Friday, 19 December 2008

the philosophy of Tai Ji

In Chinese, Tai Ji (太極), is the philosophy of Yin and Yang (陰陽). Yin represents everything soft, passive, negative and he moon; while Yang represents everything hard, active, postive, bright and the sun. Tai Ji is the interplay between these two forces. In the beginning there was Wu Ji (無極), the primordial state of non-being and complete stillness, but when it was put into motion, it divided into two, Yin and Yang. These are not opposites, but rather complimentary. Everything exists because of this constant change. This is represented by the famous symbol, which is half black, half white. In the symbol, the dark side represents Yin, and contains a spot of white, which is Yang, and vice versa. This shows that there is no pure Yin or Yang, and that they are interdependant on each other. You cannot have day without also having night, you cannot experience pleasure without also experiencing pain. As Lao Zi wrote in the Dao De Jing:

"It is because everyone under Heaven recognises beauty as beauty, that the idea of ugliness exists. And equally if everyone recognised virtue as virtue, this would merely create fresh conceptions of wickdness. For truly Being and Not-being grow out of one another; difficult and easy complete one another. Long and short test one another; high and low determine one another. The sounds of instrument and voice give harmony to one another. Front and back give sequence to one another. Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity, carries on wordless teaching, but the myriad creatures are worked upon by him; he does not disown them. He rears them, but does not lay claim to them, controls them, but does not lean upon them, achieves his aim, but does not call attention to what he does; and for the very reason that he does call attention to what he does. He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done."

This chapter of the Dao De Jing is very profound, and talks about the interplay of Yin and Yang. Lao Zi says that a wise man should be in harmony with the cycle of change in the cosmos and the same applies to martial arts. In Tai Ji Quan we never oppose the opponents force. Instead we compliment it. We are not, however, floppy and lifeless. Yin and Yang must be in harmony, so if someones attacks, we may feel very hard to them, but that is not opposing or using muscular strength. It is using the mind, and it feels like an inflated balloon. We allow the opponent to fully extend his power and ultimately use it against him - actionless activity. In the Tai Ji Quan classic written by legendary Taoist master Zhang San Feng, he says:

"You must emphasise the use of the mind in controlling the movements, rather than the mere use of the external muscles. You should follow the Tai Ji principle of opposites: when you move upward, the mind must be aware of down; when moving forward, the mind thinks of moving back; when shifting to the left side, the mind should simultaneously notice the right side-so that if the mind is going up, it is also going down."

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Difficulties of Learning Martial Arts in China

Its many peoples dream to come to China and learn from the genuine masters of Kung Fu. It has been my dream for many years to do what Im doing. I had this fantasy that Id arrive in China and go to a park and be confronted by many wise old Mr Myagis or wandering monks, with millenia old secrets and deadly skills, but were bound a code of honour and justice never to use them except to help the weak. I guess this is what many of us kung fu nerds dream of.

However, reality is always waiting around the corner to come crashing down on us and crush our dreams. It is true that I have met people with very high levels of skill, and they have been very friendly and welcoming to me. But I would like to outline a few of the negative aspects I found here, not to badmouth or judge, but just to give the reader a balanced picture.

The first thing I found is that there are many people you will meet who can perform loads of beautiful taolu (forms/routines), they may even be able to show you some applications. In Chinese the word for this kind of kung fu is Hua Zha Zi (excuse my pinyin if its wrong), which means something like "flowery and phoney". However, these kind of people generally know so many different styles, they cannot possibly have an understanding of the principles. They wont teach any fighting, just show you form after form after form. Forms are meant as something like an encyclopedia to a style. They demonstrate all the key principles to a style, through a rehearsed set of movements. In ancient times, these were used as a means to preserve the teaching of a master to be carried down to the next generation. They are not an end in themselve, but a means to aid in understanding an art.

The second frustration is that because foreigners are a relatively new phenonenom in China, for many masters, having a foreign student is a status symbol. There was a couple of occasions with a teacher I had previously, where he would often ignore me and teach others more, but, as soon as someone came to watch, he would immediately come up to me and give me loads of attention.
Talking to other teachers or their students often brings about some jealousy too. That is more of a traditional teacher-student relationship thing, as part of the teachings of Confucius, so it is to be expected, although I personally prefer openness. Kwok Wan Ping, a Wing Chun master from Hong Kong jokingly told me, if you want to study with others fine, I dont mind, when you come back to me your welcome to try it out and if you can beat me, then I will learn from you! That is the kind of attitude I like, open-mindedness and a good sense of humour.

Everybody who has learnt anything about kung fu will want to be your teacher. There has been some times when Ive been practicing in the park alone and some worker has come up to me and started trying to teach me! The masters are very welcoming and friendly to westerners who have travelled across the world to learn their art. The problem with this is that the other students can get jealous, because the master will often give you more attention than other students.

I want to restate that this isnt a stab at China, or anything negative. I just want to put out a balanced view of martial arts in China, so people wont be disappointed when they dont immediately find a wise master.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

an ancient treatment for back ache

A friend of my Tai Chi teacher is a traditional Chinese Doctor. His name is Dr Mu. I was at a wushu competition, when I mentioned I have some back problems, which have bothered me on and off for almost 2 years. Dr Mu told me he could alleviate it and grabbed a pressure point on my arm and told me to circlemy waist. It made it feel a lot better, but after a few minutes, it returned. So Dr Mu later gave me Tui Na, which is a medicinal massage for chronic pains and sports injuries. It really felt better, but he told me that it would return and so he would give me acupuncture.

Later that afternoon, Dr Mu took me to his house, an old style Chinese house in a slum next to a big factory, most of the area was rubble. We went inside and then I lay down and treatment began. It was like no acupuncture I'd ever seen, and also the most painful experience of my life. The first thing he did was take a small instrument that looked like a hammer withspikes on it, and tap my lower back all over until there was a decent amount of blood. Then he used the Ba Guan, which are cups that stick to the back and create a vacuum, this draws out bad blood. Then he massaged my legs and stabbed the muscle behind my knee with an acupuncture needle and put a cup on the cut. Then he told me I couldnt eat any fresh or uncooked food or drink beer for a day.

I would have felt a little sketchy about this, but Dr Mu has been practicing Chinese medicine for over 30 years, and martial arts for about 45 years, since he was 3 years old. He is a master of Mantis style, Shaolin (including drunken fist, monkey fist, hard qigong, which is the ability to break bricks and wooden poles broken onhis body), but now he has given it up to study Tai Chi as he is getting too old to do these hard styles. He can still do the hard stuff, one time he showed me monkey style and jumped into a tree and dangled by his legs blockingblows with his hands. Also, if he pushes hands with you, he feel like iron and is immovable. He is definitely a rare person in these modern times, andI feel people like him are disappearing from China as it tries so hard to modernise.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

leaving behind the hard and following the soft

I have gone back to visit Master Her Ren Shan several times (the master of Chen style, from the last post) and decided to give up Wai Jia (hard styles) and focus my energy on Nei Jia (internal styles). I am going to study Chen style, and also keep my eyes open for any Xing Yi Quan or Ba Gua Zhang in our area.

Master Her explains that Internal styles focus on using the mind rather than muscular or structural strength. In the ancient Taiji texts, it says that the mind should direct the Qi, which guides the movements of your body, starting from your feet, guided by your waist, through your spine to your arms. There is a woman called Teacher Yang, who studied Taiji for 30 years along with Master He and often attends class. When I push hands with her, she keeps saying "bu yao li, yao yi!" Li means physical power/force, Yi means mind/intention. So she is saying dont use strength, use your mind, by this she means make your arms soft, but alive and with intention. Also, she says you should be "Peng" which means a springy force, so if you push on my arm, it should hold its structure in a soft, but springy way.

After pushing hands with several different people i have begun to pick up on their different engergies. Master Her is very heavy and immovable, but I dont mean in an untrained way, it is the hardness that comes from years of softness, the highest skill. Its like steel wrapped in cotton wool. There is another man who regularly trains with us, who is called Mr Liu and he practices Wu style Taiji. Pushing hands with him is like pushing a ghost, its impossible to feel his weight centre or any trace of force, intention or direction. He stands with his feet together, and if you push him he just leans back with the force in such a way that its like trying to push fog and you end up falling forward, at which time he has turned slightly, so you land on the floor next to him. A similar thing happens when he pushes you.

Master Her doesnt teach any forms, but of course he has studied them, he knows Chen, Yang and Wu styles of Taiji, Mantis kung fu and bits and pieces of other styles. He says once you grasp the essence of Taiji you can be formless and fit into any style, after all, Taiji means the supreme ultimate, the interplay of Yin and Yang, the very flow of the universe, so knowing the fighting style based on this theory means moving in accord with the universe and so the essence of all styles is contained in it if you understand it. Master Her can demonstrate this by using fighting applications of hard styles such as Mantis against any attack, but using it in a soft way, which generates incredible power. An example of this is when he asked me to attack him and used the "mantis climbs mountain" technique against me, but sent me flying just with the block.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Chen style Taiji Quan

I have a friend I often talk to in the park after my Mantis class who studies Chen style Tai Ji Quan (t'ai chi ch'uan). He is a university teacher in the local university and we often talk about martial arts. He explains that the essence of Tai Ji is that it is about using your mind (yi) to guide your movements rather than your strength (li). The first thing you must practice is Zhan Zhuang, which means standing like a tree. You stand with your feet at shoulder width and bend your knees and put your arms in front of you and naturally curve them. The important point is keeping a straight back. Then you focus your mind on your Dan Tian, which is also known as the naval chakra, a point just below your navel where Qi is stored and is also your centre of balance. This excercise roots you to the ground, so that you are immovable in combat. The longer you hold the posture, the better rooting you will develop, 10 minutes a day is sufficient, but advanced practitioners aim for half an hour.

Anyway, my friend Chen Ning, took me to meet his master this morning. He is a man in his 70s who is very large and powerful. He is famous around Qingdao for his skill in Tui Shou (push hands). I cant really do push hands, its different from Wing Chun's Chi Sau, but I had a go anyway. I found the same as the Yang style master I wrote about before. He was just immovable and yet so soft! But as soon as he felt my weight come forward, he gave a gentle tug and sent me crashig to the floor. He said the skill is learning to feel where the opponents weight is, kind of like listening to their body. I did Tui Shou with a woman there too, who was really good and showed me the basics of it.

Afterwards, the master showed me some Qin Na (joint locks). He said this is not the aim of Tai Ji, but just a skill that is developed from it. He showed me several locks, and then the counter for each lock, so that they all flowed together. The master was a very welcoming and friendly man, who didnt act secretive or distant. I got a huge sense of warmth and kindness from him, from the moment he shook my hand. Everybody seemed to respect him and I feel this is the attitude that a master should have. He was philosophical about Tai Ji and said that the aim is to develop Wu Xing (mind of no-mind), which means to act instinctively, not to plan and scheme in your mind, so that when somebody attacks you, you just knock them down, and maybe you dont even know how you did it!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Om and the Himalayas

I was doodling yesterday and I found myself drawing the "Om" symbol without realising it. It caused me to remember last year when I was in India I stayed in a little guesthouse on the side of a mountain high in the Himalayas. The head of the family was a very nice man called Mr Prakash-ji (Ji is added at the end of Indian names to show respect). He was a very spiritual man who practices yoga and meditation. All the food served in his guesthouse is vegetarian and organically grown by his own family, and all the water used, even for washing pots, is Himalayan spring water, which flows freely from the mountain. Every morning some of us would get up early to meditate with him and he would also talk to us about the nature of our mind. The type of meditation we practiced was a type of transcendental which used chanting "Om" out loud. Om is made of the sanskrit particles A, U and M. A represents that which has form, U represents the formless, and M represents that which is neither form, nor formless.
He said that the mind is like a crazy horse that runs wild. Meditation is like tying the horse to a pole. It will cause it to run around even more at first, circling the pole and getting restless, but eventually, it will calm and will become still. This stillness allows us to perceive Sunyata, or emptiness. However, we shouldnt dwell on the idea of emptiness, for then it becomes another form and is not truly empty. We should let it arise naturally.
I find it extremely hard to let my mind still, whenever I sit in meditation there I become aware of how busy my mind is, like the horse running round and round the pole, but I figure if I can sit long enough, then the horse will tire and rest.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

befriending the local Taoist monks

Yesterday, me and some other English teachers went for a day out in the local Qingdao countryside. The first place we went was Xiao Long Shan, which is a small combined Taoist/Buddhist temple, just outside our local town of Chengyang. One of the teachers, Justin, speaks much better Chinese than me and we started chatting to a taoist guy there, who then took us to meet the head monk and several other monks and drink tea with them. So we sat down in an air-conditioned room with comfy sofas and a big TV in the back of the temple and drank tea and smoked cigarettes with the monks (well, I didnt smoke).
We chatted about several things for a couple of hours, with the help of a dictionary and then they showed us around the temple and blessed us in several different shrines. The monks explained that the reason the temple has taoist and buddhist monks and shrines is that they are both paths leading to the same goal. Noah, who is another teacher, is Christian, and so didnt want to bow to the shrines, which is understandable. The monks told us that all religions are equally great as they teach us to be better people and they all come from the same origin, which is Dao, the great unchanging Way, that guides the universe and regulates the balance of Yin and Yang. In essence this is the same idea as God, it only differs in that the Christian God seems to take a personal interest in you, whereas Dao is just a force.
Outside the shrine to Buddha was doves, one black and one white, just calmly sat either side of the entrance. They didnt fly away when we got close to them and inside was a buddhist monk reading scriptures and a mouse sat sitting on the floor. The mouse was not scared of people at all and the taoist monk said the mouse was "an jing" meaning "at peace". They were definitely both auspicious signs!
We then left the temple and the monks asked us to come and visit again and then we went to visit Mashan, which is a very small mountain with a couple of temples and a mysterious cave full of buddhist statues, which was also pretty cool.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A Second Meeting with Master Kwok Wan Ping

I had to return to Hong Kong to apply for a new visa for China. So I took the opportunityto meet with master Kwok Wan Ping again. However, this time my focus was on the Taoist martial art Ba Gua Zhang, of which Kwok Sifu is a respected master.
After warming up with some Wing Chun Chi Sau with his son, I told Sifu that I have become more interested in the internal arts, particularly Ba Gua, but that I hadn't found anyone in Qingdao who taught it. Ba Gua Zhang translates as 8 trigram palms, which refers to the 8 trigrams in Taoist metaphysics. The 8 trigrams are fire, earth, lake, heaven, water, mountain, thunder and wind. Each one represents a change in the flow of the cosmos and is named after its personality. For example, mountain doesnt literally mean a mountain, rather it represents the characteristics of a mountain: immovability, stillness. Each trigram is made up of 3 lines, which can be broken or unbroken (broken representing Yin, passive, soft and unbroken representing Yang, active, hard). Im not really qualified to go into detail about taoist cosmology, so for more detailed and accurate information look Ba Gua up on Wikipedia.
So Ba Gua Zhang is a system of internal martial arts based on these 8 changes in the universal flux. Sifu taught me the foundation of Ba Gua which is circle walking. You have a central object and you walk in a circle around it, always keeping your guard facing this centre. In application you would use just 1 or 2 of these circular steps to avoid an attack and at the same time move closer to your opponent. He also taught me a basic Jiben Gong excercise where you stand in Ma Bu and put a ball orobject in your hand and keeping your palm facing the sky, move it around your body. This strengthens your legs and especially your back and side muscles.
From this experience I learnt that internal doesnt neccesarily mean weak or soft, as Ba Guais very dynamic and intense and gave me a very good workout. Master Kwok explained that Wing Chun is very easy to learn and that is why it is so effective. But if you can dedicate enough time to Ba Gua, it is immensly powerful and is a very deep and rich martial art. He likened it to a very advanced version of Tai Ji Quan. I feel Wing Chuns main weakness is that it is very limited in that it doesnt give you a full range of movements and is not very dynamic. It needs to be supplemented with fitness programs, whereas more classical arts give you an intense workout.

Monday, 30 June 2008

lessons in discipline and perseverance with a master of Shandong Mantis Kung Fu

After the Tai Chi master returned to Jinan I decided to go to a park where Id heard I could find people practicing kung fu. I saw a couple of middle aged guys practicing Tai Chi and they told me they practiced with a master of Mantis and that he would come tomorrow. So the next day I went to the park at 5.30am and I saw a man in his late 50s doing Qigong. The 2 guys introduced him to me as Xu Jing Yi, the head of the Taiji-Meihua lineage of mantis in Qingdao. The first thing the master Xu asked me was what Ive learnt before and I told him just a little Wing Chun, to which he asked me to show him, so I ran through Chum Kiu, which he laughed at and said it is womens kung fu and that I first need to master Jiben Gong (basic body training) before I can learn specific styles. The 2 other guys told me master Xu also teaches Shaolin Quan and Chen style Taiji Quan.

So first he taught me Ma Bu (horse stance) and Gung Bu (front stance). He told me I must first master these before I can learn the other 6 basic stances and the kicks and strikes. I had to hold each stance as long as I could and once he was confident I could do it, he would show me the next one. This went on for a few weeks, master Xu was very strict and some mornings he wouldnt show me anything new (which meant I had not made progress) and other mornings show me 2 or 3 things. This was very tiring, I had to force myself out of bed every morning and I hated going, as my whole body was aching so much. Especially sometimes when master Xu didnt show me anything new, he would just leave me practicing the same thing over and over and I never got any encouragement. When I asked him how long I need to study basics he just told me "hen duo, hen duo" (a lot, a lot).

Last week he suddenly stopped me mid practice and told me to stand next to him and follow him and he then showed me the opening movements to a basic form of Shaolin Quan, and every morning since then he has shown me 3 or 4 more movements until I finally finished it.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Yang style Taijiquan with Master Zhang Qing Bao

I was walking back from my usual kung fu class, when I happened to see a big fat man doing Pushing Hands (Tui Shou) with another man and there was a couple of women watching as well as some other students practicing. I stopped and asked the women what style of Tai Chi it was and they replied "Yang Shi", which is the most popular style seen in the west and comes from the Yang family. Then one of the students came up to me and spoke in near-perfect English. It turned out he was Malaysian and had been studying with the master for 7 years as a "closed door student". He told me the fat man was called master Zhang and came from Jinan, another city several hours away, to teach in our local park once a month. He then invited me to push hands with the master, but I said I didnt know how and so he just told me to press my arm against his and try to keep my balance. So I did and the master just casually moved his arm and whichever direction he moved it, I would go flying. Then the Malaysian guy said to try and bend the masters fingers backwards and break them, and so I tried and with his finger he moved me around as if I was weightless. He explained that the more strength I used, the more I would fly back.

The next day I went back to learn more and then they began to explain in more detail the principles. The Malaysian guy said he had studied many different hard styles of martial arts including Muay Thai and Wing Chun and he had huge forearm muscles and the muscles in his hands were like little rocks. But he had given all that up as he felt the softness of Tai Chi was superior. He explained that the reason the master was completely soft and yet still able to move me around freely lay in his understanding of using his mind (the actual word he used was Qi, but in this case it was meant as mind power). He said that he put his intention behind me and then his body just followed this intention and so I was powerless to stop it. The result was I flew back. Then the master said to try my Wing Chun on him, and he showed how the classic Wing Chun strategy of pinning and hitting simultaneously with great speed didnt work as it was like trying to grab water, his arms just moved around mine so effortlessly and then followed a gentle push, which again sent me flying. my attempt to arm lock him also ended in me going flying.

Recently I have been focusing too much on hard training and I neglected softness. This experience had put me back in touch with the softer side of martial arts. A good martial artist should be balanced, developing both hard and soft so he/she can adapt to any situation easily. I have begun to take an interest in Tai Chi, but unfortunately after the mast returned to Jinan I couldnt find his students, but I did find a teacher of Chen style, which is not as soft as Yang style, but can generate explosive power through its softness.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

learning kung fu from master Ho Zhi Yuan

When I first arrived in the town of Chengyang, just outside Qingdao, I thought I wouldn't find any martial arts here. The more I asked around, the more certain I was that this 15 year old modernly built mass of concrete apartment blocks and sterile parks was completely devoid of anyone with any connection to the traditional arts.

3 months later, my Mandarin teacher Eric, sent me a text message saying he had met an old man in the university who was teaching "the most useful styles of fighting". I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so the next day I set my alarm for 5am and made my way to the universities park. I got there and there was maybe 5 or 6 young Chinese guys stretching and circling their arms. After a while this small old man in his 70s with a big coat and baseball cap walked up to one of the guys and began correcting him. Everyone crowded round and greeted him with "Aah Shifu" and a bow. When he spoke, he had a calm confidence about him, and he spoke in a very thick Shandong dialect and was matter-of-factly with the usual self importance (not arrogance though) that Chinese masters usually have.

Shifu is in his 70s and has been learning martial arts since he was 7 years old. Doing the maths would mean that he learnt it in pre-communist China and so is a living link with a world which no longer exists. He has studied many styles, but his speciality is Mizongyi, the style made famous by Huo Yuan Jia. He doesnt teach us forms or endless repetitive drills, he teaches single techniques and their applications and then he will show us variations depending on how the opponent reacts etc. Most of the stuff is pretty basic and simple, hes never style specific, he will teach what he thinks works regardless of what style it comes from. He teaches us it is vital to always use your whole body in a movement, to use your waist to generate power and to only tense at the end of the technique. This force generation in Chinese is called Fa Jing. He also says you should be alive and flexible, ready adapt or change your movement at any moment, depending on what the opponent is doing.

He was critical of many Chinese martial artists these days, who only learnt forms and didnt dedicate time to stance training and force generation, as a result they couldnt fight because they didnt understand the meaning of the movements in the forms and they didnt have stable stances or power in their movements. You must always begin with practicing basics. First train your stance, then punches and leg stretches. You shouldnt learn the next thing until you can do the first. Proper training in horse stance (Ma Bo) will strenghen your legs, waist and back. Punches should use the whole body to generate power. Forms can come later, if you can do the basics well, that is the most important thing.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Basic Theories of Tibetan Medicine

While In Tibet I went to a lecture on Tibetan Medicine. Its is a very interesting system and is almost unheard of in the West. It was first taught by Yutok Yonten Gompo in the eighth century, who combined Chinese, Ayurvedic and Persian medicine systems with the shamanic Tibetan system. The theories are all written down on the Four Medical Tantras. It embraces the Buddhist concept that illness is caused by the 3 poisons of the mind, ignorance, attachment and aversion. The Tantras can be broken down into Thangkas, many of which are theoretical diagrams and all the basics are represented by 3 trees.
The first tree has 2 trunks. The first representing a state of sickness and the second health, this is pictured above.
The first branch of the first trunk explains the 3 energies. Whereas in Chinese medicine there is two basic energies Yin and Yang, in Tibetan theory there is 3-Loong, Tiba and Bigen.
Loong is shown as blue and represents the nervous system, Tiba is shown as yellow and represents cold and Bigen is white and represents heat.
The second branch has 7 leaves all representing the 7 bodily functions and the third shows the 3 excretions.
A Tibetan doctor will use 3 ways to observe a patient: visual, looking at tongue colour and urine. Touch, by the pulse. And talking to the patient to find out about lifestyle.
In Tibetan medicine prevention is better than cure. So the first step would be to try and prevent an illness before it happens, the second step would be through herbs and the final step would be through acupunture with golden needles or massage etc.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Shaolin training with Buddhist Monk Xing Rong

While in Xi'an, I had the opportunity of training with a completely crazy buddhist monk. He taught me some basic stances, punches, kicks and strengthening/flexibility excercises of Shaolin. He called this basic training "Wu Gong" and told me that in order to study Chinese martial arts properly, then these basic excercises must be mastered. It was very strange how I met him, I was visiting a Buddhist temple with one of my students, Li Yi Lin (or Vivian), and we just saw this monk sat in front of a shrine. So Vivian started talking to him, and somehow kung fu got brought up, She told him that I study Wing Chun in England. The monk had never heard of it and claimed that it was not any good because it wasnt a famous style. He asked me to demonstrate a form, so I showed him Siu Lim Tau, after which he told me that I had a weak stance, and the form was useless as it contained no footwork. I humbly agreed with him, despite not believing him! So, he agreed to teach me some excercises to strengthen my stance and arm. He said he regretted that i wasnt staying longer, as he wanted to teach me "the 5 famous styles of Shaolin". So I made an arrangement that every other afternoon I would visit him in the temple, with Vivian to translate for me. He didnt charge me, but seemed very proud of having a westerner as a student and took me to meet all the other monks. Training always began with a long period of horse stance training. After that I would have to do alternating splits and then more horse stance. Then I would learn some other stances and have to hold them for a long period. He also taught me some basic kicks and punches and I had to punch out candle flames from a distance.

Yuen Kay San Wing Chun with Kwok Wan Ping

During my stay in Hong Kong I had the honour of meeting and training with Kwok Wan Ping, who many would say was the top disciple of grandmaster Sum Nung. Master Kwok was really easy going and had a good sense of humour. He seemed to always wear just a pair of shorts and sandals, and his figure was in top condition, even for a 70 odd year old man he was still covered in muscles. The first day I met with him, I was invited to dinner and his wife cooked traditional Cantonese food which was really nice. Then after our food had digested, we went on to the rooftop to train. The rooftop of his apartment had been the sight of many Beimo (illegal challenge matches, popular amoung kung fu students in the 60s) and he told me that when he fled mainland China for Hong Kong all the people were practicing Yip Man Wing Chun. So in order to start teaching Yuen Kay San lineage he had to prove himself and fought and beat several of Yip Mans students.
His style of Wing Chun was a fairly hard style in comparison to the other stuff ive seen. Chi Sau with master Kwok was very tiring, his arms felt immovable and really heavy, but they werent tense. He also put a lot of emphasis on arm conditioning drills, which I did so much with him that my arms were swollen next day! He was critical of many people who are too soft, which is good in theory, but it doesnt work in real fights. And if you doubt that is true, Im sure he would invite you to test your skills on him! He said that his tremendous internal power came from a lot of Tai Chi and Ba Gua Zhuang training. He had even created some training drills which combined Wing Chun with Tai Chi principles.
In the Yuen Kay San lineage, there is 12 basic excercises called San Sik, which means free excercise. These can be done with a partner, or alone and are a good way of developing a strong foundation in Wing Chun. They are a condensed way of demonstrating the basic principles of the art.