Saturday, 28 November 2009

An Introduction to the Styles I Study

I thought Id write a little about the styles I learn here. I mainly focus on Mantis, Ba Gua and Qigong, and also do some Taiji and Xingyi.

The lineage of Mantis we practice is Taiji Meihua Mantis, and is local to this area. Mantis was said to be created around the east of Shandong province, particularly Yantai city. Mantis is a combination of internal and external Kung Fu, and it is quite aggressive. In Mantis, we defend by attacking, moving forward into the opponent with vicious attacks and low kicks and sweeps. When striking, the whole body twists to generate power from the back foot up through the waist to the fist. We use a lot of leg sweeps and takedowns as well. In Training we spend a lot of time on basics movements, particularly footwork and developing lower body power. We also train forms and applications, like punch combos, takedowns etc. A good stance and agile footwork is important. Master Qu is very methodical in his teaching, in 1 lesson we may only practice 2 techniques over and over. Also, once we learn a basic movement and can do it well, then we learn different ways to apply it, and also how to follow on from it, counter it etc.

Ba Gua Zhang:
The lineage of Ba Gua we practice is Yin style Ba Gua. Ba Gua is only 100 or so years old and was developed in Beijing. We spend a lot of time on circle walking, which is the foundation. It teaches you to be able to evade attacks, move behind the opponent and deal with multiple attackers. We also practice other basics, our forms and applications. A lot of the applications are locks, throws, takedowns and sometimes it resembles Aikido or something. You have to have a loose and flexible waist, which at the same time is strong. Ba Gua is based on the 8 trigrams in Taoist metaphysics. The 8 trigrams were are an ancient Chinese way of explaining change in the universe and so in Ba Gua they correspond to the 8 palm changes, which are the fundamentals of Ba Gua.

Master Guo teaches the Qigong classes. Qigong is a practice which harnesses, increases and develops your Qi, or your bodies natural energies. The main kind of Qigong we practice is standing meditation, which we do for 15 minutes to an hour. We learn how to focus our Qi into our lower Dan Tian, which is a point in the lower belly, and once you begin to accumulate Qi there, you can harness it to increase your power, fight disease, and at high levels even more esoteric things. We also practice several kinds of moving Qigong to circulate the Qi around our bodies and focus it to different places for different effects. Ive started praticing Hong Sha Zhang, which concentrates your Qi in the palms of your hands, and makes them feel hot and turn red. It can be used heal, or also to inflict heavy internal injury on someone. Ive not got very far yet though. We also do iron palm and iron body conditioning, so that we can break bricks, rocks etc with our hands and take strong kicks to our back, ribs and legs (most of the masters here can have thick wooden poles broken over their bodies).

Taiji and Xingyi:
I dont study these in detail so Il just mention a little. Ive completed the basics Yang style 24 form in Taiji and progressed on to learning the Chen style Taiji forms. Chen style is the original style of Taiji and uses really low stances, flowing movements and sudden bursts of power, so it can complement other arts if as well as mastered alone. Xingyi is an explosive internal art. I has some similarities to Wing Chun in that is uses short explosive movements in a straight line. Again, Im only really learning the forms, not the full style.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

my first full contact sparring match

I had my first full contact sparring match on Friday. I was really nervous and though about not going through before, but felt much better after for having done it. I didnt feel like I did that well, but it was good experience and made me realise a few things. Most of my training went out the window, I resorted to pretty basic head punches. Its really hard to use a lot of techniques you learn when someones pumelling your head.

I realised several things from that fight. I now see the importance in having a wide range of experience in order to teach. Its not enough to be able to validate a technique by talking about such and such an angle, but you need to be able to back it up with action. You need to be able to tell a student it works, because youve really used it. When youre adrenaline is really going, most of what you learn is forgotten. Only the most basic stuff comes out.

Ring fighting and street fighting are very different things, but ring fighting is a good way to test yourself in a controlled circumstance. What I like about the Sanda matches we have here are that there are no winners or losers, its not about flaunting your ego. Its a chance to test yourself. Find out what youre capable of under pressure and find your strengths and weaknesses. How can you know what you learns works, unless you test it. To quote Buddha, "application is the only way to verify truth." Although I dont think I did so well in the fight, I now know more about my own level of skill, and how I cope in that kind of situation. So I know what aspects of my training to focus on improving, mostly my fitness, leg conditioning (my thigh is swollen from taking somer hard kicks) and general technique. I hope next time I can use more technique and strategy in the fight.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

My first month of training at Kunyu Shan

Ive just completed my first month training here. I feel like Im really getting to grips with the basics of mantis and have started my first form. Ba Gua on the other hand is much slower as we only do one day a week of it and its a slow-to-learn style anyway.

Im really getting into Qigong too. I do at least half an hour of standing meditation a day, Ive done a few sessions of an hour. Master Guo says if I want to make real progress then I should do at the very least an hour at a time. The bare mininum should be 30 minutes as that is the time it takes the blood to circulate round the body once. Master Guo told me that when he was my age, he was doing 2 sessions of 2 hours standing and 1 session of 1 hour sitting meditation a day, and could go a week without eating! So I have a long way to go! Im beginning to get a strong feeling of the Qi in my Lao Gong points (centre of the palm of the hand) and Im also getting a feeling, although not so strong, in my lower Dan Tian (the abdomen). Once I accumulate enough Qi in the lower Dan Tian, I can move change my focus to the middle Dan Tian (solar plexus) and then upper Dan Tian (third eye). Once all these points are open then supposedly you can begin to develop some kind of powers, such as healing, or psychic abilities, although you shouldnt focus on developing these, they are your natural potential and they will happen naturally. I dont know about this, but I have much better clarity of mind, and there are times when I can sense things will happen and it turns out right.

Ive been going to the weekly Buddhist classes, and sometimes Im the only one there as its on a Friday night. Master Wang, who is from Shaolin gives the class and he oftens talks about his personal experience of life at Shaolin, which is really interesting. We think our training is tough, its like a holiday camp compared to their life. They trained most of the day, and "rest" periods were usually spent doing work, like carrying supplies up the mountain, cleaning etc. If they misbehaved the masters would beat them and make them stand facing a wall for long periods of time. Master Wang is also a world Sanda (Chinese freefighting) champion and he has a certain presence about him that commands the respect of everyone.

All the masters here are unique and worthy of respect. My master, Master Qu, is also a Chinese doctor, and is really strict during class, but also likes a joke and really cares about us. He learnt Kung Fu the real traditional way, and is in a direct lineage from the Laiyang San Shan, 3 masters all with Shan (mountain) in their name. They were the greatest masters of Mantis Kung Fu. He is also highle skilled in Ba Gua, the other style he teaches and is also in a direct lineage of Yin style Ba Gua. He teaches us a good balance of lots of basics, training drills like pad work, sensitivity drills etc, forms and conditioning.