightenting," you say. "What's Ki?"

Good question! For now we'll call it a form of energy. In the Eastern world the knowledge of this energy is very old. In ancient China it was known as "Chi". It's my conviction that it is the same vital energy which flows between the Earth and your Hara. Like the Hara it is a powerful tool. Also, like the Hara, I first encountered Ki in my study of Aikido. As we proceed you will understand why it is magic. The roshi often violated my commonsense notions of physics with demonstrations of Ki. On one occasion I had a really weird physical response to what I observed. I was sitting in the back of the dimly lit dojo, where I was being allowed to observe some of the more advanced students work out. It was bending the rules to let me watch what was going on that night. Though I was the youngest member of the school, I had such unbounded curiosity that the roshi was making an exception. Just what I saw I can't recall nearly as well as I can how I felt. There was something trance-like about the experience. My mind and body seemed to grow out of synchrony with each other. Sitting calmly in the back of that barre old room, I began to sweat and grow dizzy. Sensing my condition, the roshi approached me to ask how I was feeling. I remember how I struggled to explain the strangeness that had overcome me. I also remember how understanding he was as he helped me to my feet and guided me outside to the fresh air.

To my surprise, my reaction was not unique. The roshi explained that what I had been watching probably violated the way I thought physical laws worked. Remember that stuff about world views in Chapter IV when when we first discussed gravity and the Hara. My teacher could have said that the demonstration I witnessed had violated my world view. Only I wouldn't have known what he was talking about. What I hope you can see is that shifting world views can be a risky proposition. Because I was unable to reconcile the reality I had observed with my assumptions of what was supposed to be possible, my mind and body were at odds. The result was a mild vertigo that would pass. It did. The memory of that experience didn't.


Back in the dojo we used to gather before class or at breaks to speculate on what was going on. Whatever we were being taught worked, but continued to baffle us. We had only a few "facts" to work with:

1.) the use of Ki seemed to impart unexpected strength; and
2.) when it worked, the user remained calm and relaxed.

Both points were weird, but the second point violated common sense. When one successfully performed a feat employing Ki, the practitioner was mentally and physically relaxed. Didn't greater effort require hard, tense muscles and a brow wrinkled by effort and much grunting?

So we speculated. One theory that we had (many of these men were engineers) was that our muscle systems were being trained to operate more efficiently. When one "normally" tensed an arm to resist movement, antagonistic muscles also came into play. In the arm bending test the tricep would resist closure, while the tense bicep would actually work against you by fighting the tricep. We reasoned that, with Ki, the tricep muscle operated in more efficient isolation. Further, we figured that somehow greater numbers of muscle fibers fired in unison. These engineers played with various explanations. Once they compared the arm to a conduit filled with electrical wiring, in which greater numbers of wires carried the current under the influence of Ki. Also, as mentioned, the wires carried their message with greater "specificity" so that no unnecessary work was conducted.

Well, all that stuff sounded pretty good and to a 15-year old boy it was convincing. Probably of greater importance to me was the simple fact t hat a bunch of grown men would stand around and intelligently debate the subject at all. Looking back, I can see several things which eluded me then. First off, I know that those guys were only building "models". They were only trying to describe what they were experiencing in terms of familiar experience. Being scientists and engineers they came up with all this stuff like wiring diagrams out of their own world views. Secondly, what we were doing with Ki strongly resembled what we Westerners call "hypnosis". Since those days I have researched hypnosis thoroughly, and I can tell you one thing for sure -- it is controversial! Some of the really logical-type psychologists become almost rabid at the mention of it. What's their problem? Hypnosis, like Ki, isn't something you can see. Also, like Ki, it is difficult to explain. It also works!

There is something of a lesson for us here. It is important to look behind the big words and appearances. When a "professional" confronts us in a white smock and rattles on about the power of suggestion, we tend to nod our heads in agreement as if what what he said explained something. In contrast, if you accidentally met a ragged bum under a bridge and he whispered to you of a magic Ki, you would probably assume he had consumed too much antifreeze. In more ways than many would like to admit, there isn't much difference. I'm reminded or the children's story about the Emperor's new clothes. Only the children could see that he was naked and they were quickly shushed if they dared to mention it. In many cases we really don't know what is going on. But the test of the pudding should be in the tasting. I've seen Ki work!

The Third Eye

So, how does it work? The Mad Plumber held the (dare I say it) "Key". Ki is mastered through the hydraulics of magic and the use of the Third Eye. Weren't you wondering when that third eye stuff from the chapter lead-in would come into play? Some people interpret the third eye as a symbolic representation of psychic power. I think the "third eye" is a symbol, but not for anything more supernatural or extrasensory than your imagination -- as if it weren't fantastic enough. I figure those old guru dudes started carving third eyes into the rock foreheads of statues a a visual metaphor for "inner sight". How better could one portray the capacity to close your eyes and visualize anything you wanted? If you're like me, you have never seen a movie that compared to the novel. Hollywood simply can't compete with my imagination.

So that's what the "third eye" was all about -- visualization. And if you don't think your internal vision is magical, perhaps you should visit the Mad Plumber.

Water Power

In the dojo we learned to visualize Ki as water surging through our limbs, as if they were high pressure hoses. Let me show you what I mean. Let's go back to the arm bending contest between the roshi and me, only reverse the roles.

"Hold you arm out to the side, roughly at shoulder height," he instructed. "Now relax and imagine that your arm is a hollow conduit through which water is streaming. The water has such force that it leaves the end of your arm and diminishes into infinity along that trajectory."

You have to understand how much I trusted this man. Again the similarity to clinical hypnosis seems apparent. Just as you have learned to trust the dentist or doctor who induces hypnosis within the comfortable limits of his office, I had grown to believe in my roshi. Within the comfortable limits of the dojo, I had come to expect the inexplicable.

So I relaxed, as he had instructed. Breathing deeply, I settled into the Hara and felt the familiar stability of my Center. Then I extended my arm at shoulder height with the elbow slightly cocked so the arm formed a gentle curve. The hand was open, palm up, the fingers relaxed. Then I imagined water under high pressure pouring through my arm, bursting from the extended hand and diminishing through the wall into infinity.

With that hydraulic image in my mind, I was able to withstand the roshi's efforts to close my arm. Moreover, the feat seemed to require no effort! After much practice, we learned to combine such "visualization exercises" with movement. The results were astounding.

So, how do you apply it to weightlifting?

Well, one of the reasons the 5th Dimension is a frontier is that it has never been thoroughly been explored. Lifting in the 5th Dimension is new, though the concepts are ancient. I know that Ki can be adapted to any activity and I know it means great strength. So, I've tried to employ it as a lifter. The techniques follow in the "Meta-movement instructions" in Chapter 1 of the Hard Stuff.

Lifting With Ki

In any given exercise there are obvious lines along which effort must flow. A Karate student who discussed this with me called them Power Lines. For example, in an overhead press your effort is expended against the floor and toward the ceiling. The Power Lines travel the length of your body. So I envision a stream of surging energy, which flows through the Hara from the floor, to disappear through the ceiling on a flight into infinity. You become a column of energy. While pressing the bar overhead, keep the dynamic picture of water flowing through your limbs.

There is a clear continuity between this chapter and the last one on the Hara. The energy I speak of isn't imaginary. Practicing the Hara you have learned to feel it travel through your legs. It is only a matter of reinterpreting your experience in light of a new world view. The sensation is there. You must learn to pay attention to it.

Now, from the Hara, we are going to direct the flow of energy along our limbs.

Of course learning to use Ki takes practice. So do all new skills. Begin with the static arm exercise that the roshi showed me. Have your training partner attempt to bend your arm as you resist with muscle alone. Then follow the visualization exercises and apply Ki. Once you are comfortable with this exercise, try something more dynamic. Grab a dumbbell and perform a straight-arm forward lateral raise. This time you will perform it with a new twist. Imagine water traveling the length of your arm. Under high pressure the water forces the arm to raise, effortlessly. The water explodes from your hand into the distance. Try it. You'll like it!

We've already discussed the need to pay attention. You must learn to disect your own moment-by-moment experience. You must learn to take each lift apart and discover its Power Lines. Then you must risk experimentation and learn to apply Ki to each exercise. In the Meta-movement instructions of the next section, the Hard Schtuff, I have tried to provide directions. Ultimately, however, the real laboratory where you will make the crucial discoveries is your own experience -- not mine. So, like Huxley's birds said: "Attention, boys, Attention!" ("Island" [1962] by Aldous Huxley)


For some lifts, where you perform MAXIMUM SINGLES, there is a variation on the use of Ki. Call it Focus. Let's look at the Power Clean as it was described in an earlier chapter. The successful performance of this exercise requires an EXPLOSIVE use of Ki, as opposed to its continuous flow. This is easy to achieve, though it again requires the use of visualization. Imagination. The Third Eye. Conception. Creativity. Dozen eggs. Quart of milk. Scrambled. Lighten up. This is weight lifting, eh.

The Meta-techniques of the 5th Dimension don't involve the use of powers like Ki in isolation. Pranayama, the Hara, Ki and Focus are all employed together. This is because they are related phenomenon. Focus is another use of the mind that evades everyday experience.

With focus you stop time. A common story among the literature on meditation tells of sitting beside a babbling creek and stopping the sound. Not stropping time in this case, stopping time. Like most such illustrations in Eastern thought, this one has several applications. On one hand it may refer to the process of stilling a noisy mind which "babbles" like a brook (remember the drunken monkeys earlier). There is also a more concrete application. It is possible with Pranayama to bring the faculty of attention to a single point temporarily. This is when you pass the Gateless Barrier. Each moment becomes a distinct experience. This practice is akin to what Westerners refer to as concentration. Concentration, like muscular effort, usually conjures visions of someone applying great effort to a task. Again, the brow furrows, the eyes squeeze shut, perspiration beads the forehead and the subject forces his attention to stay put -- at great cost. Focusing Ki isn't like that. You don't have to get tense about it. Oddly, in fact, this form of concentration is only achieved by a relaxed body/mind. Let's use it:

Before you make a lift, you bring all your awareness into the present by following your breath. Don't worry about whether or not you will be successful, and don't think about what just happened in the gym. Calmly inhabit the only space in which anything is really happening, the moment of Power. In this charged space you can become aware of your breathing, the balance of the Hara, and the flow of Ki. Now, instead of visualizing Ki flowing through your arms, feel it pouring into the Hara where it is building up pressure. Energy continues to pour from the Earth. Follow its path. It enters the soles of your feet and is drawn through your legs to your center -- to the Hara. The pressure mounts. In this space you have entered, you are alive one moment at a time. In this space you will FEEL when it is right to let go and LIFT! When the moment is perfect all the pent up pressure in the Hara is released in a single instant. Energy explodes through you. WHAM! You just cleaned your max.

That's focus.

Entering the 5th Dimension - Step #3

The 3rd Eye:

I. Ki - consecutive reps:

1.) Pranayama - induce relaxation.
2.) Hara - bring your awareness into your center.
3.) Visualization -
(a) Feel energy surge from the Hara like water through your limbs, along the necessary power lines.
(b) See the water leave your hands with such force that it disappears into the infinite distance.
(c) Repeat this image during the active phase of each repetition, e.g., with each push in a series of presses.

II. Focus - singles

1. ) Pranayama - slow time and wait for the perfect moment.
2.) Hara - feel flow of energy enter through your legs.
3.) Visualization:
(a) Feel the energy build pressure in the Hara.
(b) Release Ki through the power lines in a single BURST.

Hint: Apply as much imagination power as you can to these exercises. When we say that Ki will flow like water through your limbs, see it, feel it and hear it! If you are storing it in your Hara for a big single, feel the growing weight and pressure within you! GET INTO IT!!! FEEL THE HEAT GROW AND SEE THE COLOR GLOW . . .

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