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.