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.