Thursday, December 20, 2007

day 85: chen, pao quan, jian, & bagua leg form cont'd

  • yin-yang
  • center(s) of gravity
  • pao quan
  • chen tai chi long form
  • kuen wu jian
  • bagua leg form
we had a large turnout today, with several students who apparently haven't been seen for quite some number of years. all told, i counted 10 students for today's Sunday class.

the morning was devoted to the usual Sunday session, with the bulk of instruction on the Chen tai chi long form and then a short section on kuen wu jian form. the afternoon was a continuation of the bagua leg form from yesterday evening, and so shrank to a smaller group.

pao quan

Ching-Tszieh showed up, freshly returned from Taiwan. while she was getting caught up with events in the class, Phunsak worked with me to go a little bit further into pao quan. i brushed up some of the question points i had, and then we progressed to some more of the form. i'm guessing i'm around halfway through at this point--which is surprising, because it seems to be l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-g.

Chen tai chi long form

since Ching-Tzsieh and Jay--who also showed up--hadn't done the Chen long form before, Sifu did a short review. he also did a brief backtrack to introduce the combat concepts we've covered in the past weeks, focusing mostly on yin-yang, center(s) of gravity, and entries.

we ended up tying this into the form. Sifu took us a little further in the form, going through the first set of side heel kicks and then a little bit further.

he stopped to show us the combat applications, breaking things down in terms of the combat concepts above. he then had us practice in pairs to see how the concepts determined the types of adjustments that needed to be made to each technique to make them effective based on a specific set of circumstances.

Sifu made a point to repeat something he'd mentioned in passing in yesterday's seminar regarding the yin-yang and center(s). he'd said that in applying yin to yang (and vice versa) the point was less to try and locate an opponent's center and their distribution of yin-yang force vectors so as to determine how to place your own force vectors, but more to locate these points so as to determine how you can balance them about the systemic center. in other words, you're supposed to balance the opponent's yin with your yang (or vice versa) so that the yin-yang balance of the entire system of bodies (i.e., both of you together) is balanced about the systemic center (i.e., the common center of gravity or common center of mass of the sytem created by both of you). Sifu said this was more accurate in determining placement of your force vectors--not just in direction or magnitude, but in point of origin in 3-d space or in time within the dynamic conditions of an encounter.

after this, we did a number of repetitions of the Chen long form we've done to date, just to build it into our memory.

kuen wu jian

we finished class with kuen wu jian. we had to break out extra swords, since there were more people. this went pretty quickly, with Sifu showing us more of the form and then having us repeat it several times to help remember.

we finished the morning session with this. Sifu reminded everyone that we are holiday break, and that he would be in Hawaii until the 2nd weekend in January. he's teaching a class at UCLA again, so he'll be back in time for the winter quarter, but the 1st Saturday session won't be until the 2nd week. he also noted that the first weekend back will be a double session, with both Saturday and Sunday class.

bagua leg form

the afternoon continuation of the bagua leg form grew. both Ching-Tszieh and Jay were interested, so they joined me and John.

Sifu reviewed the form briefly so that everyone could get on the same page, and then went into the combat applications of the techniques. he demonstrated them to us, and then had us work in pairs practicing the techniques.

i found that the concepts we've covered in the past weeks on yin-yang and center(s) extended to the leg form techniques in a pretty straightforward manner. although, there were still a few sticking points in terms of being able to 1) locate the proper yin-yang balance, and 2) locate the proper center(s). Sifu repeated the point he'd made from the morning about focusing on balancing yin-yang forces about the systemic center, and noted how this adjusted our actions in ways that better matched the actions of the opponent.

we finished with a final review of the leg form to date, and then called it a day. Jay and Phunsak stayed for more separate private sessions, and the rest of us wished happy holidays and left.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

day 84: seminar (forms of energy) & bagua leg form

  • jing (tin, hwa, na, fa)
  • kicks (suai, ban, go, ti, tai)
  • xiao kai men
  • energy
  • leg form
note: this post involves a fair amount of Chinese terms. if somebody can give me the correct English spelling (or better yet, the original Chinese characters), i'd be grateful.

today was a bit of a split day. the usual Saturday morning class was held with the kung fu club at Cal State Long Beach, where Sifu was invited to hold a 2-hour seminar on bagua to the students, whose backgrounds were almost completely in long fist. the evening was a personal session in the bagua leg form, which i had started earlier this past semester but had suspended until i'd gotten past my dissertation defense.

xiao kai men

the seminar went pretty smoothly. Sifu began by having everyone learn xiao kai men in a line. he then divided the seminar into 2 groups, with Phunsak teaching the Cal State Long Beach students (since they were new to bagua), and Sifu taking the baji and bagua students from the normal Saturday class.

something i should note here is that i learned "xiao kai men" has the English translation "little gate." i was not aware of this. Sifu commented that this actually had a double meaning:
  • it referred to the kidney area, which are considered small gates to the body, and was meant to draw attention to 1) the form's primacy on development and use of the torso to apply the techniques in the form, and 2) the imperative in bagua of close movements exploiting narrow openings in the enemy's defenses
  • the form was traditionally used to filter out students, and hence acted as a gate, with only those who passed their test in xiao kai men (i.e., those who successfully learned the form and its applications) being allowed to continue on to learn the rest of bagua. those who did not were not allowed to continue. i suspect this was meant as a way of finding 1) students who were serious (i.e., actually diligent in study) versus those who weren't, 2) students who had a physical match to the style (i.e., whose body types fit the style) versus those whose bodies probably were better suited to other styles, and 3) students who had a grasp of the philosophy and mindset of the style.
John Eagles and i had met on Friday for about 1-2 hours to try and sort out the applications for xiao kai men by incorporating the concepts we've covering the past few weeks. we'd both been frustrated by xiao kai men (i wrote a post on this, reference: day 59), and figured preparing for the seminar was a good excuse to resolve some of our issues.

this was probably one of the best things we ever did. turns out all (and i mean all) our frustrations with xiao kai men before were based on incorrect (rather, more too restrictive) usage of the techniques. before, we'd thought that techniques had to be done in very specific ways. but the past few weeks have focused on recognizing the need to modify techniques to match circumstances. one of the big themes, in particular, has been that the greater importance in terms of practice is to preserve the principles of the physics--and this inherently means that the techniques have to be modified, since the physics of a particular set of circumstances requires that you adapt yourself to circumstances to maintain the physics (that is, you modify what you are doing...such as techniques).

with this in mind, John and i managed to figure out is involved in getting each of the techniques to work. we found that the theory of yin-yang and centers (remember: a center of mass for each fighter, and then a systemic center of mass for the entire system of all fighters taken together) helped in understanding just how the techniques had to be modified to match circumstances, including variables like the opponent's body type, posture, structure, and action state.

i mentioned to John that this was yet another illustration that for anyone trying to learn how to use a martial art in combat it is imperative to work with partners. that, and that it confirms the comment i've heard from others to never get married to the form...forms don't exist in a vacuum; they morph and change in response to the world around them. by remaining fixed, they risk extinction, since a changing world constantly calls for adaptation.


for those of us at the seminar with Sifu, the day ended up not being entirely about xiao kai men. in fact, it ended up being only incidentally about it.

Sifu began by telling us about the nature of energy (or jing) in fighting, which he says could be seen in terms of 4 categories:
  • tin jing--"listening" or "sensing" energy, which is largely about feeling out the psychological aspect of the opponent
  • hwa jing--variously translated as "absorbing", "deflecting", or "redirecting" energy, and involves non-hostile contact avoiding direct force-on-force encounters
  • na jing--this deals with positioning of the body (yours) so as to place or set up your application of a technique
  • fa jing--this is "projection" by you of energy in terms of explosive power
in a fight, a person utilizes all of these forms of energy. hence, it is important to develop all these categories in order to fight with skill.

Sifu gave us a series of drills to work on each of these categories. they were actually all the same, but just had escalating levels of engagement. for today, just for training purposes, Sifu said to go all the way short of fa jing, and to work instead on developing our sensitivity to jing. the drill(s) fell as follows:
  • drill 1: 2 partners take turns being the "aggressor" launching strikes and a "defender" seeking to avoid the strikes. the defender does not strike back, but does use motions of the hands and feet to attract the opponent's attention. Sifu said that fighting involves disrupting the opponent's energy, and that in bagua this is done in part by disrupting the opponent's psychological state. this is done by making the opponent miss using footwork, or "playing" with the opponent using physical actions that don't actually hit and hence confuse them. this correlates to working tin jing.
  • drill 2: this begins like drill 1 (2 partners, 1 aggressor and 1 defender), except this time the defender actually does make physical contact. the purpose of the contact is to receive the opponent's strike and then deflect it harmless away. Sifu told us to make the aggressor miss a few times, and then to receive/deflect. this works hwa jing.
  • drill 3: this escalates drills 1 & 2, with the defender going beyond deflection of the opponent's strike to then entering the aggressor's gate and setting up a position to launch a counter-attack. this builds on the prior drill, since it requires exercise of tin jing and hwa jing to properly set up a na jing that is effective for the situation. this works na jing.
  • drill 4: presumably, this drill would escalate into full-contact sparring work to allow explosive strikes, of fa jing. but we didn't go to this level today, and Sifu said to wait on this until we had worked on the other categories of energy.
we worked on these drills for the course of the seminar, switching off partners to get a feel for different people and the differences in their jing.

leg form

after the post-seminar lunch, we returned to Casuda Canyon Park, since some of us had personal sessions scheduled with Sifu--Phunsak was working with Sifu on piqua, and i was working on the bagua leg form. John Eagles ended up staying for the leg form as well, since he had forgotten it.

we ended up not getting started until sunset, since Sifu got caught in a bit of a problem with his car (he'd gotten rear-ended near the end of the quarter on his way to the UCLA class) and the rental car. by the time he arrived, he said we'd have to divide the session, with an introductory part this evening and the rest of the session after tomorrow's Sunday class.

Sifu had me demonstrate the bagua leg basics, presumably to check and see that i'd been practicing since our last private session. once he was satisfied, he showed the first set of moves. i commented that the opening seemed eerily reminiscent of xiao kai men, and he responded by saying that it was xiao kai men, but simply modified to lead into movements that incorporate more leg actions and kicks.

in introducing the bagua leg form, Sifu said that the form involves 5 categories of leg movements, which appear to be not just unique to bagua, but apply to kung fu in general:
  • suai--throws. we've discussed this before, but this category also covers leg actions that are involved in throwing opponents.
  • ban--trips, which are leg movements that trip the enemy
  • go--hooks, which involve leg movements to hook or trap the opponent's legs
  • ti--kicks, which are the usual perceived assortment of low, medium, & high kicks
  • tai--steps, which relate to positioning of the legs, but also involve stomps to the opponent's lower legs and feet
i also noted that some of the kicks looked very much like long fist, and he said that other people have noted it too. some have even compared it to lohan. both long fist and lohan are older kung fu styles. this is why many speculate that the bagua leg form has connections from prior martial arts forms, and is derived from earlier forms of kung fu.

i told Sifu that this is something that suggests an interesting topic for research--that tracing the evolution of kung fu from one form to another over time and over its spread through China could be used as a way to trace the spread of changes in Chinese culture. Sifu said that many people have talked about this, since it promises to yield a lot about Chinese history (not just kung fu, but about society in general) but that unfortunately the Chinese government seems unwilling to fund this kind of research, and that instead its focus seems to be distracted with the promotion of modern wu shu. given how so much knowledge of kung fu and kung fu history is eroding with the death of masters in the modern era, this makes it seem that history is being sacrificed for a future that has no connection to the past.

it's a pity.

Sifu demonstrated a few combat applications, and then stopped for the night. before we left, he noted that the history of the leg form was a bit of an open question. Phunsak had commented on this some time before. apparently, it is known that the leg form, much like the arm form and elbow form, was developed by someone other than Dong Hai Chuan (the founder of bagua). the forms are meant to be "enhancements" to bagua, and also sometimes meant to be used as remedies to improve a practitioner's skill (e.g., for someone with poor leg skills, the leg form would be prescribed to help them improve their leg work). Sifu said no one knows who developed the various forms, although people have suspicions...suspicions that unfortunately do not have definitive evidence to support them.

ah, the mysteries of history.

Monday, December 10, 2007

day 83: applying theory

  • whirlpools
  • weight distribution
  • structure
  • centers
  • contact drill (a variation)
  • palm change 8 (side B and 2-person form)
like i said in last Sunday's post, i originally was not planning on showing up this Saturday, since i had the Rose Bowl Half Marathon, with the goal of actually running 16 miles. i'd thought this was going to take the entire morning. but i ran 3 miles before the race started, then did the race, and at the end realized that it was only 10:30. at that point, i figured i really hadn't missed that much of class and decided to drive to Casuda Canyon Park--not that i was in any condition to actually do anything (i wasn't), but i figured that at least i could absorb something by watching.

contact drill (a variation)

i arrived at 11, and found that Sifu had just wrapped up a discussion on combat concepts. from what he told me, he'd been talking more about the application of the whirlpool concept. he had everyone broken off into pairs, with arms locked in a typical wrestling pose, and working to throw each other to the side. which side didn't matter. rather, the important thing seemed to be doing so without reliance on force.

based on what Art and Eric told me, the idea of the exercise was to read the opponent's distribution of weight, and based on this assess the opponent's structure by recognizing 1) the yin-yang layout of the opponent's structure, and 2) the stability of their "I" formation (you can reference these terms at: day 80). in addition, you were also supposed to identify the centers--your own center of gravity, your oponent's center of gravity, and the center of the system composed by both of you engaged together.

using this information, you then were expected to decide how you were going to manipulate the opponent to rotate them over and onto the ground. the opponent was supposed to resist as much as possible, so as to force you to make the correct read and action: if you had to rely on strength to make the throw, you were doing it wrong; if you were able to rotate them without effort, you were doing it right.

there were a number of points that Art and Eric relayed to me (that Sifu apparently discussed in the time before i arrived), and which Sifu later confirmed:
  • the point of looking for the yin-yang and "I" is to detect weaknesses in their structure. if the structure is solid, you can still use this information to assess their weight distribution, and thereby identify areas that can be manipulated (i.e., are more vulnerable) than others.
  • you can determine the yin-yang and "I" by looking, but you can also do it by feeling it through physical contact
  • weight distribution determines the center of gravity within a person. but the systemic center (i.e., the center of gravity of both of you as a system) is determined by your relative masses (i.e., how much bigger or smaller you are relative to each other), physical spacing (i.e., how far apart or close you are to each other), and posture (i.e., the way you're moving, standing, kneeling, crouching, etc.).
  • you need to imagine each center as the center of a vortex about which you are applying force. this indicates the relative ease of creating the force vector. vectors going radially require the most energy and effort, and hence are inefficient, as well as likely to result in direct force-on-force conflict (which is what you're trying to avoid). you want vectors that are tangential. in addition, vectors that are farther away from the center involve bigger motion, and require greater energy and effort to create torque, while those closer to the center require less. you want vectors closer to the center.
  • tangential force does not automatically make things easy. they are easier if they work in conjunction with yin-yang and the I. you need to see if the I is skewed. if skewed, you can see which parts of the body are yang and which are yin. if the I is not skewed, you can sense through physical contact which parts of the body are yang or yin. from this, you apply your force vectors so that they go yang for the opponent's yin and yin for the opponent's yang. this sets a pattern of your force vectors, and taking these as tangents to a vortex positioned on the center of gravity, you'll find they determine the direction of desired rotation of the vortex.
  • working the yin-yang distribution this way helps to destabilize the "I", and thereby acts to break the opponent's structure. once you have broken their structure, you require much less effort and energy to operate against them.
  • in setting your force vectors, you are ultimately trying to manipulate the vortex around the systemic center. but to do this requires manipulation of your own center and your opponent's center. you have to protect your center (i.e., maintain your stability by holding your structure) and disrupt your opponent's center (i.e., render them unstable by finding weaknesses in their structure). if you can do this, you control the systemic center, which means you control the direction of rotation of the vortex, the magnitude and direction of the force vectors, and the resulting outcome produced by them.
  • the rotational direction of the vortex is not set in a specific plane. the plane of rotation, as much as the direction of rotation, is defined by the force vectors. meaning that the plane of rotation of the systemic center can be in any plane, as can the plane of rotation about your center, and the plane of rotation about the opponent's center. to control the systemic center (and hence control your engagement with the opponent), you have to adjust the force vectors to set the vortex in a way that requires the least magnitude (remember, a vector has 2 quantities: magnitude and direction). to do this, you have to 1) correctly recognize the yin-yang layout and "I" formation of the opponent, and 2) correctly set your force vectors against them. free your mind: work in any plane.
  • just because you've managed to set a yang force vector against the opponent's yin body part and a yin force vector against their yang doesn't mean you've gained control...fighting is dynamic. the opponent can react and adjust their posture to change their yin-yang layout and reset their "I", thereby changing their center of gravity and the location of the systemic center. this means you have to start the process over again. which is why it's not easy. it has to be done fast, and in constantly changing conditions, against someone who does not want to cooperate.
i decided to give this drill a try with Art, but i told him that i wasn't in any condition to throw or be thrown. still, i figured we could at least get to the point of initiating a throw, and then stop there and still be able to fulfill the educational purpose of the drill. i found the following:

if the opponent has the weight on their front leg (i.e., their front leg is yang, rear leg is yin), then you want to initiate yin action against their front. for example, imagine a vertical plane placed perpendicular to your face, with you facing your opponent. if they engage you in bow-and-arrow stance with their weight on their right front leg, and you attempt to rotate them in the plane to throw them to your left or right with a pushing component to the force vectors, you are acting to create a yang-versus-yang encounter, because you're applying your force in a way that the force vectors have a pushing (yang) component, against their body weight going forward onto their front leg (yang). the result is a test of strength.

the more efficient action is to adjust the plane of rotation away from the perpendicular so that you rotate them in a plane closer to line between your center and the opponent's center going through the systemic center. this means you are attempting to rotate them to your left or right with a pulling (yin) component to the force vectors. this creates a yin-versus-yang encounter, in that you're applying force to your rear, or pulling (yin), drawing their yang down.

similarly, if the opponent has weight on their rear leg, you want to initiate action with a yang component pushing through them. by putting weight on their rear leg, they are taking a yin posture, calling for you to take action with a yang component to throw them clockwise to your right or counter-clockwise to your left.

we tried this in differing permutations, with one partner trying to throw the other, and the other partner trying to resist. i found that even in situations where the opponent has good structure, you can feel the way they're placing force, and thereby feel shifts and imbalances in their structure. what's more, you can even induce this, simply by adjusting your own force vectors to incite them to react, with the goal of inciting specific reactions that allow you to apply the right action to destabilize their structure, and thereby control the systemic center--and in turn, control the entire system...including them.

palm change 8 (side B & 2-person form)

after awhile, Sifu ordered Phunsak to guide us through palm change 8, side B. we did this for a number of repetitions (although, for this, i just watched). Phunsak then had everyone go through this for the 2-person form (the videos are in a previous post, reference: day 79).

i mentioned to Punsak that we never recorded the 2-person form for palm changes 7 or 8. Phunsak decided we should record palm change 7, and then try palm change 8 next week. you can see the video for 2-person form for palm change 7:
2-person A v. B, palm change 7:

by this time, class was wrapping up. Sifu announced that next Saturday's class was going to in at Cal State Long Beach, where he had agreed to give a 2-hour bagua demonstration to the long fist class there, with a dual-class meeting. he wants all of us to go with him, and his plan is to present xiao kai men with applications, with us as models to work with the long fist class students.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

days 81 & 82: Yang finals week

  • Yang simplified 24 movement form
there was really no instruction this week, since it was final exam time on the UCLA quarter system.

day 81

we spent the day in exam. basically, each student took their own turn in front of class and did a solo performance of a section of the simplified 24 movement form.

day 82

this was a make-up day, where Sifu allowed students who wanted to improve their Tuesday performance to do it again. he also asked Art and i to take notes of each student and provide comments.

Sifu said next quarter the class will continue on, although he will repeat the lessons for the simplified 24 movement form for any new students who take the class. i'm guessing for continuing students he'll be teaching push hands and the Yang long form--although, to be honest, i have no idea.

Friday, December 07, 2007

day 80: more theory (the music of fighting!), pao quan, chen tai chi, and kuen wu jian

  • free forms
  • manipulating energy
  • Chen tai chi (combat applications and long form)
  • pao quan
  • kuen wu jian
it was a cold Sunday morning, and things were a little rough to start. but we managed to get things going once the sun came out around 9:30am. this sunday was an extension of yesterday's saturday class (although, isn't any class just an extension of a previous class? i mean, from a pedagogical point of view? but this is a topic for another blog...).

we began with a continuation of the theory from yesterday. Sifu reminded us about the ways of recognizing structure (i.e., the "I" and yin-yang), and the ways to break it down (i.e., directing yin against yang, and vice versa, where yin is movement down, backwards, inwards, or insubstantial force/tension and yang is movement up, forwards, outwards, or substantial force/tension). he also reminded us of the notion of movement in whirlpools and tangents to the direction of rotation, with movement in varying planes and axes in space.

he then added to this with the admonition that we have to be free in our actions. by this, he means that we have to break our obsession with forms and techniques, and get away from thinking that a specific action in a form is only 1 technique with 1 application. this is a very simplistic way of thinking, and helpful for the initial stages of training (since it provides some idea of the intent behind the technique), but is dangerous in terms of combat applications, because it locks the practitioner into an mechanical algorithm of input/output (e.g., you read an opponent's action as input, which you process through the algorithmic function of varying techniques, and then produce output of your own reaction). this does not match the fluid, chaotic conditions of a fight, and rarely matches the speed and violence in a real encounter.

Sifu said that the forms and techniques are only meant to be guidelines to help us translate principles into practical application, and that we are meant to adjust and modify guidelines depending on the circumstances. he'd referenced this before (reference: day 73), but today we seemed to be going into more detail.

Sifu pointed out that the higher levels of fighting (he used the term "real fighting") is less about techniques and more about principles. he stressed that the over-arching principles we've been talking about (i.e., whirlpools, tangents, energies, inner/outer gates, centers, structure, yin-yang, relaxation, etc.) are central to martial arts--not just bagua, but in all forms of fighting, regardless of stylistic appearance or cultural origin. this is because they work...and they work because they utilize fundamental physics and biomechanics.

the issue, however, is understanding how to express these principles. this is why there are different styles of fighting, because they apply the principles in different ways. this is also why there is a "right" way and "wrong" way of techniques and forms. Sifu commented that we need to understand that "right" techniques and "right" forms are those that 1) respect the principles, and therefore 2) work. "wrong" techniques and "wrong" forms are that violate the principles and so do not work. Sifu noted that this is one of the criteria in determining if someone practices martial arts as self-defense--if they hold to the principles in their practice of martial arts, they are preserving it as a form of self-defense, otherwise they are just doing dancing.

Sifu said he wanted us to try and develop free form movement, with expressions of the forms that recognize the principles, but which are free and not held to any single application. he said we have to be more fluid, and do more than just identify a particular movement as a technique with 1 or 2 applications, so that we can see the movement as having a plethora of permutations with a legion of options to set up the application or to follow-up the application.

this clearly breaks any notion that 1 technique has 1 application. i also suspect that this is advances beyond the idea of specific techniques being broken down into categories like suai, da, na, ti, dien (reference: day 69). this seems to mean that the expression of techniques and forms are really just expressions of principles, and so are an expression of the practitioner's personality and creative sensibility with respect to using the principles.

this is consistent with things we've discussed in class, particularly with Sifu's constant stressing on the need for imagination in our movement. in order to operate in a chaotic environment like a fight, there needs to be a ability to adapt and operate in changing circumstances. this calls for fluidity in physical action and mental thinking. it also means a manner of creativity to bring about an outcome (preferably, our winning...or our survival) given the assets available to us and the conditions around us. this is what makes a "martial art" an art, in that it requires us to maintain creativity (ingenuity, resourcefulness, imagination) in terms of what to do and how to do it.

oddly enough, this is also consistent with some notes Sifu has stated as asides in the tai chi class. he's made a few comments about being able to recognize a student's teacher by watching the student's moves, since the student always picks up their teacher's habits, and each teacher always expresses a certain personality in their habits (his words). he's also said that our personality comes out in our movements (which is logical enough, albeit interesting). i'm guessing this means that our movements also indicate the nature of our creativity, as much as creativity is a part of personality. which further demonstrates how much a martial art is an art, in that it becomes an expression of who we are.

this makes me wonder if you can tell a person's character by the way they practice a martial art, and by the way they fight...i also recall research papers published in a British sports medicine journal that investigated if physical training can adjust a person's character (don't laugh--they were following the theory used by tai chi, which has always been termed as a "moving meditation", suggesting that tai chi can alter a person's demeanor). this is something for another post, and another time.

on a side note, i'm starting to see all this as analogous to music, particularly in terms of improvisation group music done in jazz. in jazz, musicians frequently play in a free-form combination, wherein they play with no sheet music or set songs, but instead just play whatever they want to play, with the only guiding principle that the resulting product of the entire group "swings" (i.e., it sounds good and makes sense). this is considered an expression of musical mastery, since it requires a supreme command of 1) the instrument, 2) the nature of tone, pitch, notes, and assembly of notes, 3) the ability to recognize what other musicians are doing, 4) making your own music to match other musicians, and 5) creating, adjusting, modifying what you do and what other people do, so that you can all go spontaneously in new directions as a group. sometimes the group will incorporate a recognizable pattern, sometimes they will extend the pattern into new forms, other times they will have no recognizable pattern at all but generate their own.

this is not random--it is fluid, it is changing, but it is not random. nor is it chaotic. rather, you can sense purpose and you can sense pattern, and you can definitely sense personality. the only constant is manipulation of principles in creative ways to produce a coherent and substantive expression of the self unique to the moment in time (time and imagination...from the UCLA tai chi class, get it? ha ha ha, yuck yuck yuck, but you get my point).

this analogy is often used in fluid team sports like soccer and basketball, where players have to work together and against each other, even as people move in unplanned and constantly changing directions. when playing well, the actions are constantly changing, but they have a purpose and pattern that shows they are not random acts of chaos. i'm starting to think the same is true of a's a situation just as fluid, just as dependent on interaction, just as subject to surrounding conditions, and just as expressive of personality.

Chen tai chi long form

Sifu ordered us to try and apply the techniques in the Chen long form. he said he wanted to see if we could recognize the principles in the form, and also wanted to see the ways we saw how those principles are expressed in terms of applications (i suspect he wanted to see how many different applications we could come up with from each technique, and see if we recognized that all the different applications were still using the same principles).

we spent a while going through a number of movements in the long form, working in pairs to try and figure things out. Sifu went around to watch us, and then correcting our actions by identifying the intent we were trying to express and then adjusting our motions so that they applied the principles to produce outcomes matching our intent.

after this, he had us then work on going beyond just single techniques with single applications. instead, he told us to become more interactive and operate in sequences, so that as 1 partner attempted to apply a technique the partner would react, forcing the 2 into a sequence of actions of action/reaction. Sifu showed us how this can produce a series of actions about the same principles, so that the movements follow one after another in a free form that alters depending on the interaction between the partners.

Sifu pointed out that this ultimately, at its most fundamental level of physics and biomechanics, really becomes nothing more than just the manipulation of energy--your own, your partner's, and the total system created by both of you. he reminded us this is why he thought it important to recognize the way in which 2 whirlpools behave when they collide, since this is the expression of physics between 2 bodies, violent or non-violent. furthermore, he said it is important in that this demonstrates the immutable truth of the physics (because the physics that hold for 2 colliding galaxies are the same physics that hold for the biomechanics of 2 combatants...the physics of the universe, by definition, are universal).

after working on the applications for awhile, we then learned a little more of the long form. i ended up making a video of what we've done to date:
chen long form, 1st 20 moves:

i asked Sifu how far into the long form this marks. he said it was a little more than a 1/4. i laughed. it is a very long form...i wonder what people are going to say when i do it at school.

pao quan

at this point, everybody took a break. i had brought food (i'd felt nostalgic for Chinese baked goods, so i'd found a bakery in Rosemead that was open at 7:30am), and people took time to snack.

Phunsak offered to show me more of pao quan, and i got a little bit further. i asked him to stop once i started feeling a little saturated.

kuen wu jian

we finished the day learning more of the kuen wu jian form. Alex made a video of Phunsak doing this at some point during the jian shu course in Long Beach last year. you can see it here:
kuen wu jian yi lu form:

we ended the day after this. i'm going to miss the next Saturday class, since i'll be running in the Rose Bowl Half Marathon (actually, i'll be running further...the race is only 13.1 miles, and i need to do 15 at this point in the training cycle, so i'll have to tack on some miles to get my training in). i'll have to try and do a make-up session later in the week.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

day 79: theory! (general principles of combat)

  • whirlpool
  • tangential force
  • energy
  • centers
  • structure
  • beam & support (the I)
  • yin & yang
  • relaxation
  • combat concepts
  • recognition drill
  • palm change 8 (side B & 2-person form)
we had an extended day today, starting from about 10 and ending around 3:30.

combat concepts

the bulk of the day was spent on theory in relation to fighting, beginning with the combat concepts covered in previous classes (reference: day 73, day 75, & day 78).

Sifu noted that the picture included for the posting for day 75 was a succinct visual summary of the nature of whirlpools, tangential force, and interacting energies in a fight. that particular photo was from an astronomical supercomputer simulation of 2 colliding galaxies (link: i included it because it shows the interactions between the rotational, linear, and gravitational forces between 2 opposing galaxies of differing sizes--things which i thought were natural expressions of the theory we've been covering.

Sifu pointed out that the manner in which the 2 astronomical bodies interact in the photos is exactly what happens in a fight. in a fight, there are 2 bodies, each with their own energy and mass. interacting with each other, they rotate around each other about a common center of mass (or center of gravity). their energies also begin to engage each other. their collision is not so much a collision but a coming together of forces which then are followed by a rebound away, which then eventually come back together again. ultimately, the 2 bodies form a single mass with a single center.

Sifu stated this is largely analogous to a fight between 2 people, in that the opponents fight to disrupt each other's energies, and also fight to dominate or control their common center of gravity. whoever does this controls the single mass created by the 2 bodies involved in combat.

Sifu continued by noting that it was interesting to see that ancient practitioners in the martial arts--and also ancient scholars--could visualize this and understand this enough to utilize it, even thought they didn't understand how it worked. so even while modern science has yielded more knowledge about the processes, it can't claim to have been the first to recognize the phenomenon.

i dug around to find a video that i thought was a more animated illustration of what we've been discussing. i came across a couple of YouTube videos that i thought were useful:

Hubble Source video:

Andromeda and Milky Way video:

note: the Andromeda galaxy is estimated as being twice as large as the Milky Way galaxy.

Sifu extended the discussion to cover the means of how to use the theory we've been covering. so far, we've talked about using and disrupting energy (ours and our opponent's), and doing so utilizing whirlpools and tangential force to recognize, respond, deflect, redirect, and project power. the next step, however, is to address just how a practitioner is supposed to apply these ideas in facing an attacker.

at this point Sifu noted 2 important concepts that he wanted to expand on:
  • center--we've talked about this before, but this time Sifu stressed it was important to understand this concept, since it's one of the most important in combat. going back to the colliding galaxies image, he said that in any fight between opponents, there are a number of centers: 1) individual centers, where each person can be seen as having a center of mass or center of gravity, lying along a centerline of their torsol; and 2) the systemic center, which is the center of mass or center of gravity about which all bodies (all parties in the fight) rotate. you can preserve your center and centerline by aligning it with the systemic center, and you can disrupt the opponent's energy state (i.e., their stability) by controlling the systemic center to create leverage for your actions in a way that disrupts their center and centerline. once a person's center or centerline is disrupted, they are thrown off-balance or lose control, resulting in their collapse, or at the least exposing them to your attack.
  • structure--we've also talked about this in terms of static structure (built through stances) and dynamic structure (built through forms and sparring). this time, though, Sifu detailed what this actually looks like. he said that when looking at a person's structure, we can visualize their centerline, shoulders, and hips forming an "I", with a central supporting column (the centerline going through their torso), their shoulders forming the top beam, and their hips forming the lower beam. a person with good structure as an clear "I" shape. a person with bad structure has a skewed "I." the former is good in that it is stable, the latter is bad in that it is unstable. determining if the "I" is straight or skewed involves recognition of yin-yang and relaxation states for each body part (not just the parts in the beams and support). structure causing instability is one that is vulnerable to being thrown off-balance or denied control, again resulting in (at worst) their collapse or (at best) exposing them to attack.
Sifu said that to become better at fighting, we needed to develop the ability to instantly recognize (and use) centers (both individual and systemic) and structures (ours and our opponents'). he noted that all good fighters have this skill.

recognition drill

to develop skills at recognizing centers and structures, Sifu had us work on the recognition drill (my term). this drill involves partners (2 or more) in non-contact situations, and has 2 levels. the drill works as follows:
  • level 1: partners take turns holding fighting stances (note: this is not necessarily the same as static stances, but rather are the "ready" stances held in combat). the partners not holding the stance then try to identify 1) the stance-holder's center of gravity/mass and centerline, and 2) the stance-holder's structure. the goal is to recognize if the stance-holder is stable/unstable--in terms of as a whole, and also in terms of individual body parts. for center of gravity/mass and centerline, this requires looking at the body type, distribution of weight, posture. for structure, this requires looking at the yin-yang states and level of relaxation.
  • level 2: partners face off in fighting scenarios, holding good structure. they then move around each other, trying to determine if their opponent reveals any weaknesses while moving. again, this means trying to see if the opponent 1) skews their center, or 2) skews their structure. movements can be in any direction to probe the opponent, meaning forward, backwards, sideways, circular, etc.--closer, farther, beside, behind, or in front of the partner.
Sifu reminded us about the following:
  • yin-yang concepts--anything forward, up, outward, with body weight, or with force is yang (substantial energy), and anything backwards, down, inward, with less body weight or less force is yin (insubstantial energy). adding onto the previous class instruction on this idea, he said that in relation to structure that a situation where there is clear demarcation of yin-yang (i.e., one shoulder is dipped down, or yin, and the other shoulder is raised up, or yang) indicates instability, and hence is vulnerable to attack (so that you should apply yang to the body part in yin state, and vice versa). however, where things are even (i.e., where it is not clear what is yin or yang), this indicates a stable situation, and one not vulnerable to attack.
  • relaxation--creating stability is easier in a state of relaxation. muscles that are tensed tend to pull in unequal ways, creating divisions of yin-yang that skew the center and structure, causing instability and vulnerability to attack
  • static versus dynamic--good opponents will have good centers and static structure. in such situations, you have to engage in motion to force them into motion, with the hope that movement will cause changes in their posture revealing weaknesses in their centers and dynamic structure. as a result, movement should take into consideration the goal of forcing the opponent to move in ways that help you determine their dynamic structure and ability to hold their center in such conditions.
we practiced this drill for awhile, working in 2 groups of 3 people.

palm change 8

after awhile, and after he had observed our progress, Sifu instructed Phunsak to lead us through the remainder of palm change 8.

Phunsak led us through both side A and side B. after this, he decided that we had time to work on the 2-person form, so we worked on this for awhile.

i haven't recorded the 2-person form for this yet, but you can see the videos of side A and side B here:

side A:

side B:

we finished the day with Sifu showing a demonstration of how to exploit the concepts of centers and structure, using the scenario of an opponent attempting to grapple with a low entry grab towards the legs.

typically, the prescription for this situation is to sprawl, preventing the opponent from grabbing your legs and forcing the opponent down on the ground beneath you.

however, Sifu said that you can avoid this entire situation by simply redirecting the opponent to the side. Sifu showed that you can push the opponent's shoulder or head in an arc about the systemic center that forces them off their original vector and throws them onto the ground facing away from you. Sifu said it helps to also recognize the original force vector, and to make the arc around the systemic center in a way that it turns the opponent away from the force vector. in his words: "just turn them away from the vector." done right, this requires very little effort.

we practiced this for awhile. it is a little tricky recognizing the systemic center, as well as moving the opponent's shoulder/head around the systemic center, but once you get the feel of this it is suprisingly easy--in fact, it's actually very easy to use too much force, in that you can actually produce a very violent motion of the opponent away and onto the ground.

by this time it was starting to get dark, so we called class to an end and went to lunch.

Friday, November 30, 2007

days 77 & 78: tai chi ball & bowl qi-gong, additional combat concepts

  • wen & wu
  • static & dynamic
  • sensitivity
  • power
  • ball qi-gong: wen & wu, static & dynamic
  • bowl qi-gong: wen & wu, static & dynamic
this week came off the Thanksgiving break, so there was a little bit of review and catch-up for people missed the class during Thanksgiving week (like me). this week was devoted exclusively to qi-gong.

day 77

we spent this class (Tuesday) largely on ball qi-gong, and briefly started bowl qi-gong.

we began with a review of the ball qi-gong we've done so far. following from the last class i made (reference: day 74), we went through tai chi ball static qi-gong, doing wen & wu, with regular & enhanced for each one.

from the course materials Sifu gave to us, the organization of the static ball qi-gong can be seen as follows:
  • wen (palms facing inward), regular (standing)
  • wen, enhanced (in horse stance)
  • wu (palms facing outward), regular
  • wu, enhanced
following this, we went through dynamic ball qi-gong. this is new to me, but it appeared to have been something that was covered in the 2 classes i missed. i managed to follow along, largely because i'd watched the tai chi qi-gong video that i'd gotten from Art the night before (it covers all the tai chi ball & bowl qi-gong that's being given in class).

the dynamic ball qi-gong is organized differently than the static, with the breakdown from course materials consisting of 5 movements for each wen and wu. in addition, for dynamic ball qi-gong, wen is done with the feet stationary (while legs move to position the body), and wu is done the feet moving. the breakdown is given by the course materials:
  • wen-rotation of the ball forward, inward, bottom horizontal, top horizontal, 4 corners (figure 8)
  • wu-rotation of the ball forward, inward, bottom horizontal, top horizontal, 4 corners (figure 8)
Sifu noted the following:
  • the imaginary ball is being rotated in differing directions, so that it is moving with a changing axis that alters its orientation as the body and limbs move
  • the ball can expand or contract, so it does not necessarily have to be a constant size, but can change in accordance with the movement or breathing
we finished the day by doing the simplified 24 movement form using ball qi-gong. Sifu shows how it alters the movements, as well as the sensations of the form.

day 78

we started class with a quick review of the ball qi-gong from Tuesday. we continued with an extension of the bowl qi-gong. this apparently had also been covered on one of the 2 days that i'd missed, so i had some catching up to do--although, again, it helped that i had reviewed the tai chi qi-gong DVD (without it, i probably would have been lost).

bowl qi-gong applies a similar visualization method to ball qi-gong, in the sense that the practitioner is asked to imagine manipulating a bowl (as opposed to a ball) of varying size. there are differences, however, in that bowl qi-gong involves transitions into various poses form the tai chi forms. in addition, the wu version of bowl qi-gong incorporates application of force. following the course materials, the organization of bowl qi-gong can be listed by poses:
  • wen, forward expansion to white crane spreads its wings
  • wen, upward expansion to high pat on horse
  • wen, downward expansion to single whip
  • wen, side expansion to brush knee
  • wen, angle expansion to slanted flying
  • wu, forward expansion to white crane spreads its wings
  • wu, upward expansion to high pat on horse
  • wu, downward expansion to single whip
  • wu, side expansion to brush knee
  • wu, angle expansion to slanted flying
Sifu made the following points regarding tai chi ball and bowl qi-gong:
  • ball qi-gong is about developing sensitivity, bowl qi-gong is about applying force. from a qi perspective this means that ball qi-gong is about developing awareness of qi in the body, as well as developing the ability to nurture and gather it. bowl qi-gong, in contrast, is about projecting qi.
  • qi-gong has health and combat applications. from a health perspective, it improves the mind-body connection, circulation, and relaxation. from a combat applications perspective, it aids muscle memory and proper technique.
  • ball and bowl qi-gong have very specific purposes in terms of combat applications. ball qi-gong involves movements related to "receiving" or "absorbing" an opponent's strike, and hence is about training reflexes and sensitivity in ways that redirect and dissipate an opponent's strike with minimal damage to the practitioner. bowl qi-gong involves movements related to "projecting" or "emitting" force, and hence is about developing power that can direct force into the opponent. Sifu noted that with ball movements, the practitioner can take defensive actions that 1) do not involve direct force-on-force action, and 2) preserves sensitivity to an opponent's movement. he also pointed out that with bowl movements, the practitioner is taking offensive actions that 1) avoid direct force-on-force action, and 2) applies force-multiplying physics (i.e., it exploits levers, fulcrums, angular momentum, etc.).
  • tai chi--especially in relation to combat--is about transitioning seamlessly from ball to bowl and back again, since in a fight a practitioner has to receive energy from an opponent's strike and then project energy into the opponent. Sifu says this is why it is important to stress that the practitioner should never practice qi-gong imagining balls or bowls that are of a static size, shape, or orientation. instead, we have to imagine that they can vary in all their properties, and that a bowl is really just a distortion of a ball, and vice versa. Sifu says that we should imagine that we are working with a substance like a gel, or very malleable clay, so that a bowl is like a ball that's been smeared out to a platter, and a ball is a bowl that's been compressed into a sphere.
  • Sifu reminded us (at least, those of us taking the weekend classes--reference: day 73, and day 75) that ball and bowl qi-gong is just an expression of the concepts of whirlpools, tangents, yin-yang, and energy. both the ball and the bowl incorporate movements following the circular motions of a whirlpool vortex, as well as movements going tangentially to the vortex. both ball and bowl are about locating yin and yang points in an opponent's structure, and applying yang to their yin, and yin to their yang so that it disrupts their structure. all this really about manipulating energy (potential & kinetic)--yours, the opponent's, the total energy of the combined system of the 2 of you--in a way that you can control the outcome to your benefit.
this last point followed a discussion Linus had with Sifu at the beginning of class over combat applications. Sifu had noted that a fight can be seen as the interplay of structure (i.e., stability, flexibility, power, etc.) and center (i.e., center of gravity, dantian, etc.)--you, with your structure and your center, versus the opponent, with their structure and their center, and the system created by the 2 of you, with its net structure and center.

structurally, the fight is about detecting weaknesses in the opponent's structure, which you exploit by penetrating the opponent's defenses. Sifu commented that you can find weaknesses in structure in static conditions (i.e., when the person is fixed, such as in a stance), but that if you can't, you must force them into movement to try and induce them to expose a weakness in structure. he said this is why there's a distinction between static structure and dynamic structure--static structure is about having good structure while stationary, and dynamic structure is about having good structure while moving. Sifu said a skilled opponent will have no weaknesses in static structure, and you will have to force them to move in ways that cause them to expose weaknesses in dynamic structure.

regarding the center, the fight is about you protecting your center while disrupting the opponent's. this has to be done while moving. between the 2 of you, this becomes about controlling the center of the system created by both of you--and the position of this common center varies. Sifu compared this to 2 astronomical bodies orbiting each other (like a planet orbiting a star): each has their center, but the common center is a point between the 2, with the location of the point a function of each respective body. this means that the common center will be located closer to the body with greater mass. the person who can control this common center is usually the winner of the fight, and control of the common center is achieved by breaking the opponent's center while protecting your own.

we finished the day with Sifu telling us that he was going to begin final exam for the class next week. he said he was going to have each student perform a random component from the subjects covered in the course--either the Yang simplified 24 movement form or the ball & bowl qi-gong.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

day 76: straight chen (sort of)

  • real and fake
  • chen tai chi long form
today (note: i'm referring to Sunday, November 18, rather than the date on this post) was largely chen tai chi...there may have been more, but i left around 12 to prep for my dissertation defense. the only people left by that time were Phunsak and John Eagles, so i don't know what they covered.

we started with brief discussion of an issue from Saturday. i asked Sifu about the way fighters (i used examples of some boxers) using different punches in combination attacking different sides of the opponent, with only some of the punches being real.

Sifu said this is typical, and applies to more than just punches. he noted the idea of mixing up "real" strikes with "fake" strikes (i.e., feints) is consistent with the principles we've been talking about, and so work just as well with throws, joint locks, kicks, etc. in fact, some techniques actually work better with these kinds of combinations, since they disrupt the opponent's concentration enough that it slows them down and prevents their reflexes from resisting. he demonstrated this with a throw, with one hand in the lower back and the other hand by the neck, and showed how things became dramatically easier with the hand in the lower back initiating the throw.

Sifu added that this doesn't even really require physical contact, and that the "fake" strike can be just as simple as waving a hand to get the opponent's attention. the trick, however, is to make sure that the "real" and "fake" strikes are in different directions (e.g., if a feint is going to the left kidney, the actual strike should be going to a target on the right side). he pointed out that there are are 12 major targets on the torso: 6 left & right (kidney, ribs, armpit both sides), and 6 front & back (solar plexus, throat, face, tailbone, lower spine, back of neck/skull), and that combinations should go to opposing sides to pull the opponent's attention away from the intended target.

in essence, this is really just a way of playing with the opponent's energy and changing yin & yang states, and so according to Sifu can work without physical contact in the sense that the opponent will still see or sense your actions moving in a certain direction, attempt to resist, and thereby open themselves up for the "main" strike.

after addressing this question, we turned to learning more of the Chen tai chi long form, and progressed up to the point with repulse monkey.

Sifu noted that this was another area of difference from Yang. in Yang, repulse monkey is done with the hands largely horizontal as they go in front of the body. in Chen, it is done with the forward-moving hand palm sideways, fingers up. in addition, in Yang, the front foot has the toe down and heel up, while in Chen the front foot has the toe up and heel down.

we went through several iterations up to this point. i left Phunsak and John at this time, since things seemed to be winding down. but i'll check with Sifu to see if he did anything else.

Friday, November 23, 2007

day 75: more combat concepts (universal laws of energy)

  • energy
  • bagua, palm changes 1 & 2
  • contact drill
today was an extension of last Saturday (reference: day 73). we spent the entire class today learning how to apply the combat concepts from last week.

bagua, palm changes 1 & 2

Sifu had us begin with a short review of palm changes 1 & 2 (sides A & B). after we did a refresher, he had us go through a couple of iterations of the 2-person form.

but after doing this, he stopped us, and had us observe that the techniques in the forms are not fixed. in particular, he showed us each technique in the form can be modified to fulfill different purposes. confirming my thoughts from last week, he pointed out that the techniques are not really techniques in the sense of being strict patterns of movements, but really more just guidelines expressing principles. Sifu says this means the following:
  • fighting is really about principles, and only superficially about techniques.
  • techniques should be modified to match the conditions of the fight, meaning that they need to be adjusted according to 1) what the practitioner wants to do, 2) what the opponent(s) is(are) doing, and 3) the nature of the opponent (body type, skill level, demeanor, etc.).
  • techniques have many different permutations, but they all preserve principles.
  • there is a wrong way and right way to modify techniques or use permutations. the wrong way violates principles, the right way preserves them.
  • techniques should never be done without an understanding of the principles, otherwise they risk being applied in ways that are ineffective or inappropriate.
  • fighting is a fluid environment requiring equally fluid actions and counter-actions by the practitioner. this requires fluidity and a smooth continuum of variations in technique--something that can only be done in the high-speed context of a fight using principles (as opposed to techniques)
  • don't get married to the form. Art said that one of Sifu's first students had told him this when he first started, but it took him awhile to understand that this means that a student should never cling to techniques or forms--it can work, but not as well as understanding principles, especially against a skilled opponent.
  • don't obsess over knowing many techniques, but focus on learning the principles. knowing the principles allows a practitioner to develop any number of techniques they want--and this will always outnumber any amount learned by memorization. i'm guessing this is akin to the idea that creativity and critical thinking is always better than rote memorization, because the former allows adaptation to any challenge, whereas the latter is just an algorithm that will fail anytime it confronts variables not within its formula. which goes back to Sifu's constant emphasis on developing imagination...i'm guessing this is why they say fighting is an art.
in terms of learning principles, Sifu said to develop an analytical approach, so that we can breakdown and recognize the physics of movements in the forms and techniques. he noted that it took him awhile to develop this, but it is something inherent in all masters--to the extent that they often don't mention it because it is so natural for them.

he reminded us about the concepts of "root" and "center of gravity", and how so much of tai chi is directed by these principles (i.e., breaking the opponent's root to disrupt their stability, making it easier to manipulate them, and locating your center of gravity under theirs so as to break the root). he noted that it's no different than any other form of fighting, and that these kinds of concepts are the same.

to demonstrate this point, Sifu showed how different techniques in bagua, tai chi, and baji actually end up serving the same function, and that they are really just different expressions of the same principles producing similar results.

contact drill

Sifu said we needed to start developing an intuitive feel for applying principles. returning to the combat concepts from last week, he showed us a 2-person drill involving the ideas of yin & yang force (yin being no force or yielding, and yang being force or projection), whirlpools, tangential force, energy, and relaxation.

the drill starts with 2 people facing each other with limbs in contact. the starting position doesn't seem to matter, with the partners beginning from any stance or position (we began at first from palm change 1, but then repeated the drill from tai chi push hands and also shuai jiao starting positions) so long as they have physical contact.

the drill commences and continues with the partners attempting to throw each other, but trying to maintain physical contact of some form the entire time. in the process of trying to throw each other, they're supposed to try and do the following:
  • move between yin & yang states of force, while manipulating their opponent's yin & yang states (apply yin to yang, or yang to yin)
  • feel the differing yin & yang states in the various parts of the body (not just the 2 partners as a whole, but actually within each hand, arm, torso, leg, foot, etc.)
  • learn to yield and apply force
  • learn to move in differing directions, so that the yielding and applying of force is utilizing the vectors of whirlpools and tangents to re-direct force in ways helpful to you
  • learn to recognize the energy between you and the opponent, and to move in ways that manipulate the energies (the energy of the system of both of you, the energy in you, the energy in the opponent) that serve to disrupt their stability and scatter their energy (Sifu noted that in terms of physics, this goes back to recognizing how you can manipulate a body to change its center of gravity, making it easier to break their root...or their ability to generate force)
  • energy can mean different things. center of gravity. root. force and power vectors. level of calories providing endurance. quickness in reflexes. mental focus. state of relaxation. composure. demeanor. whatever affects the outcome of the fight.
  • relax. relax. relax. a body in tension loses sensitivity and impedes movement, slowing you down and requiring more energy to move. i see an analogy of a car engine--the greater the amount of friction in the engine parts, the harder it is for the engine to move and the greater the inefficiency in energy usage, meaning greater consumption of energy with less velocity.
this was a GREAT drill. really tiring. really hard. but i learned a LOT. it seemed to be more a mental exercise than a physical one, because it forced me to constantly concentrate and focus on what i was doing, what my partner was doing, and what was going on with us together. it also forced me to think about how to adjust and change techniques in response to what was going on, and to adjust and change the principles in the same way.


i told Sifu we need to do this more often.

i tried this drill with Phunsak, and then later with Art and Eric. i found major differences between them. i mentioned this to Sifu, and he said that this is why it is so important to train with different people--people are different, and there are different personalities and different body types producing different ways of movement and different physics with different energies. he noted this is also why techniques have to be adjusted depending on the opponent and your intent, and further why it is so crucial to focus on learning the principles...because the quickest and safest way (imperative in a fight) to adjust techniques is through understanding and preservation of the principles.

Sifu went on to tell us that this drill is actually just a basic contact drill, and that there are more advanced levels. he informed us that the basic level involves maintaining close physical contact (i.e., almost close enough for wrestling), the next level places the partners farther away from each other (i.e., at the range of fist-fighting) while still maintaining physical contact, and that the highest level involves no physical contact. essentially, he noted this means that you're gradually increasing your sensitivity of the energies, until you can move and manipulate the opponent in both the near and far gates.

i asked him if this was similar to the push hands in tai chi and the contact hands drills in wing chun. he said the underlying purpose was somewhat the same, and that there are drills like this in many fighting styles, but just with different manifestations.

we ended the day with that. i skipped the usual post-class lunch to prep for my dissertation defense.

day 74: ball qi-gong

  • breathing
  • counting
  • wen
  • wu
  • Yang simplified 24 movement
  • Yang tai chi ball qi-gong
i missed the Thursday class this week, since i was preparing for my dissertation defense. so i only have material from Tuesday. i'm guessing the Thursday class introduced the bowl qi-gong, which i remember from the seminar last spring. but i'll have to check with Sifu when i get back to class.

day 74

we spent about half the class performing the Yang simplified 24 movement form. Sifu did it with us 1 time, then had us do it on our own as a group while he watched.

he then told us that we should time our breathing with the movements in the form, and that it can be done on a 2-count, with 1 being an inhale and 2 being an exhale. he demonstrated this with some of the initial movements, counting 1 & 2 for each movement. he said we should do this for learning purposes to become accustomed to matching our breathing with the form, and that eventually we should be able to do naturally it without the counting.

he led us through the entire form, using the 2-count to synchronize our breathing. after doing this twice, he asked us to do the form on the 2-count on our own, while he silently followed. he stopped us at a number of points where we were unsure of the count--most notably high pat on horse leading into boxing ears, the right & left kicks, and on weaver shuttling the loom.

Sifu noted that the pace of the movements helps set the rate of breathing, so that we can slow our breathing by slowing the movement. this helps to concentrate on the breathing, and also allows deeper breathing using the diaphragm and lower abdomen.

after a short break, we did a review of the ball qi-gong, but with more detail about the nature of wen (palms facing inward, expanding as the ball expanded with the person breathing out) versus wu (palms facing outward, pushing as the ball expanded with the person breathing out).

from last week (reference: days 71 & 72), we had got essentially 4 variations of tai chi qi-gong:
  • static, wen
  • static, wu
  • dynamic, wen
  • dynamic, wu
today Sifu said we can vary these, to get varying levels of intensity. we can adjust the size of the expanding ball to increase or decrease the depth of the breathing, and thereby work on lung capacity and slower or faster movements. we can also adjust the depth of the horse stance in the dynamic qi-gong to increase or decrease blood circulation and heart rate.

we went through all 4 variations of qi-gong to sense the differences. after this, we finished the day with stances.

Friday, November 16, 2007

day 73: combat concepts & chen tai chi

  • yin & yang
  • whirlpool
  • tangential force
  • energy
  • relaxation
  • tantui
  • Yang tai chi applications
  • Chen tai chi long form
  • combat concepts
Phunsak was gone this weekend, and class turnout was 6 people, so Sifu decided to change the schedule for today and focus on tantui, tai chi, and general combat concepts.

Yang tai chi applications

as a prelude, we took a number of minutes clarifying Yang tai chi questions. Art, Jonathan Shen, and i had been sorting out some Yang tai chi applications, and had gotten stuck on a number of points. in particular, we couldn't figure out the differences between parting wild horse's mane and ward-off, or the purpose for needle at the sea bottom and the cross hands going into conclusion.

Sifu said that the applications depended on the purpose, so that the techniques actually did different things depending on what you wanted to do. this meant:
  • parting wild horse's mane and ward-off are similar, in that they can both function to push the opponent off-balance and backwards using the shoulder. but they don't have to involve the push with the shoulder, but can instead be seen as lead-ins to open the opponent. in essence, the techniques aren't just strikes, but ways to open the opponent's gate for follow-up attack...and this is where they differ, with parting wild horse's mane engaging an arm-lock on the elbow joint to lift and break the opponent's root, and ward-off driving up into the shoulder to form a shoulder lock to lift and break the root. once the root is broken, the practitioner then has the option of doing other techniques--not just a push, but alternatively a tripping of the foot, or further joint locks, or successive hand strikes. it depends on what the opponent does. Sifu noted the push, or any other action, is just a 2nd move in the techniques, so they really aren't necessarily about pushing at all.
  • needle at the sea bottom can be seen the same way. in the UCLA class, he had demonstrated as a yank downwards to throw the opponent off-balance. but today, Sifu said it can also just be a move to open the opponent's gate. it can be simply what he showed at UCLA (i.e., feinting upwards to lead the opponent to direct their force down, and then switching to take advantage of the opponent's action to yank them downwards). but the technique doesn't just have to go down, and actually can go in any direction that the opponent goes. Sifu said that it basically is a way to grab the opponent in a way that puts the practitioner in control to redirect the opponent's force, and so can be used to guide the practitioner into position for a joint lock, throw, pressure point attack, upper body strike, or lower body strike.
  • cross-hands into conclusion has differing applications. Sifu had demonstrated as a joint lock on the wrist in the UCLA class. this time he showed it as a way of wrapping up an opponent's limbs--either an opponent's arm strike or leg kick. in which case, it can be a defensive move. in addition, similar to the above techniques, it can be seen as an opening move to other actions, with the technique opening the opponent for joint locks on other areas of the body, attacks on pressure points, or strikes to exposed areas of the torso and head.
Sifu reminded us about the 5 combat attacks discussed previous weeks: suai, da, na ti, dien (reference: day 69). he noted that we can see techniques as being just permutations of these categories, and so techniques are really just avenues that can lead you to options against an opponent.

i'm starting to think this is a part of what Sifu means by imagination in combat training, in that it involves the following ideas:
  • we have to develop a certain free-flowing creativity in our movements, meaning that techniques are really just guideposts from which we can get an idea of what directions we can go.
  • from what Sifu has been saying, there seems to be an undercurrent of fluidity in combat applications, so that fighting isn't just about rigid performance of specific techniques from rote memory, but more about modifying and adjusting techniques to fit 1) what the opponent is doing, and 2) what you want to do in terms of attack and defense
  • in terms of one analogy, techniques are like nodes in a computer network, where many paths lead in and out of a node, offering you many ways into the technique, and many ways to use the technique to lead to other techniques
  • in another analogy, techniques are really just guidelines about movements, and which point out ways for you to think about options, and so really are just starting lines from which you can develop your own movements and applications on a path of your own choosing
of course, the implication here is that you have the knowledge, understanding, and experience to actually work with techniques in this way...which i suspect is where training comes in--and quality training in quantity. i'm guessing few people in the ordinary world get to this stage, which is why we have masters (because they've had the quality training in quantity) and soldiers (because they have to know it as a matter of life and death).


after working on our questions about Yang, Sifu said we needed to go through all 10 lines of tantui. this was good, because i managed to get some more work on tantui with other people for models, particular for line 10 and the closing, both of which continue to pose some difficulty for me in terms of timing the movements.

Sifu reminded us that tantui was about deep extension and long body lines, so that we needed to work on trying to reach out in the postures. he also said that as we worked on these elements, we also needed to develop power in the movements. repeating his comments from previous classes (reference: day 66), he said that tantui had several purposes: to develop flexibility, balance, and strength.

these concepts, incidentally, overlap with the elements for good structure. Sifu has said in the UCLA Yang tai chi class that structure involves balance and strength (reference: days 71 & 72). he told that class to work on stances to develop these qualities. today, however, he noted that tantui was an extension of stances, in that it teaches dynamic structure (i.e., having good structure while moving), whereas stances teach static structure (i.e., having good structure while being stationary).

Chen tai chi long form

we continued with Chen tai chi. Sifu taught us a few more techniques of the Chen tai chi long form, which involved elbow strikes and elbow throws. Sifu emphasized a number of aspects:
  • slow and deep: Chen tai chi involves slow and deep postures, with the goal of developing lower body strength and overall coordination
  • structure: Chen, just like other forms of tai chi (and martial arts in general), requires good structure, meaning development of balance and strength
  • whirlpool: we need to visualize (again, imagination!) that our actions are moving whirlpools of energy, either horizontally, vertically, or at angles in 3-dimensional space, with motions that go in varying combinations with the whirlpools (clockwise or counter-clockwise) and tangentially with the whirlpools (in or out from the center). in mathematical angular space terms, this means moving on the angular dimension, radial dimension, and axis dimension.
Sifu also noted that single whip in Chen is different from single whip in Yang. in Yang, the rear hand is aligned parallel with the front arm. in Chen, the rear arm is at an angle, roughly 30-45 degrees off the line of the front arm. in addition, in Yang, the entry into single whip happens in a vertical plane with the hands slightly off the torso, while in Chen the entry isn't on a particular plane, and the hands come in close to the torso.

combat concepts

after showing us more of the Chen long form, Sifu gathered everyone together to go over some combat concepts. he said he wanted to discuss some higher-level principles, which he has not covered with too many students, but which he felt it was time to give to us. Sifu gave the following commentary:
  • yin & yang--Sifu said that yin & yang principles can be applied to combat, but on more than just the obvious level of moving in yin (soft) to the opponent's yang (hard), or vice versa. he pointed out that this can apply to techniques. he demonstrated that actions by the opponent place their muscles into states of contraction, which is yang, and expansion, which is yin (e.g., if they're curling an arm, the bicep is contracting, so going into yang). this opens and closes vulnerabilities. for parts of the body that are going into yin, the attack should be yang, and for parts of the body that are going into yang, the attack should be yin. he showed how clenching and unclenching of the hand in and out of a grip opens and closes various pressure points, where the closed grip forming a yang section in the fleshy portion between thumb and fingers, with a pressure point opening for a yin attack near the juncture of the thumb and hand bones. he gave further examples using the forearm, bicep, and tricep.
  • whirlpool--he repeated his imagery of the whirlpool from his comments on the Chen long form. but he said that this applies to other martial arts as well, although particularly so for bagua and tai chi. he noted that we should visualize whirlpools of varying shape and size, as well as various orientations in 3-d space. more than this, we need to visualize our opponents doing this, so that a fight is about our whirlpools, each of their whirlpools (however many there are), and the larger whirlpools made by everyone together. this makes the fight the action and interaction of whirlpools, disrupting each other or complementing each other. they serve as guides of how to attack and defend, redirecting forces in ways that aid our attacks and defenses. he noted that a whirlpool is consistent with yin-yang principles, since it means you counter direct force (yang) with indirect motion (yin force) directing the force in a way that allows your own response.
  • tangential force--Sifu said that operating with a whirlpool involves tangential force. by analogy, he noted that it's much harder to try and escape a whirlpool (vortex) going directly out along its radius, and much easier going on a tangent to its rotation. similarly, generating an attack from a whirling vortex of motion is easier (and more efficient in terms of output relative to input of energy) directing the force vector on a tangent to the direction of vortex rotation. likewise, on defense, it is much easier to respond to an incoming force vector by having the vortex engage it on a tangent to the direction of vortex rotation rather than trying to apply the vortex directly against the force vector.
  • energy--Sifu build on comments made from previous weeks about inner and outer gates (reference: day 62), saying that we should visualize an energy field around us, each of our opponents, and all of us as a group. this makes the fight an interaction of energy fields. Sifu said we need to use this to sense our opponent's actions, not only in terms of predicting what they are going to do, but also in terms of understanding how they are going to do it and developing our reaction against them. he also emphasized that it also helps in making us more dangerous and unpredictable, in that we we fight by playing with the opponent's energy. Sifu said we need to play with the opponent's energy, working with it using yin-yang, whirlpool, and tangential principles, so that the opponent is constantly being surprised and unable to recognize what is happening (and so unable to know what they should do).
  • relaxation--he said that all the above requires a level of relaxation. we need to relax in a fight, so that our body is free of tension and our minds are free of obstacles. this enables quicker recognition of events, quicker thinking, quicker reaction, and quicker movement. in addition, it heightens the senses and allows easier interplay of energy.
Sifu finished the day by saying that the way to develop the above skills is through training, not only physically, but also mentally. he reminded us that this is why we need to train awareness and imagination.

he called class to a close, and we ended on that comment.

days 71 & 72: ball qi-gong & breathing

  • expansion & contraction
  • breathing
  • legwork
  • awareness & imagination
  • SLED
  • structure
  • ball qi-gong
  • stances
i'm writing this about a week late. things have been a little busy. so i'm writing off memory, and things are going to be a little succinct.

day 71

we started class with a review of the Yang simplified 24 movement form. this time, however, Sifu broke the class into groups, and had each group do the form in front of class without him. i'm guessing he wanted to get a closer look to see how people were doing, particularly without anyone leading them.

Sifu told us there was a useful acronym to remember in learning how to do tai chi: SLED. the letters stand for the following
  • Slow--do the moves slowly, to concentrate and focus on the body and the surroundings
  • Long--do the moves with the body lengthening, to loosen the muscles and joints
  • Extended--do the moves with extension, to train the mind and body to commit to each technique
  • Deep--do the moves deep, to train the mind and body for good technique
Sifu said this was meant to help develop the 2 things he talked about before: awareness and imagination. awareness of the body and the environment, and imagination about the opponent. together, they train the mind-body relationship for more instinctive, natural application of good technique.

we then continued with more instruction about ball qi-gong. we first reviewed the ball qi-gong from last week. Sifu emphasized the following:
  • we should connect the expansion and contraction of the ball and the timing of our breathing, with expansion of the ball timed with the exhale and contraction of the ball timed with the inhale; and
  • the torso of the body should also be timed with the expansion and contraction, with the pelvis and spine curving slightly as we breathed in (contraction of the ball) so that the tailbone tucked in slightly, and the pelvis and the spine straightening as we breathed out (expansion of the ball) so that the tailbone extended slightly.
Sifu noted the idea was to integrate the entire upper body with the breathing, so that it became a unified movement working with the heart to stimulate the blood flow.

then we went to the next level of ball qi-gong, which combined the upper-body movements with the lower body, with our breathing and arms being timed with our legs. Sifu showed us how we were supposed to lower ourselves into horse stance as we expanded the ball (breathing out), and then rise into the standing qi-gong pose as we contracted the ball (breathing in).

Sifu said that the additional legwork acted to increase blood circulation, with the legs functioning like a pump to aid the heart in the qi-gong. in addition, it also acted to incorporate the legs with the breathing and upper body, in essence, increasing the qi-gong experience to the lower body.

we finished with stances.

day 72

we warmed up doing the Yang simplified 24 movement form, and then went into more detail about the ball qi-gong.

Sifu showed us another addition to the ball qi-gong. before, we had done the expansion and contraction with the palms of the hands facing us or the center of the ball. this time, he demonstrated that we can do it with the palms facing away, so that the hands push out.

we did the ball qi-gong the first 2 ways from Tuesday, with the palms facing inward as we went through the qi-gong standing with legs stationary, and then with legs descending and rising out of horse stance. after this, we did it with the palms facing outward, again without legwork and with legwork.

for the palms facing away with legwork, the qi-gong with hands in the diagonal position involve expansion of the ball with a turning of the waist. as the ball expands, the practitioner turns at the waist until they face backwards (legs still facing forwards).

Sifu then spent time noting the following:
  • qi-gong is meant for several health-related purposes. it's supposed to increase blood circulation. it's also supposed to warm up the muscles and loosen the joints. in addition, it's also supposed to help calm the mind and thereby ease physical and mental tension.
  • qi-gong also has martial arts purposes. it serves to heighten the senses, by allowing the practitioner to become more in tune with touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. it also helps to increase awareness of the surrounding environment, as well as the practitioner's own body. this results in development of the 2 concepts Sifu has been stressing: awareness and imagination--awareness of how you fit with the world around you, awareness of the sensations in your body, awareness of the mind-body connection, imagination to visualize your body's internal operation, imagination to visualize your body's movements, and imagination to visualize your movements in relation to your surroundings.
Sifu ended class leading us through stances. he noted that stance work was meant to develop structure. he explained that "structure" meant 2 things: strength and balance. both are necessary to provide a stable platform for the body to properly apply techniques, and for the practitioner to remain standing against an opponent. stances help develop structure, because they develop lower-body strength, and also the body's sense of balance with respect to basic positions involved in combat. Sifu finished by telling us that we should practice stances as a form of solo homework.