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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

day 270: moving with the spear and reviewing chen pao quan

  • movement
  • center
  • spear
  • chen tai chi pao quan
i skipped kung fu and kyudo for Saturday, March 20. i made it for Sunday morning, March 21, so this post applies to that. it was just me and Chieng-Chieh, since Phunsak was at a seminar.


Sifu had us spend time on spear moving basics. so far, the drills we've been doing have been from a stationary position, with the feet largely immobile. today, Sifu showed us some initial drills for spear with footwork.

the footwork was similar to others we've learned when training for sparring work: linear footwork, 1st with a shuffle-step with the front foot initiating, then with a shuffle-skip with the rear foot iniatiting; circular, following bagua stepping; and finally what Sifu translated as a "gangster" walk or Ching-Chieh labeled as a "duck waddle", with the body moving in a see-saw movement as the weight shifted with each footstep. with each step in each drill, you're supposed to time thrusts with the spear in a way that the footwork helps generate power into the spear thrust.

Sifu also noted that in the moving spear drills it's important to keep the center down, so that it moves parallel to the ground rather than up-and-down, and that we also work all spear movements from our center, so that the feet and the body serve to move the spear. this proved to be a total body workout, and quite a bit more strenuous than i'd expected--for all that, Sifu said it's better than simply relying on your arms, which get tired far more quickly than your legs or body.

chen tai chi pao quan

we had enough time to work on chen tai chi pao quan. Ching-Chieh is still catching up, so we spent the remainder of class working on review of what we've done to date--which is just as well, since i hadn't had any time to practice at all in the past 2 weeks, and i needed the review as much as anybody else. i think we're starting to get it better, but i really do need to start spending more time practicing. hopefully i'll get the time now, but i'll have to see.

day 269: post & 2-person xiao kai men

  • pressure
  • post
  • 2-person
  • xiao kai men
  • kyudo
this post covers March 13. things went off the deep end the past few weeks in terms of workload. so i've missed a few classes and missed a few posts. i'll try to catch up here. you'll have to forgive the terseness of the posts.

xiao kai men

we continued with xiao kai men. today Sifu had us start with post training for the form. essentially, you do the form, except that you do it against a stationary post, with the post serving as an imaginary opponent. this means you have to adjust your positioning and change the orientation of the postures in the form so that it's constantly against the post. Sifu said to do this with varying degrees of pressure against the post. he cautioned that in reality you wouldn't strive to constantly apply pressure against an opponent, but rather instead change depending on where you were in the arrangement of ting, hwa, na, and fa jing. still, with the post, you try to work with pressure, with the goal of training yourself how it feels to apply techniques against a solid body/mass.

we spent the 2nd half of class doing the xiao kai men 2-person form, which basically means 2 people doing the form against each other in a symmetric application of each of the techniques. Sifu said that this takes training a step further, training you to learn how to find spacing and how to fit your body against another person.

i ended up skipping the post-class lunch today, since had to rush home and pick up with exam grading.


news this evening: my bow arrived. i now have a brand new bow. 13kg draw weight. of course, the catch is that i need to string it. originally i thought this would be straightforward and that i could do this during the free shoot after the tea break, but it turns out that it's more intensive, since the string length has to be adjusted, then treated, and then wrapped to fit the arrow nock. i decided to exercise wisdom and postpone this to another class.

shooting went well tonight, with Sensei saying that i'm getting better. he advised me to continue working on the draw, saying that it's simpler than i'm making it and that i should concentrate on inserting my bone structure inside the bow rather than on expanding my arms out. he observed that drawing the bow is about applying proper body structure.

we ended up eating out as a class afterwards, and went to a diner for a late dinner.

day 268: continuing chen pao quan

  • power
  • explosion
  • chen tai chi pao quan
i missed class Saturday, March 6 for both kung fu and kyudo, since i was grading. as a result, this post applies to Sunday, March 7, which i managed to make. this is going to be a very brief post, since i'm trying to catch up after several weeks of overwhelming work.

chen tai chi pao quan

it was just Ching-chieh, Phunsak, and me today. Sifu had us work on the chen pao quan form. it's been some time since Ching-chieh had been learning this, so we back-tracked to the beginning and focused on reviewing the form for today. we went a little bit further, but not much, just enough to reach the 3/4 mark of the form.

Sifu corrected my punches in the form, saying that the punches needed to function as a rebound of the foot-pounding. in the form, there are several times when you pound both feet simultaneously into the ground. superficially, they appear to be a technique separate from the subsequent actions, and can function this way as their own application.

Sifu, however, noted that for the times they are followed by the punch that they serve to as an initial act of power generation, with force going into the ground and then immediately coming back through the feet, which we then need to exploit to assist the power of the punch. this means that punch has to be applying power rebounding from the foot-stomps.

Sifu also reminded me that the punch does not go straight out, but actually is supposed to have a slight curvature down. in effect, the punches are not just punches, but extensions of the body meant to drive a person down.

we worked on this for the remainder of class, and concluded with that for the day.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

day 267: qi-gong, TCM, & xiao kai men

  • chan zieh jin
  • center
  • yangqao/yinqao
  • yangwei/yinwei
  • renmai/dumai
  • qongmai
  • daimai
  • bagua qi-gong
  • bagua xiao kai men
this post is a little late, largely because i've been swamped with work. so again, things are going to be a little terse.

i should also make an addendum to the last post (day 266). one of the things i forgot to mention that in discussing absorbing/projecting using the fingers in our conversation on chen tai chi, Sifu had noted that this leads to the deployment of chan zieh jin (spiraling energy) in the movements, since the act of focusing on the little finger and ring finger to absorb energy and focusing on the middle finger and index finger to project energy naturally creates a twisting action as you alternate receiving/retracting and directing/extending your body and limbs.

i asked Sifu how this differs from the chan zieh jin in bagua, since the styles look so different. he said that with chen tai chi the silk reeling energy is employed more in terms of structure, in that the practitioner applies it through their own body against an opponent. bagua, in contrast, is more systemic, in that chan zieh jin is taken not just in terms of spiraling energy in the body but also spiraling energy in the system of free bodies (i use the phrase "free body" in terms of the engineering/physics concept) created by your body and the other opponents' bodies around you, where the goal is to apply concepts of spirals to engage opponents, find or create openings in their gates, and exploit them. he noted that this is why he uses the concept of "vortices" in teaching bagua applications. he stressed the differences are relative, in that both chen tai chi and bagua do similar things with silk reeling energy, but that chen tai chi is more structural chan zieh jin and bagua is more systemic.

bagua qi-gong

Sifu had us review all 3 levels of bagua qi-gong. when we finished, he gathered us together for a brief discussion as to some of the purposes behind qi-gong. he said that qi-gong is about learning how to cultivate and utilize qi (or chi). typically, this is taken as a medical function, since it is seen as constructive to individual health. he also said, however, that there are martial purposes behind this.

picking up from his comments from last week, he said that in martial arts it is crucial to maintain your center. this helps you to remain upright and creates a platform to counter opponent actions and to launch attacks against them. he demonstrated how a focus on your own center can make a person dramatically harder to destabilize, utilizing various applications against Feng and Phunsak to show how the effectiveness varied depending on whether they were focusing on their centers or not.

the issue, however, is to be able to maintain this focus on the center while in the chaos of a fight, particularly when the opponent is doing everything possible to break your center. he said this is where qi-gong comes in, since it teaches you to keep your mind on your center (he noted that in qi-gong, you're expected to constantly think about your center), and hence provides training on how to maintain and utilize your center. over time, via qi-gong training, you can go from having to consciously concentrate on your center to having it be something subconscious and automatic, so that it's not as susceptible to external disruptions.

he went on to note that eventually, as you become better, you learn about the multiple centers in the body and learn how to manipulate them. these other centers are also vulnerable to disruption. he demonstrated the same applications as last week (i.e., the ones for "wind blowing on the water") where simply waving a hand over certain parts of the body dramatically alters the effectiveness of the technique, and said that the reason such actions work is that they're disturbing the other centers in your body and thereby destabilizing your structure. he noted that it's possible to explain this using Western concepts (i.e., disruptions to the autonomic response systems of the body, distractions to mental focus, misdirection, etc.), but that we can also understand it in Eastern concepts, particularly since it fits with the use of qi-gong to help train our bodies to deal with such issues.

bagua xiao kai men

we finished the day with xiao kai men. Sifu introduced us the following concepts in relation to the form:
  • yangwei--the part of the body that opens/extends in a given movement
  • yinwei--the part of the body that closes/retracts in a given movement
  • yangqao--the outer line of the leg running from the hip to the outside of the foot
  • yinqao--the inner line of the leg running from the crotch to the inside of the foot
  • qongmai--the line that runs vertically along the ribs
  • daimai--the line that runs horizontally along the waist
  • renmei--the line that runs vertically along the front of the body from the groin through the bellybutton and sternum to the top of the head
  • dumai--the line that runs vertically along the back of the body from the top of the head down the spine to the groin
Sifu said it's useful to think of these while doing the form, since it helps to direct our intent (yi) and hence guides proper application of energy (he also interchanged the phrase "force vectors"). he noted that these are terms seen in TCM, and are described as meridians, but that they have martial aspects in that they indicate the more effective trajectories to project power.

Sifu had us do xiao kai men focusing on these lines, doing the form in a line, then in an X pattern, then in random directions, and then along a circle. i've never done xiao kai men like this before, since i joined him after he had taught this last time, and so this was all new to me. this was constructive, since i'd always felt i'd missed out on some of the deeper aspects of xiao kai men.

by this time it was getting late, and the rain had started to come down hard. Sifu ended class with that, and said he'd see us next week.