Friday, April 29, 2011

commentary: eating bitterness (吃苦)

this is a cross-posting from my other blog.

i'm writing about the Chinese idiom "eat bitterness" (in traditional Chinese characters: 吃苦). it's a pretty common phrase in TCMA, so i figured it was appropriate to also post it here. you can read it at:

day 302: Shanxi hsing-yi continued

  • loose
  • snap
  • kiu xing (sp?)
  • jin xing (sp?)
  • spine
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
so i'm starting to get caught up, although i still suspect there's quite a bit of things that i've missed. it's hard to say. details that i think are important may not be thought the same by other people, and so whatever they relay to me may not be what i would have focused on. but i'll work with what i have.


i'm going to combine all the Shanxi hsing-yi videos that we've done to date and bring things up to where we are now.

so far for Shanxi style we've done dragon, tiger, monkey, and horse. you can see what they look like:

Shanxi dragon:

Shanxi tiger:

Shanxi monkey:

Shanxi horse:

in terms of notes, i already have what i managed to collect in previous posts for above animals with the exception of horse. for horse, Sifu gave the following:
  • the wrists and hands have to be loose, with a heavy feeling, and extend but to a lesser degree than in ostrich (tai bird)
  • the wrists and hands have to snap in the form
  • the idea is that power is being transmitted from the ground through the body and out through the hands. tensing the wrists or hands acts to choke off the power. similarly, not snapping also throttles power.
on a more general comment, Sifu said that to understand the intent (yi) in each animal we can look at them (Hebei, Shanxi, or Henan) in terms of 2 components (someone will have to correct my spelling here, since i'm guessing):
kiu xing (sp?)--this refers to the hunting/predatory phase of an animal's movement, and so reminds you that you're supposed to utilize that kind of mindset and mimic that kind of behavior
jin xing (sp?)--this refers to the spirit or characteristics of the animal, and so reminds you that you're supposed to use that mindset in performing the animal

we spent the class practicing Shanxi horse, as well as the other Shanxi animals. which was good, because i need it.


kyudo went well tonight. Sensei said that i'm "developing a nice release," and i took that as a sign of progress. he reminded me to keep my left hand loose enough to allow the bow to rotate, since this is the major issue preventing my release from being clean.

apart from that, i am also working on my extension in the form. this continues to be a major problem. i've been working on this in tai hai (practice without equipment) to try to get a feel of the movement, but there's a difference between practicing without equipment and then doing the form with the tension of the bow. the resistance of the bow induces all kinds of instincts that are contrary to the form, and so disrupts my draw.

right now, i think the issue is not the extension through the arms or legs. the issue is more with my center and my spine, particularly in terms of how i push off the ground and extend my spine from the center up through my neck.

Sensei noted that at full draw just before release i should have a visible opening up of the body through the back, neck, and shoulders. right now, i release while slightly hunched over, meaning that i release short of full extension. i suspect that the extension through the spine up through the neck (i.e., so the neck lifts the head) will help this, since it naturally adjusts posture in terms of the back, neck, and shoulders. i'll see.

Friday, April 22, 2011

day 301: okay, so things still shaky

  • hand, forearm, elbow
  • xiao jieh, jong jieh, gong jieh
  • hips
  • shanxi-hebei-henan
  • hsing-yi
well, things are still shaky. i got sick (or i was still sick?), and it left me unable to attend Saturday classes, meaning it took out kung fu and kyudo. even though i still wasn't feeling much better by Sunday, i sucked it up enough to make it for about 2 hours before going hope to rest. as a result, this post is going to be brief, since it's just dealing with Sunday.

Sunday ended up being a review of hsing-yi, since Kieun, Cheng-chieh, and me all needing to fill in the material we've missed over the past few months. We focused on going through the Hebei 12 animals, which everyone else has already finished, and managed to go through the Shanxi 12 animals that everyone just started.

i'm not going to comment much in this post, since i'm still sorting through the material. but i will post the videos of the stuff i missed that we covered Sunday. because there is so much stuff i'm trying to catch up on, i made a fair number of videos on Sunday. to help keep this digestible, i'm going to limit the videos here to the Hebei 12 animals that have been missing from past posts, and hold off on the Shanxi 12 animals until next time.

Hebei 12 animals tai bird:

Hebei 12 animals eagle:

Hebei 12 animals bear:

Hebei 12 animals eagle-bear:

i should note that eagle and bear are supposed to be done as a combination. for learning purposes, however, Sifu says that they are taught separately to help students understand the physics of each before trying to merge them. Sifu reminded us of the following:
  • eagle: here, the emphasis is not on the hand, but rather through the elbow. the hand serves as a way of understanding the direction of the force vector, which goes from the hand in a direction through the elbow. this allows the weight, hence the magnitude of the force vector, to sink through the forearm and elbow. Sifu said that we can break down the physics in terms of xiao jieh (sp?), or tip; jong jieh (sp?), or branch; and gong jieh (sp?), or root. ordinarily these terms relate to the body and are used to help identify the role of each part in applying the principles behind techniques. here, the tip is the hand, the branch is the forearm/elbow, and the root is the shoulder/torso. the main force and general direction comes from the root, finer direction comes from the branch, and the reminder comes from the hand. as a result, theoretically a technique properly done can be applied using just the torso, but for most people it helps to focus by using the hand to remind themselves that power is projected through the forearm/elbow, and thereby helps to adjust the torso to allow this.
  • bear: last time we'd stressed the importance of having the scapula be the contact point with the opponent and the physics of creating a cantilever as we shrug the shoulder and sink. today, Sifu noted that we also have to pay attention to the hip, which drives additional force into the shrug. the important thing is to have the hips go square relative to the opponent so that the legs push against the ground with the force turning with the hips in alignment with the shoulders.
the eagle-bear combo changes the form of each, but Sifu observed that the physics of both complement each other so long as we remember what we want the body parts to be doing in terms of the physics.

we also spent some time discussing the curriculum. Sifu's plan is to go through Hebei and Shanxi styles of hsing-yi, since he's studied both and their curricula are similar. they share the same 5 lines, 5-element theory, and lian huan, with the major differences being the 12 animals. he hopes to spend a little time introducing Henan style, but since he's not as familiar with it and it's so different, we're going to just focus on getting its flavor. Henan does not have 5 lines or lian huan, and instead just goes direct to teaching students 10 animals.

that was pretty much it for Sunday. i'll offer more material in subsequent posts as i work on getting caught up.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

day 300: wait, where am i? oh, god, i'm lost. whatever

  • bear
  • eagle
  • shanxi-hebei
  • extension
  • hsing-yi
  • kyudo
well, i'll preface this by saying that i'm pretty much lost. i've had another extended break period that was somewhat involuntary. i got sick, recovered just in time to do the LA marathon, then go sick again, recovered once more, and then got sick again. it may be the same illness that just won't go away, or it may be that i've just been exposed to a lot of sick people with different kinds of diseases.

regardless, i'm now largely lost as to where we are and what we're doing. really lost. oh sure, i know we're learning hsing-yi and wrapping up the 12 animals (of which, incidentally, i missed half, or 6). and oh sure, i know we're learning kyudo and working on gloves (even while i'm still working out everything else about the art). but in terms of lessons and details, there's just been so much i've missed that i might as well be on another planet.

i think we'll have to do what we did before, and make one of the next Sundays a hsing-yi make-up section. i know Kieun and Cheng-Chieh are in situations comparable to mine, so it'd probably benefit all of us.


i pretty much stated where i am above. i will say that we spent about half the class working on the last animal in the Hebei style 12 animals. it's not actually 1 animal, but a combination of movements of bear and eagle.

for the remainder of class we turned to Shanxi style. Sifu reminded us that there were 3 major versions of hsing-yi: Hebei, Shanxi, and Henan. technically, Shanxi was the original, and Hebei and Henan developed after. however, Sifu noted that you can't see this from the curriculum, since the 3 all experienced changes over time, with some more than others.

Henan was the most well-preserved, since the Muslim community was largely insular and mostly kept the art within the community, preventing its practitioners from interacting with other practitioners from other branches of hsing-yi. Hebei, in contrast, was where hsing-yi became more popular, and its exposure and propagation led to changes in the way it was taught and the content that was taught. Shanxi practitioners responded to this by making changes in their hsing-yi, and as a result it also moved away from its original form.

having said that, Sifu said you can still see different teaching philosophies at work in the contrasting curriculums. he pointed that in Hebei the 12 animals are largely meant to train the body and help the body adapt to certain kinds of physics, and so you can't see the applications easily and what applications you find work differently than what happens in training. in Shanxi, however, the 12 animals are still done closer to the original hsing-yi roots, and so the emphasis is less on training and more on actual applications. Sifu said we'd compare with Henan, but for now we'd go through the Shanxi and compare to the Hebei.

we began with the Shanxi dragon. this is definitely different from Hebei. Hebei involves jumping and a deliberate emphasis down. Shanxi, in contrast, is almost no jumping and the direction of intent is not strictly down, but at an angle. also, with Shanxi, the application is clearly evident from the movement, with an eery resemblance to black bear probes with its paw from bagua. Sifu showed that it's a little different, but that there is some overlap.

i have some other notes from today, but i'm going to hold off until i get things more organized.


kyudo this evening actually went okay considering the time i've missed. i'm starting to feel more familiar with certain aspects of the form, and it's freeing up my mind to concentrate on other issues that i've had with shooting. Jean pointed out that right now my major issue is my extension, in that i'm not going far enough at full extension. she said that i should be able to open the bow more at full extension than i am doing.

Sensei has commented on this about me before, and i'm only just now getting to the point where i can understand why this is happening. i think the issue is to focus on the elbows and shoulders expanding outward, and letting the chest and back follow. to do this, i have to allow the chest and back to be loose. right now, i can feel them tensing, and thus locking into place, leaving me unable to go expand beyond the range of motion in my shoulders and elbows. if i can get the chest and back to relax, it should allow the shoulders and elbows to lead them out, and thereby gain additional reach from the opening of the chest and back.

of course, this is easier said than done. i spent the entire class working on this, but it's a bit of work to unlearn my habit of tensing the chest and back and to instead focus on just relaxing. a lot of this, i suspect, is that i can feel the tension in the string and the bow, and the natural instinct is to tense up in response (much as a fighter feels the muscles tense up in response to feeling an opponent tense up). the appropriate response of relaxing is actually counter-intuitive.

but at least i'm feeling some progress, so that's positive.