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.