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.