Wednesday, February 20, 2008

day 105: ongoing refinement 64 palms

  • contact
  • distraction
  • movement down
  • 64 palms
i got to class early today to review the pao quan and kuen wu jian forms. i'm starting to get to the point in forms that if i don't review them on a regular basis, my memory starts to become spotty. i had to ask John Eagles for some help in remembering them, but he had some uncertainty himself, so we ended up working with Phunsak.

after this, we figured we might as well keep reviewing things with the Yang long form that i've been learning in the UCLA class. Phunsak knew this already, and led me, John, and (by now) Art through this--although, here too, it turns out there were a couple of points where Phunsak and Art had to discuss things.

an administrative note i should make here is that there's been some update on the deer horn knives. apparently, we found dealers with quality products, but the issue is that the dealers don't stock anymore than 1 or 2, and don't guarantee that they can get the required number we're looking to get. Art said he's going to try and contact a friend of his in Japan, since Japan tends to 1) have more serious martial arts manufacturers, and 2) a better ability guarantee quality and quantity.

64 palms, palm change 6

Sifu had us review palm change 6 in the circle today, with the theme of continuing the refinement of 64 palms. we did this for a number of iterations, and once Sifu returned from the baji students he observed us. at a number of points, he stopped us to make comments, as well as demonstrate alternative combat applications and watch us practice them. i'll summarize his comments as follows:
  • green dragon soars in sky--while we've had this as a mechanism for trapping the arm while turning into an arm bar or throw, Sifu noted that it's also a means of establishing contact with an incoming strike, and so a way of "sticking" to an opponent. in addition, it also allows you to move your hands to distract the opponent's attention while doing so.
  • the transition from purple swallow skims the water to unicorn spits out book of knowledge can be interpreted to show a response to an opponent's counterstrike. to begin, purple swallow's leading hand indicates your attempt to reach the opponent's tailbone, to basically set up a throw using both hands. however, should the opponent stop the lead hand and attempt a counter-strike of their own, you can still use the leading hand to redirect the counter and set-up a follow-up strike of your own. again, the point is that the leading hand, even if defeated, can still serve to maintain contact and allow you to "stick" the opponent.
  • black bear probes with its paw--Sifu noted here that 1) the kick, while waist-high in the form, can just as easily be a kick to the attacker's knee, inner thigh, shin, or ankle, and 2) the kick should not be done alone, since it is very easy for the opponent to block, but should instead be done in conjunction with the hand, which is meant to distract the opponent's concentration.
  • black bear turns its body--here, the point is to direct your energy down. this should force the opponent to fall without having to use the hands. Sifu pointed out that the hands act as insurance, but not because they exert force, but because they maintain contact with the opponent in a way that prevents them from stepping out of the technique.
  • big serpent coils its body--Sifu noted here that the arms, while a prominent feature of this technique, don't actually supply the power. the arms break the opponent's structure, and disrupt their center of gravity, but the power in the technique comes from the legs, which move in a grinding fashion in and out of bow-and-arrow stance (similar to tai chi).
we took some time to practice the combat applications for these, switching off partners whenever someone became tired. i worked mostly with Phunsak and John Eagles. again, i notice a distinct difference in difficulty between the two, in that i find it much easier to disrupt John's center, even while his structure is more solid. with Phunsak, his structure is more pliable, but i find the physics aren't quite as consistent in terms of manipulating his center. this is odd to me, since i find they're both roughly the same height, and so would still exhibit the same center of gravity. i'm still sorting this one out.

we finished the day with that, and called class to a close and went to the usual post-class lunch.

Monday, February 18, 2008

days 103 & 104: midterms

  • yang long form
i had a slight hitch this week. i started to feel sick over the weekend, and seeing that Ironman New Zealand was only 3 weeks away, i decided to try and nip this bug in the bud before it became too bad, and so skipped the Tuesday class. i checked with a few of the other students to see what had been covered, and also reviewed the video, and from what i could tell i didn't miss too much (although, you never really know what you missed if you weren't there to know what was covered, do you?...).

also, this week was midterms, with all of Thursday spent on midterms for the class. as a result, i didn't cover a lot, and don't really have much to post.

but don't worry, there'll be yang tai chi stuff next week.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

day 102: chen, kuen wu, bagua leg (kung fu day!)

  • contact
  • stability
  • stances
  • power
  • footwork
  • pao quan
  • Chen tai chi long form
  • kuen wu jian shu
  • bagua leg form
today was a long day, with the morning being the usual Sunday chen tai chi and kuen wu jian class and the afternoon being a private session on the bagua leg form.

pao quan

before things started, i asked Phunsak to show me a little more of pao quan, and i ended up using that for a warm-up. we were working on this when everybody else started to filter in. we didn't go too much further, since i also had some concerns with some points in the middle of the form that i wanted to clear up.

chen tai chi

Sifu began class by recording the chen tai chi long form. i've been getting a number of requests for it over the past few months (names will be withheld to protect their innocence), and their frequency has been increasing as we've gotten further into the form. i expect everyone will be relieved to find the chen long form video, which you can see at:

chen long form:

we spent time going a little further, to what i think is the halfway point of the form. Sifu demonstrated more of the combat applications.

he emphasized today the "sticking" nature of tai chi, and stressed that when we practiced, we needed to work on maintaining contact with our opponent. he noted this didn't just apply to receiving an incoming attack, but also afterwards, with the contact being maintained continuously through the subsequent counter-attack from reception to absorption or redirection to return and projection.

kuen wu jian

today we ended up dividing the morning section pretty evenly between chen tai chi and kuen wu jian. we took a few minutes to review the kuen wu jian form, and then went a little bit further. in addition, Sifu took extra time this morning to go through applications, pointing out areas where the applications called for changes in hand grip and the contact surface of the sword.

i should note that the kuen wu jian form was already recorded by Alex for the World Jian Shu League, and you can see it at:

kuen wu jian:

at this point, the morning class ended, and we went to lunch.

bagua leg form

the afternoon bagua leg form section was reduced to just me and Jay, although Phunsak eventually was lured into joining, especially when he realized that Sifu was showing some details he hadn't seen before.

Sifu showed more of the leg form. he also took more time today to work on practicing the combat applications.

in addition, he took a few moments to discuss the purpose of the leg form within the bagua curriculum. he noted that there's a common misperception that the leg form is about kicks. but he said this is a bit of a distortion, since the leg form is also used to fulfill several other purposes. Sifu listed the role of the leg form as follows:
  • stability--to help you improve your stability in terms of balance and ability to remain upright while involved in defense or offense
  • stances--to improve stances, both static and dynamic
  • kicks--to teach kicks, and show how they can be integrated into bagua
  • power--to train power, particularly explosive power, by teaching the student how to incorporate more lower-body activity into bagua movements. the lower body, Sifu stressed, is really where power in kung fu comes from
  • footwork--to train footwork, and to show students how to manipulate the feet...both their own as well as their opponent's
in keeping with the rest of this post, i should note that i recorded the bagua leg form a number of weeks ago, and you can see it at:

bagua leg form:

i have to say the leg form is a real workout...and if you do it right, it really provides an intense session for the lower body. we only went about an hour, but i was already feeling pretty tired.

by this time, Sifu asked me and Jay if we wanted to continue past the initial hour. we looked at each other and decided we'd had enough for the day. taking that as an agreement to end class, we wrapped things up until next Saturday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

day 101: more refinement of 64 palms

  • yi
  • visual sight
  • contact
  • balance
  • soft & hard
  • palm change 5
i'd meant to come to class super early today, to run through the forms for pao quan, chen tai chi, and kuen wu, particularly seeing that i've been struggling to remember certain parts of them. but as luck would have it, there was a major festival for Chinese New Year (and also Vietnamese New Year) in Monterey Park, and i'd found myself stuck in traffic at 8am in the morning. go figure.

i ended up pulling over and getting a pile of food from a favorite chinese bakery of mine over in Rosemead (yeah, i got detoured that far). my reasoning was that if this Saturday was really that big of an event, i might as well see that the rest of class didn't feel left out.

as it was, i managed to go through pao quan and kuen wu by the time people started arriving. Phunsak was late (stuck in particularly bad traffic on the 5 freeway...again, i suspect he got caught in the traffic on the way to the Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, down in Orange County). that gave me enough time to get some of what i had needed to do accomplished. John Eagles and i even managed to do a few run-throughs with the kuen wu jian form.

palm change 5

with Phunsak late, Sifu announced his plan was to work on refining palm change 5. he had the bagua students warm up with it while he got the baji students started, and then returned to watch each of us do the palm change solo.

for me, he pointed out that i was still thinking too much through the form and that i needed to exercise more yi (alternative English spelling is "i", translated as "intent"). he said this would smooth out my movements. he also made a number of other comments for everyone else, which i've summarized as follows:
  • yi (or i)--this is more connected with understanding what a movement is trying to do, so it involves just not the intent of the motion in terms of its purpose, but also understanding of its physics and its target. this affects the movement, direction, and placement of force, as well as its magnitude (i.e., it affects the force vector).
  • visual sight--Sifu noted this is a continuing bad habit of mine. he estimates 25% of the time my eyes tend to wander, usually to the ground. he noted that you have to understand where the opponent is supposed to be in connection with a particular technique, since this influences your yi. in addition to this, it's important in that it allows you to better follow your opponent's actions.
  • contact--people seem to be continuing the habit of breaking physical contact. Sifu reminded everyone that bagua involves maintaining contact with an opponent. this is why there's such a frequent use of the term "sticking." this is important in terms of not only improving your sensitivity to an opponent's actions, but also important in terms of overloading the opponent's senses and confusing their interpretation of your action, and so thereby disguises your movements to help catch and disrupt the opponent
  • balance--we have to maintain balance. Sifu stressed this involves strengthening of our stances, which can be done by better visualizing and applying the direction of our force (whether from our body weight or from the energy of our movements) through our legs down to our toes. this is why bagua often uses the term "grabbing the ground with the toes." this seems to help lower the center of gravity, thereby improving balance.
  • soft & hard--Sifu noted that are movements tend to be either too soft or too hard. he noted that in bagua, similar to other martial arts, there is a balance between hard and soft, just like there's a balance between yin and yang. he said we need to be soft in following and sticking to an opponent's movements, and soft in positioning ourselves for counter-attack. but this doesn't mean being soft all the time, since we still have to apply a force vector to project energy at the moment we launch an attack. as a result, we have to recognize that we have to be able to flow seamlessly between soft and hard.
Phunsak eventually arrived, and just in time for Sifu's comments about the techniques in palm change 5 themselves. he observed:
  • move the mountain and reverse the sea actually involves a rotational motion to redirect an opponent's strike, or to move their defenses out of the way. Sifu noted the rotation is very similar to the ball and bowl qi-gong from tai chi, and in fact is really just an application of it.
  • unicorn turns its body is just a reminder to smack (i.e., slap) the opponent, and so doesn't have to be done in conjunction with any other techniques, and can be offensive just as much as it can be defensive. in the past, we've seen it as an escape from an attempted joint lock. this time, Sifu noted it can just as readily be a diversionary move to get the opponent's attention, or its spiraling action can be used to help move the opponent's arms out of the way.
  • fairy liu-hai teases the toad is not necessarily a linear movement. in the past, we've seen its application as a upward strike with the elbow to the opponent's throat or jaw, or as an opening action to allow a follow-up strike to the opponent's head. this time, Sifu said that a more circular underhand motion with the rear hand allows you to go under the opponent's defenses into their neck and head regions.
  • divert and grab by the collar doesn't necessarily have to be a strike to an opponent's neck or head, or even a block. Sifu showed that it can be a throw, similar to a shuai jiao move. Phunsak seemed to know this, since he nodded and said he'd seen this before. he demonstrated it to me later, with the variations that change its velocity and power.
  • golden rooster spreads its wings isn't just a throw or a push into the opponent. it can also remind you that you can target the opponent's rear knee or ankle.
we practiced these applications for awhile while Sifu went to work with the baji students. eventually, at his request, we also did the 2-person form for palm change 5. after some time, he returned to call class for a close.

since Phunsak was staying for a private consultation and was crashing at my place, i ended up staying. John elected to stay, saying he enjoyed observing all the private consultation sessions. because of the holiday traffic, we all stuck around at the park and finished eating the bakery goods i'd brought.

while Phunsak had his session, John and i contented ourselves by reviewing the 2-person forms for palm change 5 and palm change 6. by the time we had finished Phunsak had wrapped up his time with Sifu, and so we decided to finish for the day since we had Sunday class tomorrow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

days 99 & 100: getting comfortable with the Yang long form

  • counting
  • breathing
  • ball & bowl
  • smoothness
  • grinding
  • relaxation
  • memory
  • Yang long form
day 99

today (Tuesday) was focused more on prepping everyone for midterms. Master Chow appeared again, along with his son Clifford (he attended the Long Beach jian shu class for awhile), who is visiting from Hong Kong. this time, however, Master Chow insisted on just being an observer, since his family was leaving for the Chinese New Year holiday immediately after today's class.

Sifu announced that next week is midterms week on the calendar, and gave everyone the choice of having the midterm next Tuesday or Thursday--naturally, everyone voted for Thursday. Sifu also said that he was going to take some extra time today to help everyone improve the material we've covered to date, so that they're better set for the exam.

we did a brief set of the stances to get warmed up, and then did a few repetitions of the Yang long form. Sifu introduced the initial kicking sequence, which involves a series of 3 toe kicks, with a change in direction for the last one. this area is a typical problem area for most beginners, so he spent a number of minutes familiarizing everyone with the sequence, particularly in terms of setting up the kicks and the footwork involved going into and out of them.

he conceded that a few people may find them hard, but that the kicks are the kind of thing that get easier over time. he also commented that:
  • for now, we should focus on balance, and hold off on trying to increase the height of the kicks.
  • as stated last quarter, tai chi kicks are not necessarily high, but more frequently low (e.g., to the knees, shins, ankles, etc. of the opponent).
  • in tai chi, the kicks are not extending beyond the range of the arms, but are meant to be applied when close to the enemy.
  • kicks in tai chi are supposed to be done with a straight (upright) back, to maintain balance and minimize danger of being thrown by counter-moves from the opponent.
after a number of minutes, Sifu decided we should spend the remainder of class today improving our form. he organized everyone into groups of 3-4, and then had each group do the Yang long form in front of the class. he asked Art and me to join him in giving feedback.

holding to the materials from last quarter and this quarter, Sifu stressed the following:
  • as a training tool, it's useful to break each movement in the long form into a 2-count action, with the "1" being timed with breath in and "2" being timed with breath out. in addition, "1" is also timed with an imaginary ball, and "2" should be timed with an imaginary bowl
  • the transitions should be smooth, and smoothness can be improved using the 2-count with breathing and ball & bowl imagery
  • the grinding action of the rear heel in the bow-and-arrow stance is important to tai chi, as it ensures the rooting of the foot and sets up the body as a conduit to use the ground as a reaction to an opponent's attack--basically, it's just Newton's 1st law (for every force, there is an equal and opposite reaction force), with the idea of setting up the body so that it sets an attacker's force to be sent into the ground, whereupon it encounters the reaction force of the earth.
  • tai chi is about relaxation. muscles should not be tense, and joints should not be locked. this is important, since it allows better reading and response to opponent movements, and also enables smoother and quicker reflexes
  • practice. practice. practice. we're far enough into the long form that the only real way to remember the form is to practice it regularly. Sifu noted that tai chi (just like any other martial art) is as much about training the mind as it is the body, and part of this involves improving memory as to proper biomechanics. practicing the Yang long form aids in the development of memory.
by this time, class time was coming to a close. Sifu finished the session, and said we'd discuss the midterms more on Thursday.

day 100

we took some time today for some administrative matters. Sifu reminded everyone that next week is midterms, with the plan being to hold the performance component of the midterm on Thursday. the format will be to have each student do a solo performance of the Yang long form, but in snippets in random sequential order--basically, this means that one student will start the Yang long form, then stop when ordered by Sifu, whereupon another student will then be asked to continue the Yang long from from the stop point. Sifu also noted that he's willing to give extra credit to students willing to do the tai chi stances.

Sifu believes he can fit in all the students within the Thursday class period, especially since he expects me, Art, and Doria (another experienced student) to not do the exam, but instead provide constructive comments to the students.

we ended up spending a few minutes clarifying questions over the exam, as well as figuring out how much of the Yang long form it is going to cover. Sifu decided that he would only hold the midterm over the materials we covered up until Tuesday, and skip anything we covered today or next week (i.e., during midterm week).

once we sorted all this out, Sifu had us go through all the stances, making sure to review the proper form for each. Art and i helped him go around and correct individual students in the class, to make sure they got up to speed in time for the midterms.

after this, we resumed the Yang long form, except this time focusing on review. we managed to get a little bit further to the planting fist, which puts us close to the halfway point of the form. Sifu demonstrated the combat applications for this, as well as the variations from it. i also asked him to show the contrast to the Chen tai chi version.

after this, upon the request of some students, we went back and reviewed the leg kick sequence from Tuesday. a large number of people are having problems with the kicks, particularly with balance, raising the legs, and straightening the legs once they are in a raised position. but this is no surprise to me--i've found that doing the kicks slowly in tai chi requires a solid core (strong and flexible upper & lower abdomen, as well as lower back) and hips to lift and control the legs, as well as a comfort level standing on one leg. i suggested to a few people that they would probably have to do some training drills to improve these areas before they could get better with the kicks...something i've had to take time to do myself.

with that, we ended the class, with a final reminder about the midterms.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

day 98: more refinement of 64 palms (the spirit of chang dong sheng lives!)

  • light touch
  • hooking
  • yin/yang circular motion
  • bull fight, chicken fight, dog fight
  • 64 palms (palm change 4)
today was a continuation of the refinements to 64 palms, with the focus largely on palm change 4. similar to last Saturday, we spent today going over variations and alternative applications within the form--particularly in terms of yin-yang concepts and what i suspect is cross-over with shuai jiao.

i arrived a little early this morning, with the intent of reviewing some chen tai chi and pao quan, but i found Master Chow running around the park. we ended up having a conversation about kung fu, and i found it interesting that he had arrived independently at the same perspectives as we had:
  • historically, the 20th and 21st century have been pretty negative on kung fu as a martial art, with much of it being watered down for sport and performance-based competition (i.e., it's more like the points-based judging competitions of gymnastics and figure skating)
  • also historically, modern kung fu has been disconnected from its ancient origins, with people forgetting that the reason why traditional styles looked the way they did was because of the context of ancient Chinese military warfare (e.g., similar to Roman phalanxes or Napoleonic lines and squares, ancient Chinese soldiers fought in mass formations, and so had to fight in ways that maintained the cohesion and integrity of their formation). this kind of context is important in understanding why a particular kung fu style does things in a certain way--as well as understanding in what ways the style should be applied in self-defense situations
  • there's a gap between Eastern traditions and Western science regarding the biomechanics of kung fu...a lot of the concepts in Western sports medicine are actually consistent with Eastern traditional medicine, but are just identified with different terms and analogies. as a result, this suggests kung fu can be taught using Western science as much as it can Eastern knowledge. Master Chow said this is something that the next generation of cross-cultural practitioners should try to focus on exploring, since it may yield some insights that will be new or revive insights that were forgotten.
i ended up having Master Chow show me (and also, by this time, John Eagles) some basic qi-gong exercises. we managed to finish this just in time for Sifu's arrival.

64 palms, palm change 4 (the spirit of chang dong sheng)

i posted a picture of Chang Dong Sheng in a previous post (reference: masters: chang dong sheng). in that post, i noted that Chang Dong Sheng had been my master's master. Chang Dong Sheng was a noted practitioner of shuai jiao and tai chi (and perhaps a few other styles). as a result, i suspect a lot of his teachings find their way (interlace?) a lot of Sifu's comments.

well, today was a bit of an illustration. here's the picture from that post, showing Chang Dong Sheng engaged in a shuai jiao move:
now compare this picture to the video for palm change 4 (side A)--in particular, observe cloud crosses mountain road (the 5 second mark):

in the 2-person form for palm change 4, we this is shown as a counter to a kick (reference:

today, however, Sifu demonstrated an alternative application more consistent with the picture above. in the picture, it's a throw, with the upraised leg hooking the opponent's leg, one arm holding the opponent's arm, and the other arm projecting forward into the opponent's face. the net result is the opponent falling backwards.

we practiced this for awhile in pairs. i asked Phunsak about the shuai-jiao-esque flavor of this, and he nodded in agreement.

i said this didn't seem to be in the "spirit" of bagua, but more in the "spirit" of Chang Dong Sheng. we got on a brief discussion as to what a "bagua purist" would do, with Phunsak demonstrating to me what he thought might be construed as more "bagua-esque" alternatives. however, it was clear that this particular interpretation of the technique has a certain direct, no-nonsense appeal to it, and i have to admit that it allows a certain free expression of brutality that is decidedly seductive. i'll have to file this one away in my memory under "Note to Self..."

once Sifu returned from the baji students, he made a number of additional comments regarding palm change 4:
  • in the shuai-jiao-esque application of cloud crosses mountain road requires that the shaving hand go up, to distract the opponent's eyes, while the rear leg hooks the opponent's front leg. this is necessary to 1) destabilize the opponent's orientation, making it easier to push them off-balance, 2) push their head back, forcing their body to follow, and thus destroy their structure, and 3) deny them a leg they would otherwise use to restore structure. the issue is the timing of the hooking motion of the leg with the shaving motion--while the shaving motion begins first (i.e., begin moving up the opponent's arm), it doesn't finish (i.e., push the opponent's head) until the leg hooks the opponent's leg...this took a little some effort for me to get in terms of timing, with the trick being that you have to remember the hand is first in, but last out (i.e., it starts the motion, but is not as explosive as the hooking leg, and so finishes the motion simultaneous with the hooking leg).
  • for the 1st part of big serpent coils its body, when you reach out (Sifu's "Bob's Big Boy"), you need to exercise a light touch. Sifu said that if you have the intent of making this a parry or even a redirection of the opponent's strike, it sends them a signal of the follow-up move, wherein the 2nd part involves the reaching arm turning into the opponent's face. reiterating his point from last week, Sifu said you have to disguise your movement by being very light with the hand. this effectively means that you are not blocking or diverting the opponent's strike, but simply avoiding it. the only time you want the reaching hand to change from a light touch to a firm touch is when it makes contact with the opponent's face and transitions into the 2nd part of big serpent coils its body.
  • to reiterate the point above: even though you are reaching out, you are really seeking to avoid the opponent's strike, rather than block or redirect it away. Sifu made great effort to stress this. the technique is one where you are stepping to the side and along the opponent, so that you are trying to position yourself closer to them. as a result, it's not about the hands, or even the reach, but really about the feet and stepping around the enemy, with the reaching hand just being a distraction to the opponent as well as a way of maintaining a sense of their movement. i suspect that this is consistent with the bagua spirit--you don't really want to confront an opponent, but rather escape and evade, and use your evasion as a set-up for a counter-strike.
  • also in the 1st part of big serpent coils its body, it is important to remain upright. Sifu emphasized this: do not lean. leaning too far over makes you unstable, and easier for the opponent to push you over. the action is a reach with the arm. the torso is upright.
  • the 2nd part of big serpent coils its body, Sifu pointed out that it is more powerful if the turn into the opponent's face really is a turn, with the energy created by the hips and waist. at this point, unlike the 1st part (where it is a light touch), the reaching hand is a firm touch going into the opponent's face (pushing their jaw up, or their head back). in addition, Sifu said that it is important that the circular turn with the reaching hand is a yin movement, meaning that not only are you turning at hips and waist away from the opponent (circular yin), but also bringing the hand into you (linear yin). this is consistent with the idea of using yin (the turn away with the push of the opponent into your space) to counter the opponent's yang (their forward strike). in physics concepts, i interpret this as a way of decreasing the radius of the lever arm, thereby allowing the lever action force (your hand going into the oppponent's face) to increase the torque being generated.
  • also with the 2nd part of big serpent coils its body, as you finish the technique turning down into dragon stance, the lower hand can be interpreted as moving along the opponent's leg down to the back of their knee, at which point it can either continue directly downward into the back of the knee, or it can go into the pressure points behind the knee, with the end result either way being the opponent losing stability in the joint--and thereby losing stability altogether. again, this is an expression of yin energy to the opponent's yang energy (their forward strike)
  • with grab the yellow bird by the throat, where it turns into hide the flowers beneath summer leaves, the form can be interpreted as showing the yin principles. often the tendency for an opponent is to counter the throat grab by seizing the grabbing arms (yang). as a counter, you can visualize yourself using hide the flowers beneath summer leaves to roll into the grabbing hand, bringing the opponent's throat into you as you turn (yin). again, in physics terms, i see this as a way of increasing torque by decreasing the radius arm even as the gripping lever arm force is constant.
bull fight, dog fight, chicken fight

as a side note, i should mention something that was not covered in today's class, but was introduced by Sifu back in December in his commentaries about combat concepts, and which i consider to be relevant to martial arts in general. Sifu said that in kung fu, the idea is movement, particularly in bagua (where movement is not linear, but random). Sifu said it was contrary to the philosophy of kung fu to engage in 3 classic fight scenarios that he identified as follows:
  • bull fight--where 2 opponents are placed body-to-body, and are pushing each other
  • dog fight--where 2 opponents are stationary and facing each other toe-to-toe, and slugging it out
  • chicken fight--where 2 opponents are facing each other, but just out of arm's reach, and fight by trying to kick each other while avoiding getting hit
Sifu said we need to avoid these types of scenarios, since they invariably lead to a match of strength-versus-strength and interactions of force-on-force. this is contrary to the point of kung fu, which is about developing skill that enables a smaller or weaker opponent to still secure victory.

we finished the day by going to lunch with Master Chow and his family.

NOTE: we chose to celebrate Sifu's birthday today, which i understand coincided with Chinese New Year this year. as a result, later in the evening, we met at Ocean Star Restaurant to host Sifu for a dinner. i know that normally his students haven't done this, but this year seemed a special occasion, since Sifu has relocated to Hawaii and we don't know how much more time he'll be around to teach in L.A. all the students had signed a card for him (a bit of an interesting exercise to do so during today's class without him seeing it...i suspect he figured it out), and in addition had made a special donation to help him build his new kung fu studio in Hawaii. not everyone was able to make the dinner, but i took a picture anyway--it's posted at the start of this post.

Monday, February 04, 2008

days 96 & 97: Yang long form & more guest speaker!

  • cloud hands
  • Yang long form
this week was largely straightforward, and so there's not too much new detail added to the Yang tai chi material i've had over the past 2 quarters.

day 96

we worked on some additional stances today for the class (rooster & low stance). both of these, i could see, gave many people problems. i suspect a lot of it was due to balance (for single-leg stance, sometimes known as rooster stance) and flexibility (for the low stance, sometimes known as snake stance) issues. but these are things that practice should resolve, so they aren't really major.

Sifu asked Art and me to take time to make corrections of other students as we went through the stances, so we obliged him and tried our best to watch out for any errors people were making.

after this, the remainder of the class was spent going farther into the form, as well as refining the steps to date. as with the Chen tai chi class, i can see that we're getting far enough along into the form that people are starting to have trouble to remember...i am as well, but i think this is an indication that there's enough information being input that it's easy to forget or lose track of it without daily review. Sifu reminded everyone that the Yang long form video was on Youtube, and that we should feel free to use it to help us practice.

day 97

Sifu brought Master Chow to the Yang class today, which was a special treat for everyone. he introduced Master Chow to the class, and then promised to do a question-and-answer session at the end of class.

to cover the day's lesson plan, we learned the final 2 stances today (cat and dragon). Art and i took more time today to help correct people as we went through them.

after this, we continued farther into the long form, going over cloud hands. Sifu demonstrated the combat application, and then stressed the following:
  • there is a clear timing issue involved, in that it is imperative to make sure that low hand is near the elbow of the upraised hand, as both hands moved in circles
  • in cloud hands, the left hand moves counter-clockwise (relative to the practitioner's orientation) and the right hand moves clockwise
  • during cloud hands, the practitioner moves sideways, with the movement of the legs generating momentum that goes in the direction of the opponent (whether to the practitioner's left or right)
we repeated cloud hands a few times, alone and then integrated with the rest of the long form that we've achieved to date.

at this point, Sifu stopped class and had everyone gather around with Master Chow. Master Chow demonstrated the first part of the Yang long form (about 1/4 of the total form), and then made a few comments about our practice of Yang. he pointed out that he agreed with Master Tsou that it was crucial to grind the rear heel in the bow-and-arrow stance, and to have the horse stance with toes pointing forward and knees squeezing slightly inwards, and then demonstrated how this made a difference in stabilizing the knees. from here, he took questions from the students.

as time came to finish class, Sifu reminded everyone about midterms, which are coming within 1-2 weeks, and that we'd finalize details about the format and grading next week.

Friday, February 01, 2008

day 95: guest speaker!

  • do not aim
  • do not fixate
  • work with change
  • work with opportunities
  • chen long form
  • kuen wu jian
this Sunday we had a guest speaker. Master Tsao (Chow-sp?) is visiting from Hong Kong, and is here until mid-February. some people in the class know him as the father of Vincent, who was in the Long Beach jian shu class. his daughter lives in LA, and so he's visiting her for about a month. he practices choy li fut and Yang tai chi.

Sifu introduced him, and let him say a few words and answer a few questions. Master Tsao also did a short push hands session with Phunsak. during the question-and-answer period, Master Tsao discussed the nature of tai chi footwork and body positioning, and a lot of what he said echoed Sifu's instructions (particularly about the nature of grinding the rear heel while entering the bow-and-arrow stance, as well as the nature of slow movements to train relaxation and balance).

Sifu announced that we would have a lunch with Master (or Sifu) Tsao, and also more chance to review the Yang form during today's lessons.

chen long form

we proceeded by going further into the chen long form. i think we're getting to a point in the form where it's becoming harder for people to remember everything. it's taking quite a bit more work to practice the form, since there's more of it to review. of course, this is no different from any of the previous generations who've learned the form, which makes me wonder just what people did in the centuries before modern tools of education (e.g., videos, the internet, books, etc.).

sometime in the middle of our practice of some of the applications today, Phunsak raised a point that we had briefly covered in yesterday's Saturday class. we (Phunsak, John, and i) were having a discussion about extending the concepts from yesterday dealing with the unfixed (or free) nature of techniques, with the notion of seeing if we could see variations in the chen techniques similar to the way Sifu had pointed out the possible variations in bagua forms. this led to a tangent about the nature of pressure points and joint locks, and the nature of entries into them, particularly with the combination arm-bar and head-lock from yesterday.

Phunsak said that we shouldn't focus on targets. seeing my quizzical expression, he posed the question to Sifu, who confirmed this with the following observations:
  • do not aim--in a fight, it's too difficult to choose a target and then aim at it. trying to decide on a particular target and then reaching for it leads to target fixation, and decreases your ability to react and adjust to the opponent's actions. in addition, it prevents you from seeing other, potentially better openings to exploit.
  • do not fixate--this applies to targets or techniques. again, deciding on a specific course of action (whether to go after a specific target or to employ a specific technique) leads to rigidity in thinking that prevents flexibility in behavior, making you less able to respond to opponent threats or to take advantage of opponent mistakes. you can have overarching ideas about what you want to do to win (e.g., you recognize an opponent has a weak structure with poor shoulder and hip balance, and so you'll want to utilize this to your advantage), but you want to avoid planning a script--because, as has been repeatedly stressed by military strategists: no plan, no matter how detailed, can ever predict what will happen, and hence no plan ever survives the initial moments of combat.
  • work with change--Sifu also stressed that sometimes a target or technique is appropriate in some moments, but not appropriate in others, and so are never constant. you have to work within the context of change, and hence be willing to let go of a plan that can't accommodate change...and because plans specify a fixed series of actions, they are not about change, and so never really accommodate it.
  • work with opportunities--when engaged in a fight, you need to concentrate on just working with the opportunities that are presented to you. this means that when confronted by a given situation, you need to be able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of you and your opponent(s), and then be able to see what options you have to protect your strengths while exploiting your opponent weaknesses.
the catch with this is that to do it within the high speed of a fight, you have to be fluid enough to simply move without excessive thinking. this relates back to the lessons of the past few months regarding combat, and the need to focus more on principles and less on techniques--it's too difficult to remember specific techniques, especially in a self-defense situation, but much easier to see how principles can operate within a particular fight situation and accordingly move to apply those principles.

kuen wu jian

after finishing the lesson plan for the day in the chen long form, we continued with the kuen wu jian. i hadn't practiced this as much as i would have liked this past week, since i've been trying to fit my Ironman training in. the result was a bit of a struggle. it didn't help that the rain and wind began to go full force, leaving us huddling under the awnings of the school.

during a break, Master Tsao took more questions, and then did a performance of the tai chi jian. of course, being a bit thoughtless, i forgot to record this. but i may ask him to do it again, and so we'll see.

with the rain and wind falling hard, we called class to a hurried close, and went to lunch with Master Tsao.