Friday, November 27, 2009

day 259: starting the arm form

  • stances
  • bagua arm form
i skipped kyudo this evening, since i was prepping for a long bike ride on Sunday and had to meet up w my riding buddies Saturday night. to be honest, the bike ride was on my mind most of the day, since it was a distance that i haven't done in awhile (90 miles), and it affected my concentration a bit.

Sifu gave us reminders about the seminar next weekend, and then had us warm up w the moving arm basics as well as stances.

bagua arm form

after spending some time reviewing the moving basics & stances, Sifu began teaching us the arm form. we went about 8 moves into the form, and then focused on correcting technique. since a lot of the arm form techniques involve power projection, and since power comes from the lower body, we took a fair amount of time making sure we had the correct match of stances and upper body postures. Sifu also showed us the applications, emphasizing where the power projection was.

from what i saw, the arm form movements are very close to the arm basics, and in some respects look like a serial connection of the arm basics with transitions tying each of the animal movements together. Eric also added that the arm form movements form the basis of the weapons forms for deer horn knives and tiger hook swords, demonstrating some of both weapons forms for the short section of the arm form we'd covered--and what he showed looked almost identical to the arm form.

by this time it was after 1pm, and we called class to an end.

Friday, November 20, 2009

day 258: nothing like rigor

  • stances
  • control
  • timing
  • chaang (spear)
  • pao quan
this Sunday was largely straightforward in terms of the agenda, but definitely higher on the scale of rigor. by the time we finished today the muscular discomfiture had found new locations: the deltoids and trapezii. and just like the feelings in the abs, the soreness was within the deep muscle tissue in places i'm not familiar with. the spear is definitely a uniquely strange exercise in muscular exploration.


before Sifu arrived, Jo-san led me and Ching-chieh through stances. from there, we worked on the basics we've done over the last few weeks (i.e., holding the spear in 60-40 stance and moving the tip in circles and crescents). Sifu arrived at this time, and had us work through all the drills, having us focus on control, with the control coming from the dantian and kua instead of the hands or arms. for all this, it still works your deltoids and trapezius, and in ranges of motion that you don't ordinarily do in modern life. after awhile, i could definitely feel them.

once we'd finished, he then had us work in pairs. at this point, he had some of the new students (who are from his CSULB class, and have been coming to the Sunday lessons, originally to work on jian shu) join us to try the spear. Sifu showed us some new basic drills, which went from holding the spear in a high position to a more forward one. the issue here was timing, since the shift in the spear had to be timed in a transition from reverse bow-and-arrow to 60-40 stance. we went through these, and then switched off w the new students (they don't have spears of their own) so that they could try the exercises out.

pao quan

Ching-chieh had to leave, but we decided to fit in a little work w pao quan before she left. we reviewed the form we've done so far, with Sifu polishing some of the bigger errors in our movements. he then showed us a little more of the form, and demonstrated some potential applications in the movements. by this time it was getting to the end of class, so we wrapped things up until next time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

day 257: touching base with bagua qi-gong

  • gathering
  • projecting
  • moving
  • extending up
  • tanouchi
  • push and pull
  • bagua qi-gong
  • kyudo
i should note here that Sifu is hosting another seminar over Thanksgiving, this one going 2 days and covering shou bo (responsive hands). day 1 will be beginning shou bo, and day 2 will be advanced. the seminar is at the CSULA campus 9am-5pm on Sat. & Sun., Nov. 28 & 29. if anyone has questions or needs info, contact Art Schonfeld (

bagua qi-gong

we went back to bagua qi-gong today. picking up from last week, Sifu had us start with a review of the 8 animal basics in the arm form, but then said he wanted to let us see the connections with the mother palm and bagua qi-gong. he led us through bagua qi-gong, levels 1 & 2, and then discussed the theory behind it, including 5-element theory, yin and yang elements, animals, breathing, and intent. we've had this before, so i won't go into detail here. but he in relation to the material we've been covering recently, he made the following points:
  • the 8 animals in the arm form are an extension of the 8 animals in bagua qi-gong and mother palm, and so another variation in terms of expressing bagua principles contained within the 8 animals.
  • bagua 3rd-level qi-gong is really just mother palm. Sifu said they were really the same thing, and the reason why the mother palm is considered a moving form of qi-gong.
  • bagua qi-gong shouldn't be confused w the qi-gong in other styles (e.g., tai chi, baji, etc.). the theory associated with bagua qi-gong is different from the others, and so doesn't really translate well. the qi-gong for each style is specific to the style, since it ties into the theory and principles within the style itself. as a result, it's misleading (and prone to error) to try and mix the theories of one with another.
  • in response to the question i had from last class as to whether the 3 levels of bagua qi-gong have any connection to the concepts of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa), Sifu said that they really shouldn't be connected to each other. the bagua qi-gong is just a reflection of principles in the qi-gong, and the theory related to it is independent of the concepts of jing.
we went through each of the 8 animals in bagua qi-gong, reviewing level 1 (gathering qi), level 2 (projecting qi), and level 3 (dynamic qi), and then tying it to mother palm and the arm form basics.


kyudo this night was run somewhat differently. typically we spend the first 90 minutes before the tea break going formally through the shooting line, following the form strictly. tonight, however, Sensei truncated the formal shoot, since he felt we needed to discuss some issues that he saw everyone sharing as a group.

in particular, he led us in detail through the following:
  • extending up--proper draw of the bow requires expansion of the body into the bow, but this requires that you extend up through the spine. Sensei said that typically people mistake this to mean that you have to stand up straight, and invariably leads to people standing back and looking upwards, which does little to lead you to expand your body frame. instead, you're supposed to imagine that your spine is being pulled up through the crown of the skull, so that instead of leaning back you stand up straight, and instead of looking up you actually look ahead, with the chin tucked slightly down and in. because the extension is through the spine, with the head still looking level, you naturally expand the body frame--and if this is done in proper timing with the draw, you expand into the bow.
  • tanouchi--people appear to be grasping the bows too tightly. Sensei said that that the hand should be loose, so that the bow can rotate freely through the form, from beginning to end. this can be encouraged by lining up the cuticles of the bow hand, and aligning the edges of the bow handle with the lines in the hand. the looseness of the hand is necessary to allow the bow to move freely through the draw and after release, since it prevents you from fighting the bow as you shoot.
  • push and pull--these need to be done together during the draw, with the pull on the string being done at the same time as the push through the bow. Sensei said that in fact, you shouldn't see any difference between the 2, since the focus should be on expansion of the body into the bow. if done correctly, the expansion occurs not just through the body but also the limbs, with the elbows moving in opposite directions at the same time. Sensei said that he has seen people shoot quite successfully going through a sequence of push and pull during the draw, but that it is much better to simply expand into the draw.
we finished a little late tonight, with the free shoot going long. it was just as well, since i had a lot of practice to get in. Sensei mentioned to me that i should consider going to the Sunday morning shoots at Rancho Park, which i took as his confirmation that i was ready to move on to range shooting (at Rancho Park, the distance is 28 meters)--something which is an additional challenge to the short-range makiwara shooting we've been doing in the dojo. i haven't been able to make it before, since i've been spending Sundays either attending Sifu's class or training for Ironman. but i'll see if i can get a few Sundays in at Rancho Park sometime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

day 256: connections in a loop

  • stances
  • basics
  • mother palm
  • bagua qi-gong
  • arm form
  • gong li (seminar)
i came into this weekend a little sore. i've started the training for my next Ironman race, and this past week was a build week (meaning an increase in training intensity and volume). i needed some more rest time, so i skipped kyudo this Saturday to get some sleep.

i should also note that this Sunday was the gong li seminar, which covered training methods. i won't go into details on it, since there was just too much to really adequately cover, and also because it's something that people paid to attend, so anyone who wanted to learn about gong li should have gone to the seminar.

arm form

we spent the initial part of class finishing off the arm basics for the animals. we began by reviewing the ones we'd done to date: dragon, big bird, hawk, unicorn, and monkey. since Phunsak, Kieun, and Ching-Chieh were gone for the day, i ended up leading the drills for these.

while we did this, we also helped Shin with some stances, since it provided some good review for the rest of the class. i had some issues on these today, since my legs were still a little sore, but it made for good review, particularly in terms of connecting the animals with the stances--it suddenly dawned on me that when done in a dynamic way, you can feel the power in the stance in terms of the direction of the power projection, with the animal posture dictating the direction. in essence, you can feel the vector (remember, this is a physics term: magnitude and direction). in so doing, you can sense the yi (intent) in the animal.

once we'd finished the review, Sifu took us through lion, snake, and bear. these were relatively simple, and it didn't take too long to go through them. he then went on to the second part of class, taking time to discuss some of the theory behind the animals in relation to the rest of the bagua curriculum. Sifu noted the following:
  • the animals in the arm form are correlated with the animals in mother palm and bagua qi-gong, and in so doing provide linkages helping the practitioner understand the linkages between the various areas of bagua
  • the animals in the arm form are often taken to show 8 various forms of power projection, while the animals in mother palm are often taken as showing 8 various forms of entries. but since each animal applies for both (e.g., the lion for mother palm correlates to the lion for the arm form), this is supposed to tell the practitioner that the 8 animal movements can be adjusted to match whatever intent, or yi, the practitioner has in mind.
  • the way to adjust the yi of an animal is suggested by the arm form basics, which involve the practitioner changing yin-yang distribution of movements (i.e., you change the yi of the animal by changing what action is yin force and what action is yang force).
  • the animals in the arm form also relate to the animals in bagua qi-gong. as a result, you can see some of the qualities in the animal movements by translating their expression in qi-gong compared to their expression in the arm form. the yi in the qi-gong involves the utilization of organs and limbs, while the yi in the arm form involves the utilization of power. this can be seen as indicating what actions of the organs and limbs are necessary to project power for the actions of each of the 8 animals--and by extension showing the practitioner how the organs and limbs should be used to generate power in any form of body movement.
i took this to mean this is where bagua qi-gong has an additional layer of meaning, in terms of having combat applications in addition to its health applications. the animals, to me, seem to follow a form of Boolean logic, with the animals acting as a logic operator to extend concepts from qi-gong to the arm form, and hence from health to combat. i think it's the commutative property operator, but i'm not sure.

i asked Sifu if this means that the levels of bagua qi-gong associate with varying levels of power projection. bagua qi-gong has 3 levels: energy accumulation, energy projection, and dynamic energy manipulation. this seems very similar to the actions in the arm basics, in that it seems like each of the animals can be adjusted to receive an incoming strike (energy accumulation), project power against an opponent (energy projection), or redirect an opponent's actions (dynamic energy manipulation).

Sifu nodded on this, but added that we should start reviewing bagua qi-gong next week, so that we could get a better sense of the relationships between the qi-gong and the arm basics.

i didn't ask, but it seems to be logical that the inter-connection between bagua qi-gong and the arm basics regarding power and energy must relate to the other energy concepts we've had: ting jing, hwa jing, na jing, and fa jing. the problem is that ting relates to listening, hwa to receiving, na to control, and fa to projection. how these 4 concepts tie into the 3 levels of bagua qi-gong is something i am not clear on, particularly in terms of the 8 animals and the power utilization in the arm basics. i'll have to remember to ask Sifu about this next class.

gong li

i'll just note the topics covered in the gong li seminar: yubei gong (preparation), nei gong (internal, static & dynamic), ying gong (hard, static & dynamic), yangsheng gong (recuperating), wuji, hueng yuen, iron bridge, iron ox, and breathing.

Friday, November 06, 2009

day 255: spear and push hands

  • following
  • control
  • yin/yang
  • spear (chaang)
  • push hands
we had some new students today, with some of the CSULB students coming to check things out. they did have spears of their own, so we ended up playing musical chairs, letting people work through practicing with the full-length spears.

spear (chaang)

we continued on with the basics, with Sifu having us try the 2-person drills. the idea here was to focus on control, with both partners facing each other with their spears in contact and tracing circles while trying to maintain contact. the drill involved leading and following (i.e., letting the other person follow you, or letting you follow the other person) while tracing a circle with the spear tip (e.g., either clockwise or counterclockwise).

the act of following was definitely harder, since it required that you have enough control that you can maintain contact with the other person. Sifu noted the following:
  • initially it's easier to work in big circles, but that to improve control you need to try smaller circles,
  • control is much easier if you follow proper technique, with the base hand (i.e., the hand holding the base of the spear) is connected to the kua,
  • control is also easier if you maintain a low stance.
i'm starting to get a little better with the spear basics, but this was another level of difficulty. it takes quite a bit of concentration to maintain contact. good technique helps, but the concentration aspect requires quite a bit of energy, and proved to be the most demanding part of this exercise.

we worked in pairs, swapping partners and spears. this ended up taking most of class, since it proved so difficult.

push hands

the rest of the time we spent on push hands--not the typical one with static feet, but a more dynamic total-body one. apparently there is a drive to introduce a different competitive event at the tournaments, one related to push hands in terms of allowing people to engage each other, except with a goal of being more similar to actual fighting, with competitors able to engage and disengage, make throws, joint locks, and move freely about the ring. it's supposed to be different from sanda, which allows punches and kicks, or shuai jiao, which involves more constant engagement. Sifu is helping out with this, and is involved in the rules formation (it's still in the formative stages).

Sifu sees this as comprising one of the 5 events of making a well-rounded fighter: spear, sword, sanda, shuai jiao, and push hands.

i should note that the term "push hands" is temporary, since the phrase itself has become locked with the current perception of tai chi practitioners locked in static footwork. the event described here is meant to be much more expansive, encompassing any martial arts style. the ulterior motive is to allow practitioners to sense the yin-yang forces in a fight and to learn how to use them. the prevailing tai chi push hands does this only with the upper body. the hope is that wit this different version you can sense yin and yang in the feet and lower body, and then thereby also sense it in the way the encounter flows through space and time.

i worked with Jay on this. it's a very useful exercise in terms of training--i see it as a step on the progression towards utilizing TCMA in full-contact combat, since it helps attune your instincts and reflexes to applying a lot of the concepts, not just in terms of yin-yang, but also in terms of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa), whirlpools & vortices, tangents and vectors, spacing & timing, rooting & releasing, balance, and structure. it's also useful in that it lets you see how the principles are consistent regardless of technique, and hence regardless of style, and that ultimately everything is about principles and less anything else.

none of these are things i'm very good at, at least not in terms of real-time spontaneous application. in practicing with Jay, i can see that i'm still thinking my way through a lot of these things, and i'm not working on an intuitive level. this is something necessary, as it's only at an intuitive level that you develop the instincts and reflexes necessary for full-contact situations.

i did okay at times, but then i would reach stopping points, where i would understand the principle but either 1) not know how to apply it, or 2) apply it the wrong way. i told Sifu it's like i'm feeling my way through a maze, and hoping each decision leads down the right path in the maze, but every once in a while i make the wrong decision and wind up at a dead end. Sifu said that's the point of training: to learn how to avoid the dead ends.

something else that also became apparent is that my posture continues to be an issue, with Jay and Sifu noting that i still slouch, and while it's gotten better, it's still bad enough that it 1) puts my head within easy reach of the opponent, making me vulnerable to a lot of head strikes and grabs, and 2) disconnects the power from my center to my shoulders, suppressing the transmission of power from my legs through the dantian at my shoulders, throttling any further projection out through the arms--which is where its supposed to go.

this is something i'll have to really focus on to completely resolve. it's going to take a lot more work.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

day 254: around the bagua wheel

  • dragon
  • bird
  • hawk
  • unicorn
  • bear
  • monkey
  • lion
  • arm basics
there was no kyudo this week, since Sensei canceled class to allow everyone to spend family time during the Halloween weekend. it was, however, a double day with kung fu, so there was still plenty to do.

i should also note that this upcoming weekend on Sunday, November 8, at CSULA is a seminar, with Sifu giving a 1-day study of training methods known as gong li. the details on given on the Wutan Los Angeles Facebook page, and were also distributed to the Wutan Yahoo! group. in brief, it will cover appropriate training methods to aid in the conditioning necessary for martial arts, with a focus on principles that can be transferred between different styles. anyone looking for more info should contact Art Schonfeld ( ).

arm basics

the arm basics today continued with the animals. Sifu had us start with the dragon, and then led us methodically through 6. he noted that dragon had the greatest number of permutations, which is why he had us learn it first, but that the other animals were simpler and without as many variations. he showed us the movements for each animal, and then identified correlated the element and body organ from 5-element theory:
  • dragon : yin wood : liver
  • big bird : yang wood : waist & limbs
  • hawk : fire : heart
  • unicorn : yin earth : abdomen
  • bear : yang earth : back
  • monkey : yin metal : lung
  • lion : yang metal : head
Sifu provided the following commentary on the above:
  • the yin/yang designation provides clues as to the nature of the movement, as does the associated element and body organ, and so indicate the yi (intent) that should be associated with each. yin movements are inward, down, or away from the opponent, whereas yang movements are outwards, up, or towards the opponent.
  • fire and water are the 2 elements which do not have yin/yang. this differs from Chinese astrology/cosmology, where they do, but in TCMA they do not.
  • yin and yang actions for the drills with each animal can be switched or changed to create permutations, just like we did with dragon.
we stopped with monkey, although Sifu provided explanations for lion. we were out of time at this point, having spent class working through the arm basics for each animal from dragon through monkey. in addition, we were scheduled for an extra long lunch, since Sifu had called a meeting of the disciples to discuss some issues regarding the future. because of this, we called class to an end a little early.

Friday, October 30, 2009

day 253: really the inso basics

  • distance (long, medium, short)
  • hard/soft (yang/yin)
  • top of hand/side of hand/palm
  • animals
  • power projection
  • meridians (rinmei, dumei)
  • weapons
  • bagua inso
  • kyudo
today was about working on the basics, or at least sorting them out.

bagua inso

we started this Saturday with a general introduction into the arm basics curriculum. Sifu said there are many arm basics, with drills for each of the following permutations:
  • apparently, the arm basics ties back into the mother palms, with different arm movements correlated with each of the 8 animals. this means that for each animal, there is a single arm basic movement.
  • for each basic arm movement, there are 3 permutations in terms of distance, so that the engagement range is long, medium, and short. long distance involves the entire arm, medium involves contact from the elbow out through the hand, and short from the wrist to the fingertip.
  • with each distance, the basic arm movement can be done with a mixture of yin/yang, where the yin refers to soft action and yang is explosive action. a movement can be done with the forward action being yin and retraction being yang, with the forward action being yang and the retraction being yin, or both forward action and retraction being yang.
  • for each of the above, the hand can be adjusted, so that the spiraling (chan sieh jin) energy is directed in different ways. the drill can end with the top of the hand toward the opponent, the side of the hand toward the opponent, or the palm toward the opponent.
  • consistent with the rest of bagua, any of the basics using the right hand must also be done using the left hand, creating symmetry between the 2 sides.
Sifu also gave us some background behind the inso form and its purpose, noting the following:
  • the arm form ties in with the 8 animals in bagua, and so exposes you to the characteristics and yi of each
  • inso emphasizes power projection, with the energy derived from the movements (from the ground, through the body, via reaction forces and spiraling energy) being projected through the arms
  • the arm form conveys power being through the dumei and rinmei channels, and so trains the practitioner to work the meridians
  • the arm form is the basis of bagua weapons techniques, with all the bagua weapons forms and techniques relating back to movements in the arm form. as a result, education in the bagua weapons relies on understanding of the arm form.
once we finished discussing the above, Sifu had us commence with the inso basics for the dragon. this ended up consuming the rest of class. the number of permutations for just 1 animal is expansive, and i can see that this makes for a lot of variations in techniques and movements in bagua--independent of everything we've already learned in the other forms to date.


kyudo this evening went fast, and not just because i had to leave early to prep for my morning bike ride. we had a smaller class (i counted 11 people total, including Sensei and 1 visitor), which with the 5 makiwara meant that we were shooting almost constantly. to slow things down to a pace more consistent with the form, Sensei had us grow in 3 smaller groups of 3-4 people (as opposed to 2 bigger ones of 4 or 5 each).

i'm continuing to become more comfortable with the form, and am able to concentrate on individual weaknesses now. this evening, i worked on what Sensei had told me last time: to try and extend my spine vertically as i drew the bow, so that i literally expanded into it. i noticed that in a paradoxical twist, the act of extending the spine vertically actually helps to drive force vectors through the legs into the ground even as much as it lifts the vertebrae upwards through the neck and the skull. i'm guessing this is what makes it useful in terms of drawing the bow, since it allows the force vectors from the ground to be harnessed through the body into the bow.

i also noted something else, in that i had been working on my elbows in the draw. i had noticed from pictures and videos of myself that i was dropping my right elbow too far forward, which resulted in me drawing the bow using shoulder and back muscles to pull the right elbow back. in addition, i had noticed that i was going into dai-san too far away from my head, which forced me to use my back muscles to pull the bow into me to let me pull the bowstring. this time, i tried to focus on letting the right elbow stay farther back, and to have the bow descend into dai-san closer too my head in a more vertical line. this made a dramatic difference in terms of how easy it felt to draw--i was using a 14-kg draw weight, which has been a struggle to use, but this time things were a little bit easier (easier so long as i kept to a very specific path, but which proved very difficult to feel out, meaning that i found myself waffling back and forth between easy and hard). this is a positive development, but the consistency is something that's going to require some work.

Sensei also added something else this time: waiting. he asked me to wait to release the arrow, so that it went at the right time. technically, from what i can gather, the right time is the moment of maximum draw, when the body is at full extension. but figuratively, there's a bit more, in that the right time also means the moment in your mind when you are completely still. this latter point is crucial, since it determines the stability of the body (the firing platform) and hence the accuracy of the arrow (the projectile fired from the firing platform).

i meant to leave at the tea break, but Sensei had brought several boxes of spare kyudo equipment from his garage with the goal of letting everyone see if there was anything they wanted, and his wife had arrived to help everyone sort through this. i stayed a little longer to pick out some items that i'd originally ordered from Japan--tabi, girikko (deer horn powder), bow string, bow string case, glove bags, bow coverings, and tabi. this was fortuitous, because it obviated my need from the order. i still have my order for arrows and a bow, and i have to say i am very much looking forward to the day they'll mean that i really am taking another step into kyudo.

Friday, October 23, 2009

day 252: finding the dantian

  • dantian
  • kua
  • reaction force
  • chaang (spear)
  • chen pao quan
this Sunday was a continuation of learning the dantian. and funny enough, i think i'm starting to get a better feel of what's supposed to be going on. Ching-chieh returned today, making it effectively her first day of spear training. we also had a surprise visitor in Jay, who had shown up for some review work (he's learned spear before in his shaolin training).

chaang (spear)

the spear is proving to be a weapon of some remarkable ironies and curious paradoxes. for a weapon that provides such a large extension of yourself, it requires a surprising level of subtlety to achieve full control. for something that it is so light, it involves an intimidating level of strength. for something whose danger comes from the tip of its point, it actually is reliant on the actions at its base. and for all of this to happen, the external manifestation of the spear's actions has to come from the internal operations of the practitioner's body. which means everything comes from the dantian...and to follow the commentary Sifu has made over the past few months, the dantian must be aligned with the center of gravity, since this provides the stability necessary to connect the force vectors from the center outwards--to the ground, to the legs, to the arms, to the spear, in a manner akin to the center and dantian acting as the railroad junction conveying power from one to the other.

there's a military analogy that a friend of mine in the marine corps once told me: to be able to send projectiles downrange with maximum speed and maximum directional control (i.e., the maximum velocity vector) you must have a stable weapons platform. i guess the spear mandates that the practitioner provide a stable platform.

we spent the better part of the morning working on basics, singly and in pairs, trying to master the movements using the dantian. i'm starting to get better, but it still requires quite a bit of effort.

something i noticed is that improving usage of the dantian is also improving the kua. they seem to be connected, with improvement in one producing improvement in the other, and the application of one requiring application of the other. this is necessary to be able to transmit and convey the force vectors into the ground, and to then receive and communicate the reaction forces back up through the body. with the spear, whether or not you are doing this correctly is really obvious, because any actions at the base are multiplied at the tip, and so really intensifies the level of effort and focus that are required by the part of the practitioner.

Sifu mentioned that with the dantian, we have to imagine that it's curling and uncurling in synchronization with the spiralling actions of the spear, and that it's doing so not just in 2-dimensions or on a single plane of motion but instead in 3 dimensions in multiple planes of motion. in effect, we have to see it curling and uncurling so that it traces an oval positioned at an angle that varies according to what direction the spear is moving.

chen pao quan

we finished class with a quick lesson on chen pao quan. Ching-chieh and Jo-san had missed varying parts of it to date, so we spent time getting them up to speed. as a result, we went just a little farther in the form, but focused on reviewing what we've covered so far. this only took a few minutes, since by this time was pretty much the end of the class.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

day 251: sorting out some theory

  • arms
  • sounds: i-ya, hon, han, hei
  • spine expansion
  • bagua elbow form
  • bagua arm form (inso)
  • kyudo
we're making a transition this week away from the elbow form to the arm form. so things were a little mashed in terms of what we covered.

bagua elbow form

we spent the initial part of class working on the elbow form in mirror image and on a circle. we'd done this last week, but only cursorily towards the end of class. we warmed up with the moving basics, and then as a group worked on trying to sort out the mirror image and the circle versions. we had some initial problems on the circle with starting and finishing in the proper directions, and weren't able to sort things out until Phunsak arrived and pointed out that we hadn't been doing any walking of the circle, which helps adjust the orientation so that you start and finish facing the same way.

bagua arm form

after awhile, Sifu had us stop on the elbow form and said it was time we started working on the arm form. he told us that the arm form works a different engagement range (slightly farther than the elbow techniques), and acts to project power (to a greater degree than the other forms). but because it projects power through the fingers and palms, it requires conditioning work on the hands.

Sifu had us spend the rest of the class working on some basic drills, going on a line. there were a number of different ones, all of which to me seemed eerily similar to movements in chen tai chi and chang quan. i suspect that this may be because the arm form was derived from techniques in those styles and then modified to adapt bagua principles. although, this may not mean that the applications are the same--but we'll find that out soon enough.

Sifu also discussed some sounds. they don't necessarily relate to bagua, but he said that they are often done while doing the arm basics. he introduced the following sounds:

  • i-ya: (pronounced like "ee-ya") this originates from the mouth and throat area
  • hon: (pronounced like "hoon") this comes from the upper back area, just below the base of the neck
  • han: (pronounced like "ha") this comes from the diaphragm
  • hei: (pronounced like "hey") this originates in the kidneys
the purpose of these sounds is to help in power generation. Sifu said you're supposed to do them to generate explosive power, where you breathe-in to have a slow gradual build-up, and then make these sounds to make a sharp breath-out. the origin point of these sounds relate to some of the 5-element theory tied to the mother palms (Sifu used as examples dragon and big bird, which are yin and yang wood, respectively, and are associated with the lungs, and so should be made with "hon").

i suspect there's more sounds. i vaguely recall that there are 5 sounds associated with TCMA, but i'm not sure of this. if true, it means that there's 1 other sound to learn. but we'll see.


i stayed for the full kyudo class this evening, since i had no bike ride scheduled for Sunday. we had a lower turnout this evening (approximately 10 people), although we had some late arrivals who had come from the UC Irvine dojo. as small as the class size was, it turned out that we were short of yumi (bows), and so Sensei decided to make the entire class an open shoot to allow more continuous opportunities to practice.

this was good for me, as it gave me a chance to catch up on the practice that i missed last weekend. Sensei had me work on expansion this time, except that the expansion was not in terms of expanding outwards from the chest but upwards along the spine. Sensei noted that this seems to bring a natural opening of the torso that allows a greater pull without tension in the back, chest, or core. in addition, it makes it easier to pull in the feet when exiting ashibumi after release of the arrow.

i also took some time to place an order for kyudo gear tonight as well. originally i had planned on a solo order from Japan, but it turns out that Yachiyo (Sensei's wife) was arranging a group order from the same company, so i decided to just merge my order in with everyone else's to help save on shipping and handling. i ordered a yumi (i figure it's time to have my own bow), along with additional equipment. it will take a little time to arrive, but i expect that things will be shipped in time for Christmas (yay!).

Friday, October 16, 2009

day 250: circles with the elbow

  • circle
  • bagua elbow form
  • kyudo
we began class today with a discussion regarding seminars for the fall. Sifu wants to hold some seminars before the ones he's scheduled to give in January at the San Diego tournament. right now, his thinking is to have a 1-day seminar in early November dealing with training equipment--particularly those involving conditioning--and a 2-day seminar Thanksgiving weekend dealing with push hands, with the 1st day being for beginners and the 2nd day being for advanced students. these dates are tentative, and are subject to room availability.

bagua elbow form

today was a bit of an expansion in the elbow form. we ended up making a stab at the mirror image of the elbow form, as well as doing it in a circle. we began with the elbow basics, and then several run-throughs of the form itself.

Phunsak then led us through the mirror image of the form--essentially, the reverse of the form. the elbow form starts and moves in 1 direction, making it 1-sided. the mirror image reverses all the directions. with the 2 together, you get right-handed and left-handed versions that match each other, making the form symmetric.

Phunsak then introduced us to the circle. the elbow form can be done along a circle (i.e., circle walking), in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. Sifu noted that this to remind you that the techniques in the form can be done in any direction, and that you shouldn't get married to any particular orientation just because the linear version of the form does so. Sifu also pointed out that the other "addendum" forms (i.e., leg, arm, fist, etc.) can also theoretically be done along a circle, but it's just that most people never do so.

the mirror image version was largely do-able, with a few trouble areas. the circle, however, proved to be a little problematic, in that the footwork is a little tricky in a few areas. i think we're going to need to practice this a little longer before we can get it down in a decent manner.


kyudo this evening was a little truncated in terms of shooting. this was the 2nd picture day, with this evening meant to try and get formal group shots for the dojo records. as a result, we had a much larger-than-usual turnout, with 21 (!!!) people showing up. we ended up spending a good portion of class getting the group photos, and had just enough time to accommodate 2 circuits of formal shooting for everyone.

i ended up doing only 1 circuit, since i acted as a retriever the 2nd time. this was just as well, since i had to leave early this evening to prepare for a long solo bike ride in the morning. if anything, i actually ended up staying a little longer than i should have, since the next day's ride turned out to be much more painful than i had wanted it to be.

but the evening itself went well, and everyone was in a very good mood. it made for a positive end to the week.

Friday, October 09, 2009

day 249: the humbling spear and a little fisting

  • dantian
  • twisting
  • spear (chaang)
  • chen tai chi pao quan
we had a smaller Sunday group today, with just me, Josan, and Phunsak. we spent most of the morning working on the spear, since that seemed to be the biggest problem area (at least it was for me), with a little time for chen tai chi pao quan.

spear (chaang)

spear is just hard. that's my take on it. at least for now. and i don't mean hard in terms of strength, but more in terms of coordination. i'm not even at a point where i can develop strength, since i can't even get the coordination part of it down. i've been working on this during the past couple of weeks, since it's proving quite puzzling. just when i think i'm getting it, it turns out that no, no i'm not. not even close. quite befuddling.

Sifu had us work on same basics we worked on last time. which is fine, because i'm having an excruciating time getting this down. i just don't have the muscle memory--or even any sense of any movement close. as a result, i'm finding i'm actually spending the bulk of time experimenting with different sensations and different actions to see if they generate the requisite behavior in the spear. it's complicated by the fact that a lot of the sensations and actions are those that occur within the deep muscle tissue of the lower abdomen, and so are within the core and hence not easy to see. it's something you have to feel...except that it's hard to know a feeling that you've haven't experienced before.

Sifu broke things down a little bit more today, asking me to focus on just making arcs with the spear as opposed to circles. this helped a little bit, but i still had problems coordinating the movement of the core with the intended action of the spear--moving in one direction of the arc requires one set of actions, but moving in the other direction requires another, and the issue is figuring out which set of actions corresponds to which direction. and the actions are not just in the core with the dantian, but also in the kua, pelvis, spine, shoulders, legs, and arms, since the spear point not only has to trace an arc but also has to twist as it does so.

i did make some progress, in that i could begin to feel the internal muscular work that is involved in moving and controlling the spear. and i can see that it really does involve the dantian. i could actually some soreness in the deep muscle tissue, with tightness that felt like somebody had stuck a pole through by abdomen that went in at a point just below my navel in the front and exited at a parallel point in the back. i mentioned this to Sifu, and he nodded, saying that is essentially the 2 points relating to the dantian, and this indicated that i was working on the right area.

after awhile, Sifu did a few demonstrations showing why these movements were important in offensive and defensive actions. the arcs, in combination with the twisting of the shaft, served to parry and deflect the opponent's spear, in a way that opened gates while protecting yours. in addition, the twisting helps maintain contact with the opponent's spear, improving your control over them and reducing the amount of muscular effort necessary than would be required with a direct force-on-force parry.

Sifu noted that this is really just an application of the jing concepts we've worked with: ting, hwa, na, and fa. moreover, the idea is the same, in that the goal is to first sense the opponent's actions and intent (ting jing), to receive and deflect them (ting jing), then control them (na jing), and then project power (fa jing). he mentioned that the concepts are the same, in that at some level you can do these things without necessarily having to initiate contact with their weapon...of course, this is something to work on at a later stage.

chen tai chi pao quan

we spent the last part of class going further into pao quan. after spear, this was easier--not easy, but easier. we went through a section of repeating actions, which i realized was just some of the basics that Sifu had originally had us work on some months ago before the summer. this made things a little bit quicker in terms of learning, although i think we're going to have to repeat this quite a few more times before we get them down.

we finished with this, and left for a post-class lunch.

day 248: splitting and joining elbows

  • splitting
  • joining
  • bagua elbow form
  • kyudo
this past week has been a little busy with some research proposals that took up a fair amount of time, so i'm afraid i'm going to be posting some shorter entries this time.

bagua elbow

we had some people back this week who had missed the prior sessions on the bagua elbow, so we backtracked a little bit to help everyone catch up, as well as to re-familiarize ourselves with some of the movements to help us start learning the applications of the last part of the form.

Sifu had us start off with the bagua elbow basics (moving). we did a slightly better job remembering them this time, although the issue now is trying to get everyone to remember the names--since there aren't any, leaving everyone to use their own, it's hard for everyone to agree as to what we mean when we use a term (it may make sense to us, but nobody else).

we ended up having some lighter moments, with Kieun and Ching-chieh pulling out their respective notebooks to compare terms, and everyone settling into a "battle of the names."

we eventually reviewed the form, particularly the last part. by that time Sifu had returned, and after watching us perform the closing stopped everyone to clarify some confusion regarding the intent of some of the movements.

in particular, he went through the applications at the end, especially one that resembled a technique from the fist form. he commented that while it looked like the same technique, it was actually different, with a different entry (closer, so that the lead shoulder checks into the opponent's body) and with a different intent (this time going through the elbows). the result is the same--a throw--but the physics involves a 2-step process of first splitting the elbows (to open the opponent up) and then joining the elbows (to send the opponent away and down). from what i could tell, the idea is to use the elbows to take the opponent's space, so that you literally displace their volume and force their mass to fall.

Sifu stressed that in order for this to work you have to focus on the elbows. if you instead project power through the hands or forearms, the tendency is to project power forward, which can disconnect the power of the hands and arms from the power in the legs and body, reducing the forces generated and producing more of a pushing movement. this can work, but not as well as if the power is projected through the elbows, since this creates more of a twisting motion that integrates the entire body to send the power from the legs and torso through the elbows, with the force vectors sending the opponent turning away and down.

we worked on this application for awhile, although i backed off a bit, since i got a little tired being the practice dummy.


Phunsak joined me for kyudo tonight, and we stayed the entire session. the class was curtailed a little bit, since the Pasadena Japanese Culture Center's annual fund-raising bazaar was the next day and we had to set up the tables for the morning.

shooting has gotten better for me as of late. i still have a number of problem areas to work on--Sensei has made these very clear for me, but i'm at the point now where there's a greater comfort level and i feel that i'm able to concentrate on specific things to resolve (as opposed to last year, when it seemed like everything needed fixing, leaving me constantly overwhelmed). that, and i'm actually getting a feel for sending the arrow into the target.

i spoke to Sensei about whether i should get a bow, and he gave me some advice as to what to look for. i may place an order soon, although i want to take a little time to research what i want. that, and i want to itemize what else i should get as well--dojo arrows, string, and perhaps spare clothing. and i am sure there are others who would like to join in an order with me. we'll see.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

day 247: it's all elbows...ALL elbows

  • refinement
  • expansion
  • center
  • posture
  • bagua elbow form
  • kyudo
everything today was about elbows. specifically, the use of elbows in relation to the body and the center.

bagua elbow form

we spent today refining the form, with Sifu asking us to review the basics and the form we've done to date. this was useful, since we're still trying to get everyone caught up--a fair number of people have missed a fair number of classes due to a fair number of vacations over a fair amount of the past summer leaving a fair amount of work to catch up to a fair level of competence. and that's being fair.

after awhile, Sifu watched us go through the form, and then went through several sticking points that seemed to give everyone trouble. he pointed out the refinements, particularly over the more recent parts, and had us work on getting them ingrained into memory.

Phunsak eventually showed up, with a very large lump on his jaw from what we learned had been a punch from the previous evening. he was all right, although i suspected that he'd gotten a little bit harder than he let on, judging from his appearance as soon as he walked in--i suspected, and later confirmed, that he'd gotten a concussion (what can i say? once you've seen it, you know it).

Sifu then had Phunsak take us through the rest of the form. we didn't have enough time to go through the applications, but we had just enough to make it through the last of the form. i should point out that this isn't really the end...according to Phunsak, we now have to do the mirror version, and then we have to learn how to do it in a circle.

we made a video of the completed form, which you can see here:

today was picture day at kyudo, with the plan to have people take pictures and videos of the class for the purpose of adding to the dojo's library as well as helping people correct their own form. Leslie brought an old-fashioned large-format plate-glass camera (!!!wow!!!), and Wilton and Terry brought their own SLRs. i had my hand-held digital, since i wanted to take some pictures for my parents.

tonight, incidentally, was a reminder about the use of the elbows. while the formal shoot was largely straightforward, the informal post-tea practice was a bit more detailed. Sensei made a number of corrections in my form, pointing out the following:
  • my right hand is going down too quickly as i draw the bow. he said i will naturally stay up if i focus on expanding into the bow rather than pulling or pushing it. he said the expansion will happen if i put my effort into my elbows.
  • the expansion of the elbows, if it is to be an expansion into the cavity between the bow and the string, is more effortless if it comes outward from the center. this goes back to previous lessons, when Sensei had said that the act of expanding into the bow is really an act of expanding outward from the center throughout the entire body, so that force vectors go through the legs into the ground and back again through the core out through the arms. when done right, drawing the bow is easy, but when done wrong, drawing the bow becomes a struggle--with the struggle, ironically, being really a fight against your own incompetence. in essence, proper action builds upon proper action, but improper action builds upon improper action; the analogy is that all things propagate throughout the system in a cascade radiating from what happens at the center.
  • conveying the forces of expansion needed to draw the bow requires proper posture, with good posture serving to convey force vectors up from the ground into the bow cleanly and without loss of power. this is why it is crucial to develop good posture, with the head, neck, spine, and tailbone all in proper alignment.
i took a number of photos of the evening and put them into a photo album. many of the photos were taken by Eric, who i asked to use my camera while i shot. i took some pictures myself, and edited everything on Photoshop so that they looked presentable. you can check them out on my Flickr account:
Jean made some videos of me shooting, so that i could see what mistakes i was making. she made videos of me shooting 2 shots with the 14 kg draw weight bow, the 13 kg draw weight, adn then the 11 kg. i left right after she took the videos, since i had an early Sunday morning bike ride, but i look forward to seeing them when she's finished editing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

day 246: spear and cannon fist

  • kua
  • dantian
  • center
  • balance
  • posture
  • spear (chaang)
  • chen cannon fist (pao quan)
this Sunday was focused primarily on the spear, since it was the first day learning spear. Sifu has talked about this in the past, and he says it's something he wants to promote since it's one of the other weapons competitions (other than jian) that he would like to see spread.

i'd managed to acquire one, but it turned out to not quite match the standard specifications for a spear. Sifu said we wanted the traditional spear, as opposed to wu shu spear. the wu shu spear is shorter (usually less than 7 feet) and has a tassel near the metal point. the traditional spear, or guen, in contrast, is much longer (at least 9 feet, often longer, with lengths going to 15-18 feet) and usually devoid of a tassel. in addition, the traditional spear is made from waxwood, with a diameter than tapers from around 1.5-2 inches at one end to .75-1 inch at the other. the overall spear weighs around 8-10 lbs.

the one i'd gotten was about 9 feet and around 5 lbs. Sifu said this was the right length, but a little too light. only thing is, finding one that matches the desired specifications is difficult in the US. Eric said there was a store in Vancouver, Canada (Kuen Way) that had the right one, but i found out they charged $150 for shipping to Los Angeles, and so i'm a little reluctant to pay that amount (particularly since the spear itself only costs $75). i'm scratching my head over where to find one, but i'll have to make do with what i have for now.

chaang (spear)

we began with the 8 stances--they're the standard ones corresponding to the ones we know: horse, bow-and-arrow, 60-40, 70-30, low, cat, dragon, and rooster. Sifu also showed us how to switch between left and right hands.

from there, we went to some basics related to spear control, with Sifu having us doing drills that involved rotating the kua and dantian to move the spear points in circular patterns, first clockwise and then counter-clockwise. the trick was to hold the hands stationary, and move the spear using only the kua and dantian (essentially using only the pelvis). for this, Sifu noted the following:
  • the rear hand should be locked to the hip
  • the front hand should be held out, but with the grip loose enough so that the spear shaft is free to slide forward and back
  • the spear is displaying chan sieh jin (twisting) energy, with the rear hand twisting the shift as it moves
  • the spear tip traces a circle, but not just on a vertical plane but also on a horizontal one, meaning that the circle follows an angle
  • the kua and dantian form a horizontal ovoid, which also is not just vertical but also horizontal, and hence follows an angle
  • the power comes from the kua and dantian, with the hands just serving as stationary supports
  • spear movements should be tight, and small
i have to say that this was hard. really hard. it involves a level of coordination with my abdomen, hips, and lower back that i am not accustomed to, and definitely gave me a workout with muscles i'm not used to using. and don't even ask about my deltoids and trapezius. and try as i might, i had a really hard time getting the spear to move using my kua and dantian.

on this last issue, Sifu noted that's why the spear is considered as such a good training tool in TCMA--because in order to wield it effectively, you have to learn how to control your kua and dantian, both of which are crucial in providing the stability and power projection necessary for so much of TCMA. he also alluded to the fact that this is why spear is really good for me, since my kua and dantian continue to be issues...although, i have to say, this has been a well-known problem with me, with even my coaches noting that i seem to have coordination issues with my hip/pelvis area, to the point that it's pretty much a standing joke about me (e.g., "a little stiff where it counts, aye liljeblad? ha ha ha yuck yuck yuck").

things were also complicated by the fact that in order to maintain control over spear movements you have to maintain a center and good posture--both things that i am still working on. without either, the spear tends to move all over the place.

Sifu said that you want enough control that you can maintain consistency with precise movements--as much as possible. he related the story that Li Shu Wen had enough control that he could strike a fly with his spear. he noted that Liu Yun Qiao was able to follow the circumference of a hand ring suspended from the ceiling using his spear point. he and Josan (who's learned this before) demonstrated just how small the circles can get, to the point that the movements of the kua, dantian, and hands become almost imperceptible, and the spearholder looks like they're statues holding to a stable center with fixed posture and the spear is moving on its own.

more than this, you have to somehow maintain your balance while holding a long object that extends beyond your physical body. it's only 8-10 lbs, but it's situated on a long beam, creating from a physics perspective a moment arm with torque about the fulcrum point of your body aimed towards the ground. overcoming this in a controlled fashion requires total integration of kua, dantian, center, posture, and limbs.

this is all quite a challenge.

i can tell this is going to take a lot of work.

chen cannon fist

we spent the last part of class working on the chen cannon fist. we didn't go that much further into the form, but instead largely refined what we've done to date. since Ching Chieh missed most of pao quan, we also went back and reviewed some of the applications, with Sifu taking the opportunity to correct some details we were missing in regards to some of the movements.

we finished with that, quite a bit more sore than when we started.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

day 245: corrections of misperceptions

  • close-distance entries
  • rolling
  • wife and husband
  • looseness and tightness
  • bagua elbow form
  • kyudo
we were a little short-handed today, with a number of people (including Phunsak) out. it made for a slightly more intimate setting, with more time spent practicing the form and applications.

bagua elbow form

we worked on the elbow form, with Sifu asking each of us to do the form to date individually and then providing us with feedback to polish what we were doing. he then demonstrated the applications in the form, pointing out to us the corrections that we needed to make to get the applications to work. he made a number of comments on this subject:

  • close-distance entries--Sifu noted that not all the elbow movements needed to serve as strikes or controlling actions. he reminded us that the sequence of jing involves ting, hwa, na, and fa, meaning that the elbows could also serve as sensing (ting) and redirecting (hwa) actions, so that the elbows could actually function as gate-control tools to generate entries. in fact, the elbows are ideal for this in close distance combat, since they can be much more immediate and require less effort at close range.
  • rolling--he went on to note that in the form there are a lot of rolling elbows, and that this serves as a reminder that with the elbows it helps to maintain constant rolling motion to counter and respond to an opponent's actions. he demonstrated how you can adjust the direction, orientation, and scale of rotation depending on what the opponent is doing.
  • wife and husband hand--Sifu reminded as that another adjustment we can make in response to an opponent's action is to change the wife and husband hands. he showed that even if an opponent has a counter to a desire outcome from an application, you can change the roles of wife and husband to produce a different outcome (i.e., change yi, or intent) so that the same application is still effective.
  • looseness and tightness--Sifu continued on the concept of adapting to the opponent by noting that the yi, and the outcome of the application, can change depending on the looseness and tightness of the application, and that this can vary even during the execution of the application. i think this was an extension of yin-yang principles, since it seems consistent with the idea of identifying yin aspects of the opponent and exerting yang, and similarly identifying yang aspects and exerting yin, so as to complete the circle (or loop) of the systemic force vectors in the system of 2 fighting bodies.
Sifu demonstrated a number of variations of the form we'd just learned. which was just as well, since it appears that we'd been operating completely wrong interpretations of the movements. we laughed over this--we'd taken the movements to be elbow strikes, and had tried to judge the yi and striking surfaces accordingly, but Sifu said that they were actually controlling actions leading to throws, and so involved different yi and no striking surfaces at all.

we spent the remainder of the time polishing the form and practicing the applications, as well as correcting the misperceptions we had.


i made it to kyudo tonight. things are different now that we have 5 makiwara, since with even 12 people it now makes for a continuous round-robin shooting. this is good, in the sense that it allows much more practice, but also means that it means there is no rest.

this evening yielded some corrections to misperceptions as well. i thought i'd been holding the bow with a loose grip, but apparently not loose enough. during one round of shooting, the bow actually inverted, even thought the string stayed attached. this is not good for the bow, since it's very stressful, and is actually dangerous, since it can snap.

Jean pointed out to me that this happens because 1) the string is mounted off-center on the bow, 2) the string is too loose, and/or 3) the grip on the bow is too tight. she helped me unstring the bow and diagnosed it as being all of the above. we made some quick adjustments, and i was able to stay in the shooting line. during the next round of shooting, it suddenly dawned on me that i really was holding the bow too tightly, since i could feel it being slow to rotate seamlessly after the release of the arrow (it's supposed to rotate freely in the hand) and hand to consciously think about loosening my grip.

i think i'm becoming more comfortable with the form, since i'm able to think about it without as much conscious effort. this is good, since i'm now able to work on improving my form, by focusing on individual aspects of my technique and polishing them so that things are smoother. the big issue now is consistency.

Jean said that she was going to bring a video camera to the next session, so that she could record me shooting and i could thereby see what i was doing wrong and right. Leslie said she was going to bring a camera and take pictures of everyone in the dojo as well. this would be good, since i think it would really help me figure out what areas i need to work on.

Friday, September 18, 2009

day 244: playing with concepts

  • entries
  • jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)
  • yin-yang and yang-yin
  • closing circles
  • structure
  • holes
  • centers
  • dantian
  • orbits
  • bagua elbow form
this past Saturday started a little slow. i got caught with morning errands and arrived to class a little late, but found that everyone else was running on the same time. i ended up catching up on news and events with Siwanndi and Art, who had made it to the park before me. there was also a new student, who had come to learn baji--i didn't get his name, although i figure i will eventually.

the lessons today were related to the applications in the elbow form, but actually delved much deeper to hit a more general level related to martial arts as a whole. as a result, while we did get to the form itself, most of the morning was spent discussing concepts and trying to learn techniques that demonstrated the concepts.

we started on a tangent, with Sifu announcing that he was teaching 2 seminars at the january kung fu tournament in San Diego, and that he wanted our feedback on what topics to cover--particularly those that could be covered within the space of 2 hours. he'd decided one would be devoted to chin na, but the other was open for discussion. after some conversation, we settled on something involving applications of jing (ting, hwa, na, fa).

Sifu mentioned that he'd been thinking about this, since he believes that jing principles exist across all martial arts, not just the internal styles, and that you can see this in every martial arts application. as a way of demonstrating this, Sifu showed a shuai jiao application broken down into ting, hwa, na, and fa jing, and pointed out how the principles can actually show you how to improve the application.

he'd apparently thought about this while showing them to Tommy Friday night, since he'd been teaching Tommy some shuai jiao principles. he said he'd been a little disturbed that Tommy had adopted the current trend in shuai jiao of using a 2-handed engagement to begin rounds. Sifu noted that this has become almost universal in shuai jiao, and observed that he believes this is indicative of the prevailing transformation of shuai jiao into a sport along the lines of Olympic judo and Olympic greco-roman wrestling, which have the same starting posture.

Sifu argued that originally shuai jiao--at least in its incarnation as a combat art--discouraged 2-handed entries. in a combat setting, 2-handed entries are dangerous because they commit you to engagement and reduce the options for movement, and tend to lead fighters to 1) direct force-on-force encounters, and 2) expend focus and energy on yang actions. for self-defense situations, Sifu said that the training had traditionally been on 1-handed entries. unfortunately, these are being taught less and less as shuai jiao has evolved into a sport.

at this point i asked Sifu if the 1-handed entries for shuai jiao could be borrowed from other martial arts. i noticed that in bagua all (or almost all) the entries are 1-handed.

Sifu laughed and he told us a story that when he was young Chang Dong Sheng had taught 1-handed entries in his shuai jiao techniques, and that people had categorized them as "secret technique" taught only to special students. but after learning bagua, Sifu realized that the "secret techniques" were actually all bagua entries, and that Chang Dong Sheng had really just used his bagua training (he knew bagua) and adopted bagua entries for his shuai jiao. Sifu argued that the mixing of the two arts had been seamless, largely because they'd been tied using jing principles, with Chang Dong Sheng apparently seeing the consistency of the principles between what most people consider to be widely divergent styles.

at this point, we started on a more in-depth discussion of the jing principles used in these kinds of entries, and then went to talk about how they could be seen as continuous movements with no distinction between entry and application of technique. in action, everything becomes a smooth progression from one stage to another, both in terms of jing and in terms of entry to application.

Sifu pointed out that this is the same with other principles. staying with the bagua/shuai jiao movements we were using, he explained that you can also see the interplay of yin and yang, with the progression of jing being expressed through yin and yang actions within the techniques.

he emphasized that yin-yang meant not only that a particular application not only had a yin component and a yang component, but that these characteristics could change, with the yin component becoming yang and the yang becoming yin. this depends on what the opponent is doing and on the intent of the practitioner. he demonstrated this with one application, and showed that depending on what the opponent did, the distribution and direction of forces in the application will adjust so that it still works.

Sifu went on to note that in deciding the distribution and direction of yin and yang components, it is useful to think about circles that incorporate the force vectors of you and your opponent. by recognizing the yin-and-yang movements of your opponent, you are able to identify the distribution and direction of your yin and yang forces. the idea is to apply yang to the opponent's yin and yin to the opponent's yang. in essence, it can be seen as closing the circle.

from a physics perspective, you can visualize you and your opponent as a closed system. if you attempt to neutralize force with force, you are in a situation where you must add energy to the system--something which is problematic if you have less energy or less power than your opponent, because in that brute-force scenario you will lose. if, however, you deal with the opponent's force with yin-yang principles, you are able to neutralize the opponent's actions without having to add energy to the system, meaning that you are able to use the opponent's energy against the opponent, saving your effort and making up for any deficiencies in energy or power by using skill. thus, if the opponent's force vectors are tracing a path, you are using yin-yang principles to direct the path in a circle back to the opponent--hence, you are closing the circle.

incidentally, in relation to jing, this means that you are blending your jing with the opponent, in a way that takes maximizes depletion of the opponent and minimizes yours. the ideal state is for you to close the circle so that you don't expend any jing at all, but use the opponent's for everything in your actions, whether they were for ting, hwa, na, or fa.

Sifu went on to have us practice the application he'd shown us, using jing and yin-yang principles in response to changes in what our partner was doing. he showed us that the end goal was to destabilize the opponent, so that we were using their effort to break down their own structure.

in the process of practice, i suddenly realized that it was magically easier to see holes and centers. by visualizing the force vectors for both practitioner and opponent, and then seeing the encounter between the two as an effort to direct the opponent's forces to close the circle, i noticed that you can place the centers for both people and the closed system encompassing them--the centers of the circles (the circle of the opponent's force attacking vectors, the circle of the practitioner's redirecting force vectors, and the circle that results as the 2 people work against each other) are the centers of struggle in the battle, because invariably they tie to the centers of the bodies at play.

i suspect this why Sifu said that the dantians and the centers of gravity are not the same thing (even though they should be). as long as a fighter is structurally sound, the dantian and the center of gravity are together. the fighter, however, becomes structurally unsound the moment the dantian and the center of gravity separate. it is at this point that the holes form, and the more the structure destabilizes, the bigger the distance grows between dantian and center of gravity, and the bigger the holes become.

i also suspect that this is what closing the circle is trying to do: as the circle is closed in a system of 2 bodies in struggle, the body with the center closer to the system center will maintain the unity of dantian and center of gravity, while the body with the center farther from the system center will disconnect its dantian and center of gravity. i think this is consistent with physics, in that the bodies in closer orbit to a central mass will maintain more stable orbital paths, while bodies in farther orbit will be much more susceptible to disruption from their orbital paths.

bagua elbow form

we practiced the ideas that Sifu had discussed with us, and then finished class by going a little further into the elbow form. Phunsak said we were almost done, and that it would probably take 1 more class to finish the form.

we made a video of where we were to date, since it was starting to become hard to remember, and then left for lunch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

day 243: mixing matching principles in chen pao quan

  • energy
  • chen tai chi pao quan
this Sunday featured just me and Phunsak with Sifu. most of the usual Sunday group is on vacation, with both Jo-San and Martin on extended breaks, and Janette still away. as a result, things were less formal in terms of class agenda, and we ended up having a more free-flowing discussion on general principles we've touched on from the last few weeks. Alex was apparently in the park with his wife and child for a private lesson with Sifu, but they all left without saying hello or goodbye. Phunsak and i were miffed.

chen tai chi pao quan

i should note that we actually didn't spend that much time on the form itself, but instead just discussing and experimenting with the principles regarding energy, particularly in terms of manipulating and working with an opponent's energy in a range of contexts with a range of types of techniques. Sifu pointed out that we've dealt with various perspectives on this in learning the jings (ting, hwa, na, fa) in relation to differing ranges (close, medium, distant) and gates (dragon, tiger, snake). today, however, he said that one of the things he's been pointing out over the past few weeks is that all of this is the same idea: manipulating energy.

Sifu went on to add that while a lot of martial arts can be described in terms of Western concepts on physics, this notion of manipulating energy is something not easily explained via Western methods. he was alluding to efforts by some of us (including me), to analyze things in terms of physics. his assertion is that while this can work, it becomes somewhat difficult in terms of illustrating certain techniques which don't require physical contact. he demonstrated his point using a number of applications, and pointed out that on basic levels they work based on physical contact, but that at higher levels of skill they still work even without physical contact--this, he observed, is something that is not readily explained by physics.

Sifu said that the more apt approach to understanding this is by thinking of things in terms of the opponent's energy. it's not so much energy in the Western physics sense (e.g., calories, watts, etc.), but energy as in the overall state of a person, including their bodily movement, physical position, location of center, center of gravity, mental intent, disposition of mind, sensory perceptions, bio-electrical field, etc. Sifu said that these things can be disrupted without physical contact in ways that still produce a physical result. he noted that this doesn't mean that you can act like the Jedi and project a force at a distance, but it does mean that you can mess with their being (physical, mental, etc.) that can break down their physical structure. he added that by extension, this also means that at higher levels, you can break down more than just their physical components.

we worked through a variety of scenarios, using punches, joint locks, and takedowns, with Sifu stressing the idea of manipulating the opponent's energy, and showing the differences in effectiveness with manipulation and without, as well as with physical contact and without. Phunsak then went through some techniques he'd learned in his aiki-jitsu and systema classes that used the same principles, but with different movements. i tried some of these, but couldn't get all of them work--i found that there's a certain intuitive sense you have to possess in terms of recognizing a person's center of gravity and dantian, since this plays a major role in being able to exploit weaknesses in their structure, and i don't have that intuition yet.

Sifu noted that the distinction is subtle, and that most people are not aware that the dantian is not the same thing as the center of gravity. he said that it is supposed to be, but that most people don't understand that it isn't always so, and in fact for people who are structurally unsound the dantian is separate from the center of gravity. as a result, the assumption that the 2 are the same is fundamentally wrong, and can only be held when dealing with skilled individuals who have trained to have the 2 be together. Sifu noted that in terms of fighting, even a slight difference between the dantian and center of gravity can be catastrophic, since it provides a structural weakness that an opponent can exploit--if they can find it...but a skilled martial artist can always find it.

we finished the class going a little bit further into the form, and then ended around 12:30.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

day 242: elbow to elbow

  • disruption
  • misdirection
  • bagua elbow form
  • kyudo
i managed to make both kung fu and kyudo this week. oddly enough, both classes this Saturday were on the theme of elbows.

bagua elbow form

we warmed up with the elbow basics, this time with stationary drills. Sifu had us devote some time to this, and then had us go through them again to see the applications.

today, he showed us some nuances in the applications, tying in the principles from last Saturday regarding the use of disruption and misdirection by demonstrating how the elbow basics integrate these ideas. Sifu noted that in the basics, we need to observe the role of the husband hand and wife hand, with the wife hand being crucial to controlling the actions of the opponent. in effect, the wife hand operates to set up the husband hand, and does so by breaking the opponent's jing (energy) so that it makes it easier for the husband hand to project power.

from there, we went to the elbow form, and revisited some of the applications from last week, with Sifu pointing out the husband and wife hands. in addition, he pointed out that the role of husband and wife changes in the applications, and that this is something we can freely do so as to adjust to the actions of the opponent. the idea, from what i can tell, is to not get married (sorry, pardon the pun, it was just too easy) to any 1 hand having any 1 role, but to let things vary to accomplish the principles of disruption and misdirection.

Sifu compared this to the magic shows you see in places like Las Vegas. he said that they're doing the same things, using hand tricks that attract and divert the audience's focus away from the actual trick. Sifu noted that essentially the magician is acting to let the audience believe what they want to believe, and that this is really what we're trying to do: using sleight-of-hand concepts to induce the opponent to believe something that really isn't there.

we finished class working on some of the new elements of the form, but we focused most of the attention on the applications.


kyudo went well tonight. apparently, during the month of August the dojo acquired new makiwaras (the straw bundles used for indoor short-range practice), with the total now numbering 5. with 11 people shooting and 3 observing, this meant that we were going in an almost continuous shooting cycle (normally, there's a certain period of wait time as people have to cycle through the shooting range). this allowed me more practice, and helped me work out some issues.

Sensei also held a group lesson following the tea break regarding our form, focusing on daisan (which is the point before the final expansion into the moment of release). he pointed out that we needed to match our breathing better with the act of raising and lowering the bow, and allowing our posture to follow the arrow. he said that following the arrow will allow a much more natural feel to the setting of our alignment, and one that is more stable.

Sensei also devoted some time to the hand grip, saying that we needed to allow the grip to be more in line with the bow, and that this helps us raise and lower the bow in ways that support the necessary posture (i.e., alignment) for shooting.

something that caught my attention this evening was that Sensei stressed that the drawing of the bow shouldn't be seen as an act focused on the hands or arms, but instead through the elbows. he noted that the idea of drawing the bow is really about expanding into the bow (something he's stressed regularly), and that it helps to realize this by putting our intent into the expansion of the elbows (something that was new for tonight). this is a principle of the bagua elbow form, and caught me off-guard. i almost fell over when he said it.

i had to leave following the tea break, since i had to set things up for the next morning. as a result, i missed some additional practice time. but i did get enough that i look forward to next time.

Friday, September 04, 2009

day 241: elbowed by disruption

  • bu ji
  • slowing things down
  • jing (ting, hwa, na, fa)
  • bi chi
  • bagua elbow form
it was brutally hot this weekend, with air quality made worse by the forest fire in La Canada-Pasadena-Altadena. temperatures were over 100 degrees F, and the smell of smoke and ash was everywhere. as a result, it made for a slightly toned-down class.

we warmed up with the basics, working our way through the moving drills. we also took some time to organize things, with Ching-Chieh insisting we come up with English names for each drill to make them easier to remember. going through this process, we figured out that there were a total of 20 drills, with 8 pairs of single and double moving drills. at some point Ching-Chieh is going to type all this up, so i figure we'll get a finalized list then--although my suspicion is that there are already pre-existing names for each drill in Mandarin, but it's just that nobody knows them.

bagua elbow form

the majority of class time today was actually spent working on principles which, while within some of the techniques of the elbow form, are actually applicable across TCMA--or even martial arts in general. we went a little bit further into the elbow form itself, but Sifu stopped and showed us 3 major principles: jao ji jo ji bu ji (sp?), slowing things down, and bi chi.

regarding jao ji jo ji bu ji...this is actually a phrase, and i think i have an error in the English transliteration of the Mandarin. but the figurative translation is to avoid using force and to use light touch. Sifu said this is a common phrase in martial arts, but one that can be expressed physically in various ways. one is the perspective often related to the idea associated with tai chi (i.e., redirecting an incoming force vector using only enough of your own force to do so).

today, however, Sifu said he wanted us to see a different perspective, and demonstrated by engaging me in a mock sparring, but instead of attacking aggressively with force so that each movement was an attempted strike, he mixed up the attack with a series of light moves and hard moves, where it was not clear if any of the movements were attempted strikes.

Sifu noted the idea with this approach is that you are trying to disrupt the opponent--disrupt their focus, their comfort level and rhythm, their center, their placement of force and mass, and their chi. he said that if you tried to make each movement a strike, it makes every action obvious, making it easy for the opponent to match. if you instead mix things up, you will disrupt them enough that they become confused, and lose track of what you are doing, and so become vulnerable to manipulation that opens their gates and frustrates their abilities to respond when you do decide to attack.

this brings up the concept of slowing things down. Sifu observed this does not mean literally (i.e., it doesn't mean that you slow down). Sifu said this means that you slow the other opponent down. typically, the assumption is made that in a fight you have to try to be faster than the other opponent. Sifu argued that this is a mistake, because it leads you into the eternal struggle to be more (i.e., faster, stronger, etc.) than your opponent, which is not what martial arts is about. if anything, martial arts is about knowing how to defeat an opponent who is more than you (i.e., faster, stronger, etc.).

Sifu explained that you don't need to be faster than the opponent. instead, you can make the opponent be slower than you. there are a number of ways to do this--and one of them is by disrupting the opponent. by disrupting them, you induce hesitation into their actions, causing enough delay in reactions that you can launch attacks.

as a reminder, Sifu said that this goes back to the ideas of jing (ting jing, hwa jing, na jing, fa jing). here, the idea of disrupting the opponent plays into ting jing. Sifu argued that this is one of the reasons why ting jing is the most prevalent form of jing, because without it you can't proceed to the other jings--at least, you can't proceed with any assurance of success. ting jing is crucial to setting up the opponent, and hence to enabling the ease via which you proceed to hwa, na, or fa jing.

the last principle we touched on today was bi chi (sp?). again, i think have an error in spelling. Sifu demonstrated this using one technique in the elbow form which looks suspiciously like "pull-down" in tai chi. Sifu showed that the technique fails against an opponent who is ready for it and recognizes what you are trying to do. however, by initiating the technique with an initial movement that attacks another part of the opponent (today, Sifu preceded the pull-down w a simulated knee to the groin), the technique becomes dramatically effective (even against someone who is expecting it).

Sifu explained this is an example of bi chi. that you attack--or at least lead the opponent to believe that you are attacking--another part of their body, so that it distracts them and forces them to change their focus away from your actual intended target. Sifu noted that the initial diversion has to be convincing, and that to be so you actually have to have the intent in your mind to be attacking the diversionary target (i.e., in order for the opponent to believe you are attacking their groin, you have to believe that you are attacking their groin, even though you know that this is a diversion from your plan to pull down).

this is, in essence, another way of disrupting the opponent, which i guess was the theme for class today. Sifu and Phunsak then had a discussion of other ways of disrupting the opponent, with techniques that involved little effort--one was most impressive: simply placing your hand on top of a person's skull, and somehow causing them to collapse downward. this can be done with little pressure, but to work requires that you place the hand in a motion that serves to disrupt the opponent's stability and center, meaning that it works not because it exerts force that overpowers the opponent, but because it uses little force that structurally destabilizes the opponent.

we spent the rest of class time trying to learn how to apply these principles. it's not easy. there's a certain feel to using them, and just what is required to disrupt an opponent varies according to the opponent--not all people are the same, and some people are less susceptible to certain forms of disruption than others. Sifu noted that this is why fighting is a challenge, especially against skilled fighters, because people can train themselves to be resistant to disruption, and so disruption is an art form requiring an understanding of how to manipulate the human body.

we got some of the principles to work some of the time on some of the people. which is a start, but also shows that we have a long way to go.

we finished on that note and went to lunch to contemplate.