Wednesday, July 29, 2009

day 234: elbow drills and a brush with xiao kai men

  • movement
  • weight
  • bagua elbow basics
  • xia kai men
  • kyudo
we spent a little time on applications this past Saturday, reviewing elements of xiao kai men as well as the elbow basics.

bagua elbow basics

we continued with the moving elbow basics. Sifu asked Eric to lead this time, since Phunsak was out. before we began, Ari (who is with us for the month) asked that we go through all the standing elbow basics before starting the moving elbow basics.

we obliged and did a short review of the standing basics--i say standing, but there are so many that it ends up taking about an hour to cover them all. i did a little better remembering them this time, although there are still a few that i need some help recalling.

we went a little further with the moving basics, although we had some confusion with a few of the drills. Eric and Art remember different versions of the moving basics, and so we ended up taking a little time trying to sort the confusion, particularly in terms of figuring out whether there was a memory issue (i.e., people forgetting the drills) or just simply a disagreement (i.e., people knowing really knowing different versions).

xiao kai men

at some point in the discussions, Eric and Art ended up asking Sifu some questions about the correct forms of some of the moving elbow drills. it was at this time that we got switched into xiao kai men applications.

we have several new students learning bagua (Shin, Martin, Jerry), and Sifu has begun taking them through xiao kai men. after answering Eric's and Art's questions about the moving elbow drills, Sifu ended up using us for demonstration dummies for xiao kai men. in particular, he focused on black bear probes with its paw, giving a description of the technique and then going through several variations in applications.

this turned out to be good. originally, i thought i'd figured this technique out some time ago, but today it turned out i still didn't really have a clue. the application i'd learned works, but only in certain situations--situations which Sifu said were unrealistic. he said it was better to concentrate on the physics of the technique, and that this makes it much more flexible in terms of usage, to the extent that it becomes applicable in a large range of realistic situations.

Sifu pointed out a couple of things today crucial to making the technique work properly:
  • do not focus on the front arm. the temptation is to try to exert force through the front arm. but this is a structural technique that requires the upper body maintain a structure to transmit the biomechanics from the lower body. exerting force through the front arm tends to disengage the arm from the rest of the body, breaking the structure and impeding the transmission of the force vectors through the body from the ground.
  • do not push forward or pull back. the temptation is to try to do either one. this may work against weaker opponents, but not against stronger ones. in addition, it acts to disrupt your center of gravity, giving a skilled opponent something to exploit.
  • do not push down with the arms. there is also a temptation to push down. this is problematic for the same reasons above.
  • do not collapse. the technique involves sinking. the tendency is to collapse, by letting the entire body go limp, breaking the structure and losing the transmission of physics.
  • aim to use the rear leg (the leg away from the opponent), by directing your weight into it so that it pushes against the ground. this is somewhat similar to the trick Sifu had shown us before about sending a force vector into the ground--except with the trick Sifu uses a wrist lock, while here he used the same idea with regards to the technique. to a degree, the rear leg does bend, and thereby lowers you. but it does so in a way that still maintains the structure of the body, so that whatever force vector you are driving into the ground is returned (Newton's laws of physics) and sent through the body into the opponent (laws of statics and dynamics).
w Sifu's help, i managed to get the technique to work better than i had before, enough that i could apply it against Martin, who is about 100 pounds heavier than me. and i could get the technique to work even if he was resisting. the issue, however, was consistency, since there were times i could get it to work and other times when the results were marginal. the trick is to feel out the opponent and sense the location of the centers of gravity (yours and your opponent), so that you know just how to place your legs to send the force vector in a way that sends the opponent down and off-balance (as opposed to down but still balanced, or not down at all, either of which allows the opponent to push back). still, i consider this progress, and something that i want to work on.


kyudo this evening was a little shortened. i had a bike ride Sunday morning, and so i decided to leave at the kyudo tea break to prep my equipment for the ride. still, i managed to get a good session in, since the turnout for class was low (only 7 people, including Sensei) due to the South Carolina seminar (many people had skipped the class to fly out to the seminar). i experimented a little this evening, trying a bow w a lighter draw weight at the suggestion of Yukari, and i found it dramatically easier to shoot. Sensei, however, hinted that he'd wanted me to use a heavier draw weight, since it would force me to be more aware of the defects in my form. mindful of that, i put in time to focus on those issues--which i definitely have.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

day 233: judge training and more chen pao quan

  • eyes
  • calls
  • jian shu tournament judging
  • chen pao quan
this Sunday was focused primarily on preparing for the tournament, with time spent on running through mock jian shu tournament rounds to practice making calls and reviewing rules. we took a little time to go a little bit further into the chen pao quan form.

jian shu tournament judging

this wasn't really a lesson per se--it was a lesson for the people preparing to compete in the jian shu tournament (Gerald and Martin) as well as a lesson for people who were planning on being fill-in judges (Jo-san and Shin)--but for most of us it was a chance to refamiliarize our eyes with the pace of calls and also to practice making those calls.

since Alex showed up today, we were able to run through a full simulation of a round. we also managed to discuss some scenarios in terms of rules and outcomes. i think we're getting close to finalized, with the next step to be just arranging travel to and from the tournament.

chen pao quan

near the end of class today Phunsak showed me and Jo-san some more of the chen pao quan form. we also took a little time to review some of the applications. i think i'm starting to get better at this, since some of what we talked about were techniques that i had suspected were in the movements--although, i have a strong suspicion that there are multiple techniques in each of the movements, and that they can hence be translated in different ways. we didn't go too far, since Jo-san and i were concerned about trying to remember the form.

since it was getting to be rather hot, we wrapped up class a little after noon and went to lunch to cool off.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

day 232: elbows and arrows

  • elbows
  • review
  • expansion v pulling
  • following the arrow
  • bagua elbow basics
  • kyudo
today was rather warm, and made for a rather strenuous day. we had a visitor today: Aurelius, who used to be a regular student with Sifu before going to teach English in Taiwan. he's apparently returned for a month, and so will be attending class during this time.

i took a little time during class this saturday to review a little bit of chang quan. i'd been working on pao quan and chao quan over the week, since i was a little concerned about my memory of both and had found the concerns justified. i managed to fit in some cursory work on both during breaks of the bagua elbow basics, but i think i'll have to continue on them a little bit more on my own.

bagua elbow basics

we did a pretty straightforward review of the bagua elbow basics. Sifu asked Eric to lead us through the moving elbow basics. however, a fair number of people today had missed the prior classes, and so we went back and reviewed all the standing basics before continuing to work on the moving ones.

the moving basics are logical extensions of the standing ones--the upper body movements are largely the same, but are integrated with the act of stepping. for today, we did the moving basics on a line, although i strongly suspect that they will eventually follow a circle.


kyudo today was a continuation from last week--at least on a personal level. i just wanted to build upon what i'd done last week in terms of being able to get the arrow to the target. to some degree, i think this was successful.

since everyone had already packed and shipped their equipment for the seminar in South Carolina, we worked with dojo equipment tonight, and shared bows, arrows, and makiwara. this worked out well, even though we had a higher-than-expected turnout, since it allowed more people to have more opportunities to practice shooting. i got most of my arrows out to the makiwara. i had a few mis-steps, but i think that i know what caused the problems, and so i think i can fix them with some work.

i'm starting to think that kyudo is really more about mental and spiritual development than it is physical. the physical aspect is a very basic form of 8 steps that is repeated over and over again. while subtle and complex, it is consistent, and so is not so much about learning the form but more about recognizing how to adjust the body to the form--and this is where the real challenge is, since adjusting the body requires a certain mental awareness and spiritual resolve.

and this is not a trivial thing. because the arrow is a blatantly unforgiving indicator of your ability (or inability) to follow the form. any failure, no matter how minute, is exaggerated and made glaringly obvious by the trajectory of the arrow. as the arrow goes, your body goes. and because body language is a product of your mind and spirit, as the arrow goes, your self goes. no matter how much you try to hide it, no matter how much you think you've disguised it, the arrow. does. not. lie.

i think this relates to the Buddhist use of the term "mindfulness", in that to properly follow a path (hopefully the right path), you must be attentive and committed to the must be aware of yourself and it, and must be resolved to make of both one.

Sensei had hinted at this during our conversation from a 2 weeks ago. i forgot to mention last post, but i'll say here, that before last weekend's return to kyudo i had scheduled a meeting with Sensei. the meeting had nothing to do with kyudo, but everything to do about spiritual matters. i've had a crisis of faith over the past few months, and i've sought various perspectives from various faiths. since Sensei is a zen monk, i figured he'd be as good a source as any regarding Buddhist perspective on my ruminations. our talk was quite interesting and very helpful, and while it really only served to verify some of the truths that i'd discovered on my own--Sensei had even pointed that this is what Zen, Buddhism, and religion in general often really only do--i found it comforting and enlightening.

one of the things we'd discussed then was mindfulness. he noted it again today in passing while observing my form. he added the following:
  • expansion v pulling--the question is not just to be mindful, but to be mindful of what? Sensei said that i was concentrating on pulling, which is completely wrong, even though visually that is what most people often see. he said that pulling leads to instability, and instability leads to all sorts of problems (in my case, a shaky bow, leading to a chaotic arrow, accompanied by random strikes at the target and self-infliction of wounds from all the devices involved). he noted that this is a metaphor for life. the better way, he continued, was to just expand outward, by beginning from the center. at this point, i realized he was continuing our conversation from the past weeks, and that he meant expansion not just the center of the body, but the center of your being, so that your mental and spiritual self projects out, leading the body to project out, in a way that is stable and (more importantly) mindful of the path to the target (and i suppose this is what he meant when he described shooting as an act of uniting everything into one: yourself, the bow, the arrow, the target, it's all the same thing).
  • following the arrow--to avoid pulling with the string hand, he said it helps to think about pushing with the bow hand. to do the latter, it's best to just imagine that your bow hand is following the arrow towards the target, so that the arrow is guiding your body, as opposed to the common (mis)perception of your body guiding the arrow. while it's actually not about pushing or pulling, Sensei said that thinking about following the arrow can help correct the tendency to pull, and thus even the body out so that it ends up being balanced between the 2, making it easier to do the 1 thing you're really supposed to be doing, which is expanding.
we finished around 10. i ended up getting a group of people to go to dinner with me. i found out a fair number of us had skipped dinner and we were all hungry. i managed to convince a few to go to Twohey's, which is a diner in San Marino famous for being a historical landmark and is currently featuring 66 cent ice cream floats (that's right, 66 cents, but only through this July). it was a good night.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

day 231: a return to kyudo

  • shooting
  • kyudo
there was no formal kung fu class this week, since sifu was in Canada to give a seminar. but i went to the park anyway, and joined up with a few other students for practice. we spent a few hours reviewing all the bagua forms we've done to date, with the exception of xiao kai men: 64 palms (sides A & B), the leg form, forest palm, and the fist form. this was good, since it turns out we'd forgotten a few elements and needed to take some time to sort things out. luckily, kieun had all my Youtube videos on his iPhone, and so we had immediate real-time adjudication to resolve our memory issues.


this evening was my 1st time back to kyudo in quite a few months (at first, i thought it was 3, but now i think it's more like 4). i had quite a bit of trepidation, since 1) i'd been struggling just to get the bow and arrow into shooting position the last time i'd attended, 2) i hadn't practiced at all during the time i was away, and 3) i hadn't shot that many times to begin with during the months i had been in class.

what i found, however, was much better than i had any right to hope for...i struggled this evening with kisa (although, that was expected, and i know it's something i'll always need to work on), but everything else went dramatically better than any of the other times i've tried to shoot--the arrow didn't fall off the string, and i actually managed to shoot every arrow that i knocked. granted, i had form issues, and some breathing issues, but this evening went better than any of the previous times. i was, to be quite honest, shocked.

i suspect that a good part of the situation was that i came in with a different mental state and a different philosophical approach tonight.

i had gone on break because of some personal issues, issues which i know had been affecting my mental health, and i had told sensei before i had gone on break that i believed a lot of my problems in kyudo were related to my mental state. at that time, i told him that i was having a physical inability to open up and that my body was contracting inward because i thought my mind was contracting inward, as if i were trying to tighten up to hold onto something. this translated into poor posture, poor holding of the bow, poor execution of the form, and poor release. all together, it summed to an inability to shoot the bow and arrow.

since those issues have been resolved (at least well enough to move on), i felt that i had come tonight with a much lighter heart, and was no longer holding on to whatever baggage i had been holding onto before. i think this translated into a very different physical expression, with better posture, better holding of the bow, better execution of the form, and a better release. of course, this doesn't mean perfect, but certainly an improvement compared to what i'd been before the hiatus.

i also came with a different philosophy tonight. before the break, i'd been incredibly anxious over my difficulties with kyudo, and had taken to obsessing over details and nuances, with a goal of trying to set everything into a logical, distinct series of steps. i think this had let me to over-analyze and over-think what i was doing, with the effect that it was actually frustrating my execution of the form--sort of akin to a golfer taking a swing: you can break the swing down into its constituent components, but in order to swing well you eventually have to be able to swing without thinking about any of them. in other words: you have to see the forest for the trees.

this time, i'd decided that i was going to stop thinking about details and steps and components and form, but instead just do it--shoot the arrow. i recalled that last week when i had discussed my situation with sensei i had taken to describing my problem as like a fire, that would alight spontaneously to burn me, and that it did so because i had refused to let the problem go. during our conversation, i had said that i knew the solution was to let the problem go; at that time i had used the words: to let the waters run. tonight, that was what i had decided to do: let the waters run.

i don't know if i was entirely successful. but i do know that the results were better than before. and i do know that tonight, for perhaps the first time in my lessons in kyudo, i actually understood the concept of shooting without thinking about shooting--about doing the act of kyudo without actually thinking about the act of kyudo, to the extent that i could think not of the bow or the arrow but of just my mind and the target...not completely. but i could see it. at least a part of it.

which is a whole lot more than i saw before.

this was a positive night. i hope to find more.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

day 230: preparing for tournament and chen pao quan

  • judging
  • trial jian shu rounds
  • chen pao quan
the plan today was to start training judges for the jian shu competition at the Las Vegas tournament. sifu decided to also provide some additional teaching, with bagua basics for some of the new students and the very start of the chen pao quan form for me and Jo-san.

trial jian shu rounds

this was an imperative, since it is possible we are going to have a shortage of judges at the tournament. sifu wanted Shen, a new student and a current post-doc at UCLA, to get trained as a judge. we reviewed the rules with her, and then staged a mock jian shu match using actual tournament rules so she could see how the competition is run. i acted as the center judge, and everyone else was either competing or serving as line judges.

chen pao quan

sifu asked phunsak to start teaching the chen pao quan form to me and Jo-san. he's talked about chen tai chi and the position of the pao quan form in the curriculum before, so i won't go into here. he's also discussed the distinction between the chang quan pao quan and chen tai chi pao quan, which i've presented in prior posts, so i won't go into detail about it here either.

phunsak showed us the initial movements in the form, and we spent the remainder of class trying to get it down. it's a bit challenging, since there's some timing issues that are important to the techniques.

sifu also noted that the applications in pao quan have some slightly different approaches than the other tai chi forms. in the other chen forms, the movements tend to relate to throws and a good portion of the principles deal with proper structure. in pao quan, however, the movements tend to relate to strikes, with more principles dealing with power projection (i should note here that sifu has said pao quan exhibits a number of different forms of power projection: 1) spiralling/silk reeling energy, 2) explosive energy, 3) energy like a bow-and-arrow, and 4) energy like a catapult). in addition, the engagement distances are different, with the other chen forms involving closer ranges with the opponent (to deploy the throws), while pao quan uses greater ranges (to deploy strikes). furthermore, the pacing is different, with pao quan involving much greater use of broken rhythm. as a result, sifu said his opinion is that pao quan is an aspect of chen tai chi far more revelant to real fighting than the rest.

we finished with that, and took a long lunch.

day 229: move-in

  • elbow basics while moving
  • bagua elbow basics
this is a bit of a short post. we had a slightly abbreviated class, since the morning was spent helping sifu move into a house--yes, that's right moving.

sifu decided some time ago that he wasn't quite ready to retire, and certainly not enough to warrant finalizing his original plan to reside in Hawaii. he and his wife are returning to Southern California, although my understanding is that they're keeping the property in Hawaii.

a fair number of his students helped, with everyone bringing whatever larger vehicles they could find, making the move a fairly quick process of around 2-3 hours.

we wrapped up in time to have about 2 hours at the park. i ended up spending the time reviewing the bagua elbow basics--which is good, since my vacation essentially meant that i'd missed 3 weekends of classes on these, and i needed the practice. sifu also introduced to the moving basics (apparently, what we've done are only the elbow movements in a stationary stance, and today we learned to do them while moving along a line).

we finished around 1pm. there was no kyudo today, since it was July 4.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

day 228 (sort of)

well, as i said on my other blog, i've been on a bit of a break and a vacation.  it was not entirely voluntary, but it was necessary.  i won't go into detail, but what info i'm willing to give i've posted at my Ironman blog:

i'm resuming the postings regarding my martial arts lessons here, although i have to be honest and point out that things have been very lackluster--partially because my heart was not in it (the lessons), and partly because i actually didn't go to class for awhile.  but now that things seem to be resolving themselves, i'll be trying to get back on a regular schedule here.

this past weekend was my 1st day back, and i made trips to both kung fu and kyudo.  Saturday was spent reviewing the elbow basics for bagua in prelude to the elbow form (they'd finished all of them while i'd been away, but the repetition was good for everyone, since it seems some people had already forgotten some of the basics).  the evening was a short visit to kyudo--i went more for the purpose of some spiritual guidance with Sensei, who is a Zen priest, and didn't stay to actually shoot.

my plan is to ease back into things, and gradually pick up at the pace i was at before.  bear with me, and i hope to provide some useful posts soon.