Sunday, April 27, 2008

days 127 & 128: through the long form

  • 4-count
  • breathing
  • yang long form
this is going to be a short post. my computer died this morning, and so i'm having to write this using a computer in one of the school's computer labs. needless to say, this isn't ideal in terms of putting thoughts to paper (traditional or virtual or otherwise). that, and given the prospect of a life's worth of personal data being lost, my peace of mind is a bit shaken at this point.

this past week was largely straightforward. Sifu began Tuesday class stating we were going to concentrate on finishing the yang long form this week, so that we could turn to introductory push hands training.

day 127

this Tuesday we dealt with the yang long form using a 4-count measure for each of the movements, with the idea being that each count corresponded to the 4 jings (ting, hwa, na, fa).

day 128

this Thursday we finished off the long form, but did so returning to a 2-count, following the pattern from fall & winter quarter of count 1 being a breathe in and count 2 being a breathe out.

like i said, short post. i'm scrambling to resolve my computer issues (it may not seem like a big deal, except that it's a life's worth of creative writing, professional writing, meaningful photos and videos, and a whole lot of yeah, a lot), so things may get a little spotty here in the immediate future.

that, and i've got some personal issues that are proving a little distracting (if you have to know: my dad's facing life-altering open-heart surgery, i'm facing imminent unemployment, i'm not particularly happy w a particular "friend"--and i'll refer to her using this word loosely--at this moment, and i'm facing a very solitary know, the usual. let's just say the good guys have been on a losing streak lately and i'm not particularly happy. i'm holding things together w baling wire and wishes for luck).

positive thoughts, mate, positive thoughts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

day 126: pop quiz (cont'd)!!!

  • substance v. emptiness
  • northern legs, southern fist
  • pao quan
  • chen long form
  • kuen wu jian
aha! just when you thought you'd gotten away, it's not over!

today was a day of (more) pop quizzes.

it began somewhat inauspiciously. i arrived early to sort out some of the bagua things we'd covered yesterday, as well as review some tai chi and bagua qi-gong (which i haven't done anywhere near as much as i probably should have been doing over the past few months). being that it was a Sunday, i expected--and found--a very quiet park.

however, things were still remarkably empty when class time rolled around and Sifu arrived, and we found there was just me and him.

pao quan

at this point, Sifu asked me about my work on pao quan, and asked to see me do it. i've been practicing this, although i'm still at the stage of struggling to remember the form. after observing me, he said there was polishing work to do, since a lot of my movements lacked substance. i replied that i haven't been able to figure out the applications for a lot of the moves, and that it would probably be easier if i knew the applications, because otherwise a lot of the form seems somewhat empty for me. we agreed that i'd probably need some private classes with Sifu to go through the combat applications, since that would add substance to the form by allowing me to express the intent behind the movements.

Sifu noted that pao quan was an extension of tantui, not just in terms of a greater number of applications, but also in terms of introducing movement into them. this was intended to help practitioners gain a greater level of footwork and motion in fighting, with the driving principle being the integration of the upper body with the lower body. Sifu said i needed to work on this, since it was a fundamental aspect of kung fu, particularly with northern chinese martial arts. he pointed out the maxim common in kung fu: "northern legs, southern fist", which referenced that fighting ability required the upper body abilities common to southern chinese kung fu integrated with the lower body function prevalent to northern chinese styles.

chen long form

by this time our full class showed up--which today was only 3 people. Sifu had us perform the chen long form a couple of times, and then announced that he was going to take advantage of the low turnout to record each of us doing the form on video, particularly since there was now ample time to do it.

i ended up going 2nd, and while i was able to remember the entire form, i know that there were a couple of areas where i made some mistakes in the movement, and also probably didn't execute as well as i should have. but i chalk this up to some lingering awkwardness with the latter part of the form, which is something that can be rectified with more practice.

of course, whether these videos ever see the light of day is something i hope to not find out.

kuen wu jian

i asked Sifu if we could polish the kuen wu jian form, since it is still proving frustrating. Sifu nodded in agreement, and began taking us through several iterations.

he said that he wanted us to go to the next stage of kuen wu jian, which was called erlu, and involves integrating force into the form. what we've done is yilu, which is just the form, and apparently not very applicable to actual full-contact fighting. Sifu said that historically kuen wu jian was an effective sword-fighting style, but that the progenitors of the Wutan curriculum only learned the form, and found that they had to adapt fa jing principles to the form to return it to its roots as a fighting art.

i asked if kuen wu jian was affiliated with any particular kung fu style (much like there is a tai chi sword, bagua sword, etc.), or if it was just simply independent. Sifu said that it was independent, as were many of the weapons styles of ancient Chinese military history (e.g., there were spear styles, saber styles, etc.). he added that many of the kung fu styles that have their own weapons forms actually took pre-existing weapons styles and modified it to fit their own principles and concepts. kuen wu jian was not affiliated with any single kung fu style, but you can see its traces in the jian forms of many kung fu styles.

Sifu then said before we started on the erlu, he wanted us to fine-tune the yilu. so we spent the remainder of class focusing on the nuances of the first sequences of the form. we finished after awhile, once everyone had to begin leaving for other duties in their schedules.

Monday, April 21, 2008

day 125: fine-tuning 2-person forms (jing, jing, jing, & more jing)

  • expression & progression of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)
  • yin & yang in jing
  • vortices (whirlpools) & tangents
  • beginning & end points
  • rules of thumb
  • closeness
  • history
  • 2-person forms, palm changes 1-4
  • tournament versions of the 2-person forms
i arrived early this Saturday, since i had quite a bit of material from last week to work on and wanted to get some quiet time in to concentrate. turns out this may have been unwarranted, since class turnout was a little low this weekend (Phunsak, Laura, and Art were all absent this weekend), and there was ample time to review the things i'd wanted to go through.


Sifu took the start of class today to discuss the current state of kung fu, particularly in terms of dominant patterns of beliefs and how they came to take so much attention in chinese martial arts. focusing on tai chi, he picked up on his thoughts from the UCLA class, and reviewed a lot of the arguments he made this past week regarding the misperceptions surrounding tai chi (reference: days 123 & 124). he pointed out a lot of this came from the public fascination with certain masters and certain books, some of which came from dubious martial arts backgrounds in terms of skill. many of these sources, he asserted, come from people with little or no martial arts skills.

he brought up several Yang and Chen tai chi treatises as examples, saying that while they hold a place among many modern practitioners as part of the tai chi canon, they actually contain a lot of mistakes, distortions, or even lies about the nature of tai chi for combat, and reflect a low level of understanding about actual fighting. Sifu said that skilled practitioners coming from a genuine martial arts backgrounds (particularly those who've experienced combat in war or street fighting settings) can see this, but unfortunately they are too few and receive too little attention.

this applies not only for tai chi, but for chinese martial arts in general, which Sifu says has been victimized by charlatans, con artists, & show business, and decimated by repressive governments & breakneck modernization. he said tai chi is the clearest example of the deterioration in kung fu as a fighting art, but that the erosion in martial ability is something that has occurred across all styles in kung fu.

Sifu said he'd bring some books in the future that he said demonstrated what he was saying--books that are taken as standards, but which have very little relevance to combat.

2-person forms, palm changes 1-4

wrapping up his discussion, Sifu instructed us to work through the 2-person forms for palm changes 1-4 while he went to start the baji students on their lesson plan. he said he'd return to breakdown and polish our forms, but stressed that in the meantime we need to switch partners to adjust to differing body types.

i ended up working with Eric, John, and Richard during the course of class. we went through the 2-person forms, taking time to review and make sure we remembered them, and then practicing the techniques involved. i noticed that there were marked differences in the forms switching being the body types, and that working against one person with one set of dimension required a different set of emphases relative to another--for example, with Eric, who is taller, there were a number of nuances i had to employ to guard my head while attempting to control his strikes, and which i'd been able to gloss over working against a shorter person like Phunsak. it was a useful reminder to some parts of the form that i'd forgotten...and a notice of just how useful it is to switch partners every once in awhile.

something that's become apparent over the past 2 weeks regarding the 2-person forms is that they're not set in stone. we'd covered this in prior classes, with Sifu saying that the actions in the 2-person forms really depends on which particular techniques out of the movements in the palm changes you want to emphasize. today, i could see that there were all kinds of possible variations, including not only the alternative applications we've covered to date for palm changes 1-4 (sides A & B), but also others we found on our own.

of course, employing these alternatives requires that both partners in the 2-person set understand what they are trying to do.

when Sifu returned, he had us demonstrate our 2-person forms, asking us as to what techniques we were trying to demonstrate as we did them. he stopped us at a number of points to highlight particular aspects that he felt were necessary to match the intended technique with the movements we were doing. i'll summarize his points as follows:
  • expressions of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)--this, i suspect, was to continue the thread raised from the UCLA class this past week. today, Sifu said he wanted us to employ greater use of these concepts in analyzing the movements in the forms so as to better understand their application and their purpose (or intent). the movements, depending on the intent behind them and the application adopted to fulfill the intent, will experience changes in their composition of ting, hwa, na, or fa jing. for an example, Sifu demonstrated that the opening movements in palm change 2, side B, can from one perspective be seen as strikes, and if given the right set-up (i.e., the practitioner has gone through ting & hwa to set up na) can be expressions of fa jing, but he showed that from another perspective, they can be seen as sensing actions (or ting jing) to set up hwa, na, & fa. from a third perspective, they can also be dissipating actions (hwa jing) receiving and redirecting an opponent's strike.
  • progression of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)--staying on the thread, Sifu stressed that regardless of the intent, application, or technique, there is always a progression in jing, going from ting to hwa to na to fa, with the prior elements being pre-requisites for the later elements (e.g., to have hwa, you must first have na; similarly, to have fa, you must first have ting, hwa, and na). as a result, contrary to popular perceptions of combat arts as being highly forceful, ting jing tends to be much more common in martial arts than fa jing. this is why the goal of having fa jing requires mastery of ting, hwa, and na jing. Sifu said this is logical when seen using a military analogy, in that in order to have an effective strike, you must first gather intelligence (information) about the opponent, which means you have to sense their actions, purpose, and strategy, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. once you have sensed this information, you have to neutralize their attacks on you and then position your assets in a way that will maximize their destructive power against the opponent's battle plan.
  • yin & yang in jing--continuing his discussion, Sifu raised and expanded on his comments from the UCLA class regarding the connection of ting, hwa, na, and fa jing with yin & yang concepts. in martial arts, we've so far used yin & yang theory in terms of recognizing the distribution of force and effort in an opponent and ourselves, and from this analyzed how to apply our own actions to destabilize an opponent's structure. today, however, Sifu gave an additional application of yin & yang theory, stating that yin & yang concepts also work with jing concepts, in that fa jing & some types of na jing (depending on the direction of movement...yang is up, forward, & towards the opponent) are expressions of yang, and ting, hwa, and to some degree na jing (movements down, back, & away from the opponent) are expressions of yin. this means that the progression going from ting jing first to fa jing last is emphasizing that yin behavior must precede yang behavior in combat.
  • vortices (whirlpools) & tangents--Sifu reminded us of the need to recognize the vortices and tangents we are trying to exploit in applying our techniques. he said that size, direction, and location of the vortices and tangents will depend in part on the desired application and intent, as well as the type of technique and the dimensions of our opponent and conditions of our surroundings. as a result, we have to recognize the need to adjust our force vectors to reflect what it is that we want to do to preserve the energy of our vortices and tangents.
  • beginning & end points--Sifu extended the above to note that 1) in applying techniques, we have to recognize the beginning and end points of the paths our force vectors are tracing, 2) to properly execute techniques, we have to be sure to follow through our actions, which means we have to endeavor to move in ways that bring the beginning and end points together, and 3) the beginning and end points are not stationary. he stressed this last point with particular emphasis. even as we move, our actions will change the location of the vortices & tangents, and hence mean alteration of the force vectors and the paths which they are tracing, meaning that we have to constantly modify our beginning and end points of the force vector paths as we execute a technique.
  • rules of thumb--the last part about the need to modify beginning and ends points as we move can be a challenge, and requires that we develop an intuitive sense of how the beginning and end points change given a particular type of movement. Sifu said this is partly why it's too complicated to try and memorize the proper vector paths (and their associated beginning and end points) for individual techniques...given the infinite possible techniques and ways of executing those techniques, it's too much to remember or think about, especially given the full-speed conditions of a fight. Sifu said it's better to understand the principles, and simply understand just how things change given circumstances. in effect, he was saying that it's okay to approximate a desired outcome, or that a technique be "good enough," since in a fight it's too tough and unlikely to always reach maximum effectiveness...especially since the only criteria is if you are "effective enough" to win. he described this using an engineering analogy: as a practicing engineer (i.e., one in the field, outside the laboratory or classroom), it's too time and energy consuming to employ detailed equations encompassing all potentially relevant variables to solve a particular problem, and that it's quicker and more efficient to follow rules of thumb that give approximate answers sufficiently close to achieve a desired outcome within the specified time and resource constraints.
  • closeness--returning to bagua specifically, Sifu reminded us of the need to recognize the distancing between 2 partners is a function of the desired intent, application, and technique. sometimes you need to be close, sometimes not so close. regardless, you have to maintain some level of distance within your reach to exercise bagua. this doesn't necessarily mean within physical reach, but rather physical reach you possess holding a stable structure (there's a difference: you can reach farther by leaning over, but this means putting yourself off-balance in an unstable position).
tournament versions of the 2-person forms

we ended up discussing the nature of the 2-person forms for tournament purposes. i've never seen this done, and neither have some other people in the class. Sifu said the tournament versions of the 2-person forms work as follows:
  • the entire set has to appear spontaneous, and so cannot appear mechanical in actions, or as a sequential act-react process between 2 partners. it has to be a smooth, free-flowing presentation giving the appearance of an actual encounter between 2 strangers engaging in a fight.
  • because of the above, the partners don't necessarily proceed in order through palm changes 1-8, nor do they do each palm change on both the left side and right side. instead, they can do the palm changes out of order, and only have to do each palm change on 1 side.
  • the palm changes have to be modified so that the applications chosen for demonstration are ones that are clearly visible and recognizable to the viewer. this is because most of the judges, and most of the audience, have never seen bagua, much less seen bagua 2-person forms, and so don't know what to look for or what they are even seeing.
  • for tournaments judging 2-person forms, the emphasis is much more about aesthetics
  • the 2-person forms event in the tournament covers different styles of kung fu, not just bagua, and so you have to compete against the 2-person forms of other styles, which are frequently better known and understood
  • nobody knows what's involved in judging. it depends entirely on the judges.
with that said, we took some time to observe what Sifu meant by watching his modifications to Ching-Chieh's 2-person forms (she was working with Kieun today...she's supposed to be partnered with Phunsak for the tournament, but he was gone today, and she needed to practice with someone). i noticed how the opening and closing for the 2-person form is somewhat different than what i'd seen before in class, since they involved the partners being within arm's reach and close enough that their fingers touched when turning into leaf covers summer flower, and also involved the partners being slightly staggered with respect to each other.

by this time, the baji students were leaving. noting the time, Sifu called class to a close and we went to lunch.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

days 123 & 124: interlacing yang with existing theory

  • 5-element theory
  • breathing
  • push hands progression
  • sensitivity
  • jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)
  • yin & yang
  • stances
  • yang long form
this week had a bit of contrast, with Tuesday being an extended lesson into the 2nd half of the long form, and Thursday being a lecture introducing basic combat theory into Yang tai chi.

day 123

Tuesday was largely straightforward, with the lesson plan following the same pattern as the prior weeks. the major difference was that most of class was spent on continuing much farther than before into the 2nd half of the long form. Sifu said that this was largely because so much of the 2nd half involved repetition of the same moves--moves introduced in the 1st half, particularly single whip, grasping bird's tail, and cloud hands (and from what i could tell, this is true, with the section we learned today feeling like a video set to repeat...and repeat...and repeat). this meant that there was less need to introduce the techniques or finer points of the movement, giving more time to simply progressing through the form.

we took some brief time in class to do the tai chi stances and then to return to the 1st half, using 5-element theory to go through the movements, reciting not only the element, but also the external and internal organs associated with each movement. in addition, Sifu also reminded everyone about breathing, and the material we covered the last 2 quarters on using a 2-count method for each movement that indicated breathing in (on the 1 count) and breathing out (on the 2 count).

day 124

in contrast to Tuesday, this Thursday was dominated by lecture. apparently Sifu and Art have been having some extended conversations about the nature of tai chi, largely in connection to the book they are writing about Yang and Chen. Sifu said there were a number of things he wanted to cover today that he thought were important.

to begin with, he said that there are some misperceptions about Yang tai chi that he wanted to correct. first was the emphasis on still push hands (i.e., push hands that required the feet remain stationary). according to Sifu, this is only one aspect of push hands, and was never meant to be the ultimate aim of tai chi. he said that as a fighting art, tai chi requires movement, and that hence there are several stages in push hands training progressing towards full-speed full-contact fighting. stationary push hands is only one stage in this progression, and anyone who sees push hands with fixed feet as being the end point of tai chi is ignoring the martial purposes of tai chi.

second was the nature of slow movements. Sifu said that people tend to belittle tai chi as a fighting art, saying that there is no relationship between its slow movements and actual fighting. he said these attitudes ignore the training methodology used by tai chi, which utilizes slow movements for a very clear, very specific purposes: improving physical coordination and related mind-body awareness, as well as increasing familiarity with the nature of the physics employed in the movements. the central idea, according to Sifu, is improving sensitivity, with the reasoning that increasing sensitivity to the self and the movements enables development of sensitivity to the opponent--which is crucial to fighting.

third was the disconnect in many people's minds between tai chi and fighting. Sifu said that many people are unable to relate tai chi to combat, largely because they focus their energies on tai chi as a form of exercise for health and spirituality. in doing so, they lose track of the combat concepts that tai chi needs to utilize in order to be a martial art. Sifu referred to the combat concepts he's discussed before (but which he was introducing for the first time to this class):
  • 4 kinds of energy involved in combat: ting (sensing), hwa (dissipating or dissolving), na (positioning), and fa (projection). of these, Sifu noted that tai chi was really emphasizing ting, hwa, and na more than fa, since the proper application of fa (i.e., application which produces the most effective results against an opponent) requires the correct sequence of ting, hwa, and na.
  • yin & yang: with yang movements involving force vectors aimed forwards, up, outward, or rotating towards the opponent, and yin movements involving force vectors away, down, inward, or rotating away from the opponent. Sifu pointed out that Yang tai chi is about yin, and is similar to other northern Chinese martial arts in that it requires the use of yin actions first before application of yang. this is reflected in the nature of Yang tai chi's emphasis on ting, hwa, and na relative to fa jing--yin actions involve those that are soft enough to allow sensing, dissolving, and positioning of an opponent.
i've written about Sifu's discussions about these combat concepts extensively before (reference:, so i won't go into detail about them here.

we finished class with a brief run-through of the 2nd half of the form that we'd covered this week, and ended the week with that.

Friday, April 18, 2008

quarterly summary - Q1, 2008

ok, this is WAY late. i should have written this at the end of March, but i lost track of things and ended up with a mountain of things to do. but i'm catching up, so this is the next item on the list of things. you'll need to reference the last quarter (reference: quarterly summary - Q4, 2007).

original goals

citing 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 learning applications
  • continue learning bagua and long fist
  • learn tai chi
  • learn kuen wu jian
  • get this theory...GET THIS THEORY...GET. THIS. THEORY.
summary of events

with respect to the curriculum, this is what has been covered this past quarter:
  • pao quan (most of the way through)
  • Yang tai chi (first half of the long form)
  • Chen tai chi (most of the long form)
  • kuen wu jian (most of the form)
  • refinement & applications, 64 palms: palm changes 1-8, A & B
other things this quarter that were not in the curriculum:
  • 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--we've continued with more discussion of theory in relation to applications to the kung fu styles we've been learning, as well as getting more about the principles and mindset, particularly in differentiation to other styles of fighting

i pretty much made the goals for this quarter:
  • continue attending class: i missed 2 weekends while i was out doing Ironman New Zealand, but apart from that i've managed to make every class, including those at UCLA
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class: this was a bit hit-and-miss. during the training peak leading into IMNZ, i had to curtail a lot of practice to focus on my triathlon-related workouts. i managed to fit in kung fu, but not in a way that covered everything that i was learning every week (i ended up having to prioritize the weakest areas and concentrate on those, and then get to everything else when i could). things became much easier after Ironman, and so i'm getting more time to practice kung fu.
  • continue learning applications: this was probably the big part of this past quarter, with Sifu spending a lot of time discussing alternative combat applications for bagua, as well as applications for chen and yang tai chi. there was quite a bit, but it was very useful.
  • continue learning bagua and long fist: this is definitely a yes. this quarter i came close to finishing pao quan, and started learning the bagua leg form.
  • learn tai chi: also a definite yes. we're halfway through the yang long form, and close to finishing the chen long form.
  • learn kuen wu jian: we're close to finishing kuen wu jian. although, as you can no doubt tell from my posts over the past few weeks, i'm still not feeling entirely comfortable with it.
  • get this theory: the theory continued this quarter. but it started to make a lot more sense, particularly once we started getting more and more applications to test and exercise the theory.

my comments can be summarized as follows:
  • application and theory: this continues the thoughts from last quarter--that applications may be the ingredients to be used to cook, but you still need the theory to give the recipes to actually create a coherent cooking style. what i'm sensing this quarter is that applications are only examples of thinking about theory, and that if you know the theory (particularly its concepts and principles), then you can generate your own applications. but to do this, you have to master 1) the theory, and 2) an existing base of applications (i.e., you have to have both, you cannot have one without the other), so that you can see how theory is expressed in applications, and how expression is held together in a coherent fashion by theory.
  • differences from other styles: something that came out this quarter--and largely because we began to get enough theory and applications to develop a body or substance of the picture of the fighting styles within the Wutan curriculum--is the differences between what i'm learning versus other styles. i don't mean differences in terms of visual disjunctions (that's obvious), but i mean the differences that explain why there are visual disjunctions, as well as the reasons justifying such differences. i can now (sort of) see the differences in theory (in concepts & principles) between the fighting styles we're learning versus others, and thus get a better appreciation of 1) what the strengths and focus of our styles are, and 2) what the strengths and focus of other styles are.
  • the future: the future is a little stormy. continuing to study with Sifu Tsou is predicated on me being in Southern California. however, that is not guaranteed. i'm graduating this May, and right now the job situation is very bleak. i only have one job offer, and it requires moving to Sacramento. it doesn't start until September, which gives me the months until then to try and find something in the LA area. i'm doing my best, but right now, things are very uncertain.
objectives for the future

somewhat the same themes, but just some changes:
  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • finish learning pao quan
  • finish learning the bagua leg form
  • finish yang & chen tai chi long forms
  • finish kuen wu jian--and get better
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications
of course, whether this happens in light of all the chaos i have going on, i don't know. i can only hope for the best.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

day 122: finishing chen & kuen wu

  • 6 harmonies
  • chen long form
  • kuen wu jian
today was a make-up session for the original Sunday class that would have taken place last week--but which was replaced by the chin na seminar. this Sunday filled in our instruction on chen and kuen wu, and next weekend will resume the normal Sunday schedule.

the theme for the day was pretty much information overload. i received a fair amount of information yesterday finishing pao quan while also covering the bagua subjects for the class, but today was an extended session of memorization, since Sifu decided to go ahead and finish both the chen long form and kuen wu jian form. as a result, this weekend ended up being an intake of super-sized sections of 3 different forms intended to finish things off, meaning that that there was a lot of material covered.

which is fine, since i think if given enough time i can still digest everything, especially since we have the forms on Youtube video for reference. still, there's a lot of stuff, and it's going to take a lot of practice.

chen long form

we continued with the chen form, stopping to review certain applications along the way. Sifu noted that the fist punch to the ground doesn't necessarily have to be a punch, but instead--if done in conjunction with the other hand and proper positioning--a push of the opponent off-balance. he also pointed that there were some similarities with chang quan in terms of rolling of the fists (which can be an expression of chan si jin, or twisting energy, or a chin na application) and percussive inelastic/elastic hitting of one hand upon the other to better transmit energy into the opponent.

kuen wu jian

we went on to finish the kuen wu jian form. this actually was the most difficult part of the day. i'm not entirely comfortable with the form, or for that matter with moving while holding an object in my hands. for some reason, holding something in my hands seems to add an extra layer of difficulty in coordinating body movements, in that it gives me something else to keep track of while doing the form. it's been rather maddening, to be quite honest.

of course, part of this may be that i haven't quite learned all of the basics of jian shu in terms of fundamental movements and usage. i've been getting bits and pieces of this as we move along, but i haven't been able to quite assemble everything into a coherent picture of kuen wu jian as a form or jian shu as an art. it's making things a bit head-scratching, and i'm still feeling awkward handling the movements and the jian.

it's helped to think on the idea of 6 harmonies (i.e., that hands are coordinated with feet, elbows with knees, and shoulders with hips), since it focuses attention on the principle that no action by a single body part is ever done alone (i.e., every hand action is accompanied by a foot action, every elbow action with a knee action, every shoulder action with a hip action). still, it's still an adjustment to go from having the symmetry of my limbs to the asymmetry of one limb holding a weapon and the other limbs not--it throws off the body symmetry in terms of force and mass, confusing the sense of balance and aesthetics...enough to throw a wrench into muscle memory and neural programming set by a brain that has to date only geared itself to unarmed actions. it shouldn't make a difference (since a weapon should really be just an extension of the hand), but it does.

like i said, it's going to take some practice.

Sifu announced that next Sunday we'd begin sparring sessions for all the students who were going to the tournaments. i haven't made up my mind about this--for sure i am not going to the tournaments for jian shu, and i doubt that i could contribute much to the sparring sessions for the students who are. i definitely need to pick up the jian shu basics, and to learn a little bit more about the principles and concepts involved to get a better feel as to how jian shu works in a combat situation. i'll have to think about this a bit.

we finished the day with this, and Sifu reminded everyone that next weekend would be a double weekend again, so that it would resume the normal schedule of Saturday & Sunday back-to-back classes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

day 121: pop quiz!

  • dynamic balancing (yin & yang combined with vortices)
  • static balancing
  • tai chi theory
  • bagua 64 palms (sides A & B, 2-person forms)
  • pao quan
today was hot...not on an absolute scale (only 90 degrees fahrenheit), but considering it's been in the 60s and 70s for the past few weeks, the sudden hike in temperature was a dramatic difference. i think a lot of people were feeling the affects of the heat as a result of not being able to acclimate.

tai chi theory

Sifu began class with all the bagua and baji students together. while working on the tai chi book with Art, he apparently had gone through some work on the classic sources of tai chi literature, particularly the more famous poems normally associated with tai chi. he told us this morning that he wanted to dispel what he thought was a misperception in the language of one in particular.

for the life of me, i can't remember the name of the poet or the poem, so somebody with more familiarity will have to fill me in. but the message was still clear. evidently, in tai chi, there is a tenet of holding things in balance, akin to the weights that must be balanced on a scale. however, Sifu believes that most scholars who stop at this miss the deeper meanings of the poem, which he says has additional lines indicating that tai chi is not just about balancing weights. he said that people who hold only to this message get a static view of the principles in tai chi--something that is not useful for the dynamic conditions of a fight, and something which was not what the original poet intended. rather, the poem goes on to note that the principle of balance must involve balancing moving forces, and so is not just about the kind of static balancing that happens on a scale, but rather the dynamic balancing that goes on with moving forces.

Sifu says that if you consider the ulterior meanings of the poem, it refers to the notion of axes connecting spinning motions, as well as concepts of yin and yang. he believes that this refers to the idea of circular motions common to tai chi techniques. moreover, he says that combining the idea of balancing to these kinds of motions in a dynamic setting means using yin and yang principles to control the forces involved to direct the motions in a desired outcome. as a result, the poem is really about combining yin-yang theory to the idea of vortices to deal with the complexities of dynamic balancing...and this is what most people miss in adopting the common static balancing interpretation of tai chi.

bagua 64 palms (sides A & B, 2-person forms)

wrapping up his commentary, Sifu had us begin with a review of palm change 4, side B. Phunsak took us through this, as well as a review of palm changes 1-3 for side B.

on Sifu's instruction we also began review of the 2-person forms, particularly for palm changes 1 and 2. Sifu took a moment to discuss the alternative applications he's been demonstrating in relation to the 2-person forms, and noted that the intent of the movements in the 2-person sets, and even the sequence and order of movements in the sets, can vary depending on the technique chosen to be applied. this is another reminder that the palm changes are not static, but can change according to the applications that are desired to be shown--as i've written in earlier posts, we've learned that each movement in a form, regardless of kung fu style (e.g., baji, bagua, tai chi, chang quan, etc.), can have multiple applications, and so each movement can be associated with multiple, differing techniques.

i suspect there is also another reason Sifu wanted us to review the 2-person sets: Ching-Chieh and Phunsak are supposed to performing the 2-person forms for the Baltimore tournament, and have not been able to meet for practice to date. considering that Ching-Chieh is going to be gone for 2 months for June and July, this doesn't leave much time to practice the 2-person sets for the tournament.

i should note that watching Ching-Chieh and Phunsak perform clearly displayed just how much the dynamics of the 2-person set can change depending on the participants. having partners of differing dimensions (height, reach, weight, etc.) affects the aesthetic nature of the 2-person set in terms of movement and appearance, since differing practitioners have to adjust movements according to the dimensions of their partner. with 2 partners dramatically different in dimensions, the 2-person set can appear awkward. however, Ching-Chieh and Phunsak are similar in size, and this resulted in a much more aesthetically balanced and smooth moving 2-person set. i suspect that this is probably the reason Sifu wanted them to compete in the forms at the tournament.

after this, Sifu announced that he wanted to record everyone (both baji and bagua students) doing a form solo. it could be any form that we knew, so long as we did it before the group solo. he had brought along his digital camera, and said that he wanted to record each of us for his records.

i think people were stunned. for sure, nobody expected this.

i have to admit that as much as i was surprised, this didn't really shock me. i've noticed Sifu has a habit of administering pop quizzes on people, and have warned others in the class whenever i sensed the time for one coming on. but i will say that i was intimidated just as much as everyone else with the thought of being recorded for posterity.

Sifu joked that he was going to save the videos, so that in the future he can show future students (his and maybe ours) just what we looked like when we were starting out, and that way give future students hope that things might get better...or, alternatively, he could just post the videos on Youtube for everybody's entertainment.

ha ha ha. yuck yuck yuck.

i ended up doing all of 64 palms, side A. only thing was, i messed up palm changes 6 & 7, so it wasn't a clean run and it didn't look very pretty. but we'll see how it looks...besides, that's the nature of a pop quiz: you find out what you know off the top of your head, and it often is never very pretty.

ha ha ha. yuck yuck yuck.

pao quan

class wound down while Sifu recorded each student doing a form of their own choice. during this time, i asked Phunsak to show me a little bit more of pao quan. Phunsak led me a little bit further into the form, and then asked me if i wanted to go all the way to the end since we were so close to it.

i was a little reluctant to do this, but Phunsak said he was going to be gone next weekend and so if i wanted to get through the form that this was as good a chance as there would be within the month of April. i figured i might as well, and we finished it through.

i don't think my pao quan is very clean, particularly the last parts of it. obviously, this can be rectified with practice. but i think it's going to take quite a bit more than usual to smooth things out, since i've learned it in discontinuous stages. if i'm around during the summer, i think i'm also going to see about getting some private consultation with Sifu to polish the form and also learn the applications--to date, i haven't really learned any of the long fist applications, and i figure you don't really know a martial art if you don't know the applications in it.

once Sifu finished recording everybody ( wasn't everybody, Phunsak was naturally excused, and a few students, like Laura and Ching-Chieh, managed to beg out of it), we finished the day and went to lunch.

days 119 & 120: 5-element theory & yang long form cont'd

  • internal
  • external
  • yi
  • yang long form
this week was pretty straightforward, with an expansion of 5-element theory into the yang long form.

day 119

this tuesday involved some review of 5-element theory, since there were a number of new students who'd missed last week. we went back through the 5 elements, and their association with internal and external body parts. we also took time to review the 1st half of the yang long form, with Sifu providing commentary as to the application of 5-element theory to the form.

day 120

today we repeated 5-element theory, but this time applied it to the 2nd half of the yang long form, spending more time learning the movements and covering the element associated with each move, as well as the respective internal and external body part.

in addition, Sifu also discussed how concentration on 5-element theory within the yang long form serves to train yi (i.e., intent), and thus our ability to direct awareness to specific body parts. this is a major factor in the application of 5-element theory, since it develops the ability to manipulate internal organs, much as people manipulate external ones--in modern society, people tend to only be aware of their ability to control their external body parts, and never consider the ability to control their internal ones. it's in this way that tai chi is often associated as a tool for traditional chinese medicine, helping to address internal problems through movement in a therapeutic manner.

we finished the week with this. Sifu said we should expect to continue on this for the next few weeks, and then warned us we would also incorporate 5-element theory into stances.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

day 118: more side B & chin na seminar

  • fire
  • water
  • brush
  • spinning
  • palm change 3, side B
  • chin na
today was a truncated day for Saturday, with the class ending at 12 (noon) so that everyone could head over to Cal State LA for the seminar, which went both Saturday and Sunday. as a result, the only item scheduled for class was to continue with the refinement and applications for palm change 3, side B.

palm change 3, side B

we did an initial review of this, doing several repetitions in a circle. Sifu then went through the applications of the individual techniques one by one.

originally, i thought that this palm was very tai-chi-esque, because its movements resembled some of the ones from Yang and Chen. however, today, Sifu said this was actually wrong, with the intent behind the movements and the force vectors actually being different. in particular, he noted:
  • divert and grab by the cloth into snake spits its tongue--i had interpreted this to be akin to tai chi's pull-down. but apparently divert and grab by the cloth can actually be a brush, with the goal of establishing contact with the opponent and deceiving their perceptions, so that snake spits its tongue can then be applied as the actual driving strike.
  • snake coils in its den--this is very similar to Chen. but Sifu said that in Chen the force vector is moving on a circular path on a predominately horizontal plane, whereas with snake coils in its den the force vector is largely along the vertical axis of the body's rotation, with the body weight sinking on the axis and thereby serving to create a force vector downwards. in addition, in snake coils its den, the upward hand rises but is not utilized as a primary force generator (i.e., you're not really pushing with it). instead, it acts to maintain contact with the opponent and divert their attention from the real force vector. this contrasts to Chen, where the upraised hand plays a more participatory role in applying force.
to finish, Sifu discussed the nature of the green dragon turns its body. he pointed out that although the form has the rotation going in one direction, that the practitioner actually has the option of rotating in either clockwise or counter-clockwise directions, with both serving to place the practitioner in a location to initiate strikes to the opponent. while spinning is somewhat risky, since it momentarily puts your back towards the opponent, breaking your visual awareness, it can be effective. the major caveat is that the spin be towards the dragon gate (i.e., outside the opponent), and not the tiger gate (i.e., the inside of the opponent), since spinning to the tiger gate would mean you are placing your back to the front of the opponent, making it easy for them to attack.

chin na

i'm including discussion of the seminar here, since i figured it would be more appropriate to just give a summary of the seminar content, and that as a result it wouldn't really require a separate post. there's so much detail but only so much blog space and personal energy to allow a full presentation of the seminar. besides, people need an incentive like in-depth first-hand education to go to seminars, don't they?

i should note that there is a seminar manual, with 2 DVDs, covering everything presented. so anybody interested in trying learn more should contact Art to get copies.

Saturday was devoted primarily to chin na theory. we began with a brief historical overview of chin na, and then went into a discussion of the 5 categories of chin na:
  • je mai (intercepting chi in the extremities)
  • bi chi (stopping chi in the torso)
  • fen jin (isolating tendons)
  • chuo gu (destroying bones and joints)
  • dim mak (pressure points)
Sifu stressed the principles of each of these, stating that while it is possible to learn an innumerable number of techniques, knowing the principles will allow you to figure techniques for yourself. the risk with memorizing techniques is that you rely on your brain's ability to organize and remember techniques, which is difficult in full-speed combat. in comparison, understanding principles is easier, and allow more natural and hence faster movement in a fight.

from here, Sifu presented his theories in terms of applying chin na principles. we've had a lot of these in class before, but today we dealt with the theories in relation to chin na. Sifu organized his theories into 6 categories:
  • yin-yang
  • whirlpool/vortex
  • using the ground to generate reaction forces
  • neurological responses
  • mind control
  • flow & change of energy from ting, hwa, na, and fa
we finished Saturday with some brief demonstrations of principles and theories.

Sunday was more applications and demonstration of theory. Sifu reviewed example techniques illustrating the principles and theories. he then broke us into different groups, with one group for bagua, another for baji, and another for tai chi. each group took turns breaking down various techniques in their style into the constituent principles and theories, and then demonstrating this to the group, with Sifu making additional comments and corrections.

you can see examples of this at the following videos (these are only excerpts, since we covered a lot more):


tai chi:

we continued with discussion of how to train for chin na, and then finished with some question-and-answers.

Friday, April 04, 2008

days 116 & 117: intro to 5 element theory

  • 5-element theory
  • yang long form (2nd half)
we started the spring quarter for the UCLA class. the number of students is a little less than the previous quarters, since this class is marked as "intermediate" with a pre-requisite that students have taken either one of the previous quarters, or had prior instruction in yang tai chi. students trying to register for the class had to appear and get a code number from Sifu.

day 116

Sifu began today with an introduction to what he had planned for this quarter. we're going to resume learning the 2nd half of the Yang long form, as well as go into 5-element theory. in addition, we're going to start learning the 2-person forms of tai chi (e.g., push hands, 2-person drills, etc.).

we went right into the subject matter, with Sifu giving a few basics of 5-element theory. literally, the theory revolves around the application of 5 elements: metal, water, wood, fire, earth, with the applications covering not only tai chi but also traditional Chinese medicine and regular living. in traditional Chinese medicine, each of these elements is associated with its own respective internal and external body parts:
  • metal : internal-lung : external-scapula
  • water: internal-kidney : external-pelvic area/tailbone/hips
  • wood : internal-liver : external-ribs
  • fire : internal-heart : external-sternum
  • earth : internal-stomach : external-spine
in tai chi, each of these also presents a specific area of emphasis in tai chi movements. Sifu demonstrated the initial moves of the long form, denoting the element and body parts being highlighted in each. for example, the opening sequence is an act of fire (raising the hands in front of the body, thereby lifting sternum, and so emphasizing the heart) and then water (lowering the hands and lowering the body into the horse stance, thereby dropping the pelvic area and hips, and so emphasizing the kidneys).

according to Sifu, this is why tai chi is seen as having medicinal purposes, with the movements serving to direct mental awareness and physical sensitivity to internal and external body parts, as well as massaging them--much the same way as muscles can be massaged.

we ended the class on that note.

day 117

today was a brief review of Tuesday. this time, however, we went further into the initial section of the long form using 5-element theory, doing several iterations with each repetition being done to point out techniques as a series of elements, internal organs, or external body parts.

for the later part of class, Sifu started the 2nd half of the Yang long form. he pointed out that it is largely a repeat of the moves of the first half, but just in slightly different order and direction. as a result, he expects the 2nd half to go quicker in terms of learning the form, allowing more time to cover 5-element theory and 2-person forms.

we finished with a few repetitions of the new movements we covered today.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

day 115: jing drills & ongoing refinement of side B

  • jing (tin, hwa, na, fa)
  • principles & physics, versus techniques
  • footwork
  • 6 harmonies (nothing operates alone)
  • timing
  • closing
  • yi (intent)
  • tantui
  • 64 palms, side B
  • jing drills
  • bagua leg form
this Saturday was a continuation of the refinement of side B. i arrived extra early today to review things, since my mother was in town and i'd had to curtail some of my usual weekday workouts. i ended up spending the morning working on the kuen wu jian form and pao quan, since both continue to be ongoing challenges as of late. i also took a little time to check on my bagua leg form, since Jay and i had scheduled a private session this afternoon to go further into the form.

as people came in today, Sifu reminded everyone about this weekend's chin na seminar (Saturday & Sunday, Cal State LA, w Saturday session commencing after the Saturday morning class and the Sunday session going all day...for extra information contact Art Schoenfeld). with that stated, he then gathered everyone together and told us to do tantui.


i have to say i had a feeling tantui was coming. Sifu had given hints about it last week, and i've noticed that he likes to periodically return to tantui. i suspect this is for several reasons: 1) we have new (and some not-so-new) students who have yet to do tantui, 2) it is considered a fundamental component of the introductory steps in the Wutan curriculum, and 3) fundamentals, unlike wisdom, tend to corrode if left untended over time.

which is just as well. one thing i've learned from sports is that the hallmark of advanced athletes is that they don't spend less time drilling fundamentals--they actually spend more. granted, you don't do it all the time, since you have to build upwards to a higher state of being, and so sooner or later have to get yourself off the ground. but they do dedicate very specific, very discrete, and very clearly defined segments of the training calendar to fundamentals, with very particular objectives in mind: restoring muscle and neuro-skeletal memory, restoring efficiency in movement, and honing the correct technique that is crucial to create the gains that are expected from the later stages of the training cycle. it is following this that fundamentals are then integrated into ongoing performance gains...which is what i'm seeing is going on with the Wutan curriculum--or at least, i can sense that somebody at some time some where had some clue about this kind of methodology.

i'm thinking we need to repeat tantui again over the next several weeks. it feels just about right to restore some of the fundamentals--particularly the ones that i seemed to have lost last week. that, and you have to admit it gets a little addictive in an obsessive-compulsive kind of way.

64 palms, side B

once we finished with tantui, Sifu instructed Phunsak to have us continue the refinement of side B.

we continued from last Saturday, doing a brief review of palm changes 1 & 2, side B, and then going onto to palm change 3. i made extra effort to try and incorporate the comments i'd gotten last week, focusing more on expanding my movements, turning at the waist, keeping my head upright in alignment with my spine, and keeping the feet flat on the ground by sinking my dantian through my center. i'd worked on this a little over the week, at least enough to make some corrective measures. but as to whether it is turning out right is something that will take time to evaluate.

after palm 3, we took a break. we ended up sorting out some applications, with John, Phunsak, Kieun, Richard, and i making a diversion into grappling and counter-grappling options (i'd been scratching my head over some of the lessons we've had on this, and was trying to figure out how they'd translate given different permutations of the usual grappling attacks to the legs).

eventually, we made a group decision to review the remainder of the palm changes in side B, particularly since it had been awhile since we'd done all of them. Phunsak led, and we did a sequential, methodical set of palm changes 4-8, side B, with multiple iterations for each one.

this was probably one of the wiser things we did, since i think everyone's memory was a little fuzzy. for me, i found myself missing some movements in palms 7 & 8, and i had to stop at a couple of points to refresh my memory...just goes to show you--if you don' t use it, you lose it. it applies to your physical skills, it applies to your mental ones. god forbid it applies to anything else.

jing drills

at this point Sifu gathered the bagua students together and demonstrated a series of drills involving some of the movements from the palm changes in side B, particularly for palms 1-3. these drills are closely related to the jing drills we did this past December (reference: day 84). for today, the drills revolved around us working in pairs, with one partner playing the role of an attacker throwing punches (any selection, any rhythm, any combination) and the other partner playing the role of the defender reacting to the punches.

Sifu asked that the defender work on "playing" with the incoming strikes, so that the reaction was not always to launch a counter-attack, but rather to get a "feel" for the attacker's punches. from here, we were supposed to then try to "stick" to the punches, to better sense the opponent and simultaneously frustrate their movements. after this, we were then supposed to try and position ourselves as we were working with the opponent in a way that could allow us to get into a position to launch our own attack. essentially, all this was following the series of jing drills, with Sifu noting what he wanted for each one:
  • tin jing (listening)--as the opponent's strike came in, Sifu asked us to play with it by launching light strikes (e.g., light as a feather or paint brush) to the attacker's eyes to confuse or blind the opponent. in addition, we were supposed to use the light strikes to get an awareness of our opponent's motions, rhythm, and intent. to do these things, Sifu said we needed to brush the opponent at the same time they tried to hit us. to do this, Sifu said we needed to coordinate our brush strokes with our footwork and bodies, so that we dodged in several different ways: left-right, forward-back, top-down, or rotationally. he pointed out that the movement could actually be a combination of these directions.
  • hwa jing (absorbing, sticking, deflecting)--in combination or in distinction from tin jing, Sifu also told us to make contact with the opponent's strikes, but not to do so by blocking (i.e., direct force-on-force contact). rather, we needed to avoid direct opposition of force vectors. Sifu said that we wanted to use our tin jing to gain a sensitivity to what our opponent is doing (or wants to do), and then in turn use this sensitivity to receive and stick to their movements. his allows 1) greater sensitivity to their actions and intent, 2) helps control and redirect their movement, 3) frustrates their actions and intent, and 4) enables better implementation of your response.
  • na jing (positioning)--Sifu reminded us to think of movement: left-right, forward-back, top-down, rotationally. eventually, besides exercising tin jing and hwa jing, we needed to work on positioning ourselves in ways that allow us to exploit weaknesses in the opponent's defenses and disrupt vulnerabilities in their structure.
  • fa jing (projection)--for today, Sifu asked we limit our fa jing, but that we try to use na jing to get to positions to initiate our own attacks, whether they were throws, locks, punches, pressure points, etc. he said that for today we could try applying the techniques from side B, palm changes 1-3.
i ended up working with John Eagles on this. i have to say these kinds of drills are becoming a favorite component of the training for me. partly because i've started to learn enough about kung fu (not just bagua, but also tai chi and chang quan) that i actually have things to try and apply and experiment on: specifically, principles and techniques using those principles. it helps me see how the theory is applied, and allows experimentation that enables further understanding of just how principles can be expressed. out of this, i'm starting to see the following:
  • principles are really more important than techniques. between everything i'm learning (bagua, tai chi, chang quan, miscellanous shuai jiao, etc.), i'm seeing the same principles and same physics being used over and over again, with the various styles just simply using techniques that express those principles in different ways. it's like a selection of related languages--there's French, German, English, etc., all seemingly unique and different, but they're all used to express the same meanings, same intent, same messages, same emotions, same ideas. another way is music--there's a set number of notes in the scale, a set number of keys, but yet the notes and keys are expressed with different emphases and different timing and different combinations. which makes me think 1) you learn techniques to a point that you understand how principles and physics are used and applied, 2) you leave techniques to free your mind to receive the supreme chaos of human interaction (and that's really all a fight is: a very, very, very hostile form of human interaction), 3) you get to principles and physics to react to the supreme chaos of human interaction, and 4) you use principles and physics to make whatever techniques you need. hopefully, out of this, you survive.
  • the jing drills require that you have and develop a coordination between body parts; nothing ever acts alone. this is what we've talked about (and i suppose is common in martial arts) at various times as the 6 harmonies: hands coordinate with feet, elbows with knees, shoulders with hips). Phunsak had said he is finding this is universal across fighting styles--even in his fencing class, the instructor has stressed that every hand action is accompanied by an attendant foot action.
  • the jing drills also require footwork and timing. this, however, is something closely related with the 6 harmonies. the footwork is necessary to dodge and position yourself in a way that you can counter-attack. the timing is necessary to sense and react to the attacker.
  • bagua is about closing. you can use bagua to stay at various distances. but so much of the throws, locks, pressure points, and even strikes involve footwork and timing that positions you close to your opponent. as a result, the intuitive reflex that is required by bagua is to close with the opponent, rather than stay away. part of me suspects this means that bagua is naturally compatible with other "close-in" styles like shuai jiao, and i wonder if this is part of the reason Jason has a shaui jiao-esque flavor in his bagua, with so many shaui jiao-type techniques applied to finish entries--it's just a natural fit. however, another part of me also suspects that this isn't necessarily true, in that closing with an opponent simply serves to put you within range of a greater arsenal of attacks (i.e., you're not just reliant on long-distance strikes, but now have them and also an array of shorter strikes).
following the jing drills, Sifu spoke with us briefly about the idea of intent. repeating the demonstration of a counter-joint lock to an opponent's closed grip, he said that intent plays a major role in the effectiveness of techniques in martial arts--not just the "internal" styles (e.g., bagua, xing-yi, tai chi, etc.), but for martial arts in general. he stressed that this is a principle that has to be understood to realize the full potential of the techniques. intent, or yi (such as the in "intent" in xing-yi or yi quan), apparently enables greater exploitation of physics, just as much as other principles like vortices, yin-yang, etc.

i have to note this is a concept that i'm struggling to learn. mostly because i'm coming from a Western science background, where so much of my idea of knowledge involves empirical verification, which means being able to test things that can be seen--oh yeah sure, stuff like quantum physics and mathematics involves all kinds of things that can't be seen, but you know what i mean: i don't live in quantum physics in my everyday life, i live in Newtonian physics. yi isn't something i can see, and having never really dealt with the concept before, it's hard to pick up (this is a classic problem posed by Greek philosophers, and is reminiscent of a Zen koan: how do you explain the color blue to someone who is blind? especially someone blind from birth?).

i suppose there are examples i can work with--like the way tai chi uses a focus of force vectors into the feet to create a greater resultant counter-force into the opponent, or the way bagua uses this in the same way to generate more power in rotational motion. but i'm still scratching my head in terms of understanding how this works with yi going through the center of gravity, dantian, internal organs, or anything else.

of course, i'm still struggling to pick up "chi" as a physical expression of energy (again, for someone coming from an empirical Western science background: how do you describe the color blue to a blind man who has been blind from birth?), and i suspect there are some relationships between yi and chi (i.e., one can be used to affect the other), so you can probably see the reason why. every once in awhile, i think i'm getting it, but the inconsistency of me being able to find and use yi (or chi) is maddening...made even more so by the fact that it seems to be the times that you don't try that things work. which raises the obvious questions: 1) how do you make something happen when that something only works without intent, but the very act of deciding to have it happen is an expression of intent (yeah, quantum physics: Schrodinger's cat: how do you measure something when the very act of measuring changes the property measured?); 2) so trying guarantees yi doesn't work, but not trying means yi sometimes works and sometimes doesn't work, which means how do you try to not try to make it work all the time?; and 3) martial arts requires you be able to control yourself (your state of mind and state of body) in order to be able to initiate action and inaction to control surroundings (your opponent) to produce a desired outcome (your survival, and hopefully, your victory), which implies you be able to consistently make things (principles, physics, techniques, yi) work--but how do you get consistency without being to make it happen without trying?

this is all very Taoist: you cannot force the way, you can only work with the way; if you try to force the way, the way will elude you; if you elude the way, the way will come to you; the way is not always the way; sometimes, things that are not the way are the way. so yi and chi are like the way, but not really the way. kind of like the Matrix: no one can tell you what the Matrix is, you just have to experience it for yourself--although, this is from a classic Taoist proverb: no one can show you the Tao to find the Tao, you have to know the Tao to find the Tao...

i've used Taoism to work with things like love and surfing (hey, it just works, trust is the Tao. surfing is the Tao. and, of course, no one can explain it to you, you just have to know it for yourself). so maybe i do have things to work with after all.

but still, i'm guessing this is going to be awhile.

bagua leg form

we finished the day with John, Jay, and i staying to have a private session with Sifu on the bagua leg form. we went further into it, up until about the halfway point. the bulk of the time was spent covering applications, although we did several iterations of the entire form to date. there were a couple of awkward points in the form for me--particularly landing on one leg off the tornado kick--but as usual this is just something that takes practice to work out.

i left around 3, with John and Jay staying with Phunsak to get more instruction from Sifu. i had activities scheduled with my mom, and so i had to leave on a pretty strict timetable. but i figured things were winding down anyway, since Sifu himself had wanted to take more time for family things since his wife was visiting this week.