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: http://youtu.be/SyuQoOdgsfw

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: http://youtu.be/KJMDBkvl7GA

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: http://youtu.be/GmpT3wc6FcI

basic 2: http://youtu.be/kvIaQW_3Ypw

basic 3: http://youtu.be/DnkVxGCGCFs

basic 4: http://youtu.be/uhujy87RKhs

basic 5: http://youtu.be/qj2dkGIGzl0

basic 6: http://youtu.be/WAszitg5WKk

basic 7: http://youtu.be/lGRpuALn1xQ

basic 8: http://youtu.be/xPIu6Y1u83k

basic form: http://youtu.be/z05vrj8J--0

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: http://youtu.be/RwcF5Dtx8QI

hsing-yi Shanxi swallow: http://youtu.be/a-ySB557eTk

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.