Looking back on my own start in Shou' Shu' I can say with certainty that the thing that kept me going was the positive feelings of well being it generated in me.
Sure, there was so much coolness. Learning all the cool moves. The sense of empowerment. The camaraderie. The idea that one could improve their standings in the hierarchy. The blood pumping excitement. But at the end of each training session, I felt good. Amazingly good, like all was well in the world. And this feeling had been previously foreign to me.
Like all of our beneficiaries, I had come from a trying childhood. Abandoned by my father at a young age I was left to be raised by my mother and stepfather. Both extreme alcoholics. It was a threatening household to grow up in. We knew that at a certain time each evening the alcohol would hit my stepfathers bloodstream and turn him violent. We lived in constant vigilance of this and did everything we could to avoid his rage.
We also lived with the belief and dream that one day our real father would appear and save us. He never did.
Having never had a childhood in which I could be a child this hypervigilance stuck. I always had it. I was always in a state of hyperarousal. Always in fight or flight. And this creates a very uncomfortable feeling. A feeling of tension, distrust, fear, and extreme self-consciousness. It creates extreme social anxieties. In general, it creates a constant indescribable bad feeling in the body.
When I trained that all went away. It was freedom. I felt like a different person. Like I could be someone.
Later in my years as an instructor, I learned that this feeling was pervasive among so many others. Especially young men. And somehow, we attracted these angry young men to us.
And each and every one, after training for some time said basically the same thing:
"I don't know, I can't explain it, it just makes me feel good"
~Every Angry Young Man We Ever Taught
While there are certainly a number of reasons for these good feelings one of the reasons that are unique to Shou' Shu' training is the effect of learning the fluid and strong body mechanics of Shou' Shu'. There is, without a doubt, a connection between the way we move our bodies and our emotions. And amazingly, we can use our body to control our emotions.
We Control Our Emotions, With The Right Training
Once discovered it takes very little investigation to realize that we can use our bodies to control our emotions. What we find is that the two systems, our emotions and our body mechanics, make up a positive feedback loop.
Every emotion is exhibited in the body. Not only in posture but also in motion. As a matter of fact, more strongly in motion than in posture.
It goes the other way as well. Moving our bodies in a specific way causes our emotions to match how we are moving. Therein lies the magic. If we desire a certain emotion we simply learn to moe our bodies in the way that produces that emotion.
Research is not needed to prove this. This simple two minute experiment will do just that.
Step 1 - Set a timer and trudge around like a depressed moody teenager for a minimum of one minute. Guaranteed you will not want to do this for long unless you are a depressed teenager. It feels terrible. Take note of how you feel.
Step 2 - Set the timer again and now walk briskly, shoulders back, head up, like you have somewhere important to go. Note how you feel.
I've carried this experiment out hundreds of times with hundreds of people. Always with the same result. always with the same surprise. Despite its obviousness.
This simple experiment is a very tiny example of the effect. In Shou' Shu' we have seven "Beasts". Each one is a different form of Kung Fu based upon the way a given animal moves. Each of these ways of moving strongly produces a given emotion. Practiced intensely it can bring us to the point of feeling high on that emotion. And each of these states has therapeutic effects. These motions combined, which is generally how it is taught, combine to generate a general sense of well being.
Moving in the beast motions creates a feeling of strength. The exact opposite of the feelings of helplessness of the typical angry youth. In many cases, prior to learning how to gain an internal feeling of strength through training, these individuals would seek it out through violent or destructive acts. Most violent acts are a seeking of personal empowerment or at the very least relief from a feeling of weakness. Just through a very destructive means. A means which is both destructive to the individual and also society.
Gaining a feeling of personal strength through the positive means is quickly realized as a positive alternative to the former destructive behaviors. Individuals who seek change will quickly latch on the training. It can feel like a life raft in the very turbulent waters of life.
Amy Cuddy - Power Poses
The effects of training in Shou' Shu' on the individual have been known for a very long time. Maybe millennia, we really don't know. They are traditions which have been passed down from master to student for an unknown amount of time. There are no histories, or at least not histories which can be trusted. Yet the knowledge has persisted.
These effects were rarely even spoken about. The tradition of the training was just to train the student rigorously and wait. The student would discover it on his own. There was no benefit to explaining it ahead of time. It would likely only be counterproductive. This is still the way it is done. At some point, the student would bring it up. They would mention, usually timidly, the internal changes they felt. The teacher would smile and nod. Maybe a few words were uttered. Something like, "Oh yes, that is part of the path". Then training would resume.
And that was all. It was played off as a non-event. Yet both the teacher and student knew, it was possibly the biggest realization of the student's life and at the same time one of the most fulfilling moments of the teacher's career. Inside both would beam with love and joy, yet there was little celebration. Only more training. Later, each would privately rejoice. And that was, and is, how it is done.
For that reason, this effect was spoken of very little. It was just a moment on the path. But seeing that moment over and over inspired me to want to know more, and to expose the effect to the world. There is so much benefit our world can gain from it.
So when Amy Cuddy did her TED talk on power poses we were thrilled. This was obviously very related to what we experienced. Just in a less pronounced and more easily attainable way. We are hopeful that the research around the subject continues there is much to be gained. However, research or not, the training and the effect has existed for longer than we know and, if we are successful in our mission, will persist for long into the future. Providing benefit to as many as we can spread it to.