Tuesday, June 24, 2008

day 153: basic swordsmanship

  • kuen wu jian
the heat for Sunday was forecast to be less than Saturday, but it ended up hitting the same temp of 103 degrees in Pasadena. so go figure. as you might imagine, we only had 3 people show up: me, Phunsak, and Alex. given the little we were able to do today, i'm keeping this post short.

Alex had originally wanted to try and continue with mock rounds, so as to practice being judges and referees. but with the turnout being too low to hold mock jian shu fights, we ended up just working on kuen wu jian.

we did a number of repetitions of the kuen wu jian form, stopping at a number of points to try and refine the movements. Alex has never finished this form, and so was also trying to catch up with what we've done.

this consumed most of the time, and we ended up leaving a little early before noon to get out of the heat and get some lunch.

day 152: drills & light sparring

  • movement
  • tournament prep
today was a low turnout day, probably a result of the intense heat we had (forecast temps for Saturday and Sunday were over 100 degrees F). with the limited number of people we had, we ended up just dividing off into pairs, with Phunsak practicing the 2-person 64 palms form with Chieng-Chieh, and me continuing the kick and punch drills from last week w Viet, Richard, and Eric (eventually just Viet, since both Richard and Eric had to leave).

there wasn't much new this week, so i'm keeping this post short. basically just trying to improve my comfort level with the kicks and punches, as well as work on more movement. Phunsak did lead everyone through basic mantis footwork drills, but this was also a repetition of what Kieun had shown me last week.

James had been working with Simon, since Simon is apparently going to the sparring competition at the Las Vegas tournament. he asked for some light sparring sessions with us, to give Simon and me (and also Viet) a chance to start getting acclimated to sparring work. because we hadn't brought the pads or helmets, and Simon didn't have gloves, we agreed to just no hard punches or kicks, focusing instead on just movement and positioning. we did a few rounds of this--as much as we could do in the heat (i'm guessing 3 rounds between me and Simon, then 1 round each between Simon and Viet, and also me and Viet).

we wrapped things up around 1pm, despite the heat, and took an afternoon lunch.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

day 151: practice jian shu and movement drills

  • judging
  • jian shu
  • tournament prep
this Sunday was divided between jian shu and sparring training, with both devoted to tournament preparations. Alex showed up today to help with the jian shu, as did Ching-Chieh. this meant that Phunsak had conflicting demands on his time, and so he ended up agreeing to work with Ching-Chieh for the time she could stay (she had to leave early), and then turning to help Alex with the jian shu preparation.

jian shu

while Ching-Chieh was warming up, i asked Phunsak to take me through more of the jian shu basics before everyone arrived. we briefly reviewed the 5 i had learned before (reference: day 140), and he then led me through the 5 parries:
  • schwan (sp?) : this involves slight circular motions, either clockwise or counter-clockwise, on a vertical plane perpendicular to the orientation of the sword-holderwith the tip of the blade in front of the body, basically circling the opponent's sword
  • ya : this consists of arcs traced by the tip of the sword done in conjunction with the flipping of the sword blade, such that the blade goes from the ready position over to a flat position with the tip forward. this is meant to redirect an opponent's sword thrust off to the side and slight downward
  • gua : this involves holding the sword more vertical, and having the tip move in circular patterns on a horizontal plane, so that the sword blade follows a cone, with the tip of the sword tracing the open end of the cone and the handle of the sword acting as the closed vertex of the cone
  • bow : this is basically a horizontal movement of the sword, but in a way that is not meant to slash, but instead to use the flat part of the blade to parry
  • ti : this has the tip of the blade move in a U-shape facing the opponent, and means moving your sword from one side to the other side of the opponent's sword
  • shyo (sp?) : this just traces an X pattern in front of the sword-holder, with the downward-moving blade intercepting an opponent's attempt to strike upwards
  • jia : this is similar to schwan, but is more abrupt and only traces a circle one time, and with more force, so as to force an opponent's sword off to one side
after this, Alex had us practice mock jian tournament matches, with people taking turns playing as fighters and as judges. Phunsak joined us after he finished practicing with Ching-Chieh. i ended up taking a turn as a participant, but focused on getting in practice as a judge.

i have to say that judging is an art, and not something that a person can be expected to do without prior practice. it's one thing to know jian shu techniques and to know the rules, but it's another thing entirely to apply them in a full-speed scenario. just as much as a participant has to adjust to full-speed, so does a judge. as a judge, you have to be able to see actions at full speed, and then also be able to make immediate, accurate, and definitive decisions as to possible points, penalties, or necessary stoppages in action. this can be difficult.

i mentioned to Alex that we're going to need to make sure that all judges are trained for the tournament, since it's definitely a challenge and not something that anybody can do without some prior practice. he seemed to agree, and seems to have already issued announcements to participating teams that they need to train their own judges for the tournament.

tournament prep

after finishing with jian practice, i went to do more sparring training with Kieun. today we built upon the free-form movement drills we'd started at the end of yesterday's practice.

Kieun had me work on drills focused on entering an opponent's gate, but instead of simply reacting to the opponent's actions, this time he wanted me to work on trying to entice the opponent into an action that i could use to position myself for a counter-attack. this was essentially the same as Sifu's concepts of progressing through ting, hwa, and na jing, particularly in terms of Sifu's comments about starting with ting jing by playing with opponent to sense their actions and play with the their minds so as to manipulate them into doing something that allows you to progress to hwa jing and then na jing.

this consumed the rest of practice, with things stopping at 12:30, at which point Kieun had to leave to get to his wedding preparations. Phunsak and Alex decided this was as good time to stop as well, and the 3 of us went to lunch.

Monday, June 16, 2008

day 150: tournament prep drills - basic fists and kicks

  • bagua fists-attack & defense
  • tantui
  • tournament prep
this Saturday was run much the same as last Saturday, with people showing up just to practice whatever they wanted. there was a lower turnout this weekend relative to last week, and so things were much more informal. today ended up being about tournament preparation. we broke up into 2 groups, with Phunsak and Ching-Chieh continuing practice on the 64 palms 2-person form for the tournament, and Kieun working with me and Viet for the sparring work on the tournament.


since Phunsak ran a little late due to a traffic jam, Kieun had us warm up with tantui. we haven't done this in class for awhile (although i do it periodically on my own for review), so it was good to run through it. i hope to go through chang quan with Sifu to get the applications in tantui and pao quan, since i think this would really help me make some progress with chang quan--although, it will have to wait until the fall, after the tournament has passed. i think i'm at a sticking point in terms of my skill with long fist, and it won't get any better until i can get some more insight as to what the intent and physics are supposed to be utilized within the forms.

tournament prep

Phunsak eventually arrived and went to work with Ching-Chieh on the 64 palms 2-person form. Kieun, Viet, and i started the sparring prep with basic movement drills, beginning with the shuffling and stepping along a line drills from last week, and then building on them with some shuffling and stepping in combinations and angles.

from here, we did a review of the basic kicks from last week, doing repetitions of each against kicking pads.

after this, we went on to finish the introduction to the bagua fists we'd done last Saturday. last week we'd managed to get 4. this week we finished off with the other 4: hawk, unicorn, monkey, and big bird.

for today, Kieun and Phunsak both noted that each of the 8 bagua fists has an application on both offense and defense, in that each one can be used to attack the opponent or to parry the opponent's attack. in some situations, they can also serve to simultaneously do both. Kieun had Viet and i take turns applying the fists on both offense and defense from a stationary stance. while doing so, he pointed out that different kinds of fists are meant for different distances and different body areas (either as targets for attack or body parts to defend), which from what he and Phunsak said can be broken down as follows:
  • lion--range: long or medium, body area: upper part of upper body or head
  • snake--range: medium or short, body area: lower part of upper body or midsection
  • bear--range: short, body area: lower part of upper body or midsection
  • dragon--range: medium or short, body area: upper part of upper body or head
  • hawk--range: short, body area: upper part of upper body or head
  • unicorn--range: short, body area: lower part of upper body or midsection
  • monkey--range: short, body area: upper part of upper body or head
  • big bird--range: long or medium, body area: upper part of upper body or head
after going through the introduction to these, Kieun had Viet continue with basic punching drills (the same ones from last week), and had me work on using the fists while moving, first with repetitions of each fist, and then progressing to randomly employing them in response to free-form actions by an opponent.

i struggled with this, since i haven't had the opportunity to practice free-form partner drills (i.e., drills where actions of one or both partners are random), and it added another layer of complexity that disrupted my coordination. i suspect that it gets easier with time--which based on my struggles today i'm definitely going to need.

this consumed the rest of class, since there was quite a bit of material covered.

i should note that i'm finding this pretty educational. most everything that i've learned with bagua is connected to takedowns in terms of throws. we have had some punching applications and joint locks, but they've been covered in relatively lower proportion to takedowns. this is the first time i've been spending time exclusively focused on using punches with bagua. this may be because i joined after the curriculum had covered this material (it certainly seems like Kieun and Phunsak have seen it before), but i'll have to ask.

we eventually called things to an end around 1pm, when we decided it was time to go to lunch.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

day 149: miscellanous, with no agenda

  • 5-element theory
  • bagua fists
  • basic qi-gong
  • 5-element qi-gong
  • tournament prep
today was not really a formal class day, since Sifu is at home in Hawaii for the next few weeks. but i'm going to list it--and the next few weekends that Sifu is out--as blog posts, since i figure i'm still learning things which otherwise might not be recorded in this blog.

we're supposed to be starting double-up weekends for the summer, with the plan being to have class on both Saturday and Sunday every weekend from this point on throughout the summer up until the Las Vegas tournament. this applies for the next few weeks Sifu is gone. however, for this weekend, we only scheduled to meet on Saturday, since Phunsak had a fencing tournament on Sunday and everyone had already made plans as well.

Phunsak says the general idea for this time without Jason is to review and practice. he's also offered to cover anything that anyone wants to request, whether it be bagua, tai chi, or anything else. James has apparently also offered to do the same for the baji students.''

basic qi-gong

i'd asked Phunsak earlier in the week for some help with qi-gong, and so we'd scheduled to meet up early before class (at 9am). i asked for this because Jay had checked me earlier in the week and had said that my qi was entirely too low for someone my age (his words)--he's said this a number of times before, and so have other people, at least in terms of the sentiment that i have low qi. thing is, none of the bagua or tai chi qi-gong really seems to be helping me on this, and so i figured i might as well devote some time getting assistance focused exclusively on qi.

Phunsak started us with some basic qi-gong (he called it "qi-gong 101," which i'm guessing is what i need). we began with 2 basic postures, holding them for a few minutes each to get the form right and focus the mind and breathing. Phunsak noted that when he first started, he usually did these every day for around 10 minutes each, and that over time the tingling or warm sensations normally associated with qi began to become easier to bring on, and that eventually he could feel it throughout the entire body as opposed to just the fingertips (which is about the limit i've been able to do).

i asked how you can tell the difference between the tingling from real qi compared to the tingling from the body part falling asleep (e.g., when your legs become numb from sitting too long). Phunsak said there is a clear difference, and you'll know.

5-element qi-gong

from there, he took us--by this time Ching-Chieh and Viet had arrived--through 5-element qi-gong. i have the DVD for this, although haven't watched it since going through the introduction to 5-element theory in Sifu's class this past quarter. this is the qi-gong taught by Sifu Su Yu-Chang, and Phunsak says he suspects Sifu Su developed it (even though he claims he learned it from other sources). basically, it incorporates 5 sets of qi-gong movements corresponding to each of the 5 elements in TCM (i.e., wood, earth, metal, fire, water), with each set having 3 moves corresponding to yin, yang, and neutral. it's a very active qi-gong, with movements that are both soft and explosive.

i asked Phunsak about this type of qi-gong in relation to the bagua and tai chi qi-gong i've learned so far. he said that a lot of the movements and postures are actually really the same--there are variations, but you can see that the general postures are the same, and the principles of breathing and concentration are the same as well.

tournament prep

at this point, Keiun appeared. Phunsak went to work with Ching-Chieh to practice the 2-person 64 palms form for the tournament. Kieun, Viet, and i went to work on sparring preparation.

for today, Kieun had us working on more basic drills, consisting of the following:
  • basic movement: stepping and shuffling
  • basic kicks: roundhouse, side kick, bicycle kick
Kieun said to focus primarily on getting used to the body mechanics in the drills, and developing coordination to improve speed and power. we did a number of iterations of these drills along a line, consuming a good chunk of time getting these down.

from here, Kieun then led us further into punching drills, adding onto to the ones we did last week. instead of drills to work on timing, however, this time he said we needed to learn the range of fists in bagua, so as to provide us more material to work with in the next few weeks.

this was the first time i've heard mention of bagua fists. i know there is a bagua fist form, which presumably teaches students how to integrate fists into bagua (meaning it goes from being bagua zhang, or 8-trigram palm, to bagua quan, or 8-trigram fist), but Sifu has not yet taken us through this form. apparently, however, the fists have been covered earlier in the curriculum--this must have been before i started, presumably around the time when everyone learned the 8 mother palms or xiao kai men, since i began just when everyone finished xia kai men.

basically, the bagua fists consists of 8 (duh...bagua...) fists, and much like the 8 mother palms and 8 stances and 8 qi-gong movements (duh...bagua...), each fist is associated with each of the 8 bagua stances (duh...bagua...sure do love the number 8). Kieun had me and Viet work on the fists for the first 4: lion, snake, bear, and dragon. we practiced punching against mitts, with Kieun telling us to just focus on getting the technique and timing down for now.

this took the remainder of practice time for today. Kieun had to leave strictly at 12:30 because of wedding preparations, and so we stopped with the 4 bagua fists, with the remainder reserved for next week. we stayed long enough to record a video of Ching-Chieh and Phunsak doing the 2-person 64 palms form (note: this is not going to be posted on Youtube, since it was Ching-Chieh's personal video to help her learn the form for the tournament). after this, we ended practice for the day and went to lunch.

Friday, June 06, 2008

quarterly summary - Q2, 2008

it's time for the quarterly summary for 2nd quarter (April to June) 2008--you'll need to reference the previous quarterly summary (reference: quarterly summary - Q1, 2008).

original goals

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

  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • 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
summary of events

with respect to the curriculum, this is what has been covered this past quarter:
  • refinement & applications, 64 palms: palm changes 1-8, A & B
  • bagua leg form (finished the form)
  • pao quan (finished the form)
  • Yang tai chi (finished the long form, began push hands)
  • Chen tai chi (finished the long form)
  • kuen wu jian (finished the yilu form)
  • began jian shu basics
other things this quarter that were not in the curriculum:
  • introduction to 5-element theory
  • began application of ting, hwa, na, fa jing concepts to tai chi and bagua
  • learned more regarding combat concepts (deeper into yin-yang theory, introduction to wife-husband analogy)

i'm somewhat satisfied with the progress on the goals for this quarter:
  • continue attending class: there were no absences this quarter, and i managed to make every class (even including the UCLA class), with the exception of my graduation day
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class: this was largely successful. there were a few weeks where i was too busy to devote as much practice time as i would have liked, and a few other weeks where i was dealing with injuries and had to scale back the amount of practice i had planned
  • continue learning applications: this is pretty much a constant with my instructor
  • finish learning pao quan: done, although when Sifu reviewed it he said there was a lot more work that needed to be done, particularly in terms of integrating my upper and lower body movements so that they generated more power
  • finish learning the bagua leg form: done, although i definitely need to continue practicing this
  • finish yang & chen tai chi long forms: done, but again, i need to continue practicing these
  • finish kuen wu jian--and get better: done, but i'm still struggling to remember this form, and so i've been devoting a good portion of time to working on it
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications: done, although the tricky part now is applying the theory in combat

my comments can be summarized as follows:
  • qi-gong: this is a relatively recent issue. we've been doing qi-gong in class, and it's part of the curriculum. however, i'm not so confident in my development in this area--people keep telling me my qi is really low (as in too low), and i need to develop it. but nothing i do seems to be really helping. so i'm kind of scratching my head over this...it wouldn't be an issue, except that a lot of the internal kung fu i'm learning really ties into qi, making it somewhat important.
  • chang quan: i told Sifu my issues w pao quan--and chang quan in general--is that i don't know any of the applications, and it's a style where it's difficult to clearly see the applications from the movements. this is affecting my performance of the form, since it's impeding my understanding of the martial art. i told him that at some point i'm going to need to schedule some instruction time with him (likely private consultations) to go through the applications in chang quan. of course, with all the preparations for the tournament, we may not have time this summer. but i'm hoping that it might be possible this fall (assuming i'm still here).
  • application and theory: i'm at a point in my education where i'm going to need actual full-contact work to maintain progress...there comes a point where you can get all the theory and learn all the forms and practice all the applications, but you're not really going to improve your skills in using your martial art or your understanding of your martial art unless you actually go through the experience of engaging in free-flowing full-contact encounters against a hostile opponent. this, i think, is really the ultimate testing ground for a martial art (otherwise it really isn't a martial art), and a major way (albeit not the only way) of gaining additional insights that can lead to new avenues of learning. this is really just part of the learning cycle--you'll go up the learning curve, then enter a period where you level off in learning, and which then hopefully can lead or be directed to another progressive learning curve. for me, i'm seeing that with kung fu this seems to occur about once a year; last spring i was starting to stall, but then the summer lei tai training helped me to re-evaluate my knowledge and understanding in a way that enabled me to change my perspectives, which in turn helped me set the stage for more learning that subsequently started once again during the fall...the same thing happened this year.
  • tournament: last year, i went through lei tai training but didn't go to the tournament, since i knew i wasn't ready to try and use my knowledge in a full-speed full-contact fight. the training itself was enough to give me the educational experience i needed. this year, however, i've decided to actually go to a tournament and participate, since 1) i think i have enough knowledge to form a basis of tools that can allow me to participate in a way that makes the tournament a constructive educational experience, and 2) my learning is at a point that this is the only way for me to get the educational experience i need. this year Sifu has decided that we should go to Tony Yang's tournament, which is scheduled for the weekend of August 29-30 in Las Vegas. that effectively makes it at the end of this quarter, giving me 3 months to prepare. Sifu promises the training will be intense--which is fine, since it hopefully means it will prepare me for the full-speed full-contact fighting at the tournament...and help me not get killed.
  • the future: still uncertain. what can i say? no movement in terms of job offers. i've had some promising leads, but they need time to percolate. so i'm kind of stuck with no idea as to what is going to happen.
objectives for the future

somewhat the same themes, but just some changes:
  • continue attending class
  • continue practicing during the week outside of class
  • continue learning applications
  • work on qi-gong
  • refine pao quan, and maybe (if time permits) start learning applications for chang quan
  • refine the bagua leg form
  • refine yang & chen tai chi long forms
  • continue learning push hands
  • refine kuen wu jian yilu, and start learning erlu and the jian shu basics
  • keep learning the nuances of theory to better understand its applications
  • prepare for full-speed full-contact fighting at the Las Vegas tournament
a lot of this may prove to be wishful thinking, since my sense is that the tournament preparations are the priority for the summer, and as a result will consume the bulk of class time (and practice time). but we'll see.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

day 148: commencing tournament prep

  • referee/judge
  • timing
  • combinations
  • chen long form
  • kuen wu jian
  • mitt work
this Sunday was pretty much a transition into tournament preparation, even though it wasn't formally stated. Phunsak and Kieun said we were now 3 months away from the tournament, and needed to start training for it, otherwise we'd risk not being ready. Sifu apparently already decided the same thing, and announced that from this point on he was going to extend the schedule of both Saturday and Sunday classes to every weekend, with the focus on training for the Las Vegas tournament. he said he expected us to continue the schedule--and the training--while he was gone for the next 3 weeks, so that we'd be ready when he returned, when he wants to start us really going at it.

chen long form

we began the day with Sifu leading us through a few repetitions of the chen long form. this was more of a warm-up, since we didn't really go into any detail of it. Sifu asked Alex to continue with the jian shu tournament preparations, and worked with Ching-Chieh, Joe, and Viet on finishing the chen long form and Jonathan on praying mantis.

kuen wu jian

Alex already sent out the latest version of rules to all the jian shu tournament participants, and so wanted to change the focus of the Sunday session to more tournament training and less rules set-up. by "training," Alex means the entire infrastructure of the tournament, meaning not only having people work on their jian fighting skills, but also on preparing possible judges and referees.

currently, the only referee (the person who will actually be in the ring with the jian competitors moderating their match) is Alex, and the only judges (the people on the sidelines watching each match to determine hits and points) are Richard, Kieun, and me. Alex seems to want Phunsak to be a competitor, although i'm not so sure Phunsak is so enthused about this possibility. under the World Jian Shu League rules created by Alex, each match should have 1 referee and 4 judges. ideally, however, we want more, so that referees and judges can rotate in and out of tournament matches and rest. but to make this possible, we have to 1) find people to be referees and judges, and 2) train them.

we were short again today, and so had to make do with 1 referee and 1 judge. between the 4 of us practicing (Alex, Phunsak, Kieun, and me), we ended up taking turns as referee, judge, or competitor--i ended up playing a competitor, even though i'm not participating as one at the tournament, and so don't even have the equipment (and won't for awhile...no money).

i have to say we're going to definitely have to do training as referees and judges. it's harder than you think. you have to be decisive, timely in making calls, clear (loud and visible) with your calls, and be capable of seeing sword actions at full speed. in addition, you have to remember (and apply) rules, and follow a standardized protocol in making calls. these can be a challenge in intense sword matches, especially with competitors who may have opinions contrary to yours. based on my experiences today, we're all going to need to continue preparations to be referees and judges.

we consumed most of the time with jian shu. originally, i'd wanted to devote some time to jian shu basics, since i feel i really need to learn them to really understand jian shu. but this was bypassed by the tournament work, and was forgotten as we moved onto lei tai sparring practice.

mitt work

i'm using the term "lei tai sparring" loosely at this point. Sifu has informed us that Tony Yang has changed the rules at the Las Vegas tournament so that the full-contact sparring will no longer be kick-boxing rules (apparently, this made the tournament subject to Nevada state boxing commission requirements, which involved some expensive fees and infrastructure), but instead more traditional kung fu match rules. however, Sifu said that Tony Yang has not decided which rules to follow (i.e., lei tai, sanshou, etc.).

despite the uncertainty of the rules, Keiun said we should at least start doing some basic sparring preparation, since this at least works skills that can be used for any set of tournament rules. for today, Kieun suggested mitt work, with Phunsak agreeing.

from what Kieun tells me, mitt work is one of the fundamental aspects of fight training (all kinds: tournament, self-defense, etc.). it develops some of the basic components necessary to engaging in full-speed, full-contact scenarios: timing, coordination, working in combinations (i.e., combinations of punches, kicks, etc.), movement, and power generation--all while getting hit or avoiding hits. these are things not necessarily covered by other parts of the typical martial arts curriculum, which tends to focus on techniques, form, and principles. mitt work is one of many training tools that helps transition curriculum material into realistic application, and is typically part of the initial basic steps in preparing for using curriculum information in actual fighting. Kieun called it "kick-boxing 101," and then later corrected himself and labeled it "fighting 101."

for today, since i've never done this, Kieun had us focus on just basic mitt work, with no movement in terms of footwork. he told me to just work on timing, and combinations with punches and kicks. this was just as well, since i found this to be a challenge in and of itself. i'm finding the thought process is a bit different than what i'm used to, in that you have to really integrate your entire body in a forceful manner--which runs somewhat contrary to the placid mental state emphasized so much in the tai chi and bagua lessons i've had...although, i suspect, the point is to be violent in your physical movement while peaceful in your mental state, so that your external behavior is coordinated with your internal intent, and your internal intent can thereby manifest itself through your external behavior.

one thing i noticed today was the odd feeling of switching from right to left sides with the mitt work, particularly in contrast to jian shu. i've been trying to work on both right and left sides, so as to ensure symmetry in coordination, body, and skills. but i noticed that it seems easier for me using my left side with the sword than it does in mitt work. i don't really know why. i mentioned this Phunsak and he seemed surprised. i'm going to have to work on this, since i'm really concerned with symmetry, particularly because i've found (or my physical therapists have found) that so much of my aches and pains are due to asymmetry in my body's musculature and bone & connective tissue structure, and i've subsequently spent the past few years in some very painful efforts to correct them--making me leery of anything that might induce any kind of asymmetry, which would undo all the pain i've gone through to date and relegate my efforts to futility. this is not something i want to think about.

by this time even Sifu had left, and after continuing on for a while, we decided to finish for the day. since Sifu is going to be gone for the next 3 weekends (he won't return until June 23), Phunsak will be running the weekend classes. Phunsak told us he wouldn't be able to make next Sunday, so next weekend will just be a Saturday session, but after that he can make both Saturday and Sunday. we left on that note.

Monday, June 02, 2008

day 147: 2-person forms, extended (between a monkey and a big bird)

  • footwork
  • spine
  • sideways
  • spacing
  • transitioning
  • hands
  • 64 palms, 2-person forms
today ended up being an extended day, even though it promised not to be so. when everyone arrived this morning, Sifu asked Phunsak to have us review the 2-person forms for both palms 7 & 8, since they were so short. however, Ching-Chieh had brought her mother to visit the class, and so was away for portion of the morning, necessitating that we review the forms again when she returned so that she and Phunsak could continue training for the Las Vegas tournament. this drew today's class out a little longer.

64 palms, 2-person forms

we began with palm 7, also known as the palm that involves the monkey stance. we did a number of iterations with this, with Sifu observing us doing sides A & B solo in line, and then doing them as a 2-person form. he made a number of comments on this:
  • footwork--observing our problems with side A's rotation from rhinoceros looks up at the moongreen dragon bends its body (people were either having trouble remaining upright or directing the kick forward), Sifu pointed out that the footwork was essential in providing stability. he noted that the front step in rhinoceros looks up at the moon, apart from being the ko step, can be placed deeper so that's already positioned past the line into the initial part of the turn. this step, which becomes the plant leg in the turn, is thereby able to be located more towards the finishing point of the turn, and thus helping preserve stability and direct the kick more towards the opponent.
  • spine--side A requires use of the spine in green dragon bends its body. the movement, which involves the hands coming from behind the head down to the front of the abdomen, needs to be done with the spine flexing forward so that the entire body is contracting into the abdomen. Sifu said the torso is the source of the power in the movement, and not (as most people mistakenly believe) in the arms moving downward. he noted that the spine acts like a bow, and hence can serve to generate additional power.
  • sideways--Sifu added that green dragon bends its body should not be done with the practitioner pulling the hands down while the back is turned to the opponent. the technique is done with the practitioner holding the attacker's hands, wrists, or arms, and so in some ways warrant the turn with the back to the opponent. but pulling down while your back is turned places your spine and torso at the point of least mechanical advantage, making it easier for the opponent to yank you off-balance. Sifu said that the downward pulling motion should be timed so that it occurs when you have turned sideways to the opponent, or have turned to face them. a sideways or face position places your spine and torso in a point of maximum mechanical advantage, increasing the likelihood that you can control the opponent.
  • spacing--for both side A & side B, it is imperative that spacing be close. monkey is a very closed, very drawn in, very protective stance. as a result, it is effective at close range. in addition, however, in palm 7, monkey is used to transition in and out of white ape presents the fruit, which is present in both sides. this technique is a close-in strike, with both palms going up the opponent's leading arm into their face. Sifu noted that this is often very easy for the opponent to block. as a result, this requires that white ape presents the fruit is done close to the opponent, so that it is hard for the opponent to see in time to block.
  • transitioning--discussing both A & B, Sifu added that white ape presents the fruit can actually be done with the expectation that the opponent will block it. if this happens, you can transition out it, with one of the hands occupying the opponent's block, and the other extending into a strike against the opponent's head and neck. Sifu demonstrated this with Phunsak, showing how he could employ it to draw Phunsak's block, and then transition into big bird to throw Phunsak on his back.
after working with palm 7, we went on to palm 8. i'd mentioned to Phunsak that while we'd recorded the 2-person form for palm 8, i'd never done it in class. Phunsak insisted that we had, and even cited remembering doing it with Ching-Chieh in the same location. after some discussion, we came to the conclusion that the 2-person form for palm 8 must have occurred on one of the days i was absent last fall.

i have to say that i can't help but identify palm 8 as a singular (i.e., strangely unique) palm, even more so than palm 7. both involve rather strange, decidedly non-intimidating names (e.g., monkey, big bird as opposed to palm 4's lion or palm 6's dragon). but unlike 7, where i think of any generic monkey, every time i think of 8 i think of big bird...as in Big Bird...as in Sesame Street. with all the other palm changes i can refer to any number of examples and images in the world. but with palm 8, there is no such thing as "big bird" in Western scientific terminology--at least not anything identified with the term being a proper noun. the only thing in Western culture is the Big Bird of educational public television. and it doesn't help that the stance, with its upraised arms, very much reminds me of the Sesame Street Big Bird trying to fly by flapping his wings.

this wouldn't be a problem, except that my understanding is that visualization is a fundamental ingredient in yi (or intent), which in turn is crucial to successfully applying the correct form necessary to generate the required mechanics that exploit the physics of techniques...in which case, is the Sesame Street Big Bird really the best visualization for yi? i don't know. i only know it's distracting. especially when i visualize the nasally voicing counting out the techniques in palm 8. it only makes me hear the Sesame Street theme song--in the middle of a martial arts class...it's quite an effort not to giggle.

we managed to make it through palm 8 without too many problems. however, Sifu pointed out that palm 8--and he added, also palm 7--needed more integration of the waist when turning into the opening and closing movements, since this adds power into the techniques. he noted that we were a bit deficient in doing this.

i should note here that Sifu had made some comments about palm 8 to me outside of this class, back when he'd observed me practicing 64 palms at UCLA. while he didn't repeat these comments to this Saturday class (or, to my knowledge, anytime we'd learned palm 8 before), i will include them here for the sake of edification:
  • sinking in and sinking out--Sifu had noted that palm 8, side B (and incidentally, palm 7, both sides A & B) requires sinking into the kwa (i.e., the hip) when going into white ape presents the fruit, since this is a technique meant to receive and divert an opponent's attack, and hence is a yin movement that absorbs and controls the opponent's power. conversely, when going from white ape presents the fruit into great peng spreads its wings, you're supposed to step forward and rise slightly from the legs, so that you drive into big bird, thereby injecting power into the movement.
  • alternative applications--palm 8, side A's phoenix spreads its wings is used as a strike to the head or neck in the 2-person form. however, Sifu showed me an alternative application, with the movement being an act of na jing to position you along an opponent's leading arm in a way that allows you to then control it. essentially, you begin in big bird receiving the opponent's strike, initiating ting jing, you step into phoenix spreads it wings, leading to hwa jing, then execute phoenix spreads its wings, which is na jing. however, in this situation, your forward arm is no longer extended as a chopping strike like it is in the 2-person form, but instead is a slightly more contracted and more relaxed, so that it can make a brushing, controlling contact with the opponent. when you have done so, you are free to initiate a number of actions, any of which are fa jing--Sifu showed me a transition into tai chi's pull down, or an arm bar, or a joint lock.
we worked on palm 8 for awhile, but began to tire as we began to get hungry. by this time it was around 2:30, and Sifu said we needed to get to lunch and called an end to the day. since Ching-Chieh's mother was still around, we made it a special lunch and invited her to go along with us (not that she had much choice, since Ching-Chieh was driving for both, and she wanted to introduce her mother to the class over a good meal).