Wednesday, January 30, 2008

day 94: refinement of 64 palms & more pao quan

  • footwork
  • movement
  • disguising signals
  • light touch
  • palms 3 & 4
  • pao quan
before class began today, John, Phunsak, and i resumed our discussion from last week on the chen tai chi throwing technique that i'd found frustrating. Phunsak said he'd been thinking it over the week, and he saw it as a 2-stage process. i spent some time working on this, with slightly better results. i did notice, however, that when i switched partners to John, that the technique was dramatically easier to employ than it was against Phunsak. this may have something to do with their respective body types and centers of gravity, which leads to wonder if this is one of those times where a specific technique may be appropriate against one opponent but not against another. i'm going to have to think about it a little more.

Sifu called class together for announcements:
  • the combined seminar on chin na and tui na (sp?) has been definitively set for the weekend of Feb 16 & 17, with the location being at Cal State LA. Eric apparently is able to secure a room for that weekend.
  • we're closer to settling on deerhorn knives, with a definite preference on dimensions and points. in addition, on Mike's contact, it appears that Mark Mancuso can supply the weapons. we took a head count and Mike says he'll see what group discount he can get.
  • we're also apparently considering a placement of an order for staffs, since some people have had theirs break. this order will be smaller, but i think i'll go ahead and get one--assuming the quality is good.
palms 3 & 4

we began class with a run-through of palms 3 & 4 in a circle, using the same drill from last week (reference: day 91). Sifu asked me to record him doing the Yang tai chi long form, so there could be a video for the UCLA class, as well as for the other people in the weekend class practicing Yang tai chi--you can see the video on my previous post (reference: days 92 & 93).

i managed to join the tail end of the palm change, with John joining me for company. eventually, Phunsak and JJ joined us as well.

Sifu, finishing with the baji students, came back to watch us, and then stopped everyone to make a number of refinements to our form. he made a number of comments:
  • the techniques in the palm changes, in line with his comments of the past few months, are not fixed. they can be changed depending on the actions of the opponent and the choice of the practitioner. as a result, when doing the palm changes, the general motions of the techniques will vary from one repetition of the palm change to another depending on what we visualize ourselves doing (e.g., one time we can see a technique as a type of strike, another time a different type of strike, still another time a variation of a joint lock, etc.). as Art said some weeks ago: don't get married to the form.
  • the choice of application--or intent--in a technique will call for changes in footwork and movement to accommodate effective expression of the application. using the 3rd palm change, Sifu showed that the spin can lead to options, with him demonstrating a throw, a joint lock at the wrist, an arm bar at the elbow, or combination arm-bar and head-lock. each one, however, calls for a different amount of extension in footwork, and a different amount of rotation in the spin--the throw and joint locks at the wrist can be done close or far from the opponent, and with only partial spin, while the arm bar and head-lock call for closer positioning and full rotation into the spin.
  • as a general issue, Sifu said we were getting too heavy with our movements. he said that in bagua it is crucial to disguise signals, and that heavy movements (i.e., movements with force) generate clear signals for the opponent, making it easier for them to read and react. he said heavy movements need to be minimized or eliminated. rather, we need to focus on a light touch, with just enough contact to sense our opponent's actions, and only enough force to position ourselves in ways to exploit weaknesses in the opponent's structure. even when entering a gate, we need to maintain a light touch. it is only at the moment we decide to project an application that we exercise heavier touch--and by the time the opponent reads this, it will be too late for him to do anything. Sifu demonstrated this again with palm change 3, and showed how it is much easier to defend against when it is used with light contact.
we resumed the palm changes with this, but this time working in pairs to review the applications. John and i were enamored of the combination arm-bar and head-lock, and worked on trying to apply this. personally, i find it surprisingly brutal, since a simple twist in the arms through the shoulders can result in the opponent's elbow and shoulder snapping out of place. after playing with this for awhile, we took time with Phunsak and JJ to go through the ways in which a practitioner can switch from one application to another based on whatever position arises in facing a hostile opponent.

pao quan

during a break in our practice, i asked Phunsak to help me a little bit more with pao quan. i had him watch my form, and correct some questions i had about movements as well as their applications. he also took me a few more moves into the form.

by this time, the class was coming to an end for the day, and the rain was starting to approach, so we decided to wrap things up. Sifu reminded us about tomorrow and called class to a close.

Monday, January 28, 2008

days 92 & 93: Yang, with applications

  • sense, receive, neutralize/divert, project
  • breathing
  • ball and bowl
  • Yang long form
this are a little different this quarter, not so much in terms of content, but in terms of how i perceive the materials. last quarter was a bit of a climb, since it was the first exposure to tai chi concepts (e.g., wuji, tai chi, yin/yang, ball & bowl, etc.). even though we did the Yang simplified 24 movement form, i found the time outside the form more than filling.

this quarter, we're spending more time learning form. this is largely because we're doing the long form, and also because the curriculum was originally intended to accommodate students who had taken last quarter's class. however, i'm finding it valuable to have gone through last quarter's materials, since we're covering the same concepts and principals this quarter with the long form.

what's interesting is that now that i have last quarter's base of knowledge, i'm seeing things with a little bit more discriminating concentration. as a result, even though many of the movements are the same as before, i'm seeing additional layers of subtlety that i missed before. Art had warned me about this before, saying that even though Sifu may present the lessons in the same way multiple times, the amount of insight a person will gain is proportional to their level of experience and knowledge--which means that more advanced students will get more out of the lessons than beginners. i'm starting to understand what he meant.

in regards to these blog posts, you'll find less discussion on the concepts presented last quarter. for the times in class when Sifu presents the same lessons, i'm glossing things over. i prefer to devote more space to the new lessons he gives. i should note that sometimes the new lessons deal with old concepts, but present additional aspects or insight into the old concepts, and so you may find some space devoted to topics covered in previous posts. but for the most part, i'll try to keep things focused on new materials.

day 92

we continued with a progression into the long form. however, today we spent additional time working on stances, guiding everyone through horse, 70-30, 60-40, and bow-and-arrow stance. Art and i helped out in class by correcting some of the students who were having problems.

during today, Sifu also began introducing the concepts of ball and bowl, along with breathing, in relation to the movements. he didn't go into the same depth as last quarter, but i suspect that at this stage beginners would only really understand a little of it anyway. i think Sifu did just as well as to limit today's presentation by excluding coverage of qi-gong, and focusing instead on the nature of using ball and bowl concepts to aid visualization of proper technique, as well as the incorporation of breathing to understand contraction and expansion phases of movement in the form.

something i did notice with the long form is that it really is composed of repeating elements. Art had asserted that this was why he believes the long form can be learned within the quarter--although he qualified this by saying that he meant only the form, and not any of the deeper tai chi concepts related to it (e.g., qi-gong, push hands, etc.).

i commented to him that it seemed like the long form was an extension of the 24 movement form, with the same techniques just rearranged and repeated. Art affirmed this, and said that this is why he thinks that for someone who knows the short form, the long form is a pretty straightforward thing to learn. the issue, however, is to then layer in the additional layers of understanding that make the techniques in the forms more effective.

at couple of points during class, Art demonstrated what he meant by pointing out some flaws in my technique. in particular, my pull-down didn't incorporate any hip movement (which is necessary for the technique to work), and my press utilized too much of my arms and chest when it should have been using my spine and scapula (again, this is necessary for the technique to work).

we spent some extra time today doing applications. i had the privilege of being the tackling dummy. Sifu pointed out the differences in application between ward off, parting wild horse's mane, and slanted flying (ward-off lifts the opponent, parting wild horse's mane sends a vector into them driving them backwards, and slanted flying creates a rotational vector throwing them to their backside). we also spent time learning the combat applications for pull-down and press.

we finished the day with a few additional repetitions of the long form.

day 93

today build upon Tuesday, with introduction of additional stances: rooster and snake. Sifu also challenged people by going deeper into the form. he pointed out to everyone that the extra dose of techniques he taught today incorporated repetition of the same series from earlier in the form, so it really shouldn't be seen as an additional burden.

something that caught my attention today was Sifu's integration of some uniquely tai chi concepts that i've heard in the larger tai chi community but had not yet heard in the UCLA class until today: sense, receive, neutralize/divert, and project. i've seen these terms bandied about quite a bit in discussion related to tai chi, even though i suspect they're really universal concepts about fighting. i don't know if we're using the exact same terms as typically employed in Western translations, but Sifu described them thus:
  • sense--this is connected to the seminar last December in Long Beach (reference: day 84), with Sifu saying this is about "feeling" or "hearing" the opponent's intent, so you can know what they are going to do. the goal is to sense their energy, so you can react to their signals. similar to the seminar, Sifu stressed that we should "play" with the opponent's energy to disrupt their focus and structure, not just in terms of physical activity but also mental activity
  • receive--this refers to dealing with an opponent's movement. in tai chi, the goal is to avoid direct force-on-force confrontation, which is likely to cause the defender as much pain as it causes the attacker, and worse produce a situation where control is determined by whoever can exert greater force. instead, in tai chi, the goal is to use indirect reception of the opponent's attack that reduces the opponent's attack vector going into you.
  • neutralize/divert--this means responding to the opponent's movements in a way that suppresses or removes their force vector into you, and which allows you to use the opponent's movements to implement your own counter-actions, whether defensive or offensive.
  • projection--this is transmission of your own force vector into the opponent. in tai chi, this doesn't necessarily mean utilization of your own energy, but also utilization of the opponent's energy redirected in a way that protects you while controlling the opponent.
of course, applying these concepts requires a certain level of skill. as much as they are ways of using physics, and hence are understandable on an intellectual level, they still require a lot of work in terms of learning how to engage the correct bio-mechanical actions to express them...particularly in a combat setting. these concepts require that a person be relaxed, aware of their senses, calm, and clear in focus, none of which are really easy to do in a state of fear, anger, fatigue, accelerated heart rate, surging adrenaline, or any other state associated with self-defense.

it's a lot harder than people may think. and i suspect this is the real area that takes so many people so much time to learn tai chi--understanding concepts and studying forms is one thing, but being able to then use them in a dynamic, hostile setting is something else entirely.

i also suspect that this means that you never learn a form...a form is just a learning tool. but it is a very special kind of learning tool (which is why the original masters developed them). it's the kind of tool that can be used to teach and learn different kinds of lessons with differing levels of depth. you learn the form the first time just to learn the form. you learn it again to learn the techniques. but then you have to learn it again to discover how it can be used to heighten your mind-body awareness. you learn it yet again to see how it can be synchronized to your internal processes in ways that not only improve your health, but your ability to receive, manipulate, and project energy--your own, and that of the environment around you.

this goes on for all manner of lessons, meaning you go learn a form as many times as there are lessons to learn, which effectively means you never truly learn a are always a student (kind of just like life in general).

can a person learn all this going just one time through the form? maybe. probably. but this means going so far into detail that it threatens to destroy a person's larger perspective--the classic "do you see the forest for the trees?" problem: it's entirely person for a person to get so lost in details they lose all sense of how things fit in relation to one another or the context in which things are supposed to work.

i think one of the reasons forms were developed was that it preserved context and perspective, so that a practitioner can still retain reference points as to the overall "spirit" or "nature" of the style (i.e., its principles, philosophy, and general perception of the world) that can help guide them as they delve deeper into the details of the style. as a result, forms just weren't multi-purpose tools for instruction, but really the framework upon which a student can build the palace of their eventual mastery of a particular martial art.

of course, this means that to really build a nice palace, you really have to have a good framework. there's a common principle in sports that applies here: the higher and stronger you want the house of your skills to go, the bigger and stronger your foundations must be. i think this is pretty much the same for kung fu.

i should note that this past weekend we recorded Sifu doing the entire Yang tai chi long form. i posted the videos on Youtube. you can see them at (note: i had to divide the video into 2 parts because of Youtube time limits...booooooooooooooo!!!):
part 1:

part 2:

we finished by going through several more iterations of the long form we've done to date. Sifu reminded everyone that to help everyone out, he's arriving to class early (8 am, instead of the posted 8:30 am) and leaving late (11 am, instead of the posted 10 am). we called class to a close with that.

Monday, January 21, 2008

day 91: 64 palms in the circle

  • placement & positioning
  • footwork
  • ling cung jing
  • 64 palms, palms 1-4
it was a beautiful day in the park, with clear sun, no clouds, no wind, and temps warmer than the forecast 70 degrees.

before class started, i worked with John, and later Phunsak, trying to figure out 1 of the techniques from the Chen tai chi form (a variation of strumming the lute involving a throw) that had given me so much trouble last week. as much as i understood the principles (or at least, thought i did), i didn't really seem to get the mechanics. turns out we all had some issued remembering the technique, so we ended up spending a fair amount of time trying to figure things out. i didn't really improve my mastery of this technique, and am still scratching my head on this one. Phunsak says it's a coordination issue, but that's not really very reassuring.

class began with Sifu gathering everyone together for some announcements about the next steps in the curriculum:
  • forms--bagua is finishing 64 palms. originally, the plan was to proceed to the fist form. but Sifu says that the fist form is very long, and potentially overwhelming. he thinks it will be better to go to the arm form first, which will help provide the necessary building blocks for the fist and eventually elbow form.
  • weapons--as part of our bagua training, Sifu said that we should learn the deer-horn knives, particularly since it incorporates so much of the core components for the arm, elbow, and fist forms. he thinks it will help with our training for those forms, as well as strengthen our existing body of development in bagua. in addition, he would like to see everyone (both bagua and baji students) acquire staffs and possibly double sticks.
the issue about the latter is purchasing the weapons. Sifu says he no longer knows of any high-quality sources for them, since the ones he knew have either gone out of business or have declined in quality. Phunsak showed printouts from one source, and Sifu seemed somewhat satisfied. ultimately, however, the decision was made to continue researching places that sold high-quality materials. also, Sifu and Phunsak seemed to think that Andre would have better knowledge of reputable dealers, particularly ones that could sell high-quality weapons in bulk with discounts for group sales to all of us.

64 palms, palms 1-4, in a circle

finishing announcements, Sifu instructed the bagua students to do palms 1-4 in a circle, and that he would polish our technique after starting the baji students with their lesson plan.

to start us off, Sifu stood in the center of our circle, and told us to practice doing the palm changes with changes in our focus. he asked us to first do the palm changes focusing on an opponent in the center of the circle (i.e., where he was standing), and then to do the palm changes focusing on a point beyond the opponent.

Sifu stressed that this drill was about more than just visual focus, but about overall sensory focus and imagination, so that we see our movements and actions working not on a 2-dimensional plane placed perpendicularly in front of us (i.e., we don't see the opponent as a figure on a television screen), but more in 3-d space, so that we operate not into the opponent, but through them. Sifu noted this is important to express the true nature of bagua, which involves moving to surround the opponent and overload their senses. in addition, it also multiplies the power and effectiveness of the techniques.

Sifu explained that this was a drill he'd forgotten to incorporate in the bagua curriculum, and only recently remembered. he noted that it was a drill Liu Yun Chiao had his students do, but that when he had done so he had only explained it very briefly. Sifu himself has apparently not taught this drill in quite some time--Phunsak told me he's never seen it.

apart from developing the nature of bagua (i.e., the bagua "spirit" or "essence" or, in Sifu's words, the "true flavor of bagua") and power, this drill also seems to train the student's ability to switch seamlessly between point focus (i.e., the ability to focus on a specific point) and soft focus (i.e., the ability to focus on general surroundings while still maintaining awareness of a target). you need to have both, since it allows you to maintain and develop the sensory capacity necessary to operate effectively in a dynamic, constantly moving setting--particularly one where you are asked to be the dynamo, moving in 3-d space about an uncooperative and hostile attacker.

Sifu watched us for palm change 1, then instructed Phunsak to continue leading us through palm changes 2-4 while he went to work with the baji students.

so far we've done palms 1-8 in a line and in 2-person sets. technically, this is the 1st time we've done them in a circle. in truth, however, i know that some of us (me, i know, and John, i suspect, and Phunsak, without question), have already been doing this. i've experimented with it, not knowing the official form normally done for presentations. i've pieced it together, although i have no idea if it comports with the official version.

we did 10 iterations of each palm change, with 5 focusing on the center of the circle (1 iteration including both left and right palm changes) and 5 focusing beyond the center of the circle.

after awhile, Sifu returned to make comments about our palm changes:
  • placement & positioning--continuing his statements from the start of the lesson, Sifu pointed out that each palm change's sequence of techniques had a purpose other than just helping to remember general applications. he said the order of the techniques also has the purpose of helping understand just where and when the practitioner should be moving. using the 2nd palm change as an example, he demonstrated how it shows the user 1) where they should be placed relative to an opponent, and 2) their positioning (orientation and posture) in relaton to the opponent. moreover, it shows how the practitioner can move seamlessly from one technique to another. Sifu said we should note that the palm changes illustrate his point about doing more than just visualize the opponent in 2-d, but instead place yourself to attack the opponent in 3-d so that your power goes through the opponent.
  • footwork--Sifu called upon us to notice the nature of attack and defense in bagua. the palm changes, he noted, show you that you don't have to be facing the opponent to be effective, but that instead you can attack and defend from any placement or positioning. if anything, you actually need to do this. bagua calls upon the practitioner to understand that you operate without facing the opponent, and avoiding face-to-face confrontation, but rather exercise an "insurgent" mindset of locating and exploiting weak points in unexpected, unconventional, unknown places. to make this possible, you have to exercise good footwork, and recognize that the footwork is the essential element of getting yourself behind, around, under, over, or into an opponent...and even at the point of attack, when you seek to disrupt the center, you are not going directly at the opponent, but (again) through them.
  • ling cung jing (sic--sp?)--as an additional point, Sifu asked us to observe that bagua, similar to tai chi, utilizes ling cung jing. using tai chi push hands, he demonstrated that you can overcome a force-on-force (yang-versus-yang) confrontation by a slight pulse of yielding and then force (i.e., slight yin, and then immediately into yang). he showed how this works with the 2nd palm change, and that it serves to break the force vector and opponent's concentration just enough to instigate instability into their structure, which you can then exploit for further destruction. i should note that i may be wrong in this interpretation (as well as spelling) of ling cung jing, since this was something new to me (i've seen it in typical schoolyard settings, but not in the context of formal martial arts application).
we eventually finished for the day, with Sifu pointing out that it was time everyone got ready to go to UCLA for Ching-Chieh's performance. we called class to a close and went to lunch.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

days 89 & 90: Yang long form

  • wuji
  • tai chi (static & dynamic)
  • Yang long form
this week was pretty straightforward, with concepts coming from last quarter and the bulk of time spent working through the long form.

day 89

Sifu appears to be starting at 8 am to help those students who have to leave class early. in addition, to help prior students from last quarter who are unable to make both Tuesdays and Thursdays, he also seems to be covering more of the long form in the Tuesday class than the Thursday one.

i noticed that we went farther in the 30 minutes before class than for the regular 8:30 class time. but since the early students were all returning from last quarter, i think this made things go much faster.

having done the short form, i can see that the long form is largely a rearrangement of the short form, except with more repetitions. Art said this is why the long form is not that much more difficult to learn than the short form. he cautioned, however, that there were a few new techniques in the Yang long form, although they would be coming later.

day 90

today was an extension of Tuesday, and we managed to work through most of the form we learned in the 30 minute "pre-class" time from Tuesday. however, we spent more time presenting the combat applications today, as well as giving repetitions and refinements to help the new students in the class get used to the techniques. in addition, we also took time to work through the concepts of wuji, static tai chi (yin and yang while stationary, in terms of weight distribution and muscle tension), and dynamic tai chi (yin and yang in motion, in terms of direction of movement and force).

that's really all. again, short, huh? but it helps to have covered some of the basic materials before.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

day 88: chen tai chi long form (kicks!) & kuen wu jian (fluidity)

  • kick tools
  • chen tai chi long form
  • kuen wu jian
i forgot to mention that another long-absent student returned: Andre. Phunsak seemed to know him pretty well, and he's apparently another advanced student who's been gone for awhile, but he's decided to resume training, and so is refreshing his memory by coming back.

i also forgot to add another announcement to yesterday's Saturday set. Sifu said he wanted to organize a class trip next Saturday evening to Ching-Chieh's dance performance, which is introducing the Sun-Shier Dance Theatre from Taiwan to Southern California. they're performing at UCLA for 2 days (Friday & Sunday, the 18th & 19th). her leave to Taiwan was to collaborate with them on a project, and this is their presentation to the U.S. the plan at the moment is to have everyone meet Saturday evening and ride over to Westwood for a meal, then go to the UCLA campus for the 8pm performance. we'll sort out the rides at the Saturday class.

chen tai chi long form

we began this Sunday with a resumption of the chen long form. Sifu warned us that we were getting to a section with a lot of kicks, and that they involved a lot of balancing.

we're in the heart of the form right now, and the section of kicks we're doing involve transitions in and out of heel kicks, knee strikes, and leg hooks, with most of them requiring moving from one action to another while standing on 1 leg. in addition, all of this is coordinated with upper body movements that are integral to the techniques.

we went through a number of combat applications of the new techniques in the form. in particular we spent time discussing the kicks. Sifu made a number of points:
  • kick tools: i'm referring to the striking surfaces used in each kick. Sifu said other martial arts often use the top of the foot, the outside edge of the foot, or the shins as kicking surfaces. tai chi, in contrast, uses different areas. tai chi uses the heel, the inside of the foot, and the upper knob of the tibia.
  • kick range: other martial arts use kicks that extend forward as long-range strikes reaching farther than the arms, or as close-in strikes within grappling range. in tai chi, the preference is for kicks that are within arm-length, or close-in.
  • the leg is not supposed to be straight while kicking, but is supposed to be slightly bent, even at full extension.
  • heel kick: Sifu commented that the common perception is that the heel kick is directly forward. however, it can also be downward, so that it strikes while dropping down. particularly for kicks to the kidneys, the heel should be going at a downward angle (not directly down, but at an angle into the kidney).
  • thigh kick: strikes to the thigh tend to be interpreted as kicks to the quads. but the real target is the sciatic nerve which runs along the border of the outside quad and hamstring. strikes to this should be done with the inner part of the foot.
  • knee blocks: the misperception here is to block a low kick using the shin or knee. but this is dangerous as it exposes those parts to the opponent's kicks, particularly those using their shins, thereby creating a confrontation between whose bones are harder. the better block is with the outside upper knob of the tibia, which is harder than the lower tibia, fibula, or foot.
i had some issues with some of the techniques today. not that i didn't understand the principles--i could see them well enough. the problem was in coordinating the upper and lower body in a way that created the physics. this was a little perplexing, and i'm not sure if it was because i was missing information or if i was just tired from the previous week. i'm going to have to work on them a little more.

kuen wu jian

after the long form, we proceeded to go farther into the kuen wu jian form. Sifu also made some points about the techniques:
  • the grip is dynamic, meaning it changes in the course of the form. it's supposed to go from a firm grip to a soft one, as well as adjusting thumb and finger placement, depending on the technique. this happens during the course of a fight, and is necessary for control and transmission of power.
  • the striking and blocking surfaces are different. typically, the blocking surface of the sword is the flat portion of the blade, while the striking surface is the tip and edge--for a jian, it is more the tip.
i was running out of steam by this stage, so my ability to follow along got a little spotty. i was, to say the least, not very fluid. i focused on just learning the movements, with the goal of practicing the finer points later on after i've gotten a chance to rest up.

we finished by recording the 2-person form for palm change 8 (reference: day 87), and ended the day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

day 87: 2-person palm change 8, dim mak, chin na, and announcements

  • yin-yang
  • pressure points
  • joint locks
  • 2-person palm change 8, A v B
  • dim mak
  • chin na
i almost didn't make it to class this morning. i'm in the peak of Ironman training, and this past week was a heavy week. i strained a lower back muscle on the Monday, but kept with things to hit the Friday climax of a 3-hr run on sore legs and tired body (intentionally...this is part of the training). so i wasn't really feeling my best.

waking up this morning was the last thing i wanted to do. i didn't get out of bed until 8:30, which is very late, and only got to Casuda Canyon Park a few minutes early, feeling less than ready. but you figure days like this every once in a while is good for you (it builds character), so i went ahead and sucked it up.

John Eagles showed up early as well, just in time to greet a returning student (JJ ???). the 3 of us went through bagua qi-gong level 1, and then warmed up with bagua mother palm. John and i reasoned that we hadn't done either in a while, and we figured it would be good to review and make sure it was still in our memory.

by the time we finished, the rest of the class had arrived. Sifu gathered the bagua and baji students together to make a number of announcements:
  1. Orlando tournament: apparently the Baltimore tournament lost the sponsorship of the American Kung Fu Federation (sic?), which instead is now sponsoring a tournament in Orlando. Sifu said he wanted to try and get a group together to go to this, and said he'd have Phunsak send out details later.
  2. Las Vegas tournament: while on the topic, Sifu also reminded us of the tournament in Las Vegas, being run by Tony Yang, a Wutan brother of Sifu's currently in Ohio. Sifu said he'd also like to get a group to go to this, and said he'd have Phunsak also include details about this.
  3. TCM seminar: Sifu also noted that he'd been having some thoughts over the break, and decided it would be good to have a seminar on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) related to pressure points and joints. he said the seminar would approach things from 2 sides: from destruction (in a combat setting) and reconstruction (in a healing setting). Sifu said it was important to know both, since you can't really do one without the other. he is still debating when to hold this, and how to structure it, but currently is considering 3 different sessions sometime in February or March.
palm change 8, 2-person A v B

finishing the announcements, Sifu had us break off into groups, and said we needed to finish up 64 palms, since he wanted us to start on the bagua fist form. before he went to start the baji students with their lesson plan, he instructed Phunsak to have us finish the 2-person form for palm change 8, which was the last remaining unfinished part of 64 palms.

as a refresher, Phunsak led us through several iterations of side B, and then several iterations of side A. he then had us pair up to work through the 2-person form, with A versus B.

pretty much like all the other 2-person forms, this took a little time to work through. John and i had worked on trying to figure this out for ourselves sometime back in December, but had a number of unresolved questions that we had not been sure on. Phunsak had memories of 2 different versions from the previous times he'd seen the curriculum, and decided to have us learn 1 of them.

we did a number of repetitions for both left and right sides, and then switched off roles, with the person who was side A then playing side B. after awhile, we then switched partners, and did more iterations.

Sifu returned, and proceeded to go around and check our forms. he stopped us to point out that there was a chin na application at the end of the 2-person form that we were glossing over or missing completely. he noted this was important, because it showed not only how to create a wrist lock, but also how to escape it. he demonstrated both sides of this, and then had us included this in our repetitions through the form.

you can see the 2-person form for palm change 8 here:
Youtube link:

dim mak & chin na

at this point, Sifu said he wanted to go a little bit further on the topic of joint locks, as well as pressure points. he called the baji students over, and addressed as a group again.

he said that it was time we started discussing these aspects of TCMA a little bit more. so far, we've covered punches, kicks, and throws. but he also wanted to see us learn about joint locks and pressure points. both affect a person's nervous and circulatory systems, and hence can disrupt (or correct) a person's energy and health.

he noted that chin na is usually perceived as dealing with joint locks, but that it also covers pressure points--which in the West is labeled as dim mak, and is frequently associated with discussions of meridians, chi flow, and acupuncture. he said that the knowledge in TCMA about joint locks and pressure points actually derive from TCM, and so learning about them requires education in TCM. as a result, the process of learning how to use joints and pressure points to attack also requires learning how to use them to heal.

he gave an anecdote of a classmate who learned about pressure points in the course of martial arts training, but who in the course of his military conscription found himself stranded on an island with his unit in the middle of a hurricane. one of the soldiers apparently had a case of appendicitis, but there was no doctor and the typhoon showed no signs of abating. the classmate was the only person in the unit with anything approaching medical training. ultimately, even though he had no formal medical training, the classmate used his knowledge of pressure points to work the nervous system of the soldier to perform emergency surgery.

Sifu said this is why he wanted to give a seminar on this, since he felt it was an integral part of any person's martial arts training in kung fu.

he didn't go into an in-depth class on this for this class. however, for now, he did go at length about several pressure points about the wrists, arms, elbows, and shoulders, particularly in relation to the joints. he showed us their location, and how they could be exploited against someone trying to grab you.

Sifu cautioned that joints and pressure points are not universal in their vulnerability. he noted that some joint and pressure points will vary in sensitivity in relation to their positioning, and that what may work for a person in 1 position will not work in another position. this means that you have to constantly adjust your actions on joints and pressure points depending on what the attacker is doing. he said that this is why it's important to have a deeper understanding of them, so that we know how to adjust and utilize different joint locks and pressure point strikes relative to the opponent's adjustments to escape them.

after some time on this, Sifu called class to a close. with a reminder about tomorrow's Sunday class, we ended class for the day and went to the usual post-class lunch.

Monday, January 14, 2008

day 86: starting Yang tai chi long form

  • wu ji
  • tai chi
  • Yang tai chi long form

this was the 1st day of the winter quarter at UCLA, so it was a pretty typical 1st class day. Sifu went through the roster, and gave out basic guidelines regarding course content and guidelines.

he announced that we'd be learning the Yang long form this quarter, including those who were new. we did the 1st initial moves of the long form, which consisted of the opening and slanted flying.

that was really all. unlike the other UCLA tai chi class posts, i'm not breaking this into 2 days, since i only made the Tuesday class and missed Thursday. Sifu told me i didn't miss much Thursday, since he's still focusing on basics to get the newbies up to speed.

short post, huh?

don't worry, there'll be more.

Friday, January 04, 2008

commentary: endurance sports and kung fu (part 6) - relaxation

this is a cross-post from my Ironman blog:

it's a discussion about how both endurance sports and kung fu both recognize the significance and need to have a relaxed state, physically and mentally.

we've had a winter break for several weeks, with Sifu in Hawaii and school in between quarters. this is why i haven't posted too much recently. but now that Christmas and New Year's have passed, school will be starting up again soon, and that means that kung fu classes will resume. of course, this also means that i'll be posting more frequently again.

the pattern will be the same as last semester, with the UCLA tai chi class meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the bagua class meeting Saturdays. the Chen tai chi and kuen wu jian class will also start up again, meeting every other Sunday.

rock and roll.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

quarterly summary - Q4, 2007

time again for the quarterly summary. this should be taken relative to last quarter (reference: quarterly summary - Q3, 2007).

original goals

following the "objectives for the future" given in the previous quarterly summary, the objectives for this quarter were:

  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue 2-person and multi-person drills and sparring (to improve combat application of techniques and concepts)
  • learn the more fundamental components of the curriculum
  • improve qi-gong
  • begin learning long fist (beginning by finishing tantui)
  • consider other styles to learn for the future
summary of events

with respect to the curriculum, this is what has been covered (in no particular order):
  • pao quan (about halfway, opening & closing)
  • Yang tai chi (short form)
  • Chen tai chi (long form)
  • two-person drills (stationary & moving)
  • 64 palms: palm changes 1-8 (side A), 1-8 (side B)
  • 64 palms: A v B, palm changes 1-8
  • tai chi qi-gong
  • kuen wu jian shu
  • reference materials (Yang course hand-outs)
other things that have been covered that were not necessarily within the curriculum:
  • Chinese martial arts history--ancient, traditional, modern
  • traditional Asian medicine--i've gotten more about bagua qi-gong, as well as awareness that there are other forms of qi-gong
  • combat theory--LOTS of theory. Art mentioned to me that this was because Sifu has been writing a book on Yang tai chi with him, as well as a book on jian shu with John Eagles. this has forced Sifu to really go back through all this theory and then assemble and organize it. the result has been that he's been presenting this to class as we've gone along...i don't mind. in fact, i'm perfectly happy. i'd like even more. i'm starting to believe that it's very difficult to understand how to apply the techniques we're learning in a full-speed full-contact combat environment (much less a random self-defense situation on the street) without a firm grasp of fighting theory and accompanying practice using the theory--in short, application is theory, theory is application, and you can't really have one without the other; any attempt to do so means incomplete (and hence, less effective) operation of the martial art.

i think i've managed to reach most of the goals for this quarter:
  • continue attending class: pretty solid here, i only missed a handful of classes
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class: this i managed to do, although things suffered a little around the time of my dissertation defense
  • continue 2-person and multi-person drills and sparring (to improve combat application of techniques and concepts): we did a lot more of this, and in a way that involved drills that i could see followed a gradually increasing difficulty level towards full-contact work. this is really good, because it's allowing me to really see and comprehend things without getting banged up--meaning less time in recovery and more time learning
  • learn the more fundamental components of the curriculum: the Yang tai chi class was probably one of the best things i've done. it allowed me to follow a curriculum all the way from the beginning, and get a better feel for the way training is structured in terms of philosophy and purpose
  • improve qi-gong: again, the Yang tai chi class was instrumental here. i found this much more responsive than the bagua qi-gong we've done in the weekend class, even though the advanced students keep telling me the bagua qi-gong is more powerful. but i suspect that this is because 1) bagua qi-gong is better suited to practitioners with more experience in qi-gong, while tai chi qi-gong is better suited to new students, and 2) my sports training is sucking out so much energy from me that it doesn't leave me with much to work with for qi-gong (especially qi-gong is about cultivating energy, and i'm not really being left with much to cultivate).
  • begin learning long fist (beginning by finishing tantui): progress here. i got through tantui, and started on the next stage of tantui training, which involves incorporation of power. i've also been studying pao quan, which is the intermediate form in long fist. i'm about halfway through that.
  • consider other styles to learn for the future: this is sort of being taken care of. with the Yang tai chi and the Chen tai chi, i've got a fair amount of material to learn. add the kuen wu jian, and my plate is pretty full.
so much stuff got covered this past quarter that it's sort of a blur. part of it was the extra Yang tai chi class during the week, another part of it was the extra weekend class every other Sunday for Chen tai chi and kuen wu jian. but i also think an additional factor was that the amount of information being relayed in the weekend classes became more concentrated.

this was good. i learned more this past quarter than i learned in the previous time i've been learning kung fu. and for all this, it was clear--if anything, even more clear than before, since it was taught in a way that was much less esoteric and much more hands-on concrete logical and used concepts that i could relate to my own cultural and educational background. that, and it was done with a no-nonsense approach that was very elucidating.

although, i should point out, that the previous year of instruction was necessary to really understand this past quarter. if i hadn't devoted so much effort over the previous year to trying understand things, i probably wouldn't have made anywhere near the progress i's typical of the learning curve: no matter how steep, there's an initial slow phase that every person has to make before they can start following the curve up. and the curve this past quarter was exponential for awhile.

we'll see how things go this coming quarter.


my comments can probably be summarized as follows:
  • theory and application: i'm going to repeat this here, because i really think this has been the main revelation this past quarter...application is theory, theory is application, and you can't have one without the other; any attempt to do so means incomplete (and hence, less effective) operation of the martial art. all the applications we were learning before were good, but i felt like it was ingredients without a recipe--you have the components of a dish, but in order to make a fine meal, you still have to know how to combine the ingredients, and know what each ingredient does to the combination. theory shows you how the applications combine together, and what each application does to your fight.
  • practice: the theory we've been getting has altered the way i've been practicing. i'm starting to feel a better (albeit still gathering) understanding of just how a martial art is a "martial art" (as opposed to just "brawling"). it's helping me see how a trained or skilled fighter can recognize an opponent, break down their strengths and weaknesses, and then manipulate both to generate a desired outcome (hopefully victory). it's also helping me see just how the new stuff we're learning fits in with everything else we've learned before--i mean, it's one thing to have other people tell me this, but it's another thing entirely to understand it, and the latter is more the sense i'm getting now.
objectives for the future

ditto from before:
  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • continue learning bagua and long fist
  • learn tai chi
  • learn kuen wu jian
  • get this theory...GET THIS THEORY...GET. THIS. THEORY.