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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