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The Staff June 5, 2009

Posted by warriorspath in Uncategorized.
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Ahh… the staff! Despite my limited experience with kung fu, I feel quite confident that the staff is its most fundamental weapon. Functionally the staff is extremely versatile; fully capable defensively and offensively. For one of kung fu’s earliest practitioner’s the Shaolin monks, the staff embraced their philosophy of nonviolence. The staff can disable and deter an attacker without seriously injuring them.

Often the staff is fashioned from white wax wood along with many other traditional Chinese weapons, a practice that dates back thousands of years. The white wax wood is prized for its durability, flexibility and shock absorbing attributes. Structurally the staff is fairly long, often slightly taller than its user, with a ‘head’ and a ‘tail’. The staff is thicker towards the ‘tail’ and then thins out toward the ‘head’.

Simple and elegant...

Simple and elegant...

This is for the purpose of counter balancing the staff, as the staff is often held closer to the thicker ‘tail’. The position of the hands and greater weight of the ‘tail’ allow the wielder to strike quickly and accurately with the head. However, the staff is not a ‘one-headed’ weapon like its close cousin the spear. The staff is still even enough in shape to be usable from both ends thus making the weapon ‘two-headed’.

A martial artisit with a heavier, more ornate staff

A martial artist with a heavier, more ornate staff

Functionally the staff is a jack of all trades. While it will not deliver crushing blunt blows like a hammer or the savage slashes of a sword, the staff most often far surpases them in range. The staff is one of the longest weapons wielded by martial artists, sometimes giving the fighter a 4-5 foot attack radius. In addition to its range, it is also very lightweight, making quick successive and pinpoint attacks possible. Furthermore the staff’s length also allows it to be used defensively. The middle of the staff can be quickly brought in front of the body to block or parry blows. It is also very easy to spin the weapon like a fan which can be used to block, distract, or strike an opponent.

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The Jab June 2, 2009

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The first technique that I’ve been taught in my classes is the fundamental ‘jab’. I’d wager that not only in kung fu, but in virtually every other hand to hand martial art the ‘jab’ is the bases from which other techniques arise.

Now before one can begin to punch one must be in the proper fighting stance. Every school and martial art has their own basic fighting stance. Ours attempts to be a generalist as possible. For the right handed the fighter holds their fists near their chin with their elbows in and close to the body. Next the fighter moves their left fist approximately 3 fist lengths forward ahead of the right fist. As for the legs, the fighter has their left leg positioned along with the left fist, in front ahead of the right leg. The feet are pointed forward and the knees are bent, further more the back is straight and the chin is down, eyes forward to the opponents face or chest (never look down or at the opponents limbs).

Observe the fighter on the left

Observe the fighter on the left

Often we are told to ‘rest’ in our fighting stance to allow us to learn to be comfortable in that position. This particular stance is designed to to attack straight on, will being well grounded and difficult to unbalance. The left fist is positioned forward to deliver quick and deterring attacks. The right fist is position near the chin to defend or launch a longer and strong strike. The legs are bent to allow the fighter to launch forward and maximize range and power. The feet are planted evenly on the ground and pointed forward to achieve greater balance.

The jab like most attacks starts from the legs upward, to the hips, up the abs, through the shoulder and arm and into the fist. The fighter first takes a step forward with their left leg to get closer to the opponent, thereby increasing ones range and providing a moving target instead of a static one for the opposition. Simultaneously the fighter bends their knees and pushes up with the heel of their right foot. It is important not to move the right foot while doing so to prevent losing power to fuel the attack.

At the exact same time as the fighter pushes up and toward the opponent, does the fighter twist their hips to the right. As the hips rotate the, the fighter launches their left fist at the opponent. Now rather than a straightforward motion, the fighter must make their strike ‘snap’ like a whip, giving it added power and speed and sets the fighter up for a follow up attack. It is important to note that the right hand is by the fighters fist at all times to defend the face and body from a potential attack. Also as the left fist extends to strike, the fighter pulls the right arm backward, while still held against the body to add to the ‘snapping’ action, of the body.

The elements of the jab

The elements of the jab

This jab allows the fighter to maximize speed, power, distance, and sets up for a fallow up attack, which is often with the right fist. Often to practice the jab we are told to ‘punch without punching’. While  seemingly contradictory at first, what it means is to practice by emphasizing the movement of our legs and hips instead of the arms. Usually we hold or arms and elbows towards the body without our fists out and use our legs and hips to propel that stationary fist into a punching bag or dummy.

The Maori versus the Shaolin May 27, 2009

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A couple nights ago I got home from my kung fu class and noticed one of my favorite shows was on. It is called “Deadliest Warrior”. The premise is that they take two historical warriors, compile data about their weapons and fighting techniques and simulate who would win in a battle between them.

I’ve fallowed the show since day one and have loved it right from the beginning. That particular night they pitted the New Zealand Maori Warrior against the Chinese Shaolin Monk. This is of special interest to me as many of the techniques and weapons are derived from Shaolin kung fu.

As often in the show they have two combatants with very different fighting styles and philosophies.

The Maori were a barbaric and cannabalistic group of warrior tribesmen who terrorized the south Pacific. Their weapons were based on nature, using everything from wood, jade sea stone, shark teeth to sting ray spines. They were much larger than the Shaolin and utilized brute force and powerful short range weapons. The Maori’s purpose for fighting was for conquest, power, and glorification of their ancestors.
The Shaolin on the other hand, were a group of Buddhist monks who learned martial arts to defend themselves. The Shaolin in contrary used weapons of forged steel which were much longer in range and more versitile though less deadly than the Maori warrior’s. They also used complex, highly stylized and very fast movements both armed and unarmed. Unlike the Shaolin, they fight purely in self-defense.

I was especially torn between the two combatants, one that was very familiar to me, the Shaolin and the other completely foreign and fascinating, the Maori. Though after the intial wave of tests, the Maori seemed to have the upperhand. However after watching the final battle scene it was the Shaolin who prevailed.

This was due almost exclusively to the Shaolin’s weapon, the hook swords. These weapons were responsible for almost 90% of the Shaolin’s success against the Maori. After a quick glance, it’s not hard to see why. It had blades on nearly every angle, giving it unparalleled utility and flexibility in combat. Also the hooked curve of the blade was used defensively to disarm eny combatants. Further more, perhaps most devestatingly, a master of the hook swords can link the two swords together and swing them in large arcs arond their body. This gives the fighter a massive 6 foot striking radius!

Behold the hook swords!

The hook swords in ready position

The hook swords in ready position

The hook swords on display

The hook swords on display

The Horse Stance May 20, 2009

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Kung Fu Fighting

Yesterday in class we worked heavily on something called ‘the Horse Stance’ or as it said in Chinese “Sei Ping Ma”.

The Horse Stance

The Horse Stance

The horse stance is the most basic stance or pose in virtually every variety of Kung Fu. Say for example when one does squat exercises, the horse stance would resemble the position one takes at the bottom of the squat.

Here your knees are at a 90 degree angle at your knees and shin, your knees should be parallel to the ground. Your knees are pointed outward away from your body and your feet are pointed forward. The back is straight and the arms are pulled back, elbows facing backwards, with hands in fists facing upward. Also your face is facing forward.

Trust me it it’s a lot harder than it looks! Getting into the right position, and holding it for extended periods of time, usually in sets of 30 seconds to a minute, is very difficult. We often do 3 sets of these each for a complete exercise.

The hardest part would be once you get the right position is finding your ‘center’, the way in which you distribute weight throughout your body that allows you to have the most balance given your current position. After that point its all a test of will and determination to stay in that position and to hold your body up.

Often times to test ourselves we place a wooden staff of about 5-6 feet in length across our thighs while in the horse stance. The purpose is to make sure that our thighs are low enough to the ground (parallel) to allow the staff to stay on our legs. This is what separates the men from the boys! Haha!

With the Staff

With the Staff

The great thing about this exercise is that it goes a long way to strengthening your legs, particularly your thighs. This is crucial because in kung fu and in many other martial arts and sports “power” from the body comes from the legs, travels to your core and then extends our to your arms. This is demonstrated in baseball when you bat or pitch and in basketball when you take a shot. Therefore the more “power” your legs can generate the more energy overall your body can exert at one time.

Other areas that the horse stance helps to improve are balance, concentration, endurance and posture. These are self-explanatory but are no means less necessary, all of which are important not just for sports or martial arts but to overall well-being.

Group Horse Stance

Group Horse Stance

Well that’s enough Kung Fu 101 for today!

Of Lions, Dragons, and a Birthday May 18, 2009

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When I got up yesterday morning I definitely did not say to myself:

“Today I will be the rear end of a CHINESE lion performing at VIETNAMESE celebration at the PHILIPPINE cultural center”

But guess what, that’s exactly what happened!

It all started the day before when after regular kung fu class I was informed that we were to hold a demo (demonstration) at the Philippine Cultural Center AND there is to be FREE FOOD! Of course I was down! Absolutely!

Then the next day rolls by and I get a facebook AIM that the meeting time was pushed up 2 hours ahead. So I scrambled to do everything I planned on doing prior; lift weights and do laundry.

When I got there (the kung fu school) I was given an official “demo shirt” as opposed to the regular kung fu uniform. After that the task of helping to set up the dragon feel upon me. The dragon consists of a very colorful and decorative paper mache head and tail connected by a long hollow cylinder of synthetic cloth. The head has flexible parts enough to allow it to move its eyes, mouth and tongue if you were to shake it.

What I was to do was to open one section of the dragon’s body and insert a tall metal pole with a wooden “rib cage” on end and then tie knots inside the body to the “rib cage”. There were 8 or 9 of these sections allowing 8 or 9 pole bearers to move and manipulate the dragon.

The Dragon Dance

The Dragon Dance

Next I had to wrap some plastic bags over the lions to prevent water damage because it was raining. The lions are composed of very large also paper mache heads with moving parts and a long colorful cloth extending out of the head to form the body. Now this was a pretty difficult task considering how HUGE these heads were!

Afterward, I was very much surprised to learn that because of the shortage of performers I had to take part of the lion dance. Something I have never done before and as they told us is very physically demanding.

Finally after getting everything in the trailer; including a massive traditional Chinese drum, a small gong, two pairs of cymbols, and some weapons, we headed off to the Philippine Cultural Center!

Now, I’ve been to the center before and because of the locale I assumed that the event was a Filipino one. But when we arrived I saw the signs in some foriegn language I didn’t not recognize, I quickly realized this was not the case. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was a Vietnamese event. Though the nature of the event didn’t come clear to me until much later.

Itwas a very peculiar site, I had never known there to be a significant Vietnamese population where I lived but I guess I was wrong. There were several people in colorful traditional clothing and even a dozen or so Buddhist monks.

We set about carefully moving our things into the building and then relaxed waiting for our turn to go dance. At some point I had to wear the lion costume as the rear end, the back legs, with nothing but a cloth above to cover me, to entertain some children. That alone was more then a taste, the children tried to get underneatht he lion where I’m haunched over trying to get comfortable.

Finally our time came and the lions (three of them) went to dance. My partner and were on standby as the “relief”. We were to switch out the current team inside the lion, because like I said it’s a very grueling dance. Which I found out very quickly when I switched in.

Haunched over trying to keep in step with the lion’s head and holding on to the cloth lest it fly off of me at a sudden moment. That was hard enough but the cloth wasn’t exactly thin, thus it got real got real quick! Eventually I was saved and had someone switch me out. My partner switched out a lil bit after me and we were both sweating and breahing heavily.

The Lion Dance

The Lion Dance

After that I helped out with the instruments until we had a break. A very long break, during which time we found out that the festival was in celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Various other performers went up, mostly singing or story telling in Vietnamese, and extoling the virtues of Buddhism. Did I mention there were a lot of hot girls there? Yeah! haha!

An hour and a half later after having some free Vietnamese  food, we got to do the dragon dance, and demonstrate our basic form “say ping kuen” the four squar fist and the spear form. I am still fairly new so I was there on the sidelines trying to look productive haha…

Then when all was said and done we packed up our things into the trailer, headed back to the kung fu school, returned the equipment to storage, and that was my night!

This is an example spear form that was performed at the event