Friday, November 18, 2011

days 325-328: oh yeah, i know, lots to catch up

  • applications
  • hsing-yi
  • chang quan (long fist)
  • miao dao
  • shuai jiao
  • kyudo
oh yeah, i know, i haven't posted in awhile. sue me. things have been busy. and there have been some career things that i've been having to deal with that's kept me preoccupied.  but i'll try to get everything caught up with this post--it will be a little curt to get everything to fit here.

i should note that Sifu announced a knife seminar for Thanksgiving. it will be Saturday 9:30am-5:30pm on Saturday, November 26 at the CSULA campus.

we've been working through usage of the various 12 animals. we've stopped in the last few classes to spend some time with tantui and pao quan from chang quan (see below).  but i think that i'll at least provide the videos of the Shanxi hsing-yi videos that i haven't posted on this blog before:
Shanxi eagle

Shanxi bear

Shanxi eagle-bear

chang quan (long fist)
we've spent time over several Saturdays reviewing jia men chang quan (islamic long fist). apparently, Sifu has been teaching it to UCLA students outside of his class there, and some of them are attending Saturday with us. i learned jia men chang quan with Sifu in private lessons before, so a lot of this is familiar.

i actually think this is a good thing, since i can see a lot more in it after having gone through bagua, tai chi, and hsing-yi.  there are common principles among the various styles, with the same ideas in terms of physics being utilized and expressed in different ways. i think what happened in history is that either practitioners borrowed from each other or they discovered the same ideas separately, but either way found that the physics inspired them to apply the same principles in creative permutations.

so far, we've spent several Saturdays working on chang quan pao quan and 1 Sunday filming tantui applications for what is apparently going to be Sifu's next book.

miao dao
miao dao on Sundays has been all about applications in the 4 lines.  since 1 Sunday was spent filming the tantui applications, i've actually only missed 1 Sunday--and from what other people have told me that Sunday was spent on the bagua elbow knife form.

shuai jiao
Sifu was asked to give a shuai jiao seminar 1 Saturday with the CSULB kung fu club. this was actually really good. there were a lot of people (>20 at the highest), the club had use of a gym with mats, and there was plenty of space, so it really provided an opportunity to work with different body types and really made things fun.  unfortunately, the seminar only ran for 2 hours, so Sifu only had time to teach a few basic stances and a few applications.  he said it was enough to provide the students with a taste of shuai jiao.

i'm hoping the kids at the CSULB kung fu club liked it enough that they'll want to have a recurring shuai jiao seminar on a regular basis--even if it's just 3-4 times a semester, that's still useful enough to learn applications and acquire some send of how to adjust to live bodies. if they did this on weekends, i think i'd be willing to drive down and join them.

kyudo has been a bit of experimentation. i think i'm resolving some of the issues i was having with respect to the arrow not going into the makiwara straight--at least, i've been able to get it to go in at less of an angle.  i think a major part of what's been happening is that by placing my attention on the right half of my body, it's been lifting my left side up, causing the arrow to go into the makiwara with an upward trajectory.  when i put more attention on my left side, it seems to correct...although, the issue now is just how much attention do i have to put into my left side to balance both sides out and get the arrow to go straight.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

day 324: corrections re last week, and tai bird applications

  • basics
  • alignment
  • placement
  • breathing
  • hsing-yi
ok, so i made some errors in the last post that i should correct. we went through the breathing exercises again, and i realized that i'd made some mistakes.

i was grading midterms last week, and so was a little pressed for time and had to miss both the kyudo class and the Sunday kung fu class.


so here is what i should note as corrections:
  • stages--there are different stages/levels to the breathing exercises, with the sequence going exercises for training capacity (from top to middle to bottom), calmness, and then sound  
  • capacity--training for capacity involves a series of exercises that go in progression from top to middle to bottom. top covers the the head, neck, and shoulders, and breathing here should be inhale through the nose and exhale through the nose with the head/neck/shoulders raised. middle covers the chest & arms, and breathing here should be inhale through the nose & exhale through the mouth while opening (on the inhale, bringing the elbows as far behind you as possible to open the chest) & closing the elbows (on the exhale, bringing the elbows as far together in front of you as possible to close the chest). bottom is the diaphragm, with the inhale through the nose & exhale through the mouth while having the hands on the dantian (hands close and push in slightly on the exhale, open and expand slightly on the inhale)
  • calmness--this is where you remain still and breath using the 1:4:2 ratio, where in inhale for 1 part, hold for 4, and exhale for 2
  • sound--this works to vibrate/massage the internal organs, improve strength in terms of power generation, and speed up recovery. there are different sounds, but we worked on hun (which involves the ren-mei) & ha (which ties into the du-mei)

we began hsing-yi today on the basics. Eric and i decided to just go back to the very beginning, working on standing qi-gong and then doing hsing-yi stances (fu hu, xian long, san ti?) with the 8 checkpoints (i.e., ding, ko, yuen, bao, chwei, chu, ting, du).  once we did those, we then proceeded to work on the applications for tai bird.

Sifu showed us the principle in Shanxi tai bird. tai bird uses a piqua-like movement for the upper body (similar to sparrow) while stepping. Sifu pointed out that this is meant to remind the practitioner to step forward, so that the body is moving even as the hands are opening out, and the center is driving forward when the hands come back into the punch. Sifu made a number of notes:
  • when sweeping out, the arms/hands are not blocking. Sifu said they're supposed to be receiving, and so are supposed to be trying to follow the opponent's energy vector and then directing them off into the space you vacated as you stepped forward (i.e., ting & hwa jing)
  • alignment is important. you need to step forward in a direction off the opponent's vector, but which still follows it close enough that you close the distance into striking range
  • the hand/arm sweep doesn't have to be big. in fact, you have to vary it depending on what you're doing. the principle is that you're opening the opponent's gate so that your hands are inside the opponent's defenses and able to strike--but you still have to make sure your gate doesn't open to a degree that the opponent can counter-attack
  • the hands in the form come together to a mid-level punch. this, however, varies on the target and how you opened the opponent's gate. the principle is to use the energy you redirected from the opponent to lead into whatever target is available. the form looks like it is targeting the kidney or ribs, but the actual target can be anything you find once you're inside the opponent's defenses.
  • tai bird works either stepping into dragon or tiger gate. however, going through the tiger gate means you have to shorten/close the arm sweep to minimize your own gates, and it means working both of the opponent's arms so that you penetrate between them.
  • Sifu took time to show both the Shanxi tai bird and Hebei tai bird, and identified how both may look different but both actually involve the same principles. he observed that this should tell us how we can adjust the movements to apply the principles in different ways.
we spent the rest of class practicing the tai bird applications, and then spent the final part reviewing the 2-person hsing-yi form.

Friday, October 14, 2011

day 323: snake applications, breathing, and quadrant balancing

  • breathing: ratio, capacity, calm, sound
  • snap
  • quadrant balancing
  • qi-gong
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
i completely forgot to include a section on breathing from the last post. Sifu spent some time at the beginning of that Saturday teaching us breathing from qi-gong. i'm going to add it here, although it actually belongs with last week's post.


Sifu was apparently teaching some qi-gong breathing to some of the newer students in the morning, and decided he'd teach it to the class, since by everyone had shown up. he had us gather as a group and go through some basic breathing exercises.

he started with some theory, saying that breathing is a crucial component in traditional Chinese medicine, and hence a fundamental aspect of TCMA. he noted that it tends to get overlooked, but it deserves more attention than people typically give to it. training in breathing is important, since for the following reasons
  • capacity--it builds lung capacity, which is necessary for physical performance in terms of both endurance and power generation
  • calm--it helps maintain a sense of calm, thereby enabling better concentration
  • sound--the sounds used in breath training are done for different purposes. first, it can act to provide a form of internal massage of the organs. second, it can help assist in increasing power. third, it can speed up recovery (i.e., for situations when you are out of breath, it can help you catch your breath)
Sifu told us that breathing involves several different levels of our torso: top (chest), middle (diaphragm), and bottom (abdomen). done properly, the breathing comes from the abdomen, so that the action of the abdomen drives the diaphragm which in turn drives the chest.

Sifu had us follow him through several breathing exercises. he instructed us to follow a 1:4:2 ratio, where we inhaled for 1 part, held our breath for 4 parts, and exhaled for 2 parts (i.e., the exhale was 2x longer than the inhale). he also had us try 2 different sounds: hun and ha. to finish, he showed us some qi-gong movements, where we breathed while performing upper-body movements intended to help us expand our chest (top), diaphragm (middle), and abdomen (bottom).

Eric mentioned that some of the movements looked eerily similar to the qi-gong Sifu had learned from Liu Yun Qiao. he'd taught this to us several years ago. Eric's comment reminded me of that, and i have to admit, it was very similar--although, i suspect that they're probably related in terms of both coming from traditional Chinese medicine.


hsing-yi today was spent on applications from the Shanxi snake. Sifu showed us some techniques that can come out of it, and said that the principles in it, while similar, are slightly different from Hebei snake.  Hebei snake involves projection from the fingertips in a piqua-like fashion, but Shanxi snake utilizes the power in a snapping of a fist. Sifu showed us how this can work in different directions, and varies depending on our spacing and position relative to an opponent. he demonstrated that the snapping power works in terms of punching, but also works in terms of other applications like throws.

we spent the class working in pairs, practicing the applications Sifu had shown us. i got stuck on some of the applications, particularly the throws, since it seemed like the techniques needed a proper set-up in order for them to work. Thornton and i spent some time trying to work this out, but i wasn't able to get a better sense until Sifu returned and went through some of the set-up methods with us.

with respect to the throws, Sifu pointed out that the tendency for a lot of people is to try and grab the opponent with both hands. Sifu said that this can be problematic in that it tends to lead you into a brute-force scenario where you are trying to overpower someone using your arms (i.e., yang energy). this either results in a battle of strength going to whoever is stronger (which is not always you) or allows the other opponent to read you very easily (because you're communicating your intent directly through your arms to them).  Sifu noted that snake involves a release, and so that in terms of wrestling reminds you to work through grabbing with 1 or 2 hands, where instead of applying yang you act to give the opponent signals that mix yang & yin.  this makes it easier to misdirect and deceive the opponent with respect to their gates, making it easier for you to set up the throw.  Sifu reminded us that the throw is secondary, and the setup is much more important.


kyudo this evening was a bit of an adventure. i came to class with an agenda centered on trying to figure out why my arrows were going into the makiwara at an upward angle. i've been working on this, but have not been able to resolve this with any consistency, meaning that whatever i was tinkering with was not the source of the problem.

Sensei observed that my expansion was wrong in several different ways:
  • my release had regressed a little bit, with my draw becoming more dependent on my right hand, as opposed to being balanced between both my left and right upper quadrants
  • my legs seem to have become unbalanced as well, with my weight going to my left leg and my stance being off-angle with respect to the makiwara
  • in the draw, i seem to be pulling as opposed to just expanding
i managed to get these variables sorted out in terms of getting my quadrants (upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right) balanced, and that finally got my arrow back to going straight into the makiwara. having said that, however, it readjusted everything else in my form, so that the string was now hitting my forearm and cheek.

i spent the remainder of class trying to recalibrate everything to get my shooting form right, but i struggled with consistency. i managed to get things on a positive track towards the end of class, but by that time i could sense that i my technique was starting to erode from fatigue and that my concentration was starting to suffer as a result. i stopped after what i considered to be a positive shot (key word: positive. not perfect. but at least something positive) and decided to end the day with some sense of optimism.

Friday, October 07, 2011

day 322: miao dao power generation

  • structure
  • kua
  • dantian
  • sword surface
  • diffuse/central focus
  • decreasing radius
  • ting, hwa, na, fa jing
  • dragon, tiger, snake gates
  • far, middle, near gates
  • miao dao
we had a Sunday class last weekend. there are more people coming to the Sunday sessions, although most of them are beginners learning baji (i'm guessing they can't make the Saturday sessions).

for the first part of class, i worked on reviewing the 4 lines of the miao dao form with Stephen and Phunsak. Phunsak took time to refine our movements, particularly lines 3 & 4. i haven't really learned lines 3 & 4 that well, since they're the most recent and i missed those classes over the summer. as a result, this was actually a chance for me to really get some instruction with them.

the second part of class was spent on miao dao basics. Sifu looked at us doing lines 1-4, and said that our power generation was lacking. while part of this was from not doing the correct techniques, he also said that a lot of this was from poor body mechanics. the solution for this is to work on the basics and build our foundation. he has us work on just doing the initial basics that related to line 1 (e.g., cut down, cut at an angle, cut horizontal).  he made a number of points:
  • power with the miao dao comes from the overall body structure, particularly in terms of aligning the head, neck, and spine. Sifu stressed the importance of making sure that the crown of the head was aligned vertically with the neck and spine. to do this, it helps to slightly lift the head and subtly tuck the chin in.
  • as much as you need to have structure with the head, neck, & spine, you also need to have structure with the kua. the bending of the kua has to be done in a way that allows power to come from the legs through the torso, so that the arms and shoulders are not doing the work but instead are more structural guides directing the power of the sword stroke.
  • the dantian has to stay stable. this means it has to stay level (i.e., not go up or down) as you move through the techniques. in addition, the power of a cut has to go from the dantian (during the initiation of the cutting motion) and come back again (during the final phase of the cutting motion). essentially this means that a cut involves a loop in power starting and originating in the dantian.
  • for power generation, Sifu said it also helps to go from diffuse to point focus in a cut. this means that when you start a cut you start with your eyes and attention in diffuse focus, and then at the moment you make contact with the opponent and perform the cut you switch your eyes and attention to point focus on the point of the cut. this helps to bring everything into the dantian, concentrating the power of the sword into the point of contact.
  • for one of the cuts (the horizontal cut in line 4), Sifu said we were missing the subtlety in the movement. originally, we'd learned as a horizontal slash similar to a baseball bat swing. Sifu said this is a mistake, and that the movement is a horizontal slash that follows a path with a decreasing radius of the arc. Sifu said this helps to improve the cutting. he said that this was true of all the cutting applications, even for those (like in line 1) where it was not apparent. he noted that this makes it easier to cut since it relies less on power and more on slashing.
  • Sifu also discussed the sword surface, noting that we have to apply the techniques with the proper surface of the sword facing the proper direction. sometimes this means that the blade faces the opponent's sword, other times that the flat or back of the blade faces the opponent's sword. this is because there are times when we're want to receive and deflect the opponent's strike and other times when we want to attack. regardless, we have to be mindful of the application and adjust our blade to match it.
at this point, i asked Sifu about the connection between the miao dao and the concepts we've learned before in ting (sensing), hwa (deflecting), na (control), and fa (projection) jing.  Sifu said that just like we exercise ting, hwa, na, and fa jing with empty hand combat, we do the same thing with weapons. he noted that in some situations, depending on the technique and the spacing and timing relative to the opponent, we actually combine some of the steps. but the idea is the same: you want to first sense out the opponent, then receive and if necessary deflect their attack, position yourself and the sword so that you control the opponent and constrain their movement, and then project your own attack into them. Sifu pointed out that for purposes of ting, hwa, na, and fa jing the sword--and any weapon--can be seen as extension of your body.

we went on to talk about gates. Sifu said that this is the same as empty hand combat, in that the sword (and any weapon) is constantly working through the jings to try and find or entice openings in the opponent's gate, and then attacking when we are able to do so. Sifu reminded us, however, that this doesn't just mean in terms of dragon (opponent's back), tiger (opponent's front), or snake gate (side of opponent facing you), but also means in terms of distance: far (out of range from the opponent), middle (within in the far edge of contact range with the opponent), near gate (within close torso/torso range of the opponent). Sifu said it's possible to go through ting jing and hwa jing without actually making contact with the opponent or the opponent's weapon, in that we're working their far gates. however, he said that for control (i.e., na jing)and power projection (i.e., fa jing), we have to be in physical contact, and so have to be in striking range (meaning either middle or near gate). this is why so much of fighting is actually spent sensing the opponent out or trying to mislead them, because you want to minimize risk by avoiding striking range until you are confident of being able to enter the opponent's gate and successfully attacking them.

we practiced the basics for the remainder of class, and then left around 1:30 pm.

day 321: applications of sparrow

  • spiralling
  • front wheel drive/rear wheel drive
  • void
  • structure
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this last Saturday was a straightforward day, continuing with applications of Shanxi. this past class spent was spent on applications out of Shanxi sparrow.


Shanxi sparrow is one of the forms that is very subtle. from the perspective of a marginally experienced observer, it has an initial appearance of being pretty easy to read and figure out in terms of applications. but this is purely superficial, since actually trying to use the techniques reveals that the movements are a little more subtle than they look.

the opening technique, for example, can be easily misread as an undercut. Sifu, however, said that this is not the only application, and that it's actually a combination of actions, all of which are predicated on each other for effectiveness. Sifu said that the front hand is not stationary, and actually follows a spiraling path, with the fist making a slight corkscrew. the rear hand, for its part, does not operate alone, but actually has to be synchronized with the front hand so that the rear hand acts to provide rear-wheel drive (i.e., while the front hand forms a bridge with the opponent and holds the unified structure, the rear hand acts to drive the power forward). the power in the movements comes from the lower body, but requires that the upper & body maintain a unified structure so that the center moves into the opponent (as opposed to just the hands alone).

Sifu pointed out similar things with the next movements, which externally appear to be borrowed from piqua. Sifu said this is not entirely the application. here, the focus initially is on ting jing, with the rear hand first working to sense out and align with the opponent's attacking vector. from this point, the correct footwork has to be applied so that you step into the opponent with line your hips and shoulders parallel to their attacking vector. the front hand is not actually a punch, but just simply an extension of your structure that projects outward in synch with the rear hand as it goes backward.

Sifu stressed that the rear hand actually has to lead the opponent's attacking vector, so that it points out into a void. he demonstrated it on me. the path of the rear hand as it goes back actually gave me the sensation of my power going out into empty space, with the inertia of my attack leading me into his front hand. Sifu pointed out that the rear hand can do this without having to actually make physical contact with the opponent, and so is simply more about setting you up with the correct spacing and alignment to allow the attacker's inertia to pass you in a direction that coincides with your front fist.

from there, Sifu then also showed us the follow-up, which simply a shot with the rear hand into the opponent's kidney/ribs. but here, too, he pointed out that the application is subtle. in order for it to work, you have to use your leading front fist as a set-up, disrupting the opponent's head to break their vertical alignment. once you've done that, it breaks their structure and makes it easier to then go into them with the kidney/rib strike.

something that i noticed on this series of moves is that structure is crucial. in order for you to maintain your balance and to be able to use the legs as the source of power, you have to have a solid structure. and you have to do so while moving yourself into the correct location. this takes a certain measure of spacing, timing, and confidence--the combination of which is not easy to combine. we spent the class working on these things.


kyudo this evening was a little abbreviated. the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute was holding a fund-raising bizarre on Sunday, and we had to set the tables for the bizarre up before we left Saturday night. as a result, Sensei had us cut the time short for both formal shooting and open shooting. as a result, i wasn't able to get in the practice that we usually get. and it didn't help that my string partially unraveled and i had to spend a part of class fixing my string. as a result, i felt that i regressed a little bit, and had to work on trying to identify problems in my form (of which, i am sure, there are many).

one thing i'm noticing is that my arrows are not going straight into the hakama. for some reason, they're consistently going into the hakama at an angle up from horizontal, so that the point is at a higher level than the fletchings. i've been trying to work on various things that i thought were the cause of this, but so far i haven't been able to resolve the problem. i think i'm going to have to ask Sensei about this, because it's becoming consistent, and so clearly shows to a problem in my form that i'm repeating on a ongoing basis. hopefully it's a relatively straightforward fix--although, considering how things go, it probably really isn't.

Friday, September 30, 2011

day 320: spam, backtracking, and misc

  • 5-element theory
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
ok, i'm going to have to issue a mea culpa. i haven't posted an entry for a number of weeks, even though i have been attending class. part of it is me being busy and too tired to post anything thoughtful. part of it was an unexpected Saturday run-in with a flat tire, broken apartment, plumbing, and a computer system crash. part of it, however, is a recent spate of spam.

it seems this blog has become afflicted with spam. somehow, it's become targeted by random computer-generated messages and comments that have increased in volume over the past few months. i know they're not genuine because 1) there is bad spelling and grammar, 2) there are seemingly random strings of letters and numbers, and 3) they always contain links--to where, i'm afraid to find out (apparently, hackers use this as an opportunity to learn your IP addresses and enable downloads of nefarious viruses/spyware/etc. to your computer). it wasn't that bad at first, and i was able to delete them as they came in. recently, however, it's gotten to the point that the more i try to delete them, the more they come in. it's starting to make this blog difficult to manage.

i've been reporting them as spam to Google, but so far it doesn't seem to have made any difference. the one thing that did make a difference was inactivity on this blog--the last few weeks of missing posts corresponded with a dip in spam. as a result, i'm wondering if they'll all dissipate if i wait long enough to let this blog have the appearance of inactivity.

i'm going to think about my options, and let you know.


last Saturday was a very well-timed and very much needed review day. Cheng-chieh is back from China, and so we ended up going back over material that she'd missed. for this class, we worked on the hsing-yi 2-person form.

i was grateful for this. i don't remember having done this. Eric said i was there when we did go over it, but i can't remember at all. i do remember some discussion about 5-element theory and an initial attempt to work through the 2-person form, but i suspect this was just before i left for June, and so i probably missed all the weekends everyone spent refining the 2-person form.

the 2-person form is essentially just the first 5 basic movements of hsing-yi arranged according to the 5-element creation/destruction cycles. there are 2 partners, and 1 partner performs the 5 movements in a sequence following the creation cycle and the other counters each move with a corresponding element from the destruction cycle. the idea is that each of the 5 basic movements corresponds to each of the 5 elements, and that each movement/element has a corresponding counter.

this means that 1 partner follows metal-water-wood-fire-earth (destruction cycle). the other partner then responds with wood-fire-earth-metal-water (creation cycle). it should be noted that the both cycles follow a sequence that is shifted by 2 (i.e., while 1 cycle starts with metal, the other starts with wood).

i'm sure there's some metaphysical theory behind this (not the 5-element theory. that i already know. i'm talking about the 2-person form). and perhaps also some connection with traditional Chinese medicine. the class probably went over that while i was away.

for now, Sifu said that we should just recognize that the 2-person form is showing how each technique has a counter, and that the 2-person form is just a learning tool to help remember the counters. he also pointed out that we can see that in the 2-person form the movements are not identical to the individual forms for each of the 5 basic movements, and that this is a reminder to recognize the principles involved and understand that the 2-person form is preserving the principles of each of the 5 basics even as it causes the movements in them too look differently.

this was a little complicated, and it took us the entire class to get this down.

i should note that Sifu showed the hsing-yi sabre form today, and had me record it for my Youtube channel. i've uploaded it, and you can see it:

hsing-yi sabre:
Sifu commented that this shows how hsing-yi can still employ the slashing techniques of a weapon like the sabre.


i skipped kyudo last week, but i made the previous weeks. i've been working on what Sensei told me before about flattening my shoulder blades. of course, the adjustment in my shoulder blades has disrupted everything else, and so i've been having to re-align everything to get the yumi and arrow back under control.

i think i mentioned this before, but it's essentially analogous to a parametric calibration in engineering, where you have 2 variables that both affect each other, so that an adjustment in one causes an adjustment in the other. to calibrate them, you have to work in increments, setting one as a constant and calibrating the other, then setting the calibrated one as a constant and calibrating the other, and then repeating the process again until both arrive at a stable equilibrium--and every time you change the equilibrium you have to do the entire calibration process all over again to find a new equilibrium.

that's essentially what i feel like i'm doing. and right now, things are going all over the place. but as usual: it's just going to take some time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

day 319: miao dao review

  • line 2
  • distance 
  • speed
  • miao dao

it was a small Sunday today. i asked Sifu if we could spend more time reviewing the miao dao form, since i missed the last Sunday class, making it essentially a month since we'd worked on the miao dao. he said that it was a good idea, since we also had one of the new students trying the Sunday class out.

we reviewed the lines, and then Sifu had us go a little farther on the applications in line 2. there was a bit of a discussion re the proper application of some movements between Sifu and Phunsak, and so while they were engrossed in that i ended up returning to the basics with the new student.

this was actually pretty useful, since it helped me work out some body mechanics issues within the applications. it turned out i think i was making mistakes on some movements, and i felt the changes were an improvement in terms of mobility and control.

i have to say the miao dao is a challenge. while the spear is much more intensive in terms of the effort it requires on the body core, the miao dao is more demanding in terms of speed. while it's ostensibly a long-range weapon, it's not the same distance as a spear, and so you don't have the luxury of having engagement ranges that are relatively farther away. it disrupts the comfort level, and it makes a difference in terms of shortening the reaction time--the closer you are to the opponent, the better your reaction times have to be. Sifu said this is why it's imperative to be able to read what the opponent is doing, since that helps speed up your reflexes. the combination of a weighted bladed weapon with speed makes for a solid workout on the body. 

day 318: review day

  • hawk
  • chicken
  • alignment
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
last Saturday was a much-needed review day. i think a lot of people are coming back from various vacations, trips, or absences, and so the timing worked out well.


Sifu has us review the Shanxi 12 animals, and that helped everyone get back to speed. it turned out that there were apparently some differences in how people remembered the animals, particularly with hawk and chicken. it took a little while to sort things out.

we also spent time going further into the applications in chicken, particularly w respect to the piqua-style movements in it. Sifu commented that the movements can vary in terms of which direction we're emphasizing force (e.g., either down or up) and that the direction can also change in mid-swing (i.e., so you don't have to constantly engage in a wind-up before you swing). he had us practice using it, since it is very different type of movement relative to what many of us have learned.

i found it takes a little getting used to, since there's a spacing and timing issue in terms of knowing when and where to be to control gates and engage the opponent. swinging the arms acts to open the torso, and so there's a bit of discretion that has to be exercised in doing so. however, it does serve to increase your space, and does intrude on the opponent's volume. based on the practice i had w Eric and Phunsak, i could see how piqua works if it's done correctly.


kyudo, as always, is a project. Sensei helped me out quite a bit today in terms of structural alignment. i've been working on getting my back and shoulders to align properly so that the bones make a stable structure once they extend through zanshin. it's possible for this to happen, and requires that the shoulder blades flatten out in line with the spine and the plane of the bow and arms. getting to know when this occurs, however, is a little tricky. Sensei worked w me on identifying when the alignment occurs.

he complemented me on my improvement, which is a positive. i can feel things have been getting better. but it's like he said in the past--there's always a period in time when you feel things are getting better, and then other times when it feels like there's a mistake, and then suddenly that mistake starts to generate a whole cascade of issues that causes everything to fall apart. i'm hoping i can keep things going in a positive direction.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

days 315, 316, 317: (sort of) catching back up to the present

  • applications
  • point, line, curve
  • hsing-yi
  • miao dao
  • kyudo
yes, i know, it's been a few weeks since i've posted anything. things sort of went to hell recently in terms of workload, and i've been so preoccupied with work that i haven't had time to write anything, nor time to even reflect on what we've been learning.
if it's any consolation, the gap is somewhat mitigated by the fact that 2 weekends were preoccupied with the Las Vegas tournament, w 1 weekend devoted to helping people prepare for the tournament and the next weekend for the tournament itself.
as for the remaining weekends, i was sick 1 weekend and decided to stay home and recover, and last weekend was the first time i was able to attend classes--although, i still wasn't at 100%, and so could only last through the kung fu class before having to get back home and rest.
to try and get everything back up to the current, i'm going to agglomerate everything into a single post, and hope that it'll allow me to return to the regular posting schedule next week.

i was worried that i'd missed a lot in the hsing-yi classes. but from what everyone else told me, i only missed 1 day of material, since 2 of the weekends had been diverted to the tournament. essentially we're still going through the applications in the hsing-yi Shanxi 12 animals. Sifu said that the plan is to work through the applications in Shanxi, since that's the one still fresh in our minds, and then return and work through the applications in Hebei 12 animals, since it'll help us refresh our memories with that.
when i use the word applications i'm not referring to just practicing the techniques. Sifu wants us to try and work with them in a low-intensity combat setting, essentially merging them with gong fa. he says he wants us to see how to use the principles in the context of working against a hostile opponent, so that the techniques require a set-up in terms of timing, gate control, and movement. we didn't discuss it, but i also think it's getting us to practice ting jing, hwa jing, na jing, and fa jing in the context of a free-flowing unpredictable environment. it's a little tricky, and everyone is a little awkward with this, but i think that just comes with learning, and that it'll start to look smoother (and better) the more time and practice we get with it.

miao dao
i'm not going to say too much about the miao dao, since there's only been 1 class since the Las Vegas tournament and i missed it. people told me that it ended up not being about the miao dao but on other material, and that we'd return to the miao dao this coming weekend.
the last things we covered were the concepts of point, line, and curve. Sifu said we can look at the miao dao as an object that applies in 3 different ways:
it can operate as a point weapon, working to thrust, either in offense or defense
it can operate along a line, so that the blade moves linearly, either in offense or defense
it can operate along a curve in what is essentially 3-D space, either in offense or defense
Sifu said it's useful to recognize these 3 categories, because it helps to understand the nature of the movements in the form and recognize the applications that can come from them.

i've only been able to make 1 kyudo class since the last post, and it was the weekend when everyone was still returning from the Minnesota testing seminar. also, Sensei was in Hawaii running another seminar.
as a result, it was a class with just 5 people. it turned out to be good, since it gave all of us free opportunity to get a lot of practice shooting. Jean, who had been at the seminar, ended up still coming to class straight from the airport, and gave me some individual attention with respect to my form that i found useful.
i missed the gashuku weekend that provided more intensive practice because it was the weekend i was sick, and so i haven't got much more to say, but i suspect there's going to be quite a bit more as i get back to class. Sensei also announced another gashuku weekend for the fall, and i hope to make that.

Friday, August 05, 2011

day 314: subtleties of the miao dao

  • body & blade movements
  • small movements
  • tip location
  • borrowing energy
  • bouncing energy
  • body movement & center
  • miao dao
we went a lot farther on the miao dao in the last Sunday class. we spent the initial half going through the basics, but then Sifu said he wanted us to start working through the applications in the form, saying that we'd understand the basics a lot better if we saw how they were used in practice.

miao dao

we worked on the first moves of line 1 of the miao dao. Sifu said that there's a general misunderstanding of these moves, with most practitioners using large, sweeping motions. he said that this was a dominant misperception, with many people taking the miao dao as a weapon requiring large slashing movements.

in Sifu's view, this is a mistake. the nature of the weapon is not large movements. given the size of the weapon, large sweeping motions invariably open up large openings which an opponent can attack. in addition, because its size means greater mass, the inertia generated by large movements makes it very difficult to counter against attacks made in tight space.

according the Sifu, understanding the movements and their application requires an understanding of how it was used on the battlefield. the miao dao was made large with the purpose of providing greater range, with the goal of taking down attackers mounted on horseback. soldiers who expected to stay alive against mounted attackers needed to exploit the range advantage of the miao dao while still being able to quickly engage defenses. this meant movements that extended the miao dao to penetrate an opponent's gates while still keeping your own gates closed.

Sifu demonstrated what he asserts is the right interpretation of the moves. he stressed the following:
  • that in the 1st few movements of line 1, the body is actually doing the majority of the activity and the blade, relative to the body, is actually doing a minority of action. as a result, the work is being done by the body rather than the blade.
  • the blade movement is actually small. Sifu said that if we observe the path traced by the tip of the blade that it actually follows a small, tight path, and that in contrast our bodies are tracing a much larger path across the floor.
  • the tip location is important. the tip essentially marks a vector following a curve, with the force of the blade moving parallel to the direction of the tip. wherever the path of the tip goes, so goes the application.
  • on defense, you're not supposed to block the opponent's blade. instead, you have to receive it in a way that allows you to borrow the energy of their movement. the idea is to take the magnitude of their force, but then redirect back into your attack against them.
  • redirecting energy involves a slight bounce. Sifu cautioned that this doesn't mean a bounce off their blade, since this is just a type of block. bouncing off the blade means that you're bouncing without redirecting their strike. he stressed that we have to receive and redirect their energy first, and then bounce off their energy vector. the idea is that you take whatever force they're applying and sending it off in a direction that is sufficient to ensure your safety and opens their gate for your attack.
  • the magnitude of the force vector in the blade is not from the arms. Sifu said that it actually should be a combination of the force from the opponent's attack and the force generated from your body. as a result, body movement is critical. Sifu said that this requires movement driven not so much by the arms but rather by the center, with the body moving the center so that you maintain a single structure capable of conveying power without loss.
this, of course, is harder than it looks, and it's counter-intuitive, since the instinct is for you to use your arms to deal with threats identified by your eyes. it's different using your body, and involves a certain measure of conscious effort, which in turn requires a certain measure of composure--which is hard to do when there's an opponent with a 6-foot sword coming at you.

Sifu took some time to note that every movement in the form has an application, including the opening and closing. as a result, it's important not to distort any of the movements for aesthetic effect, since they all should retain some connection to their applications.

i have to say that this was actually enjoyable. it's a bit of a workout, but it's illuminating to learn the miao dao in the context of history. it gives a sense of logic and purpose behind the form. it's also interesting to me, because it gives more insight into history, particularly in terms of what ancient Chinese soldiers actually had to do. if i had any historians interested in Chinese history to talk to, i'd really recommend that they try this.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

day 313: fighting, principles, techniques, forms

  • ting jing, hwa jing
  • gate control, gate entry
  • proactive v. reactive
  • set-up
  • vertical v. horizontal
  • lian fa, gong fa, da fa
  • fighting v. applications v. forms
  • principles v. techniques
  • maintenance
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this post refers to Saturday, July 30. i missed class on August 6, and so this brings things up to date. we're heading into the dog days of summer, so it's been getting warmer lately.


we've completed going through the 12 animals for Shanxi hsing-yi. Sifu says he now wants to spend some time showing how to translate everything we've learned into actual fighting. he says there's a big difference, and that we have to learn the connection between the 2.

Sifu's been spurred by conversations he's had recently in his college instruction and participation in local panel seminars. he's gotten questions about the difficulties TCMA practitioners seem to have in applying what they've been learning in actual fighting. this is a common issue in TCMA, and a regular observation about current TCMA made in the larger martial arts community: a lot of TCMA practitioners don't seem to be able to use what they've learned in fights. it's given TCMA a dubious reputation in Western societies, particularly in comparison to the more popularly known fights in boxing, MMA, etc.

Sifu had us pair up, with each pair being sparring partners. Sifu told us not to engage in full-contact sparring, but to work on sparring drills. for today, each pair had 1 partner work on defense and the other partner work on offense. the offensive partner was to try to utilize only the 1st 2 animals: dragon and tiger. the defensive partner was to counter or escape.

Sifu had us do several drills out of this. drill 1 was no contact, with the focus on sticking to each other while both partners were largely stationary. drill 2 was the same, but incorporated more footwork, so each partner was free to move across the ground/floor. drill 3 was no sticking but sensing & receiving while moving freely. drill 4 was greater contact with sticking, incorporating light strikes, but again stationary. drill 5 was light contact with sticking and footwork. drill 6 was light contact with no sticking while moving freely. we rotated partners once we had gone through these drills.

Sifu said there were a number of things to focus on with these drills:
  • ting jing (sensing): we need to become accustomed to reading the opponent and getting a feel of what they're trying to do at any given moment. this doesn't mean point fixation (i.e., locking onto a single point and following it), but rather general awareness of their overall behavior and general demeanor.
  • hwa jing (receiving): we need to become familiar with reading and receiving an opponent's movements, so that we can neutralize them or avoid them.
  • gate control: each person has to learn how to protect their gates to deny the opponent an entry for attack
  • gate entry: each person has to learn how to locate, open, and enter an opponent's gates
  • pro-active v. reactive: each person has to learn how to be pro-active on offense and defense. it is okay to be reactive, but it is always harder to respond to something than it is to initiate things (as so many team sports teach: offense is easier than defense). in addition, in a fight, it's important to control the overall engagement (from initial encounter to ending resolution), and this requires being pro-active to set the direction of the fight.
  • set-up: applications can't be applied directly. they have to be set up, in the sense that the opponent has to be lured into making mistakes regarding their gates and their structure. every application has a counter, and so an opponent can always defend against an attack. for an attack to work, the opponent has to be manipulated so that they are not able to defend against the atack.
  • vertical (dragon) and horizontal (tiger): Sifu asked us to recognize the overall orientations of dragon and tiger as being vertical and horizontal, respectively. in the drills, he said we needed to get a feel of offense and defense both vertically and horizontally. he noted that we should try to get an intuitive sense of this in terms of ting, hwa, na, and fa jing, whether sticking or not sticking to the opponent.
we spent some time in between partners discussing the pedagogical philosophy (i.e., teaching philosophy) behind this type of training. Sifu said that in the modern era TCMA has a major problem in that many practitioners don't know how to use it in actual fighting. fighting skills are not trained or taught as commonly as it was in the past. in the West, this is largely a function of how TCMA was introduced to Western audiences. in the East, this is because TCMA was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. as a result, TCMA has lost a lot of respect. it's also led to a lot of misperceptions about TCMA.

Sifu said we needed to dispel these misperceptions. TCMA has substance to it, and it is valid, but not in the ways so many modern practitioners seem to think. Sifu pointed out that fighting--whether tournament, street, or battlefield--is not like forms or meditating or thinking or anything else. unfortunately, in his view, too many people inside and outside the TCMA community think that TCMA is just the latter. the connections are not taught or not understood. as a result, people don't see how TCMA translates into actual fighting.

Sifu stressed that knowing how to use martial arts in a fight involves several different types of education: lian fa, gong fa, da fa. all these types of education must be taken together as a martial arts pedagogy (teaching method). lian fa is forms, gong fa is conditioning, and da fa is sparring. lian fa has the purpose of teaching fundamentals, including structure, principles, and techniques. gong fa has the purpose of conditioning a person's attributes for fighting in terms of physical fitness, power generation, etc. together, lian fa and gong fa provide the mental and physical building blocks, respectively, to be used in fighting. da fa is training in how to take those building blocks and use them in actual fighting, using various forms of sparring to progressively teach how to fight.

according to Sifu, in the modern era too much of TCMA instruction is lian fa. in fact, in his opinion, almost all of it is. based on what he's witnessed, very few TCMA practitioners are being taught gong fa and da fa, and as a result hold extremely dangerous misperceptions about fighting and their own martial skills. Sifu has commented on this in the past, saying that lian fa and gong fa do little good without an understanding of da fa, and this is the reason why you sometimes see street fighters with no training who are able to defeat trained martial artists--because they've gotten da fa through the hard experience and understand the reality of fighting, whereas the martial artists often have not.

Sifu noted that too often, TCMA practitioners think that fighting needs to look like applications or forms. he said this is a mistake, and that a fight scenario is never as clean as an application or form, especially against an experienced fighter who knows what they're doing. reality is never an ideal environment, while applications and forms always take place in ideal environments. Sifu said that we have to understand the role of applications and forms--they're not to teach actual fighting, but rather to teach fundamentals and building blocks to be used in learning fighting. applications teach a student the basic movements to apply principles contained within the forms, and neither actually teaches how to work them into a fight.

to learn how to fight you actually have to fight so you can learn how use the movements applying the principles against an opponent who is not cooperative. the issue is to do so safely. Sifu said this is why there is sparring, with different forms of sparring designed to lead a student on a progressive understanding of how to deal with the chaotic and hostile reality of fighting.

Sifu emphasized this is why he keeps telling us to not fixate too much on application techniques or obsess too much on forms. he said this will actually mislead us from concentrating on the most important thing, which is principles. the danger with techniques is that you fixate on them, and try to catalog them in your mind, so that you become a database of techniques and forms. unfortunately, it's hard to choose techniques and follow forms in an actual fight, where the situation is random, confusing, and fast. in order to match the randomness, confusion, and speed of a fight, you have to be mentally and physically flexible in your actions. this means that you understand the principles and have an intuitive feel of how to move to express those principles.

Sifu's talked about this in the past, with comments about the distinction between "empty" understanding versus "substantive" understanding. "empty" understanding is seen in someone who is "married to the form", in the sense that they do applications and forms as movements without understanding the principles in them. you see this in practitioners who do them as physical movements without a recognition of the intent and awareness of the physics. the hallmark symptom is a practitioner who just fixates on the form and insists on always sticking to some version of a form without being able to offer a fight-based explanation why. in contrast, "substantive" understanding is seen in someone who can modify and work through a form, with physical movements that display some evidence of intent and understanding of the physics, to the extent that the practitioner can explain what can change and what can't be changed and why in terms of what might happen in the context of a fight.


the continuing theme for kyudo this week was maintenance. oh sure, we did shooting. in fact, we did a lot of shooting. more than the usual class. but a lot of my attention was on maintenance issues, which i am realizing i really need to spend some time learning.

superficially, maintenance seems mundane, and not really a contributor to the art of shooting a bow and arrow. but the art involves equipment, and so the condition of the equipment relates to the development of the art. a lot of people tend to gloss over maintenance, but i'm starting to recognized that it's something worth devoting time.

i thought i'd fixed my string last week to fit the nock on my arrows. however, the shrinkage and drying of the glue had apparently resulted in a shape that only fit the nock from a certain angle. this is a problem, since the string has to be free to move on its axial rotational plane of motion to minimize distortion and energy loss in the arrow.

fixing this, unfortunately, meant stripping away all the work i'd done last week and re-gluing the string. and with more care and attention than i had done last week.

while i was at it, i also decided it was time to add more pine tar. i've suspected i needed to apply more pine tar in cleaning my string. Sensei told me i should be able to smell the pine when cleaning the string, and i rarely do. the pine tar is hard, and so has to be softened. as a result, it involves a measure of time to soften the tar before i could apply it.

unfortunately, i apparently misjudged the amount of tar i needed. Wilton happened to notice what i'd done and he appeared shocked, noting that "uh...that's a LOT of tar." i realized when he meant when i tried to rub the tar down, and instead found that i'd just made the string a long sticky piece of twine. i ended up having to spend a good portion of time trying to remove tar from the string.

of course, all this is with equipment that i've been told is low-maintenance. i'm using a fiberglass bow and synthetic string. others have told me that the traditional bamboo bow and hemp string are much more labor-intensive and require much closer monitoring in terms of maintenance.

hmmmmmmm...i think i'm going to need to take some time out and just work on learning maintenance. i may ask Sensei for a class on this.

Friday, July 22, 2011

day 312: review review review

  • review
  • review
  • review
  • principles v. techniques
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this will be another short post, since i can pretty much summarize what the focus of last Saturday was: review. lots of review.

which was good. i really needed it.

Sifu took some time to get everyone together for some discussion. we primarily dealt with 3 major topics:
  • the Las Vegas tournament is coming up on August 12-14. we need to start organizing rides and figuring out who is competing and who is judging. we're a little short-handed this year, since Kieun and Cheng-chieh are both gone, meaning that we're going to have to shuffle things a little bit in terms of judging.
  • Sifu is thinking about holding a retreat in the mountains. he held one some years ago, but it's been a very long time. the purpose of the retreat is to cover teaching methods, and to help us learn how to teach what we've learned to differing kinds of students.
  • principles v. techniques. Sifu reminded us to not become obsessed with techniques or forms, and to focus instead on the underlying principles. apparently, it came up during his summer class at UCLA. he's spoken to us about this before, but feels it's important enough to stress. he said that techniques and forms are only tools to learn, but that they're not all of martial arts and that it is dangerous to obsess over them. he said they're only meant to help us learn the underlying principles used in martial arts, and that the principles is what we need to focus on.

we reviewed the bear & eagle. i actually ended up taking all of class to go through as many of the Shanxi 12 animals as i can. i needed to refresh my memory, and to also get the feeling of the movements back.

things were a little rough. it's going to take some polishing.


Sensei was not present tonight, so Jean, being the most senior person present, ran class. turnout was a little light, and so everyone had plenty of opportunities to shoot. we actually did more shooting than we've done in previous classes.

i also took some time to do some much-needed maintenance on my bow, particularly with my string. it's going to take a little time to sort this out, but hopefully i managed to address the major issues.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

days 310 & 311: ugh, a long way back

  • basics
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
  • miao dao
i'm back...sort of. at least, in body. perhaps not in much else. i was gone for 3 weeks on vacation, but took an extra week off to get over the jet lag. so this past Saturday and Sunday were my first days back. needless to say, i was a bit out of sorts.

i'm not going into too much detail, since i think things were so rough that there's not much point in me trying to summarize anything since i wasn't really doing much good with anything. it is amazing just how quickly you can lose your abilities with any period of inactivity. i felt like i was starting all over again.

i'll suffice it to say that i'm back with just trying to get my handle on the basics. and i mean basics. as in trying to regain stances, flexibility, coordination, and physics. and even this was a bit of a struggle.

i'm going to have to take the next few weeks to get myself sorted out. in the meantime, i think you will just have to be patient with me if the posts return to something more fundamental and less advanced. it doesn't sound like fun--and i guess it's really not--but i can tell i need it.

joy joy joy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

day 309: miao dao basics

  • triangle
  • borrowing
  • percussion point
  • miao dao
i should note that i'm going on vacation for several weeks, and so i'm going to miss class for a little time. as a result, there won't be new posts for awhile. i'll be back in early July, so things will resume then. this post will be the last for now.

miao dao

we resumed the miao dao lessons. oddly enough, Viet wasn't here. but we had enough people that we could still partner up for practice.

today was mostly spent on familiarizing ourselves with the weapon and trying some basics. there's a bit of an intimidation factor in learning weapons, particularly ones like the miao dao, which can generate a lot of force off simple movements. this factor is multiplied in the initial stages of learning, when use of the weapon is still clumsy, since minute mistakes are magnified into physically dangerous consequences. as a result, it takes a little time to just get used to the miao dao, particularly in terms of learning how to manipulate its weight and inertia and understand its characteristics in force, direction, and spacing.

Sifu showed us the opening movements of the initial form, and then focused on having us just practice the applications of the movements in pairs. the movements look simple, but they're very precise (simple movements = lots of force, remember?) and require some getting used to.

this was particularly true for today. i had trouble with just about everything we were doing. the movements are all new and so felt unnatural to me. the first application, for example, was most vexing. the idea is to receive an opponent's incoming downward strike without blocking, but instead receiving it so that you use the force of their strike to drive your miao dao down and around to strike in return. essentially, you borrow their energy. it's meant to be a combination deflection and strike, so that you deflect their attack in a safe direction and move yourself into a striking position.

the idea is to receive by forming a triangle between your arms, your miao dao, and the opponent and then borrowing the opponent's energy. i really struggled with this. i think it's going to take some time until i get comfortable with the miao dao and get some intuitive sense of its feel and physical characteristics.

Alex, who stuck around for a little bit, also pointed out that it's important to have an awareness and instinctive feel of the percussion point of the blade. the percussion point is a term from engineering, and it refers to the point where a force vector won't generate a torque or rotation on a body mass but instead produces a lateral translation of the body's location. this is important, because it means the maximum amount of incoming force engages in a reaction with the mass to generate a recoil, so that the reactive force is an inelastic collision rather than an elastic one. an inelastic collision means an efficient transmission of energy, elastic means dissipation and hence inefficient transmission of energy.

for objects like a tennis racquet, the percussion point is often called the "sweet spot" in the center of the racquet head, where the ball won't generate a torque moving the racquet around the player's wrist and hence generate inefficiencies in the player's application of force (and hence dissipate the player's effort), but instead transmit directly into the racquet and generate maximum recoil off the racquet head, thereby maximizing the player's application of force.

for a bladed weapon like the miao dao, the percussion point is somewhere along the blade, usually closer to the handle. if you receive a strike on the percussion point, you maximize the amount of force you can borrow and minimize the amount of effort you have to use. if you don't, you have to expend more effort, wasting your energy.

the thing is, you can't think consciously about the percussion point in the context of actual use. it has to be instinctive and natural. and for that to happen requires an intuitive grasp and comfort level that can only come with time. given my relative lack of exposure to martial arts over my lifetime, i haven't had that time.

which means i have to spend that time now.

so yeah, this is going to take some work.

day 308: snake and tai bird

  • timing
  • sending
  • handgrip
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
so i missed last weekend, meaning i had to do a little make-up work this Saturday. it wasn't too hard, but it did mean a little extra work to make sure i caught up to everyone else.


the morning was actually wet, with light rain, forcing us to meet in the picnic pavilion. it also shrank the practice space down, so things were a little claustrophobic. Sifu began by showing us the Shanxi tai bird (the tai bird is a relative of the ostrich, and is actually extinct, so now figures more in Chinese mythology and history).

you can reference the video here:
Shanxi tai bird:

Sifu's comments on this were as follows:
  • this is a short-range technique using a wide entry to lead into a kidney/rib strike. as such, it requires legwork to move into the correct range. the first step needs to be well-defined, and cannot afford to be trivial, since it acts to close the distance to the opponent.
  • the power doesn't come from the arms, but rather from the center of your body. as a result, the legs have to function to drive your center into the opponent. the arms are an auxiliary source of energy.
  • do not extend the arms. the elbows should be close to your body.
  • the entry is not a block. the opening of the arms are supposed to receive the opponent's attack lightly, so as to avoid giving any signals as to what you are doing.
  • in opening the arms in the entry, you have to commit to the movement and extend outwards. imagine sending energy out through the hands. the intent is to get the opponent's attention and have them follow your hands out into space, so that they lose track of your attack to the kidneys/ribs.
we practiced this for a bit. while the form itself is simple, the application is a little tricky. there's a timing issue in terms of redirecting the opponent's focus and moving in to strike. there's also a spacing issue in terms of knowing how much space is needed to mislead the opponent and how much space is needed to strike.

i asked about last week, which covered snake. snake was more complicated, and so i ended up spending more time on it. you can reference the video here:
Shanxi snake:

here, too, there is a timing issue, and this proved to be the hardest part. Sifu said that the typical instinct with the punch in snake is to have the power come off the front foot. in Shanxi snake, however, the power comes off the back foot. this is why the form has the practitioner stomp the back foot in time with the front snap punch, since it reminds you where the power comes from.

i found this counter-intuitive. it definitely is not instinctive. Sifu said that for now we can work on this methodically, by using a 1-count to mark the initial step and the 2-count to be the combination of the snap punch and rear stomp. eventually, he says we need to make it fluid, since it's important to close the distance to the opponent quickly.

he also noted that the stomp isn't actually necessary. the principle is to use the reaction force off the rear foot to drive the snap punch forward into the opponent. the stomp is just to remind us of this, and hence is more a training tool.


kyudo had a large turnout today. holy cow! i counted 20 people altogether, meaning we had 4 rotations through the 5 makiwara.

i was able to pick up from the weekend off without too much trouble. this time, however, i noticed some issues with the glove hand, in that i was more aware of the tension in the hand. Sensei's talked about this in the past. the glove hand is actually supposed to be light, and it is not supposed to grip the string. instead, it's meant to just hold the hand in place so that the string fits into the nock of the thumb. in other words, the string stays because it's in the nock, not because it's being gripped.

this makes a difference, because it makes it easier to draw and release. by avoiding tension in the hand, you're able to get more expansion in the draw. also, the release comes from the natural motion of the hand as you expand out from zanshin, and does not require any action from the hand. the benefits are that 1) you're able to get more draw, and hence more energy into the arrow, and 2) eliminate the hand as a source of disruption to the arrow's flight path.

i was able to ease up some of the tension as the evening wore on, but i think it's going to take a little bit of work to fully address the situation.

Sensei ended up spending some time on giving a lesson on tenouchi. he's taught it before, but he felt it necessary to remind everyone how to grip the bow. we're actually not supposed to grip the bow, but avoid tension and hold it lightly (see the theme here?). this also took a little time for me to work on, and something i know is a work in progress for me.

i finished the evening off by having Eric take some pictures of me shooting. this was so i could get a sense of where i am. it's also ostensibly to have some pictures to show to my relatives so they know what i'm doing, since they haven't heard of kyudo before. i'll post the pictures on this blog eventually when i have some time.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

day 307: miao dao

  • basics
  • long-range
  • miao dao
so Viet is back in town from the east coast, but only for the summer before he starts med school. he's asked the Sunday classes be spent on miao diao, with the goal of learning the basics and the form before he leaves at the end of July. i should note that Andre showed up after a very long absence, and so it was fortuitous for Viet (Andre seems to focus primarily on weapons and like the miao dao; he taught Phunsak in years past). everyone else seemed to go along with Viet's desire to learn the miao dao, since there wasn't anything else we've specifically scheduled on Sundays. luckily enough, i had my miao diao with me and so was able to join everyone else.

today we didn't do that much with the basic miao dao form. we ended up just doing the basics with Phunsak. i've including all the videos i made of the 8 basics we learned today, as well as the basic form, below:
basic 1:

basic 2:

basic 3:

basic 4:

basic 5:

basic 6:

basic 7:

basic 8:

basic form:

my only comment is that the basics are somewhat similar to jian shu in terms of how they are identified by angles (e.g., diagonal, up/down, left/right, etc.), but differ in terms of what the blade is doing. Sifu said that a miao diao is considered a long weapon, and so has to be treated as such. this means that in terms of the philosophy and the fighting strategy you want to exercise the same approach as used with other long weapons, especially the spear. as a result, you don't exercise the same qualities expected of short-range weapons like the jian (e.g., speed, dexterity, and thrusts) or the sabre (e.g., speed, large movements, and slashing) where you are trying to get inside an opponent's gate, but rather qualities expected of long-range weapons like the spear (e.g., small movements, probing, and facing the enemy) where you are trying to keep the enemy at range.

Sifu said like long-range weapons you drive the movements from the dantian, so that small movements of the body translate to large movements of the weapon's tip. he also noted that you're supposed to take advantage of the miao diao's length so that it closes your gates and keeps the enemy out of range while also probing the enemy's gates and penetrating without exposing your own.

day 306: birds birds birds

  • timing
  • parametric calibration
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
ugh. so i should note that my attendance in both kung fu and kyudo has been a little spotty as of late. not entirely by choice, since i've had a conference paper i needed to prepare and present, and that took a number of weekends. as a result, i've missed couple of weekends.

i should also state this is going to continue. i'm going on vacation for a few weeks and so will not have anything to post during that time. as a result, there won't be much on this blog for a little while.


we picked up with where the class left off. we have a number of people going through the summer season with schedules similar to mine, so we backtracked a bit and spent time reviewing all the Shanxi animals we've covered so far. after that, we continued on to the new animal for the day: swallow.

i'm including videos of Shanxi hawk and swallow. i didn't include the video of hawk last time and swallow is new.

hsing-yi Shanxi hawk:

hsing-yi Shanxi swallow:

swallow resembles some piqua moves (particularly the 0:14 mark), and some of the baji students concurred, noting that the overall feel of Shanxi swallow is similar to piqua. Sifu noted that the timing of the movements is important, and so the pacing (from 0:10 to 0:15 marks) is not superficial, but is supposed to have a slight acceleration and hesitation, with an explosion coming off the stomping off the foot.

Sifu demonstrated some applications out of this, showing that the initial movements can operate as entries setting up the subsequent movements. he cautioned, however, that every movement within swallow has an application, and so it depends on the context of the situation and what the opponent does.


kyudo this evening was a bit of an experiment. i've been working on trying to get more extension into zanshin before releasing, and so have been trying to expand outward from the center. i tried concentrating on just this tonight.

this ended up having some mixed results. pretty much consistent with past experience, any adjustment in one area causes changes in other areas, requiring everything having to be readjusted to get the arrow back onto target. consequently, i spent the better part of class trying to find some consistency in terms of having the arrow release.

Sensei commented that i was expanding, but not outwards. in particular, he observed that in trying to extend my spine i was ending up leaning backwards, which was throwing the aim of the arrow off. he said that i should visualize my neck lifting up, and that this would help me direct the expansion outwards rather than back.

i tried to work on this as best i could, but consistency was definitely an issue. there's an engineering term for this: parametric calibration. it's where all the adjustable items affect each other, so that calibration of one results in changes in everything else, and hence requires that calibration be done slowly in increments of each item relative to the other in a way that allows all items to gradually reach an successive stages of equilibrium relative to each other. the idea is that ultimately you'll reach the desired stage where the equilibrium coincides with a certain desired output. however, getting to that stage requires a lot of minute adjustments of every item in successive iterative passes to successive equilibrium stages, and so takes a fair amount of time.

which is what i'm finding out now. the key word is patience.

Friday, May 13, 2011

day 305: a bucket of chicken

  • rebound
  • soft/hard
  • flicking
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
this is going to be a pretty straightforward write-up. i'd meant to post it earlier but Blogspot appears to have had some trouble in the past few days and access has been non-existent for much of it.

today, Sifu announced a series of upcoming events for everyone to note. his May is going to be busy, with something happening every weekend. you can check out the events at his website: . May 14 is a tai chi seminar with Sifu Su ZiFang. for May 21, Saturday class will be moved to Cal State Long Beach for a seminar on tang lang (mantis). May 22 will be a panel discussion & presentation on kung fu at the Asia Pacific Museum in Pasadena. May 29 is the Joy of Kung Fu dinner banquet. everyone is encouraged to try and make all the events.


we spent the class with a shortened review and time dedicated primarily to learning the Shanxi chicken. for today, the focus was on getting the form down, and so we didn't get into too much theory or all the applications within it. it's a much longer form compared to the other hsing-yi animals we've learned, Hebei or Shanxi, and so involved a lot more work in learning the sequence of movements. Shanxi chicken is dramatically different from Hebei chicken, not just because of its length, but because of the content of the form itself, which seems to integrate movements from baji, piqua, and chang quan (long fist).

here's the video so you can see what i mean:
Shanxi chicken:

this is why this post is more straightforward; we didn't have time to get into discussion or comments. here is what we got today:
  • rebound--the applications in the form utilize a rebound effect (e.g., ~14-second point of the video), where you are expected to go from one movement into the next by rebounding off the ground to bounce with force into the next application
  • soft/hard--the form reminds the practitioner to switch off between soft & hard (e.g., ~26-second mark of the video) so as to help confuse and misdirect the opponent
  • flicking--there is a flicking motion (~35-second mark), with the force vector going out rather than up. this motion isn't just for show, but meant to help remind you to send the force outwards by following-through on the extension of the arm
i asked Sifu about the history of the form to try and figure out its similarities with baji, piqua, and chang quan. Sifu said that Shanxi was the oldest form of hsing-yi, but that this didn't necessarily mean that it derived its similarities from sharing common roots with baji, piqua, or chang quan. he said that Shanxi and Hebei exchanged a lot of ideas with each other, and then also exchanged a lot of ideas with various other martial arts in their respective provinces. he suspects that this is where hsing-yi masters may have recognized some principles as being 1) useful and 2) compatible with what they were doing, and so decided to integrate it into their styles.

i should also provide the video from last week's Shanxi crocodile:
Shanxi crocodile:


kyudo was a little rough today. i was feeling really tired by the time evening rolled around, and so while i mentally was into it, physically i was struggling. i knew what i wanted to do and was conscious of everything, but physically i was just tired and had trouble just moving. as a result, i don't have much to say.

luckily, we had a large turnout this evening (~20 people) and so Sensei decided to start open practice early to allow everyone a chance to shoot. this let me rest a bit. it also gave me some time to do some bow and string maintenance that i've neglected for far too long. having said that, by the time class finished i skipped the midnight meal and just went straight home to rest--which turned out to be the right call, because as soon as i got into bed i immediately went to sleep.

Friday, May 06, 2011

day 304: a busy Sunday of misc concepts out of crocodile

  • finger
  • metal/water v. fire/wood
  • center
  • bridge/spanner
  • structure
  • hsing-yi
Sunday was a little sparse. it was just me and Phunsak, along with new student, Jonathan (this is a different Jonathan, now making a total of 4 Jonathans who have or are taking lessons with Sifu: me, Jonathan Shen, Jonathan Wong, and the new Jonathan, Jonathan Sevard). Phunsak had missed the Saturday class with Art to represent our school at World Tai Chi & Qigong Day. as a result, we made this Sunday more of a make-up, going into more detail into Shanxi crocodile.


as much as it looks simple, it appears there's quite a number of permutations coming out of crocodile depending on what principles you choose to incorporate into it. of course, i suspect that this is true of any technique in any style. Sifu has said as much in the past, saying that a technique is not just a technique, but can have any number of applications depending on 1) the situation, and 2) the intent. i'm guessing intent means not just what you want to see happen to the opponent, but also what kind of principle you want to emphasize in the movement. this adjusts the physics, or at least changes what physics you are exploiting, within a movement.

we didn't go into breadth of permutations today as more so than just play with some principles that Sifu wanted to focus on. we used crocodile as the framework to experiment, although following the above reasoning i think it was just convenient because it's what we're covering in class at the moment--i suspect we could have done the same experiments with any other technique.

we reviewed the material from Saturday, but went into more discussion regarding the notion of yin and yang in the hands. Sifu tied this into 5-element theory, offering the following pieces of knowledge:
  • the index finger and middle finger correspond to fire and wood, and the ring finger and little finger correspond to water and metal
  • fire and wood are considered yang elements, and water and metal are considered yin
  • yang involves movements up, out, forward, but this can be interpreted as projecting or sending energy, and yin involves movements down, in, away, but this can also be interpreted as absorbing or receiving energy
taking the above, Sifu said you can construct a logic that any intent, or yi, for yin in a technique should involve receiving energy through the ring and little finger, and any intent for yang in a technique should involve sending energy through the index and middle finger.

Sifu said you can see this in crocodile, although it is more apparent in Hebei than Shanxi. with Hebei, both hands have the index and middle fingers slightly more extended than the ring and little fingers. the curled ring and little finger help to sense and receive energy, and the index and middle finger help to send energy. in Shanxi, both hands are open with all fingers extended, but the movement of the hands in crocodile still work with the sensing and receiving still asking for an emphasis on the ring and little fingers and the sending asking for an emphasis on the middle and index fingers.

i didn't ask, but i suspect, that this can also be correlated to ting, hwa, na, and fa. ting and hwa are yin stages, and so call for movements through the ring and little fingers. na and fa are yang stages, and so call for movements through the index and middle fingers. i'm not sure how this ties into water, metal, fire, or wood, since there's yin & yang aspects of each element.

i did ask if this is why with jian shu it's always stressed to reach out through the middle and index finger, with every thrust forward calling for the middle and index fingers of the sword hand pointing into the opponent and the middle and index fingers of the off-hand pointing back. Sifu said yes, and also commented that this is why the defensive moves involve following the direction of the ring and little finger--they may not trace a path conforming to those fingers, but they initiate in their direction.

Sifu had us try variations of this to test how effective or ineffective crocodile can be without visualizing these aspects in the hands. from what i found, it definitely doesn't seem to work as well if you don't sense/receive through the ring and little fingers and send through the index and ring fingers.

Sifu also had us to try scenarios different from crocodile. with one, he had our hands locked in an opponent's grip and we broke out of the lock by projecting power through our thumbs. in essence, the thumbs could also be used to send force.

next, Sifu had us work on integrating the rear hands with the hip. reviewing what we'd done Saturday, he reminded us that with crocodile the power of the rear hand comes from the turning of the hip. the force vector in crocodile has its magnitude coming from 2 components: the power coming from the legs pushing off the ground, and the power coming from the rotation of the hips. the former is linear, the latter is rotational. both, if timed right and structure is maintained, go into the opponent.

the last part is the trick. it's a little bit harder than i thought. Sifu stressed that the rear hand has to be in union with the hip, and the legs have to be pushing as you turn. i had some trouble with this, and couldn't seem to generate the power that Sifu had. for some reason, i couldn't get it to consistently work, while Sifu was able to apply the technique regardless of whatever i did to try and counter it. despite however structurally sound i thought i was, i could not consistently break the opponent down, and despite however structurally sound i thought i was, Sifu could still apply the technique to break me down.

i've noticed this before, and the last time i mentioned this to Sifu he shrugged and just said: "breaking your structure doesn't matter, i can still get the techniques to work." this has always befuddled me.

Phunsak and i ended up spending some time trying to figure this out. i think there's another way to look at this.

what Sifu said worked because it acted to create a structure to convey force through the body. but it's not enough to maintain structure. at least, it's not enough to maintain your structure. for that matter, it's also not enough to think about the opponent's structure. it's also necessary to think about the combined structure of both of you--that is, you have to think about the system composed of you and your opponent and the structure that is composed of both of you.

the combined structure forms the instant you and your opponent make contact. the point of contact becomes the bridge (or to use an engineering term, the spanner) connecting both of you. this creates a single body. whoever controls this single body controls the encounter. whoever doesn't becomes the victim.

i think this is an iteration of the concept "controlling the center." we've talked about this before in terms of combat concepts (reference: combat concepts)--that in physics, in a system of 2 moving bodies, the system of 2 moving masses has a common center of mass. whoever controls this center of mass controls the center of the system, and can thereby control the physics between the moving masses within it.

the difference here, however, is that we're seeing the idea applied not with respect to 2 moving bodies but with respect to 2 connected bodies. technically there's no difference, and so i take this as a "duuuuuuuuuuuh!" moment. in physics they're both the same. in engineering, however, the bodies must be connected to engage leverage, torque, moment, force, etc.

but i also think this is important because in forming the bridge/spanner you have to be cognizant of the common center of mass. we've learned from Sifu that control of the system's center goes to whichever fighter is able to place their own center closest to it. as true as this is for a system of moving masses, it also applies for a system of connected masses. which means that when you form the bridge/spanner with the opponent, you MUST do so in a way that places your own center closer to the common center of mass--and more importantly, keeps it there as the opponent fights back.

once you take the center, you have to keep the center. if you don't, it doesn't matter how good your own structure is, the opponent can still overwhelm you.

this is hard. because no opponent will let you take the center nor keep it. this means you have to know when to relax and when to stiffen to remove or form the bridge, and to know how to move and position so that you can do both. it also means that you do all this in awareness of where your center is relative to your opponent's center and to the common center made by both of you. and it helps to mess with the opponent so they can't challenge you.

Phunsak said this seemed right, and then said it's the same idea with some other moves he's learned in baji, systema, and aiki-jitsu. actions that don't seem like they should work can. we tried using this physics/engineering approach to the other techniques that Phunsak showed, and he confirmed that it seemed to work better--or at least, make things more consistent.

we stopped there for the day. this was a lot of stuff to think about, and i definitely need some time to get this sorted out. it occurred to me this is a recurrence of the problem i've had before regarding my center (you know, the trick Sifu showed us involving a partner making a fist near your chest and you being able to apply a wrist joint lock on them by simply looking down), and that STILL frustrates me. that also involves controlling the center, and i think it's important, because now i can see how the concept applies in terms of fighting.

ugh. frustration!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

day 303: crocodile cousins

  • striking with the hip
  • vertical v. horizontal
  • yin v. yang
  • renmei v. dumei
  • gashuku
  • hsing-yi
  • bagua
  • kyudo
this past Saturday went in a fair amount of depth, and so we didn't go into breadth. i have a relatively large amount of material, so i'll try to condense things as best i can. incidentally, Simon showed up today after a long absence (apparently his schedule opened up so that he was able to make the Saturday class).


the agenda for hsing-yi was Shanxi crocodile. however, it turns out there are a lot more subtleties in it than i thought, and we ended up spending a lot of time going through a lot of concepts that are not apparent from just watching the form.

we reviewed Hebei crocodile and then compared it to Shanxi. Sifu pointed out the major differences:
  • Shanxi has different direction in intent. through the forward (raised) arm, Hebei projects more horizontally out, while Shanxi projects more vertically up. the rear (lower) arm in Hebei is engaged in more of a pushing motion, while in Shanxi it is more of a strike.
  • the applications are different. while both have a range of applications, Hebei is more suited for pushing the opponent back and off-balance and Shanxi is more suited for opening up the opponent for a strike.
  • the hand positions are different. with Hebei, the hands have the index and middle fingers extended (although not completely) slightly farther than the ring and little fingers (which are loosely curled). with Shanxi, the hands are open.
Sifu also pointed out the major similarities:
  • the lower body positioning is the same in both, with power coming by pushing off the ground as you slide forward. this, in combination with the upper body, is the fa jing.
  • the movement of the legs in the form involve a step and a slide. while the step looks like a single action into the opponent, it actually can be broken down into an entry and control stages--in essence, hwa and na jing. Sifu said that hsing-yi is more direct than other styles, and so it can be difficult to recognize the sequence of ting, hwa, na, and fa in the movements, but you can recognize them by seeing the purpose behind them.
  • similar to other internal styles, if ting, hwa, and na are done correctly, the opponent will already be in a problem, and the fa will be a bonus.
  • the forward arm aids in the entry, by opening the opponent's gate. for both Hebei and Shanxi, it's important to follow-through, with the finishing point being past the opponent. the point is to disrupt the opponent's centerline and get them off-balance in the entry phase, so that the follow-through is a continuation directing the opponent away.
  • the rear arm directs the power. it has to be unified with the power coming from the lower body. to do this, the rear hand stays near (but not on) the back hip, and the rear hand goes with the rear hip as it turns forward into the opponent. while the front arm breaks the opponent's centerline, the rear arm attacks the opponent's center. again, it's important to follow-through past the opponent.
  • in doing ting, crocodile has to be initiated with a yin movement. Sifu said this is consistent with all of hsing-yi, and also with all internal styles. the yin movement acts to sense (ting) the opponent's action and absorb/avoid its force vector. it also acts to position the body to release power in the fa phase--that is, it stores potential energy that will be turned into kinetic energy (similar to a pitcher's wind-up in baseball). in addition, it misdirects the opponent by giving them misleading signals as to which direction you're going. to have crocodile do this, it's important to visualize a crocodile looking at its tail, so that your body's entire structure turns to your rear end. this means more than the front arm turning to your rear, but your entire structure. it doesn't have to be an extreme turn, but enough that your force vector starts with a small magnitude generally pointing away from the opponent (yin).
  • for both, while the force vector starts in yin, it turns with the hip and increases in magnitude with the pushing of the legs so that it reaches full power at the time its direction goes into the opponent's centerline. for this to occur smoothly, ting, hwa, and na all have to work to open the opponent's gate, disrupt their centerline, and expose their center. this turned out to be a challenge, as we found out when we began practicing its application. Sifu noted that there is a bit of timing involved, and so needs a measure of sensitivity in feeling out the opponent's movements.
i should note that the yin-yang discussion brought up some applications outside of hsing-yi. i experimented with the concept with Siwann-di, particularly involving some arm/neck locks that are popular in wrestling. Sifu helped us out, pointing out the various options between yin and yang points and helping recognize ways to think about the concepts in terms of applications.


Simon has apparently been learning bagua xiao kai men as part of his baji training. Sifu decided it would be good to review some of the applications as a point of reference to hsing-yi. for today, we just did black bear probes with its paw and black bear turns its back. both are similar with hsing-yi crocodile in terms of their lower body, and black bear turns its back is similar with crocodile in terms of how its force vector works.

something Sifu mentioned today that i had not picked up on before was the relevance of thinking renmei (front meridian) and dumei (back meridian) in the application. it helps to move the body in yin actions thinking about the renmei, and conversely helps to move in yang actions thinking about dumei. it may be a visualization tool, but it helps adjust the biomechanics to generate the appropriate physics for the applications.

Sifu also pointed out that with black bear turns its back it's not necessary to try and break the opponent's centerline. he showed how the application focuses instead on the yin-yang distribution of the opponent's stance and can utilize this to direct their center even if their centerline maintains structure. this was new to me, and i found it a little puzzling. i had some difficulty on trying to replicate Sifu's moves, and i think this is going to take more work to figure out.


kyudo today was the gashuku. it actually lasted 5 days over the weekend, but i was only able to make the Saturday evening. gashuku is a period of intense training, and Sensei held it as a way of getting the dojo (and other dojos from anywhere in the country or world) together and thereby jump-start to another level in training.

my shooting is feeling more comfortable these days, and i'm not having as much difficulty in the draw as before. Sensei told me to be careful with my bow hand, since i'm gripping too tight and not allowing the bow to turn. the hand is supposed to be loose enough that when the arrow is released the bow can turn through a 180-degree range of motion.

Sensei said this isn't just for aesthetic reasons. he said the aim of the arrow is a function of where it leaves the string. if the bow is locked by the hand into an angle during the release, that means that the arrow will leave the string off the sight-line. this will send the arrow on a flight path deviating from the sight-line of the archer--essentially, you won't hit what you're looking at.

while you can try to lock the bow at the moment of release so it doesn't turn at all, it's very hard on the bow, and in extreme cases can break it. it's better to keep the grip loose and let the bow turn so that the moment the arrow leaves the string it is aligned with the sight-line.

this, of course, is a little harder than it seems. at least, it is for me. i find that my instincts are still to tense the hand on release, which makes my grip tighter. i'm having to retrain myself to loosen the bow-grip at the same time i release from string from the glove hand. i also think it has to do with trying to keep the bow under control as i draw, and the heavier the draw the more i have to work on keeping it under control. i suspect that this is probably a sign that my draw form is still problematic, since it shouldn't be so hard to open up.

it's a work in progress. but then again, aren't we all just a work in progress?