Thursday, May 31, 2007

masters: the banquet

i've been told that martial arts masters used to have closed-door invitation-only banquets to share stories, catch up on news, commune with fellow experts, and demonstrate their kung fu. apparently, this was quite common--not every day or week, but regularly enough that participants could get to feel a sense of community and camaraderie that they were preserving a part of their culture.

i've found a set of videos showing one of these banquets. it's quite insightful, not just in terms of the kung fu, but in the nature of the banquet and how practitioners were associating with each other. it's from a YouTube user named DPGDPG, who has quite an extensive collection of videos of old masters. take a look:
this video appears to be from the 1960s (check out the pencil-thin neckties and mod suits!). there are a number of very interesting things about these videos:
  • everyone's doing the demonstrations in regular business clothes. apparently, they just finished eating and proceeded to take off their jackets and do kung fu. it makes sense, considering that kung fu is something a person should be able to use as a practical form of self-defense, and hence in a normal everyday setting. but it's not something that is associated with kung fu, which has such a strong perception of practitioners dressed in traditional Chinese silk clothes and robes and rigid sifu-student rules.
  • it seems to be a very collegial environment. the tone of the setting and demonstrations appears to be very cordial, with masters from markedly different styles associating together in what looks to be a very supportive and friendly environment. this is at odds with many common perceptions of kung fu practitioners at odds with each other and kung fu schools seeing each other as rivals. there is no such air of competition in this video. if anything, it seems to be people being friends and having a very good (albeit serious) time. the banquet is about people sharing a common, unifying bond between them.
  • these people are very, very, very good.
i should point out that the video contains 2 people associated with the kung fu school i'm in. the 1st person is a very young Sifu Su, a noted expert in Praying Mantis kung fu. in the video he is performing a very rare form of Praying Mantis--and judging from his moves, i suspect one that not very many people are capable of doing (seriously, just how many people can put their knees and ankles through the maneuvers he's doing?). another person is a much younger Grandmaster Liu Yun Chiao, who is sitting in the back against a wall, wearing his very characteristic trademark sunglasses and very typically smoking a cigarette. Sifu Su is a friend and colleague of my instructor, Sifu Tsou, and Grandmaster Liu Yun Chiao was the instructor of both of them when they were at the Wutan Hall in Taiwan.

Monday, May 28, 2007

day 36: lei tei training (part 4 - 05/27/07)

  • eyes
  • hands
  • lines
  • sweeping
  • kicks (axe, stomp, sweep in, sweep out, sweep hook)
  • 2-person drills
we had small turnout for today's Sunday lei tai class, much fewer than yesterday's Saturday class, again because of the Memorial Day weekend. there were just 3 bagua students and 3 baji students.

Sifu stated that today was exclusively kicks. because we were going to cover the same kicks for everyone, the bagua and baji students were all included together, and then paired up.

Sifu went through a set of 5 kicks for us. all the kicks were low kicks (i.e., to the knee or below). Sifu said that in fighting this was actually the most common kind of kick, since it's the most difficult to defend against and also leaves the kicker the least vulnerable to counter-attack. he said we should focus our efforts on developing these kicks.

for each one, he demonstrated the kick, and then had us perform them individually, with each person moving forward on a line stepping into kicks against an imaginary opponent. we alternated left and right kicks. we applied the same process for each of the kicks. Sifu noted the major points of each kick:
  • axe--in this kick, the practitioner brings the rear foot forward and snaps it, with the intent of striking the opponent's knee or shin (front or rear) with the top of the foot. Sifu emphasized the kick is not a swinging of the foot or leg, but rather a linear strike forward. he also said the kick actually starts with the lead hand twitching to distract the opponent's attention. in addition, he said that as the body turns into the kick, the arms should not switch positions (i.e., upraised lead arm versus lower guard hand), but instead the lower guard hand should stay down as it becomes the lead hand. only after the kicking foot returns to the ground should the hand rise to the lead arm position.
  • stomp--in this kick the rear foot comes forward to plant next to the front foot, which then rises and goes straight to the opponent's knee or shin (front or rear), with the striking surface being the heel. the initiation with the rear foot helps generate momentum that is transferred into the front foot. again, Sifu said that the kick begins with the lead hand twitching, with the aim of distracting the opponent's attention to the upper body.
  • sweep in--this is a sweep of the front foot from the outside into the opponent (e.g., if the practitioner is standing with the right leg in front, the leg is going to sweep counterclockwise on the ground). the target is the opponent's ankle, and the striking surface is the inside of the foot. Sifu pointed out the intent is to trip the opponent, and so the foot doesn't really stray too far from the ground, but instead actually skims along it to the target. also, the kick is initiated with the rear foot coming forward to the front foot, so that momentum is generated for the sweeping of front foot. similar to the axe and stomp kicks, the entire process begins with a slight drop and twitch of the lead hand to distract the opponent.
  • sweep out--this is basically a reverse of the sweep in (e.g., if the right leg is in front, the leg is going to sweep in a clockwise direction on the ground), with the same target and same points. the striking surface, however, is the heel. also, rather than starting with a drop and twitch of the lead hand, the kick begins with a sweep of the hand, first in the opposite clock direction of the sweep to set up the kick and then going in the clock direction of the sweep to accompany the kick (e.g., if the kick is going to sweep clockwise, the lead hand at first moves slightly counterclockwise to help position the lead leg, and then goes clockwise to accompany the leg sweep).
  • sweep hook--this is a kick from praying mantis. it begins with the lead hand making a slight circular motion to move the opponent's arm aside, and then continues with the rear leg swinging forward. as the rear leg swings forward, the hands make a slightly larger circle so that the guard hand becomes the new lead hand and the former lead hand becomes the guard hand. the swinging leg finishes with the heel on the ground and toes pointing up, catching the opponent's lead foot at the heel with the goal of tripping them. Sifu noted that the foot moves in a circular pattern, and stays near the ground.
for all the kicks, Sifu emphasized the following:
  • lines--for kicks that are linear, the path of the leg or foot should not be circular. linear kicks do not involve swinging the legs. linear kicks should be more along a line directly to the target.
  • sweeping--for kicks that are sweeping, the path of the leg and foot will be more circular, but they should remain close to the ground, to the point that they are scraping the surface.
  • eyes--the eyes should not look at the target or the lower body, but should be looking directly ahead. this is to prevent target fixation, wherein a practitioner locks onto a target and loses awareness of movement or attacks from other areas. it is also meant to prevent the signaling of your intended target to the opponent, since the opponent will read your eyes and know your intent.
  • hands--hands are crucial to initiating and performing a kick. in the initiation phase, they distract the opponent's attention away from the lower body, and they can deceive the opponent into thinking the intent is for an upper-body strike. in the performance phase, they aid in generating momentum and providing balance.
  • balance--kicks should be done with a sense of balance. because of their shift in weight between the legs, this can be difficult to do, and are dangerous in that kicks that are off-balance expose the kicker to counter-attack from the opponent.
  • speed--this was probably the most heavily emphasized point from Sifu, and he didn't mention in reference just to kicks, but in fighting all around. he said it was imperative that we develop speed, and that we practice working at speed so as to acclimate ourselves to fighting conditions. in a fight, everything happens very fast, and we have to be ready for it...and the only way to get ready is to get used to it in practice.
2-person drills
after going through the kicks solo, Sifu then had us pair up and move back and forwards, with 1 partner being an "attacker" stepping in to kick the "defender," who stepped back to avoid the kick. each pair would exchange roles so that each partner had the opportunity to practice both launching and defending kicks.

we did this drill for each of the kicks, going through the drill multiple times, practicing just 1 kick each time. after we had gotten a sense of the mechanics for all the kicks, we then did the drill in a free-form fashion, with the attacker having the freedom to choose any number or combination of kicks within a single iteration of the drill. we did this several times to get a feel of how to launch and defend multiple kicks.

i noticed a number of things doing this drill:
  • spacing--spacing is crucial, since it determines if your strike is delivered for maximum power. however, spacing is something that has to be instinctively estimated, which is difficult in the frenetic speed of a fight. in addition, spacing is not something that can be generalized to a person's rough parameters (i.e., their height, weight, etc.), since different people have different body types and different proportions of limbs. the only real way to develop the skill to gauge each of these is in 2-person practices simulating fighting speed.
  • speed--this follows from Sifu's main point. speed is important. but it's speed in delivering the right form of the correctly chosen technique. this requires not only quick limbs, but also quick reflexes. this requires 2-person practice under simulated combat conditions, with partners reacting to unknown moves of a live opponent at fighting speed.
  • combinations--it's good to learn to deliver kicks in combination, not just with other kicks, but also with strikes. it's also good learn to use them in combination with defense moves. i noticed Phunsak employed combinations with kicks and that it made defending against him much more difficult. Sifu also said that to learn to use kicks in combinations with other elements, we need to practice this in the 2-person set as well.
  • sensing--sensing refers to the ability to read the attacker's intent, so that you can initiate defensive action or a counterattack. sensing, however, is an art, and something that involves experience in recognizing physical signals (i.e., the twitch of an opponent's arm, a shift in their stance, a flick of the eyes, a slide along your arm, etc.) and using a "6th sense" or instinct. this is difficult, especially at speed. the only way to develop this is in simulated combat settings with a partner in a 2-person set.
  • shifting weight--shifting weight on the feet is something that has to be precise. a wrong shift may deliver power to the kick but end up throwing you off-balance and vulnerable to a counter-attack. right placement of weight allows delivery of power to a kick. in addition, proper shifting of weight affects the speed of movements in defense. however, there must be enough skill to do this at combat speed against a partner employing unknown tactics (i.e., you don't know if your partner is attacking or defending, or what techniques they intend to use)...which again (yes, this is a broken record) means practicing in a 2-person drill at full speed.
  • decisiveness--i asked Sifu about this, and he confirmed my suspicions. it's important to be decisive in a fight. i've seen this echoed in the accounts of warriors in the past (Miyamoto Musashi, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Patton, Rommel, even veterans telling stories today), and i can see it in the 2-person practices now. techniques don't work if you don't commit to them. half-hearted effort means half-strength energy. hesitation in action means hesitation in speed. uncertain motion means uncertain odds. if you decide to do something (attack, defend, change tactics, etc.), you must do it. do not hesitate. because hesitation is slow, and slow is death. decisiveness is speed, and speed is life.
with that, we finished for the day. Sifu advised us to practice on our own, particularly in terms of developing speed on both offense and defense.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

day 35: numbers & palm change 3, side A & B

  • numbers
  • palm change 3 (side A & B)
  • 2-person drill (palm change 3)
i got to the park a little early today to work through a few things. it appears John Eagles had the same thought, since he appeared soon after i had finished warming up. after chatting and catching up on his wedding (which was last weekend), we went through stance and level 1 qi-gong. we were debating the merits of starting level 2 and level 3 qi-gong when Sifu and the jian shu class showed up.

class turnout out today was very light--for both bagua and baji, and i suspect it was because of the Memorial Day weekend. we did end up having about 8 bagua students with a few late arrivals, but the baji class had to make do with 4 students.


we did go immediately into the lesson plan. Sifu ended up having an extended conversation with John Eagles about Chinese numerology and relationship compatibility.

apparently, there is are entire sciences in Chinese culture related to numerology, with overlaps to astrology, 5-element theory (in contrast to the European 4 elements of wood, earth, fire, water, Chinese culture recognizes 5: wood, earth, metal, water, fire), and Taoist mysticism (in particular, the bagua trigrams). Sifu and John talked about the use of birthdates and years of a wedding couple to determine placement for each partner on a mathematical chart measuring 3 squares x 3 squares (called luo shu), with the numbers on the chart rotating depending on the current calendar year. the placement on the chart corresponds to specific elements and bagua trigrams, such that each chart location assigns a person a specific yin/yang version of an element, with the exception of fire and water. comparing the element of the 2 partners determines if they are compatible and what the prospects are for their relationship.

Sifu drew the luo shu diagram, and then showed how it rotates depending on the calendar year. he also talked about which elements are a good match. generally, Chinese astrology considers yin-yin pairings or yang-yang pairings between couples to be particularly auspicious.

i didn't quite follow everything that was being said, since there were a lot of concepts i was not familiar with. but i did manage to find a few useful links after class:
palm change 3 (side A & B)

Sifu instructed Phunsak to lead us in reviewing palm change 3 while he went to go work with the baji students. Phunsak told us we'd do side A first, and then side B.

we did 8 repetitions of side A, and 8 repetitions of side B. this was pretty much polishing from last week, especially since i'd managed to get in some extra practice time this past week (truth be told, i'd taken time this past week to review all of side A, since i found myself suddenly having difficulty remembering them, which sent me in a state of near-panic). there were, however, some nuances i noticed that i hadn't picked up before, particularly in terms of the feet--they're supposed to be flat on the ground, even when pivoting, and should never be raised onto the balls for rotating. some of the other students who'd missed the past few classes ended up needing this time to catch up.

NOTE: i'm going to start using YouTube videos to help show what we're learning. this is the first post to include YouTube videos.

here's side A:

here's side B:

we took a break, and Phunsak commented on some of the combat applications of side B. during his comments, Sifu returned and added a few more points. i'll summarize their points by technique as follows:
  • yellow bird swoops for food--this is either an action to distract the opponent's attention away from another attack, or penetration to their head. both arms are coming over the outside of the opponent (dragon gate), with the lead hand going for the head over the opponent's arm and the off-hand controlling the shoulder/upper area of the opponent's arm (e.g., if both partners are leading with their right arm and right foot, the lead hand is the right hand and the off-hand is the left hand). this should be done with a forward step into the opponent's dragon gate, with the legs in the bow-and-arrow stance.
  • divert and grab the cloth--this is actually a grab and pull of the opponent's arm down and back. the arm that led yellow bird sweeps for food comes down to grab the opponent's wrist, and the arm that was the supporting arm in yellow bird moves to the juncture between the opponent's bicep and elbow. this should be accompanied by a slide backwards of the feet that is far enough to throw the opponent forward (i.e., towards the defender) off-balance.
  • white snake spits its tongue--this involves movement in 2 directions, with one hand (i.e., the one holding in opponent's wrist in divert and grab the cloth) pulling down and back, and the other hand (i.e., the one holding the juncture of the opponent's bicep and elbow in divert and grab the cloth) going forward to strike the opponent's neck or head. this should be done with a shift forward of weight, so that the legs go back into the bow-and-arrow stance.
2-person drill (palm change 3)

after correcting the forms of several students, Sifu told us to start learning the 2-person drills form palm change 3, and then went back to continue with the baji students.

last week Phunsak had said the 2-person drill for palm change 3 was several orders of magnitude harder than the 1st 2. he was right. this one is much more complex, not so much because the palm changes are longer (the 3rd palm change has 7 techniques, which is more than the 1st's 4 and the 2nd's 9), but because the 3rd involves a 360-degree turn with carefully choreographed footwork for both side A and side B, simultaneously and in the same direction (i.e., both partners go either clockwise or counter-clockwise at the same time). this makes spacing between the partners crucial, since once the turns begin it becomes very difficult to gauge distance and the only real way to know your positioning relative to the surroundings is by knowing--and trusting--your footwork.

we repeated the drill lines from last week, with 2 opposing lines of 8 people facing each other, so that there were 4 pairs of partners. one side was side A, the other side was side B. Phunsak broke the drill down by steps named by side and numbers, calling out each one in sequence (e.g., "A1" meant the person who was side A in a pair would do the 1st technique in side A, "B1" meant that side B would respond with the 1st technique in side B, etc.). this made things much more manageable.

we took some time doing the drill by steps. enough that people began to sort out the techniques and the sequential order of the 2-person drill. however, it's very clear that no one is ready to start doing the 2-person drill for palm change 3 without someone calling steps, and so we're not doing it in the smooth, continuous motion that i suspect practitioners are supposed to do.

we finished the day with Sifu returning to correct individual form again. he was staying behind to provide some personal instruction this time, so was unable to make it to lunch with us. we ended up having a smaller post-class lunch of 5 people.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

masters: chang dong sheng

this has little to do with what i'm learning (bagua). but it does have a lot to do with my kung fu school, since one of my Sifu's instructors was a man named Chang Dong Sheng.

Chang Dong Sheng was a well-recognized and highly respected master of shuai jiao (a form of Chinese wrestling).

i wanted to show this video of an interview with him in 1980:
his comments are priceless (the English translation of the interview is in the video summary).

i suspect this interview came on the heels of this demonstration:
what amazes me is that he was 72 years old in these videos. he's absolutely DESTROYING people. yeah, it's just a demonstration, and it's with his own students. so it's not real fighting. but let's see ANYBODY try to throw people like this at 72 years old.

there's another classic video of Chang Dong Sheng taken earlier than the above:
he was apparently also a master of other kung fu styles. here's a video of him performing Yang style tai chi in what appears to be a school (it's very old film, i suspect a digital transfer of an old 8mm film...a short excerpt of this video is in the previous video):
on a side note, shuai jiao is not the only form of Chinese wrestling. in particular, compare Chang Dong Sheng's comments in the interview regarding shuai jiao to those of another Sifu, Liang Shou Yu, regarding kuai jiao (another form of Chinese wrestling):

Sunday, May 20, 2007

trying new things on this blog

i'm going to try a few things on this blog.

i'd like to share the curriculum in a way that is more readily ascertainable and accessible. while the blog entries have been in part an attempt to do this, i've decided it would also be helpful to start trying to make digital videos and files connected to what we're covering in class.

to that end, i've gone ahead and created a YouTube account and Photobucket account. the YouTube account holds MPEG4 videos dealing with things we're learning, and the Photobucket account contains course curriculum documents. i hope to add to both on a periodic basis. while the YouTube videos are not downloadable, i think the Photobucket files are.

i've added links to both on this blog under the "Links" section. the YouTube link should take you directly to the YouTube channel for this blog ("jonathanonapath"). the Photobucket link should take you to my Photobucket account, which contains sub-albums of curriculum documents (right now, i have "bagua qi-gong" and "bagua forms").

let me know if they're helpful.

commentary: public shows - "martial" versus "art"

this commentary is a follow-up from the post i wrote about World Tai Chi & Qi-Gong Day. to see what i'm discussing, you'll want to reference: day 29: world tai chi & qi-gong day.

i won't go into a description of the event itself, since it's in the post. there are also photos documenting the day there as well. suffice it to say that i had very mixed feelings about what i saw, and that it's given me quite some food for thought--not just about the event itself, but about public shows related to kung fu in general.

public shows

when i use the term "public shows," i am referring to events that are frequently used as a forum for kung fu demonstrations: public festivals, community gatherings, martial arts-related gatherings, holiday celebrations, etc. i don't necessarily include fighting tournaments (kung fu or non-kung-fu), non-public meetings (e.g., dinners between masters or schools), academic communications (such as those between scholars or instructors researching martial arts), or even recruiting shows (i.e., "open to the public" or even days at martial arts schools). the distinction is that the former involves--and even promotes--full public access, while the latter has more restrictive access.

what i saw at World Tai Chi & Qi-Gong Day left me with a very different picture of martial-arts (particularly kung fu) themed public shows than what i had before. before, i thought that they were (and are) a potentially very useful way of promoting what is largely a very esoteric topic (martial arts, and again, particularly kung fu) to a larger, more mainstream American society. but now, i am not so sure. the event crystallized for me a picture of both positives and negatives.

i went to the celebration with a certain level of curiousity, unsure of what to expect, and with a fairly open mind of what would be there. i had some hopes of what i would have liked to see in terms of a tai chi celebration: different schools demonstrating their unique styles, different instructors presenting themselves and their students, different practitioners sharing a common style, and different aspects of the style being displayed to show a more comprehensive picture of the style. but while i hoped for this, i didn't necessarily expect it.

what i found, however, was a very limited picture of tai chi. there were most definitely different schools with different variations of a style, and very much different instructors presenting themselves and their students, and to some degree different practitioners sharing a common style. but the only aspects being shown seemed to be just those fulfilling purposes of mysticism, socialization, or performance art. while not necessarily negative by themselves, i was still alarmed because these were displayed in such a way that fed the damaging stereotypes and mis-perceptions held by much of the modern world--to see what i mean, reference: commentary: the dork factor. in addition, there was very little offerings of tai chi for its other, more pragmatic aspects of meditation, medicine, exercise, or self-defense. in essence, for a festival celebrating tai chi as a martial art, there was not a lot of "martial" and a lot more (mostly more) of "art." to me, this was tantamount to suppression of a clear picture of the style.

admittedly, this was just one day. i have been told that past World Tai Chi & Qi-Gong Days were different. and no doubt the celebrations of it at other locations around the world have different flavors. and i also know that other public martial arts shows may very well be very different from just this single event. as a result, i freely concede that i am forming perspectives based on a very poor data sample of 1.

but i'm not issuing a final, declarative judgement at this point. i'm merely stating a developing image that is forming as a result of what i saw, and which is subject to change as i go further into the martial arts.

the many aspects of kung fu

in fairness, i should also make it a point to note something i have learned from conversations with my fellow students and my Sifu, Jason Tsou: martial arts--particular kung fu--is a very expansive subject, with many different facets that allow it to be used and viewed in many different ways by many different people. this is because it is a product of history and culture, and as a result is a compilation of many different aspects of human existence. hence, it is often used for many different purposes other than fighting and self-defense.

based on the discussions i've had, kung fu (and to some degree most martial arts) serves many roles related to combat, medicine, personal growth, community, and individuality:
  • self-defense--by its very name and definition, a "martial" art is about combat. otherwise, it is not "martial." furthermore, in terms of origin, all martial arts have a basis in combat. as a result, because kung fu is a martial art, it serves in no small measure the goal of providing self-defense.
  • physical health--through its physical expression, a martial art conditions the body, and so improves physical health, as it may be defined in terms of strength, aerobic & anaerobic fitness, physical coordination, flexibility, adjustment of organs, and regulation of hormones and biological and chemical processes. kung fu is no exception, especially with its connections to traditional chinese medicine. as a result, it offers medical aid and opportunities for personal growth.
  • internal health--via its demands upon character, a martial art refines and fortifies the mental and spiritual elements of a practitioner, and so improves internal health, as it may be defined in terms of character traits (discipline, diligence, consideration, motivation, etc.), spiritual traits (faith, devotion, harmony, compassion, etc.), mind-body awareness, and disposition or demeanor. kung fu, regardless of "internal" or "external" classifications of its styles, integrates these aspects into its training. as a result, similar to physical health, it offers medical aid and opportunities for personal growth.
  • socializing--as a mechanism for networking and community building, martial arts provides a common thread connecting people together, with classes providing forums to meet new people and styles acting as a unifying element for different schools. in addition, by its nature as a subject matter requiring visual demonstration, martial arts enables "face time" for people to meet, mingle, and communicate with each other. kung fu is emblematic of this, courtesy of its history stretching across millenia, which has ingrained it into the fabric of chinese culture and history. chinese society views it as a part of community.
  • creative expression--through its lessons, a martial art allows personal development of a person's total entity (physical, mental, spiritual) in a way that balances all aspects of their identity. in so doing, it facilitates creative expression of a person's character, intentions, and state through motion. this is the "art" in the term "martial art." kung fu, with its vast array of fighting styles, offers many avenues for personal development, and hence enables a wide range of options for expressing individuality.
Sifu commented to me that different people look for different things, and as a result those who turn to martial arts like kung fu will turn to it for different reasons. to him, this is fine, since kung fu can accommodate such purposes and should be allowed to do so.

he cautioned, however, that people should try to be aware of other aspects of kung fu, and recognize that it has many other facets than the particular ones they are pursuing. this is important on different levels:
  • on an individual level, this is important because in time, people may change, and may desire to explore other facets than the one(s) they originally sought, or other people may desire other aspects than the one(s) a particular practitioner is offering. in which case, those other aspects should be available to them.
  • on a larger level, however, it is also important in that the preservation of kung fu requires that all aspects of it be given life by its practitioners, otherwise those aspects may be forgotten or corrupted. more than this--and this is where i return to what i said earlier--it suppresses people from seeing the complete picture of the style. the simply way to prevent either scenarios is to preserve all facets of kung fu.
positives and negatives

for me, i can see that a "complete" picture of a style (tai chi or any other) requires acceptance of the many ways people approach learning and practicing it, and hence acceptance when they present their approach in a public show. not everyone learns kung fu for the same motivations, and they have the right to act on those motivations and express the product of such actions in public shows.

in addition, living in an open society, the audience also has the right to see anything instructors and practitioners are willing to show. from a yin-yang perspective, kung fu (or any martial art), is a reflection of human society, and so to some degree is engaged in an interactive relationship with society, responding to it in one way while simultaneously influencing it in another way.

moreover, i can also see that to some degree, a public show is just for fun, and so meant more for celebration with others rather than serious contemplation and action. public shows are not meant for competition, or to hurt anyone, but rather to feel a sense of community, camaraderie, good spirits, and joy shared by people from the subject that is kung fu. in which case, it is perhaps excessive--and perhaps unrealistic--to expect any more from public shows. they are what they are; they are not academic forums for rigorous research, nor full-contact forums of battle-testing. they are just simply community festivals for people to have fun and share their interests.

still, what i saw left me feeling ambivalent. on one hand, i believe that public shows, if done in a balanced and comprehensive manner presenting a "complete" (or as close as possible) picture of a style, can offer many advantages benefiting the style and its practitioners. on the other hand, however, what i saw recently was not a "complete" picture of a style. it was not "martial art," but instead "martial" versus "art," with "martial" losing. which bothers me, because it distorts the picture of kung fu, and in a way that is rife with risks to the public and to the martial art itself. while there may be many positives to public shows of kung fu, i also see many negatives.


in terms of the positive effects of public shows, they have the capacity to offer a number of elements that serve both individual and larger levels:
  • they allow people to see benefits of martial art--they provide a setting where people can see the benefits offered by martial arts, particularly in public shows presenting the many roles fulfilled by martial arts.
  • they offer choices--they let people view multiple schools and multiple instructors of different styles and different methods, and thereby give people a range of choices to learn from. in essence, they create a "marketplace of kung fu" from which consumers can discriminate and shop. the more aspects of the martial arts are demonstrated, the greater the selection available for people to choose from.
  • they educate the public and participants--they allow access to people who may not know little or nothing about the styles being displayed, and so helps educate a wider audience about martial arts and what they offer. even for experienced practitioners, they give opportunities to discover subjects they didn't know, and so new avenues to improve themselves and their art. the more facets of a style are displayed, the more complete the picture that is available.
  • they provide socialization--they give a forum where the community of practitioners can come together and share their passions for a style, so they can see that they are part of a much larger phenomenon, communicate knowledge and insight, and exchange news and perspectives, thereby enriching the entire gathering of participants. the more diverse the presentation, the greater the nature of enrichment from differing viewpoints and perspectives.
  • they enable preservation--by doing all of the above, they help sustain a style. on an individual level, they let people personally experience and see the benefits, choices, education, and social community of the style they practice. on a larger level, they give life to a style and thereby help preserve it. the wider the range of aspects of a style are shown, the wider the qualities of the style are sustained.

in terms of the negative effects of public shows, they have the possibility of producing the following:
  • they distort the picture of kung fu--people, meaning the public as well as practitioners, tend to believe only what they can see. it's human nature. if all people see is a certain part of the image of a style, then that's all they'll ever think of it; if all they see is mystical conversations, movement synchronized to music (i.e., dancing), costumes and makeup and props, and pot-smoking in grassy parks, then that's what people will think kung fu is. they'll never think of it as personal growth. or as medicine. or as self-defense. because they won't know...because they've never seen it.
  • they allow propagation of lies about self-defense--the distortion of the picture of kung fu leaves it susceptible to the malevolent intentions of charlatans, con artists, and opportunists taking advantage of the ignorant, the naive, or the gullible. in a mass entertainment setting such as a public show, it becomes too easy for nefarious instructors teaching only the artistic aspects of kung fu to lie to their students and to the public that they are witnessing combat techniques. that is, it is too easy for them to lie about teaching self-defense, even though they teach no combat applications nor conduct combat training. in effect, they can claim they are offering a "complete" picture of kung fu, when all they know (if they know anything at all) is a fragment of it. they can do this, because people who've never seen combat applications or combat training won't know...they won't know because they've never seen it.
  • they discredit honorable past instructors--martial arts, and kung fu, are a product of the honorable, diligent, dedicated work of past instructors. but distorting the picture of kung fu, or lying that self-defense is being taught when it is really not, serves to discredit the efforts of historical contributors by eroding the credibility of their work. more than this, it insults the time and energy they devoted to the martial arts, and it insults their lives. this is because people who discover that they've been denied the complete picture of kung fu (especially when they thought they were learning it) lose respect not only in the instructor who failed them, but also in the martial art and all the masters who represented it.
  • they discredit the martial art--martial arts only have as much life as given to them by practitioners. if the practitioners fail to see (and live) the complete picture of a martial art, then the fragments they do not express fall into disuse, disrepair, corruption, or worse, become forgotten. if the practitioners lie about teaching the complete picture when they are truly not, then the picture becomes hidden, and once again vulnerable to disuse, disrepair, corruption, and becoming forgotten. either way, the end result is that the public sees something that is not accurate, and once they realize the inaccuracy they lose trust in what they see. in short, it discredits the martial art.
what to do

dealing with this situation is somewhat muddled. from what i can see, there's 3 different ways to approach this situation:

  • go to extremes--either just surrender (i.e., give up and forget about kung fu) or go aggressive (i.e, take a mission to "correct" everyone else). neither to me seems viable. surrendering means denying yourself, your surrounding network of friends & family, and the world the experience of martial arts. always an option, but not very you or anybody else. being aggressive is also bad, because it assumes an air of condescension, arrogance, and presumptuousness that you know more about the "truth" of kung fu than anybody else. which is a pretty hard thing to say, knowing all the uncertainties in life. worse, it ignores the questions of just what is the "truth" of kung fu, or what is "correct" kung fu. kung fu, and martial arts, is many things for many people, so who are you to say what it can or cannot be? do you know? does anybody know? if there is anything that is "truth" or "correct," then any hope of finding it means trying for the most wide-ranging, comprehensive, all-encompassing answer possible...which means accepting many truths and many correct aspects of kung fu--and that means both your own and everyone else's, together. again, being aggressive is always an option, but not very constructive.
  • do nothing--the easy thing is to do nothing, and just be completely passive. this could be the "Taoist" method of responding to the situation. this is not to say to surrender. but rather to accept the nature of public shows being public shows, and accept that people will find in martial arts what they want to find. given this, the only thing a practitioner can do--at least, a practitioner dedicated to a more comprehensive education in martial arts--is to continue on their development in their martial art, and to continue their own attendance and presentations at public shows...not so much as to make a statement, nor to correct problems, but rather just to live the path of life and allow people to see when they want to see. sometimes they do. sometimes they don't. regardless, the martial arts are alive through you.
  • avoid the situation and do your own thing--another option is to simply not attend and do your own thing. while a very passive-aggressive approach to the situation, i see this as highly tempting. i've heard stories of instructors of kung fu who take its combat origins seriously refusing any and all public demonstrations or tournaments. i can understand why. i can see that they might come to a public event like what i saw, look around and see that no one is really interested in combat applications but rather instead into music and makeup and costumes and mind-altering experiences, and come away feeling entirely disappointed and depressed at the state of kung fu. i can further see that their reaction would simply be seclusion, and the comfort of knowing that they're preserving a forgotten or disused part of kung fu on their own.
  • engage--a last option is to actually try to do something pro-active. that is, to actually make it a point to go to a public show, and to consciously identify what it is that is being left incomplete or disguised, and then to intentionally supply the necessary presentation to complete the incomplete and to undisguise the disguise. in essence, this would mean taking presentations at public shows a mission to show the public something they may not be seeing elsewhere. for instructors serious about the combat origins of kung fu, this would mean going to public shows and tolerating the "art" for the sake of offering the "martial," so that the public would see that kung fu is not just "art" but also "martial." the hope would be that people make the connection that kung fu is both "martial" and "art" combined together to make a "martial art."
the latter approach is the one adopted by my Sifu. his opinion is that an instructor's duty is to promote a complete a picture of martial arts as possible, and that this means participating in public shows to add the instructor's own voice to the voices of others at the events. if this means that the instructor is the only one demonstrating combat applications of kung fu, then so be least there is someone there doing so. to my Sifu, if there is nobody there demonstrating combat applications, then nobody will ever know. and that would only serve to hurt kung fu. in which case, who's really to blame for the state of kung fu? audience, one-sided instructors, or the serious masters?

which approach is truly the right one? i don't know. i think different people have to decide for themselves, and recognize and accept the consequences of their decisions.

as for me? i'm still deciding.

commentary: mixing business & martial arts


this is an article from the LA Times:,0,2953781,full.story?coll=la-home-local

i always shudder when i hear of managers turning to traditional Eastern martial arts for employee training.

not that i don't think there's nothing of value to employees and managers or businesses and offices. on the contrary, i think there's quite a bit. self-motivation, self-improvement, self-discipline, courtesy, compassion, commitment, competitiveness, dedication, diligence, empowerment, loyalty, respect, sacrifice, it's all there and all fully cross-applicable.

but you see, there's a difference between offering things of value and actually gaining things of value. it's not the same to have potential benefits versus actual benefits. it's not the same, because one way is just lip service. the other way is the truth.

and i'm afraid that most managers who turn to traditional Eastern martial arts aren't turning to them because they really want to see their employees--or for that matter, themselves--acquire the qualities they claim to be seeking. rather, i suspect that most managers (particularly in the West), are using Eastern martial arts as a tool to further their own personal ambitions and agendas.

which to me is ironic, because personal ambitions and agendas are against everything traditional Eastern martial arts are about. personal ambitions and agendas are about manipulation, exploitation, victimization, domination, coercion, control, and ultimately, cruelty and suffering. this is entirely opposed to values like sacrifice, respect, loyalty, empowerment, diligence, dedication, competitiveness, commitment, compassion, courtesy, or self-development. in other words, this is entirely opposed to traditional Eastern martial arts.

i think in many ways it's an insult to the ideals and purposes of traditional Eastern martial arts (or maybe even martial arts in general) that things like the one described in this article go on. even worse, for victims of such practices and for 3rd party observers and the larger public, it gives negative impressions of traditional Eastern martial arts, discrediting them and eroding their integrity. in addition, it feeds the negative Western stereotypes of traditional Eastern martial arts as mystical mumbo jumbo that can be manipulated to mean whatever whoever is saying it wants it to mean--and in cases like this, it means nothing good.

business & martial arts? sure. but not this way.

if the link isn't working, you can read the full text of the article below:

Zen and the art of management
By Jessica Garrison and Ted Rohrlich
Times Staff Writers

May 11, 2007

The Los Angeles Housing Department has paid thousands of dollars to a Zen Buddhist priest from Hawaii for management training that includes teaching breathing with sphincter control, learning "how to stand" and playing with wooden sticks.

Norma Wong, a former Hawaii state legislator and leadership consultant, has been paid $18,819 since 2005 to conduct at least four training sessions for executives and other staff. The most recent one was last week.

Mercedes Marquez, the general manager of the department, said the training was designed to help "center" Housing Department managers and teach them to react nimbly to problems such as the city's housing shortage. Up to 30 people attended each session.

"She asks when you center yourself to hold yourself in," Marquez said of the instructor.

The breathing exercises and stick play, she said, were a small part of two-day sessions, which also included discussions of team building and improving department procedures.

Some staff members, however, have found aspects of the training objectionable.

Lynn Hansen, a former assistant general manager, said she was put off by the presumption that she and her colleagues "had to be taught how to breathe and how to stand."

"I'm not sure how that helps me face an irate constituent," she said.

Hansen, who left the department in late 2005, participated in the first session.

She said most of the training took place in a conference room but "at one point we went out in the parking lot to wield our swords."

Another attendee described how executives were asked to encircle Marquez with their backs to her while holding their sticks, saying they were instructed to imagine that they were shielding their boss from opposing forces such as City Council members or other departments.

"We had to make sure she was protected," said the participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Marquez and her deputy, Yolanda Chavez, flatly denied that that ever happened.

Marquez describes herself as a Zen Buddhist priest as well as a Roman Catholic.

She and others stressed that there was no religious component to the training. Marquez also said Zen Buddhism is not a religious faith but a "way to live."

Marquez said she met Wong in the course of her own Buddhist training and came to admire her work as a leadership consultant.

Marquez urged Wong to consider submitting a proposal to do leadership training for the department shortly after Marquez was named to head it in 2004. Wong's Honolulu-based temple is called Daihonzan Chozin-ji and also does business as Anko-In.

Anko-In, founded in 2000, provides workshops and seminars "on the application of Zen principles for organizations and individuals," according to a description in a 2005 city memo. It has been hired by private firms and school districts.

Wong declined to comment, saying she did not have the city's permission.

According to advertisements about an appearance at the University of Wisconsin, she is considered an expert on Sun-Tzu's "Art of War," an early treatise on military strategy that has gained popularity among business executives who seek to apply its principles to capitalism.

In some ways, the training is similar to what occurs in the private sector, in which managers sometimes are exposed to Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, asked to dodge paint balls or catch their colleagues in so-called trust falls. High-end sessions might include whitewater rafting.

Marquez said many people had told her that they found the training helpful.

Her department, with more than 500 employees and a budget of $45 million, helps build affordable housing, enforce rent control laws and ensure apartments are up to code.

In 2005, the city attorney's office approved an initial $4,750 two-day workshop titled "Recalibration," described in the 2005 memo as helping executives to "manage the stress of change" and develop "team dynamics, chemistry and rhythm."

Among the activities described by attendees was an exercise in which employees tried to match the movements of a leader's stick.

"The leader gives an initial command, so everybody waves sticks in rhythm," said Mark Winogrond, a former Culver City city manager and former interim director of the city's planning department, who helps Wong do the training.

"She's a very clever team builder."

Last year, the City Council unanimously approved another contract for up to $15,000 to Wong's organization.

day 34: palm changes 1-3, sides A & B (the return of the tango!)

  • power (chan si jin versus piao ja-sp?)
  • palm change 1 (sides A & B)
  • palm change 2 (sides A & B)
  • palm change 3 (sides A & B)
  • drills (palm changes 1 & 2, A & B)
today had much larger turnout. i counted 8 baji students and 10 bagua. this may have been in part because the jian shu class is finishing, and so more of the jian shu students are finding it easier to get to class.

Sifu started things off with a brief commentary about power. this must have been a continuation of a conversation he'd been having with the jian shu students, since he referred to a prior question about tai chi, which from what i could surmise must have dealt with the difference between the Chen style taught in our school versus the Chen style taught in other schools.

Sifu noted that our Chen style did not exactly match that of other Chen styles in the US. he attributed this to the fact that most US Chen practitioners are learning from the lineage of Chen Fake, while we followed from the lineage going to Chen Fake's father, Chen Yanxi.

this would seem to be the same lineage, but according to Sifu there is a distinction produced by a generation gap induced by the Communist takeover of China. according to Jason, following the Communist Revolution in China, Chen Yanxi's lineage continued through instructors in Taiwan, but was suppressed by the new regime in Beijing. Chen Fake, even though Chen Yanxi's son, was forced to alter the Chen style to placate the new regime.

Sifu noted one change that Chen Fake made was to use much more horizontal circular movement, instead of the more vertical circular movement seen in Chen Yanxi's tai chi.

much greater, however, was the alteration in power generation. Chen Fake's tai chi is known for its open jerking motions, while Chen Yanxi's was more subtle. Sifu said that this is because unlike Chen Fake, Chen Yanxi's tai chi had a greater expression of chan si jin (sp? twisting force) to balance piao ja (sp? explosive force). chan si jin is the power generation commonly associated with tai chi and bagua. piao ja is the kind of power seen in baji, piqua, and hsing-i (i'm guessing this means it's a form of fa jing, which is the term for the explosive power associated with these styles). in contrast to Chen Yanxi, Chen Fake's tai chi (particularly with many current practitioners) has less chan si jin and much heavier piao ja. in Sifu's opinion, a lot of the modern Chen practitioners are overdoing the piao ja, and getting away from the more traditional nature of tai chi.

palm change 1 (sides A & B) - on a line & circle walking

Sifu instructed us to go through palm change 1 of both sides A & B. we began with a review of both sides in a line, doing repetitions for each one until everyone became comfortable. after this, we proceeded to do both sides circle walking, with 2 circles composed of 5 students each.

palm change 2 (sides A & B) - on a line & circle walking

after finishing the review of palm change 1, Sifu left to go work with the baji students and ordered Phunsak to continue with the same progression for palm change 2. keeping with the progression we followed for palm change 1, we reviewed palm change 2 in a line for both side A and side B. after doing multiple repetitions of both sides, we then continued on to do both sides walking in 2 circles.

drills (palm changes 1 & 2, A & B) - 2-person

during a break, Cheng-Chieh (i should note i've been mis-spelling her name in prior posts as Ching-Tszieh) suggested to Phunsak that we should do the 2-person drills, since that was still a source of difficulty. Phunsak agreed, and had us line up, with 2 lines of 5 students each facing each other, so that 1 line was side A to match the other side's line B.

Phunsak called out numbers for each technique in each palm change, to which each partner was supposed to follow with their respective side. we did this for palm change 1, and then repeated it for palm change 2.

it appears that we're not progressing that quickly with these palm changes, at least in terms of the 2-person drills. from what i could tell, we (me individually and us as a whole) are still struggling to perform the 2-person drill--not so much in terms of remembering the palm changes and each side, but terms of remembering them in context of a 2-person pair interacting with 2 people in what should be a smooth synchronized continuous dance of attack, parry, and counter-attack. we're not smooth, we're synchronized, and we're definitely not continuous.

admittedly, we are marginally better. but not by much.

we're going to need a lot more practice.

at some point during another break, Kieun, Phunsak, and Cheng-Chieh got on a conversation about the nature of the interaction between partners in the 2-person drills. Kieun said that in the drills, the partners are actually trying to help each other get through the palm changes. as a result, the actions in the drill are not entirely the same as in actual combat, since in the drill the partners are doing more to signal to each other their techniques.

Cheng-Chieh said it seemed a lot like dancing. Phunsak said that it was, and then went on to note that the bagua footwork is actually a lot like ballroom dancing, particularly tango. he then got into a ballroom dance position with Cheng-Chieh, and proceeded to demonstrate the tango with her. he made efforts to show how the tango used footsteps that were very similar to ko bu and bai bu, and even had turns that were similar to the initial entry moves into bagua throws (with the exception that in tango the partners prevent each other from falling).

Sifu returned just in time to see Phunsak's tango lesson. i think Sifu was equal parts perplexed and amused.

palm change 3 (sides A & B) - on a line

Sifu finished the day with an introduction to palm change 3 for side B. we did a brief review of the palm change for side A in a line, and then went directly to side B.

Sifu began by saying side B is reminiscent of the opening movements of the Chen tai chi short form. like side A, side B begins from hawk pierces through the sky. but side B then enters with a turn that goes into yellow bird swoops down for food, which ends with a stance that has the upper arm positioning of the 60-40 stance but the leg positioning of the bow-and-arrow stance. at this point, the practitioner goes into a pulling motion that goes down and backwards while the body weight shifts to the rear leg. this technique has the very evocative title of divert and grab by the cloth. from here, the movement flows back into bow-and-arrow with the legs while into a snake position with the lead arm having palm up towards the opponent and the rear hand guarding the juncture between the abdomen and rear hip. again, the technique has a very evocative title of white snake spits its tongue. Sifu is right, this entire sequence, while not exactly the same, has a very similar feeling to the opening of the Chen tai chi short form.

the palm change continues with white snake coils in its den. here, the legs fall into dragon, while the rear arm rises up before the front arm. at this point, side B starts to become like side B, with the practitioner stepping forward with the rear leg to then perform green dragon turns its body. side B ends the same as side A, with single goose leaves the flock.

i had a little trouble with this, but managed to get a feel for it with some practice. Sifu gave us some time to become familiarized with it. i mentioned to Phunsak that this was going to be interesting to do in a 2-person drill with side A, especially with the amount of spinning and foot movement involved. he said that if we thought the 2-person drills were hard with palm changes 1 and 2, it was nothing compared to palm change 3. he said the 3rd palm change was about 2-3 orders of magnitude more difficult.

oh joy. i can't wait.

after awhile, Sifu called class to an end and dismissed us. he said we were going to skip the customary post-class lunch, since today was John Eagle's wedding and he and Phunsak had been invited to attend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

commentary: the (a)morality of kung fu - lessons from endurance sports

this is a cross posting from my Ironman blog:

you should read it before reading the rest of this post, especially the LA Times article included with it about Chinese athletes. some of the stories are horrific, and they tell a cautionary tale about how sports are used to further the darker side of human nature.

while my statements in the post are addressed to sports, i think they're relevant to kung fu. i know kung fu is not entirely a sport (even though some people treat it that way), and i know kung fu has a far more encompassing approach to life. but i think a large part of what i said translates well to kung fu, and how it relates to morality and life.

i've read that historically, kung fu instructors often made great pains to investigate potential students before accepting them for training, and that even after inducting them instructors would continue to observe them closely. they weren't doing this just for education purposes (i.e., gauging their potential to master a style or ability to learn). nor were they doing this purely for charity (i.e., as a matter of compassion and concern for the well-being and development of the student). they were also doing this to ensure that the power and skills being taught weren't being given to personalities who might use them for questionable purposes.

in some ways, such efforts were because instructors felt a responsibility to their art and their society, and so wanted to be sure to produce students who would preserve and protect both--and if possible, make them better. in other ways, however, such efforts were preventative measures to avoid sanctions, since ancient China had laws which punished families and teachers for the actions of the student, with the punishment sometimes being death.

this leads me to believe that belief that kung fu is amoral. that is, it has no intrinsic values regarding good and evil. i believe that kung fu only has whatever values are imbued within it from its practitioners. as kung fu was--and is--a reflection of life, then it is a reflection of the people who practice it.

i say this in my other post about sports. i think it's the same for kung fu.

and what i say there i also want to say about kung fu:

if we want kung fu to be about improving the human condition, if we want it to be about the better side of human nature, if we want it to be about being noble and uplifting and empowering, then we as kung fu practitioners must take it upon ourselves to exercise those qualities within ourselves. it's in this way that kung fu will be used for good and not evil; it's in this way that kung fu will help the rest of the world. because kung fu begins with us.

Monday, May 14, 2007

day 33: lei tai training (part 3 - 05/13/07)

  • moving in multiple directions
  • adjusting to change
  • sensitivity
  • quick qi-gong
  • circle walking (forward & reverse, clockwise & counter-clockwise, yin & yang)
  • countering kicks (go & gao)
  • countering knees
today was Mother's Day, and as might be expected turnout was a little low. turnout among bagua students was limited to me, Jay, Ching-Tszieh, and Phunsak, while with the baji students it was Charles, Tommy, and Jonathan.

quick qi-gong

we began with a brief run-through of quick qi-gong taught from the last lei tai session. everyone --including the baji students--joined in doing this. we repeated it several times, since everyone arrived gradually and not everyone (Jay and Ching-Tszieh) were entirely familiar with it.

circle walking

after finishing quick qi-qong (following from the previous post, the "Qi-Gong Express" or the "Liu-Yun Chiao Special"), Sifu told us we were going to work on more advanced levels of circle walking. to date, so far we have learned circle walking involving forward steps leading either clockwise or counter-clockwise on a circle. Sifu said we needed to learn how to walk in reverse.

in addition, Sifu said that so far lei tai training had focused on 4 stances utilizing open palms: lion, hawk, big bird, and grand palace. however, we needed to learn these 4 stances utilizing fists. he said this was analogous to the idea of yin and yang, with the open palms corresponding to yin and closed fists corresponding to yang.

Sifu had us form pairs, with partners facing each other similar to the 2-person drills from the last lei tai training session. this time, however, we were expected to walk the circle with our partners, and also expected to switch hands at random intervals. he instructed us to follow a progression through the various permutations of circle walking, with each permutation being added onto the previous to create a gradually increasing level of complexity:
  • clockwise/counterclockwise--this is the usual circle walking pattern we've learned in class, with direction changes involving an inside turn (ko step) that changes not only the clockwise/counterclockwise movement on the circle, but also which shoulder faces the inside of the circle (clockwise, right shoulder; counterclockwise, left shoulder).
  • forward/reverse--this is circle walking with direction changes involving nothing more than stopping and walking opposite of the way you were going, such that you stop and start stepping without turning (e.g., if you are moving clockwise stepping forward, you stop and then move counterclockwise stepping backward).
  • yin/yang--this involves employing either open palms (yin) or closed fists (yang) for the stances. combinations can be made of this (e.g., "yang-yang golden palace" while walking counterclockwise means starting with lion stance with the left arm towards the center of the circle, employing the stance with fists, then switching arms (but not legs) so that the right arms is towards the interior, employing fists, and then returning to the original stance.
we switched between these various combinations on command, with Phunsak yelling out at random intervals commands to "change" (for change direction), "change forward" (to change direction, walking forward), "change reverse" (to change direction, walking in reverse), "yin" (open palm), "yang" (closed palm), "yin yang" or "yang yin" (switch left and right arm positions, but with 1 side being open hand and the other being closed hand), and "yin yin" or "yang yang" (switch left and right arm positions, but with both sides being both open hand or both closed hand). after awhile, we did the drill without commands, with just 1 partner initiating movement and the other partner reacting.

from what i could tell, the purposes of this drill were several:
  • moving in multiple directions--it acclimates partners to walking in different directions (clockwise or counterclockwise) in different ways (forward or reverse) while simultaneously using different stances (lion, hawk, big bird, grand palace) and different hands (in terms of which hand was facing the other partner)
  • adjusting to change--it acclimates partners to deploying and responding to changes in facing a partner, particular in terms of changes that are random and unknown
  • sensitivity--it increases the sensitivity to an opposing person's movements, helping partners to improve their ability to read and react to each other
i found this drill pretty challenging, but also very useful. i could definitely see it expanding the mind and its instincts in terms of directions of movement, dealing with change, and increasing sensitivity with assailants. i could also see it improving the reflexes and mind-body connection in terms of having the body behave in unfamiliar ways.

countering kicks & knees

Sifu finished the day by gathering both baji and bagua students together to discuss methods of countering kicks. he said we weren't going to spend too much time today practicing how to counter kicks, since we had spent the bulk of class trying to master the additional levels of circle walking. but we were going to take class time to acquaint ourselves with the concepts and motions involved in dealing with kicks and the opponents who employed them aggressively.

he organized kicks into 2 categories: medium/low and high. Sifu pointed out that the most dangerous thing to do against a kick is to step away, since it puts you into a range where a kick is most effective, thereby playing into the kicker's strength and goal. instead, a defender needs to step into the kick before it extends, so as to reduce the kick's moment arm and suppress its power. in addition, stepping into the kick allows the defender to redirect the kicking leg and use it to launch a counterattack to throw the attacker. Sifu this is done in different ways for the 2 categories of kicks:
  • low/medium--redirect and catch the kick with an underhand circle motion down and backwards with the arms, and then continue the circular motion so that the arms then move upward and forward to throw the attacker off-balance and backwards. Sifu called the catching movement "go" (sp?) and the throwing motion "gao" (sp?).
  • high--redirect the kick with a circular motion upwards and backwards with the arms, and then continue the circular motion so that the arms move downwards and forwards to catch the kick, from where the defender can reverse the direction to throw the attacker off-balance and backwards. Sifu noted that this was a reverse of the action against low/medium kicks, with the pattern being "gao" and then "go."
Sifu had us perform a drill using these motions, starting from a guard stance facing an imaginary opponent, and then using the go/gao (or gao/go) motions while stepping forward into the imaginary opponent's kick.

Jonathan (the baji student) then asked about how to counter knees. Sifu said this--in accordance with 6 harmonies (i.e., hands in harmony with feet, elbows in harmony with knees, etc.)--can be done using elbows. he pointed out 3 weak areas in the quadriceps just above the knee, with 1 above, 1 to the side, and 1 to the inside, all corresponding to what appeared to be the divisions between the thigh muscles at the points they connect to the knee joint. elbows to these points are painful. Sifu said elbow strikes to these areas can 1) redirect the knee strike, and 2) hurt the attacker.

we didn't do a drill for this, since class was ending. Sifu just did a demonstration with Phunsak, and then called the class to a close.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

day 32: bagua qi-gong & palm changes 1 & 2 (A & B)

  • quick qi-gong
  • looking
  • twisting
  • vectors
  • palm change 1 (side A & B) - circle
  • palm change 2 (side A & B) - line
  • 2-person drills (palm changes 1 & 2, side A & B)

today ended up being a clean-up day to try and get everybody up to speed with palm changes 1 & 2 for side B, as well as with the 2-person drills for each one. which is fine, because things were pretty ragged going into today.

class turnout was a little light today for the bagua side, with a larger number of baji students than bagua--i think this is a first for the time that i've been here. i ultimately counted 5 bagua students and 7 baji. it was just as well, since we all definitely needed some personal attention correcting our forms.

quick qi-gong

Sifu started us with a review of the quick qi-gong. it turned out that the version Phunsak had showed us wasn't so different from what Sifu was demonstrating now. the only difference was the opening and closing. apart from that, the quick qi-gong routines both followed the same pattern of stances from the 8 Mother Palms.

in some ways, i like the quick qi-gong (which i'm calling the "Qi-Gong Express" or "the Liu Yun Chiao Special" to recognize who taught it to Sifu); it's fast, it's easy, it's ascertainable, and very useful for quickly centering the mind. in other ways, i still prefer the regular bagua qi-gong; while slower and more difficult, it's much more meditative and much better at focusing the mind, connecting to the body, and sensitizing the self to the surroundings.

we went through quick qi-gong, to help everyone review and also to help teach some of the students who had missed the last few weeks.

palm change 1 (side A & B)

Sifu said that we needed to learn side B in a circle, and so that we needed to spend some time back-tracking before advancing further with side B. he asked us to review palm change 1 for both side A & side B along a line. after doing this for few minutes, he then had us walk a circle performing the 1st palm change for both side A and side B individually in front of the class. he then took time to make corrections for each one of us.

i'm starting to think that there are certain advantages to this teaching method. having each student perform the palm changes individually in front of the class allows everyone to see what corrections Sifu is pointing out. moreover, because we get to see the corrections for everyone, it allows us to hear the solutions for many different kinds of mistakes. in addition, it helps us to recognize and understand just what we need to focus on to perform a palm change correctly.

having said that, i can see that it is a teaching method that Sifu can only use when there's a small number of students. once the students become too many, it dramatically slows down the class.

this time, Sifu made a number of comments about what he saw us doing:

  • looking--this was specifically directed to me. admittedly, i have a tendency to look down at the ground (i suspect this is a product of my years in Texas, where you are advised to always look down when walking to watch out for poisonous snakes). Sifu said that for bagua, you need to have your eyes higher, towards the horizon.
  • twisting--i wasn't twisting enough, particular with the entry into leaf covers summer flower. Sifu actually grabbed my hands and turned me farther to show just how far i needed to twist into the stance. in addition, he said the twist is supposed to go down into the stance, whereas i would initially go down but then rise into the stance. in essence, the stance is supposed to be a downward spiral into the stance.
  • up and down--so now, i seem to have too much up and down movement while moving from one technique to another. before, i didn't have enough expression of "fire and water", and i must have over-compensated and integrated too much up-and-down. i think this goes back to a comment Sifu made some months ago about "fire-and-water" being about coordination of up-and-down movements of different parts of the body, which would imply that it's not about total up-and-down movement of the entire body.
  • vectors--Sifu said that too many of us were relying on our arms to perform the techniques, and not incorporating enough contribution from our shoulders, torso, waist, hips, legs, or feet. he told us that this was denying power into our movement. he said that we need to remember that power is a summation of energy from all parts of the body, and not just one single part. he told us the analogy of force vectors (a vector is defined by 2 characteristics: magnitude and direction), where the ultimate force vector is the sum of the force vectors of the various parts of the body. for example, in discussing pushing moon out the door, there are contributing linear force vectors from the arms, the waist, the hips, the legs, and also a rotational force vector from the turn into the stance, all of which combine to a resultant vector into the opponent.

2-person drills

after polishing our technique, Sifu went to go work with the baji students, and left Phunsak to lead us in doing 2-person drills for palm change 1. we broke off into pairs, with 1 partner serving as side A and the other partner serving as side B. each pair repeated palm change 1 until they were satisfied. at periodic intervals, we switched roles. after some time, we also switched partners to develop a feel for different body types.

palm change 2 (side A & side B)

eventually, people took a break. Ching-Tszieh, however, asked about the 2nd palm change, since she had missed a day and wanted some help learning it. several of us joined her and Phunsak to work on palm change 2.

this ended up taking a fair amount of work, since most of us were still uncomfortable with the palm change. Phunsak had to go through the techniques step-by-step, and demonstrate them in a line so people could get a feel for the techniques.

things weren't any easier when tried to do 2-person drills with the 2nd palm change. similar to the 2-person drills for palm change 1, we broke off into pairs, with 1 person being side A and the other being side B. we switched off roles and also partners. things, however, were still very awkward, and everyone still had to think through the movements. we didn't move with the fluidity and timing needed to do the 2-person drill with palm change 2 properly.

i can see that this is going to need quite a bit of practice. i shudder to think what's going to happen with the next palm changes.

we spent the remaining time performing the 2-person drill for the 1st and 2nd palm changes in pairs.

after some time, people began gradually leaving. Sifu called us together and ended class, and then reminded us that lei tai training was tomorrow. with that, we went to lunch.

Monday, May 07, 2007

day 31: bagua qi-gong & side B palm change 2

  • patience
  • spacing
  • timing
  • bagua qi-gong (level 1, level 2, & level 3)
  • quick qi-gong
  • side B, palm change 2
  • drills: palm change 2
things began a little late today. i arrived to find jonathan (the bagua one) waiting for class to start. we ended up warming up and reviewing some of the materials from last Sunday's lei tei training while everyone else came in.


after waiting for everyone to arrive, Sifu instructed us to come together to start the day with bagua qi-gong, level 1 & level 2. i had missed the last 2 stances for the compass directions southwest and west for level 2, but they seemed to be rather straightforward extensions of the other directions so it wasn't too difficult.

we went through them methodically, except this time Sifu named the animal and the body organ each compass direction was meant to match. to some extent, we had done a little of this before, and the information is in the school's handouts (the ones i had gotten from Sifu and Mike Hitchcock), but apparently you are supposed to consciously form an intent on these items as you perform the qi-gong.

Sifu repeated level 1 and level 2 twice, and then brought us together to introduce level 3. level 3 is done walking in a circle, and essentially integrates level 1 and level 2 into circle walking, so that the practitioner performs them while stepping. from what could understand, level 3 can either be done walking a single circle as a group, or walking circles individually.

Sifu asked John Eagles (who has returned from back surgery) to lead us through level 3 while he went to start the baji lesson plan. however, there apparently was some confusion as to how we were going to conduct the exercise, and Phunsak decided that it might be better to lead the session himself. he had us find our own individual circles, and simulate his movements.

level 3 follows the stances of level 2, but has the practitioner walk on a circle, switching directions clockwise or counter-clockwise, with the practitioner evidently completing 3 revolutions in each direction. for each direction on the compass, the practitioner begins to walk the circle again using the corresponding stance.

we went through this once, and then took a break.

at this point, Ching-Tzsieh asked Phunsak to review the "quick qi-gong" Sifu had showed us during lei tai training last Sunday. Phunsak did a demonstration, but then mentioned that his own version of "quick qi-gong" was different from Sifu's, whereupon she asked to see his. from what i could tell, i think his version is more derived from tai chi (although...he mentioned that he had learned this version from Sifu), while the one Sifu showed us is more bagua-related (since it compiles all the bagua stances from mother palm).

i ended up helping John Eagles with this, since he was curious as to what it was and how it looked. i'm not entirely clear on it myself, but i remember enough that i know the sequence of the palms...although, i am still curious as to the exact synchronization of breathing with the movements.

side B, palm change 2

Sifu returned, and lined us up to learn side B, palm change 2.

side B, palm change 2 follows the pattern of side A, with the 2nd palm change being more complicated than the 1st. side B, palm change 2 has 9 palms within it, compared to side B, palm change 1, which has 4 according to the class curriculum handouts. it is similar, however, in that i notice just like the 1st palm change it seems to be a little more linear than side A. but this may be because we have only so far been learning side B in a line and with a partner, and not yet in a circle. consistent with the rest of side B, palm change 2 is an exact counter to the 2nd palm change of side A, with each technique of side B countering a technique of side A.

from what i could see, there was little in terms of overt circular movement in the initial techniques of palm change 2, but there was a lot of twisting action in the arms, which get heavy emphasis in engaging and redirecting an opponent's arm strikes. the footwork largely moves back and forth along a line with the attacker. the last part of the palm change 2 starts to become more circular, with the defender moving the forward hand (the hand towards the opponent) in a large circle facing the assailant with the intent of throwing the attacker's reaching hands off-balance to open up their torso for a counter-strike.

drill: palm change 2, side B v. side A

Sifu asked Phunsak to guide us in doing a 2-person drill with side B v. side A. we lined up in pairs, with 4 side-by-side sets of partners, such that 4 people who were doing side B were lined up facing the 4 people who were doing side A. each set of partners would begin by facing each other using lean against a horse and ask for directions. on command, the side B partners would initiate the drill by performing the 1st technique of palm change 2, which was then countered by the side A partners. this process of action-reaction continued through until the entire palm change for each side was completed, with the partners finishing in the opposite side they began (e.g., if they started with lean against a horse and ask for directions facing each other to their left side, then they finished with lean against a horse and ask for directions facing each other to their right side).

the partners repeated the drill until Phunsak said "change," at which point everyone moved one person to their left, with the result that they faced a new partner. for the person at the end of the 4-person line of side A or side B, they would just take the place of their partner (e.g., the person at the end of line of side A would simply step over and become the 1st person of the line for side B). basically, we were just gradually switching partners in a clockwise direction.

we did this drill for awhile, enough that i started to get a feel for it--at least in the sequence of techniques. however, i should point out that i didn't (and still don't) feel entirely comfortable with it, since i found myself having to consciously think through the drill. the problem isn't just recalling each technique, but responding to the partner in a way that is coordinated and smooth. this adds another layer of complexity to the palm change, even for side A, palm change 2, which i had felt comfortable with doing solo before's just different doing things with a partner.

i think the critical parts of acclimating to doing 2-person drills involving side A and side B are:
  • patience--you have to learn the techniques, but you also need to learn when you're supposed to initiate an action versus react to one, as well as adjust for differences in each partner's body type, reach, and body language. it's very subtle, but it has drastic consequences. as a result, being able to read and adapt to these nuances involves some adjustment in mind-body awareness. and this is something that requires time and practice.
  • spacing--2-person drills, because they involve adjusting to different partners of different sizes and behavior, require an ability to recognize correct spacing to maximize the effectiveness of the techniques. this means that you have to develop a sense of spacing to do these drills properly.
  • timing--2-person drills, in so far as they are about 2 people interacting with each other, require a sensitivity of the timing between acting and reacting to your partner. much like spacing, this means you have to develop a sense of timing to perform the drills effectively.
naturally, all these qualities (patience, spacing, timing) are a necessity for combat applications, since then you're going to be asked to find the correct spacing with an uncooperative hostile assailant intent on your demise, as opposed to a cooperative friendly partner helping you through the techniques in a palm change. nevertheless, the 2-person drill is still a useful learning tool, not just for learning the techniques, but helping a you develop your patience, spacing, and timing to a greater level more appropriate for combat-level conditions.

of course, this is yet another reminder that the solution to this is practice. and not just solo practice, but practice in pairs. i think i'm going to have to see about scheduling weekday practices with John and Kieun sooner than i expected.

with that, we finished the day (it went very quickly). Sifu called the class to a close, and we left for lunch.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

day 30: lei tai training (part 2 - 04/29/07)


  • blocks: up, down, left, right
  • kicks: in, out, down, swing


  • quick qi-gong
  • 4 fists: lion, hawk, grand palace, big bird
  • 4 kicks: circle in, circle out, heel, forward swing
  • drills: stepping, 2-person drills
  • simulated rounds

i missed the 2nd lei tai training day because of Ironman Arizona. so today's Sunday session was a bit of a catch-up.

there were fewer people compared to the first day. there were just 3 baji students and 4 bagua students. Ching-Tszieh made a surprise appearance, saying she wanted to give it a try.

quick qi-gong

we began with Sifu teaching us quick qi-gong. he introduced it as something Liu Yun Chiao had taught him as a useful version of qi-gong that could be done in moments of little time. it integrates all the 8 mother palms that are involved in normal bagua qi-gong, and is very short, taking probably less than 30 seconds to complete. but it is functional. Sifu had us repeat it several times to become familiar with it, and then watched us as we went through it.

drill: steps

we proceeded to do the step drill from the 1st lei tai session, taking turn trying to step on each other's foot. this time, however, we made a greater effort to employ bagua footwork (ko and bai, as well as walking flat-footed). in addition, Phunsak said that we should try to act as if we are dealing with an opponent, and so place our feet in a way which places us in a position to launch an attack or defend ourselves.

Phunsak made an important point regarding the combat application of bagua: in real situations, we rarely, if ever, walk a circle around an opponent. circle walking is just a training technique, just as much as walking a square or a triangle. as a result, circle walking just helps students learn how to place feet, and acclimates them to moving in directions different from a linear line into the opponent. in comparison, bagua in real-world usage involves movement on whatever path is necessary to disrupt and confuse an opponent, and may mean an arc enclosing an opponent, a line perpendicular or tangent or parallel or leading to the opponent, or a geometric shape around them.

the step drill is supposed to alert us to this reality, and so train us to move in new and changing ways more consistent with the random, chaotic, fluid nature of bagua in combat.

fists and kicks

next, we did with a quick review of last week's fists and kicks. Phunsak had told me there were 4 of each. Sifu said that this was really all we needed to know, since 1) in the speed and fluidity of tournament rounds we wouldn't have time to recall anything else, and 2) these sets were reasonably complete in terms of dealing with the major directions for strikes (up, down, left, right), whether launching or parrying.

the 4 fists were from the standard bagua stances: lion, hawk, grand palace (the standard starting posture for most of 64 Palms), and big bird. out of these, big bird was modified so that the off-hand (away from the opponent) was now forward, with the hand guarding above the shoulder of the forward hand (towards the opponent). Phunsak showed us how to switch from right to left postures for each fist. each fist has its own direction in terms of where force is meant to be directed, either for attack or defense:

  • lion: force is projected forward, but at an angle upward (in attack this directs force forward and up, while in defense it counters a high strike)
  • hawk: force is going up in one arm, but down in the other arm (in attack this launches an upper and lower strike against an opponent, but in defense the upper arm first allows the defender to direct an opponent's high strike up and then grab it down, and the lower arm pushes an opponent's low strike down)
  • grand palace: force goes forward and down, with a slight outward direction (in attack this launches slightly down and outside, while in defense it redirects an opponent's straight strike down and outside)
  • big bird: force goes forward, with a slight outward direction (in attack this goes forward, while in defense it redirects an opponent's strike outside)

the 4 kicks are all low, towards the shins and ankles. the 1st 2 involve slight (i.e., small) circular movements of the foot, with 1 having the foot following a swift striking circle to the outside (e.g., for the right foot, this would be clockwise), using the forward outside edge of the foot as the striking surface; the other has the foot following a circle to the inside (e.g., for the right foot, this would be counter-clockwise), with the forward inside edge of the foot as the striking surface. for both, the intent to strike an opponent's ankles. the 3rd kick is a linear, decisive kick forward of the heel, into the opponent's knee, shin, or ankle. the 4th kick integrates a forward swing of the leg and body, with the forward foot being the pivot and the rear foot rotating forward

drills: 2-person standing and circling

immediately after the review, Sifu had us pair off to 2-person drills using the 4 fists we had reviewed. essentially, partners face each other, legs in 70-30. they then perform each fist in each other's direction, alternating left and right postures, and close enough so that the forward arms make contact with each other. one partner does them with open palms, the other does them with fists, and after some period of time they can switch roles.

for example, with hawk (the stance from the 70-30 stance), partners face each other at an angle (either both with right foot leading, or with left foot leading), with the upraised arm's forearm being the contact point between the partners. if the right arm is the lead arm, then both partners will have their right arms raised and their left arms down, with one partner using open palms in an act of parrying the other partner's fists. keeping the same foot position, both partners would shift postures so that the left arm is the lead arm and the right arm would be down. this would repeat in a constant, quick rhythm.

after doing the set of 4 fists standing, Sifu then had us repeat the drill walking in circle with our partners. the drill is largely the same circle walking, except that when switching postures, each partner is expected to perform an inside turn (planting foot ko, shifting weight, moving torso with limbs in fire-and-water, and then walking in the opposite direction).

Sifu had us do this drill, switching not only postures and direction of the circle, but also switching partners. at this point we had 5 people, so we had 2 pairs walking their own circles and the 5th person walking a 3rd circle around the other 2. at random points, Sifu would call "switch circle," whereupon we would break from our partners and try to find another partner and the 5th person would try to intercept and find a partner.

Sifu didn't say it, but i suspect the purpose of this drill is to help the student:

  • become familiar with the proper spacing relative to an opponent
  • switch from left to right postures effortlessly
  • condition the arms to intercepting and re-directing opponent's strikes
  • condition the mind-body connection in reacting to opponent actions
  • condition our peripheral vision to multiple opponents and multiple approaches of attack

simulated rounds

we finished the day with Sifu conducting simulated rounds. while not exactly tournament-rules, they still offered us a chance to go full speed against live opponents. each round was 90 seconds (with Sifu using a stopwatch), and the objective was to use all the fists and kicks we had learned, integrating the step footwork we had practiced earlier. in addition, he wanted us to feel the nature of tournament fighting, with the changes in rhythm, engaging and disengaging, and constantly varying methods of attack and defense.

Sifu wanted each of us to go through multiple rounds, with each round having a different partner. this was meant to let us get experience against different opponents. i ended up going 2 rounds, with 1 against Ching-Tszieh, and another against Jonathan.

this was very useful, since it really gave a feel of having to use bagua techniques in combat, and of the stress of tournament fighting. although, i can tell that everyone needs more conditioning, since it was clear that people were getting tired at the end of each round.