Friday, November 30, 2007

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

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

day 77

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

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

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

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

day 78

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

day 76: straight chen (sort of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

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

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

bagua, palm changes 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

contact drill

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

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

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


i told Sifu we need to do this more often.

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

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

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

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

day 74: ball qi-gong

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

day 74

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

day 73: combat concepts & chen tai chi

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

Yang tai chi applications

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

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

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


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

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

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

Chen tai chi long form

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

combat concepts

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

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

days 71 & 72: ball qi-gong & breathing

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

day 71

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

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

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

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

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

we finished with stances.

day 72

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

day 70: chen tai chi & kun wu jian shu

  • scapula & back
  • hips
  • pelvis
  • legs
  • static position
  • dynamic motion
  • power generation
  • structure
  • Chen tai chi long form
  • kun wu jian form
we had a solid Sunday today.

Chen tai chi long form

we spent a good chunk of time today with the Chen tai chi long form. a lot of it focused on working on the details of what we did from the previous Sunday session. in particular, Sifu emphasized the following:
  • scapula & back--similar to the lessons from the Yang tai chi class at UCLA (and also from the recent bagua classes), it is important to constantly move the scapula & back during the course of movements. the point, as it was in the classes, is the same: the rounding and straightening of the scapula & back functions in a way analogous to a bow, with the bending (rounding) serving to store potential energy and the release (straightening) serving to release kinetic energy. the trick, however, is to do so in timing with other movements in an explosive way that maximizes the transmission of energy into a desired movement.
  • hips--the hips have to move. and they have to move in ways different from, but complementary to, motions of the waist and legs. more than this, they have to perform both static and dynamic movement. this means that the muscles, bones, connective tissue, and joints of the hips have to develop strength and flexibility, combined with coordination relative to the rest of the body.
  • pelvis--the pelvis has to roll, in multiple degrees and ranges of motion. at times, the pelvis has to move in a horizontal circle, other times a vertical circle about a front-to-rear axis, and other times a vertical circle about a side-to-side axis. often, these motions occur in combination, so that there is rolling in more than one degree, often with varying ranges. moreover, these actions have to be coordinated with the hips and legs. this is necessary for generating and manipulating power.
  • legs--the legs, particularly for Chen, have to be strong, since there are a lot of low positions of varying static and dynamic motion. to be able to maintain proper form, the body has to hold to a stable, directed, and controlled structure...and to do this, the legs must be strong enough to provide a solid platform from which the body can initiate and hold proper form.
as you might see, the underlying concepts here (and pretty much the rest of martial arts) is:
  • static position--good form (i.e., form that maximizes effectiveness of techniques) requires the ability to hold static positions, meaning strength, posture, and coordination to build potential energy.
  • dynamic motion--dynamic motion converts potential energy into kinetic energy, but also requires good form (again, that maximizes effectiveness of techniques), which likewise calls for strength, posture, and coordination to transmit the energy in desired ways
  • power generation--power generation, at least in kung fu, is not just about muscular strength. so much of it actually seems to call upon the power produced from bones, joints, and connective tissue. apparently, similar to muscles, these components of the body also have the capacity to manipulate energy between potential and kinetic states. but to develop these aspects requires mind-body awareness and the coordination necessary to control them...which is something that a lot of people don't have, and so must learn through training.
  • structure--structure is crucial in allowing the mind and body to operate together to maximize static positions, dynamic motion, and power generation. good structure requires strength (again, not just muscle, but also bone, joint, and connective tissue), balance, symmetry (in strength, proportions, and coordination), and coordination.
after working on the details from the previous Sunday, Sifu then led us a little further into the long form, and then demonstrated some of the combat applications.

kun wu jian

after our time with Chen tai chi, Sifu had us start with the kun wu jian form. this time, everyone had a jian, so we were able to work on this in detail.

Sifu explained that most everyone (everyone except me, as far as i know) had learned the kun wu techniques from the Long Beach jian shu class. this time, he wanted to teach the form.

we spent some time learning the initial elements of the form. it didn't seem too bad (so far). i ended up experimenting with the form, to see if i could do it left-handed as well as big concern with jian (as with any weapon) is that it will be dominated by my right-hand. seeing that i've had to spend the past year of my life have to correct physical imbalances produced by asymmetries in my body--as well as treating via very painful ways the injuries produced by such asymmetries--the last thing i want to do is to engage in something that results in more asymmetry. i'm of the opinion that i'll have to make sure to practice my left hand on my own to balance out the right hand form learned in class.

we finished the day with that.

Monday, November 05, 2007

day 69: yang tai chi, strike concepts, & palm change 8

  • 6 aspects (hyun, jyin, kuai, jen, hwa, gi)
  • 5 strikes (suai, da, na, ti, dien)
  • Yang tai chi simplified 24 movement
  • palm change 8
today was light turnout. i counted just me, John Eagles, Siwann-da, Kieun, Eric, and Art, making 6 students total--including the baji and bagua students.

we ended up having a lighter workout day, which is just as well since i was pretty tired. we spent the majority of time discussing fighting concepts.

Yang tai chi simplified 24 movement

we began by warming up with the Yang tai chi simplified 24 movement form. John Eagles asked to do it several times, which allowed me to record it. you can see the Youtube video:
the link is:


Sifu then talked about the 6 aspects of fighting recognized within TCMA circles. his comments are as follows:
  • hyun--this has several English equivalents according to Sifu: aggression, meanness, brutality, determination, or purpose of fighting...i'm a little unclear as to this, although i'm guessing that i can most readily identify with aggression, since this is a concept that is continuously stressed in U.S. military circles as a necessary quality for soldiers to fight, survive, and fulfill their mission.
  • jyin--accuracy in strike
  • kuai--speed in movement and thought
  • jen--Sifu said this has 2 meanings: stealth and strategy. he meant the nature of fighting that involved planning and disguising plans. i'm guessing that this would involve words like deceptive, shifty, savvy, guile, or cunning.
  • hwa--Sifu said this word was used to describe thoughts and movements that are slippery, smooth, sliding. i'm guessing other words that fit are evasive or elusive.
  • gi--this was a hard one, but Sifu eventually settled on the words abrupt and explosive
note: these are rough spellings, and i have no idea what the usual standard English translation for the Chinese is. hopefully somebody can tell me, and better yet supply the Chinese characters.


Sifu went on to talk about the different kinds of strikes. we'd covered some of this when we recorded the applications for the initial set of the 24 Yang tai chi movements (reference: day 62), but today Sifu expanded on this to 5:
  • suai--throws, trips
  • da--punches, slaps, hits using he upper body
  • na--joint locks, grappling
  • ti--kicks, hits using the lower body
  • dien--pressure points
Sifu did demonstrations for each of these. he also emphasized that in a fight a practitioner should never employ just 1 of these at a time, but should use combinations--not combinations sequentially, but simultaneously. for example, there should be 2 joint locks applied, rather than just 1, or a joint lock applied in conjunction with a throw, or a hand strike to a pressure point with a kick. the point is to overload the opponent's senses, mind, and reflexes so that they don't know how to react, increasing their vulnerability to attack.

palm change 8

we finished the day by reviewing palm change 8, side A. we did this in line, and then we did in a circle as a group.

Sifu reminded us about the Sunday class, and Art announced that the long-awaited tai chi qi-gong DVDs were finished and on sale for $35. i bought one for my library. we then left for lunch with Art.

days 67 & 68: clarifications & tai chi qi-gong

  • shaving
  • rooting in a push/punch
  • ball qi-gong
  • awareness & imagination
  • Yang tai chi, simplified 24 movement
this--and the next few posts--is going to be short, since things are extraordinarily busy right now with my dissertation and job hunt. so forgive me if things are a little curt. i'll try to note everything covered in class, but it won't be very expansive this time.

day 67

we reviewed the entire 24 movement set in class, and then took some time to clarify the last few movements by going into detail with the ending sequences. Sifu made the following comments:
  • turning reverse punch--it is important here to not raise the hand too high, since it's meant as a guard for the head. if too high, it leaves the head exposed and the arm vulnerable. the punch is not a straight punch, but angled so that the knuckles aim for the opponent's temple.
  • parry--the transition from the reverse punch to the parry involves a slight circular motion of the punching fist, so that it brushes down and deflects an opponent's strike. the other, open hand comes forward near the deflecting fist. Sifu noted that the open hand should be pressing down on the opponent's arm. in addition, he said that the sequence should proceed with the fist coming back at the same time the open hand goes forward, and that the open hand should be shaving up the opponent's arm to their head.
  • punch--after the parry, the rear fist should then come forward. Sifu noted that this is not just a punch, but can also be a push into the opponent. either way, the power should be coming from the root (legs, hips, and waist) rather than from the arm. for this to happen, the weight has to shift forward into bow-and-arrow stance, with the rear leg grinding into the ground in conjunction with the fist going forward.
  • seal the door & cross hands--Sifu showed that the closing movements of seal the door & cross hands are actually joint locks, with seal the door being an entry and cross hands being a joint lock on the opponent's arms.
we finished the day with stances.

day 68

today was the beginning of tai chi qi-gong, with the class starting with ball qi-gong. i had this before from a previous seminar Sifu presented (reference: day 49: palm change 6, side B & tai chi qi-gong), so this was to some degree review, although i had forgotten most of it.

Sifu explained that qi-gong, at least in its initial stages, is meant to increase awareness of the body's internal systems, and also help train the mind's imagination. ball & bowl qi-gong, in particular, involve awareness through timing and control of breathing in synchronization with expansion and contraction of imaginary balls and bowls. he said both are useful, not just in terms of health (physical and mental relaxation and focus), but also in terms of fighting, since they develop skills needed for subsequent training--awareness helps the body manipulate force and imagination helps prediction and reaction to opponent actions.

today, we focused on imagining a ball held in our hands. as the hands expand, you're supposed to exhale (i.e., inflate the ball from the air in your body), and as the hands contract, you're supposed to inhale (i.e., deflate the ball so the air goes into your body). Sifu showed you can do this movement standing, with the hands expanding/contracting in the following ways:
  • side
  • top
  • bottom
  • diagonal upper-right and lower-right
  • diagonal upper-left and lower-right
  • in and out
after practicing this, he then showed us how to apply it in the first few movements of the 24-movement form. this involved a slight modification of the techniques so that we could visualize holding a ball in our hands. he focused on breathing in conjunction with each movement.

Sifu finished by saying that sometimes people do this using a real ball. he said this is a mistake, since it 1) distracts attention from breathing, suppressing training of awareness, and 2) removes the visualization of manipulating a ball, preventing training of imagination. in both ways, it defeats the training purpose of the qi-gong exercise.

we finished the day with Doria reading Sifu's bio--pretty impressive. i'm thinking she should probably make copies for class, since it's the kind of thing that would be good to know...not just in learning about the instructor, but in seeing an example of how one person pursued their path to knowledge.