New Update

•September 23, 2013 • 1 Comment

Wow.  It has really been a while.  In case you didn’t know, one of the reasons I had been taking the Chinese classes and saving money, was so that I could go to China.  Well, I finally did*.  I just got back after spending two-plus years there.  Should give me plenty of material for future posts.  And with any luck, my girl will keep on me about posting regularly, so…..

*(I couldn’t afford a VPN there, hence the almost three year absence. sry)

 

Update

•April 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

I know I said I would try and post more, and I will, but it’s been sort of hectic lately. For starters, Shawn moved to Louisville, KY. Yeah, it’s a mystery to me too. Things seem to be working out well for him there. He’s met a guy named Carl Meeks, who appears to be pretty good. Also, the kickboxers uptown, apparently due to scheduling issues with the gym, no longer have an open mat. So much for my Tony Jaa fantasies! =p Just kidding. Still, it sucks. It’s hard to find martial artists who are willing to ‘mix it up’. I could rant about this endlessly, but I’ll spare you. In good news, Chinese class is almost through for the year. Graduation is coming up soon. I feel like I’m making progress, but wow, talk about an uphill battle. Should have started when I was young. Oh well, coulda, woulda, shoulda. Better late than never I suppose.

Getting My Head Straight

•January 25, 2010 • 5 Comments

So, for the first time in years, I got sick. Repeatedly. First I got a cold around New Years and then just when I was feeling better, viola, swine flu. My advice? Don’t get it. It sucks, bad. The pain in my back was worse than a toothache! I was totally out of commission for about two weeks. I even got so dehydrated that trying to drink water made me heave. The worst part by far was the depression. Even when the physical pain began to subside, I had almost no energy. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the park, do the dishes, wash clothes or do much of anything really. Just sleep and sleep and sleep. I know it’s important to take it easy when you’re trying to recoup, but everything has it’s limit. There is always that danger of falling into the pit of depression when you’re inactive for too long (at least for me). I didn’t really start to get better until I got mad at my self for being so ‘lazy’. Once I started to force myself back into my routine, my energy level picked up, the haze went away and most importantly perhaps, the stuff that needed to get done got done. I really believe that the effect of eating and sleeping right simply cannot be understated. IMO, it is the foundation for everything else. My routine provides me with a certain stability, a baseline if you will, that allows me to assess the changes that occur around me. Without that baseline I’m just freefloating in chaos. Ah well. I’m back now. Feeling pretty good actually. My energy level is just about back to normal, I just don’t have the same reserves. Going back out to the park, for the first time in two weeks, was like starting over again. Been doing a lot of qigong lately, and I think I’ll be good to go this Friday. I got a lot of good ideas from the last time I went uptown to spar and have been chomping at the bit so to speak. Still though, in the meantime I just got to take it easy. No need to abuse myself anymore than I normally do. =)

I’m sure there are at least a couple of studies that explore the connection between depression aqnd exercise (or the lack thereof). It just seems to me that it’s not so much the physical movements themselves that have an effect (which I’m sure they do), as it is the effort involved in breaking the inertia. Simply having some form of consistancy seems to have a stablizing effect on my brain chemistry. I used to struggle with depression when I was younger and my mood would change and swing with every little thing that happened. If something went right, I would feel happy. If something went wrong, I would feel upset. My self-worth was entirely dependant on externals. Perhaps that’s why I invest so much energy into trying to control my surroundings. I found myself constantly avoiding anything I though would give me trouble and chasing after anything that promise instant gratification. Of course, such efforts are typically futile and only exasperate the feeling of codependence. It’s a vicious circle. The first step towards breaking the cycle, IMO, is realizing that we alone are responsible for our feelings. It’s hard I know. Especially, because we seem to have so little direct control over how we feel about things. That’s where a consistant daily routine comes in play. By establishing a baseline, we can experiment with small changes to the routine and somewhat accurately assess their effect on our chemistry. If nothing else, it gives us a default. A sort of emotional safety net. Like a old friend of mine once said (towards the end of a 2 week bender) “no matter how drunk you get, as long as you keep stumbling forward, you won’t fall down.” I realize it may not be totally factual (I’ve seen several drunks fall on their faces), but the sentiment is spot on. If it doesn’t make sense to you, congratulations, you have no experience with depression! I suggest you wait until you’re ready to hang yourself, then meditate on it. OK, enough of that. Here is to another beautiful day for doing taiji in the park. Cheers.

edit: Chinese School is open again after the holiday break. It was pretty rough showing up after three weeks (like a sledge hammer to the head!), but I was happy to back at it.

Getting My Butt Kicked

•December 13, 2009 • 3 Comments

Everybody’s schedule has been wonky with the holidays coming up, but I managed to make it uptown to spar with the kickboxers. Only one other guy showed up. His name is Andre and I was happy to see him, cause he’s about my size (they have weight classes for a reason). Well, after squaring off, I took another look and realized he’s not my size. If I had to guess, I’d say he has a 30-40lb advantage. It turned out that he had a slight reach advantage as well. Needless to say, I took the worst of it (they have weight classes for a reason). Spent most of the time (about 40 mins) getting pummeled. It wasn’t all bad though. I did get some good shots in and have a really good idea of what I need to work on. I realized my jab is not only fast as hell, it’s solid too, and I pulled off a crazy spinning hook kick that put my heel right on his jaw. I really didn’t think it was going to work, but was being pressed hard and felt the need to do something crazy. It was really sweet, but I’m afraid I’ll have to put it down to luck. I don’t think I could rely on it. Despite the obvious disadvantages, I enjoy sparring with Andre. He’s fast and has good technique, plus he’s bigger which removes all temptation to use my size against him (wouldn’t work anyway). He’s also real aggressive, which gave me plenty of opportunities to find ways of dealing with him charging in.
Yes, yes, I know, side-step, roll-back, etc… What no one tells you is that these, indeed all, techniques depend on timing. Which is why I’ve been going uptown. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. What I’ve found to make the biggest difference (between a technique working or not) is my footwork.
He was leading with the jab to measure range, then following through with combos to get me moving back. And of course, if I did (and I did repeatedly, much to my own surprise), he would leap on me like a rabid gibbon. At that point, covering, folded in half, with my back turned I was pretty much f&*^#d. Not much to be done at that point. Maybe a take-down? Quickly decided it would probably be best to avoid that situation all together. So when he led with the jab, I responded by kicking him (hard) in the armpit. So he started leading with a kick. Not a real kick, just enough of one to keep me from kicking. So I started stepping forward and to the outside and countering. Worked well maybe 50% of the time. At this point I was getting worn out and was tired of being hit, so I figured what-the-hell and started circle-stepping. Wow. I have no idea why I was so reluctant to try it before, cause it worked really, really well. Just kept going round and round to the outside. After awhile he started to look like he was getting dizzy, so I single-palm change in and whack. He’d step to hit me and I’d whirl and be 3 feet away, single-palm change and whack. I’m definitely going to try it more often in the future, but just so nobody gets the wrong idea (while the circle stepping was a definite improvement) he totally kicked my butt. I suppose it’s just as well, if they didn’t pose a challenge, I probably wouldn’t mess with them.

Don’t suppose anyone knows a ‘cure’ for black eyes?

More Links

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Attentive persons may notice that I have added an ‘Other Links’ section, which includes a ‘Videos’ link. Right now, that consists of our Youtube page with a bunch of ‘Favorites’. I plan on uploading videos as soon as I figure out how to do so with my phone. It might take a while. In the mean time, feel free to browse the ones I’ve selected

Michael’s Answer

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sorry I haven’t posted much. Got real sick around Thanksgiving. Feeling better now, just real weak. Been doing alot more qigong than usual, hopefully it will help. I’m just going to post the letters here.

Hello Michael,

Your recent comments have hit a bit of a nerve with me, though I couldn’t say why exactly. My teacher obviously ‘had it’, where as I do not. His teaching method consisted primarily of ‘relax, do the form, don’t worry about it’. He didn’t charge me a dime and even refused to let me buy him coffee. He was reluctant to teach me initially, until he realized I was sincere and there wasn’t anyone else in the area (new orleans). One source of his reluctance was his belief that teaching is it’s own skill, quite apart from the discipline being taught. That makes for three types of taiji teachers: good taiji/bad teacher, good teacher/bad taiji or good teacher/good taiji. I was led to believe the last type to be 1 in a million. My teacher put himself in the first category. After several years, I began to get the feeling that I was missing something and I sought out every teacher I could find. To my suprise they all told me the same things my teacher did. In fact, my teacher apparently showed me everything in the first 10 mins. Every time I hit a block in my progression, I just go back and relearn ‘the basics’ he showed me, I’ll see them in a new light, realize something I didn’t see before and viola… progress.

After the storm (K), I went out and rounded up all the taiji practitioners I could find and started a push hands group. My roll-back has gotten real good, but my push sucks. Despite my teacher’s ability to ‘bounce’ me at will, he told me I was better off ‘not pushing’ as the roll-back was harder to learn, yet was infinitely more practical. Besides, he said the roll-back was like drawing a bow and if I did it well the push would come naturally. Well, it’s not and here is where the fustration comes in. Do I just need more practice? Is my practice missing something? My teacher is long gone, so I can’t ask him. All the other teachers I’ve talked to either don’t have his level of skill or want to charge me an insane amount of money. Sometimes both!

I have practiced for almost 10 years now. 2 to 6 hours a day. While I’ve made steady progress, I don’t have the first clue as to fa jing. If it’s something you can tell someone else, please tell me. If you have to show them, let me know how to go about it. Commitments keep me from travelling and I, myself, am poor, but I’m sure our group can scrape up some money and find a place for you to stay. Just to warn you, my teacher taught me for free and I plan on doing the same, so if you don’t want the cat out of the bag don’t hand it to me! =)

Sincerely,
Aedh

Hi Aedh – Get into the Push posture, in the phase after you’ve shifted your weight forward, but just before you push; slowly start opening your knees until they straighten at most about 1/4 inch (both of them); you will feel the energy travel up to your sacrum; that’s your cue to start opening your spine, again just a little bit, maybe another 1/4 to 1/2 inch; you will feel the energy travel up your back from the sacrum to between your shoulder blades; that’s your cue to start stretching the elbows (this part’s VERY important) both forward and downward; that will pull the energy down your arms towards your elbows; that’s your cue to (this part is also VERY important) start pulling your wrists horizontally straight forward AGAINST the forward and downward pull of your elbows – the idea is to create a DIFFERENTIAL between the vectors in the elbows vs the wrists; as your hands advance, there will come a point where you just naturally want to “seat” the wrists – make sure that they bend just the right amount; as your wrists bend, pull your fingertips SLIGHTLY back towards your forehead – the energy will come to your palms.

The trick is too keep everything “small”, and practice the “sequencing” of each cue until it becomes “second nature”; don’t “try” to work it into your push-hands practice just let it occur “naturally” when it wants to – some will be good, and some not so much….

Just keep practicing this for 100 days, as a “isolated” drill separate from your push-hands practice and then please report back to me with your progress; everything else proceeds from this one simple exercise – the clue is that everything is kept very “small”; most people make the movements in their Push posture way too “big”, so they miss the energy transfer between each part of the body.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Michael

It’s only been a week or so, and getting sick interrupted my practice, but I can already see improvement in my push hands. Michael’s practice is so close to what I was already doing, but you know what they say “off by an inch, miss by a mile.” Now it’s ‘simply’ a matter of unlearning my old ‘bad’ habits and ingraining the new ‘good’ ones. I’ll have more to say after I get to play with it more. Though it’s looking good so far!

Three Straight Answers

•November 23, 2009 • 6 Comments

With the exception of my teacher, I have in 10 years of practice, gotten exactly three straight answers from taiji teachers. After the storm, I met several teachers around the country. Most didn’t know what they were doing or why. Some had skill, but couldn’t/wouldn’t communicate it, the rest just gave circular answers that rarely if ever even touched on the question. The first straight answer I got was from a guy named Mike David. Pushing with him was like wrestling with a big squishy egg. I asked him about it and he told me he had problems with it for years until Katy Cheng showed him it was possible to relax and sink the tailbone without bending the knees! Practicing that as a seperate exercise proved to be a huge step forward for me. Indeed it became the foundation for everything else to come.

The second such answer wasn’t even to a question I had asked. Wujimon was kind enough to post his study notes to a Chen Practical Method® seminar. In his notes, he mentions the response to a question about neutralizing a push to the torso. This interested me keenly, because several people have figured out that the easiest way to move me was a direct push to my center. It always fustrated me, because I always thought that their hand on my center should have given me the advantage, yet off I went! The answer, BTW, was “sink the elbows”. Kind of vague, but still better then most of the circular speaking crystal-swingers. Once I ‘got it’ (I’m using the phrase loosely here), I could not only resist a push to my torso, but could turn it or return it. In fact, I believe that same quality (of feeling) should be maintained through out the form and to be sure, making it a point to do so has improved my form drastically. It’s funny with things like this. As I was marveling over the drastic improvement this ‘minor’ change brought, I began to wonder why my teacher never told me this. Then I realized that he had, on day one. It was probably the one thing he repeated the most short of ‘relax’. I guess it was just over my head at the time. Much like the command to ‘relax’, it will no doubt change in meaning everytime I come full-circle. So far, it’s helped drastically.

The third straight answer came the other day from Michael Phillips. Michael has numerous videos on youtube. Michael is also a frequent contributor to a yahoo group for taiji practitioners. Recent threads have been about the ‘Kai-men Jibengong’ or basic exercises. I wrote him and asked for help with my push. He was kind enough to take the time to write me back (a first in my experience). He outlined a ‘simple’ exercise for me to practice. I have been practicing for a couple of days and can already see results. I will describe it in detail in the future. I’m still trying to get my head around what exactly is going on when I do it. While that may never happen =) I’ll write about it in a week or two.

So, three cheers for martial artists who aren’t afraid to share!