Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Continuing Education Of The Dojo Rats

San Ti Posture

As if we didn't have enough on our plate...
Sometimes you say "oooh, that looks good. I'll have five scoops"!
In reality, you could only handle three scoops.
Across the board, the guys in our little Dojo have been past hard Karate stylists. Backgrounds include Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo, Kajukenbo, Jujitsu, Goju-Shorei and a little Boxing, Judo and Aikido thrown in.
About 1996 or so, some of us started practicing Tai Chi Chuan with one of our instructors, closely followed with an intro to Bagua. As time marched on, several of us sought out further instruction in those "internal" arts, resulting in our long-time friendship with Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman, and our new friendship with instructors Jake Burroughs, Mike Martello and Tim Cartmell.
Something was lacking in our old hard-style arts: perhaps it was the health aspects and the Mystique of Chi Gong and Acupressure meridian theory. Or possibly the meditative side of the internal arts, or the use of "whole body power". Internal arts hooked us, and I haven't seen anybody practice a hard-style form for years.
Which brings us to the five big scoops I tried to put on our plate.
I have felt for a while that if I was going to have a more complete understanding of the Chinese Internal arts, I needed to explore Xingyi. I had one Xingyi linking form that had been taught to me by a Karate instructor. That form, "Walk the Tiger", came from a Wado-Ryu teacher in Taiwan named Watanabe. It's lineage is of unknown origin, and the guy who taught me years ago could not provide much information about it.
"The thing I need to do", think'eth The Rat, "is learn the basic Five-Element forms", which are the basis for nearly every Xingyi system. So I grabbed Zac, our youngest Black Belt and we cruised down to Seattle to visit Jake Burroughs for what became a four-hour class. Now, while these forms are very linear in appearance and are straight-foward and direct, I was decieved by their inherent complexity (Que Jake Burroughs Cheshire Cat smile). Five Elements, Five scoops on the plate. No problem. Whoah... I think I'm getting kinda full here.
Jake patiently walked us through the first three forms: Pi Chuan (splitting fist, metal), Beng Chuan (crushing fist, wood) and Zhuan Chuan (Drilling fist, water). Normally, you could spend weeks just training in one of those forms, with the subtleties and wide range of applications. At three forms, we were pretty much maxed out, and we still will need much correction and application instruction. But, the exploration of these forms does indeed help me to view the complexity of internal arts, even those with outwardly simple postures - and that's exactly what I was looking for.
It's going to take repeated visits to train with Jake to gain deeper understanding of Xingyi, an art that looks simple but is so, so much more. If we can get a handle on this art, we will have the linear, whole-body striking of Xingyi, the spiral movement and grappling of Bagua, and the softness of Tai Chi Chuan which incorporates all these qualities.
So for now, I'm going to have to put those other two scoops, the "pounding fist" and the "crossing fist" back on Jake Burroughs' generous serving plate. They'll be there when we're ready, after we work on the first three.
If you would like to see information on Xingyi and the other martial arts Jake Burroughs teaches, take a look here at the website for "Three Harmonies Martial Arts Center".


Patrick Parker said...

Ha ;-) great post! I know just what you mean. We have a love affair going with judo, aikido, jodo, and two flavors of karate-do and we have interests in BJJ and I personally wish I could get ahold of a taiji or bagua guy to play with regularly. The only thing we don't have enough of is time.

What I've found is that one of your arts gels with your body type and personality and way of moving and you interpret the other arts in terms of that central art.

I know there's something to be said for taking each art on its own terms, but when you have such variety, I've found, for instance, that my karate-do (both flavors) become aiki-karate, my judo becomes aiki-judo, and my jodo becomes aikijo.

Good or bad, I dont know but that is how these different things live at peace in my mind.

Ed said...

Going ever deeper into xingyi, bagua, and taiji, I find that each has special, specific qualities unique to them! The higher level skills are in particular quite characteristic of each...

Formosa Neijia said...

It can work and it can get in the way. I've seen 5th dan karate guys take up CIMA like xingyi and it was just pointless. They were tensing their muscles and doing kiais when they struck and the teacher seemed perplexed as to what to do about it.

Your "home art" can be a natural springboard for understanding or an insurmountable obstacle depending on the styles in question, you, and the teacher.

From the teacher's POV, it helps if they have enough knowledge of other martial arts that they know the differences and similarities when teaching students with backgrounds in other styles. Then they can see the ways that student's original style will help and hinder picking up the new style.

But that's a tall order for teachers considering what people have access to these days.

Splitting (piquan) is extremely important and if I were you, I'd spend considerable time on understanding it. It's like the "father" element and crossing (hengquan) is the mother. Those two generate the other three. So for theoretical understanding, those two are the most important.

For fighting, the first three elements are most important and you're going to have a ball playing with them. Keep us updated on how it goes.

K T said...

Remember, there are a number of Hsing-I videos, in the batch I sent you.

JAB said...

John & Zac
I am honored to share my limited understanding of the arts with you guys. You picked up quickly, though it is a bit more than you expected;)
Train hard,

Dojo Rat said...

Kostas; I was thinking about you when I wrote this, I watched Mcneils xingyi DVD that you sent, thanks!
I am curious what you said about crossing fist being the "mother"- is that refering to the importance relative to the other fists? Of course, I have not learned this yet, I have just observed it. Perhaps you can elaborate,

Formosa Neijia said...

I don't want to steal Jake's thunder. i'm sure he has lots to teach you on this.

But to give you a hint: piquan is initially very vertical in it's expression and it's the first of the elements to learn. Hengquan is very horizontal in its expression initially and it's the last of the elements that you learn.

Having that vertical and then horizontal expression of xingyi energy leads you to a deeper understanding of how the five elements generate each other. So there's a progression from pure to vertical (father) to pure horizontal (mother) and everything in between.

Together, the vertical and horizontal generate everything else.

Okay, I'll shut up now. Hope that made sense and my apologies to Jake. I hear he's a VERY big guy. Hate to be piquaned by him. :)

Dojo Rat said...

Ha, ha...
Yes, Jake is a big dude, and a good instructor.
- Thanks for your insight on crossing fist, it is the most curious of all the elements to me.
We've been practicing, and trying to "internalize" these forms, with root, whole body power and every detail we can remember.

JAB said...

No apologies needed, my pi quan still sucks, and I am not very big. Trying to cut to 150#;)

Heng shares the same qualities as Fang Zhang in Bagua, and Peng in Taiji. While yes Heng is indicative of horizontal power, Heng can also be considered "mother" ish because it is found in all the elements.

Pi Quan has all the elements in it.

José said...

The first three Fists belong together also because of their footwork. Cannon fist and Crossing fist have a different footwork than the first three, which are the mroe linear. So you must first get thew footwork of the first three before advancing to the next three. It's good to stop there and wait a few weeks before moving on the the last two.

Kostas, did you study XY with Sifu McNeil? I'm one of his students too, even though I haven't seen him in a few years.

Dojo Rat said...

Where've ya been?
I was hoping for a training report from your trip to China.
Your DVD's have been very helpful, thanks!

JoseFreitas said...

Hey DR, yeah, I've finally started writing the damn thing, I am also writing a testimonial for Frank Allen's site, so I should be done by the week-end. Hopefully you'll get everything by Sunday before I go on a holiday to the south of Portugal with my family. See you!