Saturday, 29 May 2010

Jin Gang Li Gong, Iron Strength Qigong

The style of Qigong I practice is called Jin Gang Li. It is a martial art Qigong, which means there is a large focus on building up and developing internal power.

The main method of practice is standing posture, where you hold your hands in front of your chest as if holding a ball and a bent knee stance with the toes turned in slightly. This strengthens the leg muscles and after years of practice condenses the bones. While standing, we focus on building and strengthening the Dan Tian, which is the area of the lower belly, beneath the navel. There are actually three Dan Tians, but the lower one is the foundation, the part of your body where Qi is stored. The lower Dan Tian is strengthened through concentration on that area and deep breathing. You must breathe all the way down into your lower belly, expanding it. After a while of dedicated practice, you will begin to feel warm, numb or inflated feelings in your lower belly. This means Qi is beginning to accumulate here. It is recommended you stand for a bare minimum of 30 minutes, but 1-2 hours will give you greater benefits. It also requires long term persistence, you wont get any benefit just doing it on and off, it must be done daily.

There are also supplementary moving forms and sitting meditation. The sitting meditation focuses on using the mind to guide the Qi through different channels in the body. The moving forms help to strengthen the body, open meridians and release power. The first moving form is a collection of six basic movements which do all of the above. Then, there is the Sun form, which opens the meridians between the hands and the lower Dan Tian and increases the Qi flow there. The next form is the Moon form, which is taught once the middle Dan Tian, located at the solar plexus is opened. The middle Dan Tian acts as a kind of pump, it helps send your Qi from your lower Dan Tian to different arts of your body. The Moon form helps to open and strengthen the middle Dan Tian and the chest. The next step is the Heaven form, which focusses on releasing power. A a higher level, once your lower and middle Dan Tians are both full, you can work on the upper Dan Tian, orthird eye. This is located between the eyes, and is said to be the gateway into developing more esoteric powers, such as being able to send you Qi out of your body and other skills. I have been fortunate enough to feel this, when I had lower back trouble, while standing in Qigong, Master Guo would come over and press his thumbs into my back every day for a week. I got a feeling of intense heat coming from his thumbs into my back and my whole got a hot flush and I started sweating intensely.

Another important part of Jin Gang Li is Iron Shirt training, which is conditioning the body to withstand blows. Any part of the body can be conditioned, such as the back, ribs, stomach, arms, palm, fingers, even the head. Advanced practitioners can take full power kicks to the stomach or ribs, have sticks broken over their back, break metal bars over their heads and more.

Jin Gang Li is an art which is being practiced less and less. Master Guo told me that nowadays, young martial artists want to do acrobatics and kickboxing, nobody wants to stand on one spot for long periods of time, so the art is not spreading. There are many westerners who come to our academy and they learn Qigong from Master Guo, but few will be around long enough to get a high level in the system. In 8 months I have got to focussing on the middle Dan Tian and the Moon form, but with my main focus being Mantis Kung Fu, I dont have the time to really focus on Qigong. Perhaps in the future, when my Kung Fu is much better, I can spend some time to focus more on this interesting art.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Some books I recommend on martial arts

Sword Polishers Record-Way of Kung Fu: This is on of my favourite books on Kung Fu. It is written by a master named Adam Hsu, who teaches a number of traditional northenr styles, such as Baji, Xing Yi and Chen Style Taiji in America. This is a compilation of years of articles hes written on Kung Fu, such as principles, philosophy, purpose of forms, role of a teacher and senior students, culture etc. I really like this book as it relates to any style of Kung Fu and is a treasure chest of knowledge about real, traditional Kung Fu. He dispels a lot of historical myths, explains the misunderstandings about what constitutes internal and external, northern and southern, describes principles common to all Chinese martial arts as well as so much more. If you read one book on Kung Fu it should be this one.

A Tooth from the Tigers Mouth: This book is a good supplement for martial arts training. It deals with treatment of sports injuries using Traditional Chinese Medicine. Firstly it introduces the principles of TCM and the common practices, then the later sections deal with treatments for common injuries, using pressure points, herbal medicines, ointments, massage and more.

The Tao of Gung Fu: A compilation of Bruce Lees earlier writings, this book is packed full of Bruces thoughts on martial arts, styles, famous masters of the past as well as techniques he used in Jun Fan Gung Fu before he created JKD. It is packed full of philosophy and theory for martial arts and is good for all Kung Fu practitioners.


Xing Yi Nei Gong: This book advertises itself as presenting a set of supplementary internal strengthening excercises for internal martial arts. However, it does much more than that, containing translations of all the Xing Yi classes, which I have found very helpful, as a lot of the internal concepts relate to any style, I think practicioners of any style will find this book interesting and useful, especially for internal arts.

Whirling Circles of Ba Gua: Although this presents Cheng style Ba Gua and I practice Yin style, I still found this book interesting. It had a good section on the history and central philosophies of Ba Gua, demonstrates the 8 Mother Palms, 8 Palm Changes as well as some applications and weapons. The theory/philosophy is excellent and the end portion of the book has translations of the Ba Gua classics, which have been indispensable to training.


Saturday, 1 May 2010

A Look into Mantis Fist

I feel that now Ive been learning mantis for more or less 7 months, Im beginning to get a bit of an idea what it is all about. To an outsider, 7 months may sound like a long time, but anyone who has studied Kung Fu will know that it just the beginning of a very long journey.

Master Qu teaches slowly and thoroughly, and he doesnt always tell you things at first. Before, I thought that a teacher should tell you everything, but now I see that its not good to know things too early, you probably wont appreciate or understand them. When I practice forms, he is very thorough, I get one move at a time, and I need to practice that one move until its right, then I get the next one. In some cases, I have spent 2-3 weeks with no new move to my form. While this is frustrating, repetition is very important, to develop good body mechanics, good posture and correct use of power. It also develops patience and determination, as you have to earn the next move.

Mantis uses a lot of trapping and controlling techniques, it has some similarities to Wing Chun in this respect, although Wing Chun is very linear, Mantis is more circular. While to an outsider, the application of the two arts may look similar, the ideas behind it are very different. Wing Chun is based on the principle of economy of motion, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which is the same idea as Xing Yi Quan. Mantis on the other hand uses the idea that circular movements generate more power, akin to Taiji. Every movement uses the whole body in a twisting motion, starting from the feet and twisting from the waist. Each movement sets you up for the next one, like a swinging door. This also uses the centreline principle, except slightly differently from Wing Chun. In Mantis, the centreline is the core of the body, which is the axis for any rotation of the body.

Mantis footwork is very powerful, but agile. Every step is light, yet strong, and provides power for the attacking arms.. The weight is not fixed on any particular leg, but is free to move between the two depending on the situation. For example if I straight punch from my front arm, the weight comes slightly forward, a hook punch from the back arm would bring the weight back again as the body twists. It has similarities in this aspect to the footwork of Ba Gua Zhang, which is why Master Qu teaches these arts together, as they are complementary.

Another interesting thing in Mantis is that despite the fact that on the surface it is vicious, fast and powerful, it is most definitely an internal art. Qigong is an important part of Mantis, standing postures provide the base for this, and then later on there are many movements, designed to strengthen the tendons of the body, open up the channels and meridians and develops deep, abdominal breathing, which strengthens the diaphragm and internal organs. Qigong not only develops these, but quietens the mind, giving clarity of thought and teaches you how to use your intent to generate much greater power than just the muscles.

The thing I like most about Mantis is that it is a very complete system. It contains elements of everything I want from martial arts, harmonizes the internal and external, develops powerful internal energy, is practical for fighting, good excercise for the body, is incredibly effective and vicious and looks stunning when performed well. It is a very complex art, not just the surface movements, but inside too. There is much more going on that what you see when being performed.

Finally, a good book in English on Mantis!

I just bought this book on Mantis. It is the first book I've found in English that is actually good and interesting. It explains the history, putting a lot of myths about its so called connections to Shaolin to rest, and explains it according to its Taoist principles and as an internal art. Another nice thing about the book, is how it draws similarities between Mantis and Taiji, and has examples of the similarities throughout. This is something not many people are aware of, but something my master has mentioned. 

I hope that practitioners of Mantis, and also Taiji or any Kung Fu or martial art can get a copy of this book, its a really good read.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Seven Stars Green Tea in Guilin, home of South Chinas most picture-perfect scenery

While travelling with my friends in Guangxi province, southwest China, I was in the small backpacker-mecca of Yangshuo, nestled on the side of the Li River, in Guilin county, home to some of most well known scenery in all of Asia. Along the river, huge limestone karst peaks jut up into the air, giving the landscape a surreal beauty. The surrounding area is home to many of Chinas ethnic minorities, people who have a very distinct culture, lifestyle and language compared to the majority Han Chinese, who compose 90% of the population. Some of these minorities include the Zhuang people, Chinas largest minority and the Yao, famous for the womens really long hair. The town of Yangshuo, which is largely comprised of traditional white-washed houses, has become a backpackers paradise in recent years, with the main street, Xi Jie (west street) coming to refer more to the fact that is is full of westerners than that it is on the west of town. But several minutes of cycling will take you away from the western cafes, bars and hostels and into pristine countryside, where rice paddies and buffalos dominate, with the huge karsts jutting up randomly.

One evening I was walking along the street and I noticed a small teashop, called Seven Stars, so I decided to take a look and was invited by the owner, Annie Zhou, to sit down and try the local tea, Cuiyu, which is grown by her family in the nearby countryside. It had a distinct chestnutty taste with a clear green colour and the leaves were coated in small white furs. Her brothers plantation was opened in 2000, when he realised that as living standards were higher, people could afford to drink high quality tea. The plantation now covers 40 hectares of mountainside nearby Jiaobalin, a small village outside of town.

Annie can organise tours of the nearby area, including the tea plantations and she will often perform the tea ceremony for visitors, where you can sample many different teas in a relaxed atmosphere.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Wu Dang Mountains, Mystical Retreat of Taoism, Ancestral Home of Tai Chi, A Centre of Tea

Many people who are familiar with China or martial arts will know that spread throughout the 72 peaks of Wu Dang are numerous Taoist temples, meditation retreats and Kung Fu schools. But what is lesser known is that this mountain range is home to some exceptional teas.

For centuries Wu Dang has been shrouded in secrecy, the Taoist monks who live here have practiced Qigong, a kind of esoteric excercise combining soft movements, breathing techniques and meditation, for centuries. Around 1000 years ago an immortal named Zhang San Feng was said to find his way to this place, where he brought his Kung Fu. But after witnessing a fight between a snake and a crane he was inspired by the graceful and flowing movements of the animals and so was said to have created the "internal" branch of martial arts, which doesnt rely on brute power or strength, but on yielding to force and developing Qi, an intrinsic energy in the body.

he martial arts developed and grew, and so did the monasteries on the mountains, with Wu Dang becoming a centre of many Taoist academic studies, not just martial arts but also medicine, fortune telling and agriculture. Of course with a refined understanding of the cycles of change in nature and the seasons, the monks were able to grow outstanding crops, one of which was tea, which survives to this day.

At Wu Dang over 20 different kinds of tea are produced, all of which are organic and grown according to ancient taoist agricultural methods.They have many varieties of green tea, including Zhen Jing, Kung Fu and also wulong and black teas. I would love to see these teas become better known and spread, and hopefully in the future I will make them available to the west, so let me know if you are interested.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain surrounded by a sea of clouds

Huang Shan is probably the famous mountain in China. It has inspired poets and artists for centuries and even the Yellow Emperor, mythical founder of China and Taoism was said to have become a recluse here. The peaks of the mountain jut up into the sky and are often surrounded by clouds, giving it a mystical, heavenly feel when at the top. There is a phenomenon known as Buddhas light which can occur, where a persons head can become surrounded by a rainbow of light, resembling a halo. This is caused by a refraction of light. The mountain is also famous for its sunrise scenesand hot springs.

Of course the moutain is home to a variety of teas, most of which are listed in the 10 famous teas of China. Huang Shan Mao Feng is a light green tea with a slight smoky aroma. Mao Feng translates as furry peak, describing the appearance of the processed leaves. Taiping Houkui is another green tea,, grown around Taiping Lake (ultimate peace lake) which has extremely long, large leaves. It has a stronger flavour and can be brewed up to 8 times. Qimen Hong Cha is a black tea grown in Qimen village close to the mountain, and has a rich, brandy like flavour.

One that i didnt mention in the 10 famous teas, but is also well known is Liu An Gua Pian, a very light green tea. This isnt from Huang Shan itself, but a nearby area called Liu An county. Gua Pian translates as Melon Seed, referring to the appearance. The tea is unique in that doesnt use the top leaf, but the second one down, the central vein is remove and it is pan fried to dry.

The surrounding area is known as Huizhou and has a strong local culture and identity. It is famous for its calligraphy and inkstones (above), as well as its unique architechture of white washed houses with ornate wooden carvings inside. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed in this area, in both Huang Shan and a Huizhou village called Hongcun. Teapots, carved from Huang Shan rock are also produced locally, photos below.

10 Famous Teas of China

Over the centuries, tea connoseurs in China have compiled lists of their favourite and highest quality teas. These lists have been compiled, edited and changed, but as yet there is no complete standard list, although the most common 10 are presented here.

Xihu Longjing, or West Lake Dragon Well is pretty much always number 1. It is a green tea with a rich, nutty taste that is grown on the mountains around West Lake, in Hangzhou city, eastern China. The tea leaves have a unique flat appearance and are crumbly in the fingers.

Huang Shan Mao Feng, or Yellow Mountain Furry Peak is grown on Huang Shan, a beautiful mountain in Anhui, central China, which is famous for having many famous tea varieties grown here. Mao Feng is a much lighter tea than Long Jing with a more delicate flavour. The tea has a very slightly smoky aroma.

Taiping Houkui, is a tea which is grown on Lake Taiping (ultimate peace), in Huang Shan. It is unusual in that the leaves are unusually large and long. It has a rich flavour and can be brewed up to 8 times, unique among green teas.

Qi Men Hong Cha, is a black tea (red tea in Chinese), which is from Qimen, a village close to Huang Shan. It has a rich, almost brandy like flavour and is good for warming the body in cold winters.

Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun is a delicate green tea with a white fur on it that is grown on the mountains at the side of Lake Tai, near Suzhou in eastern China. Suzhou is a very cultured city, in ancient times it was home to many rich merchants and scholars and the area has many beautiful canal towns.

Anxi Tieguanyin, is known as the Iron Buddha of Compassion and is a rich, intense wulong grown in Anxi in Fujian province, southeast China. The area has many varieties of wulong and black teas and has a unique culture and dialect. Tieguanyin was believed to have been created when a farmer found an abandoned shrine to the female Buddha, Guan Yin, who came to him in a dream and told him if he restored the shrine, he would be rewarded. So after he cleaned  it up he found tea plants growing at the foot of the shrine. Another story talks of how buddhist monks trained monkeys to climb the mountains and pick the tea from the sides of cliffs.

Da Hong Pao, or Big Red Robe is a black tea from the Wuyi mountain range in Fujian. Legend has it a Ming dynasty emperors mother was sick and this tea cured her, so the emperor covered the tea plants in red robes, three of the original plants survive today and are highly venerated.

Wuyi Yan Cha is a smoked tea that comes from the same mountain range. It has a unique smoky flavour to it as the tea is flavoured with the smoke from the local pine trees.

Pu Er Cha is a unique tea from Yunnan in the far southwest of China on the borders of Burma and Laos. It is unique in that the tea species is a larger leaf variety that is often grown wildly and many of the plants are hundreds of years old. The area is mostly inhabited by ethnic minorities, hilltribes with a very different culture and language to the majority Han Chinese. Pu Er tea is fermented and processed, often into bricks or cakes, then can be aged for many years to improve flavour. There are 2 varieties, Sheng Cha, which is unprocessed and green, or Shou Cha, which is processed black tea.

Junshan Yinzhen or Gentleman Mountain Silver Needle is a yellow tea from Hunan province. Yellow tea is similar to green, except they are given a longer drying phase, allowing the leaves to yellow slightly. It was the preferred tea of Chairman Mao, whose home province this tea originates. Hunan is in south-central China and has a diverse climate, with many mountaineous regions.
please visit my ebay shop to see the tea items im selling. im starting small, but im hoping to get some high quality and rare teas from china in stock and also some good teasets and teapots.

Friday, 29 January 2010

What Is Kung Fu Really and What Does It Actually Mean

Many people practice Kung Fu throughout the world. Many people also know how the word translates into English, hard work, perseverance, skill acumulated through years of training etc..

But I feel like there are many practitioners who dont put that into practice. Kung Fu is about more than just learning some cool forms or being able to spar or hit a bag well. It is about disciplining yourself. When you train, you have to be focused on what you are doing. You have to drive yourself to improve and put in 100%. It is too easy to get into a comfort zone and then you become stagnant, you have to drive yourself to do more each time. Kung Fu is much more than just the techniques, its about developing yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. You need to train your body in a special way, so it can take much more than a normal person. I think of training as a way to improve myself, like a sculptor who takes a plain block and chips away at it to reveal an inner beauty. "The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war."

The way masters teach in China often seems strange, but it is very methodical. They may not answer all your questions or validate things, you have to trust them. If they just answer all your questions then you are just becoming a robot that repeats what they say. You have to learn and understand for yourself. Basics often seem a bit pointless, circling your arms around, kicking your leg straight up in the air, holding strange stances. But with time and perseverance you can come to understand how they are useful, how they build up strong foundations and good body mechanics.

You really cant rush Kung Fu, you need to spend a lot of time on basics, the slower you progress the better. There is a saying in Kung Fu, "three years of horse stance" which doesnt literally mean you must only do that for 3 years, but that you must spend a long time to build up good foundations, they are the key to your progress later on. Another saying which illustrates this is "practice begins after 1000 repetitions, perfection after 100,000." When we practice basics at the beginning of every Mantis class, Master Qu makes us do a few rounds of arm circling movements and basic straight leg kicks, which I always thought were a bit useless, but then recently he explained how they are applied and what they train and it made so much sense and I see how applicable they are.

Also, it is important to spend some of your free time practicing and reviewing, so in class time you can progress more. Sometimes masters will mention a key point only once, so if you dont get it and practice it in your free time, its gone. You need to keep practicing everyday without fail to improve. Another saying in China, "miss one days training and you will know, miss two days training and your master will know, miss three days training and everyone will know." This shows the importance of daily training and perseverance. You need to drill the movements into your subconscious. Kung Fu requires your body to move in a strange way, you have to have coordination and body mechanics to be able to generate power and have good technique.

Here at Kunyu Shan, there is so much each of the masters has to teach, not just techniques, forms or theories, but something much deeper, the importance of self development, perseverance. These things are not so apparent on the surface, you have to be open to receiving it, its easy to miss. They all have their own unique personalities, teaching styles, experiences, which makes them all pools of knowledge and if you show them you want it, you can get it.