Thursday, January 28, 2010

Still Taming the Tiger

Despite some minor setbacks, I managed to get in a couple of good workouts since last week.

I missed practice on Monday and Wednesday due to running errands and having to look after my son when he had early dismissal yesterday.

Tuesday was still a pretty good one, even though I only did one run each of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen (Taming the Tiger set) and the Dai Pa (tiger fork). However, I stressed a lot of stretching, which is crucial for keeping all my joints, especially my knees, in good working order.

Today, I returned to Lowry Park as the temperatures returned to the 70's. Bringing along my tiger fork, my new white oak staff and a quart of water, I chose an open area near some picnic tables to start on my forms.

I did four runs each of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu and the Dai Pa, totaling eight runs of forms altogether. Both sets are very demanding and require a lot of strength. But, by focusing on them, I build attributes that will carry over into tournament training for this year. (More on that later). Those attributes include strength, flexibility, a good root and good stance work.

Stance work is crucial in pretty much any martial art, but especially in Hung Gar and especially with the Dai Pa. As one of the heaviest weapons, if you don't have good root, you will fly all over the place. You will also not be able to use your entire body strength, and most likely end up using too much arm and shoulder strength to control the weapon.

I closed by using my new oak staff to practice a blocking and thrusting combination from the Luk Hup Guan (Six Coordinate Staff set) from Yau Kung Mun Kung Fu. My goal was to do 108 reps and I succeeded, even if I had to break it into four sets.

Being that it is the start of the new year, with the Year of the Tiger to begin next month, I am eagerly awaiting to see what the tournament scene brings. Of course, I'm especially interested in whether the International Chinese Martial Arts Championship in Orlando, scheduled for May, includes a Southern Style Grand Championship, or (dare I dream?) a Wing Chun Grand Championship.

There's also the Chin Woo Legends of Kung Fu, to be held in Dallas in June. If I can raise the funds to travel there, I have a couple of friends from church who've offered to let me crash on their couch. Texas has long has a reputation for blood and guts in their martial arts competitions, but I've always wanted to go for the Wing Chun Grand Championship at Chin Woo.*

The International Chinese Martial Arts Championship also has a tournament in San Francisco in July. I know that if I were to go to that, I could crash with my parents in Vallejo. I'm sure they'd welcome the chance to see their grandson while I compete. Of course, San Francisco is pretty much the martial arts capital of the continental United States. If I did go, the competition would be the fiercest I have ever seen.

And, Nick Scrima, the promoter of the International Chinese Martial Arts Championship, is organizing an all-internal martial arts and push hands championship in St. Petersburg. I've got a few Xingyiquan sets in my repertoire, but I would need to learn, or create, a shortened Yang Taiji hand or sword set. I also hope I can persuade Bret Bumgarner to help with some Bagua and to line up some push-hands partners.

Equally important, as I get news on the rules and registration of these events, will be finances. Hopefully, this will be the year that I either get a real job, or I make enough at freelancing to support some tournament action.

Stay tuned, folks!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday's Workout - A Cultural Exchange

For most Americans not of Asian decent, there are three ways that they get their first experiences into Asian culture.

1. Dining in Asian restaurants.

2. Having been stationed in the Far East while in the military.

3. Training in a martial art.

I fell into the third group. I started out with Kung fu and Korean Karate before I drifted into Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga and into certain aspects of Asian pop culture, particularly films, comics and animations.

Martial arts can be a glimpse not only into different cultures, but different times. It's fun to think about how kung fu practitioners once used their skills to fend of pirates, bandits or to protect the Chinese people from the oppressions of the Manchus during the Ch'ing Dynasty.

During today's workout, I met someone who is very knowledgeable about the historical and cultural aspects of martial arts, particularly Chinese kung fu.

I contacted Brad Berry last week when a friend and training partner, David Somers, sent me a link to an ad in Craig's List seeking other Hung Gar practitioners. I contacted Brad and told him about myself and the two guys who taught me what little Hung Gar I know - Anthony Chan and Don Weiss.

I was a little disappointed that Brad didn't know the Tit Sin Kuen (Iron Thread Fist Set). That's sort of the Holy Grail of Hung Gar Kung Fu. In fact, Brad only knew two sets - the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen and the 10 Killing Hands. The latter, he'd forgotten due to lack of practice and he is relearning through a DVD.

But Brad reminded me that in kung fu, quality is more important than quantity. His training in Hung Gar is very applications-oriented, and includes a lot of qigong. He also took very good notes of his training and demonstrated some strong basics.

Lastly, he has a wealth of knowledge about Asian cultures and languages. In addition to learning Thai and Laotian from his teenage friends, he's learning Cantonese from his wife, who grew up in the Chinese community in New York. He talked my ear off about the nuances of all three of those languages, as well as some aspects of Chinese-American life.

Okay, so I still won't learn the Tit Sin Kuen. I did find a good training partner who is also very educated about Chinese language and culture.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Catching up and taking a little trip down the karate memory lane

Since I took a little time off from this blog, my son, Vitaly, started his own martial arts journey.

It started innocently enough. I'd read about a kiddie karate class at a local recreation center. It was close and the time was convenient. I really wasn't too worried about the quality of instruction.

You see, when it comes down to it, the basics of most of the existing styles of karate, kung fu or tae kwon do are pretty much the same. A front kick is a front kick, a reverse punch is a reverse punch and a horse stance is a horse stance. If he got those down, I'd worry later about how far I want to take him in terms of the applications and uses of those techniques.

When it comes down to it, the basics of Kung Fu (top), Karate (middle) and Tae Kwon Do (bottom) are nearly the same. The above photos show representatives of all those arts performing an identical technique, the reverse punch. The differences between those arts generally don't make themselves apparent until the more advanced stages.

Well, we lucked out. It turns out the instructor is Robert Hughes Sensei, 6th dan in Yoshukai. When Anthony Chan, my instructor in Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Tribal Arts founded Renegade Shaolin, Bob was our official representative for Japanese Karate.* Since I'd been acquainted with Bob for years, having met him through Anthony Chan and Jim Dorsen, a local MMA champion, I had no doubt that Vitaly would learn quality karate from that man.

During Vitaly's second class, Hughes Sensei invited me to take part. I didn't really want to and I certainly wasn't dressed for it having come in wearing jeans. But, in more than 30 years of martial arts training, I've learned that putting their friends and fellow instructors on the spot is a hobby of most senseis, sifus and sabum nims**.

I also knew it would be considered bad manners to be a bad sport and not to accept his invitation.

Today, I came prepared. I dug out the one karate gi I still own that still fits. Sort of. It's a blue, Hayashi 14-ounce heavyweight gi, size 6, that I purchased more than 10 years ago. It's definitely a top-of-the-line model.

I should mention that at one time, a size 6 gi was the largest you could get. It's designed to fit someone over six-feet-tall or more than 200 pounds or both. I'm not six-feet, but I'm definitely more than 200 pounds.

The pants fit well, but the jacket was a little tight across the shoulders. I couldn't even tie the ties on the right side, another incentive to lose weight. Still, even if I lose the gut, the shoulders will still be there.

Once again, at Bob's invitation, I joined the class. It had been years since I did anything that resembled classical karate. Though I still knew how to execute the techniques, it took a lot more out of me to perform them. The muscles and the nerves don't forget, but it sometimes takes the a while to reacquaint themselves again to old techniques.

Since I was standing next to my son, I wasn't going to quit no matter how winded I got. I followed along and did everything the rest of the white belts did.

Later, when he put the yellow belts through their paces, he asked if I would like to do the yellow belt katas. With a sumimasen, I begged off.

Afterward, Bob matched us up with his visiting brown and black belt students to brush up on our Japanese. It's nice to know I hadn't forgotten that, either.

I won't be giving up on the kung fu and Filipino Tribal Arts that have been the core of my workouts for more than 20 years. But doing karate brought back a lot of memories and I certainly look forward to taking part in Vitaly's classes again from time to time.

*In the late 1990's and early 2000's, Renegade Shaolin was an informal brotherhood of some local martial artists founded by Anthony "Chief Abbot" Chan. Other members included myself, my Wing Chun Sifu, Hunter von Unschuld, Dorsen and a local Muay Thai instructor.

**Korean title for a martial arts teacher.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choy! And a Happy Gung Gee Fuk Fu to You!

Hung Gar Kung Fu master Lam Sai Wing, a direct disciple of the great Chinese hero, Wong Fei Hung, demonstrating the Hung Gar salute.

After a rough 2009, which included knee pain, chronic stomach issues, a couple of upper respiratory infections and a sprained back, I'm counting on 2010 to be the year I come back!

The year hasn't been a total loss. I did get published in three martial arts magazines: FIGHT! Mixed Martial Arts Life; TKD Times; and the original, BLACK BELT. During my down time, I did spend a lot of time writing. I estimate I'm halfway through writing a teen/young adult novel entitled, "Taming the Tiger." The title is a very rough translation of one of the four pillars of Hung Gar Kung Fu, the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen.

Though I'm a little late for New Year's Day, or a little early for the Chinese New Year Celebration of the Year of the Tiger, I do want to wish everyone Happy New Year, or in Cantonese, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

It's probably because of my work on that novel that my friend and sifu, Don, decided that this should be the year we focus on Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen. It is the first of Hung Gar's four pillars. Arguably, it is the core set of that art along with the Tit Sin Kuen (Iron Thread Fist). Some sources I've read indicated that the other pillars, the Fu Hok Sheung Kuen (Tiger and Crane Two Powers Fist) and the 10 Powers Set were created and added to the art by Hung Wong Fei.*

Don resolved that no matter what other sets, techniques or weapons we practice in 2010, we will always start with Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen.

A version of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen

I've taken that and decided to focus on Hung Gar's signature empty hand set, and Hung Gar's signature weapon, the Dai Pa, aka Tiger Fork aka Trident.

Both sets demand a lot of strength, good stances and good concentration. In addition, the Dai Pa will develop a good deal of flow in your movements. It is easily one of the three heaviest weapons I've ever learned, along with the Luk Dim Bun Guan (Nine-foot pole) and the Kwan Dao. If you don't have good flow with the Dai Pa, you will make yourself very, very tired very, very quickly having to muscle your way with such a heavy weapon.

The Dai Pa, or Tiger Fork of Hung Gar. In ancient times, hunters would use these for killing tigers.

For the Gung Gee, I do several runs of that form, which is easily the second-longest I've ever learned. I have to mix it up. There are some moves in the form which must be performed with dynamic tension. However, I'll usually do one run in a slow, relaxed manner. It helps to catch my errors and develop my focus.

But no matter whether I do it slow or fast, with dynamic tension or relaxed and focused, I am paying extra attention to the stances. Without the stances, nothing else in Hung Gar works.

Today, I did five runs of that set, along with a full-body stretch. Tomorrow, I'll probably do one or two, mixed in with three to five runs of the Dai Pa.

By next week, I'll be adding some more exercises to the mix, including bean bag catches, sets with the iron rings, sets with a weight vest, as well as body weight exercises.

Stay tuned. And have a great Year of the Tiger!

*Hung Wong Fei is a renowned hero to the Chinese people for his role in helping to bring down the Ch'ing Dynasty at the start of the 20th Century. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, move movies have been made about Hung Wong Fei or including the character of Hung Wong Fei than any other literary or historical figure. As of this writing, more than 600 movies include Hung Wong Fei. Both Jacky Chan and Jet Li have played Hung.