Monday, August 27, 2007

day 51: palm change 6, side A & B, and palm changes 7 & 8, side B

  • angles
  • directions
  • triangles
  • center of gravity
  • palm change 6, 2-person (A versus B)
  • palm change 7, side B
  • palm change 8, side B
today began with the revised version of palm change 6, side B. apparently, Sifu and Phunsak were not entirely satisfied with the version we did last week, mostly because it didn't really produce a good 2-person form (reference: day 50). as a result, Phunsak had spent the week revising side B to present to Sifu.

Phunsak worked with Kieun on the revised 2-person form, and then when Sifu arrived they met to review it. this took a number of minutes, but at the end Sifu nodded his approval and then instructed Phunsak to teach the new side B to class and then have us work on the 2-person form. Sifu then left to start the baji students with their lesson plan.

palm change 6, 2-person form (A versus B)

the revised version of side B wasn't dramatically different. the initial half was the same, the only revision was the second half, which involved more iterations of circular arm motions-- a total of 4 but with the first 2 in bow-and-arrow stance, the second 2 in 60-40 stance, with the motions being those from side A (reference: day 13). this leads into the same 1-legged brush of an arm from palm change 4, side A (reference: day 4).

you can see palm change 6, side B here:

the YouTube link is:

this was relatively straightforward, and seemed to go quickly. Phunsak went directly into the 2-person form.

this ended up taking a bit longer. evidently, palm change 6 involves a higher percentage of joint locks relative to the other palm changes (which was partly why Sifu had been dissatisfied with the earlier version of side B--it hadn't involved enough joint locks). a lot of the joint locks, along with the escape methods, are very subtle, and so something that Phunsak had to point out individually as we went through the form.

you can see palm change 6, 2-person (side A versus B) here:

the YouTube link is:

Phunsak made the following points:
  • the 1st joint lock is when side A tries to bring side B's arm over the shoulder. to be done properly, side A should be twisting side B's arm so that side B's palm is facing up
  • to escape the 1st joint lock, side B should push side A in the shoulder, but not at the joint but instead at the shoulder blade (this produces a greater effect on side B). this reduces side A's leverage power.
  • the 2nd joint lock follows side A's escape from the 1st, and involves side A bringing side B's arm over the head to the other shoulder, either to repeat the leverage on side A's elbow or to force a post lock
  • to escape the 2nd joint lock, side B steps forward and straightens the arm. this reduces side A's power and also helps throw them off-balance.
  • the 3rd joint lock comes when side B is attempting head strikes, with side A placing an arm bar on one of side B's strikes.
  • to escape the 3rd joint lock, side B twists the wrist to break side A's hold
  • the 4th joint lock follows immediately from the 3rd, and is engaged by side B as soon as side B escapes the 3rd joint lock. the 4th joint lock is from xiao kai men, and is basically an extension of the snake from mother palms.
  • to escape the 4th joint lock, side A brushes side B's grip, using the 1-legged brush technique from palm change 4 (mentioned above).
this took the bulk of class, and it took a number of repetitions for both left and right sides before we started to get comfortable.

Sifu eventually returned, and then made some points:
  • side B's initial attempt at the 1st joint lock doesn't have to be a joint lock, but instead can be an opening into a throw. he said this is basically comparable to the classic judo throw. rather than engaging the joint lock, side B can simply step back with the leg nearest side A's center of gravity and then reach forward and down along a circular path with the hands holding side A's arm. this forces side A to either sacrifice their elbow into the joint lock or to sacrifice their body in the throw, either of which would still result in injury
  • Sifu cautioned that while comparable to the classic judo throw, this was different. he said in judo, the step into the throw is a step into the opponent's front. this is possible in judo, since the sport forbids head strikes. however, in street fighting, the step into the opponent's front exposes the practitioner's entire head and back to the opponent's free arm, and thus allows the opponent to choke, grab, or strike the practitioner's head. Sifu reminded us about the idea of dragon gate (the outside of the opponent's defense, usually their back) and tiger gate (the inside of the opponent's defense, usually their front); the tiger gate is always more dangerous than the dragon gate, because the tiger gate puts you into reach of the opponent's limbs. the judo throw goes into the tiger gate, whereas what the 6th palm change has side B go into the dragon gate.
  • side B's escape from the 2nd joint lock must not extend the center of gravity too far forward. Sifu said that the escape involves a basic step forward just enough to force side A to extend the arms. this is sufficient to weaken their grip. according to Sifu, students playing side B tend to make the mistake of reaching so far forward that they place their center of gravity over their front foot, which creates an unstable situation that side A can exploit by simply following side B's extension to pull side B forward and off-balance. instead, side B just needs to step forward, enough to break side A's grip.
  • side B's escape from the 2nd joint lock must be done at an angle. this is basic geometry. side A's strength is greater directly forward, since this allows greater biomechanical advantage. as a result, side B has a greater chance of escaping side A's grip by angling their escape so that side A loses biomechanical advantage.
  • side B's divert and grab by the cloth must always be in a direction down using the legs, without extending the center of gravity. Sifu said the tendency is for students to begin by pulling back, or pulling down using the back. either way, the result is that 1) the opponent is able to engage in a pulling match against the practitioner, 2) the practitioner's center of gravity is held high, and 3) the opponent can pull the practitioner off-balance by pulling them down. Sifu said the technique must have side B grab the side A's arm, then pull in a direction diagonally down using the legs. this lowers side B's center of gravity, keeping them stable, while simultaneously pulling side A's center of gravity forward over their feet, throwing them off-balance or, at the very least, making them disoriented.
  • the 4th joint lock, which is reminiscent of a sawing motion over the opponent's upper arm and elbow, is less effective if done in a direction along the opponent's arm or perpendicular to the opponent's arm. either way, the opponent has a greater ability to escape the joint lock. Sifu said the technique requires the motion of a snake in a diagonal direction roughly 45 degrees from the opponent's arm--not only from above, but also from the side, so that the diagonal not only goes horizontally, but also vertically. Sifu said to imagine following triangles across and through the opponent's arm.
Sifu observed us go through the 2-person form in individual pairs, correcting us as we followed each other. after awhile, he seemed satisfied, but then instructed Phunsak to have us continue practicing while he went back to work with the baji students.

palm change 7, side B

after we had worked on the 2-person form for palm change 6 for awhile, Phunsak checked the time. seeing that it was getting near the end, he said he'd show us side B for palm change 7 and palm change 8 so that we could practice it while he and Sifu were out during September.

he noted that palm change 7, side B was pretty simple, and that we could probably figure out the 2-person form just from looking at it. he demonstrated side B, and i figured i should do several iterations of it with him. he, Keiun, and i ended up going through it together.

you can see palm change 7, side B here:

the YouTube link is:

palm change 8, side B

Phunsak went on to show us palm change 8, side B. this was a little more complicated than palm change 6. Phunsak also noted that palm change 8 had been changed about as frequently as palm change 6, and so we needed to be recognize that it may be changed again--just like palm change 6.

despite that, i decided to follow him through it again.

you can see palm change 8, side B here:

the YouTube link is:

by this time, it was time to end class. Sifu gathered everyone around--including the baji students--for some important news: his family was moving to Hawaii. he'd told me this some time ago, as had Phunsak and John Eagles, so this wasn't news. but this time he gave more details.

he and his wife had already sold the house in Los Angeles, and were using 2 weekends in September to ship everything to their new property in Hilo. he said that he planned on being in Los Angeles for 1 more year, and (depending on his teaching contracts with UCLA and Cal State LA and Cal State Long Beach) maybe 2 years. but after that, he is going to be full-time in Hawaii. he said that he would still visit Los Angeles to conduct seminars, and that we were welcome to visit him in Hilo for lessons (he is building a kung fu studio at his house there).

he also noted that if we wanted to learn anything from him, this next year or so would be the time to do it. in addition, he said that at the end of the year he was going to hold ceremonies to accept people either into the Wutan Sifu certification program or disciple program, with formal paperwork being sent to the Wutan headquarters in Taipei, and with additional sponsorship from Master Su Yu Chang (another disciple of Liu Yun Chiao, currently in New York City).

Sifu also said we'd be missing class for 2 weekends in September, since he'd be gone to help his wife move and Phunsak would be gone starting September 11 for 4 weeks to make his yearly trip to Thailand.

Sifu finished by telling us about his classes at UCLA and Cal State Los Angeles. he is teaching tai chi at UCLA for the year, with classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning with start of their fall quarter. he is also teaching tai chi at Cal State Los Angeles, although it may be something else depending on what other courses the school is offering. i think i'm going to take the UCLA tai chi classes, since that is something i am interested in.

with that, we ended class for the day and went to lunch.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

videos: way of the warrior

there's been some discussion in class on good television documentaries on martial arts.

this was largely spurred by the airing of History Channel's Human Weapon, and the mixed feelings it's engendered with a people in class (including Sifu). the show isn't entirely a documentary, and in some ways seems to make concessions to entertainment. conceptually, it also is not particularly in-depth (not just in terms of research, but even conceptually--the hosts only spend about 2 weeks studying a particular martial art before engaging it in a match). you can see the History Channel page:

there is a 2nd series i've presented from BBC called Mind, Body, & Kick-Ass Moves. having viewed the 10 episodes posted on YouTube, i have to say it's even more in the direction of entertainment than Human Weapon. this is to be expected, given that it's a 30-minute show. but there are some redeeming qualities about it, in that the host is actually able to provide live (and useful) translations of his interview subjects' comments, and the show does devote time to discussing myths versus truths about martial arts. you can see my post on it at:

this post offers a 3rd series which some people have made positive comments about: Way of the Warrior. it was, incidentally, also a BBC production, but unlike Mind, Body, and Kick-Ass Moves (or even Human Weapon), appears to be much more faithful to the documentary genre, and is almost academic in its presentation of martial arts.

i'd venture saying it's much more in keeping with the reputation of the BBC as an exemplar of British education. sorry to say, comparing the tone and style of the '80s-era Way of the Warrior to the current Mind, Body, & Kick-Ass Moves, this reputation appears to have taken quite a hit.

i wrote about a segment of Way of the Warrior some months ago. you can see my post on it at:

for this post, i decided to see if i could hunt down all the episodes of Way of the Warrior. this turned out to be a bit of a challenge, since 1) it's been around 20 years since it's airing, 2) i don't know how many episodes there were, and 3) i don't know how much of the series was actually posted on YouTube.

i managed to find episodes from the series that covered the martial arts of Japan, China, the Philippines, and India. but that's about it. if there's more, i haven't found it. i would expect there to be, since a selection of just 4 countries seems a bit small as a research sample, particularly for a series presumably presenting martial arts in general (which would suggest a global scope).

in addition, you can see that the bulk of the episodes that i did find dealt with japanese martial arts. japan had 4 episodes, china 2, and the philippines and india each 1. this seems a little jarring, since there is as much (if not more) variety of styles in china as japan, and i suspect there's also similar variety in the philippines and india. i don't know if this is due to the BBC's focus or that these were the most popular episodes posted on YouTube.

of course, i issue the standard caveat of myth versus truth--i don't know how much is what in these shows. someone else will have to tell me. like i said in the other posts, i just find it interesting as a way of comparing different styles in relation to their distinct cultures and histories. you can compare Way of the Warrior for yourself to the other 2 series:

kung fu, the hard way
kung fu, the soft way (note: it starts with tai chi, but eventually covers hsing-yi and bagua)
shorinji kempo, the new way
karate, way of the empty hand
aikido & kendo, the sporting way
way of the samurai
eskrima, the philippino way
kalari, the indian way

Sunday, August 19, 2007

day 50: palm change 6, side A & B and chi (better than viagra!)

  • qi (or, chi)
  • representations of kung fu
  • standing tai chi qi-gong
  • 2-person form, palm change 6
Sifu began class today with a discussion of the show Human Weapon (it's on the History Channel. the website is: he said he was curious as to what the show would say about kung fu in relation to the other martial arts styles presented in the series, especially since it only devotes 1 episode to kung fu.

representations of kung fu

he also said he'd been contemplating just what kung fu masters (if they were asked by such a show) should say or demonstrate as the essence of kung fu. according to Sifu, there'd be a definite difference between northern and southern styles. the southern styles would be much more similar to the ones typically known to the West (e.g., karate, savate, etc.). the northern styles, in contrast, would be best summarized on a 1-hour episode as being differentiated by how they approach opponents--that for northern styles, the focus is not on techniques (as in developing, countering, matching technique-against-technique with an opponent) but more on energy (as in recognizing, responding, interacting the energy distribution and movement of an opponent).

Sifu continued his discussion by saying that unfortunately, he was unsure as to whether there could be any true representatives of northern styles of kung fu in terms of match fights, particularly a representative who could choose and then exclusively use only 1 northern style in the kind of match fight presented in Human Weapon. based on his knowledge, he believes that too many of the masters are too old, and too many of the younger practitioners lack combat application skills.

he went on to state that this is yet another reason why kung fu holds the perceptions it does in Western cultures. he said that this situation is a result of:
  • too many masters are no longer training for combat situations
  • too few students are seeking training for combat situations
  • too many masters presented non-combat aspects of northern styles to the West
  • too few Westerners have seen only non-combat aspects of northern styles
Sifu relayed a story from his teenage years, when his original kung fu class was kicked out of a gymnasium by a school instructor who told them that they were just learning "dancing." Sifu said this was what spurred him and other classmates to seek out Liu Yun Chiao, because they had been so humiliated that they decided to find a kung fu master who could teach--and who had used--the combat applications of kung fu.

Sifu reiterated that this was why he still saw value in tournament fighting. while other colleagues (even within Wutan) avoid tournaments because they are not real combat situations (i.e., street fighting scenarios or battlefield scenarios), Sifu says he thinks tournaments still have value because it helps practitioners learn how to apply kung fu against a hostile, unknown opponent in a random, dynamic setting--aspects which are relevant to real combat situations.

Sifu said that this is also why he thinks real representatives of kung fu need to know all of its aspects--not just the non-combat parts, but also the combat parts. because otherwise it's not really kung fu, but just dancing. kung fu, according to Sifu, has the original purpose of combat, and so anyone who represents it should be able to use it in combat.

standing tai chi qi-gong

Sifu went to start the baji students with their lesson plan, but instructed Phunsak to lead us through the 2-person form of palm change 6. before we started, however, John asked Phunsak and Art about a time to review the tai chi qi-gong from last Saturday's seminar. Art said that the new DVD covered everything in detail.

at this point, i mentioned that i had found that the tai chi qi-gong felt much better than the bagua qi-gong. Art looked puzzled, saying that he had found bagua qi-gong much more effective in raising qi. i told him that personally, i hadn't felt any qi doing anything, but that i just thought the tai chi qi-gong felt better (as in more calming, more natural, and more helpful in clearing & focusing the mind).

Phunsak responded that he thought tai chi qi-gong was much quicker that bagua qi-gong. he then said there was a guaranteed way to feel qi, and it was from a basic tai chi qi-gong practice (actually, it was also a basic tai chi movement). he demonstrated the movement, which was just the opening tai chi step out into the basic standing posture. as we followed along, he instructed us to hold our elbows slightly forward (just a few centimeters forward of the vertical line through the body's center of gravity), and to keep our spines straight. he said to just wait a few minutes and we'd feel the qi.

i have to admit i was a little skeptical (i have been this entire time). but after a few minutes of just standing still in the posture, i started feeling a warming sensation in my hands.

this corresponded to the descriptions of qi that i've heard other people describe. Phunsak nodded, and asked if there was a tingling sensation with the warmth, akin to the feeling of a carbonated drink. i said there was, and so did everybody else. when i looked at my hands, i found them a darkening red, with a sensation like they'd been sitting in a warm steam bath, except that the tingling sensation was going inside through my palms and out my fingers. Phunsak and Art said this was qi.

this was probably (actually, definitely) the first time i've sensed anything resembling what others consider qi. there are probably scientific ways to describe it (i.e., increased blood flow, stimulated nerve endings, etc.) but they would only describe the symptoms (i.e., the warm, tingly sensations) and not the cause--which i'm guessing is what everyone in TCMA and TCM identifies as qi.

this makes me wonder why it took so long for me to get these sensations. and why it was so much quicker for me with tai chi qi-gong than it was for bagua qi-gong. it also make me wonder why something so simple (standing still in the basic tai chi posture) can get these kinds of results, but all the more complex movements (like the bagua qi-gong) don't (or at least, no yet).

i have to say that the feeling didn't go away--in fact, it not only lasted through class but continued for the rest of the day. i couldn't shut it off. it was like Viagra (although...i wouldn't know anything about that...). when i got home i actually experimented with the sensation to see if i could move it around to differing parts of my body, and sure enough i found i could get it into my arms. it also lasted long enough that it made sleeping a little difficult (i felt hot flashes while snoozing...although i don't know if this was simply because it was a hot day).

this makes me curious if i could get it into my legs and the rest of my body (particularly anything related to swimming, cycling, or running really hard really fast for a really really really really really really long time). it also makes me curious if it would make any difference (in terms of performance).

yeah, my Western science mind tells me to remain skeptical. but all i can say is: there's something, and it's curious, and it's quite different from anything i've experienced.

2-person form, palm change 6

after this, we began with a review of side A & side B for palm change 6. this was pretty straightforward, and wasn't anything new. we did 8 repetitions of each side, and then went to work trying to integrate them into a 2-person form.

unfortunately, this turned out to be quite a bit more difficult than expected. i kind of had suspected this, since Kieun, John, and i had attempted to put sides A & B together on our own during our Wednesday practice, and had found that it didn't work. in particular, there was confusion as to the opening and the second half of the form.

Phunsak said Sifu had taught different versions of this form in the past, but that he had forgotten parts of them, and so was trying to reconstruct the 2-person form. he and Kieun ended up in a debate as to what the missing parts were.

the discussion went on for quite awhile. we managed to settle on a version of the 2-person form that Phunsak and Kieun demonstrated to Sifu when he returned. Sifu didn't seem too satisfied, and ended up continuing the conversation about the form for quite some time longer. he appeared to want more chin na techniques incorporated in the form, and considered the version that Phunsak showed as missing several elements.

class actually ended up going on longer (to about 12:30) while we worked on trying to resolve the issues with the 2-person form. we settled on 1 version, but Phunsak and Sifu didn't seem entirely happy with it--it turns out that later they ended up talking and decided to redesign the form for next week, making it pointless to post any videos of the 2-person set.

we finished the day with a reminder about the days Sifu and Phunsak were going to be gone in September. Sifu announced that he was in the process of moving to Hawaii, and that he'd be gone on 2 separate weekends in September to help his wife move to the new house. he asked us for any spare boxes we might have. Phunsak announced he was going for his customary annual 1-month trip to Thailand, and so would be gone from early September to October.

of course, this means that there will be no formal class for 2 weekends in September (since both Sifu and Phunsak will be gone)--although people are still free to meet on their own. the timing works for me (sort of), since i will be gone for the 1st 2 weekends in September on a family vacation, meaning i'll only miss 1 class (instead of the 2 that i'd feared, since they're going to be important, because they're going to cover the last 2-person forms in 64 palms).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

videos: mind, body, & kick-ass moves

there's a BBC series called Mind, Body, & Kick-Ass Moves devoted to the martial arts. as far as i know, it is not being broadcast in the US. there are people, however, who have been posting episodes from the series on YouTube.

from what i can tell from the YouTube videos, it is meant to be a survey of martial arts and martial arts techniques from around the world, and is hosted by someone who apparently is an advanced follower of martial arts. interestingly enough, he appears to have lived in Asia for quite some time, since he's able to converse with Chinese masters quite comfortably--enough that he can translate their comments for the viewer.

i don't know how valuable this show will be to serious practitioners (i.e., senior or instructor-level practitioners). from the looks of some of the clips i've seen, it doesn't really go that in-depth into too many of the martial arts. but then, given the nature of television, i suppose this isn't something any television series can aspire too.

for all this, i think the show is useful as a tool of culture, if nothing else. it's kind of interesting to watch video of martial arts masters displaying their skills, as well as comparing the different perspectives and ideas of differing martial arts--not only in terms of techniques, but also in terms of their backgrounds, societies, histories, and countries of origin.

i should note that Mind, Body, & Kick-ass Moves is only one of what appears to be several television series covering the martial arts (History Channel's Human Weapon being a notable one). i have not, however, been able to find complete sets of YouTube videos of these other shows (i.e., YouTube compilations that contain the entire series). so for now, you'll have to make do with the following (and i'll add more epsiodes as i find them on YouTube):

episode 1:

episode 2:
episode 3:

episode 4:
episode 5:
episode 6:
episode 7:
episode 8:
episode 9:
episode 10:

Monday, August 13, 2007

day 49: palm change 6, side B & tai chi qi-gong

  • expansion
  • skeletal (vertical) power & connective (horizontal) power
  • ball & bowl
  • palm change 6 (sides A & B)
  • tai chi qi-gong
class began today with a 9 am start. there was a new student named Cliff, who actually has been studying jian shu with Sifu, but who now wants to start (or continue) with the Saturday morning sessions. Phunsak returned from what he described as a pretty busy work schedule, and he also reminded us that he was going to Thailand in September for an extended stay (several weeks).

Sifu informed us that he was giving a seminar in Tai Chi to a group in Hollywood later in the day (apparently through connections of Art), and that we were all invited to attend. Phunsak whispered to me that it was going to cover tai chi ball and bowl qi-gong, and that it would be really valuable for me to attend.

palm change 6 (sides A & B)

we received our lesson plan for the day, which was to learn side B of palm change 6. Phunsak, however, said that we should warm-up first, and decided on dynamic stances.

i haven't gone entirely through all the dynamic stances, and today was actually the first day that i saw all of them. we've done a few in class and outside practices (particularly with dragon, low, 60-40, and 70-30), but today was the first time during my time here that we went through all of the bagua stances in a dynamic set.

the dynamic stances are essentially just the basic bagua stances, but shifting from left to right. unlike the static stances, which involve holding stances (left or right) and then returning to the horse stance before shifting between left or right, the dynamic stances involve shifting directly from left and right postures. the purpose, i suspect, is to train students to move through a stance without losing stability, as well as to improve leg strength.

from there, we did a brief review of palm change 6, side A. this was pretty straightforward, except that Phunsak noted that my finishing movement back to the opening dragon posture was too similar to monkey (from palm change 7). he said that in palm change 6, the opening movement begins closed and then opens with an expansion in the chest and simultaneous expansion in the upper back. the point i was glossing over was that the elbows are supposed to remain near the chest area, so that the expansion is more in the shoulders.

you can see side A here:

the YouTube link is:

after a short break, we continued with side B. side B seems to incorporate a lot of elements from the other palm changes, including the sequence of divert and grab by the cloth into white snake spits its tongue from palm change 3, side B, and snake coils its body from palm change 4, side A.

you can see the side B here:

the YouTube link is:

Sifu returned to observe us. after we stopped practicing side B, Sifu mentioned to us that we all needed to recognize the source of power generation in the techniques--not just for side B, but for bagua and even kung fu in general. he said he meant beyond just silk-reeling or fajing or anything else, but deeper to the actual mechanisms in the body: skeletal and connective power. he said that skeletal power is seen in the vertical movements, with power coming up from the ground. connective power, which is the power from the tendons and ligaments, is seen in horizontal movements. Sifu noted that this is why the techniques vary in the level of vertical and horizontal movement, since they are using differing degrees of skeletal and connective power.

we finished class with Sifu telling us that next week we'd begin with the 2-person set for palm change 6. he also repeated his invitation for the seminar.

with some urging from Phunsak, and seeing as i had nothing else to do for the afternoon, and further seeing that it was probably a pretty valuable thing to get (especially since the original reason i'd started looking for kung fu classes to begin with was for tai chi) i decided i'd go.

tai chi qi-gong

immediately following the end of class, several of us (John Eagles, Phunsak, and i) followed Sifu and Art to Bronson Park in Hollywood. it is a remote park in the Hollywood Hills, which is geographically surprisingly close to the city in terms of distance (i estimate only 2-3 miles from Thai Town), but in terms of access is innocuous to the point of being hidden.

we found a large group of tai chi practitioners there (i estimate 20-30) awaiting Sifu. according to Sifu and Art, their own sifu had recently died (who Jason had known professionally), and so they had been left without an instructor. Art apparently works with them on an intermittent basis, and had suggested that they invite Jason for a seminar to help them with their qi-gong.

Sifu began with a brief statement about himself and his relationship with their former teacher, and then held a moment of silence to honor him. he then introduced the lesson plan as being ball and bowl tai chi qi-gong.

for background, he reviewed (for everyone else--for me it was the first time learning anything tai chi-related) the nature of tai chi in relation to taoist philosophy. he reminded everyone that wuji was the state of nothing (or 0), tai chi was the state of origin (or 1) , yin-yang was tai-chi separated into opposites (or 2). he noted that this fit the exponent progression of 2, (i.e., 2 to the power of 0 = 1, or tai chi, 2 to the power of 1 = 2, or yin-yang, and likewise 2 cubed = 8, or bagua).

he then asked everyone to recall the notion of yin and yang movements in tai chi, with yang movements being up or outward, and yin movements being down and inward. this corresponded to breathing, with yang being an exhale and yin being an inhale. he noted that in tai chi, the yin-yang properties of each limb changed and shifted as they moved through techniques.

from there, Sifu repeated what he had told us during class regarding skeletal and connective power, and their association with vertical (skeletal) and horizontal (connective) movements. apparently, this is a concept that is held by differing branches of kung fu, and not just bagua.


following the background review, Sifu introduced the notion of the ball. this is not a physical ball per se, but more an imaginary one, about which the practitioner is supposed to move their limbs. visualizing the ball helps proper performance of the form. in addition, however, it serves as a form of qi-gong, and from what i could understand was similar to bagua qi-gong in that it helped practitioners gain a better sense of their own body and develop balance, coordination, and strength without tension--in effect, helping practitioners release the power mechanisms in their body by eliminating poor habits and bad biomechanics.

for the ball, Sifu had everyone begin with static qi-gong, by imagining a ball in front of them, whose size they could control by breathing and adjusting their arms. the ball would decrease by bringing the arms in while breathing in, and the ball would increase by expanding the arms and breathing out. Sifu showed us this could be done with the hands expanding and contracting in the following positions:
  • hands on top of the ball (so arms rise up or down)
  • hands below the ball (so arms go down and out or up and in)
  • hands on sides of the ball (so arms go straight out or straight in)
  • hands diagonal on the ball, with 1 hand on upper left and other on lower right, or vice versa (so arms go out on diagonal or go in on diagonal)
for dynamic qi-gong, the expansion and contraction of the hands could be coordinated with turning or stepping. in addition, Sifu showed everyone how the difficulty level could increase by lowering into the horse stance.


next, Sifu introduced the notion of the bowl. it was roughly similar to the ball, but here the practitioner imagines that they are holding a bowl instead of a ball. also, rather than focusing on expansion or contraction of the ball using the arms and breathing, the practitioner uses the bowl to help develop biomechanics for techniques that are less circular but more ovoid or which follow a curve. Sifu demonstrated static and dynamic qi-gong for this as well.

integration of ball and bowl into tai chi

Sifu finished the lesson by having everyone perform a tai chi form. since this was my first time with tai chi, i was not familiar with the techniques or the form, and had to mimic everyone else as best i could. from what i could ascertain, the group were Yang tai chi practitioners, and the form we were doing was the 24-movement form.

Sifu explained the ball and bowl concepts as we went through the movements, telling everyone which techniques involved the ball conceptualization and which ones involved the bowl. he also noted at what point limbs and breathing were yang and at what points they were yin.

like i said, this was my first time with tai chi, and it was clear everyone else had a much greater knowledge than i did. i did my best to just focus on following Sifu, and trying to remember everything he said. but i think i lacked a lot of the relevant basics to really grasp everything he said--although, this is something i suspect that will be resolved when i take his tai chi class this fall. still, for today, it made things a little difficult for me to remember and understand all the material, and so i felt some concern about missing important points--or any points in general.

when we finished, Art announced that Sifu had just finished DVDs of what we had covered today, and that the DVDs would be available soon. each DVD would be priced at $35, which seems pretty consistent with most other martial arts DVDs in the market (there is not a mass market holding down costs for martial arts DVDs like there are for popular cinema ones). i definitely think i'm going to buy one, since i couldn't remember everything from today's seminar in enough detail to replicate on my own.

with that, the seminar finished, and everyone went to the buffet for lunch (the seminar included catered food).

i ended up holding off eating so i could work with Phunsak and have him show me tantui line 8, which is something i've been finding difficult to remember. he went through it several times with me, enough to give me commentary and work on form, and hopefully enough for me to remember so i can practice on my own.

you can see line 8 as part of the following video:

the YouTube link is:

once we finished, we went off to join everyone else for lunch. of course, by this time most of the food was gone. but i didn't mind, since i was scheduled to have lunch with a friend of mine later. i was more interested in the lessons today, which turned out to be quite a lot. i definitely have things to work on for next class. hooray!

Monday, August 06, 2007

day 48: entries & the state of american kung fu

  • reeling silk
  • stances
  • entries
  • American kung fu
today was an early shortened class. Sifu was holding a seminar in San Diego, and so had to shuffle class time to start at 8 am.

american kung fu

we spent some time discussing the results of the lei tai tournament in Baltimore, and the impressions of both Sifu and Art (both were judges). it appears the tournament went well, with Jonathan getting a record of 1-1 against more experienced competition (it was his first in the full-contact fighting matches). everyone else had a positive time in their presentations. Art got sick, but made it through his judging.

i asked Art about his experience judging, and he said he had some mixed feelings. he said that he's of the firm conviction that much of American kung fu has become quite diluted and diverted from its origins. in terms of specifics, he said that the judging seemed to be encouraging movements which were non-combat related, in that judges were awarding more points for movements which are detrimental (or even dangerous) in combat and removing points for movements which were relevant to combat. the result is that kung fu is being made less a combat art (its original purpose) and more a show art.

Art noted that the fault lies with everyone: spectators for calling for showmanship, practitioners for meeting such calls, and judges for rewarding it all. he said the issue was not the judging, but rather that the judging was for the wrong things. right now, he commented, American kung fu is falling along the lines of wu shu, which he believes has very little combat application. for him, this is something that he finds disturbing, since it moves away from the original purpose of kung fu as a martial art.

Sifu concurred, saying that he sees a great difference between what he sees now in the U.S. and what he saw in the past in Taiwan. but this, he added, is a problem occurring with martial arts in general, noting that even those arts often seen as combat-applicable like karate and tae kwon do are seeing intense internal debates as to whether tournament judging has diluted them as combat arts.

and the judging isn't the only issue, according to Sifu. he pointed out that tournament rules often preclude movements (i.e., no blows to the head, no hits to the groin, no strikes to the joints, etc.) which are in reality the main targets in hand-to-hand combat situations. as a result, tournaments do not actually teach practitioners fighting--or at least, the kind of fighting that would be more relevant for military or street encounters. such encounters are life-and-death, and there are no rules.

Sifu and Art gave us an example of what they meant, demonstrating the differences between tai chi push-hands as it is done in Taiwan versus what they saw at the tournament. the tournament rules require opponents to keep their feet stationary and to not step across a dividing line, as well as to not display any use of force. both said that historically, push hands was a training tool akin to bagua's free-form moving 2-person drill (i.e., it helped acclimate pracitioners to close-in physical combat and the nature of constantly changing fighting conditions), and hence involved active footwork free of dividing lines or borders along with realistic, combat-relevant techniques.

Sifu repeated a point he's made before: tournaments have a purpose, but they should not be seen as the ultimate purpose of a martial art. tournaments give students a chance to apply their martial art in a relatively safe, but hostile setting, and so improve their mastery. however, because of the nature of judging and the existence of rules, tournaments are not the equivalent of actual fighting, and it is dangerous to think that success in a tournament translates into success in fighting. as a result, he still espouses participation and support for tournaments as educational tools, but insists that it is only a step on the path to learning kung fu.

this seems to echo a lot of controversy i've observed elsewhere on the internet. in regards to push hands, reference the comments of the following sources:
for martial arts in general, reference the following sample:

finishing notes about today's schedule, Sifu instructed us to focus on practicing the 4 entries we had learned earlier (reference: day 46: review, 2-person drills). he then left Art in charge while he went to work with the baji students.

Art, however, was still sick enough to be likely contagious, and so begged off anything involving physical contact like the entries. he did, however, say that he was going to observe and correct us. this meant the rest of us (today it was only me, John, and Laura) got the benefit of extra practice time.

we ended up taking turns working in pairs, working in the 2-person moving drills along a line. we decided to take things carefully today, and really focus on our technique and refine some of the nuances involved in applying them. Art, for his part, provided constant commentary as to what we were doing--right and wrong.

Art noted 2 points regarding what i was doing:
  • i wasn't lowering into my stances enough in moving within the drill. he said that i tended to rise as i stepped forward, which only served to raise my center of gravity. he advised me that this is problematic, since it removes power from the techniques.
  • i was not applying enough reeling silk energy. he suggested i actually try to exaggerate the twisting corkscrew motion, since what i thought was an exaggeration was very likely what was necessary. by not extending the motion, i was suppressing the full power of the techniques.
i made an effort to keep these in mind while working through the drill. it helped that we were doing it slowly, since it let me make a conscious effort to work on these 2 issues.

after we finished the 4 entries, John and i decided to try a 5th one--the fireman's carry. Sifu had referenced this in talking about the tournament, saying that one of the few people he saw with good technique displayed an excellent grasp of this. when he had asked the man about his skill at this technique, he found out the man had been a wrestler, and that wrestling had the exact same technique as kung fu. Sifu said it was identical (or near identical) to the tai chi and bagua entries into the fireman's carry.

the fireman's carry is initiated by the under-arm entry, with the practitioner going under an opponent's strike. it involves holding the opponent's strike with the rear arm, going under the strike by extending the front leg and reaching to the opponent's rear leg with the front arm as the practitioner goes down. once the front arm goes behind the knee of the opponent's rear leg, the practitioner rises to lift the opponent off the ground. in bagua, the entire process of the technique is contained within hawk chasing sparrow.

John and i had some difficulty making this work. ultimately, we had to ask Sifu, who by this time had returned to observe us. he said there are a number of crucial points to make this work:
  • the rear arm holding the opponent's strike is important. it must go down as the practitioner rises, so that it pulls the opponent's center of gravity over the practitioner's center, balancing the weight
  • the front arm must rise upwards as the practitioner rises
  • the practitioner must not lean or reach too far forward, but must keep their own center of gravity towards their rear leg rather than following the front leg
  • the lifting motion comes from the rear leg, which acts as a jack ratcheting upwards to lift the weight centered atop it (i.e., the practitioner and the opponent)
Sifu said that this requires proper form, and that this is how you can determine if someone is performing hawk chasing sparrow correctly--if they can reach down and then rise while lifting the opponent in the fireman's carry, then they are doing the technique right.

we ended class with this, since it was now 10:30 and Sifu and John had to go to the seminar in San Diego.