Monday, February 22, 2010

day 266: a quiet sunday

  • Eastern v. Western concepts
  • statics, vectors
  • thermodynamics
  • energy
  • gathering, projecting
  • fingers
  • chin na
  • centering
  • pulling along the pillar
  • lifting the spine
  • chen tai chi pao quan
  • kyudo
i missed this past Saturday class. i had a tough week of training for Ironman (the race is in May, and so i'm entering the peak of the training cycle right now), and needed some extra sleep time for recovery. i made the Saturday night kyudo class, and i made the Sunday class--although it appears that no one else did, since it turned out i was the only one who showed up Sunday.

chen tai chi pao quan

Alex stayed a little after his Sunday morning private lesson (it precedes the usual Sunday morning class), and we ended up talking about chen tai chi. Alex had some questions regarding the lexicon of TCMA in Eastern v. Western terms (e.g., "chi" or "energy" vs. "center of mass" or "vectors" or other physics-related terms).

we've had extensive conversations on this before, with varying different perspectives coming from different people inside and outside our school. i have my own take on this--that the phenomenon that practitioners of martial arts study are well observed and to some degree understood, but that ancient (and Eastern) cultures described and analyzed them using concepts of their time, whereas modern (and Western) cultures utilize the concepts of our time, which is science.

Sifu said that to some extent there are analogues between Western scientific terminology and Eastern traditional ones. but he cautioned that Western concepts sometimes fall short, and that it's thus useful to be able to understand Eastern ones. he asserted that the reason Western terms are sometimes insufficient is that Western science hasn't really gone far enough to study martial arts, and hasn't really understood all the phenomenon that TCMA practitioners have observed and learned to use.

Alex says he thinks that the Western scientific lexicon is capable of describing TCMA phenomenon, but that it just awaits scientifically trained personnel willing to study TCMA in detail. he noted that some of the demonstrations employed by tai chi experts can be explained by statics and vectors, and that a basic understanding of engineering can reveal how seemingly mystical demonstrations can work and not work.

Sifu agreed with this, but said that we have to go beyond statics and vectors to really explain all the TCMA physics, particularly since Newtonian physics doesn't really cover all the permutations of energy that drives so much of TCMA. i observed that there's some potential regarding thermodynamics, which utilizes a different perspective on energy than the Newtonian translation of potential/kinetic energy equations. Sifu and Alex concurred, noting the concepts of enthalpy and entropy seem to be applicable to some of the conceptions of energy transfer related under TCMA.

this transitioned into Alex's next question on chin na applications, particularly on connecting internal TCMA principles into chin na techniques. Sifu said you can see internal TCMA ideas in chin na, and showed us some basic techniques while describing what was happening in terms of internal TCMA dynamics. Sifu pointed out how you can see that there are stages of energy gathering where you receive the opponent's action in a way that it is absorbed into your center, and there are stages of energy projecting where you then return the opponent's action in a way that destabilizes your opponent's center.

in discussing this, Sifu stressed the positioning of the hands, and showed how a subtle shift in the right way in the hands can change an action back and forth between energy gathering to energy projecting, and how a subtle shift in the wrong way can lead to catastrophic failure. he noted that the ring finger and small finger are for energy gathering, and that the index finger and middle finger are for energy projecting.

i asked if this related to 5-element theory, and Sifu said that 5-element theory helps explain what is happening. under 5-element theory, the index and middle finger are wood and fire, where fire complements wood, and the ring and little finger are metal and water, where water complements metal. he added that this ties into qi-gong, in that it reminds you on where to focus your actions.

Sifu then continued by mentioning how all this relates to our center. he said that even though we think about energy gathering and projecting through our fingers, our intent (yi) still has to be in our center, so that we can sense energy going into and out from our centers. he had me and Alex try different techniques, 1st with us not focusing our minds on our center then with us focusing our minds on our centers. the techniques were more effective with intent placed on our centers, requiring much less effort and involving much more stability.

this was a real head-scratcher to me, since it's not something easily explainable by basic physics. Sifu said that this probably indicates the subconscious (e.g. autonomic) nature of our minds, where even though we're not consciously aware of the subtle changes in body dynamics with appropriate yi, they still occur and do just enough to convey the physics through our body. Sifu added that this is why internal martial arts practitioners who believe that an understanding of these kinds of internal mechanics are enough to be effective fighters have it wrong--to understand the internal mechanics is one thing, but to actually express them requires that you have a body capable of doing so, which is why it's still important to be physically fit, since you have to have the instrument by which you can maximize the gathering and projecting of energy.

Sifu then went on to mention that this is why in a fight it's so crucial to be able to disturb the opponent's center, since it impedes their ability to master energy. he observed that this again is where Western scientific concepts struggles to explain what is happening.

he showed us an example where he utilized techniques that, while they did nothing physically, still served to disrupt the opponent's yi and thereby disturbed their center. Sifu labeled this as like the wind blowing on a calm surface of water--the wind does little to the water itself, but is still enough to send ripples through the water that breaks its mirror-like quality. he asserted that a phenomenon like this in Eastern terminology would be identified as "disrupting the qi" or "disrupting the energy" while in Western science there wouldn't be anything comparable. he argued that a better way to describe this is via Western psychological concepts, which would identify this as a situation where the body's reflexive systems were exploited to shift the body's structure just enough to break the center.

by this time Alex had to leave, and it left me and Sifu to continue the conversation. Sifu asked me what i wanted to do with the remainder of Sunday class time, and i decided that i wanted to try and apply all the principles we'd talked about this morning to the chen tai chi pao quan form we'd covered to date.

Sifu took me through the form, and as we went through, we identified what stage was energy gathering and what stage was energy projecting, and thus at what points the hands had to shift from emphasizing the ring/little finger to the index/middle finger.

he also took me through some of the applications, identifying how energy gathering and energy projecting can be manipulated to improve the techniques. he noted that straightforward gathering and projecting can work, but that sometimes opponents can sense simple applications of energy and will reflexively resist. in these situations, Sifu said it's useful to let the energy go in and out of the center (e.g., let it bounce back and forth between the opponent), which confuses the reflexes of the opponent enough to break their center.

i asked if this is why some chen tai chi practitioners shake when they do their forms. Sifu said yes, but that unfortunately many of them don't understand the purpose behind shaking, and they exaggerate it thinking it's just an appropriate expression of mastery when in reality it's serving to destroy the practitioner's own yi on their own center--and hence destabilizing their structure. he said that historically the shaking was taught to remind practitioners of how they could utilize gathering and projecting energy to disrupt their opponent, and so was supposed to be done in the forms just enough to help teach students the principle, but not to the point that it broke down your own center.

Sifu continued working with me, refining my movements, until we'd gotten to the point where we'd finished in previous classes. we decided to stop there, and wait until everyone else returned to the Sunday before proceeding any further.


even though kyudo occurred Saturday night before the Sunday class, i'll put it here since it's the customary location most of you are familiar with.

i found that things this evening were strangely easier than they've been in the past. i don't mean regarding kiza or seiza--i've always struggled with these, and i have the feeling that i always will. but the handling of the bow and shooting the arrow was remarkably easier.

i was using the 14-kg bow this evening, and for me this has always been a struggle to draw. tonight, however, things didn't feel anywhere near as difficult, without anywhere near the same level of struggle. i was almost shocked.

i do know that i had modified my form tonight, putting a much greater level of attention on how i was lifting the bow when initiating the draw. tonight i focused on holding my hands out aligned with my centerline, visualizing that my hands were following a pillar that ran along my spine. i also concentrated on what Sensei had stressed to me before, which was straightening my spine and releasing the tension in my lower back by lifting my neck straight up. together, these 2 things greatly reduced the level of effort i had to apply in drawing the bow, and helped me maintain a much greater level of stability in the release.

i actually felt like i made some progress tonight, and put in some extra practice during the free shoot just to confirm that i really was feeling what i was feeling.

we finished class a little late, but it was no big deal since a group of us went out to eat afterwards. i'm looking forward to the next class.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

day 265: pre-class and qi-gong review

  • fight fundamentals
  • gi-gong: gathering, projection, moving
  • bagua
this will need to be another short post regarding Feb. 13, since i'm still trying to unbury myself from work. although, there's not that much to report, since i skipped kyudo class again and the kung fu class was largely a review of bagua qi-gong.


Kieun led the pre-class session this time, and we focused on basic fight fundamentals. we met at 9:30. the bulk of time this morning was on fitness exercises and some basic punch/combination drills.

bagua qi-gong

Sifu had us review bagua qi-gong, saying it was a good time of year to start working on it (apparently, qi-gong is better during the winter and spring, and less so during summer and fall). he also said it's good to revisit it now that we've gone through more of the advanced bagua lessons, and reconsider it in light of what we've learned.

we went through level 1 qi-gong, which is largely focused on qi accumulation. Sifu led us through this, quizzing us on which animal, organ, and 5-element theory was related to each one. he reminded us as to the connection of all these to each other. he also showed us the breathing sequence for each. he noted that it's not necessary to have low stances on this, but rather to maintain a loose, albeit stable, structure through all the movements. he also stressed that we need to focus on our dantians throughout each of the qi-gong exercises.

Sifu had Phunsak and Art lead us through levels 2 & 3 qi-gong. level 2 is focused on qi projection, and ties each of the qi-gong exercises to the bagua stances, with each bagua stance serving as the projection of qi. level 3 is moving, and involves walking in a circle for each qi-gong exercise. Sifu noted that level 3 qi-gong is really just the 8 mother palms, except that each exercise is done on its own circle. Sifu pointed out that 8 mother palm is really just a moving form of qi-gong, teaching you how to move with a stable dantian while constantly gathering and projecting qi.

we spent the remainder of class going through this, working on the finer points of movement, breathing, and yi (intent) for each of the qi-gong exercises. we finished around 1 and went to lunch after.

Monday, February 15, 2010

day 264: setting directions for Saturday class

this post relates back to the previous weekend of Feb. 7. i didn't attend class Saturday morning, and so i have nothing to post for Feb. 6. Feb. 7 was the Sunday class, i managed to make that. thing is, nobody else did, and it ended up just being me and Phunsak with Sifu.

we decided to not cover anything new, since we figured that even if we did, we'd have to go back and redo everything for everyone else who showed up next time. instead, Sunday turned into a discussion as to plans for classes going forward.

the general plan appears to be that we're going to start having a "fundamentals class" that precedes each Saturday morning class. i'm using the quotes, because this isn't going to be a formal class, in the sense that people are going to pay and Sifu is going to teach. rather, the "fundamentals class" is going to just be about a 60-90 minute session run by Phunsak and Kieun every Saturday morning before Sifu's formal class. Phunsak and Kieun are going to teach on alternating Saturdays, with the "fundamentals class" focusing more on basic fight fundamentals (e.g., strategy, principles, body mechanics, etc. at an introductory level--basically, for people who've never been in, much less seen, a fight in their entire life).

Phunsak and Kieun have argued before that much of what Sifu teaches assumes a pre-existing level of understanding regarding fighting. unfortunately, most of the people in the class don't have this, simply because they've never actually been involved in a fight of any kind on any level. Sifu concurred, noting that in the modern era people "have become too civilized." he was joking, but he was making the point that people just don't have the basic grounding that most martial arts students in the past would have had regarding what actually happens when you get caught in a fight and find yourself hitting and getting hit by a hostile opponent entirely intent on doing you harm.

the plan is to start on Feb. 13, and to continue from there. attendance isn't mandatory, but simply available for anyone interested. Phunsak and Kieun already have an idea as to who is going to attend and who isn't, but they're not saying. i guess we'll see.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

day 263: finishing the arm form

  • power
  • applications
  • bagua arm form
i'm going to keep this post really short. i'm inundated with an avalanche of grading that i need to do. so apologies to everyone who might be expecting more.

regarding last weekend (and this Saturday as well), i skipped kyudo class to deal with the exams for my classes. i also had to skip the typical post-class lunch. it even appears i'm going to have to skip the kung fu as well until i get the grading done.

i did manage to make last Saturday's class, albeit very late. i managed to arrive just in time to join everyone in finishing the arm form...yes, we did finish the form. Sifu had us demonstrate the form individually so he could critique us 1-on-1. he corrected a number of movements i had, advising me to stay a little closer to the body with some and extending farther on others, with the purpose being to better direct power--either to redirect incoming power or to project power.

we also spent some time reviewing applications, with sifu stressing to us that we need to remember that applications can be combined in different sequences, and mixed and matched in different ways, and hence we need to be careful to 1) avoid employing single applications (e.g., executing 1 application and then stopping), or 2) avoid fixed progressions of applications (e.g., logical, step-wise combinations). Sifu reminded us that it's important to try and maintain a continuous fluid pattern moving from 1 application to another, with movements following a random unfixed seamless path following 1 technique (or simultaneous techniques) after another.

we finished class around 1 pm, and i ended up hurrying back to get to work.