Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chasing Another Dragon

Ha, ha...
To those who have written in before about this; the Dragon I am chasing does not come in the form of white powder...
It is, rather, a very difficult posture in our Xingyi system. Yesterday I trained with Jake Burroughs again in Seattle. This time we concentrated on the form and application of the Dragon and the Tiger. First, the Dragon:
As you can see above, it is an extremely low posture - much like "Snake Creeps down" in Yang Taiji. Except there is an extreme twist in the torso. The form rises up with a drilling fist, followed by a low stomping kick, returning to the mirror side low posture as you move across the room. My Xingyi brother Terry warned me about this form, saying it was a "doosey". My instructor Jake Burroughs joked (I think) that it was to weed out people who weren't dedicated to the system. This will either cure my stiffening 50-year-old knees and hips or destroy them forever. Fortunatly, there is no ballistic movement in Li Gui Chang's Xingyi, so it will train my strength, flexability and patience.
Attributes and application include Pi Chuan, metal "splitting fist", the stomping kick which is aimed at knee level, and an alternative leg-trapping take-down The energy of the Dragon is rising and falling, the form moves in a straight line.

Tiger Form

A seemingly simpler form in action, the Tiger has many structural principles that must be adhered to. It moves in a zig-zag pattern with powerful palm striking or push that has the power of the follow-step for deep penetration.
Versions of these forms have take downs, which typically entangle an opponents leg and off-balance him for "a knockdown" This is different than conventional Judo-type throws which tend to lift an opponent. As Xingyi was a battlefield art, a soldier could be facing a very large and heavily armored opponent, so tripping, sweeping and knockdowns were the preferred method of downing an opponent.
Attributes resemble a Tiger leaping on it's prey, energy is horizontal.
Now is the stage of my training in this art where Jake is working with me on entries. These are particular to internal arts systems as opposed to the Karate sparring I did for so many years. The range is closer, Kicks low, pre-clinch to closing with take downs. We spent a fair amount of time reviewing something Jake and Tim Cartmell have demonstrated in past training sessions: finding the "dead angle". For any strike, push or take down to be achieved with the minimum effort, the physics of angles must be completely understood. The hallmark of Xingyi is that it seeks the smallest entry angle to exploit the opponent's "dead angle".
-We'll revisit this theme later.

If you are in the Seattle area and are interested in studying Chinese Martial Arts, You can contact Jake Burroughs at his Three Harmonies Martial Arts website and read his Blog "The Ground Never Misses".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Martial Shapes" Of Internal Arts

In this post, we'll take a look at a series of e-mails between myself and Christopher Dow, author of "The Wellspring, An Inquiry Into The Nature of Chi".
I tried to edit it for length and keep the key concepts intact:

Chris Dow: I want to say a little about a tai chi-related concept I’ve been thinking about lately. For the last few years, I’ve occasionally played with the movements in a free-form context, originally with a rooted stance but more recently also with moving steps. I guess it’s sort of like Chen style reeling silk exercises, but instead of tracing the tai chi diagram, I just mess around with the different ways that the leg thrusts and waist turns can launch the arms through the various tai chi applications. The more I’ve added the moving component, the more I’ve come to realize something that sort of links to what you’ve written about in relation to the more static martial arts (karate, tae kwon do, etc.) being somewhat limited and the more mobile ones (particularly the Chinese internal martial arts) less so. It’s also, perhaps, an ancillary to what I wrote in “The Wellspring” about the way chi is generated by the entire body in tai chi but only in a localized manner in the hard styles.
Techniques are embedded in all martial arts, certainly, but it seems to me that some marital arts engage the entire body in ways that transcend techniques isolated to specific areas of the body. And more importantly, they provide a natural flow from one technique or type of technique to another in ways that allow the techniques to be put together ad lib.
This line of thought has led me to the idea that a major difference between some types of martial arts and others is that some forms teach isolated techniques—or, perhaps, a series of techniques—while others encode a method of movement that contains techniques. Most (but not all) of the karate and taekwondo I’ve seen falls into the former category, and many (but not all) kung fu styles—especially tai chi—fall into the latter, though this isn’t to imply that technique-oriented arts aren’t effective or that movement-oriented arts always are.
When a person first comes to tai chi, he learns this posture and that posture and the way to get from the one to the other (which often is the most important aspect) in a sort of isolation, as with the technique-oriented arts. But the more the person practices, the more he gains a rhythm and flow from movement to movement. For me, it’s taken a long time to get from that to seeing the method of movement that has been masked by my overall concentration on performing the different movements and the tai chi set as a whole—and even by my concentration on technique. Now, I’ve begun to see the method that underlies not just the different movements, but the form itself, and it’s made me realize how powerful a teaching tool the form is and why it is so important to practice it daily. Only through repetition can the method of movement the form encodes become ingrained in the practitioner’s body. I’m thinking that this might be what makes tai chi such a powerful tool for self-improvement as well as self-defense.
Maybe I’m making too much of a simple idea, or maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe I’m just not making sense. But if I am, I’d like to hear your thoughts—and also the thoughts of others, as you did with the on-guard epistle—on how some forms encode a system of movement rather than simply imparting a series of techniques. And how could forms be thus categorized? To pick two internal Chinese styles: Bagua obviously is a movement-based style, but it seems to me that Hsing-I is a technique-based style. Again, the skill of the practitioner or the martial effectiveness of the art is not the question here. What I’m interested in is the fact that, with some martial arts, you can learn a series of movements that, at first, are disconnected elements but that eventually meld into a system of body dynamics that go beyond the particular elements or techniques of movement.

D.R. : I think I have mentioned it in writing before, but it might bear repeating. I think the internal arts appear to me now as shapes. That is, how does my shape fit the shape of my training partner (or attacker).
Some shapes flow naturally into patterns. But picking the correct shape so that patterns can be created is the tricky part. I think that's what the masters said about "listening with the skin", an innate feeling that allows for success.
- does this fit with where you are trying to go with your idea?

Chris Dow: Yes, I remember your post regarding the internal arts as shapes, and I thought, yes, that's pretty interesting. I visualized a sort of meshing with the opponent in a way that put him at a disadvantage and at the same time allowed one to use one's power appropriately. But I think of the internal art of Hsing-I, and while I can see the shapes, I don't see the same sort of flow of movement that I do in Tai Chi or Bagua. But then, I'm not terribly familiar with Hsing-I and have only seen practitioners doing repeated executions of particular movements. Maybe there's a form I'm not familiar with that embodies a true flow. Maybe you can clue me in. If there isn't, then, even though it's an internal art, it seems more like the various arts that train the practitioner through repetition of specific movements, such as standing in horse stance and doing a bunch of reverse punches that aren't connected to any other movement.
It seems to me that the internal arts, by and large, foster spontaneous movement and an almost psychic awareness (listening with the skin) of one’s surroundings that makes spontaneous, anticipatory movement possible. But I want to know more about your shapes concept. Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to visualize what that might mean, but I found myself getting stuck on “posture.” By this, I mean something akin to photographs in forms manuals that show, say, Single Whip or Cloud Hands or some other movement. I think my problem isn’t with your concept, per se, but with the word “shape,” which, to me, implies something static. I’m sure you really mean movement blending appropriately with movement and, thus, following the shape of the opponent.
I’ve also been pondering where or not the question I asked in my original e-mail is really valid. All movement arts—martial arts and dance—probably teach flow, not just technique. If I learn to rumba really well, then I will rumba through life. It’s just that Tai Chi and some others emphasize flow, where others emphasize technique. But now I look back at your quote above and think, well….

D.R. : When I think of "martial shape" I think of how an amoeba moves, or osmosis, flowing from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.
Water seeking it's own level.
A naturally occuring event that is not forced.
In TKD and Karate, we were "forcing" our "action" onto our opponent, even if we were just responding to movement.
If we try to use the martial shape definition above, then we are using the listening skill you and the classics describe.
Of course, it's easy to talk about and hard to perfect.
So I think we are perhaps describing the same event with different terminology. For some reason, the mind picture of "Shapes" is what is sticking with me.
When I have my crew doing fruit tree pruning in old orchards with hundred-year-old trees, I tell them they will start seeing "patterns" rather than cut-and-clip arrangement. Patterns. Shapes. Something that is innately perceived and felt.
Now, a true master of hard-style arts can achieve this, I have seen it. But it tends to come with power and eventually when the master's physical power is faded (hey, I'm 50), his skill is minimalized.
By the same example, some internal stylists have an unreal expectation of their progress or fighting ability.
With one foot in the hard-style camp, I have now chosen the internal method ( I started with Taiji in 1996, Tae Kwon Do in 1979). I find internal arts superior for longevity, but we gotta' keep it real.

Chris Dow: Okay, I understand your shapes concept better. The amoeba did it for me. I think you’re right, at least with regard to Tai Chi. I’ve seen enough Bagua and Hsing-I to identify them, but I don’t really know more than the basics about them—not enough to know if the shapes concept applies. I take your word for it, since you know them better. But regardless of which martial arts style you can apply it to—Tai Chi being one—“shapes” is the perfect word.
It is partly what I was talking about. I was originally interested in how Tai Chi—and presumably some other martial arts, but maybe not exclusively internal styles—teach a method of movement, while some just teach a series of techniques. The former lends itself to greater flexibility/diversity in movement—what you might call the ability to shape—over the latter. Where our two concepts meet, then, is that learning a method of movement, rather than just a series of techniques, confers greater ability in naturally executing shapes, which are the forte of superior martial styles, particularly the Chinese internal martial arts. Though, as you point out, you’ve got to work like hell to make your method of movement be a truly effective shape-shifter.
Before I go, back to the amoeba for a moment: If you trained two amoeba in Tai Chi and had them “push pseudopods,” would they eventually end up in a perfect Tai Chi sphere?

I know this ran a little long, even with editing. This has been a great discussion, if anyone else has some thoughts to add please help us continue in the comments section.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Fun:

Have a good weekend everybody!

Open Forum in the comments section if anyone wants to chime in...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"On Guard" Stance: Raise Hands vs. San Ti

Yang Chengfu in "Raise Hands"

Back in February we took a long look at the "On Guard" stance in Tai Chi Chuan. In that post, various instructors gave their opinions on what position or "Stance" gives the best pre-attack protection for students of Tai Chi Chuan.
Opinions varied, but "Raise Hands" or some variation of that posture was suggested the most.
Here's where we can see a difference in "Intent" between Tai Chi Chuan and Xingyi. Looking at the picture of Yang Chengfu above, we see that his stance in "Raise Hands" is back-weighted, front leg "empty" and ready to kick if necessary. The arms are held high, as if to join with the attack and neutralize.
Now let's take a look at the "San Ti" stance from Xingyi (also Pi Chuan, or "splitting fist"):

Note that the weight distribution is more forward, with the back leg spring-loaded and ready to drive the body into the opponent; to "occupy" his space. The front hand is held fairly high to check an incoming punch, the rear hand held at the Dantien to protect the center and groin.
In my opinion, I think these two stances reflect the "Intent" of the two arts. Tai Chi Chuan is more likely to respond to the attacker, attempt to neutralize and control the opponent.
The Xingyi San Ti appears to be ready to punch the other guys lights out.
Now, both these arts are still using internal principles and Xingyi does attempt to neutralize, but Xingyi is more likely to hit first. Just my opinion...

Xingyi Bear Form:

Coming soon:
Thoughts from myself and Chris Dow, author of "The Wellspring" on elements of "Martial Shapes", and just what makes internal arts different than hard-style arts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dojo Rat's New Ride?

OK kids, Uncle Dojo Rat has a birthday coming up and this is what he wants; you know, to keep the Deer and Rabbits out of the garden...

You can find this and other neat tools to survive the Apocalypse at This Article. (Lots of humor).

And, while I am definitely not a Militia Geek, I do enjoy looking at the ideas on survival websites like this one.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why Do I Train In Ancient, Obscure Arts?

Like many martial artists, I occasionally chart my long path in training to consider where I have been and where I am going.
Despite many years of training in Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo, I have settled on the Chinese "Internal" arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua And Xingyi. Many people are familiar with Taiji, but Bagua and Xingyi are virtually unheard of in many parts of our country. I have been very fortunate to have trained with skilled masters in these arts, they are few and far between.
So what is the attraction to these arts?
-Do they stand out as the most effective fighting arts I could be learning?
-Probably not. A beginning martial artist would need years in these type arts to fight effectively. But I am not a beginning martial artist, I've got a good thirty years of training in various arts "under my belt".
-Is it for the benefit of gaining "Rank"?
-Certainly not. I already had a second Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and a third while in Kenpo. My friends that stayed in TKD are all now fifth Dan or higher ranked. I never cared about that crap anyway. Furthermore, I don't know a single internal art school in my area that actually has a ranking system. It just doesn't apply to internal schools the way it does in the McDojo.
-Does learning a Sword form help in daily self-defense considerations?
-Hell no. Nobody fights with swords anymore. But there must be some other appeal...
So what is it that attracts me to these "arts"?
-"Art" is the key word here. As I have written countless times, Combat brings necessary pain, "Art" necessarily brings pleasure. Learning these arts brings a satisfying sense of self-improvement at a deep, introspective level. For instance, In Tai Chi Chuan, the slow precise movement allows one to feel every part of the body, the alignment, the balance, the intent.
-Memo to self: I am over fifty years-old now. Transitioning into the internal arts is a natural path for older, experienced martial artists. Look, us old farts don't heal as fast as we used to, so there is less time spent sparring and more time spent in meditative, healthy martial movement.
-Learning ancient, beautiful flowing arts is like memorizing a great line of poetry. It's not the primal scream of a youthful punk-rock band. It's more like the flavor of aged cheese and fine wine on a sunny afternoon. Even if it's raining...
-And lastly, If we train in these type of arts we continue a long line of study, steeped in antiquity with the knowledge of thousands upon thousands of warrior spirits guiding us. The Chinese arts, in particular mimic elements of nature ("wave hands like clouds") and various animal forms. As we study deep introspective body movement we become more aware of the natural world around us. We listen to the animals, feel the air, change with the seasons.
And as we become more aware of the natural world, we feel more at ease with who we are as individuals, and where we fit in the universe around us...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Fun: Billy Bob Thornton - Redneck Kung Fu

I came across this gem from a previous post I did, and it just cracks me up. A great fight scene from a terribly depressing movie- "Chrystal".
Billy Bob Thornton uses open-hand strikes, shin kicks and a whole lot of Redneck humor in this outstanding fight scene.
Fear the lowly Shin Kick and Bitch Slap, you Redneck Meth-heads!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: "The Essence And Applications Of Taijiquan"

Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan is the most popular version of Taiji, practiced all over the world. Given the vast numbers of practitioners, it may also be the most popular "martial art" in the world.
With that said, it may also be the most misunderstood martial art in the world. As Tai Chi Chuan rose to it's familiar image as a "new age exercise", it lost the "Chuan", or "fist" within the art.
Countless knock-offs were created as a yogic practice for hipsters or a balance enhancement pattern for senior citizens. Part of the blame must also lie with the Chinese Communist Government, which attempted to standardize Tai Chi practice and made it into a mundane cross-cultural fitness program. The fighting system once known as "Grand Ultimate Fist" was almost lost.
When we want to return to the true roots of Tai Chi Chuan, no one source can deliver the information like the words of Yang Chengfu, the founder of the Yang style as it is meant to be practiced.
Louis Swaim has provided us an excellent translation of Yang Chengfu's "The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan". The book has an introduction by Swaim, followed by forewords by Zheng Manquing, Yang Chengfu, and his son Yang Shouzhong. Each movement in the long form is viewed with a picture of the posture and Yang Chengfu's description of the application and expression of the form. Each posture is also commented on by translator Swaim for clarity.
Following the form presentation, there is a chapter on push hands, the Da-Lu (Great Rollback) two-person form, and the poetic "Taijiquan Classics".
Nothing comes closer to the true intent of Yang Tai Chi Chuan than the words of the Master:

"There is only one school of Taijiquan: there are not two ways of learning. One may not make a show of one's cleverness by rashly making additions or deletions. The former worthies developed these methods. If alterations or corrections could be made, the ancestors preceding me would already have already put them into effect".

I highly recommend "The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan" as a valuable resource for Taiji players, with the actual words of Yang Chengfu to guide them in their practice.

This book and hundreds of other martial arts titles can be found at the website for Blue Snake Books.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Culture Of Cruelty: From The Cage Match Craze To The Tea Party

Over twenty years ago I had a revelation that appeared to stand logic on it's head; The two most polite places I had ever been were Karate tournaments and Gun Shows.
That's right. At the Karate tournaments there were hundreds of fighters, many who outranked me and had far superior skills. Yet, complete respect was displayed across the ranks.
At the gun shows, nearly everyone was armed. It was a National Rifle Association Nirvana where you could walk around with a Beer, buying and selling rifles, shotguns and handguns. Everyone was polite beyond belief.
But something has changed.
While wasting some time flipping through television channels, I happened across the movie "Never Back Down". It's a simple formula flick that we've seen in dozens of versions: Boy meets girl, boy gets beat up, boy learns how to fight, boy gets girl in the end.
But what struck me is the level of blood-lust the teenage crowds at the fights displayed, and from what I have seen it wasn't far from the truth. While I myself have only seen "mixed martial arts" fights on TV, I have friends that have gone to casinos and arenas to watch them live. These guys are hard-core martial artists that train daily and have no problem kicking some ass. But I listened with interest as they described the wanna-be fighters in the crowds, everybody a tough guy with a chip on his shoulder. My friends said the atmosphere was too testosterone charged and probably would never go again, let alone take a wife or girlfriend to an event. It seemed everybody wanted to kick somebody's ass, and it wasn't worth putting up with.
Across the board, instructors of traditional martial arts have been complaining of low enrollment and general lack of interest in martial arts that are steeped in customs, respecting rank, philosophy, and the long self-improvement aspect associated with traditional Asian martial arts. Instead, our increasingly on-demand society seeks instant results. Young people are gravitating towards "mixed martial arts", which is a misnomer and should simply be referred to as "fight-sport".
These fight-sports have methods, not "arts". Combat brings necessary pain, while "art" necessarily brings pleasure.
Don't get me wrong; the advent of fight-sport has clearly weeded out certain fighting techniques that are not viable in our modern times. However, this has been at the expense of the parallel loss of martial virtue, "Bushido", or "Wu-De".
With great power comes great responsibility, and kids of the "Never Back Down" generation are cheating themselves out of traditions that instill humility, respect and order in an otherwise un-orderly world.

To "The Tea Party"
Continuing the "Culture of Cruelty" theme, we now look at the extremes that the "conservative" movement has allowed to develop since President Obama began his run for the Presidency. Spurred on by empty heads like Sarah Palin, low-information voters and outright racists have become nearly mainstream activists.
When the so called "political left" protests, it is generally against war, and in favor of labor and civil rights. Despite immense numbers of demonstrators, the worst that usually happens is some window at a Starbucks gets broken by a few out-of-control kids.
Now, the "political right"- generally in support of war, and against labor (unions) and against civil rights (Nixon's "Southern Strategy"), is openly bringing guns to their protests:

Setting aside the politics and issues involved, I can only say that low-information conservatives consistently vote against their own best interests. If the "Left" protests war, the "right" protests against sensible health care reform. And they're bringing guns.
Does this look familiar?:

And we had hoped that by now, in 2010, that things would have changed.
In our current "Culture of Cruelty", Black Congressmen are being spit on and called "Nigger". There is open talk of secession and revolution as the emerging Neo-Confederacy invites acts of violence and warns of a "Reckoning".
With 24-7 broadcasts by propagandists Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity the "Jew baiting" ramblings of last century's Father Coughlin pale by comparison.
Take a look at this conservative conference addressed by Sean Hannity, who later back peddled from his comparison of "Tea Party" activists to Oklahoma City bomber and mass-murderer Tim McVeigh:

Please note that the crowd applauds in agreement.
But perhaps the clearest example of the mindset of these "conservative" activists is the abject cruelty displayed to a man with Parkinson's disease with a sign pleading for health care reform at a "Tea Party" rally:

With the first Black President and the first woman Speaker of the House, the fragile grip conservative white Americans had on the country is slipping away. Unwittingly led by corporate overlords through fake "AstroTurf" grass-root movements like Dick Armey's "Freedom Works", conservatives struggle to label Obama a Socialist, Communist, and in the greatest case of "projection" ever, "Fascist". Never mind they can't define or differentiate between either of these political ideologies.
Things are escalating to dangerous new levels. The pot is literally calling the kettle "black", and the pot is packing guns to political rallies.
During the McCarthy Communist "witch hunt" in 1954, chief council for the Army Joseph Welch was defending a young attorney that had been a member of The National Lawyers Guild. In this famous moment, he sums up the atmosphere of not only the hearings, but the political climate:

At long last, Tea Party activists; have you no sense of decency?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Evil Eye: Real And Measurable

According to this article in Yahoo news, Dr. Colin A. Ross explains how to measure the eye's electromagnetic energy.
From the article:

"Although nearly everyone has experienced the sense of being stared at only to find that a person or animal really was looking, Western science has long rejected that the human eye can emit any form of energy. Dr. Ross says his findings move "human ocular extramission," which he also refers to as an "eyebeam," from the realm of superstition to science.
"We used our patent pending Electromagnetic Beam Detection System, which includes modified EEG neurofeedback equipment, to prove that the human eye emits an electromagnetic signal that can be measured scientifically," said Dr. Ross. "I hope that future experiments will determine why energy emitted from the eye is so strong and whether it can be harnessed through focused attention."
Dr. Ross:

--And this:
"Dr. Ross previously made headlines by applying to the $1 Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge administered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (http://www.randi.org/). Although Dr. Ross can prove that his eyebeam can make a tone sound out of a computer, JREF insists that no energy can be emitted from the eyes and mocked Dr. Ross with its Pigasus Award. JREF has not responded to Dr. Ross' test protocol."

(D.R.)-- This once again brings up the phenomena of "The no-touch knockout", which I have written about at this link. I believe it largely has to do with the power of suggestion, but there is definitely something going on...

More video at the article link above.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tai Chi Disco-nnect

Ha, ha...
"The ZhongZhen" sent this to my YouTube inbox. I'd never seen it before and it's pretty funny.
Martial legend Bruce Frantzis provides a great self-deprecating performance of Tai Chi Chuan and dance.
The cool thing is, Martial movement does make us better dancers.
In the words of "The E-Trade Baby" (commercial) I was "a terrible, terrible dancer; Haunting".
But honestly, once I started Tae Kwon Do at age 20, I got more comfortable with body movement. I'm sure people had to stay the hell out of the way of my elbows, but at least I became a passable dancer.
Of course, much like a fine wine, my dancing just gets better. If I could only get off this bar stool...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Symbolism In Tai Chi Chuan

Click on image to enlarge

I found this first chart over at "The Rum Soaked Fist", posted by Doc Stier.

Here is my somewhat limited description of how it works:
The top of the diagram displays heaven, Yang energy. When energy rises up the body it becomes more Yang. At the bottom we see earth. Likewise, energy descending in the body becomes Yin, as earth is Yin energy.
In the beginning, there was "Wu Ji", the great void, nothingness.
Within the Wu Ji, something began to stir, represented by the dot in the center of Wu Ji. This is labeled as "The first differentiation".
The stirring splits into the dialectical opposites, which strive to interchange, hence the blending into the Yin-Yang symbol, each side containing a portion of the opposite.
Yin-Yang gives birth to The Five Elements, which are also the basis for the philosophy in Xingyi Boxing. The elements have a creative cycle, and a destructive cycle.

And the Five Elements produce "The Ten Thousand Things".

One thing that really interests me is that the "Wu Ji" phase makes me think about "The Big Bang Theory" of the origins of the known universe. In fact, if there is a physics professor out there I would love to see the parallels they could draw between this ancient symbol chart and revelations in modern science.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cute Hippie Chick Of The Month: Hippie Chicks Of Future Past

Lost and "loose" in space

Big "Guns"

Robby The Robot falls in love

Whole new meaning for "giving head"

I thought women were from Venus...

What the heck, might as well throw this one in too...