Friday, September 26, 2008

day 177: moving push hands

  • movement
  • force
  • chen push hands
  • chen hwa jing drills
  • chang quan
this Sunday was another small crowd, with 6 people total. since people showed up at various times, everyone was in various stages of warming up or reviewing forms when Sifu arrived.

chang quan

Sifu took the opportunity to check my chang quan, correcting some lingering issues from Friday. he had me work on this awhile while he looked over Phunsak and John Eagles (Phunsak was teaching John the yang tai chi long form), Josan (who is refining the chen tai chi long form), and Jonathan Shen (who is continuing on mantis).

i managed to remember more of the form today, and so had some more confidence in going through the part i'd worked on this past Friday. of course, i found i'd also promptly forgotten a couple of points i'd gotten that day, and so had to work on them a bit to make sure i retained them. but the movements felt more natural, which i take as something positive.

chen push hands

Sifu eventually started our chen tai chi lesson. he started by having us perform a series of tests, wherein some of us were positioned to form obstacles, and the rest were asked to walk towards the "obstacles" and navigate through them. the catch was that this was to be done with eyes closed.

Sifu had us do 3 exercises with this: 1) walking forward with eyes closed towards a partner about 10 meters away, with the goal of stopping within a foot of them, 2) walking forward with eyes closed towards 2 partners standing an arms-length from each other and 10 meters away, with the goal of walking through the arms-length gap between them, and 3) walking forward with eyes closed towards 3 partners with arms-length spaces between them and 10 meters away, with the goal of initially walking towards 1 gap, and then changing direction about 2 meters away to the other gap.

the results were mixed. we all found ourselves accomplishing this with varying degrees of success.

Sifu said this was a demonstration of a "sixth sense", in that it is possible to utilize an additional sense to detect the positions and actions of other people, even when you can't see or hear them. Sifu said that this isn't really so far-fetched, in that it's really just the employment of bio-magnetic sensitivity--something which animals (e.g., birds) use all the time, and something which humans (just like any other animal) have. the problem is that humans, particularly in modern times, have been taught to distrust or ignore their bio-magnetic sensitivity, and so have to be trained to know and use it.

Sifu stressed that the purpose of push hands is exactly this. he said push hands develops ting jing, but that this didn't just involve sensitivity in terms of the usual 5 senses (i.e., see, feel, hear, smell, taste), but also sensing bio-magnetic energy. this is the reason why he wants us to do push hands with our eyes closed and with as little noise as possible, so as to force us to rely on other senses (i.e., our "sixth sense"). this way, we'll develop it, and be able to use it to sense our opponent's actions.

finishing with this, he then had us resume the chen push hands, building upon last week by asking that this time we incorporate footwork. essentially, it's push hands, but done while stepping backwards and forwards with either foot of either partner's choice.

the goal of this is to increase the complexity of the exercise, with either partner free to adjust stance and foot positioning as well as orientation of hands. in essence, it adds additional variables to push hands in the form of lower body work. the motive, however, is still the same: to develop ting jing, but with your sensitivity not just in the hands and arms, but also in sensing the opponent's lower body movements.

i worked with Phunsak on this, and we ended up having a marathon moving push hands session, with no breaks. in addition, we increased the complexity level, with me experimenting with the integration of bagua footwork and Phunsak utilizing varying levels of speed and force and acceleration/deceleration. this was a bit of a challenge, particularly since i had my eyes closed, and required a lot of concentration. we kept this up until Sifu told us to stop, which wasn't for quite some time.

chen hwa jing drills

next, Sifu gathered us together and reminded us about the tai chi principle of "4 ounces of force redirects 1,000 pounds." this is a pretty well-known principle, and one closely tied to push hands. Sifu, however, said that there were other drills we could and should use to develop this specific skill.

for today, he introduced us to the very basic drill. it involves 2 partners facing each other in relaxed postures. one partner serves as the "attacker" and tries to reach out to push the other partner, who is the "defender." the "defender" tries to redirect the attacker's push, but not by using direct force-on-force confrontation, but instead by trying to locate the spots on the opponent's arms where they can use minimal force while still deflecting the attacker's push. the deflection needs to be in a direction that renders the attack harmless to the defender--either up, to the side, or down. in addition, the attacker needs to act in a random fashion, so the defender doesn't know where the attacks are coming from.

the objectives of this drill are to 1) develop the ting jing "sixth sense" to read and detect the attacker's actions, and then 2) follow the ting jing by applying hwa jing in an easy, effortless manner to neutralize the attacker's actions.

we worked on this for the remainder of class, exchanging roles and changing stances. Sifu said this was a good warm-up exercise, and that he'd like to see us use this to start every class, since it works the foundational building blocks of tai chi fighting skills.

by this time it was around noon, and both Sifu and Phunsak had planned to attend Master Su's (not Su Yuchang, but Su Fu-Zing--sic?) in Long Beach, which was at 2pm. so we closed class to go to lunch and allow enough time for them to get to Long Beach.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

day 176: memory is a tricky thing

  • nuances
  • looseness
  • balance
  • extension
  • memory
  • explosiveness
  • 64 palms, side B
  • chang quan
things seemed to start pretty late today, which was ironic considering that i thought i was struggling to get myself to class. i've started having private lessons with Sifu on Fridays in chang quan, with the 1st session yesterday. i'll post summaries of these sessions with these Saturday posts, since i don't think they warrant independent write-ups, particularly since Sifu wants to concentrate on refinement of my chang quan and also cover combat applications.

people straggled in slowly. for a good portion of time, the only people present were Siwannda, John Eagles, and me. while we waited, we ended up spending most of our mutual time talking to a prospective new student, Gloria, who initially visited back in June but then went away. she seems intent on giving an extended try to class, and had a fair number of questions, most of which i deferred to John and Siwannda. John took it upon himself to show Gloria the bagua stances, taking her on a brief lesson through each one.

Sifu and Phunsak arrived later, but Phunsak was having some stomache issues (i still think it was a case of food poisoning from some bad sushi he had the previous day--Simon even noted that Phunsak made the mistake of eating a spicy tuna roll, which was invented to allow use of old tuna...i'd trust Simon on this one, since he's a sushi chef). as a result, Sifu asked that the bagua students take it upon ourselves to continue refining side B while he went to work with the baji students, and said he'd return to evaluate us.

64 palms, side B

we went through each of the palm changes for side B, following the same pattern as last week. this time, however, since everyone was feeling more adventurous, we also experimented on doing it in a circle. Eric bowed out of this, and dedicated his attention to helping Gloria with some bagua basics.

when Sifu returned, he watched us again for evaluation. i did a little better this week, but largely because i could remember the individual palm changes a little better.

we finished class with this and went to lunch.

chang quan

the private lesson yesterday was a bit involved. the plan is basically to work through chang quan, since Sifu believes that 1) it will help rectify a lot of issues i'm having in bagua (and elsewhere), 2) help me get a better sense of the origins of a lot of northern chinese martial arts (and thereby put a lot of what we're learning in historical perspective), and 3) provide a more simplified aspect of northern chinese martial arts combat applications (compared to the changes in approach introduced by later styles like tai chi, bagua, etc.). since the class curriculum is pretty set, and i appear to be the only one of the newer students interested in this, we agreed to make it a separate teaching session.

it turns out i'm not the only one getting private lessons--Tommy is getting additional instruction in spear and fight training (i.e., drills and bag work). he was finishing his lesson when i arrived, and stuck around to see what i was doing.

i asked Sifu if we could start from tantui, particularly the combat applications, since i've never gotten them. but he said this is something that will come out in the process of learning pao quan, and so it would be more efficient to just refine my pao quan for now.

he began by noting that the pao quan in chang quan is NOT the same as the pao quan in chen tai chi quan. the pao quan in chang quan is actually a different ideograph (i.e., character), and the pronounciation involves a slightly different tonal variation. unfortunately, because so many chinese students were illiterate and so many of them became sloppy with the pronounciation, the 2 forms became confused with each other. it didn't help when the styles were introduced to Western cultures, wherein the 2 forms both received the label "pao quan" even though they are very different.

Sifu wrote the characters for each down for me (although i didn't save some point i'm going to have to ask him to write down the Chinese characters with accompanying English translation for EVERYTHING--it would clear up a lot of confusion and i suspect resolve a lot of ongoing debates floating in the Western world). he showed that the pao quan in chang quan is actually translated into "running fist," and thus reflects the training purpose of the form, which is:
  • help students develop dynamic power
  • indoctrinate students in the need to constantly move while fighting
  • teach students how techniques are supposed to work in a state of constant motion
  • develop overall fitness levels
in contrast, the pao quan in chen tai chi quan is translated into "cannon fist," and is more indicative of the form's focus on introducing students to a way of generating greater power in tai chi techniques.

Sifu then said that the version of chang quan he's been teaching is jia men chang quan (Islamic long fist). he knows others (emei, or plum flower, and taizu being among them), but he teaches jia men since 1) it's the standard introductory style taught in the Wutan curriculum, and 2) it contains a very clearly defined progression in the curriculum, with the basic-level tantui fulfilling a very specific set of objectives, the intermediate pao quan aimed at a different and distinct set of goals, and the advanced chao quan directed at its own unique purposes.

from there, he started me directly with pao quan, first asking me to perform as much as i could remember. he stopped me about a quarter of the way through and said this was a good portion to work on for the day. we went back and started from the beginning, with him showing me the refinements for each movement. he also demonstrated the combat applications, and pointed out why the details were so important.

my notes on this are as follows:
  • nuances. there are a LOT of nuances. as much as chang quan is often perceived as "simple" or direct relative to other styles (like bagua), i'm seeing a lot of subtleties--and they're all important, since Sifu showed me just how much a difference they made in terms of the effectiveness of the techniques.
  • looseness. chang quan requires a lot of suppleness, but not of a kind that means absolute relaxation. it calls for a constant transition in and out of states of relaxation and tension.
  • balance. more so than tai chi, i'm seeing that it really tests balance. of course, this may be that pao quan is a dynamic form, and so involves being balanced while going from states of movement to stillness. but it's a new experience.
  • extension. i have a bad habit of not extending my legs in certain movements. it's very apparent in pao quan, and i'm having to really think consciously about this. Sifu said this was one of the reasons he wanted me to learn pao quan, since he figures it will help me eliminate this habit.
  • memory. my memory of pao quan is a little spotty. i had to struggle to recall some of the movements at certain points. but i figure this will be resolved through practice.
  • explosiveness. pao quan calls for a lot more explosive movements than i'm used to. i'm having to adjust to this, particularly in terms of how the explosive movements are generated (some of it is plyometric, which i'm very familiar with, but some of it involves explosiveness generated from the feet, which i'm not so familiar with). but this too, i think i can pick up pretty easily with enough practice.
this consumed the entire session. we stopped about 1/4 of the way through the form. which was just as well, since my mind was getting saturated. there's a lot to remember--particularly in terms of the nuances. of course, the solution to all the above is pretty straightforward: practice, and lots of it. the issue is actually doing it.

Tommy actually stayed all the way through. we wrapped things up, and set the time as a regular slot in the calendar, meaning i'll be doing this every Friday. i'm looking forward to it--it feels like i'm learning history, and history is actually kind of fun.

Friday, September 19, 2008

day 175: things about the circle

  • circle
  • energy
  • focus
  • 64 palms, side B
we had a number of people out this Saturday due to vacations or work, leaving the bagua group with just 4 of us (Phunsak, Ching-Chieh, John Eagles, and me).

Sifu started with both baji and bagua groups together to go over the plans for classes this fall, and also reminded everyone to settle the bills from the trip to Las Vegas. Phunsak said he needed to send out a reminder email, particularly since we haven't yet figured out just how to divide up the costs of the van ride to and from Vegas (made more complicated by the fact that i used my credit card, but neither i nor Phunsak rode the van back from Vegas). i figure we'll get it sorted out eventually, so no worries.

64 palms, side B

Sifu instructed Phunsak to lead us through a review of 64 palms, side B, and said he'd come back to evaluate where we were at. Phunsak decided to review the line forms of side B, and we took a fair amount of time going through the palm changes, working through 8 iterations of each palm. it turned out that there were a few confusing points for everyone, so it worked out to go through the review for all of side B. in particular, palms 4 and 6 still seem particularly vexing, since they both have different versions that we've learned.

this took awhile, and it was sometime before we were ready to have Sifu return. when he did, he had us perform side B individually in front of class, and then took time to make observations. since we're just starting to refine side B, he gave us the option of doing side B in a line or in a circle. i chose a circle, not so much because of the challenge (although, i admit, this was definitely the seductive side of it), but more because i've been practicing side A in a circle so often i figure i might as well stay consistent.

i struggled to remember side B at a couple of points, but managed to make it through. Sifu made the following comments for me:
  • my eyes are wandering. this is a persistent problem. Sifu says he suspects it's because i'm still trying to remember the forms. still, i need to work on keeping my eyes focused on an imaginary opponent in front of me (in the case of 64 palms, this would be towards the center of the circle)...and my eyes shouldn't just be fixated on the center of the circle, but should be holding a general focus that also encompasses the surroundings beyond the center and outside the circle.
  • the energy in my movements is currently being constrained within the circle. Sifu says this is a mistake in bagua--the circle should not be seen as the perimeter marking a boundary of activity, but more just a path you are following. as a result, your intent and your force vectors should be aimed within the boundary of the perimeter, but should instead be free to move in any direction in or out of the circle. in fact, it should be free to move in any direction at all....Sifu reminded me that bagua involves the creation and manipulation of whirlpools (vortices) upon which force vectors are to be applied, and that these vortices will take any orientation and any direction and any magnitude, and so as a result are only limited in the sense that they involve your body and your mind (which essentially means no limit at all) and follow you as you move along the circle--and just because you are moving along the circle doesn't mean that the vortices are confined to it; it just means that they trace their origin to your path, which happens to be along a perimeter of the circle.
  • open. i need to be more open in my movements...and not just linearly, but in rotational movements as well.
  • i need to practice the forms, so i can remember them better, and recall the intent behind their movements without having to think about them.
  • i am not moving smoothly between techniques or palms. Sifu noted that this is crucial, in that part of the power generation in bagua comes from moving (i.e., dynamic) energy (which i take to mean borrowing the momentum...which requires a force vector with a sustained or non-zero magnitude, and hence smooth continuous motion). he noted side B really challenges this, and so is meant to help train this aspect of bagua power generation, and that i should treat it as a tool for helping me improve this.
regarding the second point, i asked Sifu if this means that the circle is really just a teaching tool to help practitioners understand the meaning of direction (and changing direction) and angles (relative to an opponent), and so has no other function in terms of instruction. he said in part the use of 64 palms in a circle is intended to do this, but that the use of circle walking in bagua is also meant as a larger framework to tie the bagua curriculum together, with basic components like mother palm and xaio kai men being taught via circle walking just as much as more advanced elements like 64 palms and forest palm, thereby giving students a starting point upon which they can gradually add and layer the components of their bagua education in a coherent, logically apparent manner.

additionally, Phunsak also noted that circle walking also had another role in terms of qi-gong, with the qi generation during circle walking being dramatically different than static or linear qi-gong. Sifu agreed, and said that this is another reason why circle walking is such an important component in the bagua curriculum.

Sifu also provided some additional background regarding side B, saying that it did not always exist, and that there are questions as to whether the original bagua taught by Dong Hai Quan had a side B (with the dominant viewing being no). the side B currently taught by the North American contigents of Wutan is one that was developed by Adam Hsu and Sifu sometime around 1982. there is another side B version developed earlier by Damon Hwang, and which is taught in other Wutan branches, but Sifu says it is dramatically different in appearance and movements. Sifu also noted that all current branches of bagua (Yin, Cheng, etc.) teach their own versions of side B.

Sifu pointed out that while all styles of bagua have their own unique side Bs, they are all consistent in that side B is meant to be a partner component to side A, wherein each palm change in side A has a corresponding palm change in side B. this means that any 2 partners can demonstrate the techniques in 64 palms by pairing off with one partner being side A and the other being side B, and then having both partners perform a palm change (palm change 1, palm change 2, etc.). this fulfills several different goals 1) it helps practitioners see the intent behind the techniques, 2) it helps practitioners get a sense of the movement and spacing in the techniques, and 3) it helps practitioners get a feel for the bagua fighting style, at least in terms of seeing its principles in action.

regarding the version of side B he teaches, Sifu said the hope had been to try and create a corresponding match to side A that 1) matched side A in intricacy, 2) matched side A in attack/defense/counter-attack, 3) matched seamlessly with side A in technique, 4) forced the practitioner to face situations challenging free-flowing movement (relating to my prior observations regarding power-issuing in bagua, this is bagua, a lot of the power is built of free-flowing movement. reference: ), and 5) developed skills for issuing power in a variety of situations in addition to those taught by side A.

we eventually wrapped things up around 1, and took off for a post-class lunch.

Friday, September 12, 2008

day 174: the Sunday plan

  • push hands, chen
we had an even lower turnout today compared to yesterday, and i think it was a continuation of the post-tournament hangover. i arrived early and was eventually joined by John Eagles and Phunsak, who were followed by Ching-Chieh and Jay. Sifu came and waited for a few minutes, but after a while decided we should just go ahead and start.

we began with a discussion of the plan for the Sunday classes. since the summer and tournament are over, we're returning to the schedule of class every other Sunday to go along with the regular weekly Saturdays. Sifu said his original plan was to continue with chen tai chi, in particular going into chen push hands and then moving onto pao quan. he also said he wanted to teach miao dao. however, he was willing to take alternative suggestions, since he was already providing private instruction in other areas to other students (apparently, Tommy and Simon are learning long spear).

Phunsak, for his part, has his own list of things he wants to cover. for me, i'm pretty happy with the plan, so i had no objections. i think Jay was more interested in staying with bagua, but i sense Sifu is going to reserve that for private lessons. as for Ching-Chieh, she doesn't seem to have any preferences which way or another.

taking stock of the situation, Sifu decided to just go with his plan. he said we'd spend today just doing an introduction to chen push hands, and continue with this for a few weeks.

push hands

in his introduction, Sifu said chen push hands is somewhat different from yang, in that it stresses more movement in terms of the body and the feet. practitioners don't remain as stationary as they do in yang, working instead on moving about the partner across the ground with the goal of trying to probe and enter the other person's defenses (or, conversely, defending against the other person's attack). as a result, it is much more dynamic and much more active in terms of speed, direction, force, and placement.

i should note, however, that push hands--at least as Sifu has taught it--was never meant to be the static, fixed-feet, single-plane-of-motion exercise it has become so frequently these days. push hands was always supposed to be a much more free-flowing, free-moving, free-form, complex-range-of-motion activity. this is because it was meant to be a stage in the tai chi curriculum preparing a practitioner to use tai chi in full-speed combat, and hence was supposed to help train the practitioner for the chaos of a combat situation. there were different variations of push hands corresponding to different stages in the progression to full-speed fighting, with each variation following one another in a progressive series gradually leading the practitioner to develop the skills needed to use tai chi in combat.

in addition, i should also reiterate Sifu's admonition from prior lessons that the term "push hands" is actually a very misleading title, and very likely an error in translation. in particular, for the initial stages of push hands training, where the goal is to focus on ting jing (i.e., sensing) and hwa jing (i.e., redirecting or receiving), the better translation is "listening hands" or "sensing hands."

Sifu began us with the very basic chen push hands. to be quite honest, this seemed almost identical with the yang push hands he taught in the UCLA class. the only difference i could see was that today he went farther into the "random circle" movements for the hands, arms, and torso that were shown in his tai chi DVD. since i've seen the video, i was pretty familiar with this.

he had us review the basic movements taught in the DVD, with the assumption that we were far enough along in our martial arts practice that we could pick them up pretty quickly. after a few minutes of this, he had us start with basic partner drills. for today, he said we should focus on just sensing the other person's movements and redirecting them away while avoiding direct force-on-force confrontation. he commented that eventually the drills would involve actually trying to apply--and defend against--tai chi attacks in free-form movement, but that for now we should just keep our feet stationary and work on feeling out the motions of another person in close proximity. he suggested we try closing our eyes and just relying on our hands and arms to sense our partner's movements.

we worked in pairs, switching between left and right sides and then shifting the way we faced each other (i.e., instead of both partners having their right sides forward, 1 partner would be leading with their right while the other would lead with their left). we also switched partners, to get used to different people.

one of the things i noticed with this exercise is that you can get a feel for another person's personality and mental state from their body movements. i recall my grandmother telling me that you could learn a lot about a potential love interest by dancing with them, and learn from their physical movements if they had the kind of character and personality that would be a good match for you. i've come to suspect the truth in this over the years, and i could see a lot of similarities with today.

generally, in a free-form situation where people are allowed to follow whatever movements they choose, you can tell by their choices and way of executing those choices just who they are and what they are thinking. here's what i mean:
  • movements that are restricted to only a few types of action in a limited range of motion tend to be indicative of someone lacking creativity--either because they are not creative or because they are scared to be so, or because they are distracted in their mind and unable to think freely
  • a push hands partner that is responsive to changes in your movements (in direction, force, speed, location, etc.) indicates someone who is open-minded, and willing to experiment with new conditions, particuarly if they do so without resistance
  • a person who responds instinctively with an immediate response of physical resistance (even if they then switch to soft receptiveness) suggests someone not as open-minded
  • actions that are applied with a level of physical power throughout the range of motion suggests someone fixed in their mode of thinking--although, variation in that power can show some flexibility in thinking (i.e., creativity and open-mindedness), particularly if the magnitude of variation is great (i.e., goes from emptiness to firmness)
the trick here is to determine just how creative and just how open-minded a person is, and thereby actually reading something about their personality and character...which leads to the real trick, which is to then figure out what you are supposed to do about it.

i mentioned all of this to Sifu and he replied "of course." so i guess this is something that most practitioners seem to know. still, i found it interesting, since it let me see more of the personalities of the other people in the class. i'm going to have to continue developing this as we go further in push hands.

we finished the day around 12:30, and Sifu reminded us that the next Sunday class would be in 2 weeks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

day 173: recovery

  • 64 palms side B
Saturday was a slow-moving day. turnout was a little low, and everyone was moving at a pretty leisurely pace. i think a lot of it was a post-tournament hangover, with everyone still recovering from the prior weekend trip to the Las Vegas tournament and the immediately subsequent disciple ceremony (more on this below). that, and i also think that everyone was in the process of trying to catch up on a lot of school and work that had been postponed because the tournament, meaning that everyone's mind was otherwise occupied.

i should note that Sifu and several other members of his generation in the Wutan organization (Masters Yang, Hom, Wong, and Su) conducted a disciple ceremony the previous Monday (Labor Day), with several senior students from Kurt Wong's school and our school being officially inducted as disciples into the Wutan system. it was a pretty formal ceremony, and a reflection of Sifu's plans to try and institutionalize Wutan Los Angeles as a formal branch of the international Wutan organization.

i would have taken pictures of the ceremony, but the battery in my camera died (booooooooo!!!), and so i have nothing really to show. i can say that it was typical of most ceremonies you see for induction into any organization, with formalities and oaths and celebration. but it was also different, in the sense that 1) it followed a lot of Chinese traditions, none of which i am familiar with, 2) it was in Mandarin (sic?), of which i know nothing, and 3) involved some secret lessons (well, sort was not so secret in the sense that the doors were still open when they were presented, but it was still secret in the sense that everything was in Mandarin and so i didn't have a clue about anything that was said, raid, or fed). it was, to say the least, intriguing. i'll leave it at that.

64 palms side B

Sifu announced his plan to begin refinement of 64 palms side B. he wanted to wrap up the refinement of side A, and then spend some time on side B, which should consolidate everyone's form enough to enable learning forest palms. he instructed Phunsak to lead the review of side B, and then went to work with the baji and mantis students.

we spent the remainder of class on side B, doing several iterations of each palm (the usual 8 per palm) along a line. i took some time during breaks to also go through some of side A, just to refresh my memory.

most everyone went to lunch at the end of class, but i had to skip it today, since i had to meet a friend of mine at UCLA to have him show me the library system.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

day 172: las vegas kung fu tournament

well, we finally had the big trip to the Las Vegas Kung Fu Tournament.

this was a first time for me, and i figured to just go and experience things. as a result, i didn't have any expectations.

originally, i was entered the beginner sparring competition and was also serving as a referee for the sword sparring competition, but i knew there was a conflict between the 2 and the chances of me being able to do both were pretty slim. this was all the more assured by the announcement that the organizers were going to try and have everything in 1 day, compressing the schedule. with this in mind, i'd pretty much made up my mind that if there was a conflict, i was going to referee the sword sparring, since it seemed to be a bigger event and something that involved a lot more people than just me (as opposed to just beginner sparring, which only involved me), and hence had greater significance that called for greater priority.

the tournament was hosted by Tony Yang and Nick Skrima. Tony is a kung fu brother of our Sifu, Jason Tsou. the tournament, while open to anyone, seemed to also serve as a reunion point for the North American representatives of the Wutan organization, with the list of masters including a roll call of Wutan flag-bearers: Su Yuchang (New York), Jason Tsou (Los Angeles), Tony Yang (Ohio), John Hom (Canada), and Kurt Wong (Alaska). they were only missing Adam Hsu, who relocated to Taiwan a number of years ago but used to be in San Francisco.

this was a bit of a revelation for me. even though this tournament was in its 1st year and hence had a smaller turnout relative to the other national ones, it still seemed like a big event. part of this was that i've never seen so many kung fu practitioners gathered into 1 location. another part of it was that i'd never seen such a diversity of kung fu participants. the tournament crowd covered a full spectrum in age and gender and race and background and styles and skill level. i spoke to a few people who'd driven or flown from as far as Alaska (from Kurt Wong's school) and Florida.

i took a few pictures so you can get a feeling of the visitors:
for Sifu and the other Wutan masters, i could tell this was really more a reunion, and thus a time to catch-up on news and events in their lives and share time with friends they don't get to see that often. the tournament was really a secondary thing. as a result, they were quite relaxed and seemed to be have a good time.

i had a chance to meet all of them, enough to get a feel for their personalities. Master Su Yuchang, who is the most senior of the group, doesn't speak very much English, so i had some difficulty talking to him, but he seems to be a very friendly individual once he feels comfortable around you--i've been told he's quite a socialite, and is renowned for staying up late into the night and early morning, and the little i saw this time confirmed this for me (i don't think i've stayed up past midnight in YEARS, perhaps decades, but Master Su seemed to do this with aplomb). Masters Tony Yang and John Hom also seem quite gregarious, with Tony Yang appearing to be the more outgoing personality, and the leader of conversation in the group. Master Kurt Wong turned out to be what i had expected, with a much more reserved personality (i've always believed it takes a certain personality type to live in Alaska, particularly as a teacher, and he fit it almost exactly).

this also gave me an opportunity to see Master Tsou in context...he's the only martial arts instructor i've had, so i've never really been able to have a feel for how he compares with others apart from people have told me. he's not quite as socially outgoing as Masters Su, Yang, or Hom, with a slightly more toned down edge. and his kung fu practice seems to cover more of the traditional asian medicine aspect compared to the others--with the exception of Su Yuchang, who i understand is an actual TCM doctor. in addition, he also seems to be in better health.

i wasn't able to take as many pictures or videos as i would have liked. because the schedule was compressed into a single Saturday, i found myself busy the entire day. as i had expected, there was a conflict between beginner sparring and sword sparring, and i had to forfeit beginner sparring to help out with the sword tournament. this was just as well, since it turned out that the sword tournament had 19 competitors (by far the most popular event of the entire tournament) and had a shortage of judges (even with me, we still had to rotate in Mike DiSargo and Sifu to help). that, and Sifu mentioned to me that because this was the 1st year for the sword tournament, he considered it more important than anything else we had going on and wanted to try and make sure it had a good debut.

i managed to make some videos during breaks, mostly of the events closest to the sword ring. you can see them for yourself.
kung fu kid:

women's sword:

women's sabre:

men's sword:

i had wanted to take video of everyone from our school who was competing, but i missed out on most. Laura was in beginner forms, John Eagles was in 2 events (advanced forms and sword sparring), Jonathan Shen was in 3 events (advanced forms, intermediate sparring, and sword sparring), Simon was in beginner sparring, Phunsak was in advanced forms (solo, and 2-person with Ching-Chieh), and Richard was in sword sparring.

i ended up mostly taking video of the post-tournament Master's Demonstration, which served as the closing ceremony. Sifu did demonstrations of san cai and bagua 64 palms, and Phunsak did a 2-person demonstration with Ching-Chieh of 64 palms as well as a 2-person demonstration with Kieun of san cai jian. you can see the video of them, as well as the 1 video i caught of Jonathan, below:
Sifu Jason Tsou, 64 palms A & B:

Phunsak & Ching-Chieh, 2-person 64 palms:

Sifu Jason Tsou, san cai jian:

Phunsak & Kieun, 2-person san cai jian:

Jonathan Shen, mantis:

one of the things i should note is that i got a real sense while being in the audience that my kung fu school, and my instructor, is really unique. i heard whispers of excitement and curiousity about bagua and san cai jian, with some people saying that it was important to record them because they were the kind of things people don't often see. i even overheard one person tell his partner to ignore all the other forms and to make sure to record ours, since they were more important and more worthy of video time on his HD video memory card. i could see that our school is much more traditional, and much more closely aligned to the fighting function of kung fu, relative to many others that were present, which were more modern and related to current wushu practice.

most of the other forms i saw were all shaolin-related. they were impressive, and definitely very showy and crowd-pleasing. you can see the videos i took:
shaolin weapons:

shaolin rope dart:

would i go to a tournament again? well, this tournament is being held in Las Vegas again next year, and then the year after is moving to Tokyo. i'd like to go, and actually make an effort to compete. and for sure, i think it's important to try sparring, if nothing else to help motivate learning how to use kung fu as a martial art--Kieun mentioned to me that compared to other forms of self-defense, kung fu generally doesn't do anywhere near the same amount of person-on-person application training that other styles like boxing, judo, wrestling, etc. do, which i see as important in terms of actually being able to defend yourself.

the catch for me is that i'm in a bit of a fluid period in my life, since i'm looking for a tenure-track job and don't have a lot of stability. i'm also still committed to endurance sports, and my friends are saying that there's only so much time for us to get together (since everyone has family and careers that are pulling us away from each other) and that we should commit to doing an Ironman as a group--and all the ones they want to do occur at the same time as all the kung fu tournaments. i'm going to have to take some time and sort this out.

but this was a good experience, and i got to see a lot of things i didn't know before. it helped improve my perspective on traditional chinese martial arts, and learn more about the Wutan presence within it. hopefully i can go again...i'd really be interested in Tokyo, since it would give me an excuse to stay for an extra month and really tour a country i've always wanted to visit. we'll see.

Monday, September 01, 2008

day 171: final pre-tournament Sunday

  • tournament prep
this was the final Sunday before the tournament, and we followed the same pattern as last Sunday, doing a few rounds of light sparring and then doing a few rounds of mock jian shu.

as a result, i'm keeping this post this short, since we didn't cover anything new and just worked on tuning up everything we've done before.

day 170: final tune-up forms

  • bagua 64 palms
i'm writing this post about a week late, since things have been rather busy lately. but there isn't much that was missed, since the Saturday for this post (August 23) was largely devoted to finalizing the forms of those preparing for tournament competition: Chieng-Chieh and Phunsak in the 2-person category, and Laura and John in the individual women's and men's categories.

Sifu also reviewed everyone else's form while he was at it. he noted that while my form is improving, i'm continuing to stop and start my actions--in his words, i'm not "letting the power flow." this is a problem, because it throttles the power generation. he said i needed to be more continuous in my transitions between techniques, especially with anything involving a change in direction...which, unfortunately for me, in bagua pretty much means every technique.

i think i can see how i can rectify this. based on what he described, and reflecting back on conversations we've had in class, i think that the continuity in movement is important to power generation in bagua because it allows the practitioner to generate and maintain momentum. in other words, a lot of the power (but not all) comes from the momentum of the practitioner's movements, and hence requires that momentum be preserved--which, in turn, means that actions follow a continuous, smooth-flowing pace throughout all changes in direction and magnitudes of force vectors.

this adds to the power sources in bagua. from what i've seen to date, it means the nature of power issuing in bagua comes from a number of sources:
  1. reeling silk energy, or the classic "chan si jin" (sic)
  2. force vectors from muscular movement (what i consider to be my usual modus operandi)
  3. alignment of skeletal structure
  4. reaction forces driven through the body through the ground (Newton's laws of motion)
  5. momentum.
out of these, i really only know 2, have started to figure out 1 and 4, have no clue regarding 3, and i think i can sort out 5.

but having said all this, Sifu said we'd work on this once we got back from the tournament.