Week Eight: Leopard
The energy of the Leopard is fast and agile. Its movements are springy and have a strong relationship with gravity not only using the force of gravity to fall, but also to ‘bounce’ back and onwards to the next movement. The Leopard is tenacious and ‘bounces’ back from whatever is thrown at it, persistent until it finds a way through.
The primary element stimulated by the exercises we will be learning is the Earth element. This element relates to the Stomach and Spleen, the muscles and mouth. The shape of the Earth element is square, so it is interesting that we see longs of right angle, or square type angles within the movements of the Leopard. In practice the angles will vary a lot and will not truly be square, but they have that character to them, and working with these angles definitely strengthens the muscles in ways unlike any of the other exercises we have done so far. Many of the movements are about aligning the joints so that the muscles can most effectively exert force against gravity to give the Leopard its characteristic speed and bounce.
The main emotion related to the Earth element is worry. When we worry a lot we can tend to get ‘jumpy’ and nervous. Often this jumpiness is thought of as a bad thing, but the Leopard provides an excellent example of using this jumpiness in an advantageous way. Using the jumpiness to power fast and relentless action to deal with situations. Worry is very useful if it helps us to persist in trying to deal with something, trying again and again, ‘bouncing’ back after each failed attempt until it is resolved. Sometimes making many small attempts as something which we bounce back from leaving us fresh to try again is more effective than one big effort that leaves us exhausted. In the end if we worry effectively we then become calm, because we no longer have unresolved issues hanging over us that have not been resolved.
This Weeks Practice Sessions:
Begin your sessions with the Alignment, Centering and Opening exercises from week one and a few repetitions of the warmups from week two before proceeding onto the new movements. End your session with more of the Alignment, Centering and Opening exercises.
The Leopard movements require and develop springiness in your muscles. It is best to do just a little of the movements at first to see how your respond and then build up gradually so as to avoid creating excessive muscle soreness early on.
This is our first exercise to develop springiness in our movements. Very simply with your feet quite close together you jump forwards and back, and side to side. The jumps don’t need to be big, you are just allowing your tissues to take the gravitational energy from dropping down in the jump and convert it immediately into a spring or bounce.
You can also practice jumping and crossing your legs as you land, then unwinding this crossover as you jump again so you turn 180 degrees. This crossing and uncrossing starts to develop quickness in turning as well.
Leopard Shoulder Opens
Step or jump into a horse stance. Bring your arms up in front of you with your elbows at approximately right angles and hands in fists. Open your arms to the sides, keeping your elbows bent at right angles. This opens the chest and help to align the chest and shoulders above the pelvis to allow force to travel more efficiently through your body in the Leopards springy movements.
Next with the arms wide and elbows still bent, turn one arm down so that the fist faces down while the other stays facing up. Alternate between sides with this movement.
As mentioned earlier, the angles in the arms may not exactly be 90 degrees, but they have the characteristic of squareness to them that helps develop the alignment the Leopard needs as you open the chest back and shoulders.
With arms out to the sides and elbows bent at right angles, fists pointing up, and standing in a horse stance, turn out to one side and lunge. Turn the back foot onto the ball of the foot and bend the back knee. In the completely classic alignment there will be a right angle at the ankle knee and hip in both legs. The legs will be shoulder width apart so the pelvis will face squarely in the direction you are facing creating more right angles. There will also be a right angles at the shoulders and elbows. Again in practice the angles will actually vary a lot, but they still have this square character.
After you have turned, extend your hands straight up above your shoulders, and then return them to their right angled position.
Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side.
Standing with feet shoulder width apart extend one hand forward in a Leopard fist, with the palm facing up. Bring the other hand by the elbow of the extended hand so the arm makes an approximate right angle. This hand should also form a Leopard fist with the palm facing down.
Alternate which hand is forward, and feel the subtle change of tensions through your body as you align your arms in different ways.
The Leopard fist is made by bending all of the fingers so that the fingertips sit by the top of the palm of the hand. The thumb stays close to the side of the hand. A fist formed in this way pulls on the muscles and connective tissues in a different way to a normal fist.
The muscular development of the Leopard is not just about making the muscles bigger and stronger, a lot of it is about making habits of alignment so that the muscles can exert force most efficiently.