Friday, August 22, 2008

day 169: rules changes & tournament prep

  • tournament prep-sparring
  • tournament prep-jian shu
we learned of a bit of a hiccup today. Jonathan Shen checked the sparring rules for the tournament, and found out they'd been changed to san shou rules, with 1-minute rounds for beginners and 2-minute rounds for advanced competitors. this means that there is now full-contact strikes and also throws. hearing this, Sifu said we needed to work on handling throws, both employing them and countering them, and had this be the focus of sparring work for the day.

tournament prep-sparring

we worked on throws in the grass area, with people breaking off into pairs, so that 1 partner was using only throws and the other partner was using only strikes. the general idea was that the "thrower" had to focus on entering and executing the throw against a non-cooperative "striker." the "striker" in turn, had to counter the throw by resisting it, breaking it, or escaping it.

Sifu had us focus on very basic throws today, with just 2-3 variations. he said there wasn't enough time to do any more, and that we should just focus on learning a handful well.

we worked on this for awhile, and then started working on sparring rounds. i did a no-punch round with Richard and then a light-contact round with Jay, trying to use the throws. i have to say this is going to need some more work, and i definitely want to continue with this next Sunday. although, whether or not there's going to be enough time to get comfortable is another question, since the tournament is the following Sunday.

whatever. it's a learning experience at this point, and that's just how i'm going to have to see it going into it.

tournament prep-jian shu

we continued with jian shu practice, doing the mock rounds with the goal of getting practice for both judges and competitors.

there's some concern at this point with the tournament, since Nick Skrima informed Alex that no one signed up for the jian shu tournament (which is even less than the 4 he told Sifu). this doesn't quite match what Phunsak and Alex have, since their estimate based on the confirmations they've received from other places is at least 10 competitors.

whatever. we'll see once we get to Vegas. at this point we'll work with whoever shows up.

we finished around 1 and everybody had to go to their various commitments, leaving me to go to lunch with Phunsak.

day 168: forms

  • bagua 64 palms
we started the day with finalization of rides to the tournament, as well as distribution of kung fu uniforms. apparently, Sifu learned that everyone going to the tournament is going with full uniforms, and so as a result decided that we needed to make sure that we had something presentable as well. the plan right now is to obtain some uniforms through a vendor in Taiwan who seems to know Simon, and then work on more traditional uniforms after the tournament when time is not so pressing.

bagua 64 palms

continued the plan from last Saturday, with everyone working on continued refinement of 64 palms. generally, Sifu says people are getting better, with their versions of 64 palms coming closer to his standard of presentable. however, he still sees a need for refinement.

with respect to me, Sifu said today that my performance of 64 palms used too small of a circle, and that i needed to use a larger circumference. he said that i should even expand it beyond the standard, which is the perimeter marked by 8 steps, to something even bigger. he believes that my body type has a reach that goes beyond the standard-sized circle, and that it's constraining my movements. he also noted that this is something that will also be ameliorated with continued practice in long fist--which is something i've spoken to him about working no during this coming year...but that's a post for another time.

we finished the day around 1:00, after Sifu had managed to review forms of all bagua and baji students.

Friday, August 15, 2008

day 167: tournament prep

  • jian shu
we were short-handed today in terms of turnout. given the low turnout and the pressing time needed for Kieun and Phunsak to practice, Sifu decided to skip sparring practice and concentrate on jian shu. i suspect he also did this because of the lightened sparring rules in Vegas and the need to get jian shu consolidated--both for judges and competitors.

jian shu

Kieun and Phunsak spent some time practicing the 2-person san cai form, while Jonathan Shen and John Eagles put in some practice time with the jians. Kieun and Phunsak finished just as Alex showed up, at which point we began running mock jian shu rounds--but this time actually running things with the full regulation slate of 1 ring judge, 4 line judges, and a timekeeper (i think this may have been a first!). we practiced calls, hand signs, the procedure for point rulings, the procedure for starting and stopping matches, and the procedure for switching judges.

i have to say things are running a little bit more smoothly now than they have in weeks past. and it makes a big difference to have the full crew of judges. although, it definitely requires practice and experience to be an effective judge, and there continue to be things we need to work on--particularly in making quick decisions and clear calls. but i think things are going to be all right for the Las Vegas tournament.

day 166: forms prep

  • physics
  • sloppiness
  • 64 palms
we were a little low on turnout today (actually, for this entire weekend). Sifu dedicated today towards working on forms and continuing refinement. in particular, since Kieun is going to be out for the next few weekend up until the tournament, Sifu had Phunsak and Kieun devote as much time together to work on the 2-person forms they will be presenting in Vegas.

64 palms

the rest of us worked separately on 64 palms. we also spent a good portion of time going through applications from the form, with pairs of students practicing entering and using techniques chosen at random with the goal of feeling out the physics in a free-form (i.e., non-planned and spontaneous) setting. this actually was pretty useful, since it ended up revealing some sloppiness in our technique (e.g., things are sloppy if the technique doesn't do what it was meant to do), and also showed just how sloppiness can creep into your movements when you attempt to engage an opponent with any level of indecision.

Sifu has told us before that we have to respond to the opponent's actions in a free-flowing mode of action, where we operate without any predetermined or preset plans of what we want to do--you're supposed to just act and work with whatever conditions arise in a fight. however, this doesn't mean being passive or observant. you still have to have to exercise mental concentration to 1) understand what is happening and 2) decide how you are going to respond. and this has to be done rapidly, meaning that you have to be decisive in choosing and executing a response. being indecisive means a split-second hesitation, creating at worst a pause that your opponent can exploit and at best a loss of muscle coordination that slows and breaks down your actions (read: sloppiness). thing is, sloppiness is just as bad as pausing--either way, it gives your opponent something they can take advantage of.

we finished and went to the regular post-class lunch around 1.

Friday, August 08, 2008

day 165: more sparring & jian shu

  • closing the gap
  • tournament prep-sparring
  • tournament prep-jian shu
this is another short post, since we followed the same format as last Sunday, doing sparring rounds and jian shu rounds.

tournament prep-sparring

i had 2 sparring rounds today, with the focus on following up from my observations from last week to work on dealing with larger opponents. i ended up having some insightful conversation with Jay and Phunsak regarding the ways you face a larger opponent.

the general idea is to close the gap and engage, but the question (and certainly my problem to date) is how to do this. the tactics are to use movement and timing to find and exploit angles and openings. but again, here too, the issue is how you do this. i ended up getting a number of pointers from Jay and Phunsak as to just how this is supposed to be done, and what you should be trying to do once you have managed to engage.

both of them also pointed out that it's a fallacy to look at a person's physical dimensions and automatically issue judgments as to who has an overall advantage. rather, the reality is that each person has certain advantages in certain areas in certain conditions, and hence each person has different sets of tools given a particular set of conditions. in which case, a good fighter uses those tools to maximum effect and minimizes those the opponent has an advantage in.

this was pretty useful for me. it's the kind of training and experience i think is necessary to really learn how to employ a martial art...and the kind you don't get just practicing forms or techniques, or talking about objectives and principles. you can't really learn how to defend yourself unless you actually learn how to use your martial art.

tournament prep-jian shu

we spent the rest of the day doing mock rounds of jian shu, practicing the formal calls and hand signals. we also went through several hypothetical scenarios to evaluate how the rules would work. after that, we went to lunch.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

day 164: refining the 64 palms

  • 64 palms
i'm keeping this post short, since we generally followed the same pattern as last week's class, with everyone practicing 64 palms and then presenting it for Sifu's observation and judgment, with him providing feedback and directions for improvement. practice was good, with us getting a lot of time in to refine the palm changes. i'm starting to get a better feel for them, although i'm sure this is a function of just putting in the practice.

Phunsak and i spoke before class, and he largely confirmed my suspicions that Sifu wants to consolidate everyone on 64 palms before continuing onto the forest palm. this makes sense, since it's always good to perfect previous lessons to generate a base to build later lessons on, particularly when later lessons incorporate previous ones. the analogy is a football coach having a team stop to master a draw play--because if the team can't master something as fundamental as a draw play, then they're going to struggle with more advanced things like end-arounds or flea-flickers.

Friday, August 01, 2008

day 163: sparring & jian shu

  • tournament prep-sparring
  • tournament prep-jian shu
we warmed up with some of the partner drills from last week, and then went straight into tournament prep.

tournament prep-sparring

i had 2 sparring rounds today, the 1st against Richard and the 2nd against Jonathan. my round against Richard went better, with me able to hold a slight edge, even though it was mostly a draw. even though Richard had more experience, i was able to use my height and reach advantage against him to hold him at range.

in contrast, my round against Jonathan was pretty much a disaster. he's taller and has greater reach, and as much as i tried, i still wasn't able to figure out how to close in and engage him. every time i thought i had it figured out, i found myself getting hit. granted, he has more experience, but this is proving to be quite a puzzle for me--the prescription against a bigger opponent always seems to follow the same formulas (i.e., close the gap, move, engage), just as much as it does for smaller opponents (i.e., keep them at distance, control movement, engage), but i'm finding it's hard to actually do the things necessary to achieve these formulas.

from what i'm seeing, there's an issue in knowing what to do with your body and skills to exercise these formulas. basically, it's like having a set of objectives, but then struggling to figure out how to achieve them given a limited set of tools defined by the parameters of your body, your mind, and your skills. you have to know how to use what you have to meet your goals in order to be effective in a fight.

i spoke with Jay about this the next day, and he nodded and confirmed my suspicions. he said that's why experience is so important--because it's one thing to know what you want to do, but another thing entirely to know how to do it given your personal capabilities. and the only way to know how is to learn from personal experience, because only you can know your own capabilities. whatever someone else knows is based on their own body, own mind, and own skills, and so may not be appropriate for you. you have to know yourself, meaning you have to go through the process of exploring yourself, and learning what you can do and what you prefer to do.

this of course, relates back to the constant admonition in martial arts that a true practitioner has to "master the self" in order to master others--you have to know yourself before you can hope to be effective in fighting others. that's not the whole truth to the admonition (there's many other levels i know of), but it's one level i'm learning now.

i asked Sifu about this over lunch, and he nodded, saying that is why you have know your identity as a martial artist--you have to know how you want to do certain things given the assets composed of your body, your mind, and skills. and you can improve those assets through training and experience. and if you're good enough, you can change your identity...but apparently this is a topic for another time, preferably when i've achieved a certain level of development.

tournament prep-jian shu

we finished the day with mock rounds of jian shu, so that judges and referees could get practice and competitors could also get training. Alex and Sifu seem to have decided to try to formalize the calls, with specific terms and hand signals to be used by judges and referees. this threw an additional layer of difficulty in, and required more time to get comfortable with. from what i could tell, we didn't really get entirely used to the terms and hand signals, and definitely need to get more practice.

by the time we finished, it was approaching 2, and we decided to wrap things up since people had other commitments to get to.

day 162: more refinement

  • bagua 64 palms
this Saturday was more refinement of the 64 palms form. Sifu started class by explaining why he was insisting everyone (both bagua and baji students) take time to refine their forms. ordinarily, he wouldn't be pushing so hard, especially with so many beginners. but since he's expecting to leave Los Angeles and return to Hawaii full-time next summer, he wants to make sure that there is a solid foundation left that is strong enough to be self-sustaining and identifiable as the Wutan branch in Los Angeles. in order to make this happen, however, he needs to have a cadre of students capable of exemplifying the true flavor of Wutan martial arts.
this means students who can do the forms that are technically flawless, and vary only in the sense of personal expression (i.e., a bagua form looks like a classic bagua form, with the techniques smooth, clear, and in accordance with the ideal, and with the only difference being the intent and mental state of the performer.

this is all part of an apparently recent decision by Sifu regarding his plans for Los Angeles after he leaves. he's said in the past that he'd distanced himself from the Wutan organization for awhile, for various personal reasons. but now that he's leaving, he wants to leave an institution, and has decided to tie in more closely to the original Wutan organization. to do this, he wants to formalize things so that 1) there's an identity, 2) there's an infrastructure, and 3) there's a support network. for an identity, he wants to have things known as the Wutan Martial Arts Center of Los Angeles, with a clearly identified focus on preserving the Northern Chinese martial arts taught within the Wutan system. for an infrastructure, he wants to have certified instructors and qualified representatives (i suppose that's where we come in) following a clearly delineated curriculum and objectives, such that there is an institutional corpus that is self-sustaining and self-propagating. for the support network, he wants to see us part of the larger global Wutan community, so as to benefit from the resources and assistance of Wutan members around the world.

all of these things are apparently being done simultaneously now. he's apparently been in contact with Wutan offices in other locations. we're looking at getting uniforms, website, Facebook presence (yes, there is one now), email, and location (in essence, using marketing terminology, we're "branding"). and we're accelerating the pace of refinement before Sifu leaves, with students expected to move farther along in their mastery of forms than might otherwise be expected.

personally, i haven't been aware of too much of this. most of this has been dealt with between the more senior people in the class. although, i do notice that i've gotten quite a bit more correspondence in recent months from Wutan people around the world, and this would certainly explain why.

bagua 64 palms

Sifu had us repeat the evaluation from last week, to give each of us more pointers. i won't cover what was said about others, but instead just focus on mine:
  • eyes--apparently i'm not looking at the direction of the opponent, but instead am dropping my eyes to the ground. this affects my yi (intent), and so throws off my power and balance.
  • short--my movements are still a little short in some points, particularly in entering and closing each palm change.
  • muscle--i'm using too much muscle power. i need to be using more skeletal power, meaning i need to allow the forms to generate power simply from the movement of good technique.
  • flow--i need to just flow smoothly from one technique to another, and from one palm change to another. this means having smoother transitions between each one (and apparently, the transitions are just as important as the techniques and the forms, since they allow you to produce combinations of your own choice to fit any set of changing conditions, and to react to anything that may happen to you).
between the bagua and baji students, this took the entire day, and we finished around 1pm and went to lunch.