Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting Back to Basics

"You can't take a shower just pouring water on your body. You also have to use some kind of soap. The soap you use in this case are mantras, which go between the mind and the body....(But) at a certain point, the mantra becomes a hang-up. It becomes another form of dirt. Like Soap. If you don't rinse it off, soap becomes a hang-up, a problem, extra dirt on your body."

Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa, from "The Lion's Roar"

It's been said that martial arts can be considered a form of moving zen.

If that's the case, I suspect that forms are a moving mantra. Like a mantra, it can be used to purify yourself, mentally, spiritually and physically.

And as Chogyam Trungpa said of mantras, a kata/kuen/hyung can be something done just out of habit, without any thought going into it. When that happens, your form becomes just another piece of clutter, something dirty for which you need purification.

I've been dealing with that a lot since last week's attempt to relearn the sam jei guan (three-sectioned staff). The form includes two rollouts, something that I first learned more than 30 years ago. I was fortunate that my early Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu teachers included breakfalls and rollouts in their training.

An example of a rollout, done by an aikidoka

But over the years, as with other very basic techniques, it fell by the wayside. I became more interested in learning more and new techniques and forms. As a very sore shoulder taught me last week, without strong basics, you haven't got shit.

During my recovery, I decided that I would make a strong focus
on the basics become my focus for summer training. I do things like this from time to time. It's good to change your workout, or some focus in your other health practices, to keep yourself fresh. Just in the past two years, I did a lot more with circuit training, calisthenics and, during Lent, I abstained from red meat.

So between now and when Vitaly returns to school, I'll be doing some heavy conditioning combined with sheer repetitions of basic techniques and short combinations. The combinations I practice will consist of both combos that I create as well as short sections from the forms I know.

But I will not do any forms.

Today was my first such workout, after spending Monday and Tuesday's training time to clean my kwoon. I warmed up with a full-body stretch and launched right into some strong Wing Chun basics.

I started out with verticle punches, both standing and with a pivot. I repeated those punches on my heavy bag before going into some straight blas

Taking a few minutes to do some sweeping, I spent a good half-hour on my favorite training aid, the wooden dummy. I started my practice on that with some huen sao (circling hands) practice, with various pivots. I also worked on some techniques from chi sao (sticky hands) practice doing, sparking in with the pak sao da (palm block and punch).

Huen sao (circling hands) practice on the dummy

Drawing and improvising from the wooden dummy set, I did 10 runs each of the first two sections. To keep myself fresh, I added some pak sao da's, lap sao da's and elbow strikes after each tan sao(palm up block)/palm strike combination.

So I basically just did a technique I've done thousands of times and added some overkill to it. I don't believe in seeking out trouble. I go to great lengths to avoid violence. The fact that I don't drink anymore has more to do with avoiding violence than with any health concerns.

But when trouble does find me, I want to be ready to end it quickly and efficiently as possible.

Since I wanted to include some weapons work with my training schedule, I did a couple dozen runs of some blocking, thrusting and circling moves, taken from the Luk Hup Guan staff set of Yau Kung Mun.

I closed with a couple of sets of pushups and crunches.


  1. Sounds good. Someone once said that advanced techniques are only basics, done well.
    In my opinion, the forms/kata/kuen are used as a reference, like an encyclopedia - you pull out the sections you want to study deeper, then move on to other sections when you are ready.

  2. Thanks Don. My late sifu, John Angelos, told me once that when he got his black belt in jujitsu, he realized that the white belt techniques were the best techniques in the art.

  3. Hi,

    This is Matt from I just wanted to write and let you know that the ebook is finished and I will definitely be using your advice in the final copy.

    Thanks again for your input - you definitely helped make the book better. I have included your name, basic style, and a hyperlink back to your website that will be fully clickable in the pdf.

    Matthew Apsokardu

  4. Hey Matt,

    Thanks. I can't wait to read it.