Missing Author and Dojo Update

pocket-watchIt has been a very long time since I wrote a post to this blog. It seems abandoned, and honestly, it was for a bit. I just haven’t had the time to devote to writing articles. My topic list ran dry and I had writer’s block thinking of new ideas. For those remaining readers, I apologize for not being as consistent. Hopefully, my new list of ideas will pan out better. Be warned, I won’t commit to daily or even weekly posts. Let’s set a goal of once per month right now.

In truth, I was working on another blog which led to his one being left in the “to do” pile. Maintaining a blog is quite tough and I thought doing two would be cool. I was wrong.

What’s new in our little dojo? I’m working on actually getting certified to teach Tai Chi. This process is bringing in load of developmental and foundational curriculum to my anemic Tai Chi program. As a result, the Chi Gung section is getting a boost too. As I make adjustments to how I teach Introductory Tai Chi classes, please bear with me. There will be a few road bumps and a few mistakes as the new ranking goes live next year. This study may even lead to some Tai Chi related posts.

It’s been over ten years since the web site has had a make over, not counting the recent addition of this blog. I think it is high time I did something about that. There hasn’t been anything new on the site since I discontinued the monthly Leopard Pause newsletter and quarterly Black Belt Bulletin. If you miss those features, let me know. Be aware that producing them cost me money that I had to cut from the budget. If you like them, I will attempt to find ways to finance it.

Have any other questions about the dojo, blog or the students? Write to me.

Yudansha Units System

I haven’t written in a while so I thought I’d post something I give my Brown Belts, an article from our first issue of the Black Belt Bulletin — a newsletter for members of the Black Belt Club. I hope it inspires other Black Belts to continue their training.  Enjoy.

Level progression in the Black Belt ranks works a little differently than earlier ranks. You still must complete the requirements of kata, techniques, defenses, and kihon. However, the field of material that must be covered is vast, and not taught in a linear fashion. This is why Master Bagnas developed the Yudansha Units System (YUS). You can earn points for various activities, specialized training programs, tournament participation, and instruction duties. However, there are minimum time-in-grade requirements that must be met.

Time-in-Grade Chart:

Rank Minimum Time-in-Grade Units Needed
2nd Degree 1.5 years 50
3rd Degree 2 years 75
4th Degree 3 years 100
5th Degree 5 years 125
6th Degree 5 years 150
7th Degree 5 years 175
8th Degree 5 years 200
9th Degree 5 years 225
10th Degree 10 years 250

What is the Yudansha Unit System?
Traditional Japanese dojos call the body of Black Belt members the Yudansha. This term is excellent for what the YUS represents, a tracking and training system for Black Belt members. As part of the Golden Leopard Kempo Yudansha, you are offered a variety of training paths. This system helps the GLKO track your training so the Testing Board knows what to expect from you during the Black Belt test.

How does the System work?
You can earn points by participating in various activities, including seminars, tournaments, and special classes. Since Black Belt material is taught on a rotating cycle, everyone may acquire different knowledge yet still be eligible for promotion. This allows you to choose your emphasis in the arts, whether you prefer the gentle training of Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) or the ancient weapon arts of Okinawan Kobudo.

By the master level, you must know all these sub-arts however you get to choose what you start first or what is offered. The amount of work you put into your training will produce the best results and the fastest promotion cycle. Some of the options allow for personal study and research, in addition to life-skills improvement.

An instructor must record all points gained on your permanent record to count. If you feel there is any discrepancies or errors, please contact your Chief Instructor to get it resolved. Once you believe you qualify for the next test, your instructor will verify your units and put you on the next Black Belt test.

If there is interest, I’ll post the ways to earn points. All you have to do is write a comment below. When I get enough interest, I’ll post it as a new article.

10 Laws of Kempo

In an ongoing effort to provide I don’t know everything, let me highlight the excellent albeit short descriptions (posts) of the Ten Laws of Kempo. Mark (the author) has done a great job making these fundamental principles into concise list. Here they are:

  • Law of the Circle and the Line – This idea is also found in the art of Hsing Yi (linear) and Bagua (circular). Focus on attacking the opponent’s weakness, not their strength.
  • Law of the First Strike – No sense in wasting time if you “won initiative”, take the opportunity to end the fight before it gets going.
  • Law of Multiple Strikes – As I say in class, keep hitting until the fight is obviously over.
  • Law of Targets – The strike should match the vulnerability of the target.
  • Law of Kicking – Grandmaster Gascon has told me this several times, kick below the belt line and punch above it.
  • Law of No Block – Another gem, the best block is not being where the attack lands.

The last four are found on his general information Kempo FAQ site.

  • Law of Yielding & Redirecting – This idea is found in Tai Chi and Jujutsu.
  • Law of Mobility (the heading is missing in this article but the content is there.) – Be a moving target and keep your target moving so he will be off balance.
  • Law of Flexibility – This is not being as supple as a gymnast but rather being flexible in your thinking and defense.
  • Law of The Warrior Spirit – If you don’t think you will win and have the will to do what you must, no sense in fighting because you’ve already lost.

Mark has a few other good posts. Be sure to check this site occasionally. Have you found another great Internet source for American or Hawaiian Shaolin Kempo? Let me know. If it’s really good, I’ll put it in the blog-roll.

BTW, his Kempo FAQ page was the first site to link to my Golden Leopard Kempo Online site back in the 90s. He also started the very comprehensive Kempo/Kenpo family tree.

Three Forms of Pushing Hands

There are three forms of Pushing Hands drills that we practice in Shaolin Kempo. The first is similar to but not exactly like the Tai Chi version. The second form (or the one we teach first) is called Sticky Hands. Finally, there is Rolling Hands. This family of exercise drills teaches us how to relax and flow with the opponent’s energy and momentum. It forces us to relax and not force our attacks and defenses. In gentleness there is victory. In overbearing strength there is loss.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

The Pushing Hands drill works on uprooting your partner through fluid motion of push and pull. Doing this drill develops the familiarity with the wave of force generated with pushing and pulling. It also helps you learn how to redirect that force into your opponent or cause your opponent to flow with it thereby uprooting himself.

The Sticky Hands drill works on uprooting your partner by striking and blocking from a set position. The wrists must stick together, hence the name. Sensitivity to the opponent’s center of gravity and their balance is achieved by working this drill with your eyes closed.

The Rolling Hands drill works with applying locks and traps within this flowing dynamic. The goal is to get a wrist or arm lock on your opponent before they do, while avoiding strikes and being uprooted. In this drill the feet can move, usually to help your own lock or to slip out of one being placed upon you.

All of these drills work with maintaining contact to the opponent and sensing the stability of your opponent’s balance. The goal to resolving conflicts is to uproot or unbalance your opponent. This allows you to control their actions and end the fight. This is the third step of conflict resolution — defend, distract, unbalance.

What are other benefits of these types of drills? Elaborate in the comment section.

Why Chi Gung is good for you

Meditation develops the ability to listen to your body, not a physical hearing of talking arms or other silly notions. I’m talking sensing what your body is feeling. This manifests as knowing when you are tired, what types of foods you should eat or if you need to work out more. You should also sense when your body is starting to get sick or has an injury.

Recovering from illness and injuries is an important skill to acquire. Obviously you should consult your doctor and other qualified medical professionals. But you can also assist their work and advice by doing Chi Gung exercises. Chi Gung is primarily a preventative medicine but it also helps in recovery.

Here’s a way to imagine how it works. Chi Gung moves the body in various strenuous ways. This is wring out the body like a dirty, wet towel. The Chi Gung drills squeeze the dirty water out of your body. Then your body is open to receive new, fresh Chi.

Chi Gung is not like running a marathon or a heavy weight program. They are simple, normal movements that help keep the body limber and flexible. They are a great way to warm up in the morning. Chi Gung gets blood flowing into the muscles and joints, which can prevent some injuries. It’s also a great way to warm up–because Chi Gung will make you very warm.

Give it a try. I recommend doing the Five Organ Set that we call Taoist Five. The more you do the better you’ll feel and the clearer your body will speak to you.

Complementary Actions

The notion of absolute opposites is a crude and unsophisticated concept. A better and older concept is that of complementary items. In this case, the focus is on complementary actions. For every action there is a complementary action or target.

For instance, hard targets are ideally hit with a soft strike like a palm heel. Soft targets are ideally hit with hard strikes like a front punch or elbow. Likewise, a linear attack is suited for a circular defense. Since complementary doesn’t imply direct opposite you can also use twist or torque motion as a defense. These too are complementary actions. A circular attack is suited for a linear defense.

Another complementary action against a forceful attack is to move the target, in this case you. The best defense is often times moving the target to a safe place where there are no attackers. To extend the train of thought, you could also attack the attack thereby nullify its power before the power arc is achieved. We call this jamming or stalling.

A compliment to defending an attack is to allow the blow’s momentum to accelerate the block into an attack. This ricochet effect adds extra force to the counter attack without the expenditure of additional resources on your part. The next gain is stronger strike for less energy — you sap it away from your opponent.

In Jujutsu and Kempo, you pull when pushed. You also push when pulled. These compliment each other beautifully. Resisting the action causes friction and struggles. It is more elegant to go with the flow of momentum and direct it. I often describe Kempo as a style that adds momentum to the fight and directs it. It’s like spinning the prayer wheels at a Shrine or using a hula-hoop.

By thinking outside the box and using a conceptual model, you can peer into your martial material with a new perspective. Examine, experiment and evolve your Kempo, otherwise it will stagnate and wither.

Energy as a Visual Tool

The term “energy” has several meanings often conflicting. In terms of Kempo, we should consider the scientific notion defined as:

“In physics, energy is a scalar physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force, an attribute of objects and systems that is subject to a conservation law. Different forms of energy include kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, light, elastic, and electromagnetic energy. The forms of energy are often named after a related force.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

This can be shorted to “Energy is a physical quantity that describes the amount of work that can be performed by a force.” In Kempo, we use kinetic energy since that is the physical interaction that we use.

“The kinetic energy of an object is the extra energy which it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its current velocity.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

Therefore, the more motion you generate on an object the more energy it has. This is why we use constant striking, letting one attack continue on its trajectory into another attack. We try not to start and stop a fist. Rather, we punch and let it flow into another punch. This maintains the energy of the strike without dissipating it.

Martial arts tend to have it fair share of spiritual terms that cross-pollinate its concepts. One is Chi or Mana defined as:

“In many cases “energy” is conceived of as a universal life force: to this extent ‘spiritual energy’ theories resemble vitalism and may even invoke the Luminiferous Ether of Victorian physics. Additionally, or alternatively, such notions are often aligned with or derived from conceptions found in other cultures, such as the Chinese idea of Qi and the Prana of the Upanishads.” (wikipedia.org, 7/31/09)

What we see here is several cultures have this concept of breath or life force. It is this force that Chi Gung and Dim Mak practitioners utilize for their secret, deadly techniques. Whether or not this hokum is true, the common trait of this force is its ability to flow.

This is the key to using “energy” as a visual tool. You imagine that it flows through the body. What do you imagine flowing? Their center of balance and momentum is the sloshing “fluid”. By seeing this as a thing (like water in a bathtub), you can imagine how to manipulate it. Push it. Pull it. Then it develops a momentum that can overtake the opponent. Their own balance becomes their weakness.

The opponent’s body reacts to strikes in a certain manner along biomechanical constraints. It is the flow of combat and it is easier to imagine it as fluid than a series of interconnected bones and muscle groups. Admittedly, this is a mental crutch but it can pay off in technique application when you’re in the heat of battle. It is easier for the brain to process this sort of calculations than thinking of the actual physics involved.

Reference:
Wikipedia (English) under the topics Energy, Kinetic_energy and Energy_(esotericism).

Why Slow is Actually Fast

The slowness of Tai Chi is the fastest way to develop proper waist power, correct weight shifts, smooth movement and muscle memory. You see it in the park or on TV, lots of elderly people moving very slowly in a fluid motion that resembles some sort of martial art. Well, it is a martial art but the emphasis is on physical development.

Going that slow is actually very difficult especially for beginners. The thighs, knees and ankles burn with fatigue. It doesn’t seem like you are making any sort of progress. This is absolutely wrong. Sore muscle is a sign that you are working them out. It also means you are performing the techniques correctly.

Waist Power
There is a saying in Tai Chi, “the waist drives”. This means each movement initiates by a waist movement. The waist moves the feet and the arms. Nothing is done without the waist directing the power. The waist thrusts punches forward. Arms are put into defensive position by a twist of the waist and subtle weight shifts.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

In all martial arts, the waist is key to generating power and force. Yet in Tai Chi, it is so isolated as the main mechanism for all movement that it becomes the focus of training. This is a good thing if you want to develop proper power.

Weight Shifts
Tai Chi has a rule that no leg is lifted or moved unless it is un-weighted. That means all your weight needs to be in the other leg. Normally, we stumble around and make quick footwork shuffles to compensate for our lack of balance. Some artists are so good at it that they appear to be stable and balanced the whole time. This is only true for Tai Chi artist.

The key is to shift your weight without wobbling side to side. The center of balance must be maintained inside one’s own body. This shifting of weight back and forth is much like the ebb and flow of waves. It is exactly how the Tai Chi artist develops tremendous force when they actually touch you with their strike or push.

It should be so smooth that it isn’t visible from the outsider’s perspective.

Smooth Movements
Smooth and fluid movements are key to uproot the opponent and stay balanced. This trait is a result of proper waist movement and weight shifts. The Tai Chi artist becomes hard to push up against because they “go with the flow”. The exercise of push hands develops sensitivity to force either pushing or pulling. It keeps their attacks and defense in harmony like one fluid stream.

Not only is it hard to press or pull the Tai Chi artist, it is also difficult to locate an opening for attack. Imagine trying to find a dry spot on the beach with the waves ebbing and flowing. At some point, the water covers it up without warning. The key characteristic of all martial artists is to remain smooth and fluid with their movements. Tai Chi is a perfect style to develop that trait.

Muscle Memory
The slow movement and counts develops wonderfully ingrained movement habits. The short 12-step Tai Chi form has, as the name would imply, twelve steps. Yet each of those steps has four to eight sections. By practicing these steps over and over, you learn the exact way to do a movement. It gets ingrained in your muscles to move that way. The Tai Chi artist invests in proper movement first, then technique application second.

Did you know you could perform Tai Chi forms at normal speed? It requires you to be very good at doing it very slow so each movement is exact. At that speed you can see the martial application of each technique. Tai Chi is a sophisticated martial art and combat style. It just hides itself as a simple way for the elderly to exercise and stay fit.

If you want to understand your martial art better, consider taking a Tai Chi class for at least a year. It takes that long to really appreciate the subtle changes affecting your movement. It’ll be the best use of your time and comprehension of the biomechanics of Kempo.

Has another art helped you understand your base art? Tell me how.