Friday, December 19, 2008

day 195: a little bit of everything

  • speed
  • aiming
  • draw
  • release
  • chang quan
  • 7-star praying mantis
  • kyudo
this was the last weekend of the year, so we were pretty much just wrapping things up before Sifu went home to Hawaii. for this Saturday, we were scheduled to have a joint class with the Long Beach Kung Fu Club (at Cal State Long Beach), and so we modified the material to match theirs, with the lesson plan being the an introduction to 7-star praying mantis.

chang quan

my chang quan lesson Friday was just a polishing of chao quan, and then a review of pao quan. we'd originally planned to record me doing both forms, just to create a place marker of where i am, but the sun set before we could get around to it. which was just as well, because there were a number of areas that i needed some refinement anyway.

7-star praying mantis

we'd gotten a little bit of mantis before on a recent Sunday, leaning the lian jian (sp?) form. Sifu decided we'd do the same thing today, and then go a little bit farther. he noted that mantis was easier to teach than the other TCMA styles he knows, since it doesn't have the same complexities in relation to internal actions.

we reviewed the form to the point we'd learned it last time, and then went a little bit farther. there was a few sequences--particularly a joint lock that led into a throw--that kind of eluded me, but made more sense once we saw the applications. Sifu noted that with mantis the emphasis is on speed, with not all movements necessarily being intended as strikes, but instead with a priority on overwhelming the opponent's sensory perceptions and the secondary priority on the option of applying force.

today's class ran about 90 minutes, since that was all that the club was scheduled for. we ended up having a surprise visitor in Alex, who managed to take a break from his baby duties to drive over. he was able to make it this time, since his house is apparently only about 15 minutes away. with class finished, we went for a joint lunch afterwards.


kyudo today had a large class. not so much because of the number of students, which remained about the typical quantity, but because we had 4 guests observing the class. Sensei curtailed the introduction today, cutting out the chanting of the Heart Sutra. this freed up some more time to allow the regular students more chances at shooting, and allow Sensei to gather the newer students and guests for an extended lesson.

because of the guests, part of what Sensei discussed was a review of stuff i'd had before. but we also went quite a bit deeper, with him explaining a number of nuances:

the string--apparently, additional layers of string have to be placed in the area where the arrows are knocked, so as to make the string thicker. but this has to be done carefully since too much glue will cause the string to break.
  • aiming--initially, aiming is done along the upper arm through the elbow, with practitioner able to sight the target above the front elbow. however, as the bow is drawn and the hands and arms extend, the aiming then slides along the forearm until the target is sighted over the hand and forefinger. at the point of release, the practitioner should be able to sight the target over the last knuckle (the knuckle at the juncture of finger and fist) of the forefinger, so that the practitioner should literally be able to point at the target by extending the forefinger.
  • draw--this shouldn't be done as a function of muscles in the body, even though they are employed. instead, it should be perceived as a natural by-product of the skeleton expanding outwards. Sensei stressed that you should visualize yourself putting your skeleton inside the bow, so that the bow is drawn because your skeleton is replacing the volume inside the bow. he noted that the draw should be a function of structure, with the bones playing the major role of drawing the bow and the muscles only serving to supplement the bones. he observed that we know we're doing this because we won't struggle (i.e., shake or wobble) as we draw the bow into firing position, but instead everything will be smooth and stable.
  • release--releasing the string isn't done with a snap of the fingers or a release. instead, it occurs naturally as a function of the hands and arms reaching their full extension. this is because the string is held in a notch on the glove thumb, and slides out once the glove reaches a certain position...which is reached when the arms and hands are fully extended.
we finished late tonight, around 10:30. even though the instruction ended with tea time around 8:30, i ended up staying to watch the informal shootaround and practice my form.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

commentary: hand-to-hand combat (on the high seas)

i've heard multiple times from multiple sources in multiple situations that hand-to-hand combat is increasingly irrelevant in modern society, that the value of learning realistic battlefield or street-fighting martial arts is becoming nullified in an age where the rule of law is becoming commonplace and technology has transformed the nature of violence. these kinds of perspectives often argue that martial arts, if they are to have any relevance--and hence survive--into the future, must transform into sport-oriented activities.

and given the course of life of most people i've encountered, these kinds of voices would be true.

but then every once in a while i come across something that reminds me that the real world doesn't always follow the voices of opinion, and that life always throws you something that defies statistical probabilities. and that includes the reality of battlefield and street-fighting combat.

here's one:
i've put the full text of the article at the bottom of this post. it's about the piracy situation off the coast of Somalia. ostensibly, the article is about the Chinese (People's Republic of) navy expanding its international role and sending ships to protect shipping against the Somali pirates.

but note near the end of the article where it talks about the incident that spurred the PRC navy to action: a Chinese merchant ship was boarded by pirates, and the crew then fought back, using hand-to-hand combat.


how much you want to bet this involved some martial arts skills? even if rudimentary, i bet it did. and i'm willing to bet it wasn't fighting for points. the merchant crew were not military, nor street thugs, but i'm pretty sure the combat was about as close to battlefield or street-use martial arts as you can get.

and i also suspect that the merchant crew probably started their careers thinking that the chances of engaging in hand-to-hand combat on the high seas against pirates was an archaic figment of the imagination, and something they'd never have to deal with in the modern era of globalization and international trade.

just goes to show you that real life is a little different than what you'd think. you just never know.

but the point is the same: you just never know when and where traditional battlefield or street-fighting martial arts skills will be necessary...and the way life works, when and where those skills become necessary, they'll invariably be in situations when you really need them--as in: your survival. in which case, statistical probabilities will be the least of your concerns, and the only thing that matters is if you can defend yourself or not.

China confirms its navy will fight Somali pirates
International Herald Tribune
By Mark McDonald
Thursday, December 18, 2008

HONG KONG: The Chinese government confirmed Thursday that it would send naval ships to the Gulf of Aden to help in the fight against piracy there. The mission, which is expected to begin in about two weeks, would be first modern deployment of Chinese warships outside the Pacific.

The announcement came as the captain of a Chinese cargo ship that was attacked Wednesday in the gulf said his crew had used beer bottles, fire hoses and homemade incendiary bombs to battle a gang of pirates that had boarded his vessel.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said Thursday that 1,265 Chinese merchant ships had passed through the gulf this year. Seven have been attacked.

"Piracy has become a serious threat to shipping, trade and safety on the seas," Liu said at a news briefing in Beijing. "That's why we decided to send naval ships to crack down on piracy."

He gave no details about the size of the naval mission, but a Beijing newspaper, The Global Times, reported that the navy was likely to deploy two destroyers and a supply ship.

"We absolutely welcome all nations, because as we've said all along, piracy is an international problem that requires an international solution," Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, said Thursday from Bahrain.

Cyrus Mody, a spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau in London, a clearinghouse for piracy information and maritime-safety issues, also welcomed the news of the Chinese mission when told about it.

"It's definitely a positive development, and it will be welcomed," he said. "The sea area being threatened there is vast, and the number of assets from the international navies is not sufficient."

The maritime bureau said 109 ships had been attacked in the gulf this year and 42 had been hijacked. Fourteen ships are currently being held for ransom, including the Sirius Star, a Saudi supertanker, and the Faina, a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 32 armored tanks and other heavy weapons.

Mody said Thursday that negotiations with the hijackers were continuing for the release of the ships. "But the owners don't like to talk about that, for the safety of the crew members," he said.

The Chinese Navy, officially known as the People's Liberation Army Navy, has long concentrated on coastal defense and regional maneuvers. But in recent years it has embarked on an ambitious modernization plan.

The principal mission for Chinese naval vessels in the Gulf of Aden would presumably be the escorting of Chinese cargo ships and oil tankers from the Middle East bound for Chinese ports. Policing patrols, some maritime experts suggested, would be secondary.

But Mody said Thursday it would be important for the Chinese effort to be melded "on an operational level" with other navies already patrolling in the gulf. The European Union recently began an anti-piracy operation in the gulf, and several other nations have a naval presence there, including India, the United States and Russia. "We would like to see cooperation so everyone is in the loop," Mody said. When a hijacking attempt occurs, "whoever's closest can respond as fast as possible."

Peng Weiyuan, the captain of the Chinese cargo ship that was attacked Wednesday in the gulf, gave a harrowing account of his crew's battle on deck with the Somali pirates. His remarks came in an interview with China Central Television.

After seven pirates managed to board his vessel, the Zhenhua 4, Peng said his crew fought the gang to a standstill using whatever was at hand until the pirates "gestured to us for a cease-fire." The crew then retreated to a locked area on the boat and sent a distress signal.

According to a duty officer at the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a nearby Malaysian warship was alerted and sent a helicopter to the scene. When the helicopter fired around the Chinese boat, the pirates panicked and fled in a speedboat.

The Malaysian warship did not apprehend the pirates, Mody said, because international rules are still unclear about where the pirates could be detained and how they could be tried.

Mody said the Zhenhua 4 operates under the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. At 26,000 tons, it is an average-size cargo vessel that might have been carrying machinery.

Friday, December 12, 2008

day 194: even more packed full!

  • editing
  • extrapolating
  • chen short form
  • kuen wu jian erlu
today was a busy day. since we had a higher turnout of students, Sifu decided to see if we could fit the chen short form in before he left for Hawaii. in addition, Lance showed up later in class, replete with a Taiwanese manual showing Liu Yun Qiao doing kuen wu jian erlu, and Sifu decided to see about reconstructing the erlu form shown in the book.

chen short form

Sifu's plan was to try and cover the chen short form in 2 days--this Sunday and the next. however, we went so far today that the class figured we might as well cover the entire form today. we ended up spending more time than usual, since we were so close to finishing.

Sifu noted that historically there was short form in chen, at least not in the lineage we're learning from Du Yu Ze. however, at some point in time Adam Hsu decided to construct a short form. apparently, he kept finding that audiences weren't comfortable sitting through the entire chen long form in demonstrations and students weren't patient enough to stay with the long form in class curriculums. to deal with this, he created the short form, which was meant to be more digestible to both populations.

the short form is essentially an edited version of the long form, at least from what i can tell. almost all the techniques come from the long form, with only a few differences. the main issue is remembering the sequence--and this is where i'm struggling. it was a lot of pack the short form into a single class, and i remember a fair amount, but i think i'm going to need some more practice to really get it down...particularly to remember it but still distinguish it from the long form in my memory.

you can see the chen short form in this video:

incidentally, i should note Sifu did a customized performance of the chen short form for the Pau Hana end-of-quarter celebration at UCLA. you can see it in this video:

kuen wu erlu

following the chen short form we picked up with kuen wu erlu. Lance showed Sifu his book showing Liu Yun Qiao doing the form, which was in Chinese and from Taiwan (apparently there's no English translation sold). Lance noted that there were major steps missing in the sequence of photos, and wanted to try and reconstruct the form so that we could learn the original as practiced by Liu Yun Qiao. Sifu said he'd have to extrapolate from his memory, but he'd have to go through the photos step-by-step to figure things out.

Sifu took us through the form up to the point that we knew, and then he began referencing the book, trying to fill in the missing movements using his memory from what he had learned. this ended up taking the remainder of class, with Sifu and Lance trying to sort out 1) what was missing from the photos, and 2) what was supposed to fill in the missing gaps.

we finished the day with Sifu saying he'd try to come up with a final version this coming week, so that we could finish learning the form next Sunday. Lance also noted we should make a video, since there is no video anywhere on Youtube of anyone doing kuen wu erlu. hopefully i'll be able to do this next Sunday.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

day 193: packed full!

  • posts
  • intent
  • bagua
  • chang quan
this was a bit of a different weekend. because of Sifu's involvement with the Pau Hana celebration at UCLA, we rescheduled my private lesson chang quan to Saturday afternoon following regular class. in addition, because it was the end of the UCLA quarter, i scheduled an end-of-quarter dinner with my TAs & readers to reward them for their hard work, which unfortunately conflicted with kyudo and meant i had to skip it Saturday evening.


the Saturday class today focused on post training. obviously, we don't have posts in the park, nor anything of the appropriate dimensions and distance apart, so we substituted humans. Sifu said this is fine, since that what the posts were meant to represent anyway.

Sifu had us start by practicing the forest palm first. after a little time, during which he started the baji students, he came back and then had me and Feng serve as fake posts, with Phunsak then demonstrating post training.

essentially, post training involves doing forest palm--or any other bagua form--in between posts, with the posts serving as targets against which the practitioner can then apply the form techniques. any number of posts are useful, although traditionally there are supposed to be 3 or more. they're arranged around each other, and close enough that the practitioner can move from one to the other pretty quickly in the same way the practitioner would be facing multiple opponents.

the goal of post training is to help get a feel for how techniques are supposed to work in terms of spacing, orientation, and force, and how the techniques are supposed to be integrated with the footwork. in addition, it's supposed to help inculcate the primacy of constant movement and changes in direction and location when facing multiple attackers.

for today, Sifu said we should just get an idea of how to do post training, and try to work on it gradually. he said it takes time, and not something easily mastered. he also noted that in post training, you eventually get to a point where you don't just do forms against the posts, but actually engage in a free-form exercise applying any technique of your choice at any time in any combination against any post, thereby training you to learn how to work in a continuous, fluid manner--much the way you need to in a real fight.

chang quan

chang quan today was spent finishing chao quan. there wasn't that much more to add, and we managed to get through the last of the form pretty quickly. however, there was one technique near the end that proved somewhat elusive, and it ended up taking me the better part of the session trying to get it down--the hitching point seemed to be that it involved the arms moving in 1 direction but the waist in hips moving in another, with everything synchronized in a slightly off-beat rhythm.

once i managed to get the problems somewhat sorted out, Sifu had me practice the entire form, ironing out some of the major issues as we went along. things are still a little rough, but i notice that my form seems to be better when i focus my yi (intent) on the purposes of the techniques. this appears to help adjust my movements, and get me on track to doing them the correct way.

we finished around 6, taking a few minutes to discuss plans for January. we also talked about next week, which would be the last weekend before Sifu goes back to Hawaii for Winter Break. he said we'd continue refining the form next week, and try to get me set up to a point where i can work out things on my own while he goes away for Winter Break.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

day 192: finishing stick seminar

  • applications
  • shaolin stick
this Sunday was a continuation of yesterday's stick seminar, and also ran the full day. while yesterday covered basics, today covered applications.

shaolin stick

we began with a brief overview of some of the basics as a warm-up, and then went on to the applications. i won't go into all of them here (again, that's to leave an incentive to go to the seminars), but i can say that it was comprehensive. Sifu cautioned that the applications we got today were just the basic applications, and that there were more advanced ones that we didn't have time to cover this weekend. he also said that just like anything else in TCMA, there were forms associated with stick, but that we didn't have time for them this weekend either.

here's a sample of what we covered today:

also, i should note that we had a special guest today: Master Su Zhi Fhang, whose son Yuan has been learning baji quan from Sifu. Su Zhi Fhang is originally from China, but Sifu says her lineage is related to ours in varying ways. she teaches bagua, xing-yi, and tai chi, but i also understand that her knowledge also includes other styles. she was present today to give a brief introduction on weapons, particularly on the principles common to both short and long weapons.

here's the video excerpt i managed to record of her:

we finished a little after 4, and then went home after saying our goodbyes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

day 191: full days

  • jumping
  • basics
  • memory
  • chang quan
  • stick seminar
  • kyudo
this was Thanksgiving weekend, and Sifu decided it was a good weekend to hold a seminar this weekend on Chinese stick fighting. as a result, we had 2 full days, going from 9am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. i went to both days, and also maintained my schedule with chang quan and kyudo.

chang quan

chang quan was pretty straightforward today. Sifu went over my bagua forest palms first, since he saw me practicing it and wanted to correct a few points. following that, we also went through and refined several areas of my chao quan. from there, we went a few moves further into the form.

i'm at the point in the form where it's becoming more strenuous. today Sifu took me through a sequence of moves that involved consecutive tornado kicks, with one going left and another going right. this follows a series of other jump-kicks. the form seems to be hitting a peak involving a lot of jumping. i'm sensing that chao quan is like pao quan in the sense that the intensity level goes up the deeper you go into the form. Sifu confirmed as much when he said we're getting near the end of the form, and can probably finish it before he goes home for the winter break.

because of this, my Friday private lessons are going to have to be re-arranged a bit. starting in January, my schedule won't allow me to make it to the park on Friday afternoons, but Sifu said we could try Saturday afternoons following lunch. he said we'd try it this coming weekend, since my Friday class is going to be cancelled because of Pau Hana, which is a UCLA event for students to present their projects and is on Friday evening, meaning that Sifu has to go.

stick seminar

Saturday class was replaced with the 1st day of the stick seminar. i'd managed to get a pair of sticks--as well as pairs for several others in the class--and so came with equipment. following Sifu's recommendations, i'd managed to secure a waxwood staff (thanks Sakura Martial Arts!) of a straight length and diameter and cut it in half (waxwood is surprisingly easy to cut, but strangely difficult to dent).

Sifu began the seminar by noting the differences between what we were learning versus various other styles of stick fighting. stick fighting is widely known, since it's such a basic weapon so easily obtainable anywhere, and is a component of just about every society in the world (there's traditions in European styles, African styles, Native American styles, Asian styles, etc.). Sifu said we were learning Shaolin stick, which involves stick lengths that go from the ground to just below the navel. much of the principles and movements in Shaolin stick are related to those in other weapons (sword, saber, etc.) and empty hand actions, and so are transferable to many other areas.

we spent today learning the basics, working through ways to hold a stick, learning how to change grips and change hands, and learning different movements. we spent a good portion of time also doing drills, first stationary while standing, and then moving. Sifu stressed that these are the kinds of drills we need to be doing on a regular basis to improve stick fighting skills, since they form the foundation of Shaolin stick and the basis from which the combat applications originate.

we finished a little after 4pm, at which point everyone went home to prepare for tomorrow.


kyudo had a very large turnout today. normally class size has been around 8-12 students, but tonight it was 20. it made for a packed environment, with some challenges in spacing things out to allow everyone to sit and move.

Sensei had the beginners focus on the form. he asked to hold a dojo bow, and to try doing the form with the bow in our hand. he also took all the junior students--including the beginners--aside to show us the nuances of the bow grip. he made a number of points:
  • the line of the palm (going from the forefinger side to the small finger side) should line up with the edge of the bow (looking down the arrow, it should be the left outside edge facing the target).
  • the forefinger should be loose, to the extent that if can actually point at the target.
  • the cuticles of the middle, ring, and small fingers should line up vertically, and the tips of the fingers should line up with the cuticle of the thumb.
  • the hand grip should be loose (which occurs when the cuticles are lined as described above), so much so that the weight of the bow should only be felt in the bottom of the grip by the small finger.
  • when drawing the string, the pressure in the hand should transfer from the bottom of the grip to the soft portion of the hand at the intersection of the thumb and forefinger. the pressure should be great enough that you should be able to open your grip and still have the bow stay in this location.
he also reminded us to practice during the week outside of class--apparently a number of students are continuing to exhibit the same mistakes and bad habits that he's commented on in previous classes. in particular, he noted that people were still not full expanding from the center in drawing the bow. he said this was important, because doing so created proper structure, and that good structure made drawing the bow easier and more stable, and hence more accurate. he reminded everyone to remember the lessons he's been passing on.

during the tea break, Sensei reviewed the fees for the class, upcoming events, and also said he'd be gone next week but that class would still be held.

i stayed after the tea break with Phunsak (he's started taking the kyudo class as well) for the informal shoot. we worked on our form, using the dojo bow and performing iterations of the form. my memory is getting better, enough that i can devote more focus to technique, which now seems to be my main concern. this went on until the informal shoot ended, which was around 10 pm.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

day 190: with my hands...

  • habits
  • footwork
  • center
  • stringing
  • gloves
  • elbows
  • chang quan
  • bagua
  • kyudo
so this post is a little late. things have been extraordinarily busy with the end of the semester at USC and the end of the quarter at UCLA. since i have 6 classes, there's been quite an acceleration into the last frenetic days of the fall, and i've been swamped with grading. i'll try to give all the lessons from last week the space they deserve, although i'm writing this in between classes and grading and bills and everything else.

chang quan

the word for my Friday chang quan class was habits. in particular, it was bad habits. Sifu had me do several iterations of chao quan that i've learned to date, and then asked me if i practice on my own outside of class. i said yes, and then he nodded, saying that it was good but that i've been picking up some bad habits and that we needed to work these out.

apparently, some of my movements have gotten a little sloppy, particularly anything involving a brushing of the hands or anything involving timing of the hands with leg kick or leg step. Sifu noted that there shouldn't be "dead hands" (i.e., hands that remain stationary while the rest of the body is moving) at any time in the movements, and that this is something true of any form of martial art. he also pointed out that the synchronization of moves of different parts of the body are crucial to making any technique work, and so something to really focus on.

fortunately, Sifu didn't think my problems were intractable, and that they would be fixed via 1) a better understanding as to the purpose behind the movements (i.e., the intent, or "yi"), and 2) practice. currently, he can see that my yi is not constant, but tends to flicker in and out during my form, particularly in terms of the direction and expression in my eyes. with more understanding and more practice, he says this will be fixed, and my movements will naturally follow.

we spent the class working on these things, and then finished by going a few more moves into the form.


this Saturday was a progression from last week, except that Sifu took us all the way through to the end of the form. i hadn't realized we were so close. Sifu cautioned, however, that today was meant to just finish the form, but the next few classes before the winter break were going to be dedicated to refining it, and also practicing it in the classic 9-pole format (note: in bagua, the 9-pole format involves 8 poles situated at the vertices of an octagon and 1 pole in the center). we don't actually have 9 poles, but Sifu said we'd substitute using human stand-ins--which was what the poles were originally meant to represent anyway, so it was just as well to go directly to the original idea.

for today, Sifu emphasized that we concentrate on our dantian (i.e., our "centers"), and visualize it pushing the dantian to the ground as we did the movements in forest palm. he said that this would help us perform the form properly by guiding our stances and actions lower, thereby serving to stabilize our bodies and utilize the ground to generate action/reaction forces. repeating what he told me yesterday, he said he could see this in our movements, and could see the difference between the times we were focusing on sending the dantian lower to the times we were not.

we spent the bulk of class repeating the form, reviewing the actions to polish the movements. with Phunsak going to the doctor, Sifu and i were left to go to lunch together. which was fine, since he and i took the opportunity to go to a Yunannese restaurant and get in the spiciest food we could find--it turns out he and i have the same proclivity and preference for spicy food, but that no one else in the class seems to be close, meaning that both of us have to moderate our spicy food cravings for times like these.


kyudo this Saturday evening was eventful. we had a number of firsts, from stringing a bow, to shooting an arrow, to dealing with the nuances of gloves.

the bow stringing was a bit of a surprise. Sensei simply asked us (the beginners) to string some of the dojo's bows, with the simple admonition that we'd seen 16 other people string their bows and so we'd had plenty of examples. Leslie, one of the senior students, was a bit concerned about this, particularly since a mistake in stringing could lead to a shattered bow. she ended up showing us the proper way to string them--it seems pretty straightforward, but it's clear that if you did it the wrong way the results would be catastrophic, both to the bow and you.

the bigger surprise was that Sensei allowed us to shoot. i was able to do a few practice runs of the shooting form while i watched the other people ahead of me in line shoot. still, i have to say that the actual act of holding a bow and arrow physically in your hand changes your perceptions, simply because the physical reality imposes factors that you can't always visualize: the weight of the equipment, the resistance of the materials, the difficulty in working with the bow, the mental concentration to focus on the arrow and target while simultaneously remembering all the other factors.

one of the other students told me that Sensei sometimes allows beginners to do practice shoots with the dojo bows, often about once per month. this time, Sensei had decided that all the beginners had enough prior martial arts experience that we already possessed a lot of the basics involved in terms of physical movements, and that we could make a try at actually shooting. still, this night was still an exception, since none of the beginners even had their own equipment or uniforms, and all of us had only just learned the shooting form in the previous few weeks.

my experience shooting was, to say the least, an adventure. i had difficulty nocking the arrow, i didn't align it properly with the target, and i struggled more than i should have to draw the bow. after all the beginners, Sensei took us aside and held a private tutorial with us. in regards to my issues, he didn't directly address them, but i was able to glean from his comments the following advice:
  • nocking the arrow--the mistake is to focus on moving the arrow or the string. nocking the arrow is actually about moving the bow. this is actually easier than moving the other pieces.
  • aligning the arrow with the target--this is actually about visualizing the arrow connecting with the target, but involves first visualizing your mind connecting with the target. this is why the form involves the practitioner sighting the target before actually lifting the bow and arrow to draw the bow.
  • drawing the bow--here, i had simply forgotten a number of very basic things that i already knew. drawing the bow isn't about pulling with the back. it's actually about expanding the body from the center (or dantian), in a way that the practitioner actually extends the entire body (arms, legs, spine, tailbone, head, etc.) outwards from the center. this engages action/reaction forces from the ground through the feet that then go to the arms, and also lengthens the spine so that it pulls in the scapula. this makes drawing the bow a total body exercise, distributing the draw weight so that it's easier. the end result is that the bow is drawn as the practitioner lowers the bow and arrow. one thing Sensei noted is that it helps to visualize that the elbows are lowering down as the spine goes long, with the elbows lowering in symmetric arcs. the hands and forearms just simply serve to hold the bow, arrow, and string, and release at the point the elbows can extend no longer from each other.
we finished the night with tea. this had started out as a shorter night, since we hadn't walked around the dojo following the meditation and chanting of the heart sutra, nor had we cleaned the dojo following the end of the formal shoot. but everyone ended up staying late to talk about kyudo, the dojo, and winter plans, and had also stayed to introduce themselves to all the beginners. as a result, we ended up not leaving until around 10:30pm. but i didn't mind, since it seemed like a really good day and i'd learned so much.

Friday, November 21, 2008

day 189: kuen wu and mantis

  • kuen wu erlu
  • mantis
today was a little bit different from the normal Sunday. Sifu wanted to get some pictures of jian shu sparring to make some flyers, and so i used the camera and took pictures of Sifu, Kieun, and Phunsak. we got a number of good photos, with Sifu solo and Kieun and Phunsak in sparring poses. if i get the chance, i'll post them here.

because of the photo shoot, we focused primarily on kuen wu and skipped the chen tai chi lessons. instead, we ended up joining the mantis lesson Sifu was giving Jonathan Shen.

kuen wu erlu

we went a little bit further into kuen wu erlu, although we spent the majority of time fine-tuning the movements we've done to date. the form is starting to differ from yilu, with the application of power into the movements calling for a different nature and appearance of actions at a number of points. so far i've been able to keep the 2 forms separate, but it's starting to become a little more difficult and i think it may soon be time to see about recording someone doing the entire form.


i'm not particularly interested in mantis, but apparently Kieun and Phunsak have some interest in it. since Sifu was working with Jonathan when we finished taking pictures, we ended up just joining in. i don't remember too much of the lesson today, since mantis is a very different style from the ones i've been learning, and mentally has a different perspective that requires an adjustment in perspective that i'm not quite comfortable making at this point. still, it was interesting to sample it, and i can see its general approach to fighting.

i don't know if we're switching to this for the Sunday lesson (Phunsak seemed to be under the impression we were), but i figure this will be something that we'll discuss next time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

day 188: more more more!

  • applications
  • history
  • chao quan
  • forest palm
  • kyudo
it was a rough weekend, with the air filled with ash and smoke coming from the Southern California wildfires. because of the poor air quality, it made things a little difficult strenuous activity, and i noticed that everyone maintained a pretty low-key level of physical exercise.

chao quan

the chang quan lesson was pretty straightforward, with Sifu taking me further into the form. however, there were some sticking points this Friday, particularly in terms of rhythm and fluidity. i'm at a point in the form where there's an increasing level of changes in direction and changes in foot positioning, accompanied by a string of hops and jumps. the effect is a disruption in the flow of the form that's creating hurdles in terms of holding to a smooth transition between techniques.

as a result, i took the bulk of class time on Friday working through these sticking points. it didn't help that i had to work in the jumps. i commented to Sifu that chao quan now seems to become more physically demanding. Sifu replied this is only the start, and that there are more jumps coming up in the form.

we finished the evening with a discussion on general theory about fighting--not in relation to any specific TCMA style, but just in hand-to-hand fighting in general. i won't go into detail here, since all of it was stuff we've covered before in class, but i just wanted to see how the various pieces fit together into a comprehensive view of hand-to-hand combat. Sifu went into an extended commentary, and i mentioned to him he could probably write a book on universal fighting principles alone (i.e., independent of any single specific martial arts style), and he said he could, but that it's one of many books he'd like to spend time writing.

forest palm

the air this Saturday was particularly bad, and got worse as the day went on. near the end, i could actually see ash falling from the sky, and it began to form a layer on our bags and clothes.

Sifu guided us further into the form, and then took some time to demonstrate for us the combat applications for a couple of moves. because of the nuances involved, we ended up spending a good bulk of time working on the applications.

this actually was an interesting class. it turned out the movements and applications we were working on were similar--if not outright identical--to those in baji and piqua. we ended up joining the baji and piqua students to practice the techniques. this was interesting, because it demonstrated to me some of the points Sifu had made to me in my chang quan lessons--that all the northern TCMA are related to each other, and they utilize the same principles with often only minor differences in expression. you can see the threads of history in the various movements of each style, and how the threads trace a lineage of thought and perspectives stretching from the past to the modern era. it's quite fascinating from a historical and cultural perspective.

we took our usual lunch, which ended up devolving in a discussion about Jackie Chan and his relation to TCMA--that's the reason i put his photo at the top of this post.


Phunsak attended the kyudo class with me this time. although, i should note, kyudo class Saturday night almost didn't happen. Sensei said he was a little hesitant, because by this time you could see the glow of the wildfires in the night sky, and could feel and smell the ash and smoke in the air. but we decided to go ahead anyway.

since there were 4 beginners this evening (me, Phunsak, and 2 others), Sensei took us aside to guide us through the basics and to provide a question-and-answer session. this was perfect, since it gave me an opportunity to really observe some of the nuances in the kyudo form, as well as regarding the formalities of the art. we also discussed the background of kyudo and its relation to buddhism, shinto, and Japan. i'm starting to get a much better sense of the form, and things don't seem quite so overwhelming as they did when i first started.

since Phunsak was crashing at my place, the two of us ended up staying until the close of class to observe the others practice their shooting. this kept us to around 10pm, at which point everyone went home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

commentary: friends

this has little to do with kung fu, and even less to do with martial arts.

but it does have everything to do with being a human being, and becoming a better one...and that's what studying martial arts, and TCMA, is in part about.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

day 187: chao quan, forest palm, and kyudo

  • bridges and transitions
  • center
  • release
  • chang quan
  • bagua forest palm
  • kyudo
this Saturday was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the very comfortable 80s and bright sunshine. i arrived a little early, partly to get some review work in (i've been struggling to remember the forest palm, and also wanted to review chang quan).

chang quan

my chang quan lesson Friday was a lesson in fitting things before the sunset. this was the first lesson following the time change from Daylight Savings Time, and we found the park getting dark in the middle of my lesson. this served as motivation, with Sifu helping me get further into chao quan. Tommy was finishing his lesson when i arrived, but elected to stay and observe what i was learning.

we took a few moments at the beginning to address some questions i had regarding applications. i notice that it's a little easier for me now to see some of the applications in chao quan, especially after having gone through the applications in pao quan. however, there are some things that are quite mystifying, and i needed Sifu to demonstrate for me the intent behind the movements.

after this, we went deeper into the chao quan form. a good bit of the section we covered seems very close to tai chi, particularly chen tai chi. in fact, if i didn't know any better, i would say that it was almost identical--but the truth is that chen tai chi came from chang quan, and so everything i'm learning is just proof that chang quan was the foundation for tai chi.

we spent the last part of the lesson just reviewing what Sifu had shown me. this was just as well, because by this time it was dark and very difficult to see (the park apparently doesn't turn on lights in the evening).

bagua forest palm

this Saturday was largely a straightforward progression into forest palm. Sifu started us with a review of the form to date, and then led us further into the form before giving us the rest of class to practice.

one thing Sifu stressed today was the importance of the bridges between the individual techniques in forest palm. he noted that forest palm utilizes the techniques in 64 palms, but does more than just re-arrange them in new combinations and new directions. echoing the comments he made during my chang quan lessons over the past few weeks, he commented that forest palm requires that the techniques be performed with smooth transitions from one to the other, and that the bridges between techniques are thus actually more important than the techniques themselves. this is because the smoothness of transitions serve to maintain, and in some ways increase, the power generation of the movements, enabling the bagua practitioner to defend and attack in any position from any angle at any time--one of the most important things in bagua.

we finished class around 1 and went to lunch.


this was my return to kyudo after my 1 weekend hiatus. this class was notably more subdued, with a lower turnout of students. this actually helped me, since it made things easier to concentrate and ask questions. i did a little better today than before, with me being able to remember more things and not being quite so clueless--things weren't entirely smooth, but at least i felt more comfortable.

there were a couple of things i learned today from Sensei, either from his answers to my questions or from his conversations with other students:
  • center: kyudo focuses on the center (i.e., the dantian) to a much greater degree than other Japanese martial arts. almost everything in kyudo revolves around the center, including not only breathing (using the center), but the holding of proper posture standing, sitting, or walking (aligning the spine and body relative to the center), the generation of power in shooting (expanding and contracting the body about the center), and the process of aiming and concentrating (focusing the mind on the center). this stunned me--although i guess it shouldn't--since it is entirely consistent with the focus on the dantian that Sifu has always stressed in kung fu.
  • release: the notion of release is both physical (releasing the arrow and the bow, as well as releasing bodily tension), mental (releasing the mind from constraints), and spiritual (releasing the spirit from samsara, or worldly concerns). the dojo recites the Heart Sutra, which is a standard Buddhist sutra. i asked Sensei why this particular sutra, and he said that it's not something required by kyudo (in fact, it's something that only he requires for his own dojo), but which he considers a good allegory for the art of kyudo, since it focuses the mind on release in all its forms so as to enable the practitioner to be free to focus and perform the act of shooting. this seems a corollary to the TCMA principles that Sifu has been stressing to me, particularly the idea that a practitioner cannot release their full potential (power and art in body, mind, and soul) without releasing all the tensions within the self (in body, mind, and soul).
i'm struck by these principles, since both emphasize the same principles i've been learning in TCMA. this suggests that kyudo might actually complement my education in TCMA.

Sensei noted that kyudo helped him with his own martial arts training, and also even helped him in his study of other arts (he mentioned calligraphy and tea ceremony). he commented that his own masters had asserted that kyudo could do this, going so far as to say that he could drop study of other arts and focus on kyudo alone for 10 years, but then come back and find that their skill in the other arts had improved. they had told him that kyudo is the only Japanese martial art that seems to have this property, and this adds to the allure that kyudo has in the Japanese martial arts community. Sensei said that had confirmed all this from his own experience.

i don't know if the same thing will happen for me, but observing the consistency in principles being taught, i can at least say that i hope to see some improvement and benefit to my TCMA.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

day 186: chen push hands and kuen wu erlu

  • no force
  • hwa jing
  • na jing
  • chen push hands
  • kuen wu erlu
i almost forgot to write this post for last Sunday's class. things have been a little busy. i'll try to be as comprehensive as i can, but i also need to keep this post a little short, since i've got a number of things to catch up on.

chen push hands

we started Sunday with chen push hands. for today, Sifu said he wanted us to move on to the next stage in push hands training. so far, we began with stationary push hands focusing on developing ting jing (sensing), then did moving push hands using ting jing. now, he wanted us to start working on stationary push hands using hwa jing and na jing (redirection and control, respectively).

Sifu made a number of points by way of introduction:
  • this is following a progression in the chen tai chi curriculum towards helping us learn how to use tai chi in combat. this 3rd stage would be followed by the logical step of moving push hands using hwa jing and na jing, but that for now it was going to be enough of a challenge to do things in a stationary position.
  • the idea now is to do more than just sense our opponent's movements, but to then sense holes in their defenses and penetrate them in a way that sets us up to attack them.
  • in using hwa jing and na jing, we have to use no force. if we attempt to use force, the opponent can sense this and respond before we attack. this means that we have to be able to penetrate their defenses without utilizing force or signaling our intentions.
  • in order to accomplish the above, we need to stay relaxed and loose.
  • for now, it helps to stay within the circular motions of the push hands training, and using the positioning of our bodies and limbs within the circular motions to naturally locate and penetrate openings.
  • for now we should not use fa jing, because that would tempt us to use force in this stage and prevent us from achieving the goals of these exercises.
this turned out to be quite a wrinkle. i started with Jo-San as a partner, then Phunsak and then Sifu. with all of them, i found myself constantly using force, making it easy for each of them to defend themselves against me. Jo-San commented that he could sense every time i attempted to attack him, since he could feel my muscles tense. Phunsak advised me to just let things flow naturally and work on relaxing. with Sifu, i couldn't even start the drill.

this is way harder than it looks. this is going to take a bit more work on my part, since i clearly have an instinctive behavior pattern of tensing my muscles to engage in movement. i'm going to have to take some time to unlearn this.

kuen wu erlu

we finished the day by going further into kuen wu erlu. i'd forgotten some things from the last class session, and i had to take a little time to review what we'd done. what's complicating things is that erlu is a little different from yilu, but similar enough that it's very to get confused as to which form you're doing. i'm having to take care in this form to make sure i'm doing the right movements.

we ended the day with that, and i went to lunch with Phunsak, since Sifu had to stay and provide some private lessons for some other students.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

commentary: changes

this is a cross-post from my other blog.

we dream in myth. we live in reality. both need each other.

enough said.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

day 185: all about movement

  • movement
  • multiple degrees of motion
  • tension and looseness
  • smoothness
  • level
  • chang quan (chao quan)
  • bagua forest palm
i returned to the usual schedule this week, since i was feeling back to normal. i ended up not attending kyudo on Saturday, since there was a cultural event sponsored by the Thai Consul General in Los Angeles that i felt compelled to attend (a friend of mine was associated with the show, and it was the kind of show that does not appear that often--if ever--in Los Angeles).

chang quan (chao quan)

the Friday chang quan lesson marked a progression to chao quan, which is the 3rd form and follows pao quan. Sifu had me do a few iterations of pao quan to start class, working with me on some points to refresh my memory and refine my movements. he said that i could work on refining pao quan on my own, since he felt i was at a stage with the form that it is now largely about repetition and practice to emphasize the major elements. he reminded me that i needed to focus on developing the "flavor" of chang quan, and that to do this i needed to follow the points of the acronym he had given last week:
  • smooth (as opposed to the tai chi "slow")
  • long
  • even
  • deep
after working on pao quan for the first part of class, Sifu said it was time to move onto to chao quan. he introduced chao quan by reiterating the curriculum's progression of forms: 1) tantui, 2) pao quan, and 3) chao quan. to review, he noted that tantui focuses on the basics of stretching the body (muscle and connective tissue), improving balance, and increasing coordination. pao quan works on developing dynamic movement to apply the chang quan techniques introduced in tantui, and also accentuates overall extension, smooth flow between techniques, conditioning, and coordination. chao quan, in contrast, challenges the practitioner to develop better transitions (i.e., staying smooth through even more challenging sequences) between techniques, and to constantly adjust direction, pacing, and states of hard and soft.

Sifu noted that chao quan is what most people identify as chang quan, or long fist, since it is the form utilized by wushu competitors in tournaments. he cautioned, however, that the chao quan utilized for wushu is NOT the traditional chao quan, and that while many of the techniques and their sequence may be the same, the appearance is very different. unlike wushu, traditional chao quan if performed in a way that reminds the practitioner of the techniques--and more importantly, the physics involved in them. as a result, the intent of the traditional practitioner can clearly be seen as distinct from the wu shu competitor.

Sifu continued by observing the context of chao quan in the traditional curriculum. he noted that for jia men chang quan (islamic long fist), it composes the 3rd form. however, some styles of long fist have as many as 5 forms, with each form intended to teach differing sets of principles and techniques. Sifu asserted that you don't need so many forms, and that with islamic long fist, the principles still managed to encompassed in just 3 forms, making it unnecessary to have any more.

Sifu then led me through the initial movements of chao quan. as we went through them, he emphasized the following points:
  • movement--with chao quan, you have to think in different directions, not only on a horizontal plane, but also vertically and rotationally
  • multiple degrees of motion--chao quan utilizes all degrees of motion (horizontal, vertical, rotational, angular, in all ranges, directions, and magnitudes). as a result, in chao quan you can see the seeds that were picked up and utilized to form the basis of other later styles (baji, piqua, tai chi, bagua, etc.). as a result many of the chao quan movements should be very familiar to anyone who's learned these other styles.
  • tension and looseness--even more than pao quan, chao quan requires a looseness in the body, and constantly asks the practitioner to shift back and forth from states of tension and looseness.
  • smoothness--just like pao quan, the practitioner has to be smooth in transitioning from one technique to another. however, in chao quan, this is made harder by the greater level of complexity in the movements and transitions.
  • level--i have to be sure to remain level, since i have a tendency to move up and down (vertically). Sifu has pointed this out to me before (i.e., in bagua), and it's something i'm working on. it's a bad habit, since any up-and-down action usually means a lowering or raising of the center of mass, which makes it easier for the opponent to get under your center of mass and break your structure.
we'd started a little early (before 4 pm), since we'd both arrived at the park in light traffic. as a result, we finished early, sometime a little before 6pm.

bagua forest palm

Saturday morning was a continuation of forest palm. we began with a review of what we'd done, taking some time to help some people who'd missed last Saturday to catch up. after this, Sifu took us a little further into the form. he allowed us to practice this while he worked with the baji students, and then returned and asked to see us do the form individually.

i'm feeling somewhat comfortable with what we've done so far, since so many of the movements are coming from 64 palms. the only difference is that the directions are different, with forest palms constantly changing into different directions, which is different from 64 palms, which largely limits itself to directions along the perimeter of a circle. having said this, i should point out that today we came to a juncture where i'm definitely having to work harder to remember everything we're learning, and having to spend more time strengthening my memory of what we've done.

we ended class when Phunsak and Ching-Chieh left to visit her acupuncture therapist (he decided to try it today, and so was carpooling with her). the rest of us went to lunch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

day 184: a somber time

  • softness
  • forest palm
  • kyudo
this post will stay on the trends of the previous 2 posts in terms of brevity. i'm starting to feel better in terms of my recovery from the food poisoning last week, but not so much that i'm up to devoting as much time writing as i ordinarily do. also, i had to cancel the chang quan lesson last Friday, since i was still feeling weak at the time, and so will omit that portion of this post.

at this point, i should note that this week things were pretty somber. Sifu started class with the announcement that had already been posted via email and the Yahoo! group--one of Sifu's students from his time in Boston, Jim Lavoie, had passed away earlier in the week after a long battle with cancer, leaving behind a wife and 2 young children. Art had brought a condolence card for the group to sign, and Sifu said we were also taking donations for the family. Art was quite affected by things, as were a number of other people, and altogether it made for a pretty subdued day.

forest palms

Sifu advanced us further into forest palms, teaching 2 additional segments of the form, with the 1st following announcements and the 2nd near the end of class after we'd had a chance to practice the 1st. in addition, he also gave us some time to help some people who'd missed the previous class to catch up. that, and it also let me work at a slower pace and rest up--i wasn't at full speed, and just wasn't ready for any strenuous activity today, with me having to stop at numerous points to catch my breath and restore blood flow to my head.

after watching me for awhile, Sifu noted that 1 good thing about my sickness was that it had finally made me soft...a little too soft. he said that i was doing things better, except that now i was allowing my wrists and hands to become soft, and devoting much of my focus on them. he said that i should instead put my attention on the elbows and arms, and to do so in relation to the rest of my body. he reminded me to think about my body as a single unit--a unit that is not hard, nor rigid, but instead flexible and elastic, that can turn, twist, bend, flex, and compress in a way that stores and releases energy (kind of the way a spring compresses and releases, or jello compresses and then bounces).

we finished class with a somber collection of donations and final messages for the condolence card, and then went to a typical post-class lunch that was a little more sober than usual.


i went to kyudo class, although my energy levels were running a bit low. i decided i'd stay until the end of the formal class, which is usually around 8:30, and then go home to rest. i arrived early enough to help clean and set up the dojo, which i see is the usual custom for students in a formal martial arts school. i'm starting to become better with names, since i now know more of the regular students in the class--Jackie, Gene, Trini, and Star, who all appear to be the junior students, and Leslie, Matt, Aaron, Marcus, and Doc, who appear to be the more senior students.

this class, Sensei suggested that i start incorporating myself into the formal practice of the dojo, and to work my way into things. he said he'd help me out with the practices, as would other students. this is just as well, since i'm still largely clueless about a good number of things, and still trying to figure things out--at this point, my attention is consumed less by the spirit of the art and more by the learning of the formalities of practice. there's quite a bit, and i can see why it takes awhile.

things were a little rough today. not only was i following the pre-shooting meditation and walk-through, but Sensei also had me do a passive run-through of actual shooting (i.e., join a group of archers, and go through the act of shooting, but without holding a bow or an arrow). there was a bit of information overload, and it probably didn't help that i wasn't at 100%. hopefully i'll do a little better next time...although, i suppose, every beginner is a little rough at the start, and so i should expect this. but at the very least, i hope to be operating at a healthier level next week.

just as i figured, my energy levels pretty much started dipping after 8pm, and i asked Sensei to excuse me from the remainder of the session. i felt a little guilty, since ordinarily i would stay to help clean things and disassemble the dojo equipment, but Sensei recognized that i was not doing so well and let me go.

Friday, October 24, 2008

day 183: more push hands

  • hwa
  • na
  • chen push hands
  • kuen wu erlu
again, i'm still feeling sick, so this post is going to be short.

chen push hands

we spent this Sunday continuing chen push hands. this time, however, Sifu had us progress to the next stage in push hands, with the switch being an emphasis on hwa and na jing. in push hands, this means using the exercise to try and position yourself to launch an attack against the opponent. this requires that you not only sense the other person's actions (ting jing), but also redirect their action (hwa jing) and then control them in a way that you are positioned to attack (na jing). this involves a transition between states of no force and force.

Sifu also commented that in order for us to get the full benefit of this exercise, we needed to utilize our entire bodies--not just arms and hands, but also start trying to engage our bodies and legs in contact with the opponent. in addition, he also said we needed to start varying the range and scale of our movements, so that it was not just circles of a fixed radius, but varying paths of varying shapes of varying sizes in varying directions.

this added several layers of complexity, and was quite a challenge to adjust to. i wasn't quite comfortable with this, and i think it's going to take some time to get used to this.

kuen wu erlu

we finished the day by starting the kuen wu erlu form. this is essentially the 2nd level of kuen wu jian, and differs from the 1st level in that it incorporates power. Sifu reviewed some of the basic history, noting that while the form originally came from elsewhere, the 2nd level incorporated some of the power issuing concepts taught by Li Shu Wen in his baji/piqua and spear training, and was meant to make kuen wu jian more effective for fighting. we went a few moves into the form, and practiced these a few times.

day 182: many many things

  • directions
  • formality
  • pao quan applications
  • bagua forest palm
  • kyudo
i've been quite sick this week, either because of food poisoning (some bad fish) or because of a virus that's been having its way on campus. either way, the symptoms have been digestive issues, intense nausea, diarrhea, high fever, and severe weakness. as a result, i haven't been inclined to take time to do much of a write-up regarding last weekend, and this post and the next are going to be pretty short.

pao quan applications

my pao quan lesson this past Friday was a continued refinement of the form, but with a fair amount of time devoted to reviewing applications. there were a number of applications that i realized we hadn't covered, and Sifu said we might as well make sure to go through everything. in addition, he also showed me alternative applications for some of the techniques.

he observed that a lot of them were obvious to him, to an extent that he often doesn't think it's necessary to show them, but that he forgets that for people without a background in martial arts it all is largely obscure. he also noted that because there were different applications possible in the various techniques, that there were several different acceptable variations in the movements associated with them in the form--but that the variations were okay only so long as it was apparent that the person doing the form understands the applications in the variations.

bagua forest palm

this Saturday we continued forest palm. we began with a review of what we'd learned to date, both of the form and the applications in it. we then went about another 8 moves further into the form, and spent the class refining our movement.

Sifu observed that one of the major ways forest palm differs from xiao kai men and 64 palms is that it utilizes different directions. xia kai men and 64 palms work either in line or on a circle. in contrast, forest palm breaks away from both and involves constant change in direction, with movements moving continuously in directions that match neither a line or a circle. Sifu commented this is a reflection of the form's emphasis on teaching you how to use bagua in any direction at any time, and is part of why it is useful in learning how to apply techniques against multiple opponents, who invariably attack from multiple directions at once.


the kyudo lesson today featured 2 other beginners besides myself. as a result, Sensei Beal took us as a group and introduced us to the basic 8 steps in the kyudo form, emphasizing breathing and timing in relation each of the 8 steps. following this, he had one of the senior students (an older Japanese-American man everyone calls "Doc") teach us the basics of kyudo stepping (which looks and feels suspiciously like bagua stepping) and rising in and out of a sitting posture.

today was a bit of a lead-in to the very basic elements of kyudo and showed me just how formal an art it is, with clearly defined requirements for each component in the art extending from sitting and meditating to walking and posture, never mind shooting and setting up the bow. it's very different from the kung fu, which is much more performance and applications-driven, but i suspect this is why kyudo has the suffix "do" (which is the Japanese word for "way"), since it is a refined art form dedicated to making an elevated aesthetic and spiritual experience of what traditionally was very much a performance-driven martial art.

in essence, from what i can see, kyudo isn't about being practical, and isn't meant to be such, whereas the kung fu i've been learning is, and you can see the difference in what is taught--and neither is better or worse than the other, but they are nonetheless very much different in this way. of course, this should not be taken to say that one is "prettier" or more spiritual than the other, since i see these aspects in both, but it is to say that one makes it a point of emphasis more so than the other in terms of the focus of least, for this stage in my training.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

day 181: chang quan, forest palm, & kyudo

  • smooth
  • extension
  • connections
  • power, without fa
  • zen
  • pao quan
  • forest palm
  • kyudo
i'm changing the organization of these blog posts slightly. typically, the headings always listed "concepts" and "forms," with the "forms" giving the list of section headings and sections in the blog post. this week, however, i began taking kyudo lessons, which is the japanese art of archery, and so something that is not really a form that can be readily listed with the others being taught. as a result, i'm stepping one layer back upwards in the taxonomy, and using that as the new organizational device for blog sections, so that the new section headings will be "lessons," which i see as providing more flexibility in organization that can fit the differing styles and forms and subjects that i'm learning.

i see this as being the direction for the foreseeable future.

pao quan

the pao quan lesson today worked on refining the form, and also finishing off the final moves. i still have a number of lingering issues, but i think the situation is manageable in that the process of refinement is ultimately about addressing 1 issue at a time.

beyond this, however, i also had an extended discussion with Sifu regarding some of the concepts that he thought i needed--not just in terms of chang quan, but in terms of my martial arts in general. he noted the following:
  • smooth: Sifu said that at this stage of my development i should focus on doing the form smooth. similar to the acronym SLED he gave to the tai chi class (slow, long, even, deep), he said i should do the same thing, but with the "s" being smooth. currently, he said i tended to have a lot of stop-and-go movements, with the rhythm of the form being broken. this is an issue, in that it throttles the power generation in the techniques, since it stops momentum and suppresses range of motion, both things which are necessary for the techniques to work.
  • extension: i'm working on being consistent in the extension of my movements, but it's still inconsistent. thsi is an issue, since a lot of the techniques in pao quan require a certain amount of follow-through to be effective, and the follow-through is only possible by extending fully into the techniques. Sifu said that focusing on smoothness in my movements would go a long way towards alleviating this problem.
  • hwa, na, not fa: Sifu commented that i was focusing too much on injecting fa jing (explosive energy) into the movements. but in doing so, i was skipping over the other aspects of jing, particularly hwa (receiving and redirecting) and na (positioning and control). similar to tai chi, chang quan requires the sequence of ting, hwa, na, and then fa jing--i should note this makes sense, seeing that tai chi originated from chang quan.
  • connections: Sifu also warned me to not ignore the connections between the techniques. if anything, the connections are even more important than the techniques themselves. the connections serve as transitions enabling the practitioner to carry over energy--and hence power--into new directions. they also serve to integrate ting, hwa, and na jing into movements, setting the practitioner into positions to generate fa jing. as a result, they are necessary precursors to produce effective results.
i should observe that at this point we ended up going into a much more general conversation about the nature of power generation in martial arts--at least, TCMA. it began when Sifu noted that power generation in kung fu does not require fa jing, or explosive energy. in fact, kung fu can actually be effective without it altogether. we touched on a number of points:
  • his perspective is that power exerted by the body is really an application of physics. in which case, there is more than just simply explosive action. instead, proper positioning and direction of force along certain paths of motion (i.e., ting, hwa, na) can serve to disrupt and breakdown an opponent.
  • this is why he says that movements in techniques should not be directed at the opponent, but should actually be directed through the opponent--because it means that your movements are acting to disrupt and breakdown the opponent's structure. in essence, this means that you have to follow-through, which is why extension is important, since you have to train the body to fully extend through a range of motion to ingrain the follow-through into your body's memory.
  • because power can be generated through a variety of ways, fa jing is really just an option. it's not necessary. if anything, it's just a bonus.
  • power generation, in a martial arts context, has to be constantly available. in other words, the movements need to have set you up to exert power at any moment. this is necessary, since in a combat situation you have to be able to react to anything your opponent(s) may do. this is why it's important to focus on smooth and continuous movements, with connections that flow seamlessly from one to the other, since this means you are maximizing your ability to apply force in any direction in any time based on whatever you think is necessary to address an opponent's choice of action.
i asked Sifu if these apply to other styles--i could see that they are consistent with chang quan, tai chi, and bagua, but was curious about other styles like baji, which is renowned for its fa jing. he responded that you can visualize the power generation in baji as being like a firecracker, with the fa jing being the explosion. in contrast, he noted that power generation in bagua is like a smooth running engine--it doesn't appear spectacular or impressive, but you still risk serious injury if you allow yourself to be put into contact with its moving parts.

beyond this, however, he asserted that there are serious misconceptions held by many people about martial arts, at least in regards in TCMA, and specifically for northern TCMA. he reiterated his belief that one of the defining characteristics for northern TCMA is the consistent use of all jings: ting, hwa, na, and fa. even with baji, he said it is a misnomer held by many that baji quan is exclusively about fa jing. he demonstrated a few baji moves for me, and pointed out that in each one there is a sequence of ting, hwa, and na that precedes the fa jing. going further, he showed how the baji moves could still be effective without the fa jing.

he extended the demonstration by showing a few bagua movements for comparison, and then pointed out that while bagua may appear to be a converse of baji, in that bagua emphasizes ting, hwa, and na jing, it still allows fa jing to be exerted anywhere in its movements. he pointed out that the more advanced stages of bagua actually incorporate fa jing into bagua movements, particularly the fist and arm forms. an intelligent practitioner, he argued, could actually learn 64 palms, xiao kai men, or even mother palm, and see how fa jing could be utilized within them.

i asked him if this is why so many people find power generation in bagua so difficult, because they can't understand and utilize the idea of using appropriate movements (i.e., specific force in specific directions following specific paths) to apply the energy (i.e., angular & linear momentum) and the physics (i.e., kinetic & potential energy, center of mass, etc.) of action. he affirmed this, and said this is in part because it's very difficult to see, and so hard to grasp. but he noted that it was the same thing with baji, since it is so subtle and occurs so fast that people frequently never recognize that it is there.

this means that all styles--at least, with northern TCMA--express both hard and soft elements in their advanced stages. their curriculum may follow different sequences in terms of which elements are taught first, but in the end they all incorporate all aspects of hard and soft, and integrate all forms of jing.

Sifu then returned to the notions of smoothness and connections. he said that in his opinion the earlier stages of any curriculum of any style, at least in northern TCMA, should focus on developing smoothness and connections in movements. this serves to set the stage, or base, that allows a practitioner to exert fa jing at will--and the key words are at will. in essence, you don't have to exert fa jing the same way or the same time as anyone else does or anyone else fact you don't want to do this at all, since your decisions to generate power, via fa jing or any other method, should really be a function of what is going on in combat, and what you choose to do in relation to your opponent. in essence, it all depends on what your opponent is doing.

Sifu finished by then discussing the historical order of the various martial arts he knows, so as to provide some context as to the development of thinking regarding the concepts we'd covered. bagua is the most recent, and reflects a fairly sophisticated level if thinking that exploits the insight that power generation can be done through the physics of movement, rather than explosion. tai chi is older, and shows an earlier expression of the principles that were expanded in bagua, and you can see that tai chi really was the product of martial arts practitioners who took long fist and modified it to focus more on concepts of ting, hwa, and na jing--even though they would then keep the option (just like bagua or any other northern TCMA) of using fa jing within it if a situation called for it.

baji/piqua are slightly older, and came from a different source than the others, but you can still see that the people who developed it were following a line of reasoning that still worked with the same concepts used by the other styles.

chang quan is the oldest, and expresses all the concepts at the most fundamental level. having said this, Sifu noted that it is still just as difficult to grasp, since so many of the movements don't clearly demonstrate ting, hwa, na, and fa jing, or the nature of the techniques and the transitions connecting them. there are many nuances, and unfortunately many people have either never learned them, or they gloss over them without realizing their importance. Sifu observed that it's unfortunate that so much of modern wushu works with chang quan, since it has served to distort chang quan and given a very skewed image of it to the public.

of course, the oldest by far is shuai jiao, since it traces back before the start of the Christian calendar. and in many ways, it's also the most basic, working with the most elementary concepts of the human body. but it precedes the development in understanding and reasoning that began with chang quan and which was picked up by the later styles.

Sifu commented that it is somewhat useful to travel to China to visit with people who have preserved these styles, since you can clearly see the progression in thinking in the original versions. this is why he said so many people recognize the martial arts practiced in the Muslim regions of China, because the Muslim Chinese tended to preserve their martial arts very well, and so allow you to see the thinking of the styles as when they were originally conceived. he cautioned, however, that the number of practitioners who preserve the older traditional styles is decreasing, since so many of them are old and hence in the process of dying off. this makes it harder to see the original TCMA. it doesn't help that the newer generation of practitioners has been influenced by modern wushu, which has done little to preserve the traditional versions of TCMA. Sifu said this is why it's important that any TCMA practitioner visiting China schedule time during their tours to meet with the old masters and see their martial arts, because chances are they won't be around for long.

this was the end of the session, and Sifu said that the next time we'd work on refining my movements, and then also work on alternative techniques in the form.

forest palm

Sifu scheduled this saturday as the start of forest palms. he had us practice 64 palms side B for awhile, and then led us through the initial movements of forest palm.

by way of introduction Sifu noted the following:
  • forest palm assumes that the practitioner is already well-versed with a large number of concepts and movements, and so is reserved for more advanced students who have a firm grounding in the earlier stages of the bagua curriculum
  • forest palm develops the components of bagua that apply to confronting multiple opponents at once--2, 3, or more. to do this, practitioners utilize dummies consisting of wooden poles, sometimes as many as 8, and do the form weaving in and out and among the wooden poles to mimic the actions undertaken against the corresponding number of opponents.
  • the techniques in forest palm feature further variations in applications compared to xiao kai men or 64 palms, even though they may appear similar, and so can serve to demonstrate a larger array of interpretations
we went about 8 moves into forest palm, and spent the bulk of time working on the form and learning their applications. we finished with this, and went to lunch.


Saturday evening marked my 1st kyudo class. i seriously considered skipping this today, since i was feeling a little tired. but i figured i had committed to this, and that it would be good for me to follow through.

the kyudo dojo is held at the Japanese Cultural Institute in Pasadena, and is run by Sensei Rick Beal, who it turns out is also a zen monk. from what i can tell, based on initial impressions, things are somewhat informal but also very formal--there is no set curriculum following a specific timetable that people follow, either in terms of each class or their long-term development; there is, however, clearly defined rituals and steps in terms of sutras, the kyudo forms, dojo practices, and opening and closing activities.

originally, i had meant to attend last weak, but Sensei had informed me that last week they held no class, and has asked i wait until this week. for today, as a make-up, it turned out they had an extended session starting from 3pm and going until their usual finishing time around 10pm (note: the usual class time is about 5:30-10pm).

for today, i spent the class observing, and having conversations with some of the other students as well as with Sensei. we ended up talking quite a bit about zen, and spirituality, as well as the nature of breathing, the nuances of the japanese kyudo bow, and the coordination of body movements (particularly the spine and dantian) to facilitate the actions involved in movement (including, but not limited to, using a bow).

i have to say i enjoyed this. it's definitely a change of pace, and in many ways a much more reflective endeavor. it's a good way to end the day. i'm glad i went, and i can see this becoming a regular part of my schedule...i just have to keep doing it. but i think this is something i can manage.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

quarterly summary - Q3, 2008

this quarterly summary is WAY late. no excuse. i've just been so busy that i completely forgot about it. this one is going to be short, because things are still pretty hectic. as always, this follows the previous quarterly summary (reference: quarterly summary - Q2, 2008).

original goals

as given in the last quarterly summary, the objectives for this quarter were:

  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • work on qi-gong
  • refine pao quan, and maybe (if time permits) start learning applications for chang quan
  • refine the bagua leg form
  • refine yang & chen tai chi long forms
  • continue learning push hands
  • refine kuen wu jian yilu, and start learning erlu and the jian shu basics
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications
  • prepare for full-speed full-contact fighting at the Las Vegas tournament
summary of events

with respect to the curriculum, this is what has been covered this past quarter:
  • refinement & applications, 64 palms: palm changes 1-8, A & B
  • continued jian shu basics
other things this quarter that were not in the curriculum:
  • prepped for the Las Vegas tournament

i'm somewhat satisfied with the progress on the goals for this quarter. i started my search for a tenure-track job (yes, i am a professor), and also had to start work as an adjunct professor. which made for a very big increase in my workload. this reduced the amount of available time i had, and so resulted in the following situation:
  • continue attending class: things were a little so-so. i made all the weekend classes, but dropped the week classes at UCLA (personal'd know if you knew me)
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class: this was a little spotty as well, as there were a few weeks i had some injury issues and had to rest
  • continue learning applications: this is a given
  • work on qi-gong: spotty. definitely spotty. didn't have as much time with this as i would have liked. but hopefully i'll be able to devote more time to it over the winter.
  • refine pao quan, and maybe (if time permits) start learning applications for chang quan: this is something i spoke with Sifu about, and we decided to put this off until after the Las Vegas tournament
  • refine the bagua leg form: bleah. did not do this at all. i know the form, but i've only managed to put in a couple of practice sessions on it.
  • refine yang & chen tai chi long forms: ditto.
  • continue learning push hands: we did a little of this, but the bulk of time was spent prepping for the Las Vegas tournament
  • refine kuen wu jian yilu, and start learning erlu and the jian shu basics: ditto
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications: ditto
  • prepare for full-speed full-contact fighting at the Las Vegas tournament: this was the bulk of time

my comments can be summarized as follows:
  • tournament: there ended up being a conflict between the beginner sparring and the jian shu. Sifu had told me the jian shu was the higher priority in his opinion, since it was the first time it was being held as a formal component in the tournament, and so i decided to withdraw from beginner sparring and help out Alex as a judge. this turned out to be a good move, since we ended up actually being short-handed on jian shu judges, and found ourselves with absolutely no time other than just running the tournament.
  • the future: well, now that i have a gig as an adjunct professor, i'm actually overflowing with work, and am very busy. but i'm lucky, seeing that the economy has seriously hurt a lot of people. and being an adjunct buys me time while i look for a tenure-track job. so i get to keep up my studies in the martial arts.
objectives for the future

somewhat the same themes, but just some changes:
  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • work on qi-gong
  • refine pao quan, and maybe start learning applications for chang quan
  • continue learning bagua
  • continue learning tai chi
  • continue learning push hands
  • refine kuen wu jian yilu, and start learning erlu and the jian shu basics
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications
i should also note i'm thinking of taking a kyudo class. it's japanese archery, and not entirely related to anything i'm learning now. but i've always had a curiosity about japanese archery, more as a spiritual exercise, and it turns out there is a place in Pasadena that teaches it. so i'd like to give it a try, hopefully starting with the fall classes at UCLA and USC.

rock and roll.