Tuesday, July 31, 2007

masters: han-ching tan

Han-Ching Tan was a noted master of northern long fist, yang tai chi, and shuai jiao. from what i know, he was one of the original masters involved in the founding of the Nanjing Martial Arts Academy, as well as a noted figured in the Taiwanese martial arts community. he apparently was involved with the Wutan school, and taught several students of Liu Yun Chiao, including my Sifu, Jason Tsou. some of what i am learning (in particular, the tantui) is from his lineage.

there are alternative English spellings of his name--Han Chin Tan, Han Ching Tang, Han Qin Tan, Han Qin Tang--but you can find information on him on Google under any of these (or similar) permutations.

the YouTube videos of him are all very old, and appear to be silent movies shot on 8mm film. as a result, they tend to be pretty grainy and run at a high speed. in addition, they were shot in his later years.

despite this, i think they're worthwhile to view, since you can still get a sense of his athleticism, which is pretty impressive given how old he apparently was at the time most of these films were shot. you can see what i mean by comparing him to the other people in the following videos:
i've been trying to find more videos of him or closely related to him, but they seem to be pretty hard to find on YouTube. i've tried different English spellings of his name, but this is the best i could find.

i should note that there are some pictures of him floating around the internet. i found some at a blog called Formosa Neijia (http://formosaneijia.com), who dedicated several posts to him:
that's about as much as i've been able to find about him on the internet. like YouTube videos, material about him seems exceedingly rare--at least in English-language circles.

i suspect that there are probably more videos, pictures, and info about him available under Chinese language headings. but not knowing Chinese and not having access to Chinese websites or YouTube channels, i can't access these. hopefully i can find someone who can help me with this.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

quarterly summary - Q2, 2007

okay, so this is a little late. about a month, to be exact. but things have been a little busy this summer. but in keeping with the previous quarterly summary written in march (reference: quarterly summary - Q1, 2007), i'll post this quarterly summary for the usual April-June (inclusive) period.

original goals

following the "objectives for the future" given in the previous quarterly summary, the objectives for this quarter were:
  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • increase 2-person and multi-person drills and sparring (to improve combat application of techniques and concepts)
  • learn the more fundamental components of the curriculum
  • learn more about martial arts in general
  • acquire reference materials
summary of events

with respect to the curriculum, this is what has been covered--or at least, what i've picked up:
  • tantui (refinement of lines 1-5)
  • single-person hand drills (stationary & moving)
  • two-person hand drills (stationary)
  • kicks (low kicks)
  • sparring
  • bagua principles in combat
  • 64 palms: palm changes 1-8 (side A), 1-5 (side B)
  • 64 palms: A v B, palm changes 1-5
  • walking the circle: palm changes 1-8 (side A), 1-5 (side B)
  • bagua zhang qi-gong: level 3, qi projecting
  • reference materials (Adam Hsu's videos on bagua & tai chi)
other things that have been covered that were not necessarily within the curriculum:
  • taoist and buddhist philosophy--particularly taoist and buddhist thought relating to martial arts practice
  • Chinese martial arts history--ancient, traditional, modern
  • Chinese martial arts styles--i'm learning more about Chinese martial arts styles and their relative distinctions from each other, such as the distinctions between Wudan and Shaolin, Northern versus Southern, external versus internal (although this appears to be under debate), ancient versus modern
  • traditional Asian medicine--i've gotten more about bagua qi-gong, as well as awareness that there are other forms of qi-gong

i think i've managed to reach most of the goals for this quarter:
  1. continue attending class: this was pretty straightforward. now that it's summer, i have a much lower demand on my time from school activities, clearing up much more time for classes
  2. continue practicing during the week outside of class: this was made easier because of summer--see above
  3. increase drills and sparring to improve combat applications: i definitely got more of this, with lei tai training escalating to light sparring and then full-contact sparring in pads. in addition, we started getting a lot of 2-person drills involving bagua applications in combat. both of these elements significantly helped in getting a better understanding of bagua in terms of fighting
  4. learn the more fundamental components of the curriculum: since there is another new student (Jay) who is just starting, i've been able to work in with his lessons and get a lot more of the basics that i'd missed before. in addition, the 2 of us have been practicing together, and so i've been following the traditional learning curve for most bagua students. this has given me a much better sense of how bagua techniques are really extensions of fundamental bagua movements
  5. learn more about martial arts in general: this has been successful. i've uncovered quite a bit of material on the internet, as well in videos on YouTube, and this has let me see the distinctions between various martial arts styles
  6. acquire reference materials: i picked up DVDs from Adam Hsu's school (Adam Hsu is a colleague of my Sifu, and from the same lineage), which i have found useful in terms of getting perspective on traditional Chinese martial arts
  7. figure out a long-term plan in terms of learning bagua and proceeding to other styles: i had a conversation with Sifu Jason about this. we talked about options, particularly in light of the fact that i may have to leave LA after i graduate next May. he recommended that in the time until then that i learn long fist, since that it actually a base pre-requisite for so much of what is taught in the Wutan curriculum, and then decide what other styles i want to learn from there.
  8. figure out just how i should go about progressing in bagua in relation to everything else in life: the story is still the same. this is something you can't ever really plan for. you just kind of set a direction and endeavor to head towards it.

i think progress has been good this quarter. i hope to keep it up.


my comments can probably be summarized as follows:

  • combat applications: this quarter has been heavy with combat applications, largely as a result of the lei tai training, which has given an opportunity for sparring. this has really opened my eyes on the nature of fighting and the use of martial arts in fighting. i am starting to see how bagua is supposed to work, and how it differs from other styles as a close-in, hands-on, free-form, lateral-moving, non-direct fighting art. i am also starting to see what Sifu has been describing in class about fighting: in a fight, you don't have time to think about your moves or techniques, you only have time to react and engage. this means that a practitioner has to have a deep enough understanding of the techniques and their principles that they can apply them without having to recall or think about them, and then either modify them or replace them without hesitation or fear. Sifu said it best: the only way to learn how to use a martial art effectively in a fight is to go use it in a fight...a lot...and the closest thing to a fight while still being safe is sparring. meaning you have to spar a lot with kung fu if you expect to use kung fu to defend yourself.
  • qi-gong (or chi-kung): we've gotten more of this, having gotten to level 3 qi-gong (out of the 3 levels in bagua). however, whether i am feeling or sensing qi the same way others are is something that is a mystery to me. i'm actually a little concerned about this, since i don't feel any advancement in feeling or developing qi--much less manipulating it. granted, this quarter has been more about fighting, and my understanding is that qi and qi-gong are things that take time, so this maybe a longer-term project that will need continued practice.
  • 2-person practice: i have gotten a LOT more of this. with the extra time this summer, i've been having practice sessions with Kieun and John Eagles, and then additional practice sessions with Jay. this makes 2 sessions per week outside of class that i am involved in 2-person practice. most of my practice time is now with others, with only 1 or 2 solo sessions a week to go with the 2 weekly sessions with partners. this is making quite a difference, since it allows work on 2-person drills, which i see are important in terms of developing reflexes, spacing, understanding of techniques, improvement of basics, and sensitivity to opponent movements necessary to apply bagua effectively as a combat-applicable martial art.
  • fundamentals: i've gotten a lot more of the fundamentals with Jay. we've managed to schedule personal sessions with Sifu to cover the basics that i missed. i can see it makes a difference, because there are concepts and movements that are fundamental and which form the foundation for which everything else in bagua (techniques, philosophy, tactics, etc.) are based. i'm happy to be getting this, because i think it's giving me a stronger grasp as to the nature and manner of bagua as a martial art.
  • building: Kieun once mentioned to me that everything Jason teaches is built upon each other, and that as a result, it becomes easier to learn things the further you go into the curriculum. i'm starting to see what he meant. i notice that this quarter was a lot more intensive than previous quarters, with more classes and more lessons (advanced and basic). but i could sense that things were accelerating because everything was being built upon previous material--and that the more material was learned the more material could be added. learning the basics and getting started took the longest and seemed the slowest, but as things have gone on i've been able to learn more things. it's kind of like a house: it takes awhile to lay the foundation, but once it is set, it becomes easier to build upon it, and the more rooms and walls are built, the easier it is to add more rooms and walls to them. it seems to be an exponential curve in terms of material...i just hope i'm getting everything down good enough to keep adding stuff onto them.

objectives for the future

the objective is the same: continue making progress. this means:

  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue 2-person and multi-person drills and sparring (to improve combat application of techniques and concepts)
  • learn the more fundamental components of the curriculum
the new objectives, however, reflect the conversations i've had with Sifu regarding my future, as well as my own curiousity:
  • improve qi-gong
  • begin learning long fist (beginning by finishing tantui)
  • consider other styles to learn for the future
that's pretty much it for this quarter. it's been very straightforward, but very intensive relative to before. i'll try to keep things moving along for the next quarter, after which i have to begin training for Ironman New Zealand and so will have to re-shuffle my priorities between kung fu and triathlon training.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

day 47: for couples only: palm change 5 and basic free-form 2-person drill

  • 2 hands, 2 feet
  • contact
  • movement

  • palm change 5
  • 2-person drill, free-form

class, both for bagua and baji classes, was a little lower in number, as most of the students going to the lei tai tournament were resting up before leaving for Baltimore next weekend.

palm change 5

Sifu instructed the bagua class to review the 2-man A versus B form for palm change 5, and he then went to start the baji lesson plan. since Phunsak was absent, both John Eagles and Kieun led.

we did a brief review of each side individually in a line, and then did the A v B set. a few people, who had missed segments of the A v B set in past weeks, were able to use this time to pick up the whole drill. i noticed that overall, we seemed to be doing this with greater fluidity than before, with the set being much less awkward in weeks past--this is a positive, and i suspect it's largely a result of everyone having extra time to learn and practice both sides of palm change 5.

2-person drill, free-form, moving

following this, Sifu returned and asked us to begin working with the moving free-form 2-person drill.

we started to warm-up with the 2-person hand drills, and Sifu waited to check on our form and correct any mistakes we made. after a few minutes, however, he stopped the drills and said we should use the remainder of class to begin learning the moving free-form 2-person drill.

Sifu used Kieun and John Eagles for demonstration, using each as a partner to show how the drills was supposed to work--and how it can change depending on the partner.

this is an extension of the free-form 2-person drill from the past 2 weeks. as a result, it has some similarities, but also differences. i'll begin with the differences:
  1. what we've been doing has been along a line, with partners moving backwards and forwards along an imaginary line (such that the defender stepped forward to practice entry, and the opponent stepped backwards to practice escape). in contrast, the free-form moving 2-person drill is exactly that: free-form. it does not follow a line, but instead both partners are free to move in any direction (laterally, forward, backward, circular, angle, etc.) at any time.
  2. the moving line 2-person drill has defined roles, with 1 partner being the defender and the other partner being the opponent, and the 2 exchanging roles only when both arrive at the end of the line. the free-form moving 2-person drill has no such rigidity in roles. each partner is free to assume roles of offense or defense at any time.
  3. the moving line 2-person drill moves only at the speed that the defender can step into entry and the opponent can step away to escape. in comparison, the free-form moving 2-person drill has not speed setting, and can go as fast or as slow as the partners allow, and can vary in speed according to whatever selection of actions by each partner.
  4. the moving line 2-person drill ends (i.e., the partners switch roles) when the partners reach the end of the line. in contrast, the free-form moving 2-person drill does not end, and just keeps going.

in essence, the moving free-form 2-person drill adds another order of magnitude in complexity and fluidity to the moving line 2-person drill.

in terms of similarities, i can see that thee 2 drills share some common objectives:

  • acclimating students to the combat style of bagua, which involves very close contact between the practitioner and the opponent--close enough to the point that knees, hips, waist, torso, and shoulders are constantly in contact.
  • acclimating students to the more chaotic, unstructured conditions of fighting
  • helping students learn to apply techniques previously learned with alacrity and effectiveness
  • helping students learn to coordinate their actions and improve their sensory awareness of their own movements
  • helping students gain sensitivity to their opponent's movements and to their own responses to their opponent's movements, so that they learn greater sensory awareness of their surroundings

from what i can tell, the free-form moving 2-person drill is another step up from the free-form line 2-person drill in terms of training and development of skills towards becoming prepared for actual fighting.

we ended up working in pairs, occasionally stopping to switch partners and resume again.

a number of things i noticed:
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill does not stop. even if you make a mistake, you must continue. this apparently is supposed to adjust your mindset that in a fight, you don't stop, and that you have to be able to continue fighting after making a mistake
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill involves constant close contact. as a result, it forces you to acclimate to the bagua philosophy and requirement of close contact with an opponent
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill is about sensitivity. you have to be able to sense what your opponent is doing in order to react to them
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill is about reflexes. you have to be able to recognize what the opponent is doing, and then instantly respond with a counter-technique
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill is about softness and redirection. attempting direct confrontation of force against force only results in the drill turning into a wrestling match--the opposite of bagua philosophy. in order to be done well (as in effectively), the drill requires partners maintain softness and respond to their opponent's force by redirection of such force , and then respond with a disguised counter of their own force. if the opponent applies force (e.g., a punch, a joint lock, a throw), you are supposed to go with the force, never against it.
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill is a workout. because it can go on forever, you can continue as long as you are physically or mentally able. as a result, it is a test of physical ability and conditioning, as well as your mental ability and concentration.
  • the free-form moving 2-person drill is hard. you have to be aware of your opponent's position, your position relative to the opponent, your opponent's action, and your response to the opponent. this involves a lot of movement and a lot of focus, drawing upon your body's energy and your mind's attention. i found this to be a real workout...i'd like to do it more.
i ended up working with Eric, John Eagles, and then Kieun for a few times. i struggled at first, but Sifu advised me to just focus on the techniques i know, and to ignore (i.e., continue) after mistakes. once i did this, i began to get a better understanding of the purpose of the drill, and once i did that it started to become a little bit easier to do...although, i think i'm going to need a lot more practice to get really comfortable with it.

Sifu also noted that today we were just concentrating on learning the drill, and so we weren't doing the full drill. Kieun said the full drill actually involves application of 3 things:
  • throws
  • locks
  • strikes
Sifu said we'd get to these at a later date, but that for today we should just focus on getting adjusted to the drill and getting comfortable with the basics. according to Kieun, that meant that today all we were really doing was learning:
  • maintaining contact with the opponent
  • movement in response to the opponent
  • learning to continue even after making a mistake
  • constantly going with the opponent's force, never against it
  • opening & entering gates into the opponent
  • closing & escaping gates from the opponent
i once read that bagua is comparable to guerrilla warfare, in that it never involves direct frontal assault, hit-and-run tactics, and escape-and-evasion strategies. based on the observations i saw in the free-form moving 2-person drill, i can see how such comparisons came about. the drill really helps me see just how bagua is supposed to be applied.

although, i should point out, Sifu emphasized at the end of class that we should remember that there is no set style of fighting in bagua (or in any other martial art). he said that while each martial art style has its own "flavor" and that there are very specific principles and very clearly defined "right" ways to perform techniques, we all should recognize that a single style is never the same between differing people. he made it a point to note this. in particular, he said this is why we should always remember that no one should every completely copy the fighting style of another person--including him.

he said the reason is that different body types call for different fighting styles, and that what is effective for one person is not always as effective for another person. he said that each of us has to develop our own method of fighting, with the criteria that it be those things that work for us. he repeated that class will teach us the "right" way to perform techniques, the principles in applying the techniques, and the philosophy guiding the style encompassing the techniques, but that the form of the expression of the techniques (i.e., the way we apply them) is something that is unique to each of us...and this is something we have to discover on our own.

and based on what we've learned and discussed the past few months, such discovery is done by practical application--that is, the only real way to learn how to fight is to fight, and the only real way to learn how to apply a martial art effectively (key word: effectively) is to apply a martial art in a fight. which is where the free-form moving 2-person drill and sparring comes in...they are as close as you can get to a real fight and still be safe. which is why they are so important.

with that, Sifu called class to a close. he informed me that lei tai practice was cancelled for tomorrow (Sunday), since everyone going to the lei tai tournament in Baltimore said they needed time to heal up before the event. he also announced that the jian shu class had ended, and that starting this August 4 (the 1st weekend after the return from Baltimore), class would return to the normal start time of 8am.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

day 46: review, 2-person drills

  • waist & hips
  • roll, wrap, turn, thrust (gwen, zin, sin, gwah...???)


  • drills, front
  • drills, reverse
  • drills, side
  • drills, moving (entry), line
we had a number of people absent today, most notably Phunsak, Kieun, and Richard. this left Feng, Jay, John, Laura, and me in the bagua group.

Sifu told us today that it would be good for us to review the basic 2-person drills. this is just as well, since Jay and i had practiced these during the week following our personal session with Sifu last Saturday, and we both had found that we needed more practice--on top of the practice we were putting in already. there were just too many nuances and too much sensitivity involved (both of which we lacked) to pick them up quickly, and while we had made some progress, neither of us felt entirely confident with where we were.

i went into detail on the set of basic 2-person drills in day 44: palm change 5 (cont'd) & basic 2-person drills, so i won't repeat them here. today was largely an opportunity to continue working on the drills, and improve our ability to utilize the techniques involved in them.

today, i managed to get feedback on my performance of the drills, and in so doing gained a little bit more understanding as to why and how the techniques in the drill work.

at their core, the drills involve performance of the 4-step technique endemic to bagua: roll, wrap, turn, thrust. this is something the bagua seems to be famous for, and is apparently something no bagua practitioner should apparently not know. superficially, they appear simple, but in reality they're actually a bit more complicated.

i'm starting to realize the drills are meant to do 2 things:
  • teach the student how to apply the basic 4-step process. the 4-step process is supposed to allow a practitioner to redirect an opponent's strike and then counter-attack, in a way which allows the practitioner to maintain sensitivity to the opponent's movements while simultaneously denying the opponent any physical signals as to the practitioner's intent. this is supposed be done following the concept of yielding (a la tai chi), while retaining sufficient softness--this is apparently what allows the practitioner to follow the opponent's movements (and thereby read them) and also allows them to mask the physical signals produced by muscle actions in the practitioner's body.
  • teach the student to maintain a soft, supple body, with loose musculature and skeletal structure. this is something intrinsic to bagua, and is something that is repeatedly emphasized in applying bagua techniques. the drills help the student adjust their mental tendencies from one of direct force and hardness to one more of subtlety and softness. moreover, they help the student learn and gain confidence in the idea that subtlety and softness can be effective in fighting method.

based on the feedback i received today from Sifu and John Eagles, i evidently am still leaning toward direct force and hardness. both pointed out that they could sense the tension and contraction of the muscles in my arms and shoulders (the body parts in contact with the opponent during the 4-step process of roll, wrap, turn, thrust), making it entirely too easy for an opponent to sense and react to my movements. in addition, they said that i was concentrating too much focus on my arms and shoulders, meaning that i was overworking the muscles and joints in them. this meant that they were becoming fatigued sooner than desired and that it made it much easier for the opponent to push me into a force-versus-force confrontation--something contrary to bagua, and something that exposes me to the risks inherent with such a philosophy.

both Sifu and John Eagles advised the following:

  • relax arms and shoulders
  • integrate waist and hips with upper body
  • separate waist and hips from each other
these are things i really had to concentrate on in class, and i ended up having to work with John and do the drills really slowly to make sure i was doing them correctly in keeping with the above suggestions.

after doing the stationary 2-person drills, we finished the day with an extended period of time doing the free-form moving 2-person drills on a line (where the "attacking" partner is able to choose the mode of entry).

i am finding the free-form moving 2-person drills useful as a prelude, or intermediate step, leading to sparring. the free-from moving 2-person drill helps a practitioner develop the following:
  • a better intuitive feel for engaging an opponent
  • a better intuitive feel for opening gates of an opponent once the opponent has been engaged
  • a better intuitive feel for launching an attack into an open gate
  • a better sense of the level of flexibility and freedom to choose and apply techniques
  • a better sense of spacing and footwork
all of these are fundamental elements that are necessary to applying bagua techniques in combat, and hence are things that a practitioner should know on an intuitive, instinctive, immediate level.

i wouldn't have realized this if it hadn't been for the sparring work in lei tai training. i'm starting to understand how sparring is crucial to learning kung fu as a martial art. classes can teach techniques, and a student can learn the techniques. but in order to understand the principles and the important points of the techniques, a student has to gain first-hand experience in trying to apply them in a combat setting--and sparring is as close as you can get to combat while still being safe. it is only in this type of setting that a student can get a grasp just what is necessary to make the techniques effective. my perceptions of the free-form moving 2-person drills are an example; it is only because of the sparring work i did in the past few months during lei tai training that i am able to see how the free-form moving 2-person drills are steps guiding and teaching a student more of the skills necessary to apply bagua as a martial art.

something else i'm realizing--and this is something Sifu alluded to at some point, but which i am only now starting to understand--is that some techniques are more appropriate for certain contexts than others. as a result, while xiao kai men and 64 palms can be seen as storehouses of techniques, they shouldn't be viewed as catalogues of techniques that are appropriate for all conditions. from the free-form moving 2-person drills and the sparring work in lei tai training, i'm starting to see that xiao kai men and 64 palms are just devices to help remember techniques, but that some are more appropriate for stand-up fist-fight encounters, others are more appropriate for attempts at throws and take-downs, and others are better for situations of grappling. as a result, while a practitioner should use xiao kai men and 64 palms as ways to remember bagua techniques, a practitioner also has to gain the understanding and experience to recognize which of the techniques should be applied for which situations.

Sifu checked on us, and then instructed us to continue while he went to get the baji students sparring--most of them are going to the tournament, so i guess he wants to make sure they are ready.

i worked with Jay, and focused on engaging, opening gates, and then applying 4 different techniques. i don't know their names, but i know 1 was a push twisting a hand and forearm into the collarbone area, another was a push using the shoulder (similar to the technique Sifu taught in the last lei tai session--reference: day 45: lei tai training), one was a throw, and one was a choke hold.

i could feel myself starting to get a grasp of this, although Sifu later returned and said that i shouldn't get too enamored with the 4-step roll, wrap, turn, thrust, since in a fight it tended to become predictable and could be too slow, and that i should also remember that bagua also utilizes a simple method of directing (or even knocking) an opponent's arm to the side.

with that, we finished class. Sifu stayed to teach Eric in a personal session, so the rest of left for the day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

day 45: lei tai training (part 7 - 7/8/07)

  • column gate
  • leg, hip, torso, shoulder
  • turn
  • entry
  • strike
today's lei tai session turned out to have only 3 people--Phunsak, Jonathan (the baji one), and me. there ended up being no sparring. instead, Sifu spent the day concentrating on having us learn a specific technique that he said was important to know, either in knowing to expect it or in applying it.

the technique was an entry move, with a beginning involving knocking down an opponent's strike using fists (with the fists targeting the wrist and upper forearm) in conjunction with a step forward so that the leg, hip, torso, and shoulder all made contact with the opponent, from which point the technique called for a turn from the waist synchronized with a punch into the opponent's sternum. the technique is supposed to result in the opponent falling away, either from the impact of the leg, hip, torso, and shoulder or from the explosive strike into the sternum.

ideally, the move is supposed to be effective without too much effort, with power being generated from the energy of the forward step, the turning of the waist and hips, and action of the hip, torso, shoulder and following strike.

Sifu made a number of points about the important points of this technique:
  • you are supposed to aim within a narrow column, so that your hip, torso, and shoulder are all directed into an imaginary narrow vertical gate about a forearm-length width aligned along the opponent's center of gravity. it helps to imagine that you are literally sending your torso into a column gate. this helps prevent your shoulder and torso from turning away from the opponent and misdirecting the force vector (robbing you of power)
  • the knee, thigh, and hip should all be making contact with the opponent. this is supposed to be a closing entry movement, and you need to move into the opponent, to the point you are going through them
  • the strike into the opponent's sternum is supposed to come from the waist and hips. it should not be a push, but rather a punch with the off-hand (e.g., if you went in with the right shoulder, the right foot is leading and the punch will be with the left hand) connecting the power of the legs with the target.
i found this move deceptively difficult--it seems simple, but it's not...at least, in terms of being done right.

my major problem was the strike into the sternum: either i kept turning into a push, or i found myself striking with no power. i was able to generate force from the turn, but only a few times. i think the cause was my inability to synchronize my hips and waist with the turning motion. this is a continuing problem, and one that i've been working on during the time i've been in the bagua class, and something that i see i'm going to have to continue working on so that the hip and waist become more integrated into my movements.

we spent most the of the time learning this move, and spent the hours dissecting it and trying to figure it out. Phunsak and Jonathan also seemed it find it awkward.

Sifu noted that when he learned it, Liu Yun Chiao expected it to result with the opponent on the floor within the period of time between 2 hand claps. Sifu demonstrated this by clapping his hands twice, with an interval of about 1 second. he then showed how to apply the technique within this time. he told us to practice this, with 1 person clapping hands and the other 2 acting as opponent and practitioner.

we took turns swapping roles. Sifu, when he noticed a problem, would stop and correct us, and if necessary demonstrate the difference between what we were doing wrong versus what was right.

by the end of the session, i think we were all trying to figure this move out. Sifu advised us to continue practicing, and that we would give it a try again in the next class session. we ended with that, and a reminder of meeting next week.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

day 44: palm change 5 (cont'd) & basic 2-person drills

  • basics
  • palm change 5, A v. B
  • basic 2-person drills
today was a long day. i had the usual class, but then also scheduled an additional session for personal instruction from Sifu with Jay (the new bagua student)--i figured i needed the review of basics, especially since i've only managed to learn them when the rest of class had periodic reviews during the course of the past few months. all told, i ended up with roughly 5 hours of class today (2 hours from the usual 11am-1pm class, with 3 hours of personal instruction following lunch from around 3pm to 6pm).

like i said, it was a long day. i got a mild sunburn (despite SPF 50 sunblock).

palm change 5, A v. B

we began with a short review of palm change 5 (solo and in line) for side A and then side B. Sifu stayed to observe everyone, and after comments and corrections instructed Phunsak to finish the review of the 2-person (A v. B) form, and then went to start the baji students with their lesson.

things went a little quicker than previous weeks, since we had done 2/3 of the 2-person form (Phunsak had divided it into 3 parts) and now were putting everything together. we did the 2-person form from the beginning and continuing all the way through the end. we followed the same plan as before, with 2 lines of people--although today there were only 5 bagua students (Kieun, John, Laura, Phunsak, and me), making it 2 pairs of partners with Phunsak as outside teacher.

Sifu eventually returned, and then had us perform in pairs. he appeared satisfied with our progress, although he noted that we'd have to practice this a little more than the other 2-person forms since it was so much longer than the other palm changes.

this consumed most of class time, and by the time we had finished Sifu said that we needed to join the baji students and begin sparring for the tournament, which is now only 3 weeks away. i chose not to spar today, since i'm not going to the tournament and figured i needed to pace myself for what was going to be a high-volume weekend of kung fu. i ended up making videos of a few of the sparring session (reference: http://www.youtube.com/user/jonathanonapath).

after awhile, Sifu called class to a close and we went to lunch.

basic 2-person drills

i returned with Sifu and Phunsak to the park after lunch and met up with Jay. Phunsak was getting his customary afternoon personal instruction (apparently, today it was a piqua form). Jay and i wanted to have an entire session reviewing the essential (and basic) 2-person drills for bagua.

i should state that these drills aren't the 2-person forms for 64 palms. when i say 2-person drills i mean the VERY basic drills utilizing the 1-hand and 2-hand drills, except that they are applied against a partner in a repeating pattern. i've had some of these before (reference: day 27: drills, qi-gong, & side B palm change 1), but they were done as review for the rest of the students (while i was still learning them for the 1st time), meaning that i hadn't gotten the same level of commentary and insight that everyone else had gotten regarding the drills, particularly in terms of principles and form. that, i'd struggled quite a bit through them before, and needed the practice.

Sifu started us with the stationary set, with partners both in horse stance facing each other:
  • basic hand drill (alternating left and right side)--this is the very basic one (direct, wrap, thrust, draw) meant to redirect a strike
  • basic hand drill, sliding (alternating left and right)--this is the basic one, followed by the other hand sliding along the redirecting arm, and is meant to redirect and then move aside a strike
  • reverse hand drill (alternating left and right side)--this is the basic one, but with defender facing away from the partner, and is meant to develop waist movement in redirecting a strike
  • basic hand drill, 3-count (alternating left and right)--this is the basic, followed by the other arm sliding up the redirecting arm to stop the opponent from switching their strike to a backfist, then sliding the redirecting arm back to maintain contact and move into position to repeat the count with the opponent's other strike. basically, the defender is using the same redirecting hand to counter the opponent's left and right strikes
  • basic hand drill, 5-count (alternating left and right)--this is the 3-count, but with the hands continuing to slide to repeat the count on the opponent's same striking hand. unlike the 3-count, the defender is using the right hand to redirect the opponent's left strike, and the left hand to redirect the opponent's right strike

Sifu then showed us the stationary set, with partners facing each other with 1 leg leading (starting in 60/40 stance):

  • above drills, with partners opposite legs leading (left v. right or right v. left), front feet in ko
  • above drills, with partners opposite legs leading (left v. right, or right v. left), front feet in bai
  • above drills, with both partners same leg (left v. left or right v. right)leading, front feet in ko
  • above drills, with both partners same leg leading (left v. left or right v. right), front feet in bai
  • basic hand drill to the side--this is one of the basic hand drills, and can be done either with both partners having opposite legs leading or same leg leading
  • hawk chasing sparrow, front--this is one of the basic hand drills, and can be done either with both partners having opposite legs leading or same leg leading, so long as the defender's leg is behind the opponent's leg. the lead hand is supposed to redirect the opponent's strike down and to the side, and then guide the defender under the opponent before going up to throw the opponent off balance
  • hawk chasing sparrow, back--this is the same as hawk chasing sparrow, except that the redirecting hand follows the back of the leg
  • leg drill, ankle, shin, or knee--with permutations of partners having opposite legs leading or same legs leading, feet in ko or bai, and moving ankle/shin/knee clockwise or counterclockwise. the respective ankles, shins, or knees are supposed to remain in contact during the drill
Sifu continued by showing us the moving set, with partners facing each other with 1 leg leading (starting in 60/40 stance). the moving set is identical to the above drills, except the defender steps forward with each change of hands (or feet) and the opponent steps backward in response. the partners are supposed to move along a line, repeating the elements of the drill as they go.

to finish, Sifu then showed us the free-form moving set, in which partners do the moving set, but with the defender free to choose which drill (hand or foot) to apply against the opponent. if done well, it's supposed to help the student put together all the various elements of the drills into a continuously moving series of attack and defense against an opponent, so that the student can begin to instinctively employ attack and defense in reaction to whatever strike an opponent attempts.

Sifu made a number of points regarding what i was doing:
  • hand v. arm--in the hand drill, the focus should actually on using the forearm to redirect strikes, but i was using too much of my hand, which only served to decrease the power efficiency of my actions
  • dropping v pushing--the redirection of a strike should be done by dropping the forearm, so that the opponent feels the weight of the defender's arm down on the strike. i was tending to push to the side
  • angle of the draw--the elbow is supposed to be down during the draw so as to maintain contact with the opponent, but not to the extent of being perpendicular to the ground. i had a tendency to lift my elbow or aim it directly to the ground
  • hip and shoulder--the hands and arms are supposed to move in conjunction with the hip and shoulders, which adds power to the redirection. i'm still having trouble synchronizing this against a partner (it's straightforward enough solo, but with a partner it becomes discombobulating)
  • expansion and contraction--the thrust of the hand is supposed to occur in conjunction with expansion of the chest, so that the shoulders open out, and the draw is then supposed to be a contraction of the chest, restoring the shoulders to an even line. i wasn't doing this smoothly
  • free-form moving--i found the free-form moving set difficult. i had to slow this down dramatically to do it, so that i could actually choose what i wanted to do and also maintain correct form
by this time it was 6pm, and Sifu said we'd covered about as much as there was for the basic 2-person drills. which was just as well, because by this time i was getting tired, a little sun-baked, and mentally saturated.

after observing me and Jay for awhile, Sifu said he'd like to see a follow-up session in a few weeks to check up on our progress, and that we should practice the drills more to get them down.

i'm thinking i'm going to need quite a bit more practice with these, and i know that Jay and i have already marked out several Fridays to review them. we definitely have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

day 43: 2-person drills, palm change 5

  • spacing
  • 2-person drills, palm change 5
  • sparring
i arrived a little late today, and found myself still going through my warm-up when Sifu and Phunsak arrived with the jian shu students.

Sifu began things promptly, having us go through a short review of palm change 5, sides A and B. we took a little extra time (i.e., we did the forms slow) to make sure everyone was caught up on the finer movements of the form, and i also suspect to make sure that no one was making mistakes in terms of maintaining balance in the palm change.

once we had done this, Sifu instructed Phunsak to get everyone started on continuing to learn the 2-person drill for the 5th palm change, and then went to start the baji students with their lessons.

2-person drills, palm change 5

last week we had done the first 4 steps in the 2-person set, and this week we proceeded with the next 4. while methodically straightforward in terms of continuing the palm change, today still proved to be a challenge.

as i said last week, palm change 5 is long, and made all the more complicated by the fact that side B involves 540-degree turns at 2 different points in the form. this poses a major issue in terms of spacing--not just distance-wise but also in terms of angles and positioning relative to the orientation of the partner.

we repeated the same formation as from before, with 2 lines facing each other and each line designated as side A or side B. this week we went from steps 1-4 to 4-8, and then 1-8 together. after repeating these a few times with 1 partner, we then rotated so as to face a new partner.

this allowed us to see the issue posed by spacing, as changes in height, reach, or even body type adjusted the spacing involved. in particular, i could see that there were major changes in footwork required to get the spacing right, particularly in terms of the 540-degree turns.

we ended up spending most of the class on this, with the final 4 steps reserved for next week.


we finished class with a series of sparring rounds for those students going to the lei tai tournament. Sifu said that the tournament was now only 3 weeks away, and so he wanted all the baji and bagua students sparring together to finish class to provide additional fighting practice beyond the Sunday lei tai classes. he especially wanted to get everyone used to fighting full-contact using the protective gear mandated by the tournament (gloves, helmet, athletic cup, and rib protector).

i elected to sit out the sparring today, since i was feeling a little beat up from the previous week and figured i was just inviting injury from full-contact rounds. but i made videos of those who were sparring to help them diagnose and study what they were doing (reference: http://www.youtube.com/user/jonathanonapath).

sparring went on for awhile, and ended when people started calling for a break from the heat, which by now was becoming quite warm (and the forecast is for warmer next week). Sifu called class to a close, and then said it was time to get out of the sun and go eat.