Egad, looks like WordPress has changed a bit on me, especially the user interface for writing a new post. Let’s see how long it takes for me to get used to this one.
Anyways, as I mentioned last time, I began learning Hung Gar kung fu from Sifu Dexter Parker in Peoria. Being that he comes from a traditional school, naturally, he assessed my stances and footwork before giving me exercises to work on in order to develop force.
If you saw Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and “the other guys” (there were other people in that movie?), you may remember this classic training montage narration, which summarizes what classical kung fu masters talked about when referring to their art:
“Hard work over time to accomplish skill.”
There are no quick fixes in kung fu training. In order to use sophisticated and elaborate kung fu techniques, you must have many qualities: a solid stance, flexibility to assume contorted and “unnatural” positions, speed to take advantage of openings, timing that flusters your opponent’s rhythm, accuracy to strike vital points, and the ability to harness and transfer the strength of your whole body into an area as small as your fingertips.
How do you accomplish all these things? Force training!
All kung fu styles have special force training that develops the characteristics and qualities best needed for that style. The qualities for which Hung Gar practitioners are most famous are “solid stances and powerful arms.” When trained properly, stance training (zhan zhuang or chat ma, depending on your regional dialect of choice) makes the entire body powerful, the steps firm, and the mind clear. All kung fu systems have their own favored stances, the most famous of which is the Horse Riding stance.
How do you emphasize powerful arms? Beyond using stances with the arms held in various postures, another way is ta chong exercises, a genre of force training where the practitioner stands or sits in a particular stance and moves their hands and arms in various ways. Perhaps the most common ta chong exercise in Shaolin Wahnam is One Finger Shooting Zen, demonstrated by my “kung fu uncle,” Leo of Shaolin Wahnam Austria.
The exercise that Sifu Parker gave me was much simpler. He called is “Bridge Hand training,” Ki Sau Kung. It’s very simple: stand upright or sit in the Horse Riding Stance and stretch the arms, with the hands in the “Bridge Hand” (or One Finger Zen) hand-form forward and backward many, many times. At the recommendation of one of my Shaolin Wahnam seniors, I added exploding force every so often to keep the force flowing and not have it locked up in my arms or chest. Despite its simplicity, Ki Sau Kung is rapidly become one of my favorite exercises.
Since I have a camera and a tripod now (hooray!), I can finally get some more videos posted on this dusty old blog! Here you can watch a video (the perspective is off because I obviously didn’t know how to aim a camera properly) of me doing Ki Sau Kung, “Bridge Hand Training” this morning, which is known as “Double Stabilizing Golden Bridge” in Shaolin Wahnam:
There are, of course, some issues with my practice, the most important of which is that my posture is not that good. My shoulders are rather stuff, which leads to my hunching them and closing off my chest a bit. My arms also dip below shoulder level quite a bit, and when I “explode force,” the alignment of my arms and wrists is not very good. Stuff for me to work on in future training!
Anyone who knows me may be wondering about Baguazhang, without a question my favorite style of Kung Fu. What about the force training of that art? Well, Baguazhang’s defining characteristics are its agile footwork and the ability of its practitioners to get to an opponent’s side or back, and Baguazhang force training develops this agility. The most famous method of Baguazhang force training is called Circle Walking, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: using Baguazhang techniques whilst walking in a circle. Beginners walk in boxes or circles and may eventually move on to other formations (spirals, figure eight, etc.) or even walk through a “forest” of wooden poles or other obstructions.
Here’s me from this morning demonstrating the basic set of Eight Mother Palms in the Baguazhang practiced in Shaolin Wahnam. While my flow and root are, in general, much better than last time, there are some points where I lost my footing, and the coiling of my upper body could stand to be better.