Sunday, 23 August 2009

Carefree Rantings

Since the end of June, Ive been at my mums house in Italy. She lives in the countryside of Piemonte, surrounded by green hills covered in grape vineyards and hazelnut groves, with medieval villages and large villas dotted around. My mum and stepdad grow most of their own fruit and vegetables themself at the end of the garden in a patch the size of a small backyard. With all kinds of butterflies, bees, insects and lizards, its the perfect place to sit and ponder life. I often go down the garden with my Chinese tea set and spend hours just reading and drinking tea. Its a good place for me to get some intense Kung Fu training too. Generally I have 2 or 3 hour sessions of Kung Fu a day and spend the rest of the time doing some jobs for my mum like gardening, digging, picking fruit and vegetables, or reading and pondering life with my Chinese and Japanese teas.

Ive been reading the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zi (also spelt Chuang Tzu) a lot recently too. He is a very early Taoist philosopher, from around 2000 years ago, whos views on nature and stillness of mind are more attune to most Zen writers and poets of 10th century China and Japan than they are of the typical esoteric teachings of religious taoism that concentrates on immortality and new age practices. He was a wanderer, who liked a life close to nature and in tune with the Tao, that indescribable and impersonal force which guides the universe and keeps balance in all things.

Being in this environment, away from the greed and corruption of society, surrounded by nature, time to ponder and clear my head, has helped me to understand Zhuang Zi's ideas and to appreciate the harmony of nature. The flowers grow from the soil, the butterflies eat the nectar and help to cross pollenate, the dead flowers fall off and are eaten by insects and make new soil for the plants, and the insects are eaten by lizards, who are eaten by birds. Its all just so perfect and it makes me believe that if there was no force to regulate it all, there would be chaos and the universe would fall apart. Its just too perfect and it is also a very delicate balance. One which people seem determined to detroy with deforestation, mining and pollution. It makes me wonder if we really NEED the things we think we do. Do you really need a TV that big and expensive? Or all those expensive clothes made by children in Asian sweatshops? It seems to me, that in the west, the government controls people with debts, consumerism and celebrity gossip. People are too busy thinking about what new haircut David Beckhams got, than to do something to contribute to making the world a better place. People are more interested in buying the latest phone cum MP3 cum video camera cum sat nav cum whatever stupid invention they make next, rather than giving a few pounds to help starving people in Africa.

On the Kung Fu side of things, Ive had time to put together all Ive learned from different teachers, realising the similarities over the differences. Ive evolved my own training routines, so that I focus on all different aspects, including strength, fitness, flexibility, skill, basics, force training, arm/leg conditioning, Qi cultivation etc etc. Ive put together some drills and techniques I think are useful, combining elements of Wing Chun, Taiji and some Shaolin, along with bits Ive picked up from books, like Mantis, Xing Yi, Ba Gua etc. Ive also made a good workout that does all the important muscle groups and deep stetching for the whole body. ive actually found that rather than contradicting each other, the different styles compliment each other, and anyone who disagrees has probably not tried, WITH AN OPEN MIND, to do this, but in my experience, it works well.

So, all this is getting me ready for my return to China to spend a year taking my Kung Fu to the next level at Kunyu Shan Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, in the mountains of Eastern China.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Role of Forms in Wing Chun

Wing Chun is very unique in the world of Chinese martial arts. It only has 3 empty hand forms, 2 weapon forms and a form on the wooden dummy. The forms are put together differently too. Rather than being put together in a beautiful way, like a lot of other styles, the forms are like an encycopedia that show the basic principles and ideas of Wing Chun.

The first form, Siu Lim Tao, gives you the basic structures of Wing Chun and the core ideas, such as centreline, triangulation, straight lines etc. Siu Lim Tao gives you the ABCs of Wing Chun and translates as "small intention". This gives a clue as to the fact that Wing Chun, although being slightly hard in appearance, is an internal art. The form differs from most other Kung Fu forms, as it contains no footwork, or any other movement other than the arms. This is deceiving, as the body is in fact moving in a coordinated way (which will only be realised at higher levels), and the techniques, which are driven by the elbow, are in fact supported and driven by the whole body due to the structure. The stance is called Yee Jee Kim Yuen Ma, it is narrower than classical horse stance, and has the toes pointing in. The Dan Tian is pushed forward and it is a very compact and strong structure.

The first section as called Saam Bai Faat, which means 3 prayers to buddha, and is done very slowly, driving the elbow forward. This accustoms the practitioner to the basic pathway of having the elbow on the centre and when practiced slowly and regularly, builds up the internal power. At this part of the form it is especially important to concentrate the mind on the movements, in order to build up the internal power. The second and third sections train you to develop your Fa Jing, or force emission, which is a springy, explosive kind of power.

The second form, Chum Kiu, means searching for the bridge, and formally introduces footwork, pivoting and more complicated structures. Once you have learnt the basic structures, you need to learn how to find the "bridge", which is contact with the opponents arms/legs. Wing Chun is a small frame art that specialises in trapping and sticking to the opponent and it redirects rather than blocks force. Chum Kiu is generally the level where a practitioner would become a proficient fighter, as grandmaster Yip Man said, someone who fully understands Siu Lim Tao and Chum Kiu should never lose a fight. Chum Kiu also introduces the student to Qin Na (Cantonese, Kam Na), which are locking and controlling techniques. These are important in modern times, as the law states that you must use reasonable force to defend yourself, so they can avoid a lot of trouble for you later on.

The third form, Biu Jee, is also known as first aid hand. Biu Jee itself translates as Thrusting Fingers. It was traditionally only taught to the students with the highest level and understanding of Wing Chun, the masters inner circle of trusted disciples. Biu Jee teaches you how to get out of bad situations, to fight off centreline and to regain centreline. At this level, the "rules" of Wing Chun have been learned well and practiced, and so the student can progress beyond the "rules" and explore the art him/herself. Biu Jee doesnt contain any "secret" or "hidden" techniques, but as with all forms, requires a lot of study, so that every movement, no matter how insignificant, is understood as a possible technique. The student should think outside the box, and explore the forms, not relying on a "Sifu says" mentality or being a robot. Biu Jee changes the structure too, it introduces the student to more circular movements, helping to internalise their power further.

I will only briefly introduce the weapons and dummy forms here, as I dont feel I am qualified to write about them in detail. The wooden dummy form throws everything from the hand forms into a melting pot, mixes them up and throws them out. It develops the students understanding of angles in a way that an empty hand form couldnt. It further develops power, as the dummy is wooden, you have to use the correct springy kind of power, or you risk injury. It also helps to condition the forearms, toughening them to deal with impact. The time at which a master teaches the student to use the dummy varies, some will teach it before Biu Jee, some after. The knife form uses 2 short Chinese broadswords, sometimes called butterfly knives. It takes the empty hand techniques as its basis, but due to the extra length of the knives, extends them. It develops wrist strength and very explosive power. The pole form uses a long pole, which can vary from 6 to 9 feet long. It is a simple form, having 6 movements and 1 "point". The pole form encourages the student to focus their power down a long pole, developing incredible internal power and develops the upper body strength too. Both these weapons have a whole lot more depth to them than I have written, like I said, they are above my level, so Im not qualified to explain them thoroughly.