Saturday, October 02, 2010

day 292: housekeeping

  • footwork hsing-yi
  • versions of hsing-yi
  • hsing-yi v tai chi v bagua
  • 5 lines
  • 5 elements
  • linking form
  • totou renshu
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
okay, so this is very late. things have been really busy as of late and i lost track of things. just to show how busy things are, i missed several saturday classes due to other priorities with respect to work. i'm posting this to fill in the 1 Saturday i made, but i'm also posting as a matter of housekeeping to record the material that i forgot to put into previous posts.


i'll run through everything that i forgot to put into previous posts. i'll begin with footwork. hsing-yi, just like other martial arts, has specific footwork that is emphasized within the style. the hsing-yi footwork is pretty familiar to anyone who's learned TCMA, although it's somewhat surprising in intricacy considering the stereotype of it being simple. Sifu listed out the 6 types of hsing-yi footwork as follows:
  • dragging (to bu)--the rear foot drags along the ground following each step forward by the front foot
  • step-through/scissor (jian bu)--this is a shift, with the rear foot stepping forward to become the front foot
  • triangle (san jiao bu)--this is the same as the triangle step in mantis, with the steps moving at an angle relative to the opponent
  • turn/circle (ko/bai bu)--this is the turning, with a pivot foot that is pointed in the direction of the turn
  • monkey/springing (ba bu)--this is a light spring step
  • chicken (shin bu)--somewhat similar to the dragging, except that the front foot is heavy and the rear foot is light
Sifu noted that the 5 lines involves all of these, so that as you go through the 5 lines you end up doing all 6 types of footwork.

next, Sifu some time ago discussed the various types of hsing-yi. there are 3 well-known types, each of which arose in a different region of China and has features distinct from the other 2 (somebody will have to correct me on this, since we went through this pretty quickly and my notes were rushed):
  • shanxi--this is the original, and arose sometime during the Qing dynasty. the curriculum is based on 12 animals, but no elements. here, hsing-yi was tied to the concepts of "heart intent"
  • henan--this is the islamic hsing-yi, and is sometimes called hsing-yi liu he. it has a curriculum based on 10 animals, but no elements. the term hsing-yi liu he connected "heart intent" to "body/limbs"
  • hebei--this introduced 5 element theory into the curriculum, and was associated with hsing-yi quan, which brings the concepts of "heart intent body fist"
Sifu followed this with some more comments about what distinguishes hsing-yi from tai chi or bagua. the comparison he gave is as follows:
  • hsing-yi: the visual metaphor is of catching a tiger, and receives with strong contact. offensively, the intent is akin to chopping a door (i.e., going straight through the opponent's gate despite its defenses)
  • tai chi: the visual metaphor is to catch a fish, and so receives with light contact. offensively, the intent is like using a key (i.e., you use techniques to open an opponent's defenses and penetrate his opponent's gate, just like a key opens a door)
  • bagua: the visual metaphor is like pushing a grinding stone (like the ones donkeys pushed to grind flour), and so receives with no contact but instead receives by moving your own body. offensively, the intent is to go through a window (i.e., you work yourself into a position where you can find an opening in the opponent's defenses and enter their gate)
i also finally got the names and the description of the power issuing and movement for the 5 lines:
  • line 1: pi quan (splitting, like an axe)
  • line 2: er quan (twisting, chan zieh jin--i.e. silk reeling, like a drill)
  • line 3: bung quan (smashing, like an arrow)
  • line 4: pao quan (pounding, like an explosion)
  • line 5: heng quan (crossing, like in horizontal motion)
we've also discussed these in relation to 5-element theory, with the lines following the creation cycle of the 5 elements, where each element helps denote the kind of power issuing/movement that should appear in each line:
  • line 1: metal
  • line 2: water
  • line 3: wood
  • line 4: fire
  • line 5: earth
Sifu noted that 5-element theory also works to show the defenses to each one. each element can be defeated by another element, and that this indicates what types of power issuing/movement can defeat another. Sifu says that you can see this by following the destruction cycle of the 5 elements, so that each element in the destruction cycle acts to defeat each corresponding element in the creation cycle.

we also finished 1 iteration of the linking form, going through all 15 postures. it's a relatively short form, and can be done very quickly. Sifu noted, however, that there are additional layers to the form, so that while it superficially appears short and simple it actually has quite a bit of complexity. he said we'd work on this over the next few weeks.


kyudo was tough this evening. i'd corrected some areas that had been giving me problems in the previous weeks, but i've found that with kyudo a change in 1 area produces a ripple of changes in others, necessitating a re-calibration of everything every time you make an adjustment with 1 part. this evening i got so frustrated that i went back to the air form (totou renshu) to just get a sense of the form back.

i told Sensei that what made this frustrating was that a few months i could not get the arrow to release from the strong, and now the arrow was releasing on its own before i can even reach full draw. Sensei noted my frustration, and said that he'd gone through similar periods himself in the past. he advised me that i was doing the right thing practicing totou renshu, and that i should probably do it more on my own during the weeks between classes, since it should help correct some of the mechanical problems he saw in my draw.

Friday, September 17, 2010

day 291: rusty

  • lian huan/linking
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this was the first weekend back since the Las Vegas tournament, and so the first real day back to the regular schedule. as to be expected, there was all kinds of rust, and things didn't go so smoothly. but i wasn't the only one, since a lot of other people seem to have the same issues. this made for a slow day.


we spent the first half of class reviewing the 5 lines, going through the progression of 8 criteria for each line. i found that i'd forgotten some of them, and had to remind myself what they were. i ended up referring to my notes to jog my memory. it was a bit of a struggle, and it looks like a good number of other people also had some problems as well, making for a glacial pace.

the second half of class was spent working on the the linking form (lian huan). Sifu said we'd start it today, and finish it up fairly quickly--apparently, in hsing-yi, the linking form is quite short compared to other styles. having said that, Sifu said that learning the form is fast, but mastering a lot of its points takes a bit longer, and that we'd be spending more time on this. for today, however, Sifu took us through 1/2 the form.


i fully expected kyudo to be excruciating tonight, and it proved to be just that. it wasn't that i'd forgotten anything (i actually managed to remember everything about where i was). it was more about what i hadn't known to begin with--there was a period of time when i could not get the arrow to release from the bow, but then i started to have the opposite problem of the arrow releasing before i can even draw the bow, and i can't figure what happened in either case.

this evening was a trial-and-error of trying to figure out what was happening. thing is, one of the things i do know about kyudo is that any adjustment in 1 part of the form causes a ripple effect in adjustments in other parts of the form, with your body making changes to accomplish the draw, with the changes occurring whether you want them to or not. one of the other things i know about kyudo is that minute changes tend to become magnified, and so little adjustments that propagate through the rest of the body end up producing a cascade in error.

things got bad enough that i went back to basics and started working again with an elastic band, just so i could concentrate on the form and find out what was happening. Sensei has told me what is happening, but the problem for me is that i can't correlate sensory signals to what is wrong or (for that matter) what is right. a lot of it is because this involves alien movements that my body is not familiar with, so there is no reference point for my mind to connect to in terms of recognizing good versus bad, with the result being that my body tends to all sorts of things with negative consequences.

this is going to take a while to figure out.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

day 290: back again and Las Vegas tournament

well, i'm back posting again. i was out of the country for an extended period of time, and so missed a good portion of classes for both kung fu and kyudo. this is the reason why nothing's been posted here for so long.

i came back a little more than a week ago, but just in time to go to the Las Vegas tournament to help referee 2 events. as a result, there was no kung fu class and i missed the kyudo class. as a result, this post only deals with the tournament.

the tournament this year was much smaller than before, i suspect because 1) the economic recession has made it very difficult for people to travel, and 2) it was Labor Day weekend and many people had made holiday plans. but the turnout was still sufficient to maintain activities across 2 days, and sufficient to host additional events. for me, this meant i was a referee for not only jian shu, but a new experimental competition called "extreme push hands".

the jian shu was pretty straightforward, so i don't have much reason to discuss it here. i will say that the quality of competition has gotten much better, and that competitors have gotten to the point that they are getting better at applying jian shu techniques in the context of full-speed full-contact sword fighting--something we didn't see before, and something that Sifu has always said is what we want to see.

i'll devote more of my comments to extreme push hands. i should note that extreme push hands is essentially push hands liberated, with competitors allowed to move their feet and to engage techniques (throws, but no strikes or joint locks). the idea is to return to push hands to its historical position as a stage in the training progression leading towards full-contact fighting. this is largely experimental, since something like this has not been done regularly as a dedicated event in the U.S., and the rules are still being worked out. as a result, things were new and unfamiliar for both the judges and the competitors.

having said this, i still found it fascinating to watch, since it revealed a lot about the concepts within TCMA and just how important they are. i will list my observations about what i saw regarding the concepts as follows:

ting jing

i think all the competitors were trying to apply ting jing. i can see that ting jing as "listening" is analogous to navy submarine sonar--there, they"listen", but they have 2 DIFFERENT ways to listen:

"active" listening (where you send out energy and then listen to thereflection back) and "passive" listening (where you simply take inwhatever information you receive). active listening has benefits in that you can quickly contact the enemy, but the problem is that it instantly reveals your position and intent to the enemy. passive listening has benefits in that you do not reveal your position orintent, but has a problem in that it requires much more skill and training to develop--and it's easy to fool yourself. from what i can tell, it is possible to use active listening as a way of misdirecting or fooling the enemy (e.g., you send a "ping" that reveals a location and intent different from your actual ones).

also, i noticed that when competitors did try to "passive" listen, some took it literally and stopped moving, and promptly got punished. the better competitors still maintained movement, while still listening (i.e., you can passively listen while still moving yourself to avoid the enemy, much as a submarine passively listens while maneuvering around an enemy submarine).

hwa jing/na jing/fa jing

i'll skip the fa jing, since the event was more about the other jings. while all the competitors tried to receive, neutralize, redirect, and control, i think they didn't do so in recognition of the full context of the match. in contrast, the better competitors had a much more instinctive understanding of the jings within the entire frame of 2 competitors trying to find hwa and na. in essence, it is important to understand the relationship of the moving bodies--that is, to sense (ting!) the center(s) (i.e., your center, the opponent's center, the relationship between the 2, and the nature of systemic center). this means hwa jing and na jing are not so much about receiving, neutralizing, redirecting, or controlling the enemy, but about receiving, neutralizing, redirecting, controlling thecenter(s). and once you have the center, everything becomes elementary.

i think this explains why the better competitors expended so little energy--the mind was doing all the work, but the body was simply working with the opponent's energy and letting it go by.


most competitors consistently started off with a bullfight scenario, and only switched when they found themselves about to lose or when tired. the winners, in contrast, were almost never in the bullfight, but instead constantly disengaging and engaging.

what contributed to this was that the other competitors were "active" listening, which tended to draw them into a bull fight scenario (i.e.,they'd reveal their position, instantly find themselves on defense,but unaware of the center, and so automatically respond with a struggle to regain their composure against the only thing they could see--the body in front of them). what also contributed was that i suspect most competitors thought the only way to listen was to be in physical contact and in close contact.

the winners, in contrast, because they were mixing "active" & "passive"listening, were devoting much more time and resources to movement and positioning, thereby avoiding bull fight scenarios. as a result, they constantly mixed up disengage/engage, adding to the misdirection and confusion in the opponents.


it really got me that everyone other than the winners wer expending a lot of energy. i think this happened not because the winners were more physically fit, but because the winners knew what they were doing and everyone else was simply reacting (and constantly being on the reaction side of an encounter is always more draining than being the proactive one). because the winners knew what they were doing, they were much more efficient with movements, and everything they did had a purpose contributing to the goal of winning.

which goes to the point: the mind is doing all the work, and the body is simply using the opponent's energy. the mind does the listening, the mind tracks the center(s), the mind handles hwa jing and na jing. the body was simply staying out of the enemy's way, misdirecting them, and then letting them go by. it also means that you don't have to really have an arsenal of memorized techniques,but instead all you have to do is control the center(s) and direct the opponent past you.

like i said, very interesting stuff. it gave me some things to think about, and to try and incorporate into my own development. i'll have to give it some attention when i practice.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

day 289: practice and problem-solving

  • right hand release
  • kyudo
this past Saturday was more kyudo-focused. Sifu was on a trip to give a seminar in Canada, and so kung fu was just an informal meeting for anyone who wanted to get some practice in. it was rather warm, so it made for a tiring afternoon. i won't go into details, since we largely just went through various permutations of the lines following what Sifu had told us last week.


kyudo this night was at Sensei's house, where he hosted an all-day retreat for senior students. i showed up at 5pm, since that was the time he'd set for the class as a whole. this evening was a more relaxed environment, with the focus being refinement and work on our technique.

this was actually exactly what i needed, since i seriously have to sort out the ongoing issues with my release. Sensei worked with me on this, helping recognize a number of things:
  • the wrist of the release hand, when the form is done properly, naturally follows a rotation as the bow is raised and then drawn. the issue is to make sure that the wrist follows the action of the bow, and doesn't lead it. i seem to be trying to anticipate things, and so am doing the opposite and making my wrist lead the bow.
  • the wrist doesn't initiate the release, but once again follows the expansion of the bow. if anything, the wrist follows the elbow, which follows the bow.
  • the release hand itself is not supposed to grip the string or the arrow. it's supposed to simply hold a form that allows the nocking groove in the thumb to hold the string. gripping with the release hand prevents the arrow and string from moving--which they must do as the bow rises and then opens.
  • when the elbows open properly, the hand and wrist naturally turn in a way that allows the string to come out and release.
  • the release can come with a snap of the fingers, but the snap doesn't initiate nor lead the release. instead, the snap is something that naturally results from the last expansion before the string goes to release the arrow.
i worked on this for the evening, and things seemed to be getting better by the end. but i'll have to see in the next class.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

day 288: variations in intensity and speed

  • intensity
  • speed
  • variations
  • release
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this past Saturday was Sifu's last before he went to give a seminar in Canada. he's missing this coming Saturday, but will return after then.


for today's class, Sifu introduced variations into the 5 lines. he said that there are different ways to perform each line, with differing emphases in terms of intensity and speed in each of the movements to reflect different applications of each posture. as a result, practice should be done using these different variations, to help train you for applications and to better understand the options in applications.

following the customary hsing-yi session, we started class off with standing qi-gong, and then went through each line slowly marking off the 8 checkpoints at each stage in each posture. we through all 5 lines doing this, with Sifu checking everyone individually--and also giving a pop quiz to test everyone's memory of the checkpoints.

after this, Sifu said that use of slow movements was only a training tool for the early stages of hsing-yi, with the purpose of training being to ingrain proper form and awareness of the dantian. the next stage was to do the same 5 lines at higher speed.

we proceeded to do a 2nd run-through of the 5 lines, moving at a more regular pace, going not entirely high speed but more progressive. the idea here, Sifu said, was to get comfortable proceeding from one posture to another so that we could maintain proper form while moving.

next, Sifu said we could start applying variations in intensity and speed. each stage in each posture can be done with its own emphasis (i.e., how much force or effort is applied--for example, hard or soft) and own speed (i.e., fast or slow). this means that each movement in each posture can be done with a force and speed unique to the other movements in the posture, and also means that 1 line can manifest changes as you proceed through it. Sifu said this is the next stage in training, with the goal being to start bringing the practitioner closer to actual application.

Sifu led us through some examples of this with each of the 5 lines, and then asked us to create, and then try, our own variations. we spent the remainder of class on this, which by this time had gone until 1:30. we had enough time to try a few variations, and then we all ended class for lunch.


the past Saturday's kyudo was a bit of a struggle. i've been having problems with my release, particularly in terms of my string hand releasing the string to shoot. this first started to manifest itself some weeks ago, and really became a problem when i was at Rancho Park. i haven't had this problem in the past, so this is a recent development and suggests i've started doing something wrong.

Sensei noticed this and said that both my hands were problematic, and that i needed to adjust both. my tenouchi (left hand) was gripping the bow the wrong way, and my right hand wasn't following a proper path allowing release. he said that ideally, the release should come on its own as you go through the final expansion in zanshin, and that there should be no need for the hand to do anything to release the string. right now, he said my right hand is having to dip and twist in order to release, which is bad for the string and bad for the bow--this was proven, since i ended up twisting the bow this evening.

since turnout was a little low for the evening and there were a number of new students, Sensei stopped the formal shoot early and had a session on tenouchi. we reviewed the proper the way to hold the bow, and i realized that my left positioning was too tight and out of alignment.

i also took some time out for some solo work sans arrow or shooting, to check why my right hand is doing. i think that part of the problem is that i'm changing my form between practicing the form without the bow versus with the bow--without the bow i'm able to get the right hand to do the right thing, but with the bow my form breaks down, with the physical pressure of the bow causing me to struggle with my form.

this was a bit of a frustrating night, and i'm going to have to really spend some time working on my hands.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

day 287: hsing-yi in concept

  • qi-gong
  • 6 harmonies: external/internal harmonies
  • 5-element cycles
  • pi, zhwan, bung, pao, heng
  • footwork
  • hsing-yi v. tai chi v. bagua
  • hsing-yi
this past Saturday roughly followed the same pattern as the previous Saturday (June 26). it was July 4 weekend, so turnout was a little ragged, but we still have a decent-sized group considering that it was a long holiday. i skipped kyudo again, since i had other plans set up for the day.


taking up the same order from last week, we began with qi-gong. Sifu told us before that this is a pretty standard thing in hsing-yi, and that it asks practitioners to always spend a good portion of training in qi-gong meditation--particularly the standing pose, with arms out embracing an imaginary ball. Sifu reminded us that the point was to help develop sensitivity to our dantian and center of gravity, and that requires developing an awareness of our breathing, our mind, our body, our senses, and our surroundings in relation to our dantian and center. the ultimate aim is to eventually maintain this sensitivity without conscious effort, so it is inherent to anything we do.

after this, we proceeded to work through the 4 lines we've learned to date, repeating the same process as last Saturday of reciting each of the 8 principles and what they mean in connection to each posture in each line. this is a workout, since it requires we maintain posture for the time duration required to cover each of the 8 principles. Sifu said this was the point in hsing-yi, not only to develop sensitivity to the proper form of each movement but also to help condition the body to the requirements of each movement.

once we'd finished the review of the 4 lines, Sifu stopped to provide us with more of the theory behind hsing-yi. he began by returning to a prior topic of 6 harmonies. we'd learned the 6 harmonies as being hands-feet, elbows-knees, and shoulders-hips. this time, however, Sifu said this was only 1 side of 6-harmony theory. he said that 6 harmonies does not refer only to body coordination, but also the mental, with there being 3 external harmonies (for the body) and 3 internal harmonies (for the mind). the alliance of hands-feet, elbows-knees, and shoulder-hips actually only represents 6 body components in 3 relationships which constitute the 3 external harmonies. the 3 internal harmonies involve 6 mental components of disposition (or heart), intent, qi, and power, with the 3 relationships being shin (disposition/heart)-yi (intent), yi (intent)-qi (energy), and qi (energy)-li (power). Sifu commented that hsing-yi considers these 6 harmonies to be crucial in terms of fighting ability.

from there, Sifu added more detail regarding 5-element theory. much the the 5-element theory we've learned previously (particularly with qi-gong) followed the production cycle, which follows the sequence of metal-water-wood-fire-earth. in hsing-yi, however, there is also the use of the destruction cycle, which follows the sequence of metal-wood-earth-water-fire. the 5 lines follow a progression corresponding to the production cycle (i.e., line 1 is metal, line 2 is water, etc.), but later on there are parts of hsing-yi that follow a progression related to the destruction cycle.

this correspondence in progression is not superficial, since it also indicates the nature of the power projection the practitioner is supposed to employ in each line. for the 5 lines we're learning, Sifu introduced the following connections to 5-element production cycle and power projection:
  • line 1 : metal : pi (movement like an axe chop)
  • line 2 : water : zhwan (movement like water drilling into an object)
  • line 3 : wood : bung (movement like an arrow piercing through a target)
  • line 4 : fire: pao (movement like an explosion)
  • line 5 : earth : heng (movement that is horizontal)
with this in mind, Sifu had us return to the lines, doing a quick review of lines 1-4, and then going on to work through line 5. this time, he also stressed that we be mindful of where we're supposed to be in relation to an imaginary opponent in each line, with our footwork following the necessary trajectory. for lines 1-3 this means a linear route forward and back, while for lines 4 & 5 this means a zig-zag pattern.

we went on to a cautionary note from last week's discussion. before, Sifu had noted the reason hsing-yi was considered an internal style even though so many of its movement look so forceful. this time, he expanded on those comments by placing them in relation to other northern style TCMA. he stressed that all TCMA, as well as all martial arts, have elements of both yin and yang movements, in that they all use techniques that are hard, explosive, and forceful, as well as soft, non-explosive, and light. he demonstrated some techniques in baji, which is typically used as an exemplar of an external style, and showed how even in baji there are still components of yin and yang. he proceeded to do the same with chang quan (long fist), and then also in hsing-yi, tai chi, and bagua.

because of this, Sifu said that the distinction of internal v. external styles (if we really insist on it) is in the direction upon the movements in styles are directed. he reminded us of his points from previous weeks regarding the attention of hsing-yi on the center, and the constant focus on bringing things into your own center. he said the other internal styles (like tai chi and bagua) also do this, although using different philosophies. he observed that you can break the internal styles based on the nature of movements they use to approach an opponent's gates, which i'll summarize as follows:
  • hsing-yi : "catch the tiger" (movements have strong contact with the opponent) : chop the door (movements open the opponent's gate by chopping them aside using narrow arcs drawing into the center)
  • tai chi : "catching the fish" (movements have light contact with the opponent) : use the key (movements open the opponent's gate by using misdirection into the center to guide the opponent's guard aside)
  • bagua : "donkey pushing the grinding stone" (movements of the body, so that there is no contact with the opponent) : go through the window (movements to avoid the guarded gate and locate an open one)
as a point of reference, Sifu once again compared this to baji as an external style, and showed how in baji the movements have strong contact by the chopping motion involves a wide arc designed to go into the ground so as to produce more power from the reaction force from the earth.

Sifu said you can see these philosophies play out regardless of the orientation relative to the opponent, with the concepts being the same regardless of the choice of approaching the opponent's dragon gate (their back side), tiger gate (their front side), and snake gate (their leading side that faces you).

we finished at this point, with some staying a little longer to review. i had other plans for the day, and so skipped on the post-class lunch.

Friday, July 02, 2010

day 286: spear and cannon

  • movement
  • circles
  • spear (chaang)
  • chen tai chi pao quan
this Sunday i made a request to review pao quan (cannon fist), since i've been struggling to get through it. we ended up devoting a little time around the spear lesson, since Arnold (a student from Sifu's CSULB class who's been coming to Sunday class to learn spear) is not learning tai chi.

spear (chaang)

spear today was focused on combining footwork with the spear-tip drills. we began by reviewing the spear-tip drills (i.e., moving the tip in a circle, semi-circle, and crescent) with static footwork. Sifu had us visualize 9 imaginary points on a vertical plane facing us arranged in a 3x3 matrix, so that we would move the spear-tips around each of the points, working our way in a random order from one point to another.

we then reviewed the footwork with the spear being fixed. Sifu reminded us that on the step-over pattern, we cross-over on the front when moving forward by could choose to cross-over either front or rear when moving backward. we also did the skip step and shuffle step, going both forward and backward.

after this, we united the two and started doing the spear-tip drills while moving backwards and forwards, again visualizing the 3x3 matrix of 9 imaginary points and moving the spear-tip around each as we stepped.

chen tai chi pao quan

while Arnold was gone, Sifu and Phunsak worked with me on the chen pao quan form. i'm having trouble with the end portion of it, since we hurried through it before Cheng-chieh left. i managed to get a little bit more comfortable--at least to the extent that i can remember the movements, but i'm pretty sure it's going to take a lot of practice to polish things up and get things looking the way they should.

day 285: organizing the hsing-yi curriculum

  • ding, ko, yuen, bao, chwei, chu, ting, du
  • 5 elements
  • center/dantian
  • ting, hwa, na, fa jing
  • hsing-yi
i skipped kyudo this evening and will have to miss again next Saturday, due to various family reasons. as a result, this past Saturday and next Saturday's posts will both be limited to just kung fu.


i managed to get a better sense of the curriculum today. essentially, we're in the phase of the curriculum covering the 5-elements, with each line we've been learning corresponding to each of the elements in cycle of 5-element theory, specifically the destruction cycle (metal wood earth water fire). so far we've learned 3 lines (4, including today), meaning that there's 1 more. beyond this, however, there's the 12 animals, and then there's combining 5 elements with the 12 animals. in addition, there's also qi-gong.

today's class began with standing qi-gong, and then a review of the 3 lines. Sifu had us go through each of the 8 principles for each posture in each line, so as to get us into the habit of checking our form and helping us remember the principles. we through them reciting not only their names (ding, ko, yuen, bao, chwei, chu, ting , du), but also their meanings and what body parts they referred to. we did this slowly, since this stage of the hsing-yi curriculum calls for actions to be done at a deliberate, careful speed.

after reviewing the 3 lines, we did the 4th. the 4th line is somewhat distinct from the others, in that it doesn't follow a line (like lines 1-3) but instead progresses on a zig-zag pattern. that, and the transition is a little complicated, since it involves standing on 1 leg.

something that i also picked up on today was the fact that all of the lines involve centering, with all actions somehow involving a vector component going into the dantian. Sifu said this is one of the central aspects of hsing-yi, in that much of the physics in the techniques are predicated on using your center or bringing actions into your center. he pointed out that it's not always evident in the moves, but it is something very much present in terms of intent (yi). he noted this is why hsing-yi puts so much emphasis on its qi-gong, since it trains the practitioner to be aware of the center and to gather everything (qi, yi, the self, the opponent, etc.) into your own center.

another concept that i also noticed reappeared was jing, specifically the progression of ting, hwa, na, and fa that we've covered in the past. it came up when someone asked about the differences between fa jing, which seems to call for a projection of power, versus hsing-yi's perspective on the center, which calls for bringing things into the center--the 2 seem contradictory to each other.

Sifu said that they're actually consistent. he argued that hsing-yi asks the practitioner to utilize motions gathering things towards your dantian, and that this is something that can be done with movements related to ting jing (listening/sensing), hwa jing (receiving/redirecting), and na jing (controlling). even with fa jing, there is still consistency, in that power can still be projected with movement gathering things to the dantian--it is possible to employ actions that are explosive but which involve (even if only in part) a vector component following a direction to your dantian.

Sifu added that this is part of what makes hsing-yi somewhat deceptive. the opponent will think that your application of fa jing will be in an outward direction, and hence will react in a way to respond to that. as a result, they do not realize the vector inward to you, and will be vulnerable to becoming destabilized in that direction.

we spent the rest of class practicing the lines. i left a little early (12:30), so i missed out on the post-class lunch.

Friday, June 25, 2010

day 284: more hsing-yi (with revisions)

  • ding, ko, yuen, bao, chwei, chu, ting, du
  • shing
  • wu
  • slow
  • structure
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this post relates to Saturday, June 19. i'm also including the kyudo session from Sunday, June 20, since i'm not so sure as to how regular the Sunday kyudo is going to be.


there's some revisions to make to last week's post regarding theory. Sifu went through the list of 8 principles from last time but made some clarifications. i'll list the revised version below:
  • ding--support/out (hands) & up (head & tongue)
  • ko--lock/inward (for feet & hands, knees & hips, shoulders & elbows)
  • yuen--circle/round (front & chest, back & arms)
  • bao--hug/embrace (body hugs the organs & courage, dantian hugs the chi)
  • chwei--down/drop/sink (elbows, shoulders, qi into dantian, lower back & legs into the ground)
  • chu--bend (elbow, knee)
  • ting--stretch/extend (spine, tailbone, knees)
  • du--determination/aggression/spirit (heart, eyes, hands)
Sifu said that all of these concepts are associated with each posture in hsing-yi, meaning that for each movement we make we should be able to see each of these principles in operation. in fact, he stressed that we need to make sure that each of these is being expressed in each movement we make.

there's a reason and a method here.

the reason, as with everything else in TCMA education, is to ensure proper body mechanics so that the body is positioned in a manner necessary to optimize the transmission of power. from a physics and engineering perspective, this means that the body has to align in such a way so as to convey force vectors without loss of magnitude in a direction (remember: vectors represent magnitude and direction) against the opponent.

methodologically, hsing-yi differs from many other TCMA styles. other TCMA follows a gradual, incremental process having the student practice and ingrain one concept at a time before proceeding to learn and integrate another concept. you can see this in styles like bagua and tai chi, which feature training introducing students to additional layers of concepts and principles in combat over time. hsing-yi, in contrast, asks that the student learn multiple principles from the very beginning, and requires that the student concentrate on incorporating and consolidating multiple concepts and principles starting from the initial lessons.

Sifu noted that this was a philosophical difference in teaching, with the reasoning that hsing-yi's founders suspected that the teaching styles of other TCMA allowed too many opportunities for corruption, errors, and bad habits to appear and propagate, and so actually served to impede student development as opposed to aid it--which is the opposite of what training intends. hsing-yi's philosophy, in contrast, asserts that a comprehensive approach from the very beginning serves to discourage such dangers with the hope that in the long term it served to enable better student development.

of course, Sifu observed, for the hsing-yi teaching method to work, it means that the student has to take great effort to learn and apply all the principles from the very beginning. this means that the student should start off learning hsing-yi using very slow, deliberate movements (akin to tai chi), with the idea being that the student should consciously think about all of the above 8 principles in each movement, and then make sure to correct their own movements to express all of these principles. eventually, as the student progresses, this will become second nature, and the student will be able to maintain proper body mechanics without conscious thought.

Sifu added this is why so many hsing-yi practitioners end up having good structure, since the conscious, deliberative process of learning stresses the student concentrate on body structure.

taking this discussion into the lesson, Sifu led us through the first 3 lines (we've done 2 so far, today he added a 3rd) slowly, with him pointing out each of the 8 principles as we held each movement in each line. he noted that we should be doing this in our personal training outside of class, and that we should try to do so whenever practicing hsing-yi alone.

he also observed that we need to constantly apply these principles not only in the movements, but in the postures. hsing-yi, he said, is typically interpreted as "mind-intent boxing", but that there were additional concepts associated with the art: shing and wu, with shing being shape/form and wu being movement. this means that as much as our minds are constantly thinking about the principles, it has to do so in relation to both our body shape/form (shing) and movement (wu).

this consumed the entire class, and we even went over--we were shocked to find that it was already 2pm, at which point Sifu called class to an end so that we could proceed to our other priorities for the day.


i attend kyudo both Saturday night at the Pasadena dojo and Sunday morning at the Rancho Park (Culver City/West Los Angeles) dojo. both are held every weekend, but i've only been attending the Saturday evening one because of its proximity to my apartment. Rancho Park is a longer drive. also, it's an outdoor archery range with targets 25 m away from the shooting line, and so is an extra challenge above what i'm used to.

i decided to attend the Sunday morning class since i figured it was time to let myself take on the additional challenge. i wasn't so sure about this, actually, since i had trouble Saturday night and my shooting was suddenly deteriorating. but i figured i'd committed to both so i might as well go.

of course, this meant that this weekend of kyudo was pretty much a disaster. my shooting problems seemed to get worse as the Saturday night class wore on, and everything absolutely fell apart Sunday morning.

the problem seems to be a greater expansion on the issues i had last week: problems in my draw and release. according to Sensei, my draw is still not involving enough of my right side. that, and i'm not expanding into the bow. he said both are related, and that i can fix it by concentrating on having my elbows go forward and backward, so that i'm drawing by lowering the bow but letting the draw of the bow lead my elbows down. the distinction, while superficially semantic, is actually physically distinguishable--Jean showed me the difference, and you can see it in the arch formed by the bow in the draw: simply lowering the bow yields little or no increase in the lower arch of the lower bow at full draw, while extending the elbows to lead the bow down results in a greater arch of the lower bow at full draw. this means greater stability and power in the release.

in terms of my release, the shot is not coming naturally off the string. either the arrow releases prematurely or it doesn't release at all, leaving me to struggle to let the string go. Sensei said this is due to improper hand positioning, which in turn is due to my form in my draw. he pointed out that because of the problems in the form of my draw, my shooting hand is following an improper path in which it turns and holds the string in the notch of the glove. he said that proper form in the draw allows the hand to follow a path that has the string fall out of the notch at full release. Sensei said that i needed to have the elbows continue to extend, even beyond what i perceive to be full expansion, so that it goes naturally into release. he also added that i need keep the right hand loose, so that it's not gripping the string, but simply letting the string sit in the notch. he noted that the release is not in any action of the hand but instead in the action of the body.

i was pretty frustrated with kyudo this weekend. it seems simple but it's really complicated, and it's much harder than it looks. this is going to take a lot of work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

day 283: from spear to joy of kung fu

  • ellipses
  • power
  • drills
  • spear
  • joy of kung fu
this Sunday was a bit of a kung fu day. the morning was the Sunday morning class, but the evening was the Joy of Kung Fu, which is an annual event gathering the local kung fu community. with this morning class we returned to spear and skipped chen pao quan--which is good, since i'm still reviewing it and need some more time to work through it.

spear (chaang)

today was the first day back to spear in some time. one of Sifu's students from CSULB showed up, and we worked together on the basic drills, with Sifu and Phunsak providing observation. Phunsak ended up spending some time with Alex to resolve some "issues" on some "finer" points of unarmed combat, but the rest of us spent the time working on spear alone.

Sifu (and Phunsak) noted that my technique was a little bit wrong in some of the drills, saying that my front hand was locking the spear shaft, when it should be more loose to allow the spear to move freely. they also noted that the path the spearpoint was tracing needed to be more of an ellipse (as opposed to a circle). in addition, Sifu noted that some of the drills that involved circular patterns weren't really, pointing out that the categories are:
  • shallow crescent down, but vertically back up
  • shallow semi-circle down, with shallow semi-circle back up
  • full semi-circle down, with full semi-circle back up
in addition, Sifu noted that the intent (yi) had to be in a certain direction, so that the power was going down in each of the drills. Sifu asserted that this was so the movements were defensive, operating to knock the opponent's spear down. he also observed, however, that the movements could also be offensive, in that you knock the opponent's spear down, effectively opening a gate than allows you to raise your spear back up to go through the gate with an aggressive movement.

we finished up around 1, and then went to prepare for the evening event, which began at 4pm.

Joy of Kung Fu

the Joy of Kung Fu is a relatively recent event that began only last year. this was the 2nd annual celebration, but apparently is intended to continue and grow into the future. ostensibly, it's meant to celebrate TCMA and allow the community to come together to promote the heritage of TCMA. it does this in a festive atmosphere with a dinner and demonstrations by participating masters. Sifu went last year, and went again this year as a bit of a celebrity, since he was being interviewed by local news. in addition, he, Phunsak, and Kieun all did demonstrations.

this was a fairly large event, taking up the Rosemead Community Center with what i estimate to be around 400 people with approximately 20 masters. it was interesting to see all the demonstrations and the different TCMA instructors in the community. my suspicion is that this is still being promoted and has not yet reached everyone in the Southern California martial arts community. as a result, it probably has more room to grow and i would expect to see it continue to expand in participation in the next few years.

the local tv news covering the ceremony was NDTV, which is a Chinese (Mandarin?) language channel. they posted their report of the event (including the interview with Sifu), which you can check out:
i also took some videos, but won't post all of them up here. i will, however, post the videos of Sifu and Phunsak:
i should note that Sifu was on a bit of a mission with his demonstration. the version of Chen tai chi he teaches is an older version that is not that well-known, and which has been eclipsed in public awareness by other, more popular, and more well-known versions of Chen featuring softer movements more consistent with Yang style. Sifu asserts that this has led to misperceptions and misunderstandings about some of the principles and applications in Chen tai chi--misperceptions and misunderstandings that have taken away or erased some of the original ideas and functions endemic to it.

in particular, he was frustrated by some recent comments put on the Youtube video of Phunsak doing the Chen tai chi short form. he said those comments reflect the aforementioned misperceptions and misunderstandings and shows just how widespread they have become. his demo at Joy of Kung Fu was meant to be a response to this, and he said he felt it was important to show a different voice that contrasted with prevailing viewpoints. he wanted to have everyone see his version--and to his perspective, the older version (and hence the version more consistent with the martial origins)--of Chen tai chi.

i think if he wanted to get people's attention he definitely succeeded. i noticed the room became noticeably quiet during his demo, and that some quarters of the room were in definite shock, either because they had never seen anything before similar to what they were seeing or because they didn't agree with what they were seeing. his demo of Chen tai chi (or as he later called it: "combat tai chi"), for sure, was different from any of the other versions of Chen shown this evening. i'm curious as to what they were thinking.

generally speaking, i think Joy of Kung Fu has a valuable role in connecting the local TCMA community together, providing a specific date and location around which all the masters can get together--and hence enable a forum for networking and coordination...things which i suspect just does not happen in an organized fashion in Southern California. i could see the networking happening, with a lot of people talking and catching up on news and happenings.

my caveat on this, however, is one that Kieun voiced: i'm not clear as to what is meant by "promoting" TCMA. if the goal is to promote it within the local TCMA community (i.e., help participants connect and work together), then this event is certainly doing this. but if the goal is to promote TCMA to a larger population, then i'm not so sure it has yet achieved this--Kieun made a good point: if the goal is really to promote to a larger population, then the event needs to be in a setting that is more accessible to the ordinary populace of Southern California (e.g., public spaces, like a county fair, or in Pershing Square in downtown LA, or the Pacific Grove complex in Hollywood...anyplace where people not familiar with TCMA can see it and thereby possibly be educated about it).

overall, my take is the event went well and has value. it also has potential for more. i'd definitely like to see it in the next few years to see how it's grown.

day 282: just kyudo

  • elbow
  • left v. right
  • posture
  • kyudo
i skipped kung fu this Saturday morning--it's final exam time again, and i've been grading. i did make it to kyudo, though, so i'll include comments here.


this kyudo session was a disaster. the story with kyudo is 2 steps forward 1 step back--just when i think i'm going along and making progress, everything just falls apart. this evening i had issues with the arrow releasing before the string, the arrow and string not releasing at all, the arrow shooting high and right, the arrow shooting low and right, or the arrow simply releasing early or falling off the bow even before i could get into daisan.

Sensei tried to help me out, saying that my elbows weren't engaging the draw (even though i tried to focus on them). when they were they weren't engaging symmetrically, and Sensei noted that while the left side of my body was doing the correct thing, the right side of my body was too rigid and not doing the required work at all. he suggested i focus on the right elbow pushing out horizontally to the right, but said that in order for this too happen i needed to give my shoulder blades room to extend out--and that this was something that needed good posture.

i tried to piece things together before the end of class, but it didn't happen. i'm going to have to revisit this next week and see if i can't things sorted out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

day 281: starting hsing-yi, and more corrections

  • 5 elements, 12 animals
  • numbers
  • harmonies
  • levels
  • ding, ti, yuen, bao, chwei, ko, fan/zhwan, swun/hun
  • hwuh yun gong
  • wuji
  • static tai ji, dynamic tai ji
  • san ti zuh
  • key, windows, door
  • hands and forearms as hooks
  • elbows horizontal
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
today was a busy day, with a fair amount of information to take in all around. before i get to this, however, i should issue a further correction on my previous post (day 280) regarding ju quan. Sifu corrected me on some errors regarding ju quan (which i've also corrected on the Youtube videos):
  • ju quan was developed by Grandmaster Li Yuan Zhi of the Central Gou Shu Academy
  • ju quan was adopted by the Taiwanese military from 1966~1976, after which it was replaced by tae kwon do
  • ju quan is based on baji quan, and has 3 different forms: ba tang quan (the beginner level--which is the one that we've been learning), shi zhi quan (intermediate level), and baji quan (advanced level)

today was the 1st day of hsing-yi. Sifu is teaching the entire Saturday class--both bagua and baji groups, and so gathered everyone together. he started off things with a conceptual discussion of some of the more basic components of hsing-yi. he observed the following:
  • hsing-yi comes in different variants, each of which come from various parts of China (Henan and Hebei) with differing curriculums
  • the version of hsing-yi we are learning has 5-element theory and 12 animals (others have 10 animals, and another has no animals at all)
  • we will see the prevalence of certain numbers in hsing-yi (especially 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12). Sifu said to not get too caught up in this, since these are just ways of organizing information so that it is more digestible (i.e., easier to understand and, more importantly, remember)
  • hsing-yi addresses the body and body parts in terms of 3, with the spine having 3 levels (cervical spine of the neck, the main spine in the back, and the lumbar spine towards the tailbone), the arms having 3 levels (the upper arm between the shoulder and elbow, the forearm between the elbow and wrist, and the wrist/hand), and the legs having 3 levels (the upper leg between the hip and knee, the shins between the knees and ankles, and the ankle/foot). together, this makes 9 parts.
  • there are 6 harmonies (hands with feet, elbows with knees, and shoulders with hips). there are also 3 external harmonies (hand/feet, elbow/knee, shoulder/hip) and 3 internal harmonies (xing, or heart; yi, or intent; qi, or energy; li, or force; so that there is xing-yi, yi-qi, and qi-li)
  • hsing-yi, similar to the body, views training in 3 levels: stances (level 1), tai ji (level 2--and not tai chi quan as in fighting style, but tai ji as in moving energy), and combat (power issuing). in addition, training at level 1 involves 5-element theory, at level 2 involves 12 animals, and at level 3 involves 5 elements+12 animals
once we'd gone through these concepts, Sifu then introduced us to 8 principles in hsing-yi, which he said we'd discuss in-depth as we went further on but that for now are worth just recognizing:
  • ding (?)--this means to extend up or become erect, but not rise or lift up (e.g., extend your spine up through the neck but keep your dantian/center down)
  • ti (?)--rise/lift
  • yuen (?)--circle
  • bao (?)--in
  • chwei (?)--dropping/sinking
  • ko (?)--locking
  • fan/zhwan (?)--piercing/changing
  • swun/hun (?)--go through or go parallel/deflect or divert
i don't know if i have the spelling or definitions right, since i was taking notes as the conversation was going on. hopefully i can correct things in the next class. if anybody knows, then let me know and i'll be happy to make the corrections.

after the conceptual introduction, Sifu had us begin with qi-gong, which consisted basically of a series of postures, with the first standing in wuji posture with arms at the sides, then standing in hwuh yun gong, which is standing in wuji posture holding an imaginary ball. from there Sifu had us then proceed to static tai ji and dynamic tai ji.

Sifu said that the qi-gong essentially consists of the movements in basic hsing-yi form, except done slower and with more focus on breath, the dantian, and qi. he showed us by then leading us in san ti zuh, which starts in 70/30 stance and then proceeds with the classic hsing-yi movement so many people are familiar with.

Sifu, however, was very cautious here, saying that there were a lot of subtleties in the movements, and that we needed to be cognizant of the intent in them in terms of what physics were actually be employed. on the surface, the movements seem simple and largely brute force. but Sifu noted that all the movements do NOT involve force-on-force contact. instead the movements actually involve capture and redirection before issuing power--Sifu pointed out that they follow the jing concepts we've learned before (ting, hwa, na, fa).

Sifu observed that this is part of what makes hsing-yi an internal art, since it does not counter incoming force directly. he argued that this is also in part what makes it a northern TCMA, since he says you can see this concept in all northern TCMA (including, incidentally, chang quan, piqua, and baji--styles not typically seen as internal). he went on to note that the way northern/internal styles deal with incoming force can be seen in how they open the opponent's gate: 1) use a key (i.e., a technique that causes the opponent to open a gate), 2) enter through a side window (i.e., lure the opponent to expose a gate), or 3) chop the door down (i.e., go directly through the opponent's gate by diverting their force).

once he'd finished this part of the discussion, Sifu instructed us to practice the movements on our own. we spent the rest of class working on the qi gong and opening movements.


kyudo this evening was spent at Sensei's house. there was an all-day seminar for advanced students there, and Sensei decided it would be easier to just have class there as well, so as to eliminate the work of taking all the stands and makiwara down and setting them back up again at the dojo. because of the sunset time, class was held a little earlier (5-9 pm, instead of the usual 6-10pm).

Sensei wanted each beginner student to be paired up with an advanced student, so that each beginner got individual attention. we did not do any form work tonight, since there was no floor (everything was set up outside in his back yard), so we practiced free shoot. i was paired up with Jean, and then had Aaron helping me with shooting.

this turned out well for me. i got a lot of nuances that i'd been missing before, including not only how to do the free shoot, but also some issues i'd apparently not picked up regarding nocking the arrow and making the draw from daisan. Sensei had commented on the latter in previous classes, but this time i managed to get a better sense of where i was breaking down, with Aaron noting that i was off-balance (i was leaning towards the target) and my right elbow was not leading the draw (Sensei had described this as my hand pulling the string down, when i needed to just let the forearm and hand be loose and let the elbow move back).

Aaron noted that the bow (and string) would naturally drop if i just focused on letting the elbows expand horizontally on a line extending from infinite behind the makiwara through me into infinite--expanding the elbows horizontally allows the bow to come down naturally, so that your skeletal structure leads the body into the bow (i.e., the intent of moving the skeleton precedes the intent of muscular effort), thereby reducing the amount of muscular effort in the draw and thus increasing the stability of the shot (because the muscles don't have to work so hard to keep everything stable). the key, Aaron and Sensei pointed out, is to just imagine that your forearms and hands are just hooks and not doing any action, and that everything in the draw is going through your elbows while originating from your legs (which get their force from pushing into the ground, which creates a reaction force through the legs which goes through the dantian and then goes through the elbows to spread them out horizontally).

we did a number of rounds of free shoot, and then finished class with tea before the sun set.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

day 280: history! ju quan (ba tang quan)

  • history
  • ju quan
this post is for Sunday, May 30. since this was Ching-Chieh's last day before she left for Taiwan, we decided to focus on just ju quan, so we could finish it off and review everything one last time. it was more review for her, since today was the 1st time that i covered lines 7-8.

i should make some clarifications to correct my previous posts on ju quan:
  • it turns out that there are only 8 lines, not 10; and
  • it turns out that ju quan and ba tang quan are really the same things, with the difference being that ju quan was a simplified version of ba tang quan that was considered more appropriate for the Taiwanese military (at least, more appropriate in terms of something that could be taught in the course of basic training for hand-to-hand combat and which could be performed for parade ground purposes).
i'm including the following videos that show what we've done:
i should provide some background comments to explain ju quan. based on what i've been able to gather from Sifu and Ching-Chieh (i missed a number of classes, and so didn't participate in all the conversations they had on the subject, leaving me to assemble the background piece-meal from discussions as we've gone on).

first, there are reasons why ju quan stopped being taught to the Taiwanese military. Sifu said that we could see it for ourselves as we learned it. he noted the following:
  1. even though the movements look basic, there are a lot of subtleties in ba tang quan--subtleties which unfortunately were glossed over, omitted, ignored, or downright suppressed during basic training, either because military instructors didn't understand it or recruits couldn't get it (Sifu said that he learned it from Liu Yun Qiao before entering the military, and was shocked when he saw what the drill instructors were teaching and what the soldiers were doing). these subtleties are very important, as without them the effectiveness of the techniques are greatly reduced, and ju quan is left to become nothing more than a force-on-force brute strength martial art (which defeats the entire point of learning it).
  2. ju quan, because of the subtleties in ba tang quan, is just too complicated to be taught to recruits in basic training, especially in a mass setting (with hundreds or thousands of conscripts) with limited time (a few weeks). to really learn it properly takes personal attention with a dedicated time--neither of which is plentiful in a military environment focused on producing as many soldiers in as short as time as possible.
  3. ju quan was replaced by other martial arts, predominately tae kwon do and judo (or some combination thereof), largely because they are more popular in Taiwan and because they're easier (and faster) to teach to large numbers of conscripts within the confines of a few weeks. at the very least, the Taiwanese military seemed to think so, since they discontinued ju quan after only a few years.
second, all of the above videos are a reconstruction, based on the articles from the Wutan Hall journal and Sifu's memory. ju quan was only taught in the Taiwanese military during the late 1960s to early 1970s, and has disappeared since then. Sifu says he doesn't think it's been done in 40 years.

Sifu commented that he can see the reasons why (see the above comments regarding a military setting with large numbers of students and limited time), but that this doesn't mean that ju quan/ba tang quan is irrelevant or that it should be discarded. in his opinion, it has value (he believes a lot of value), but it was just applied incorrectly in a context that was inappropriate under conditions that were incompatible to the art form. when taught individually (or with a few students) in conditions allowing more personal attention with more time for detail, it is a martial arts style with many things to offer.

of course, given that it hasn't been done in so long (i.e., it's been forgotten), this means that what we're doing is essentially historical research, and a revival of a lost art form. you could even call it a historical re-enactment. Ching-Chieh is treating it as such, since she's using it as a basis for a dance project she's doing in Taiwan. Sifu says we're now a part of history, which makes me feel i'm on a mission to preserve the pieces of the past--and i guess that's one aspect of what we're really doing with TCMA. history! so enjoy!

day 279: the memorial day review (sort of)

  • memory
  • basics
  • structure
  • bagua
  • kyudo
this post is for Saturday, May 29. it was the Memorial Day weekend so class turnout for kung fu was light (although, surprisingly large for kyudo).


Sifu announced that next Saturday would be the start of xingyi lessons, and that he wanted us to spend the day on reviewing all the bagua forms we've learned. he also asked that we take some portion of class time reviewing all the basics with the beginner students.

the basics review consisted of the standing hand basics (stationary, and some moving) from some time ago. it was good to back through this, since it's been awhile since i've done them, and i found that there are some nuances in them that i see that i hadn't seen before. i remember Phunsak, Kieun, and Sifu all saying this at various times--that as you go farther you start to realize some subtle things about basic elements that are actually very important, and which allow you to understand more about the basics than you did initially. it was interesting to experience this, and it made me take a different approach to them.

after the basics, we devoted the majority of class time to reviewing forms. this turned out to be a bit of a fiasco for me. it turns out that i couldn't remember major components of the elbow form or the fist form. i didn't even bother attempting forest palm. i managed to remember most of 64 palms and xiao kai men, so there was some redemption there. but Phunsak ended up having to lead us through the elbow and fist forms, and even then i found myself having to stop and think at several points.

this was, to be quite frank, embarrassing. i can't believe my memory is this bad. i'm going to have to take some extra time in the next few weeks to review all the forms, because this is just inexcusable. i've been extraordinarily busy the past few months with my teaching load (which has been much heavier than usual), but i still can't accept that as an excuse. i've expended too much time, energy, and money to forget things so easily, and i also have my pride. we're heading into summer now, which means i will have some more time to devote to martial arts work, so hopefully i can rectify this situation.


turnout at kyudo, similar to kung fu, was low. apparently a number of people had taken the day to go to the beach, and some others were taking the holiday weekend off. as a result, Sensei just had us assemble only 3 makiwara (usually we have 5). in addition, he only had 1 round of formal shooting for everyone, and then had us spend the class in informal shoot and working individually with each of us as we shot.

i took advantage of this to work on some kinks in my form. Sensei helped me with my structure, particularly in lifting the bow and arrow--apparently i wasn't aligning my spine as i lifted my arms. my mistake was that i was leaning forward from the feet and then standing into the bow, when i should be doing more of a roll, wherein i lean forward as i bring the bow and arrow up to head height but then start to bring my body back to vertical as i raise the arms, with my tailbone tucking in and my neck rising up. the net effect is not that i stand higher, but that the spine extends vertically, going through the vertebra both downwards from the center/dantian into the ground and upwards from the center/dantian into the sky.

i also took some time to do some maintenance work on my bow. i'd threaded the nocking area on my string the wrong way (in the opposite direction of the spiraling direction of the string), and it's been unraveling over the past few weeks. i've been removing the fibers as they've come loose, waiting until the nocking area becomes thin enough that i can rethread the string again in the right direction. i think it's getting close, and i'll be able to rethread it again within a few weeks.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

day 278: corrections - ju quan

  • lines
  • chen pao quan
  • ju quan
i need to preface this post on the Sunday class by noting that my previous Sunday post (day 276: ba tang quan) was in error. we private lessons we have been getting were not in ba tang quan but in ju quan (so the comments from the post are preserved, but the name for what we are learning is different).

i should also note that Ching-Chieh is leaving in June for 6 months for a dance project and needs to finish ju quan before then since the form is the basis for the project. unfortunately, because she's going to miss next weekend, it's putting extra pressure to finish ju quan off in the immediate future. as a result, we adjusted the Sunday schedule so that we're focusing only on ju quan in the time that Ching-Chieh has remaining before she leaves.

chen pao quan

we didn't go further into chen pao quan, but instead just reviewed the portion we've done to date. Phunsak was gone today, so it was just me, Ching-Chieh, and Jo-san.

ju quan

i missed a Sunday class, and so Ching-Chieh had to help me get caught up with what i'd missed, which was lines 5 & 6 of ju quan. with Phunsak out, she also needed me to review the 2-person forms so that she could practice them. Sifu then showed us lines 7 & 8 and the 2-person form for those. that was largely it, since we spent all our time practicing ju quan.

day 277: ugh, back again (again)

  • balance
  • opening
  • bagua leg form (tuei)
  • kyudo
well, okay, i had another break. this time i was out for 3 weeks. the 1st weekend due to grading, the 2nd weekend due to my brother's wedding (which was out of town), and the 3rd weekend because of grading again. i wasn't able to make it back until May 15. thankfully, i didn't miss as much as i thought i had--although it was still a fairly substantial amount.

bagua leg form (tuei)

it appears that the class has been in a review phase, with everyone refining xiao kai men and bagua tuei. i suspect Sifu felt it was necessary, since a lot of the beginners still need to learn both of these and many of the more advanced students have been traveling or away (i was gone, Ching-Chieh had to skip a few classes for a project, Phunsak missed a class because of a seminar, and Kieun was also gone for 3 weeks on his honeymoon).

this past Saturday was devoted to bagua tuei. i managed to remember the form, although Sifu commented there was still an issue with my tornado kick, in that i wasn't landing it with any balance. i ended up working on this for the class.

with most everyone back (me, Ching-Chieh, Phunsak, and Kieun), Sifu also announced his plans for the curriculum: starting in June, we will be starting Xing-yi. Sifu has taught it before, but apparently this will be the first time that he'll be doing it methodically--apparently, in previous incarnations he's done it as a weekend seminar.

i think this will be good (not just in terms of having a more sedentary curriculum, but in terms of learning the art itself), since according to Sifu it is very closely related to spear, and so is compatible with the spear training we've been doing on Sundays. in addition, it involves some physics that i think bridges the gap between spear movements and unarmed movements, and do so in a way that translates the body mechanics in a manner consistent with internal martial arts styles...although, i should note, Sifu has mentioned more than once that the physics are not just endemic to "internal" styles but rather are relevant to all martial arts styles.

the plan is to finish review of bagua tuei, and then commence with hsing-yi the first weekend in June.


as much as i had worries about returning to kung fu, i had more trepidation about returning to kyudo, largely because there are so many nuances that i can sense i'm not really getting. for the most part, however, it felt like a return to the familiar, with the form still being the same steps as it has always been.

tonight, i focused on the drawing of the bow, concentrating on working on drawing by opening my body structure into the bow. following the formal shoot, Sensei started the informal shoot early (prior to the tea break, whereas it normally occurs after). i took advantage of this to spend some time on practicing with my bow with just a dry pull (i.e., drawing without the arrow or glove), trying to expand my skeleton through hakawake to kai to zanshin.

Sensei observed me, and came over a few times to guide me through the arcs that i needed to be following. this was helpful, since it helped me map out the keystone markers (milestones) that my skeleton needed to reach. of course, repeating this consistently turned out to be another problem, since the movements were unfamiliar and required that i constantly check my body structure positioning in the mirror.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

day 276: ba tang quan

  • history
  • ba tang quan
this post relates to Sunday, April 18. the schedule for the day was adjusted relative to other Sundays. Ching-Chieh is learning ba tang quan from Sifu as part of an ongoing project, and so we canceled the spear lesson for the day and truncated chen pao quan to a review of the form we've covered to date.

ba tang quan

ba tang quan is not actually a style. it's more a form composed of a series of lines, with movements drawn from baji. much like chang quan has tantui, with its 10 or 12 lines (depending on the version of chang quan), ba tang quan is comprised of 8 different lines with movements unique to each one. while derived from baji, ba tang quan is much more fundamental and deals with only basic aspects of the principles in baji.

from what i could surmise (i missed the background discussion on this, but it appears the Sifu and Ching-Chieh had talked about this more extensively around their class times at UCLA), ba tang quan was developed for the Taiwanese military by Liu Yun Qiao. it was originally meant to comprise their basic training in hand-to-hand combat, and was taught for a period of around 10 years sometime in the 60s and 70s. it was subsequently phased out and replaced by different martial arts training, and has been largely forgotten since that time.

Sifu showed us his copy of the Wutan journal (Liu Yun Qiao actually attempted to publish a periodical journal for Chinese martial arts, with the goal of being a scholarly source dedicated to preserving TCMA, but unfortunately the journal ceased publication after a few years). the copy is an original, and contains pictures of all the lines of ba tang quan, along with explanatory commentary. Sifu said he was using this to reconstruct ba tang quan, in addition to using his own memory of his experiences learning it when he was in the Taiwanese military.

we've learned the first 2 lines the previous Sunday. today we reviewed the previous 2 lines and then learned the next 2. we also did some tentative work learning the 2-person forms for the lines.

all of this consumed a fair portion of the class. not so much because of the lines themselves, but because we were trying reconstruct them based on the journal and Sifu's memory, and this proved to require a bit of deliberation and thought.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

day 275: sort of an abbreviation

  • loose hands
  • elbows
  • hikiwake
  • daisan
  • kai
  • hanare
  • zanshin
  • kyudo
this post relates to Saturday, April 17 (yes, i know, late...but this spring has been inordinately busy). i actually missed most of kung fu today, since i had a morning doctor's appointment and only made the last few minutes of class. as a result, i'm not going to post any comments regarding kung fu.


i did manage to make kyudo. things were changed up a little this evening, with the beginning meditation preceded by a reading of 2 poems related to kyudo: the raiki-shagi, which deals with the etiquette in kyudo, and the shaho-kun, which deals with the principles of shooting in kyudo. when i first started, the dojo began with the Buddhist heart sutra, but we've been away from that for awhile (i'm assuming to more closely align to normal kyudo dojo practice). i'm guessing this is integrating something from more traditional Japanese kyudo dojo procedure.

this evening was a focus on shooting release--at least, it was for me. Sensei observed that we were struggling with this portion during the formal shoot, and devoted extra time during class to this. this has been a major weakness for me, and while the changes in tenouchi have helped in this regard, i know there are some additional things for me to improve here.

Sensei noted that my hikiwake wasn't high enough, and that my hands in daisan were placed incorrectly. in lifting the bow in hikiwake, i need to lean my body forward with my weight more on the arches of my feet, since this allows the arms to go higher without rolling the shoulders. with daisan, i need to have the draw comes from the elbows, with the hands simply following until my right hand is 1 fist's length from my forehead.

Sensei commented the key is to keep the hands loose, since having the hands tight tends to put your concentration on your hands, thereby disrupting tenouchi and putting the emphasis on the muscles of the back. keeping the hands loose, in contrast, allows you to put the concentration in the elbows, thereby allowing a better sense of the body's structure doing the work of inserting itself into the bow and thereby engaging the draw. this is better, since it involves less muscular effort and allows greater stability (and hence accuracy).

Sensei noted my kai is getting better, but that in addition to imagining my elbows being pulled in opposite directions along the same line i also need to align my spine straight up and down. in addition, i need to keep my neck turned, so that the arrow shaft comes along the corner of my mouth.

during his lesson to the class, Sensei noted that we all needed to work on hanare. he said that we were all trying to do hanare (release) by using our hands (i.e., we were opening and closing our hands to release). he said this was forcing the string to leave our hand, which is wrong, since it's bad for the string (puts excessive pressure on the string), bad for the bow (puts excessive pressure on the bow), and bad for accuracy (injects extraneous forces into the bow, disrupting the line of aim).

it is better that hanare come on its own without any action of the hand. if done right, hanare comes at kai (maximum draw), when the body and bow align in a way that the string leaves the nock in the shooting glove. because the hand doesn't move, it doesn't apply any force onto the bow or string, eliminating vectors that pressure both and disrupt aim.

Sensei also observed that if hanare is done right, you will naturally find yourself in zanshin without any effort, since the hanare leads naturally from kai to zanshin.

i put in some practice on this without shooting, working on form with the bow while facing a mirror. i tried shooting towards the end of class after i'd gotten some comfort level, and things seemed to be a little better. Sensei commented that my issue right now is consistency--sometimes i seem to be getting things right, but then suddenly everything just goes wrong...seems to be where i am right now. what can i say? it's going to take practice.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

day 274: words

  • kami-no-michi
  • shyugo
  • renshu
  • keiko
  • shizen
  • ten-o-uchi
  • bagua leg form
  • kyudo
this post relates to this past Saturday, April 10, and finishes off the series of posts (3 total) to catch up to the present. again, i'll have to keep this really short.

bagua leg form

we continued on with the leg form. today was more applications, with us exploring variations in the leg form. this proved somewhat frustrating, as there were some applications that were relatively straightforward but then some that just didn't seem to work. Phunsak noted that i was working with Martin again, and that i needed to modify things for Martin's size. Phunsak also commented that some applications work well with one kind of body but that others don't, with the difference really becoming evident when the other person's body is different in proportion and mass than yours. as a result, it's important to learn when some applications are available and others aren't.


the theme for kyudo this evening was words. Sensei had us devote some time to discussion of tenouchi (the hand grip on the bow), and in the process delved into the various meanings of japanese words. here's the list i have--i don't have the Japanese characters, or if i even have the English translations right, but if anyone has either let me know and i'll put them up:
  • kami-no-michi: people who've come before
  • shyugo: training/practicing, but in the sense of learning
  • renshu: training/practicing, but in the sense of polishing or refining
  • keiko: training/practicing, but in the sense of just doing an action over and over again
  • shizen: nature, or natural self
  • ten-o-uchi: the inside (hollow of the palm) area of the hand
Sensei had us practice the proper tenouchi on our bows, and then had us try to shoot w it. i noticed an immediate difference in my form. this in and of itself was not a surprise, since i expected to see some difference resulting from a change in the hand holding the bow. what was a surprise, however, was that the change in the hand resulted in a change in body mechanics, and this resulted in a change in the effort level to follow proper form in drawing the bow--it made it significantly easier. Sensei noticed this, and said this was good and that it was producing the desired effect.

we ran out of time in shooting, so i think next class i'm going to really devote some effort into practicing this. i think i'm getting better, and it's coming from a better sense of the requisite body mechanics involved, but i need to put in more time to get a more intuitive sense of what's right.

day 273: things on a Sunday

  • moving footwork
  • up-and-under
  • spear
  • chen pao quan
this follows from the previous post, and this will also be short. this refers to Sunday, April 4.


spear work consisted of review of the moving spear basics. this time, however, Sifu added in combination patterns, with us mixing footwork as we moved with the spear.

chen pao quan

we went further into the chen pao quan form. we kept the additional material short, since we're still trying to get a handle on everything we've learned. this time, Sifu showed us a portion of the form that involved what i call an "up-and-under" action with the arms.

day 272: legging it

  • centers
  • bagua leg form
  • kyudo
once again, i am very delinquent in posting. my apologies. this spring has been inordinately busy, and i am constantly struggling to stay up to speed. as a result, this post will be short. this post relates to Saturday, April 3.

bagua leg form

this was a continuation of the leg form. however, i also took some time to experiment with some things Sifu had talked about before regarding the center, particularly finding and taking the center of the system created by the bodies of you and your opponent. as a test, i partnered with Martin, who is significantly larger than i am (about 2x as heavy) and hence skews the center of mass towards him. this proved a major challenge, as my sense of distance and spacing was thrown off and i found myself having to feel out the center again--something which i can't do with any level of instinct at this point in time. it's going to take some practice.


part of kyudo tonight was spent working on the nocking area of the string on my bow (the arrow shaft has a nock where the string fits, and the place on the string where the arrow fits is in a very specific section by the bow handle). this took a little time, as this involves gluing and wrapping string thread around the nocking area on the string, and then adjusting it so that it fits the arrow nock. this involves a little work, since the nocking area is deemed to fit the arrow when you can nock the arrow, hold the string horizontal, and still have the arrow remain on the string.

i'd done this the prior week, but had found that i'd applied too little glue and thread. tonight was an effort to refine the previous week and apply the requisite glue and thread so that it fit the arrow.

i did manage to get in a few rounds of shooting. Sensei asked me to focus on expanding into the bow--he later observed that things are getting better, but that i'm still not reaching full expansion. it's something i know i need to work on, and will be something i'm going to have to consciously focus on for the next classes.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

day 271: back into things

  • extension
  • borrowing energy
  • center
  • vector (force & magnitude)
  • earth & sky
  • structure
  • opening
  • bagua leg form
  • kyudo
so i made it back to the regular class today for both kung fu and kyudo. i'd been swamped over the past few weeks with grading, prepping lecture, and training for Ironman Utah. but i got past the grading, managed to mostly finish prepping, and dropped out of Ironman Utah to make it to my brother's wedding. as a result, i now suddenly have more time, which hopefully translates into spending more time on other pursuits--like kung fu and kyudo.

bagua leg form

it appears that in the time i was gone the class finished off xiao kai men and proceeded to the bagua leg form. Kieun and Phunsak told me that the class had gone through the leg basics very quickly (1 day!), and they'd already had 1 class on the opening portion of the leg form. i'm guessing that this is a continuation of the curriculum for the newer students--although, it appears that some of them have missed parts of it. still, we had some returnees (Martin, who's coming back after several months, and Steven, who had to miss a few weekends) for whom this is new, and the timing is good for them in terms of learning the form from the relative beginning.

this is good actually, since while i can remember the leg form there are segments of it for which i'm uncertain regarding application. that, and the theory in the form is also something that's always worth reviewing.

Phunsak took us farther into the form while Sifu was helping the baji students, and then Sifu came back to lead us through the applications. he made the following comments regarding where we were:
  • extension: a lot of the movements in the leg form are exaggerated to the actual application in a real fight. Sifu said the exaggeration is meant to show us the nature of the physics in the movements, and indicate the intent we need to be exercising in the actions in order to deploy the physics.
  • borrowing energy: Sifu said that some of the movements appear to be brute force actions. but he said that this is a inaccuracy, and that they actually employ energy borrowed from the earth and sky. he demonstrated that we borrow energy from the ground by positioning our bodies to create a structure that utilizes and propagates reaction forces from the earth. he said we can also similarly do the same thing in terms of creating structure that appear to propagate forces from the sky--they don't literally do this, but by having the intent to do so it aligns the body in a structure that conveys more power. the idea, Sifu observed, behind both earth & sky is that the body structure is such that it aligns the center with the vector going from the source of force (reaction force or otherwise) to the opponent, and hence allows your body to become a clean line of transmission of the force vector.
  • force vector: for the full force vector (remember: a vector is both magnitude and direction) to go into the opponent, you want the body to align with the vector direction so that it can carry the full magnitude of force--this means the power is not just the power made by your own muscle actions, but the power coming from the exploitation of basic Newtonian physics (note: improper alignment of body structure "breaks" the force vector--hence the term "broken energy"--and stops the Newtonian reaction forces from being carried through you, leaving only your muscular power as the remaining source of force).
we spent the remainder of class time working on these concepts, with varying degrees of success. i find it hard to grasp this, since sometimes i'm trying to feel out things that i've never felt before, which makes everything a process of trial-and-error.

we took a longer post-class lunch today, since it turned out to be Eric's birthday (a big one...but i'll spare him the publicity) and a homecoming of sorts for Martin (who apparently was gone involuntarily due to an injury).


kyudo this evening was focused primarily on me preparing my yumi (bow). i hadn't had time to do it before, so i'd decided to devote attention to it tonight. it was a bit of a project, since the string had to be adjusted to the proper length, then the nocking section had to be reinforced with string and glue to fit my arrows, and i also had to let everything cure. this ended up consuming all of the free shoot for me.

i did manage to achieve some shooting. Sensei worked with me a bit, saying that i needed to open up more in my draw and release. he observed that i still wasn't getting extension, and that i had to expand out from my center through my spine to get the requisite extra extension. he covered this later with the entire class, and advised us to expand until it opened our chest. the opening isn't supposed to be too much, but he noted it does need to be there, since it serves to push out the body structure into the bow and then follow through to the release of the arrow. in fact, Sensei observed, if done right, the opening actually causes the release of the arrow--and at does so at the proper moment: the moment of maximum of expansion of the body structure.

we finished a little late tonight, which gave the glue on my string time to dry. i didn't have enough time for a trial run with my yumi, but i figure this is something i can do next class.