Friday, February 12, 2010

My Quads Still Hate Bret's Guts!

There was no way in Hell I was going to work out Tuesday. Not after the killer Baguazhang practice I had with Bret Bumgarner on Monday night.

I thought I might do a little bit on the wooden dummy. The stance work for that isn't quite as strenuous as something you might do in B
agua, Hung Gar or Southern Shaolin. But, as much as my legs hurt, I decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and not risk ruining my knees.

By Wednesday, my legs felt like they could accommo
date a good, hard workout. Since it had five days since I last did any Hung Gar, I set my mind on doing alternate sets of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen (Taming the Tiger Fist) and the Dai Pa (Great Fork) sets.

A demonstration of the Dai Pa (Great Fork)

Though both sets come from Hung Gar, I find that they develop different attributes. The Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen develops a lot of strength and patience. It has some moves done slowly, which I practice with both dynamic tension or slow and relaxed,
but with a lot of focus and intent, like a Tai Chi set.

Because the set takes a long time to complete, and in low stances, it forces the student to develop patience and focus.

The Dai Pai, (also known as the Tiger Fork) is a weapons set. It is easily one of the heaviest weapons I've ever studied, along with the Kwan Dao and the Luk Dim Bun Kwan (Nine-foot pole). It is considered the signature weapon of Hung Gar. The famous fighter and teacher, Hung Wong Fei, specialized in that weapon.

The Dai Pa is a much shorter set than the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen. Like the empty-hand set, it also has a lot of low stances. But, it cultivates the ability to flow smoothly from one move to the next. Stopping after each move would wear out the student.

It also develops a full-body strength, since it takes the whole body to control such a weapon once it is in motion.

I also believe that weapons training improves empty-hand techniques, especially grappling techniques. The same body mechanics used to control a weapon are often the same ones you need to control your opponent's limbs in a fight.

Following four runs of each set, I ran through a complete set of the Mook Yan Johng Kuen (Wooden Dummy set) as well as some individual tech
niques on the dummy.

Practicing throws and takedowns on the wooden dummy (Mook Yan Johng). Yeah, I know I need to lose some weight.

Though I felt pretty good at the end of that workout, I paid for it yesterday. My legs and glutes were even more sore on Thursday than they were on Tuesday, so much so that I had a hard time getting up and down from a seated position.

As my Jeet Kune Do instructor, Anthony Chan always says, it sucks getting old. Of course, he's six years younger than I am, so he has no idea at all about how right he is. He's also not getting any sympathy from me.

As for today's workout, I'll have to wait-and-see. With a 100-percent chance of rain, anything I do will have to be done in my carport.

That means, no Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen, no Bagua and no Dai Pa due to a complete lack of space.

Someone up there must be looking out for me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Today's post: "Bagua's a Bitch!" or "My Quads Hate Bret's Guts!"

Baguazhang emphasizes lots of circular movements. It is very sneaky and deceptive, especially to anyone who thinks the art's signature circle walking is easy.

Since the start of the year, I've been focusing a lot on Hung Gar Kung Fu. It's a very demanding art that I knew would get me back in shape, requiring deep, wide stances and powerful upper-body movements.

Besides, I'm writing a young adult novel on a teenage boy who learns Hung Gar from a classmate at school. By brushing up on my own Hung Gar training, it gets me into the mindset I need to accurately describe that art on paper.

I supplemented that training with some silk-reeling exercises as I learned them from Ken Gullette. I found that the silk-reeling really helps to open up my hips making it easier to do the low stances required in Hung Gar sets.

Bret Bumgarner, a Tampa sifu of Gao-family Baguazhang Kung Fu, practicing with a Chinese cutlass called a dan dao. This photo demonstrates the flexibility demanded and developed by the practice of Baguazhang.

Also knowing that Nick Scrima is organizing an all-internal Chinese martial arts tournament in July, I thought it would be a good idea to hook up with Bret Bumgarner again. Bret, as a some of you might have read this past summer, is a local Bagua instructor. His Bagua impressed me as having both sound biomechanics and practical, aggressive, self-defense applications. It also has a strong Xingyiquan flavor, which I enjoy since I'm quite fond of that art.

So I went into Monday's practice at Al Lopez Park confident that the heavy stance work of Hung Gar would carry me through what I knew to be Bret's punishing Bagua training.

I was so wrong.

The workout included lengthy warmups. I was familiar with all those other exercises, but Bret introduced me to some additional exercises to loosen the hips and legs. I should have known it was bad news when he said "This is the fun part."

To be fair, once my back stopped going into spasms, I have to admit that those exercises did a lot to stretch out my lower body. I fully expect to add them to my workouts.

Sun Lu Tang, a noted author and teacher of the Chinese internal martial arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, demonstrates the San Ti or "Trinity" stance.

Afterward, we did a lot of movements from the San Ti (aka The Trinity Stance), which is usually associated with Xingyiquan. Those drills are some of my favorite parts of Bret's Bagua, though it does take a lot out of the legs and glutes.

A very good example of the circular footwork of Baguazhang.

From there, we went into some applications and closed with almost 20 minutes of "Walking the Circle," Bagua's signature exercise. That's where everything all comes together in that art. It is from the circle-walking footwork that Bagua people are most famous for their sneakiness and deceptiveness.

It's deceptive not only to an opponent, but also to prospective and beginning students who think that walking in circles for 20 minutes, while still maintaining Bagua principles, is going to be easy.

As my quads can attest to today, it's not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Keeping my resolutions, one day and one week at a time

I resolved on Sunday that I would not fail to work out each weekday this week.

It's Thursday and so far, I've kept that resolution.

Yesterday, I got my workout off to a late start. The Tsarevich had an early dismissal from school that day, so instead of training on my lunch break,
I had to pick him up, assist with his homework, etc. I didn't want to workout when he was home because he had gymnastics that night. I knew from experience that if he followed me outside, that he would get himself exhausted and not do well in gymnastics.

Instead, I planned my workout for while he was in class. That only left me an hour to squeeze in as much as I could.

After dropping him off at Wayne C. Papy Dance and Gymnastics Center, I went to find a quiet place at Lowry Park. I didn't have my tiger fork, but I did bring along 10 iron rings. The rings are used for conditioning and building arm strength.

Hung Gar Kung Fu master, Chiu Chi Ling, demonstrating the use of the iron rings in the movie, "Kung Fu Hustle." The rings are used both as a form of weight training and as weapons.

But during that workout, I came to the conclusion that they develop another attribute - flow. By concentrating on my center, and moving from my waist, I didn't get anywhere nearly as tired as I expected. Even today, I hardly feel sore despite four runs of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen (Taming the Tiger form) from Hung Gar.

I also remembered that I had a small Chinese cutlass (dao) in my trunk. I closed with four runs of the Yau Kung Mun Dan Dao (single sword) set. Surprisingly, my knee didn't bother me from the knee drops that are part of that form. In fact, the only problem was that the serrations in the back of the blade caught on my sweatshirt several times.

I was also amazed that I completed the whole session in little more than a half-hour, giving me plenty of time to pick up the little Tsarevich.

Gordon Liu demonstrating the use of the iron rings as a training aid.

Today, I noticed that my hard workouts are already having one effect on me. I'm in that phase where I'm hungry all the time, especially for carbs. It's a sure sign that my metabolism is speeding up and I'm burning calories.

Which brings me to today's workout. I suited up and joined the Tsarevich in his karate class. I followed along as best as I could, though I have to admit I'm not a fan of the way Bob Hughes Sensei does his side kick. It just uses too much knee for me.

Still, the class is a workout since, as I said in a previous post, I'm using muscles and nerves to do techniques that I haven't practiced in years. In addition, since my son is in that class, I'm not about to wuss out.

I might wuss out in front of classmates, sparring partners or instructors, but never in front of my son.

I also brought along some of might fighting gear to help the kids with sparring. My days of hard fighting are behind me. I'm not 19 anymore. But it was fun to introduce these kids to sparring. I remember how fun that was for young kids and teenagers. My old Tang Soo Do instructor, Phil Suffredini, would withhold sparring practice as a punishment if the class, or someone in it, screwed up.

That punishment worked since everyone loved to spar so much.

Of course, I also had to go a round with a 17-year-old apprentice black belt. That made me nervous. In more than 30 years in the martial arts, I've learned that the second most dangerous sparring partner is a teenage, male brown belt. They've got a lot to prove.

The first most dangerous is an adolescent female brown belt. They've really got something to prove and I've had some of my worst injuries sparring women.

Given a choice between a male 6'4", 5th degree black belt with prison sculpted muscles and a rap sheet that includes aggravated battery, or a college-age female brown belt, I'll spar with the former any day of the week.

But, I held my own despite the fact it's been almost five years since I did any hard sparring.

I guess this old boy still has a few tricks in him.

Update, Friday Feb. 5

I meant to add that I heard back from Nick Scrima, the promoter of The International Chinese Martial Arts Championship circuit. He told me that there would be no grand championship divisions in the Orlando tournament. As a result, if I do enter that tournament, I'll simply do three events: chi sao (sticky hands); senior (over 35 years-old) traditional hand sets; senior traditional weapons.

For Scrima's internal tournament planned for July, I will do push hands, and some Xingyiquan and/or Yang Taijiquan sets.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Forkin' around and playing catch-up

Okay, I'm a few days behind in chronicling my workouts. I'm still being pretty faithful to mine and Don's joint resolution to focus on the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen form of Hung Gar Kung Fu.

Because of work and housekeeping responsibilities, I didn't get to do Friday's workout until well into the afternoon, after the Tsarevich* (my son, Vitaly) came home from school. I turned that workout into a chance for a little father-son bonding.

The little Tsarevich, Vitaly, practicing Yoshukai Karate-Do.

He put on his gi pants and we went outside to practice some of his karate. We started with the 27 Movements kata of Yoshukai Karate-do, which he is learning from his sensei, Robert Hughes.

Even though I trained in Yoshukai for a couple of semesters in college, I still had to go to Youtube and find that form to remember it. Once I was secure that I could recall the sequence, Vitaly and I went outside for some practice.

From a Yoshukai Karate-Do workshop Vitaly attended in late January. In the wheelchair is Mike Foster Sensei, one of the few true karate grandmasters in America. Immediately behind Vitaly is his sensei, Foster's top student, Robert Hughes.

The man with the mustache right behind Foster Sensei was my old Yoshukai sensei from college, Dave Hunt. At the time I studied with him, I was a 2nd-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. I was used to seeing men crumple when I landed my sidekick to the body, but kicking Hunt Sensei was like kicking a brick wall.

To keep things fun, I brought out a foam-covered stick that I used to use when Tony Chan and I would practice Escrima-style sparring. Using the stick, I would strike at the Tsarevich's his head and body and he would block those strikes using the techniques of the 27 Movements. After completing the blocking sequence, I held up a focus mitt for the reverse punches.

A version of the 27 Movements.

Afterward, I started to work with him on his sidekicks, but that only served to confuse him. As a result of my years in Korean Tang Soo Do, I prefer a side-thrusting kick, while Japanese arts, like Yoshukai, will use a side-snapping kick.

So as not to confuse him, I decided that I would not teach him any techniques or training methods from other art until he was competent with Yoshukai.

I closed that workout with one run each of the Gung Gee Fuk Fu Kuen, the Dai Pa (aka tiger fork or trident) and the Mook Yan Johng Kuen.

On Monday, Vitaly was back in his karate class. I left him there while I went outside to run through the Gung Gee and the Dai Pa sets, three times each. When I returned inside, I found that Hughes Sensei had started his class on sparring.

Vitaly immediately took to it. Since Hughes Sensei was recovering from surgery last week, he had one of his black belts and a high-ranking brown belt act as sparring partners. For the most part, they only used defensive techniques, like dodging and blocking, forcing the kids to have to get inside and hit.

At one point, Hughes Sensei announced he would pay $10 to any kid who could knock down one of the black belts. That was just the thing Vitaly needed to spur him on. He loves any chance to make money.

Though he didn't knock over his black belt sparring partners, he fought like a demon from Hell!

Which brings me to today's daily workout/lunch break. I'm trying to stick to a schedule to set aside time for seeking work, doing writing jobs and working out. I started training at about 12:30 today, with a single run of the Gung Gee, followed by eight runs of the Dai Pa.

The more I do the Dai Pa, the more I realize that it is less about physical conditioning (though it will get you in shape) and more about developing flow in your movements and testing your stances.

Doing that form with as much power as I can muster requires me to pay attention to my stances. They have to be deep, wide and steady or the Dai Pa will send you flying. As a result, my stances are deeper and steadier than they have been in years.

I closed with a run of the Mook Yan Johng Kuen, (wooden dummy form) both the Yip Family and the Mainland versions, as well as some huen sao (circling hands) drills.

Chi Sao (sticky hands) training, as taught by Guro Dan Inosanto, the foremost instructor of Bruce Lee's art of Jeet Kune Do.

Which brings me to some exciting news. I've been checking the International Chinese Martial Arts Championship website for the latest info on the Orlando tournament in May. While they haven't listed all the divisions, they did say that they will include a chi sao (sticky hands) event. I took 2nd place in that event five years ago. I'm hoping this time to take the gold!

And maybe, just maybe, I'm hoping that they finally include a Wing Chun Grand Championship for that tournament.

Hey! One can dream!

*Russian for "prince," or more specifically, "little Tsar.