Thursday, March 27, 2008

day 114: catching up w chen & kuen wu (my best friends)

  • no hands
  • no blocking
  • dropping weight
  • reversing circles
  • pao quan
  • chen tai chi long form
  • kuen wu jian
this Sunday was a bit of backtracking. we had a good number of students who'd missed out on sections of the chen long form and the kuen wu jian form, and Sifu decided we'd spend extra time getting everyone up to speed.

pao quan

i'd shown up early with Phunsak to get a little further with long fist. i warmed up with tantui this morning, and then had Phunsak take me a little further into pao quan. i'm getting close enough to the end of this form that i can sense it finishing with about another 1-2 sessions.

as a result, i'd spent a fair amount of time this past week working on pao quan. i'd also tried to devote a bulk of the practice time to the yang and chen tai chi long forms, since i'd noticed i'd started to have problems remembering the differences between the 2 (it's like learning Spanish and Italian at the same time...different enough to distinguish, but similar enough to get confused). in addition, after my fiasco with the last kuen wu class, i'd emphasized the kuen wu form this week to try and get prepared for this Sunday. basically, this entire week had been about everything except bagua, and had been a very personal bonding experience with my best friends: chen and kuen wu. hooray.

chen tai chi

once Sifu arrived, he had everyone perform the chen long form to date, with several iterations without Sifu, first with him calling out the names of the techniques, and then with him just observing. because of the students catching up, he had us break off into various groups to work on the various sections we were struggling through.

after awhile, he then gathered us together to demonstrate the applications for the last sequence we were doing. he noted that while it initiated as a circular throw using an arm & shoulder lock, it continued into a reversal of the circle with a throw in the opposing direction. basically, he pointed out that the second circle was an insurance exploiting the direction of the opponent's resistance to the first circle. in addition, he also pointed out that this should be a yin movement towards and around your body away from the opponent's location, taking advantage of the opponent's yang energy.

we ended up practicing this application in pairs for some time, with me experimenting against Phunsak and John Eagles. it seemed relatively straightforward, but i noticed that the positioning of the feet and elevation of the arm & shoulder lock were crucial in making this work. in addition, there is a dramatic difference in the amount of effort required between you making a clear yin movement (rotating away from the opponent and towards your body) and a yang movement.

at this point, i took the opportunity to ask Sifu to show me the applications from the session i'd missed. apparently a few other people had missed this session as well, since we ended up taking a good chunk of time discussing these. Sifu demonstrated the applications, making the following comments:
  • in the chen version of snake creeps down, the technique acts to push the opponent backwards, but can work just using the foot (i.e., the leading foot strikes directly into the opponent's rear ankle, rolling it backwards), just the fists (i.e., the leading fist goes into the opponent's rear knee), or just the shoulder (i.e., the shoulder drives into the opponent's torso, with the rear leg driving your body forward as you shift forward into bow-and-arrow stance). of course, you can use some combination of these.
  • in the technique, the hands are fists. the temptation is to use these to block the opponent's strike. this is not necessarily true. sometimes it is possible to block an opponent's strikes with the hands, but sometimes you miss. this technique works without having to intercept with the hands, and so should be practiced with no hands and no blocking. instead, the hands should be fists, and their action should be just to redirect an opponent's arms just far enough to allow you to slide under into the technique
  • immediately following snake creeps down, the form has the practitioner rise into a raised hand and knee. Sifu said this can be interpreted as a knee strike into the opponent's leg or torso and a hand strike into the opponent's jaw or face, but it doesn't have to be. alternatively, it can be seen as setting up the opponent for a push, in that you entice the opponent to lift their attention (and hence center of gravity) upwards. this makes it possible for the foot to then come down on the opponent's knee or calf and the hand and elbow to go down into the opponent's torso, disrupting their structure and causing them to fall backwards. Sifu stressed that in order for this to work, the hand and the knee must operate in strict synchronization, so that the downward motion is really just a dropping of weight (i.e., the hand and knee aren't applying force down, they're just working as a single unit so that your entire body drops as a single mass down).
we spent the remainder of the time getting everyone on the same page with the form and the applications.

kuen wu jian

after the chen, Sifu called on us to spend some more time with the kuen wu jian form. again, there were a number of students who'd missed out on sections of this, so we spent time getting everyone up to speed. i didn't mind, since i'm still getting stuck at several points in the form, and there are still some nuances i don't quite understand.

we did go a little further in the form, but the majority of the time was spent practicing the form and focusing on several crucial transition points. i did take a little time on the side to work with John Eagles on some jian shu basics, since Phunsak had said the form is dramatically easier once you understand the basics that are being expressed in it.

after smoothing out some of the kinks--or at least, smoothing them out more than they have been, we called class to end for the day. Sifu couldn't make lunch again, since he his wife was still suffering from the flu and he had to get home to check on her. but the rest of us went on our own.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

day 113: side B refinement

  • action/reaction force
  • extension
  • alignment
  • intent
  • side B, palm changes 1 & 2
  • sticking drill
finally managed to wake up at a more regular time today. between the jet lag, allergies, time change, and pile-up of work, my sleep patterns have been pretty chaotic. but this time i at a more customary hour, with enough time to practice a few forms and review some concepts. i was grateful that it was a Saturday, with class beginning at 10am, giving me the luxury of getting myself awake and moving.

Sifu had the flu, and it appears there's a bit of a bug going around, so as a class we were a little wounded. we began with a reminder about the seminar--which has been firmly fixed for April 5 & 6 at Cal State LA. April 5 will have the usual class at Casuda Canyon Park, but the afternoon will be at Cal State LA. April 6 will have the entire day at Cal State LA. the seminar will be in different rooms--Saturday will be in King Hall B3008, 1pm-5pm, and Sunday will be in Phase II Student Lounge, 9am-5pm. Art and Phunsak have the flyers, so any questions should be sent to them.

palm changes 1 & 2, side B

we began today with a review of side B, palm changes 1 & 2. i missed last Saturday's class for an interview, so this was a good opportunity to get caught up with the rest of the group.

after getting the baji students started, Sifu came back and watched us perform palm changes 1-3 for side B. he then asked us to do the 3rd one solo in front of class, with the everyone critiquing the person performing.

the comments i received were as follows:
  • extension--i seem to have regressed somewhat, in that i'm short-arming my movements, and curtailing them before my body is fully extended.
  • action/reaction force--this is a principle consistent with tai chi, in that bagua is supposed to incorporate the use of action/reaction forces with the ground in order to add power to movements. while this is simple in principle, i find it decidedly harder to do in bagua relative to tai chi. this is because bagua utilizes more complex, multi-dimensional, multi-axis actions, making it harder to recognize in what way the limbs are supposed to be coordinated in order to properly direct and take advantage of action/reaction forces. today, this was amply evident with green dragon wraps around the column, which provided no end of difficulty.
  • alignment--my head is leaning too forward (read: slouching), which is throwing my spine out of alignment in my technique and thereby decreasing the amount of energy my core can produce. in addition, it's preventing me from sinking my mass, since it throws my center of gravity off the desired position for balance.
these comments also applied to a few other people. Sifu said the solution, apart from practice, was to do some work in long fist to improve extension and alignment, and to try some slow iterations of the palm changes (a la' tai chi's slow pace) to help acquire the coordination necessary to use action/reaction forces in bagua.

after this, Sifu gave us some alternative applications for the moves in the 2nd palm change. he noted the following:
  • cloud crosses mountain road doesn't have to be defensive. in prior lessons it was shown to be a defensive technique to redirect an incoming opponent or their strike. today, Sifu showed it as an offensive technique to help disrupt an opponent's structure. however, he pointed out that it shouldn't be seen as a percussive hit (e.g., like a punch), but more as a sliding along an opponent's torso to an appropriate point where force can then be projected (i.e., their center).
  • green dragon wraps around the column is much more effective when engaged using action/reaction forces. this seems to additional power to that generated by the waist and hips. without it, it becomes a simple waving of the hands, making them vulnerable to seizure by the opponent.
sticking drill

we broke off into pairs to work on the applications, but not before Sifu demonstrated a drill he wanted us to practice. it's a different sticking drill, with one partner throwing a sequence of punches and the other partner then intercepting the punches using a variety of techniques that deflect and "stick" to the punches, and if possible, sets up a counter-attack. the punches are thrown at random, and can be done at a variety of speeds. the goal is to develop reflexes to redirect incoming strikes while simultaneously positioning the body to initiate a counter-attack.

Sifu stressed that these were not meant to be blocks. the defensive partner was supposed to be sticking to the incoming punches, so that there was little direct percussive impact on the arms, but more the act of making and retaining contact with only indirect impact.

we repeated this drill in different pairs, so that each of us had a chance to work with different partners. we also did this drill as a way of entering into applications from palm change 2.

from what i could tell, the sticking techniques we were using were extensions from mother palms and stances. in particular, it looked like we were using part of the upper body motions from dragon, big bird, and rooster. i worked with Sifu, Phunsak, John, Laura, and Ching-Chieh. i had a little trouble sorting out the general idea of the drill at first, but started to get a feel for it once Phunsak pointed out that it was supposed to be done with a random sequence, and so wasn't supposed to have a particular rhythm.

i actually like this drill. like some of our other 2-person interactive free-flowing exercises, i can see that this is a useful stepping-stone in learning how to use bagua in a real combat situation. of course, we probably should really be doing more of these kinds of drills, and we should be following a progression of exercises that gradually incorporate more and more bagua concepts, but little steps are always good to start on the way.

we finished the day with Sifu doing a brief review of intent. repeating his demonstration of how intent can empower a joint lock on the wrist against a closed fist, Sifu said that this type of intent is the same as what we should be exercising in all our movements. for example, he said that the action/reaction forces in green dragon wraps around the column rely on the practitioner having the intent to direct forces through the legs and feet into the ground--without this intent, it becomes much harder to generate the action/reaction forces.

Sifu emphasized that intent is not something you can necessarily see. returning to his joint lock demonstraction, he said you can't express intent as physical changes in the body (e.g., curling of the feet, bending of the knees, bending over of the waist and back, etc.), but it is something that you can visualize in the mind and feel in terms of direction.

we worked on this for a little while. to be quite honest, i had trouble on this. i was able to repeat the demonstration Sifu showed us, but only inconsistently. what was frustrating was that the most effective repetition occurred when i wasn't trying, making me confused as to just what i'm supposed to be feeling. we worked on it until we could at least distinguish between when there was intent and when there wasn't, but i think this is something that's going to continue to need time to learn.

Sifu called class to a close, and then said he'd have to skip the usual post-class lunch since he needed to get over the flu. some of us went on our own anyway to maintain the tradition.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

masters: liu-yun qiao

one of the major figures in the kung fu i'm learning was a man named Liu Yun Qiao (alternative English spellings include Liu Yun Chiao, Liu Yun Chow, and Liu Yun Qao).

Liu Yun Qiao is a bit of a legendary figure, and his history is shrouded in as much mystery as it is fact. in terms of facts, he was renowned as a prolific grandmaster of several different styles: baji, piqua, bagua, tai chi, tang lang (i.e., praying mantis), and chang quan (i.e., long fist). he was also famous for being a senior military leader in the Kuomintang (KMT) and the instructor for the personal bodyguards for Chiang Kai Shek. in addition, during his years in Taiwan, he rose to international prominence for his dedication to preserving traditional chinese martial arts. towards this goal, he founded the Wutan organization in Taiwan, from which my Sifu received his martial arts education.

beyond this, there's quite a bit of mystery. there's not much detail about his adult life prior to the KMT's overthrow--for much of this time, Liu Yun Qiao was heavily involved in military secret operations, and so his exploits and martial prowess was intentionally obscured by official records. there are stories of his single-handed escape from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, as well as his missions into enemy territory during Japanese occupation, but there is not much more.

you can see a brief biography of him at:
Liu Yun Qiao had several different generations of students, with the first two being perhaps the most significant to American audiences. the initial generation included names that are well-known in current kung fu circles: Su Yu Chang and Adam Hsu. the second generation included names such as John Hom, Kurt Wong, Tony Yang, and Jason Tsou (my instructor). all these individuals have since gone on to pass Liu Yun Qiao's lineage to other parts of the world, including not only North America, but also South America and Europe.

with respect to what i'm learning, my instructor learned (to my knowledge) baji, piqua, bagua, tang lang, and chang quan from Liu Yun Qiao. Sifu Tsou notes that Grandmaster Liu made it a point to refer lessons in tai chi to Du Yu Ze (for chen) or Chang Dong Sheng (for yang), and similarly lessons in shuai jiao to Chang Dong Sheng. he would also even refer lessons in chang quan to Han Ching Tan. apparently Grandmaster Liu maintained a network of fellow masters that he respected, and was not afraid to defer training in their respective kung fu styles to them. my Sifu, for example, at Liu Yun Qiao's direction, studied chen tai chi from Du Yu Ze's lineage.

i managed to locate videos of him on Youtube, although they're somewhat hard to come by:
on an interesting note, Liu Yun Qiao is apparently also quite famous in Japan (yes, i know, talk about one of the supreme ironies of history...). his baji is admired by Japanese karate circles for its projection of power. you can see the depth of the fan-dom by looking at the following:
again, i suspect there's more about him on Chinese-language websites and Youtube videos, so i'm hoping anybody who knows Chinese can probably help me locate more materials about him.

Friday, March 14, 2008

days 111 & 112: final exams

this was final exams for the Yang tai chi course at UCLA.

seeing that i'd missed 2 weeks of this course for Ironman New Zealand, i was actually curious as to what i had missed. but Art and Sifu had told me that i hadn't missed much, since they'd stopped at the midway point of the long form and had spent the time on helping people improve their movements and technique. as a result, there hadn't really been any new material--at least anything that would have been new to me.

tuesday i ended up helping grade as everyone went through solo performances for the final exam. Sifu had set the exam to be the 1st half of the long form section done to date (which was 1/2, meaning the exam covered 1/4 of the entire form), along with 3 kicks from the end of the 1st half.

after this, i found out that Sifu had agreed to have the class participate in Pau Hana, which i understand is an exhibition of the World Arts & Cultures department (in which this class had been placed). basically, all performance-oriented courses in the department are invited to present their class project for the quarter. this time, there were a total of 12 classes that had decided to appear. i ended up going, although i wasn't quite feeling well, and actually found it quite entertaining.

thursday was just a friendly day, with no grading or instruction. Sifu meant it to be a relaxed, informal session where people could work on fine-tuning their tai chi and get feedback from each other on things to correct.

and that pretty marked the end of the quarter.

day 110: chen and kuen wu (uh, maybe)

  • intent
  • moving energy
  • action and reaction
  • chen long form
  • kuen wu jian
i really had a hard time waking up this morning. not only was i still feeling the effects of Ironman and jet lag, but i found out the night before that it was the start of daylight savings time. of course, this threw my sleep pattern completely off. i arrived late again, but found that most everyone else had forgotten it was daylight savings time as well.

Sifu gave everyone a few extra minutes, especially since it was Sunday. this allowed a few extra people to show up to get a meaningful class practice, although we continued to get more people in the next couple of hours--all of them admitting they'd forgotten to change their clocks.

chen long form

we went through the chen long form. it appears the class went through quite a bit of the form while i was away during my 2 weeks in New Zealand. as a result, i had quite a bit to catch up on.

Sifu stressed the same points he made yesterday about intent and energy, with the exception being that he noted in bagua the moving energy is about rotation, spinning, angles, and circles, in chen the moving energy is comparatively somewhat more linear (although in absolute terms still very much circular), and involves a heavy emphasis on sinking the body and mind into the ground.

on this latter point, Sifu said the act of sinking helps you direct an action, and its force vector, into the ground, against which you produce a reaction, and its force vector. in essence, this makes your body a force conduit through which you can direct both your opponent's power and your own power, and combine them as an action force into the ground to produce a reaction force that goes through you back to the opponent. the result is that the opponent receives a larger reaction force (the combination of the opponent's power and your power, summed in the reaction force) then the action force they put in (which you redirected to add your own to send as an action force into the earth). essentially, this is an exploitation of Newton's laws of physics (every action has an equal and opposite reaction).

repeating his comments from yesterday, Sifu said you don't see sinking, since it can happen without any visual changes in the body. sinking is something that can be felt, however, in that it involves intent downwards into the ground which induces changes in muscle contractions that alter the magnitude and direction of the force vector.

we worked on combat applications for the new material of the long form, although i spent the bulk of my time trying to learn the stuff i'd well as resting my feet.

kuen wu jian

we finished the class by learning more of the kuen wu form. again, i'd missed a good chunk of this, since the class had apparently covered a good deal of ground on this in the 2 weeks i was away. i ended up spending a lot of time trying to catch up.

eventually we finished for lunch, although Sifu said he was coming back to give additional instruction to some students. Phunsak said he was going to stick around to watch, but i decided i needed to rest up and so i went home.

day 109: refinement side B, 64 palms

  • alternative applications
  • intent
  • side B, 64 palms
to be quite honest, i don't really remember too much about this day. this was my 1st day back from New Zealand. i flew in the day before (Friday, March 7), and was still suffering from jet lag. i also am still physically beat up from Ironman, with some bad feet and knee issues (reference:, and so am hobbling around like an old man.

i ended up arriving a little late today (even though it was a Saturday, i still woke up late) and missed some of the class announcements. this is what i gathered from what i managed to hear:
  • deer-horn knives: Sifu managed to talk to someone who is making a trip to China, and they apparently will be able to pick up the knives there. Sifu is currently taking orders, and so people should contact him or Phunsak for more information.
  • chin na and tui na seminar: the date has finally been decided, the room reserved, and announcements made up. Phunsak and Art told me, but i promptly forgot. i just know that chin na will be done one weekend in early April and the tui na will be done another weekend in early May. in addition, Sifu and Art already had the DVD made, and it will be available for sale at the seminar. questions regarding information should be directed to Sifu, Art, or Phunsak.
  • tournaments: Sifu has decided that the 2 big tournaments he wants people to go to are the Las Vegas and Baltimore tournaments. he asked that anyone interested in participating in either one should let him know ASAP, so that we can schedule training
  • summer: Sifu will be around for a number of weeks this summer, as UCLA has asked him to teach a tai chi class for international students from China, and he is the only faculty member who 1) knows tai chi and 2) knows Mandarin.
side B, 64 palms

like i said, i don't really remember much, and everything is kind of a hazy blur. i know that the class apparently already began refinement of side B for 64 palms, but i'm not quite sure how far they've gone. there was quite a bit of review going on, since Laura, Mike, Kieun, and John were all asking for review of various aspects of side B. for me, i could handle about 5 minute stretches of standing, and then had to sit down to take the pressure off my feet.

i do recall that Sifu talked about:
  • alternative applications--Sifu talked about alternative applications of various techniques in side B, as well as from side A
  • intent--this was a major topic, with Sifu noting that our understanding of the physics was still a little limited, particularly for bagua and tai chi. Sifu observed that much of both styles involves focusing of the mind, not just in terms of concentration and focus but also intent. by this, Sifu said that performing an action with a certain intent can determine the effectiveness of that action, since the intent induces changes in muscle contraction that alter the magnitude and direction of the force vector. Sifu stressed this is something that you can't always see, even if you're up close, and this is often identified as the "internal" aspect of the "internal" styles (e.g., tai chi, bagua, xing-yi, etc.). he said this makes a major difference. for demonstration he used John Eagles' fist to do a chin na application, and showed the pressure point wrist lock with and without an intent being movement downward, with the wrist lock without intent resulting in a battle of strength against John, and a wrist lock with intent resulting in an effortless lock sending John down. Sifu had us break off into pairs and perform this same demonstration.
  • extension and positioning--Sifu noted that too many of us were extending too far and positioning ourselves wrong in our applications, particulary with 1) black tiger steals the heart in palm changes 1 & 2 , side B; 2) divert and grab by the cloth for palm change 3, side B; and 3) big serpent coils its body and cloud crosses mountain road for palm change 4, side A. he said that exercising fa jing, or projecting power, requires that our limbs be slightly contracted (i.e., less than fully extended) so as to preserve some potential energy to be projected into kinetic energy in fa jing. this also applies to positioning, in that our positioning relative to an opponent prevents full extension and thereby helps to make sure we have potential energy that can be projected as fa jing. we broke off into pairs to work on this, except that Phunsak stuck with me and Laura to help her work on this (i was a little too banged up to be able to even perform the techniques).
the remainder of the time, from what i remember, was spent on trying to get everyone caught up with all the palm changes of side B, since there were so many of us who were having trouble remembering them. we were still unfinished when Sifu stopped class for lunch.

day 108: finishing refinement of side A, 64 palms

  • lightness
  • feeling
  • bagua energy
  • palm changes 7 & 8
this was the day i left for Ironman New Zealand (Saturday, Feb. 23), but seeing that it was an evening flight and Phunsak was going to drive me to the airport, i went ahead and attended class.

today was meant to finish the refinement of side A, with the lesson plan including both palm changes 7 & 8. generally speaking, Sifu emphasized the following:
  • lightness--the danger with bagua is that a person starts to engage more and more force in an attempt to generate power, thereby losing sight of the fact that there are alternative physics that can generate the same results. particularly with palm changes 7 & 8, which involve movements remarkably similar to tai chi, long fist, and piqua. Sifu pointed out that we need to recognize that the application of force is a discretionary thing (i.e., it's not always necessary, and sometimes not even desireable), and is subject to what it is that we want to do. for example, with palm change 7, using forceful movements with white ape presents the fruit actually stiffens the opponent's body, impeding the technique; better is to constrain the force and allow the hands to slide along the opponent's body (thereby reducing their perception of your hands as a threat and hence not stiffening) to allow you to gain a position that enables your body to then engage greater force (force, incidentally, which is greater than that possible from your hands). this idea is the same for palm change 8 and big bird spreads its wings and phoenix spreads its wings (you want to be light to not alert the attacker to your intent, so that they do not recognize why you are positioning yourself until it is too late)
  • feeling--Sifu reminded us again that bagua requires the ability to sense the opponent's actions, so that our movements are not always about "sticking" to an opponent, redirecting their force, or applying force, but rather just as much about simply feeling the opponent out so as to learn what they are doing, what they are hoping to accomplish, and their general style or mode of behavior. this, Sifu noted, is part of "playing" with a person, meaning that "playing" is not just about trying to disrupt the opponent's mental state but also about getting a feel for their actions. again, this means that bagua techniques be light, to the point that sometimes you don't even really have to make physical is fine and also useful, but it is capable of signaling your own intent as equally as it is capable of discovering the opponent's. in truth, contact is limited, and full contact (contact with force) is restricted to the moments when fa jing is projected.
  • bagua energy--the transmission of power in bagua is often difficult to learn. it's not always the obvious methods typical to other forms of kung fu (like baji, long fist, wing chun, hung gar, etc.), although it can be. but it also involves recognizing and exploiting the physics of angular momentum, tangential direction, and rotating and spiralling force vectors. Sifu observed that this is crucial, since much of bagua, if done without the right physics, can become very ineffective. for an example, he pointed out that sweeping aside 10,000 men in palm change 8 requires the correct initiation of footwork and follow-through of angular rotation to generate the rotational momentum necessary to inject power into the movement, and that without this the technique becomes very dangerous for the practitioner, since it can result in you being extended and off-center, and thereby utterly vulnerable to attack.
we practiced the combat applications in pairs, focusing on the alternative applications of the techniques in palm changes 7 & 8.

we finished a little early because it started to rain. this was fine, since it meant that i had enough time to go to lunch with everyone and still was able to go and shower before having Phunsak drive me to the airport for my flight to New Zealand. hooray!

days 106 & 107: SLED, ball & bowl, and videos

  • SLED (slow, long, even, deep)
  • ball & bowl
  • Yang tai chi long form
things were a bit of a blur for this, since i was preparing to go to Ironman New Zealand during this week. quite frankly, i didn't pay that much attention to what was going on, particularly since we largely stopped at the midway point of the long form, with Sifu saying he was going to spend the remainder of the quarter on improving everybody's form.

i won't break things down into days for this post, but i can say that Sifu stressed the following points during the week, both of which we covered in last quarter's class on the Yang short form, meaning that they were largely review for me this time:
  • SLED (slow, long, even, deep)--in tai chi, movements need to be done with these 4 factors in mind in order to maximize the purpose of the forms, which is to encourage muscle memory and neuro-muscular coordination for tai chi-specific movements
  • ball & bowl--again, these are visualization guides that help adjust muscle memory and neuro-muscular coordination for better technique in tai chi-specific movements
apart from that, we began recording students performing the long form individually using a digital video camera, so that each student could see themselves doing the form and thereby recognize what they were doing. Sifu believes that this will help people better recognize what they need to change--since seeing their own mistakes and what they look like may be more educational than being told what those mistakes are.

that was it for this week...i promptly took a 2-week break off to go to Ironman New Zealand.