Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Trip To Wudang Mountain

Lets take a short trip to Wudang Mountain, a legendary sacred Taoist retreat:

Here's an Ariel view:

And one with snow for contrast:

Wudang is known as one of the birthplaces of the "Internal" Martial Arts:

(From "Bagua, Hidden Knowledge In The Taoist Internal Martial Art; by John Bracy and Liu Xing-Han)
"Noted Sinologist John Blofeld describes his meetings with Taoist holy sages and recluses in the mountains of China before the communist takeover of the mainland. Below is an account of Taoists in mock battle he observed one evening while a guest at a Taoist hermitage:
"The climax of the evening was a combat between two pairs of recluses armed with swords. Dark robes billowing in the wind, sleeves flapping like phoenix-wings, they ran and leapt, cut and thrust with such agility that their weapons darting in the moonlight produced spurts of liquid fire. The clash of steel on steel and the flurry of sparks proclaimed that the great swords were no toys; it seemed impossible that the contestants would emerge unwounded from an encounter fierce enough for me to expect to see heads and limbs sundered from their bodies. The blows were no feints, but dealt in earnest in the sure knowledge that the opposing adepts had the speed and skill to protect themselves by parrying or swift avoidance. The combat had the aspect of frenzied ritual in which the contestants were determined to die beneath one another's swords. By the time it ended, I was sweating with anxiety and could scarcely believe my eyes when the four recluses walked towards the Abbot smiling and unscathed."

And here's a short video of a trip up the mountain:

Yes, some day Ol' Dojo Rat might just have to hop on a tramp steamer and sail to China, rent a donkey and ride up to Wudang.
I'm not too sure about that cable-car...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: "The Xingyi Boxing Manual"

"When drinking water one should ponder it's source". (Ciu Heqing, in the forward.)

The above quote is a good reflection on this small book about an art cloaked in antiquity and mystery.
"The Xingyi Boxing Manual; Hebei Style's Five Principles and Seven Words" is short and poetic, with plenty of room for "pondering". John Groschwitz has translated Jin Yunting's edited collection of Xingyi "songs" and historical references and biographies.
Xingyi, the hard-hitting cousin of Tai Chi Chuan and Baguazhang is often overlooked because of it's apparent simplicity. Belying that simplicity is a system complex in structure and effective enough to be the core empty hand and weapon art of the Chinese Army.
Xingyi is a "niche" art, and as so "The Xingyi Boxing Manual" is a "niche book" that will apply to practitioners of the art. Don't expect a manual on fighting applications, consider this book as sampling a fine aged tea.
Again, from one of the many forwards, this one by Sheng Jun:

"Aside from the cultivation of virtue and the cultivation of wisdom, I also value the cultivation of the body. There are many paths to cultivation of the body, but if you are seeking one that is simple and suitable for all ages, there is none like Xingyi boxing, because this art specifically takes qi cultivation as it's foundation. Splitting, Smashing, Drilling, Pounding and Crossing correspond to metal, wood, water, fire and earth and divide externally into the five postures. Internally they fill the five organs and are the natural, profound way to health".

"The Xingyi Boxing Manual" is a light, poetic read with profiles of Masters dating back to over 900 years ago. For the Xingyi boxers out there, this book will add to your collection.

This book was provided for review by Blue Snake Books. This title and hundreds of other martial arts titles are available at Blue Snake Books website, LINKED HERE.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oriental Esoterica

Well, I'm off chasing another elusive Dragon.

After talking with my Xingyi instructor Jake Burroughs we decided on my next level of training. As some readers may know, I transitioned from hard-style Karate into Tai Chi Chuan and Bagua starting around 1996.
-Still got the Karate "chops" (pun intended), it's difficult to get rid of ingrained training. But the internal martial arts offer a way deeper aspect of introspection and body knowledge.
Back in the old days (1980's) when I started in the martial arts, instructors would tell us that martial arts were 20% physical and 80% mental. Then they worked us to a 110% physical routine. Maybe we got one minute of seated meditation in a two-hour class.
In Tai Chi Chuan we were introduced to spiral meditation, microcosmic circulation, Chi projection, and other mental imagery. There are various forms of "Chi Gong" that we discovered.
Now, my current focus is on learning the third style of Chinese internal arts, Xingyi.
Xing Yi Quan, literally "Form-Mind Boxing" has it's own methods of internal body work, called "Nei Gong". Here is what Wikipedia states about Nei Gong:

"The martial art school of neigong emphasises training the coordination of the individual's body with the breath, known as the harmonisation of the inner and outer energy(內外合一), creating a basis for a particular school's method of utilising power and technique.
Neigong exercises that are part of the neijia tradition involve cultivating physical stillness and or conscious (deliberate) movement, designed to produce relaxation or releasing of muscular tension combined with special breathing techniques known as the "tortoise" or "reverse" breathing methods to name but a few. The fundamental purpose of this process is to develop a high level of coordination, concentration and technical skill that is known in the martial arts world as neijin (內勁). The ultimate purpose of this practice is for the individual to become at one with heaven or the Dao (天人合一). As Zhuangzi stated, "Heaven, earth and I are born of one, and I am at one with all that exists (天地與我並生, 萬物與我唯一)".

The method of Xingyi and Neigong I am learning is from Master Li Guichang.

The fighting forms are practiced as a somewhat "softer" mode than in other Xingyi systems, which makes it dovetail perfectly with my Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan. The NeiGong of Xingyi is similar to some ChiGong but is often characterized as "Internal Body Method" as opposed to "Breath Method" of ChiGong.
So, even though I have practiced other Chi methods, this is a new experiment for me. It requires daily practice, and as such, I have to put something else on the shelf for the time being. That means my Bagua practice will have to take a backseat while I continue with Taiji, Xingyi and the Xingyi NeiGong.

So off to chase that elusive Dragon, my instructor says it will take 100 days to internalize this new practice.

For more thoughts on this subject, see my recent post on "Shen Fa", or "Body Method".

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bring Out Your Inner Barbarian

Well, it's been a while since we did a post on Vikings, and this one is prompted by a great article in National Geographic: "51 Headless Vikings In Execution Pit Confirmed". From the article:

"Naked, beheaded, and tangled, the bodies of 51 young males found in the United Kingdom have been identified as brutally slain Vikings, archaeologists announced Friday.
The decapitated skeletons—their heads stacked neatly to the side—were uncovered in June 2009 in a thousand-year-old execution pit near the southern seaside town of Weymouth".

From the 1958 movie "The Vikings"

Vikings Found With Hacked Heads, Naked Bodies

Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull, jaw, and neck. This suggests the men were war captives whose heads were savagely hacked off, said David Score of Oxford Archaeology, leader of the preconstruction survey that found the Vikings' execution pit.
"The majority seem to have taken multiple blows," he noted.

"Other injuries hint that some of the slaughtered attempted to shield themselves from their executioners' blows. For instance, the hand of one victim had its fingers sliced through, Score said.
The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display."

The 13th Warrior

"Aside from their injuries, the headless Vikings "look like a healthy, robust, very strong, very masculine group of young males," he added. "It's your classic sort of warrior."

""They had left their ship, walked inland, ran into an unusually well-organized body of Saxons, and were probably forced to surrender," Siddorn speculated in July.
Despite the Vikings' brutal reputation, there was actually little to differentiate Vikings and early English warriors on the battlefield, said Siddorn, also a founder of Regia Anglorum, a historical-reenactment society.
"You would find it very difficult to tell the difference between a Viking and a Saxon if they stood in front of you in war gear," he said. Both used spears as their primary weapons, with swords and axes as backups, Siddorn added".

So despite their fierce image, Vikings occasionally got their asses kicked too.

Here's my favorite Vikings, they're from Minnesota:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Fun: Odds and Ends

Ahh, the end of the work week-- time to cut firewood, play Guitar, and double my Beer intake.

But let's take care of some "Odds and Ends".
First, The Odds:
Hello to all our friends at Halliburton Corporation and Lockheed Martin. My stat counter says you've been checking in regularly.
I mean, sure I get ISP's from .Gov and .Mil checking in all the time. But hey; the "Free Market" defense contractors can snoop too!


Lockheed Martin

And "Ends"
Our ol' buddy Fess Parker passed away yesterday.
Yes, I'm old enough to remember watching all the "Daniel Boone" shows. Clean, exciting and with a strong moral message, "Daniel Boone is what all American boys in the 1960's watched.
And yes, I had a "coonskin hat".
Got it at Disneyland.

Have a good weekend, and drink lots of Beer!
P.S.- You guys at Halliburton and Lockheed; please don't invade anybody this weekend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Needle Through Brick": Kung Fu Documentary

My Friend and Xingyi instructor Jake Burroughs turned me on to this movie trailer for "Needle Through Brick".
It brought tears to my eyes.
In fact it looked so good my training partner Corey ordered a copy, so I'll have a full review later.
Take a look and see what you think...

Here's the link to the producer's site if you want to order a copy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cheng Hsin: Elusive Boxing Method

Last Post we looked at Peter Ralston in a really great push-hands session. The thing I clearly saw is that Ralston was elusive and mobile. The only time I saw him dig into his "Root" was when he was transfering power into his opponent, in some cases taking the opponent clear off his feet. Otherwise, he was extremely elusive and "cagey".
My Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman (who is a push-hands champion) makes this comparison; Most Martial arts behave like a big dog- Dogs respond to touch by jumping on you and wanting to wrestle. Tai Chi Chuan push-hands should be more like a cat- you reach out to pet a cat and they are elusive, they back just out of reach and come to you on their own terms.
The video above is of Ralston's students demonstrating the slipping and dodging method rather than hard blocking against a Boxer. I'm sure there are some Boxers out there that will have some criticism, but let's face it; the objective is to not get hit.
Tim Cartmell told us that trying to block your opponent's punches is like throwing rocks at the rocks your opponent is throwing at you- at some point one of his rocks will get through and bean you. Tim's students are trained to slip and deflect from a covered position, a more modern approach compared to classical Kung Fu.

The thing I have taken away from these two Ralston videos is that his Cheng Hsin relies on evasive movement, whether in stand-up Grappling, or in Boxing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Ralston: Great Push Hands Session

I have written in the past about my frustration with the writing of Peter Ralston compared to the physical talent the man displays. As I have stated in previous reviews, Ralston's first book "The Principles Of Effortless Power" was a "tough patch to weed". Not so with his second book, "Cheng Hsin T'ui Shou: The Art Of Effortless Power", which has become one of my favorites.
Peter Ralston's Cheng Hsin (defined by Ralston as "the true nature of being") combines many elements of Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, Bagua, and Western Boxing. Ralston has produced a very detailed "Fight/Play" video, which begins with him slamming the crap out of a Chinese competitor to become the first non-Asian to win the Chinese Full-Contact Martial Arts Tournament in China in 1978.
Ralston went on to develop "Cheng Hsin", and in the video above you see a playful demonstration of his skills.
Tai Chi players; take note of Ralston's mobility, including retreating spiral motions he refers to as "leading roll-backs", which can be seen in Aikido movement also. Many times in push hands, Taiji players get "stuck in their root". This free-style play should be instructive as to a more natural method of play, clearly approaching movement necessary in actual self-defense.
The young guy challenging Ralston in the video begins by testing the master. He then moves on to try and match Ralston's "cat and mouse" movement. Finally, getting a little tired and frustrated, he presses harder and ends up on his ass.
Peter Ralston is indeed an American Master, and likely a genius to boot. To find more information including his highly recommended "Fight/Play" video, go to Ralston's Cheng Hsin website, found here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Exploring "Shen Fa"; Body Method

Last weekend when I was at a Tai Chi Chuan seminar My instructor took interest in a movement I was doing. The class was practicing "roll back" and "press" from the Yang form. The instructor stood at my left flank and asked that we perform the move at the same time so the class could see how we moved differently. I could not see his exact movement (he was to my left and slightly behind me), so I asked a classmate to explain the difference. My instructor did press in a "long energy" way, with his body pushing the arms as if to project an opponent backward. I was doing press by unfolding my body from the roll-back position in a wave-like fashion, sharply ending in the press like snapping a wet towel or whip. Both were functional in their application, with my method being more "short energy" for penetration rather than projection.
This got me thinking about "Shen Fa" or "body method", and how things I am learning in Bagua and Xingyi are subtly changing my Tai Chi Chuan.
Shen Fa is what makes "internal martial arts" internal. If you imagine a Karate practitioner moving through down blocks and straight punches, you understand how they are powerful but tend to use muscle tension in the limbs and the body and spine remain erect.

Now compare that to this video of Xingyi, most movements clearly using "body method":

Currently on "The Rum Soaked Fist" forum, there is a great three-page discussion on the use of "Shen Fa". In one comment, Kenneth Fish sums up the issue:

"--most of the Xingyi that is public is lacking this - frequently the body, although solid, is like a brick - none of the various wave/rolling/stretching/compressing etc that should be driving and following all movements."

And that is the hallmark of the internal arts; wave/rolling/compressing/stretching.
Take a look at the exercises this practitioner is using to develop "Shen Fa":

One of the next lessons I will have with my Xingyi instructor will be to learn a "Neigong" (internal method) set called "Tuna Si Ba". I have yet to see how the set works, but it takes two hours to begin learning, and 30-40 minutes to practice once learned. I'm starting to believe that my toolbag of fighting forms is looking pretty good, but Neigong internal method may be the most important aspect for me to pursue at my current level of training. I have to say I am fascinated by this. To be clear, "Nei Gong" is internal body work, "Chi Gong" refers more to "breath method" (which I have also studied).
The first part of this next video is of Bagua master Park Bok Nam demonstrating the "Dragon Back" exercise from his Bagua system. This may be the most graphic example of internal body method, with the segmented whipping of the spine in the palm strike. As you can see, the motion is shortened in the stepping strike, but still evident. For the purpose of this article, the first few minutes of this video are the only relevant parts:

Note the coiling/compressing/releasing of this method. This is what really makes the internal arts internal. You see the entire body is involved in the strike, bringing the energy from the root, through the spine, and the power is manifested at the palm.
I love this stuff.
For more information and discussion, check out this thread at "The Rum Soaked Fist".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: "The Gift Of Danger; Lessons From Aikido"

There are thousands of older, middle-aged folk out there that take up martial arts training, and Mary Stein is one of them.
In "The Gift Of Danger; Lessons From Aikido" Stein provides a social narrative on gaining confidence, partner interaction, and the path to self-improvement through the martial art of Aikido.
In this passage, she describes "finding a rhythm" with attackers:

"As they come, you can be there for the whole thing- the meeting, turning, and joining, the throw, their descent to the mat, all the way to the end, even if you linger there for only a fraction of a second before preparing for the next attack."

Stein continues on, comparing the action and rhythm on the mat with her struggle to learn Japanese from a audio tape, repeating each phrase, matching the rythym and moving immediately on to the next phrase.
In this way, Stein weaves the lessons from Aikido into her daily life.
"The Gift Of Danger" is inspirational for not only older people who take up martial arts, or women in martial arts, but to students of Aikido in general.
It's a short, sweet read that many may find of interest.

This book was provided for review by Blue Snake Books. You can find this and hundreds of other martial arts titles at their website highlited above.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Scenes From Old Port Townsend

Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman

My training partner Corey, my wife and I went to visit our Tai Chi Chuan instructor Michael Gilman In Port Townsend Wa. Saturday, this time for a seminar on applications. Michael is very detailed and focused on concepts in techniques of the first set in the Yang long form. Turnout was good, the weather was absolutely beautiful Saturday, turning to low grey clouds on Sunday.

Above is a picture of what is now called "The Water Street Hotel" with "The Water Street Brew Pub" on the ground floor.
When I lived there in the 1980's, the Tavern was simply called "The Town Tavern". The great fight scene in the Richard Geere-Deborah Winger movie "An Officer and a Gentleman" was filmed inside and on the street in front.
Those were the good old days, the town was full of old Hippies and Sailors from all over the world. The Hotel above had a huge open center with a stairway wrapping around it. There was a swing that was hung from the roof two floors above, and traveled about thirty feet. The residents of the Hotel just had to work a few shifts in the Tavern or restaurant below to pay for their rent. One night, a guy spaced out and knocked a glass Opium pipe into a wastebasket, catching the damned place on fire. It sat empty for quite a while, but has been restored nicely and this is where My wife and I stay when we visit.

Here's a picture of the old ferry dock right in front of The Town Tavern (I still use the old name). When they were building the new, modern ferry terminal they had to go back to using this one for a while. I remember standing on the front stoop of the Tavern, drinking Beer and watching cars line up right in front of us to board the ferry. The people in cars looked really thirsty on hot summer days.

These next few pics are of the really cool advertisements that were painted on the buildings around town, beautifully restored and harkening back to a bygone era...

Port Townsend was where U.S. Customs cleared all boats and ships coming into U.S. waters back in the sailing ship era, and to this day remains the premier boating town on the west coast. Below is a picture of Point Hudson, the smaller of two marinas:

And below is a shot of the sweet new guitar I picked up in town. It's a Seagull Parlor Grand with onboard electronics, wild cherry sides and back, maple neck and cedar top. Seagull guitars are handmade in Quebec Canada and are top quality. This little guitar has a big sound both unplugged or with an amp, I got a great deal on it as it was used.

All-in-all, a great weekend! Lots of good Port Townsend IPA Beer, a great Mexican dinner, we saw two bands in two bars, and I brought back a gallon of the IPA to share with the guys after practice tonight!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Road Trip!

Off to a Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan applications seminar, back soon!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Fun: DEA Raids Thomas Jefferson's Opium Stash

It's amazing how some political elements try to paint the founding fathers as puritanical God-fearing goody-two-shoes. Nothing could be farther than the truth. Washington detested organized religion. Franklin, my favorite, was a womanizing nudist that loved to drink Beer. And Thomas Jefferson had an Opium stash.
Yes, that's right. Opuim poppies don't just grow in Laos or Afghanistan, they can grow right in your backyard too.
This article in "Alternet" is titled "How The DEA Scrubbed Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Poppy Garden From Memory".
Here's a snip:

"Thomas Jefferson was a drug criminal. But he managed to escape the terrible sword of justice by dying a century before the DEA was created. In 1987 agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency showed up at Monticello, Jefferson's famous estate.
Jefferson had planted opium poppies in his medicinal garden, and opium poppies are now deemed illegal. Now, the trouble was the folks at the Monticello Foundation, which preserves and maintains the historic site, were discovered flagrantly continuing Jefferson's crimes. The agents were blunt: The poppies had to be immediately uprooted and destroyed or else they were going to start making arrests, and Monticello Foundation personnel would perhaps face lengthy stretches in prison."
"Prosecutions for crimes involving opium or opium poppies are rare. But that has less to do with the frequency of poppy crimes and everything to do with suppressing information about the opium poppy. A public trial might inadvertently publicize forbidden information at odds with the common spin about poppies and opium. This might pique interest in the taboo subject and, worse, undermine faith in the government."

Let me clearly state that naturally occuring substances are rarely physically addicting; the opium poppy, marijuana leaf, psychoactive mushroom, the coca leaf.
In their natural state, they are medicinal, spiritual, and enhance creativity. Studies of primitive man suggest natural drugs found in plants and fungus changed primitive minds and that became the dawn of art and music.
--A bite of the Apple, Eve?
But Pharmaceutical corporations want to synthesize these chemicals and put them in pills and charge your overpriced and underperforming insurance corporation lots of money so you take those pills every day.
Perhaps it took the collapse of the mythical free-market with last years "Great Bank Robbery" to turn the tide on simple marijuana possession. I believe seventeen states have legal medical marijuana right now, with bankrupt California leading the way to legalization and taxation of the largest agricultural industry in the state.
We'll see...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bagua Handgunning

I thought this was pretty interesting, using Bagua footwork in police work. The instructor is using good body mechanics and leverage, I just wonder if these doughnut-eaters can grasp the concepts. It certainly seems that the stable yet intricate footwork would be useful when turning corners in a building.
Years ago I asked my Aikido instructor, who is a County Sheriff, how skilled most police officers are in unarmed combat. Not suprisingly, he said they learned a few simple things at the police academy but little else. Now, maybe in the big city that's different. But he frankly told me that it takes so much time to be skilled in unarmed combat that most police officers, like the general public, just never put the time in. Instead, they rely on the radio, the nightstick and the handgun.
I'm curious if any officers out there care to comment on the training demonstrated in this video...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cute Hippie Chick Of The Month: Olympic Edition

OK, I knew everybody would be in a panic cause "Cute Hippie Chick Of The Month" is a day late, but better late than never!
-This is the Winter Olympic edition, and the only good thing about The Winter Olympics is girls in tight ski outfits! And the good thing about tight ski outfits is they gotta come off at some point. Here's America's sweetheart Lindsey Vonn after she has slipped into something a little more comfortable:

Nice contrast...
And the lovely Snow Bunny pictured below is Lacy Schnoor:

And of course after a long day of conquering the slopes and curves, Lacy needs to get out of those wet clothes:

But that's not all, there's more Olympic news!
*** Best Quote***
Downhill Skier Bode Miller: "I party at an Olympic level"
And the Canadian Women's Hockey team goes for the gold-- "Molsen Gold" that is:

Ahh, poor girls. Everybody is giving them crap for coming out on the ice after their big win... drinking Beer and smoking cigars.
Hey; they're Canadian!
Look. I live on an island that is closer to Canada than the mainland U.S.
I know Canadians, I have drank with Canadians, I am an honorary Canadian. Canadians party hard, eh?

Time Magazine has posted this article:
"The Vancouver Games: A Gold In Drinking"-- Here's a few snips:

"Two minutes. That's all it took for an intoxicated Canadian to start badgering me."
"...let's face it: if public intoxication were an Olympic sport, Vancouver and Whistler would own the podium."
"Throughout the Olympics, drunken revelers have overrun the streets of Vancouver. Local hospitals are reporting spikes in emergency-room visits for alcohol-related sicknesses and injuries; most of the intoxicated patients are males between the ages of 15 and 24. In Whistler, the partyers have turned what should be a cozy village into rows of frat houses in need of soundproofing."
"These must be the drunkest Olympics ever."
"Granville Street itself is unlike anything I've seen at an Olympics." And he noted that all the drinking has led to a lot of public urinating. "I've personally witnessed about 8 to 10 guys whizzing at once along a fence half a block off the main street," he said. "It's like the infield at the Kentucky Derby."

Yes, I knew there was something good about The Winter Olympics...