Tuesday, April 21, 2009

day 225: sick

i didn't go to kung fu or kyudo this past weekend.

i was sick.

a bad case of the flu.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

day 224: reconstructing drills

  • gai bu
  • tuei bu
  • bei bu
  • chen tai chi
i'm so sick right now i can't even remember what we did last week. i have some vague recollections about last Sunday, but it's a fog.

chen tai chi

we spent the class dealing with chen tai chi. Sifu had us work on moving cloud hands--basically cloud hands, but integrating more footwork, and in pairs. he had us do drills in pairs, involving footwork, which were as follows:
  • bei bu (sic?)--i forgot the exact name, so this is probably wrong. basically, it's the shuffle step where the front foot slides first and the rear foot then slides second. we did this in pairs, with both partners facing each other, and then going backwards. the aim was to do cloud hands (using just the hand facing the opponent, and in contact with their hand) as we did the footwork.
  • tuei bu (sic?)--ditto, i can't remember the exact name. this is another shuffle step, except that the rear foot slides first and then the front foot slides out second, giving the impression of a slight skip. the partner drill was the same as the above.
  • gai bu (sic?)--ditto. this involved the front foot rising up first, and then hopping slightly w the rear foot before moving forward to land with both feet on the ground. the partner drill was the same as above.
we spent the class repeating these drills.

day 223: production set

  • rules
  • bagua
  • jian shu
this Saturday was a bit rushed and hurried. Sifu wanted to film material for a DVD on jian shu, and so the morning class had to be abbreviated to allow enough time to get over the UCLA, where we were shooting the video for the afternoon. of course, this meant that between driving to UCLA and dealing with carpooling issues and equipment logistics, i missed the kyudo class. i'll try again next week.


we spent the morning reviewing the fist form, and helping people who've missed lessons catch up. this lasted about 90 minutes, at which point Sifu said we needed to make the trip over to UCLA.

jian shu

i carpooled with Phunsak over to UCLA. we spent the afternoon shooting video illustrating the various jian shu rules. we finished around 5pm.

Phunsak ended up being able to make the kyudo class, since he had all the equipment with him in his car. as for me, i had to have him drop me off to pick up my car, and then i had to get back to apartment to get my equipment. with that, and the unexpected phone call from my mother (which, as you know, no one can ever ignore), i ended up being so late (about 90 minutes late) that i figured it was pointless to go to kyudo class and just shelve things for the day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

day 222: that funny tai chi and funny bagua and funny ground

  • reaction forces
  • drills
  • tai chi
  • bagua
this Saturday was a bit different. i arrived a little late (school material, errands, and traffic), and found class had started with a review of the bagua fist form. there were, however, 4 additional students (2 new, but also 2 who had apparently known Sifu from the 1980s and had now come back), and they were working with Sifu on tai chi. this made for a busy park, since we now had 3 different lessons going on (bagua, baji, and tai chi), with Sifu going back and forth between them.

after a little time reviewing the bagua fist form, Sifu called us over to join the tai chi lesson, saying that he was going over some concepts that were relevant to bagua, and that we needed to review even though we'd had them before.

tai chi

the new students were going through the basics of chen tai chi. they'd been doing the static random circles, but now were starting the moving random circles (i.e., with lower body work in terms of dynamic stances and footwork). Sifu said that the principles of receiving and redirecting force is not something done with just the arms or hands, but requires integration of those elements with the torso and lower body. in addition, he stressed that the ability to maintain stability, position, and project power also relied on the torso and lower body.

to start, he had us worth with random circles in dynamic stances, transitioning from horse stance to bow-and-arrow. as he has done before, he stressed the grinding action of the feet, emphasizing the need to feel that you are driving them into the ground. to stress the importance of this, he performed his common demonstration of controlling someone by holding their fist, contrasting what happens when you don't send your force into the ground (the technique fails) versus when you do (the technique works). he then asked us to spend some time to learn this, since it's a crucial component in tai chi.

i've had problems with this before. i've gotten frustrated with this. but this time, with Ching-Chieh's help, i finally figured it out--or at least, figured it out enough to know how to make it work.

the main problem for me is that this is a new motion, with new types of physics, and so hard to figure out (i.e., it's hard to learn something when you don't know what it is that you're trying to learn). it's also very difficult to describe to someone who's never experienced it before (like me). the analogy is how do you describe the color blue to someone who's blind?).

typically, i've heard terms like "sending chi into the ground" or "sending energy down" or "grounding" or "grinding" or "focusing down". Sifu has used the term "reaction force" with the ground. alternatively, we've also talked about "centering" or "driving". but again, the issue for me had been how to equate this to the proper body mechanics--mechanics which i've never employed before.

today, however, i got things to work. i noticed that with Ching-Chieh i could sense when her body was tensing, and i could sense in what direction her body was going when it tensed--this is contrast with Sifu, who provides absolutely no clue as to what he's doing (unless he tells you). i suspect this may be one distinction between a master versus an adept.

what i realized is that all the terms can be interpreted as pushing through your body into the ground. the qualifier, however, is that you maintain your structure, and activate your muscle forces without folding your body. in addition, you have to direct all the force vectors through your feet (and it helps to think of it through the balls of the feet and the toes) into the ground. for me, it's akin to pushing off the ground, except that you don't do it to the extent that you lift yourself off (i.e., maintain your feet flat). so your body is doing work, but it's just not in a way that causes movement (i.e., it's the difference being still while flexing your muscles versus moving because you're flexing your muscles).

this is a bit different for me as an athlete. typically, the idea of pushing against the ground involves some action, like jumping or running or doing squats or lunges. this is very different from the principle here, in that all those kinds of sports-related activities involve folding and flexing the body (i.e., in a squat you fold at the hips and knees to go down). this is necessary for those kinds of activities. but for tai chi, you don't want to fold, since from a physics perspective this creates systemic inefficiencies reducing the force vector aimed down into the ground--in tai chi, you want to maximize efficiency to maximize the force vector, and to do this you have to maintain body structure and allow the entire body to accumulate a force vector directly through your feet.

i can see now that all these terms are entirely accurate. it was just that i had to relate it to something i knew. and it very much is a "reaction force" in a Newtonian physics vernacular, since the result of driving the force vector into the ground is to create a corresponding force vector back up (remember, Newtonian physics: for every force there is an equal and opposite force). which is why in tai chi it's desireable, because if done properly it means that whatever force the opponent sends into you goes directly into the ground, which in turn means that you can literally use the opponent's force against him.

truth is, this isn't just tai chi. from what i can tell, this principle is true to any of the internal martial arts. for that matter, it's true for any martial art. which actually gave me quite some things to think about--i ended up spending the remainder of the class trying to apply this in review of the bagua fist form.


Sifu broke us off into groups again, with the bagua students resuming the fist form. this time, however, he continued with refining the applications, particularly the opening sequence of fists. before, we learned these as being any choice of punches or take-downs. today, Sifu said we needed to work on using them as entries. he demonstrated how they worked, and then showed us a drill to learn how to use them as entries.

essentially, the drill shows that the turning/twisting/reeling (chan szieh jin) motions of the fists can serve to sense and receive opponent's strikes (ting jing and hwa jing). following the form, which has the first fist being immediately followed by the next, the drill shows that the fists can then act to open holes enabling penetration of our own strikes (na jing and fa jing).

Sifu stressed that the following:
  • do not to punch or strike--this only creates yang-on-yang contact, which only results in us hurting ourselves. he said to stay soft as long as possible, and only apply force (or tense up) at the last moment (and even then, you can often apply the techniques successfully without having to apply force--see the points below).
  • when converting a fist into an entry, continue to use the turning/reeling/twisting motion to direct the opponent into an unstable position. you want to destabilize their structure and open their gate. this means sending them in a yin direction (down or back or up or turning away)
  • to use a fist as an entry, imagine the extended fist as a place-holder, and that you are moving into the place that it is holding. this allows you to enter the opponent's space, and thereby take their center, and once you've taken their center you have control (na jing)--but note that this can't happen until you've destabilized their structure.
we finished class with the drills. class went long today, with things not wrapping up until around 2:30. once we realized the time, we decided to take lunch.

i had to skip kyudo class today. i was swamped with things at school, particularly with grading, grade appeals, prepping lecture, and setting up classes for next quarter. and the fact that kung fu had gone long made it even more pressing for me to get to work. i'm hoping that i can get my head far enough above water that i can get back to kyudo next week (cross my fingers).

Friday, April 03, 2009

day 221: a sword day

  • basics
  • jian shu
this was an abbreviated Sunday, since Sifu wanted to spend the afternoon shooting video and pictures of jian shu lessons at UCLA (with the video and pictures forming the core of a book and lesson plan for the jian shu class at Cal State Long Beach). i didn't have time to go (see the previous post), and so had to make do with the morning session.

jian shu

the morning session was devoted to jian shu basics. we have 2 new students, both interested in learning jian shu for the Las Vegas tournament. Sifu had us run through the 5 basic defensive manuevres:
  • pi
  • kan
  • mo
  • hui
  • lo
i've covered these before in previous posts, so won't go into them here. we went through them stationary, and then did a few moves with some basic footwork. this was something i was not aware of--i know that jian techniques always involve movement, and that there was footwork as demonstrated by the jian forms, but i didn't know that there was formal footwork that was used to make combinations with the 5 basic hand techniques.

that was all we had time for this morning. Sifu said next time we'd spend more time integrating the basic movements with more footwork.

day 220: finishing the fist form

  • wutan
  • bagua fist form
short post this week. there was no kyudo class, since this weekend was the all-California godou renshou (where all the California kyudo-ryu's are invited to attend a weekend-long shoot). i was unfortunately swamped with work, trying to catch up with grading, student appointments, and classes (never mind meetings) and so could not take the additional time to attend. at best i could only fit in the Saturday morning.

bagua fist form

we finished the bagua fist form this past Saturday. the ending is eerily similar to the ending of the bagua leg form, and very much a reminder of the form's shaolin influences. we didn't record the form this weekend, since Phunsak wanted to take a week and practice it.

in addition, Sifu stopped class to make an announcement. apparently, the memorial to Liu Yun Qiao in the Wutan organization headquarters in Taiwan has taken on a somber tone, since Madame Qiao (his widow) just recently passed way. this makes the memorial also a funeral. Sifu said we'd be taking a collection of donations to send to the Wutan headquarters on behalf of Wutan Los Angeles.

this constituted the class today, and we spent the bulk of time practicing the form and reviewing several sticking points.