Saturday, September 29, 2007

commentary: the saffron revolution

okay, this doesn't have a lot to do with kung fu explicitly. but it has some cultural relevance (Buddhism...albeit Theravada, contrasted to Mahayana, the dominant form in Chinese society). and i think the life lessons apply to kung fu just as much as they apply to life.

i don't ever want to hear somebody complaining about things not being possible:

once you've joined the club that is Ironman, you start to understand the attitudes held by all Ironman athletes towards people who complain, whine, moan, gripe, belly-ache, and cry about things being too hard and they being so weak and life being so unfair. you kind of get annoyed with anything that smacks of self-pity, laziness, surrender, or negativity. at the very least, your patience tends to run a little short.

but it's not so much because of snobbery or elitism. it's sometimes tempting. but the process of becoming an Ironman is the kind that pretty much beats out any sense of ego, narcissism, or hubris out of you. all that's left is humility and a willingness to accept reality for what it is.

it's rather that in becoming an Ironman, you have to go through suffering. not just a little. but a lot. and you have to go through it with the constant seductive knowledge that you chose to do it, and that you don't have to, and that you can quit at any time. despite this, you stayed with it, and accepted the suffering, so that you could become something that people believe to be special.

because of this, you develop a respect for suffering. and for people who experience it. especially those who choose to do so. like Buddhist monks who take the action of non-violence in the face of soldiers armed with guns.

nobody has to suffer. nobody should suffer. nobody (well, okay, maybe not nobody...but you know what i mean).

but sometimes, to enact change--in this world, or in yourself--you know you have to do so. because it's the only way, or the right way...or at the very least, your way.

and it seems comical, absurd, and incredibly offensive to complain, or whine, or belly-ache, or moan, or engage in self-pity or negativity or pouting, when in the rest of this world there are people who willingly accept the guarantee of suffering so great that it may end in their own death without any meaningful result whatsoever.

it's something to keep in perspective.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

commentary: endurance sports and kung fu (part 5) - functional strength and flexibility (angles and range of motion)

this is a cross-post from my Ironman blog:

yeah, it's been awhile. but this entire month there's been no class, since Sifu has been busy moving to Hawaii. as a result, since this entire blog is based on entries from class--and then supplemented by additional posts--there hasn't been much to say.

i've been practicing in the meantime, with others and alone, trying to clean up a lot of things that i know needed work. but i never meant for practice sessions to receive posts in this blog. i did mean to post some commentaries and notes on other items of interest, but things have been extraordinarily busy with school (it's my last year, and i have to really prepare for my dissertation defense and also look for a job).

this will have to do for now.

i promise the posts will start to become a lot more frequent. Sifu will be teaching a tai chi class (Yang...i wanted Chen, but Sifu said this will come next year) twice a week at UCLA, and i've decided to take it--even if it does mean driving over to Westwood. but that means 2 additional classes per week on top of the bagua classes every Saturday. so that means 3 posts per week to look forward to.

it also means some more variety on this blog in terms of kung fu styles, with me now learning bagua, long fist, and tai chi.

aren't you happy?

ooooooooooo-raaaahhhh!!! rock and roll, baby.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

commentary: fireman's carry

i'm writing a commentary on this, because it's consumed such a good deal of discussion in and out of class.

Sifu initially raised the fireman's carry following the lei tai tournament in Baltimore (reference: day 48). he noted there was 1 competitor who was particularly good in executing the fireman's carry, and that he'd found out this person had been a high school wrestler. Sifu noted that the wrestling technique was very similar to the bagua technique we've been learning that leads into the fireman's carry: purple swallow skims the water.

thing is, some of us (John Eagles, Phunsak, and me, in particular) have experimented with purple swallow skims the water, and have found it difficult (reference: day 52). in varying ways, we all found out (and Sifu confirmed) that the technique isn't necessarily purely about the fireman's carry, but rather for a number of different actions: a throw, a push, a trip, or a carry.

this makes sense. if purple swallow skims the water simply was just a fireman's carry, then it would have been translated that way. as it is, based on the experiments John, Phunsak, and i have done, what the technique does depends on the orientation of the practitioner and the opponent.

if the practitioner is oriented the same direction as the opponent (i.e., both people are facing in the same direction), purple swallow skims the water leads to the practitioner reaching down between the legs of the opponent at an angle not quite under the opponent's center of gravity. this makes it difficult to lift the opponent into the fireman's carry. it does, however, make it easy to trip the opponent backwards, push the opponent with the shoulder, strike a pressure point in the knee or thighs using the hand, or strike the crotch.

in contrast, if the practitioner is oriented facing the opponent (i.e., both people are facing each other), purple swallow skims the water leads to the practitioner being much closer to the opponent's center of gravity, making it much easier to lift the opponent into the fireman's carry. moreover, it still offers the practitioner all the options from the above.

based on this, it would appear that facing the opponent is the best method. but there is a catch: it is actually much more dangerous. citing Sifu's reminders about dragon gate versus tiger gate, an attack against the tiger gate is one that goes into the front area or inside of the opponent, meaning the practitioner comes within reach of the opponent's arms and legs. an attack against the dragon gate is one that goes to the back area or outside of the opponent, meaning the practitioner avoids the reach of the opponent's arms and legs.

launching purple swallow skims the water facing the opponent goes into the tiger gate, while launching it facing the same direction the opponent goes into the dragon gate. by facing the opponent, the practitioner actually exposes the head to the opponent--much more so relative to the dragon gate. this vulnerability can be mitigated by the fact that purple swallow skims the water, if preceded by hawk chasing sparrow, involves holding the nearest opponent's arm as you dive under it for the knees. however, this still leaves the opponent's other arm, and also the legs, free to strike your head. as a result, using the technique is dangerous via the tiger gate, and so is more safely done using the dragon gate.

unfortunately, you can't do the fireman's carry via the dragon gate. as i've mentioned above, based on our experiments it just places you too far from the opponent's center of gravity to effectively lift them. the best you can do is to come under them so that they come onto your back, from where you can knock them off-balance just enough to drop them off your back onto the ground--in essence, a backwards throw.

as Sifu confirmed, if the goal is to do a fireman's carry, you really have to go via the tiger gate.

i've managed to find some YouTube videos of this in wrestling, where it seems a very popular move:

video 1:

video 2:

observe the following points regarding the above:
  • they all initiate it by facing the opponent, and then--just like purple swallow skims the water--going down to the knees
  • they vary the technique, at times going low while still standing on the feet--just like purple swallow skims the water--and at other times dropping to the knees
compare this to some martial arts (karate/sambo) YouTube videos, which also use the fireman's carry:

video 1:

video 2:

observe, here too, that while there are variations, the principles are still the same as wrestling: getting close as possible underneath the opponent's center of gravity, which allows you to maximize your force to lift the opponent up. this is more feasible--although more dangerous--by beginning facing the opponent.

on a related note, i should point out a discussion that Phunsak and i had last class. even if you are in position to launch the fireman's carry, you can still change your attack. you are not stuck with it once you have committed to it. you can instead change the direction of the fireman's carry to perform an underhand takedown going directly into the opponent's legs.

this is a common wrestling technique, and you can see how similar--and hence, how easy it is to transition from--the opening moves of the fireman's carry. i've found some illustrative YouTube videos:

video 1:

video 2:

video 3:

i find these videos interesting, because they suggest concepts that are similar to bagua (having multiple options from a common opening, having different methods of exploiting the same principles, varying techniques to better match specific scenarios, etc.). this would indicate that these ideas aren't exclusive to bagua, but rather are concepts upheld in fighting in general. in which case, they help to understand the aspects of the bagua techniques which are more truly martial (i.e., combat-relevant), and also helps to understand just how the techniques can most effectively be applied.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

day 52: palm change 6 & misc

  • fireman's carry
  • openings
  • options
  • 2-person form, palm change 6 (A versus B)
today was largely review from last week, with the exception of the warm-up. there was a guest today from Cal State Long Beach--a professor who apparently had been responsible for getting Sifu to teach there, and so Sifu had to hold a conference with him and left Phunsak to run our class and James (?) to run the baji class.

Phunsak had us begin with dynamic stances, and then through a set of the basic 2-hand drills. following this, Phunsak then showed us a series of drills that Master Su had taught him. these drills were linear, and basically involved transitioning through a series of postures from closed position to open position in a way that progressed along a line. i was going to take videos, but Mike Hitchcock said that these were available on DVD, and so that it wasn't necessary.

2-person form, palm change 6

the main part of class was just the 2-person form of palm change 6. since Mike and Art had missed last week, we took some time to go through the 2-person form. we did a brief review of side A and side B individually, and then spent the bulk of class going through the 2-person form.

Phunsak had originally told me that we were going to start the 2-person form for palm change 7 today, but by the time we had gotten through palm change 6 class was drawing to a close and Sifu had come back to remind everyone about the September layoff.

Sifu took a moment to correct our sequence from unicorn spits out book of knowledge to black bear probes with its paw in palm change 6 side A. in the 2-person form, the knee rises into a strike into the opponent, and then goes into a kick at waist height. Sifu commented that the kick isn't actually targeted at the waist--it can, but that this puts you at risk of being pushed off-balance by the opponent (which is what side B attempts in the 2-person form as they roll around side A in avoiding the kick). in reality, the safer (and in many ways, more effective) target is the opponent's knees. Sifu said the kick can either go into the opponent's knee nearest you, or the knee away from you. from the positioning of the angle, intent is to stretch or tear the tendons and ligaments in the knees.

at the same time, the reaching hand in black bear probes with its paw can then be an actual strike to the opponent's upper body, with the options of being a fist, hand, or arm strike to the head, eyes, face, or throat, or even simply a way of grabbing the opponent for a follow-up throw.

Sifu pointed out that this sequence can be done with the hand strike being a feint for the knee and leg kick, or the knee or leg kick can be a feint for the hand strike.

at this point, Phunsak, Mike, Art, and Sifu got involved in a conversation about tai chi (since this is the course Sifu will be teaching at UCLA). a lot of it involved techniques. i did not understand most of it, since i'm not familiar with tai chi, but i managed to follow the comments regarding throws.

after awhile, i got onto a tangent with Phunsak regarding the fireman's carry. Phunsak noted that Sifu had advised him that it only works as a carry if you enter via the tiger gate. i told Phunsak that this is something i had found with John Eagles when we had tried it ourselves--by attempting it via the dragon gate (i.e., facing with the same orientation as the opponent), we had found it very difficult to lift the opponent, and had found that it had really been more effective as a way to throw the opponent off your back. but by entering via the tiger gate (i.e., facing the opponent), it places you much more under the opponent's center of gravity, making it easier to lift them into the carry position.

the tiger gate, i notice, seems to be the way wrestlers engage the fireman's carry, since the initial moves into the carry also gives the wrestler the option to simply charge forward into the opponent's legs, knocking them off-balance.

i subsequently fell into discussion with Phunsak regarding the nature of bagua. i told him that i'm getting the feel that much of bagua--at least, the way Sifu is teaching it--is not so much about the techniques by themselves, but rather about entries and positions that enable application of techniques. i'm starting to believe that bagua is really teaching the nuances of positioning, spacing, angles, and tools to find or create openings in an opponent's defenses, at which point the practitioner is then free to choose from any number of options for striking--options in terms of targets, techniques (throws, joint locks, grappling, open hand strikes, fist strikes, etc.) , or intent (maximum or minimum damage).

Phunsak responded that this is pretty much the nature of bagua, and which is why it is so important to recognized and practice the entry methods of bagua as much as it is to learn the techniques. he reminded me that bagua, in terms of fighting, deals with 1) entries, and 2) techniques. bagua, he commented, actually allows for techniques not taught in any of its forms, since bagua can function simply as a base from which a practitioner can locate and exploit the opponent's openings, from which the practitioner then has the option of using whatever techniques (bagua or otherwise) they may know.

class ended at this point, with Sifu sticking around to give Eric personal instruction. everyone else left for the month, with class expected to resume September 29.