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?