Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Epic Battle; (in which I am dumped on my ass)

A fellow Dojo Rat practicing with Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman

Once a month, sometimes more, several of the Dojo Rats leave our Secluded Island
Hideout and travel to visit and train with other martial artists. While we have been to the mean streets of Portland, Seattle and Boise, our favorite is Port Townsend, Washington. We get up at 5:00 am, take a hour-and-a-half ferry ride to the mainland, drive forty miles, take another ferry and we arrive in Port Townsend. It's a hip old Victorian seaport that was the place where the original sailing ships cleared customs and went on to the Seattle area. I lived there for a while back in about 1981 or '82, and it was really wild back then.
Port Townsend is the home of our Tai Chi Chuan instructor, Michael Gilman. Gilman is a very "hands-on" instructor who began studying Tai Chi in 1968 with Master Choy Kam-Man in San Francisco. He is an internationally recognized Push Hands champion, and teaches all aspects of Tai Chi Chuan.
We began our training with Gilman over two years ago in Push Hands, working on sensitivity and basic drills, The Yang and Chen hand patterns and changes, and freestyle Push Hands.
Most recently, we have been learning the Tai Chi Chuan San Shou fighting form, which is the highest level form in the Yang System. It is very, very complex with many subtleties and variations. You can view a video of us doing the form in my previous post on San Shou. As I wrote before, we are still not that good at it and have a lifetime of work ahead of us to perfect it. What it does show is all the applications from the Tai Chi Solo form and how to interact with a training partner that is generally not found in the Karate arts we have studied in the past.
Yesterday we had our last San Shou class for a while, we will re-visit Push Hands and other elements of Tai Chi Chuan in future sessions.
At the end of class, he gave my fellow Dojo Rat and I a chance to go at him with the form in full combat speed. The idea was to be as accurate as possible and stick to the form, but really go for it. My partner went with him first, but broke contact when he lost the sequence of the form. It was my turn next.
Now, I've done lots and lots of tournament fighting and such, but this is fast inside combat at close range within a fixed pattern. This is at the range where Push Hands really works, just before a clinch or grappling range. The form has forty-four movements for both sides, and I initiated the attack. It is amazing how you loose a sense of root to the ground when you move so fast, and at eight or nine movements into the form, I was striking in the "Raise Hands" posture and Gilman responded with "Turn and Push". As best as I can remember, he drew my right arm across my centerline, pinning it to my chest and giving me one of those classic Tai Chi pushes that launched me backwards about eight feet. You know, you have those moments where "time stands still"? Well, I could see my 200-pound ass sailing through the air in the full-length mirror on the Dojo wall, and I hit the wood floor with a picture-perfect breakfall. It was the high point of the day for me.
In Tai Chi Chuan, there is a saying: "Invest in loss", and at that moment I invested heavily. I learned two great things in that twenty seconds: Push Hands applications can work perfectly well in self-defense situations, and it feels really, really good to do a perfect breakfall on a hard surface.
Michael Gilman's website can be found on my links list at the right of the blog.


Patrick Parker said...

"Invest in loss" - good one dude. My instructor talks with us about that A LOT. He told me once that in randori there are no winners and losers - there's those that win and those that learn.

That time dilation effect is so cool. Potatoefist mentioned it recently on his "fist in the frost" blog. really interesting thing when time slows down wehen you are upside down in the air.

Dojo Rat said...

I've tried to get "fist in the frost" in the past, but it never came up-- I'll try clicking on it again.

Yeah, it's a trip when time stands still like that...

Dave said...

You're so lucky to have found someone to teach you that form. It's a bit rare outside of Taiwan. I haven't learned it yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. You can mine that form for the rest of your life.