Archive for May, 2011
This deserved a repost here;
My Ted Baker, black shoes slip off and are parked by my front door. I make my way upstairs to my bedroom. The Mont Blanc pen is pushed back into its sheath. I undrape my Louis Vuitton work bag off my shoulder, and throw it onto my bed. Temperature rising. It’s been a long hard day. Left hand reaches up, wrapping around the knot of my Dior tie. The knot comes undone and I proceed to undress. The Armani jacket, slips off. I slink out of my trousers.
The Zara, slim fit, clean, lean, white shirt, unbuttoned and open, peels off my skin. Tag Heuer watch uncuffed, brushes hastily against my left wrist. Then my black Gucci ring, sliding down my finger.
I’m impatient. My heart starts to beat faster in anticipation of whats to come. I reach for my Sprawl shorts, which slide on with ease. I throw a black nylon Y3 jacket onto my back, signalling the time to sweat. Hand reaches for my Louis Vuitton gym bag. Deep within the walls of the bag, I’ll find my skip rope, my sparring gloves and my weight belt. I go downstairs. Roughly pulling on my Nike Free 3.0 sprint shoes. The climax of a work day signals the coming of a hard training session.
I wrote this piece for the local Eastern Gazette as I usually do a 300-word monthly column. I decided to share it with all of you here as well:
I hate diets. I hate the idea of them. And plus, they don’t work. It’s almost like a ‘Liver Detox’ or something along those lines – they don’t make sense to me either when used as a band-aid patch for health. What I do get is the part where a person cuts something bad out of their diet, but what I don’t get is how they put it back when they are feeling better.
So there has to be a better solution, no? I don’t think it has to do with the food, though. As with most things – success begins and ends in the minds and hearts of the people.
So let me walk you down a thought-process. Simply, I’m anti-diet but I’m pro-lifestyle. I make it a point in my life to work on my lifestyle, not my diet. A diet is temporary – like a fad, coming and going like the tide. But a lifestyle – that is who I am, right to the very core of my being. My lifestyle DEFINES me. My lifestyle isn’t just food, but also what I wear, what I drive and who my influences are. My lifestyle also doesn’t change too quickly – which is perfect.
Change is good. Changing too much too quickly can lead to disaster. It would be like going into shock. So if one were to start to change their lifestyle, it would be best to start off slow. The one-to-two changes here and there will be easier to take and it will be harder to slip backwards after traveling down the road to health.
So mediate on that. Don’t think in terms of diet, or what you CAN’T have. Visualize what you want your lifestyle to look like, and be joyous in all the foods you CAN have.
Yours in health,
CTK, R.Ac, Dip.Ac, Dip.TCM
The living me sighed and felt afraid. His collar tightened with a noose of emotion. A shiver ran up his skin and crawled, writhing in his veins. He felt a stabbing pain in his chest. A cacophony of silence came crashing within the walls of his ears; blood filled empty sound. He strained himself to appear calm.
‘We will all die… even you and I’, the thought striking him in a palpable way. Albert Camus was correct, we are all on a futile search for meaning, unity and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of eternal truth and value. No one cares. We all live a meaningless life full of strife and pain. We die and fade into oblivion.
Then read this:
Damn. Been raining for a minute out here. Today, the last thing I wanted to do was get my sorry ass out of bed and go to work. Instead of working on projects that are on the go, I’m sitting here listening to some hip-hop. Instead of putting my sign out, I’m just sitting here feeling waves of tiredness creep up on me out of sync with the feelings of thirst in my mouth. Time to switch it up, no?
The last thing I want to do is sit on my ass doing nothing, wasting my morning away.
Then play this:
Sparring always seemed like chaos to me. Especially as a Wing Chun fledgling, I had poor results in the sparring arena.
My first few spars seemed dizzying – in nature and due to the fact that I would get hit in the head. It all seemed like it was too much to compute. Today, comparatively, everything makes a little more sense.
I don’t like sparring all out all the time. I think that’s what was happening in the beginning – too much pressure and too much stimulus. Sparring is very much like Chi Sau in that a practitioner can focus on a few different things WITHIN the game. This is what I’ve come to realize and really appreciate about it all.
My gym is very good at making use of all its participants. For example, there are many folks who are around just for the fitness aspect of training. They don’t want to learn how to fight. So the coaches will borrow them and put them in the ring against some of us folks who spar and fight. The rules are simple: the fitness participant can hit me – but I can’t hit them.
What does this do? Firstly, it gasses the hitter out. Punching and chasing takes a lot of energy. It they are there for fitness, this will get them fit. For the defender, this is golden. Generally with a boxfit participant – they aren’t too accurate and they tend to gas fast. This takes a lot of the stress off of the whole sparring event so that the defender can concentrate on the most important part of fighting: don’t get hit. The gloves get knocked about and the defender gets used to being bumped around a bit all the while working on their defensive game.
So just like in Chi Sau, where a senior and a junior is needed for growth, sparring is the same. Working with juniors allows a fighter’s style to come out more liberally. It also helps foster confidence. Working with a senior, if the senior ‘leads’ them instead of just pummeling them into the ground, allows for growth in all aspects of the game, truly pressure tests and keeps a lid on the ego.
I like sparring. I know on the street, not all fights end up looking like a spar, but it’s the attributes I’m truly after. Distance, timing, give and take, retaliation, pain management, fear management, etc are just as important as a sucker punch drill.
See you in the gym, CTK
The punch, what a beautiful thing. A movement to be adored for its effervescence and a motion which deserves to be adorned with diamonds and pearls. It arrives seldom, but when perchance it is delivered well, observers sit up, while recipients are felled.
To me, a perfectly executed punch is a work of art, like Michaelangelo’s David, the Mona Lisa or Rodin’s Thinker.
There are plenty of serious martial artists (Peter Consterdine, Geoff Thompson etc) who advocate POWER in a punch over other attributes. This school of thought suggests that the key to fighting is obtained by developing a good powerful punch. Of course, development of such a motion requires 1000′s of repetitions, along with the development of the muscles of the body, hip dynamics and investigating ways to overcome sticking points; such as golgi tendon inhibition.
I am also a believer that once you have a good power punch in your arsenal, that the delivery system is not something that you should be too concerned with because your body will FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT LAND on the opponent.
Floyd Patterson did it with his gazelle punch, Fedor did it with his casting punch. And Jesse Glover’s Big Punch is one of the primary weapons for people doing Non-Classical Gung Fu.
From Muhammad’s phantom punch that knocked out Sonny, to Floyd Patterson gazelle punch and to Hearn’s jab.There is nothing more beautiful, nothing more poetic than a well timed, perfectly executed punch.
Excerpt from here: http://chirontraining.blogspot.com/2011/05/yes-and-no-people.html
“In training, do we give over our agency to someone with a title so we don’t have to think for ourselves? Avoid training with strangers or new ideas to maintain our level of comfort? Accept that our instructor’s superior years of training in some way requires us to act and think like dutiful children instead of men and women?
Or do we brawl and challenge and play? Look for things so different that they will shift everything we thought we knew? Try to find those edges of fear and exhaustion where the world changes?
In the end, is your training about being comfortable? Or being incredible?”
Greater than the sum
It is interesting to observe what sends taiji practitioners into heated debate. It seems we are often driven to fits of criticism by motives of self justification. I have heard countless lamentations about the loss of traditional forms in taijiquan and, if I am honest with myself, can also tread self-righteously along these byways without much provocation. The incessant promotion of the latest pop short forms, the dearth of principled push-hands training globally, the ever-changing gymnastic requirements of official taiji forms developed by the China Wushu Association—all these are don’t-get-me-started issues.
Of course I, like most taiji players, value the practices I’ve devoted myself to over the years and decades and wouldn’t have continued in them without some belief that they were worthy of effort. I would defend my approach to the art with considerable conviction and so appreciate it when others do as well. Still, I always feel uneasy when debates fall into either: ‘they don’t do it traditionally’—where ‘traditionally’ often reveals a thinly disguised ideology rather than researched observation; or, ‘in our style we do it like this’—where ‘like this’ is more a disclosure of obsessive fixation around a cherished method or a pet peeve.
Many of the ‘this style versus that style’ debates regarding the direction the art is taking somehow miss a fundamental point, this being the importance of promoting taijiquan styles in their wholeness. Before the last half of the 20th century, this is what taiji masters did. Although participation in the art has surged, there does not seem to be a proportionate increase in the numbers of serious, full curriculum practitioners or instructors. From the standpoint of maintaining and continuing the development of traditional taijiquan, this may be deemed a crisis.
It was an ambition for the innovators of all schools of Chinese martial arts to develop a fully rounded syllabus of training—this being passed down from master to master through generations. Virtually all traditional systems of wushu present a central theory elucidated by a full and systematic course of study. The training regimen was designed to adhere to the central principles around which the art was based, theory and practice being inseparable. This is particularly true of traditional taijiquan which offers a plentiful curriculum developed in the light of a rich literary storehouse.
One would not attend university to become a physician and only take preferred miscellaneous courses. Acquiring reasonable expertise in a full taijiquan curriculum could be likened to doing a masterʼs degree as the thorough learning of an entire curriculum takes somewhere between four to six years depending on student aptitude, time commitment and training circumstances.
The regimen of practices is designed to take the learner, in a principled way, through a wide range of experiences equipping him or her with a complete set of skills which can be employed under any circumstances. It can be argued that full understanding of early items in the curriculum and of the literature associated with the art cannot really be achieved until one has embodied the whole training. In this important sense, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
For example, it is difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand a basic solo barehand form without studying push-hands and the applications of that form. Likewise, it is improbable that one will achieve any high level of skill in tuishou by foregoing traditional studies and only practicing freestyle. Fixed-step push-hands practices are deepened by an understanding of moving-step drills and barehand training is greatly enhanced by the study of weapons.
It is through the interplay of these yin-yang dichotomies—solo and partner work, barehand and weapons training, theory and practice—that the art does its transformative work. The traditional styles evolved into their late 19th and early 20th century forms enabling practitioners to experience full understanding and mastery of the art.
There are of course, examples of schools offering a full and intact taiji curriculum but this is increasingly rare. A plethora of new simplified and synthetic solo forms appear yearly in the marketplace, often devoid of any reference to any other aspects of the art. The recent fusion—and confusion—of taijiquan with qigong gives little clue to masses of new practitioners what taijiquan is, how it works or what it is for. The dominance of Cheng Man-ch’ing’s highly abbreviated syllabus in the West for the last forty years has siphoned off thousands of potential full curriculum candidates as well.
When eager new taiji-fans do cotton on to the idea that there is something more to all this and feel moved to seek out something of greater range, they are deluged with data in the form of books, DVDs and YouTube clips, and confronted with an inverse scarcity of instructors fully versed or qualified in the entire syllabus of any style. This has lead to a generation of what might be called ‘taiji bums’; enthusiasts seeking out patchwork solutions as they study odds and sods from various sources to gain some semblance of a complete curriculum.
These days taiji practitioners typically learn a basic solo barehand routine, some qigong/standing practices, a weapon (usually straight-sword) and perhaps a few pushhands drills. This is most often heavily augmented with ‘freestyle’ push-hands workouts (a practice which exists nowhere in any formal traditional taijiquan curriculum or writing but which dominates taijiquan training worldwide). While this is certainly enough to give a recreational practitioner a general sense of the art, it must be asked whether a deeper and fuller experience and understanding couldn’t be accomplished through an actual traditional curriculum.
When teachers of high calibre are to be found they are often unwilling or unable to teach their whole system due to discouragements such as high dropout levels, time versus finance constraints, student usurpation and other frustrations prevalent in the modern mentoring-scape. There is little personal incentive today for teachers to develop the next generation of traditional torchbearers in the whole-art sense. Although there is much commerce done in the taiji teaching trade in modern times, it just doesn’t pay to try to appeal to serious acolytes.
While there is certainly nothing wrong in studying with many teachers to gain varied perspectives and new movement vocabulary, the result seems to be the formation of a taiji community composed largely of ‘forms collectors’. While the open-mindedness of this approach may have real benefits for taiji society, building one’s repertoire in this fashion may lead in the long run, to an endemic problem as successive generations of teachers pass down increasingly hodgepodge curricula.
What is a full curriculum?
This issue of full curriculum study is complicated by issues arising both in interpretation and in historical fact. Taijiquan styles developed over generations and vary greatly based on factors such as: from which point in history the curriculum is being studied, which branch of a particular style is being studied and which aspects of the style were made known to the school promoting the curriculum. Indeed, given the previously mentioned tendency toward self-justification, promoters of various styles have been known to depict taiji history/lineage/curriculum in a just-so manner as to create justification for their own particular body of knowledge. Anyone can say anything they like about these issues—and they do.
Regardless of the particulars however, a full curriculum in any style of Chinese martial arts will include: preparatory practices; solo and partner bare-hand forms and exercises; solo and partner short and long weapons forms and exercises. In Chen-style Taijiquan for example, the curriculum is broadly outlined as follows:
1. Zhanzhuang (Standing Post)
2. Cansigong (Silk Reeling Training)
3. Taolu (Bare-hand Forms)
4. Wuqi (Weapons)
5. Tuishou (Push-hand)
6. Fangshengshu (Applications)
Within wuqi, there exist several weapons routines (sabre, straight-sword, pole/spear, halberd, double sabre, double straight-sword) and depending on the branch there can be even more. Likewise there are multiple forms, drills and practices within each of the six outlined categories. In most Chen schools these various aspects will be taught in a somewhat intermingled fashion. The practical teachings are normally interspersed with wisdom around principled practice and in some cases guidance toward improvement of personal character qualities derived from Chen family ancestral doctrine.
In the case of Yang-style Taijiquan the curriculum is structured in consonance with the teachings of the Taijiquan Classics which essentially submit the possibility of spiritual illumination (shenming) through a mastery of the thirteen powers. These thirteen can be subdivided into, those having to do with the legs and waist (the wubu or ‘five stance phases’), and eight core kinetic possibilities which are dependent on an intact leg/waist structure. Ingeniously, the ‘eight gates’ (bamen) study is broken into two main categories, ‘the square’ and ‘the diagonal’ (sizheng and siyu). These function interdependently to manage a vast range of martial situations. The standing practices, solo bare-hand form and push-hands training are crafted to take the learner progressively into the square/diagonal study. The work then continues to extend outward through weapons training.
The full curriculum in my own Yang-style Taijiquan program looks something like this:
1. Taiji Preparation studies:
Zhanzhuang (Standing Post)
Luodian Qigong (Breath Placement Training)
Taijigongli (Taiji strength, flexibility and conditioning training)
2. Taiji Solo bare hand:
Yang-shi Taijiquan (108) (Yang-style Taijiquan solo form)
37 Essential Forms
3. Taiji Push-hands:
Bapan Jiazi Dingbu Tuishou (Eight preparatory fixed-step drills)
Sizheng Tuishou (Four-square Push-hands. Fixed and moving variations)
Dalü (Large Rolling)
4. Taiji Sparring:
Yang-shi Taijisanshou (Yang-style Taiji Sanshou: 88 form, mix & freestyle)
5. Taiji Sabre:
Yang-shi Taijidao 13 (Yang-style solo sabre—‘Fu Zhongwen’)
Yang-shi Taijidao 32 (Yang-style solo sabre—‘Chen Yanlin’)
Yang-shi Taijidaofa Shiyong (Yang-style Taijidao Applications)
Shisanshi Dao (13 Power Sabre—solo & partner training)
6. Taiji Straight-sword:
Yang-shi Taijijian (54) (Yang-style solo straight-sword)
Shisanshi Taijijian (13 Power Taiji Sword—solo & partner training)
7. Taiji Spear & Halberd:
Shisanshi Taijiqiang (Yang-style 13 Power Spear—solo & partner training)
Sanfa Taijiji (Taiji three method Halberd—solo & partner training)
8. Taiji Literature
Taijiquan Jing, Yangjia 40 Pianzhang (Taijiquan Classics, Yangfamily
Forty Chapters and other literature)
While the details of a full curriculum program will vary from teacher to teacher even within a style, the list above gives an accurate representation of a traditional taijiquan program. Each facet is considered to be integral to the understanding of what the art is and how it is intended to function in theory and in practice. Generally the biggest differences occur around preparation practices, sparring approaches and the long weapons. Some styles also include apparatuses like the fan, double fan, the staff and other weapons which were not documented in former times.
Many books released over the last century have purported to be ‘complete’ taijiquan books. The better ones at least give a summary of a full curriculum and some are excellent, but for the most part, these publications have done a poor job of presenting the full method of any taijiquan system. There are some notable exceptions. Tseng Ju-Pai attempted something akin to a full Yang-style curriculum in two volumes in 1975 and Dr. Yang Jwing Ming presented his full version of Yang syllabus (sans sabre and spear) in 1981. The best full curriculum book remains Chen Yanlin’s controversial 1943 manual: ‘Taiji Boxing, Sabre, Sword, Pole, Sparring Compiled’ (Taiji Quan, Dao, Jian, Gun, Sanshou Hebian). Although there are several chapters of this book available in English and French the work has yet to be translated in its entirety.
What ‘full’ has to offer
I can imagine some readers thinking, ‘Well this is all well and good for people wanting to become teachers and masters but I just do taiji for me. I don’t need to learn all that stuff to be satisfied.’ Many recreational taijiquan players are very serious about their practice. They exercise their form daily, go to classes regularly and attend workshops and events because of a real interest in the art. Often they have learned many different forms and still feel something missing in their basic understanding—the difference between snacking on bits of this and that versus getting one’s teeth into something deeply nutritious.
It’s possible to practice many forms of very different character and remain always at the same skill level. Like a music enthusiast learning to play song after song in the same way without deepening understanding of the music and their instrument, many taiji players cruise along for years and even decades, without quite getting it. They read books, watch videos and go to workshops but always with the same eyes—eyes searching for something to help them break through.
This is what the curriculum does. The preparation work breaks ground for the solo form. This in turn sets the conditions for basic partner practice, then advanced and so on. Each new stage of the process stretches the player, as in the making of a Chinese sword, where each beat extends the block of raw steel until it can be folded back on itself, lengthening, strengthening and becoming malleable. Step-by-step one is moved past their limitations, through their resistances and beyond their expectations into the very world of grace, coordination and connection that first drew them to taiji. Learning to experience oneself in new ways through taiji and never getting bored—this is not only for elite players, its for every player.
Mastering a full curriculum in taiji is not about checking off boxes on a list or collecting certificates, its about entering a world where a new type of dialogue can occur both with one’s playmates and with oneself. Its about touching into and even living through something ancient, something classic and something profound. Ultimately everything in the whole world of taijiquan can be found in the full curriculum study.
In the past the masters said, ‘If it doesn’t contain the thirteen powers, it cannot be called taijiquan.’ Today it’s not uncommon to find practitioners who don’t even know what this refers to. Taijiquan requires serious effort but it offers high benefit. So there are two questions: Is the art worthy of my effort? And, am I worthy of its benefits? To change one’s thinking, to value one’s own commitment, to go the longer path up the higher mountain.
Only by the willingness of teachers to pass down, and students to learn, whole taijiquan systems, can the technical knowledge and holistic insight gained over generations be preserved. To push ourselves and our teachers is to keep a living art alive for future generations.
Sam Masich has mentored about 50 students through the full Yang-style Taijiquan curriculum in the last thirty years. He has taught his three month Yang-style Taijiquan Full Curriculum Intensive twice, once in Canada (2001-02) and once in México (2009).
He lives in Berlin, Germany. Information on his work can be found at SamMasich.com
Look dark days Hard times Heart ache Can't find Medicine for my pain gained on the front line Battle scars Fight the power 24/7 Jack Bauer Fairy tales Save the world Super heroes Kryptonite Devil on my shoulder Don't listen to the voices Infect you with their poison P-p-p-poison Sing through the fire like Chaka Khan Rejoicing Girls sing, Boys sing Every body join in Sing through the fire till the burning is over, is over Sing to recover till the healing is over, is over
Yesterday I had roughly spent 10 minutes with Dick Ecklund. You know – that guy – from that movie The Fighter. The real-life character that Christian Bale played.
He’s in the gym this week training Tyson. He stayed to watch over the noon-hour class and help a few of us out.
When I got to the gym, I started warming up in the ring with some shadowboxing. My trainer, Bunny, asked me to get my gloves on because he was going to take me for a spin on the pads before class started. I shook Dickie’s hand and said I was very happy to meet him. He told me likewise and then told me, “Relax when you’re punching. Okay?” ”Okay,” I responded.
Five rounds on the pads with my trainer and then I jumped into the noon hour class. Close to the end of it, Tyson had us throwing everything off the jab. Dickie came over to me and showed me a couple of things.
First, he had me extend my jab as far as it can go. Then he told me to push off the back foot even more. I used to think I was up on my toes – but not until this amazing instruction. What he showed me wasn’t just about the jab. It was about the timing of it all. The timing between three jabs, their natural recoil and the footwork.
So what the hell can I guy learn from a world-class trainer in all of 10 minutes?
As far as technique goes? Not a helluva lot. As far as inspiration goes? Infinite.
Its a bright day. Heat filled shards of sunlight slice paths through the leaves. I am caressed by warmth as I sit in my garden. There is a slight breeze, that envelopes me with a gentle whisper. There is no lack of happiness at this moment. It flows in abundance.
I get depressed. I’ve been getting depressed for over 17 years.
At first, when I was a teenager, I used to sit in my room, light incense and listen to melancholy music. I spent my time smoking, smoking weed and repeating the feelings of sadness in my mind over and over. In my last year of junior high, I decided to take a pencil crayon and see how far I could scratch it into the back of my hand. Looking back, it seemed to help me bring the present moment into focus. I wasn’t thinking about my mental anguish while focusing on the pain in my hand.
I don’t know where this ‘mental anguish’ comes from. It just creeps up on me…like a mugger down a back alley. A shadow. That’s all I can tell you. I can somehow relate to the phrase, ‘A tortured soul.’
As I grew into a young adult, I started to notice how exercise affected me. I paid attention to how the weight of the world seemed lifted after a session.
In my adult life, I improved on paying more attention to the highs and lows. I became a husband, father and small business owner. Sometimes, to this day, the demons in my head still try to speak to me as loudly as the outside-world stress does.
I used to think that the demons in my head were only for me. It’s common place – to think what is happening to us is happening ONLY to us. But it’s simply not true. Everyone has that extra voice in their head. The judge and jury. People don’t talk freely about what frightens them so I thought I was alone. In reading philosophy, great teachers have spoken at length on this topic. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone. Actually, I was quite normal.
I definitely take inventory on what I put ‘in’ to my body now. Good reading, good friends and good music. But nothing beats it: exercise. Nothing lifts me out of my mental hole quite like it. Nothing quiets the demons and melts away the stress of the world more than a session of bodyweight, or a session of sprints, or a session on the heavy bag, or a session of sparring, or, heck, even just dancing up a sweat.
I could care less if it releases endorphins, or if I end up getting a ‘runners high’ or if it moves my Qi. All I know is that it works for me. It brings my focus to the present moment – probably quite like a blue pencil crayon does – but more productive. Nothing else exists in that moment. And when I leave a session, it doesn’t take long to feel like a cloud has been blown away and subsequently revealed the sun…the sun that was there all along.