After some poking and prodding by a few family members, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and give a shot at this training diary deal. I used to keep a hand-written training diary back when I first began (which eventually just turned into a checklist of things I’d practiced to make sure I wasn’t missing anything…there was a lot of horse riding stance in those days, haha). Here’s hoping this diary is a little more interesting than that.
As you might have seen in this thread of the Shaolin Wahnam forum, my good friend and kung fu “cousin” David recently flew over for a weekend and we worked on the basic combat sequences and the methodology to go from individual patterns to free sparring, which culminated in a fun little video project of us sparring by the Peoria river front. We hope to do more such projects in the future, with a higher level of skill displayed, of course!
That said, there are some things I’d like to work on, especially after that weekend and the week thereafter. For my training methods, I decided to return to the basics and am primarily training the material of the Basic Shaolin syllabus to work on a few things.
Smoothing out transitions, especially linking between patterns and sequences
Several things occurred to me as David and I watched recordings of our sparring sessions. One thing that was particularly notable to me was sloppiness when I moved between patterns of different length and reach, for example from Black Tiger Steals Heart to Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley, or transitioning from a punch to a kick, e.g. Fierce Tiger Speeds Through Valley to Happy Bird Hops On Branch. In some instances, I was moving from my dan tian (kung fu parlance for the lower abdomen, considered the center and source from which power is emitted), while other times I was “thinking with my hands” instead of using the dan tian and wound up moving from the shoulders instead. I’ve noticed in this past week of pattern and set practice that an emphasis on dan tian movement has smoothed things out between me and my imaginary sparring opponent, which will have to be confirmed the next time I cross paths with another martial artist.
Dealing more effectively with sequence breaking
There is no denying that Sifu’s recommendation of a relentless (but safe) pressing attack works wonderfully on other martial artists. I’ve sparred with students, experts, and even a master or two outside of Shaolin Wahnam and a pressing attack flustered all but the masters (then again, they are masters, after all). The masters I sparred usually used superior force (especially qin na force such as Tiger Claw or Eagle Claw to lock me and stop me in my tracks) and sensitivity to defeat my presses. David, thanks to his knowledge of Shaolin tactics and skills, was able to use not only force and sensing skills, but also “sequence breaking” tactics, as trained in the basic sparring methodology. I noticed, especially earlier on in our weekend, that having my sequence “broken” would lead to a jarring moment where I would have to reassess before continuing, rather than simply spontaneously flowing into another appropriate pattern and sequence.
Hence, in my sequence practice lately, I have been practicing with an imaginary partner what would happen if someone were to break my sequence (my present main sequence is White Horse Presents Hoof) at every pattern with a characteristic strike, kick, grip, or felling technique. Against a strike, I’ve been applying Single Tiger Emerges From Cave, that is, using the forearm to brush or “lean” away the incoming hand or arm strike and applying a grip or lock with my hand; against Kicks, Lohan Strikes Drum or Single Whip Saves Emperor, referring to using a swinging or falling backfist against the incoming knee or ankle after ensuring my safety with footwork; against a grip, Hiding Flowers in Sleeves, that is, following the opponent’s momentum and a coiling motion of my waist, shoulder, elbow, and wrist to get out of the grip on my attacking arm; and against a felling technique, the Unicorn Step from the Fell Tree With Roots combat sequence, which essentially realigns the lines and angles of force between my opponent and me and gets me to my opponent’s side or back in preparation to continue my sequence. I’ve noticed that this enhances my awareness of my dan tian and has smoothed out my ability to swallow back in my stance without moving my feet, but again, this will have to undergo an acid test in the future. I’ve also noticed in sparring with my imaginary opponent that certain transitional movements have come out, such as applying the gripping of Single Tiger instead of just the “leaning,” or that my Fierce Tiger “stretches” a little further than before. I attribute this to my recent opportunity to spar with a live partner making some of my patterns more alive and informed by that experience.
Improving my overall level and control of my internal force
Working and sparring with David was a very fun experience. Several months ago, I did Three Star Hitting with a student of a local martial arts school in Peoria who told me he wanted to experience internal force, as his master had not taught him how to train it yet (he had been training external force by knocking his arms against trees and poles), so he asked me to do Three Star Hitting with him. At that time, I was emphasizing Baguazhang force training and hadn’t done Golden Bridge or similarly “hard” methods in a while. I bounced off his arms quite easily and he stopped after a few rounds, saying that my arms “were like iron.” Well, David and I naturally did some Three Star Hitting and this time it was I that had to stop after a few rounds! It was quite fun to experience the results of different training methods. The last time I really encountered a lot of people with internal force was the Baguazhang Summer Camp in 2012, where there were specialists in Taijiquan, Wing Chun, Triple Stretch, and other force training, I’m sure, and it was fun feeling the difference in results. Some folks were maddeningly difficult to grasp or bridge with, others were as unmoveable as statues, and so forth.
I decided to take a step back to the force training methods of the Shaolin syllabus and have hence come to rediscover the joys of One Finger Shooting Zen. I may have mentioned to a few folks how that is the art that brings the most mental clarity for me, a quality I find particularly useful in school. I remembered a post recently about the difference between the force and flow methods and experimented a little between the two using the vehicle of One Finger Shooting Zen and was impressed at how, well, forceful the Force Method was. I actually enjoy it quite a bit and found that it built more mental clarity for me far faster than the Flow Method this past week. I’ll be playing a little bit more with this over the coming months.
Another fun experience I had with One Finger Shooting Zen was deciding to practice Golden Bridge last night. The force developed after a week of One Finger Shooting Zen was far greater than before, back when Golden Bridge was my main force training method. I could also far more easily feel the process of converting flowing force into consolidated force all over my body. Little wonder that Sifu mentioned that One Finger Shooting Zen is an excellent bridge between the two methods and why it is the “treasure of Shaolin.” The stories of training in Sigung Ho’s school from Sifu’s autobiography, especially with One Finger Shooting Zen, also enthralled me, of course. Guess what force training method I’m going to be spending my time with for the forseeable future?
Rereading the Shaolin Combat Sequence articles was a pleasure and also reminded me of some skills I had forgotten or been neglecting. For example, the Dark Dragon Draws Water page pretty explicitly describes the mechanic and method of training to use internal force for a palm strike. I felt some “leaks” and inefficiencies in my process of exploding force, especially while sparring, and so decided to take the challenge mentioned at the end of that article, namely to train the process of reducing movements and also the process of exploding force with Dark Dragon Draws Water, fifty times a day for six months. After just a week, I’m feeling far more aware of component movements and more force at my palm than before.
Anyhow, that’s where I stand for now, and this is getting long. Have a happy new year, folks, and all the best in your practice.
Sincerely with Shaolin salute,