Learning Yilu...15,000 times and counting

Kelvin Ho Fist Drape Over Body
When I first studied practical method in Nov. 2009, there were a few things that made a long lasting impression. They were:
  1. In with elbow no hand, out with hand no elbow.
  2. Don't move
  3. Yilu, which is made up of only positive and negative circles.
Many beginners including myself usually ask the following questions:
  1. How did you (Master Chen) know to do that?
  2. How can I not move?
  3. What can I do that myself?
  4. How do I train that?
Most of the times the answer was to do yilu. In fact, when I first heard about yilu, I wondered about the funny name and what it really was. Yilu was actually mandarin pronunciation for  一路 meaning first road/first routine. How can yilu be so magical? The next thing I heard was I had to do 10,000 yilus to understand. That was a big number. How many times would I need to do each day/each week in order to achieve that? The immediate thought was that I might never be able to achieve that.  One of the things that Master Chen mentioned was to video-record yilus periodically, and I would be able to see progress if I practiced.

Although I was following someone to mimic the yilu movements during my first 5-day workshop, which was the third Toronto workshop, I only practiced positive and negative circles for 3 months between my first and second workshops, as those were all I could remember. In order not to embarrass myself, I cramped the first 13 moves into memory just before the second workshop. Since the Toronto group was young and no one knew the whole form, Master Chen taught the form move by move. I found it difficult to follow the movements during the workshop in such a fast pace to remember much of the details. I decided to prepare better and learn the form from the video ahead of time before the next workshop. I followed a plan to learn a set number of moves each week. It took me about 5 months to learn the basic choreography. Just before my fourth workshop, I was able to perform a complete yilu on my own, that was about 9 months since I started Practical Method.

Master Chen's Detailed Yilu Instructions video was excellent. It wasn't just the follow-me along kind, he explained each move in great detail. I learned from the mandarin version, and later also watched the Yilu Energy Alignment series.

Although I didn't really think that I would ever reach 10,000 yilus as I only practiced twice a week at first at a pace of about 15 yilus a week, I did use the yilu counting tool to record the number of yilus I did since day one. In Oct. 2011, I started practicing 5 yilus daily (well, almost daily), then 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, back down to 10, and recently at most 20 (which lasted for 8 months) before back down to 10. Later on, I realized counting yilus was like saving money in a bank with regular deposits, the balance would increase gradually.  It was a satisfying feeling.

Reaching the goal of 10,000 yilus (Jan 2015) or 15,000 yilus (Oct 2015) didn't give me any magical power, the yilu training, however, gave me a better structure, I understood more about why the form needed to be trained in a certain way. My understanding of body posture and structure increased. I was able to see the energy path better and could see the line that Master Chen often talked about. I had no clue for many workshops when he talked about the line, but one day I started seeing it.  During the yilu practice, I often had ah-ha moments, which happened more often then than in any other time.

Master Chen corrected my form bit by bit in each workshop and through my yilu video-recording. He often picked a move to correct, and asked me to put the same concepts into the rest of the form. We must have a focus in every yilu practice, otherwise we are just going through the motions without a purpose. Here are some of my focuses, which I had 1 or 2 at a time, over the years:
  1. Learn the choreography by dissecting each action into either a positive or negative circle. It is mostly not a full circle as done as a foundation exercise, it may just be an arc.
  2. Make sure elbow-in and hand-out are done for all of those positive and negative circles.
  3. Make sure the foot work and orientation are correct. Most of the stances are half horse stances, some are just oriented in an oblique way, e.g. Brush Knee.
  4. Breathe through the nose, and keep the mouth closed. Breathe deeply into the diaphragm. I was panting a lot at first even just doing a single yilu. Later, that situation went away.
  5. Every move needs to be clear. Elbow in, hand out. Segmented, robotic. No extra/unnecessary actions.
  6. Keep the same height throughout the entire form, e.g.
    - Don't stand up at the end of Golden Warrior Pound Mortar or Six Sealing Four Closing.
    - Don't stand up before kicking for Rub Right/Left Foot.
  7. Negative circle for the left arm in Block Touching Coat.
  8. Negative circle on the left arm in Step Back to Double Shake Feet.
  9. Keep vertical axis straight in Turning Flower From the Bottom of the Sea. There is no turning on the left foot.
  10. Rear knee pointing up in half horse stance
  11. No tossing of the centre.
  12. Keep back straight at all times. Tuck in the tail bone. Normally, we have a curve on the lower back.
  13. Stick front kua up to touch the opponent.
  14. Don't look down.
  15. Front knee not moving as the rear leg moves up, e.g. in Cloud Hands and Six Sealing Four Closing.
  16. No shoulder pop as I do hand out in positive circles, e.g. last right hand out in brush knee.
  17. Tie the shoulders to the kua or the ground throughout the form. Master Chen had a saying, "Let the dogs eat the shoulders". Otherwise, the shoulder gets in the way.
  18. Heel out for front foot going forward, toes out for foot going backwards.
  19. Initial closing: Elbow in through dantian to rear foot.
  20. For positive circles, hand must always be above the elbow.
  21. Wrist straight at all times. This trains other joints to stretch move and do more work.
  22. Elbow bent at all times, and the tip of the elbow always point to the ground.
  23. Low stance. How low? As low as possible as long as the kuas are above the knees.
  24. No leaning or bending forward.
  25. Every move needs to have a fixed point.
  26. Stretch at the very end of every move.
  27. Front kua must always be higher than the rear kua.  Front kua is supported by the rear kua, which in turn is supported by the rear foot.
  28. Train with power. Don't be loose.
  29. Keep the stretch going throughout. No gap. No power fluctuations.
  30. The front hand needs to be connected to the rear foot.
  31. Every move should have two dots that are moving opposite to each other.
  32. Always maintain a spear forward from the bottom.
  33. Don't turn the torso when doing cloud hands, fist drape over body, just after White Crane. The arm movements need to wrap around a solid fixed rod.
  34. Keep the head not moving, so the centre line does not get dragged into the movements, and only stretches vertically.
  35. Don't move the front hand, stretch the rear leg.
  36. Every move must start from the waist.
  37. Add fajin into a few moves to train the power from the waist.
I knew I had to be patient, and couldn't be greedy in corrections. It took many repetitions to make a bit of progress. I often trained each point for some period of time and moved on to the next focus when I was sort of doing it without thinking too much about it. It didn't mean I got it perfectly, as I would never do. In fact, I needed to keep reminding and checking myself on those points. At one point, a regression happened as my buttock started protruding again, and Master Chen noticed and said to me, "What happened to you?" I then spent a few months fixing it. The above points would warrant revisiting as additional insights could be gained in the future.

Out of the many Master Chen's videos, I loved the yilu correction ones the most. I often found ideas on what to work on next. Everybody's mistakes are my mistakes too. Those videos helped so much in between Master Chen's visits.

One last important note about practicing yilu is that we must have good grip with the floor. We should not train on a slippery surface, otherwise the wrong muscles will be engaged and trained.

I used to have pain at the neck, shoulders, lower back due to sitting in front of a computer in long periods. After about 4 years of practice, I noticed that I didn't need to go to chiropractor and massage therapist in a regular basis anymore.

The following video reflected the body structural changes gained through yilu practice:

This next one was my yilu recorded at around 15,000 yilus:

This "First Road" is an never-ending one, there are new sceneries every so often. We need to know what the ideals are, and keep training towards them as well as constantly find a method to breakthrough. I encourage you to share your yilu story too. Happy Yilu-ing!

You can record your practice at: