Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Power generation

There are many ways to affect the world around you or, since this is a martial arts blog, your opponent. In this blog entry, I want to talk about the most basic source of power and how this power can be applied to something or someone.

Gravity pulls you down toward the ground and you can always push against it to get power. When you walk forward, the momentum you have comes from the ground. When you turn at the waist, the power comes from the torque from the ground. When you bend over to push your friends car cause he ran out of gas, you are using the ground. You can easily see how this is the case when you consider how much power you would generate in a weightless environment.

So the first principle of generating power is to always feel the ground and how your are pressing against it to get power.

There are of course many ways to contort the body or move the legs to get said power from the ground. Lets leave all that for another time for now (it's late).

Instead, lets consider how we apply the power we get from the ground into something else. This is where people have the most trouble.

First, the point of contact with an object or opponent must lead the overall movement. That means if you grab my wrist and you want to move me in some way, the point where I am touching you, the wrist, must lead the movement that you do for maximum transference of energy. If you pull the wrist with your elbow or shoulder, less power will affect me.

Second, your body cannot be locked up at any point or that will interrupt the transfer of power. If you lock your elbow and shoulder when you push someone, you won't be able to use as much power from the ground as possible. You will instead mostly be pushing them with your arm.

I will talk some more later about how how to contort the body to generate power and why it is better to do it while staying in balance vs. contorting in a way that goes away from the connection to the ground.

I realize what I am saying here might seem overly simple or hard to understand depending on how you look at it so let me put it another way.

The best way to have power is to be powerful rather than do powerful moves. Relax and keep your attention outward and surrender to gravity. You use the legs to move this relaxed and sunken "base" around. Then when you want to use your arms to interact, you let them lead a move away from you. Don't push them out or "go with them". This takes you off your base and makes the arms weak. You can of course move your base in the direction you punch to get more power.

I don't know if this is helpful. I will read it again tomorrow and see if I can do a better job of explaining what I mean.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Self defense basics

I don't teach self-defense, because i am not sure it makes sense as a concept. There aren't any easy techniques that will make much of a difference if you are attacked. Violence doesn't really work that way. I have always hated "self-defense" techniques in the martial arts because they don't work and can give people false confidence. When I did karate, we were once taught a knife defense technique that involved putting your hands on your hips and swiveling to intercept the knife with your elbow. Say what now? Were I to teach self defense, I wouldn't teach martial arts techniques, but would instead concentrate on awareness.

The most important single thing you can do to keep from getting mugged or attacked or run over by a car is to pay attention. That means paying attention to the world around you using all your senses.

If you walk around without paying attention, you will probably be clumsy. If you do it long enough, you may find yourself in an unhappy surprising physical confrontation.

When you walk around you should know where you are and who is around you and you should be paying attention to them. You should definitely be aware when someone is paying attention to you. That doesn't mean that you need to walk around suspiciously eying people down. It means that, in general, you should have your attention focused outward when you are out in the world. The more dangerous the place, the more you should pay attention. Do you hear people walking up behind you? How many and who are they? Do you look at the window reflections around you? What are the people around you paying attention to?

I got mugged when I lived in a bad neighborhood in DC. You know what fighting style I used to defend myself? None, I used Dumbass-not-paying-attention-to-what-was-going-on-around-him-while-waiting-for-the-bus style.  

If I hadn't been sitting there in a daze, I would have easily seen it coming. If you are in a bar and a fight breaks out and you didn't feel it coming, you probably are not paying enough attention.

If something happens, the first thing to do is stay relaxed, say the unexpected and don't participate in any fight or mugging rituals. If someone wants to fight, don't act weak, but say or ask something incongruous. If you are about to be mugged, negotiate. "C'mon man, I got mugged 5 times this week."

My brother is a master at this. He used to skate on the edge of conflict just for fun. He was talking to my friend at a bar one time and said, "Dude, people take reflect your attitude if you lead them. Watch this." My brother is not a big guy, nor much of a fighter. This huge football player is walking by and he says, "What the hell do you think you are doing? You just walking around like you own the place. You want some?"

The football player is furious and yells, "What did you say, you little punk?"

My brother just breaks out a big smile and laughs, saying, "Ha! I'm just kidding, man, you're awesome! Gimme five! You want a beer?" They walk off to the bar like good buddies.

When people want to hurt you, you sometimes have a chance to "put them in your movie." Lead the situation. When I would walk around my neighborhood in DC, if I saw a group of young men sizing me up, I would walk right up to them and ask them a question. "You guys seen Tom around?" Tom was a badass dude who lived in the neighborhood so it would make them second-guess themselves.

Anyway this stuff isn't easy to do I'll admit, but it's easier than learning to fight a huge dude or ten people, or someone with a gun.

Also, always trust your gut (your body) and don't feel like you have to engage people on the street. Most of the time if someone is going to harm you, they use an opening to get close to you that makes you feel like you have to respond or you not being nice.

So then if all this doesn't work and you end up getting attacked by someone that can hurt you, you have to run. Run like the wind.

If you can't run, attack, attack and attack again until you can run.

Never go with a person because they have a gun or a knife, take the chance of getting hurt on the spot.

Also, last but not least. You would think I wouldn't have to say this one, but it seems to occur so often that I guess I will say it. Don't get drunk alone in a dangerous bar or club (unless it is "your" bar) or walk around alone and drunk in a dangerous city.

These are just a few basic principles that come way before martial arts, pepper spray or carrying a weapon.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why fighting?

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my classes are about. I sometimes say that they are about learning to move naturally, the principles of interaction or something similar but usually I am honest. It's all about fighting. When I say that, I can sometimes see the person get a disappointed look on their face as they imagine a bunch of homoerotic tussling jocks or that I am somehow glorifying violence.

Also, anyone that has seen the kind of things we do in my beginning classes is probably laughing at the idea that fighting is the end goal. I will get to that. But why fighting?

Shouldn't a grown man have better things to do besides learning archaic hand to hand fighting? What about music, curing cancer...hell, just about anything? Here is why I learn and teach about fighting.

First, you have to pick something to strive for in terms of skill. Aiming for being in shape, feeling good, and confidence won't really take you anywhere. There has to be a demonstrable skill that forces you to change as a person and grow. Your goal could be to move people with your words or to build the tallest building, but something has to focus your attention. It's best to go with something you are passionate about to sustain you through all the years it takes to get anywhere.

My focus on fighting has led me to learn how to move, dance, be confident and happy, and lots of other things. I get these things as side effects because I concentrate on the main goal and don't get distracted. You have to go deep rather than wide in a skill in my opinion to get to the interesting part.

There are other reasons. Fighting encompasses so many aspects of life. Attitude, movement, competition, fear, confidence, interaction, speed, power, size, psychology, intent and many other things have to be addressed to fight well. In some ways fighting is a convenient category title for all these skills.

As a human and animal, fighting is a part of life. It is just under the surface of everything we do. Every young boy knows how fighting or willingness to fight plays a big part in social status. The same is true for men, but it is much better hidden. When communication breaks down between two males and a serious argument breaks out, people have to break it up to prevent a fight. The same can happen with women as well.

When young males angle for the attention of females, status fights can easily break out. Bucks ram their antlers together, people push each other in bars or smash bottles over each others' heads.

If a people need resources or territory, they go to war to get it. That is essentially a tribal fight.

Many people use violence to get possessions or have to protect their families and possessions.

The original sport was fighting and fighting in the form of boxing or MMA continue to be hugely popular. Most sports are essentially means to deconstruct fighting into less dangerous forms. But if the rules break down, fights happen.

In some sense, all animals kill and fight just to live. We are animals and are in the same situation. Of course we have constructed a society that helps keep us from these realities. The more advanced the society, the more fighting seems silly. Ask someone who lives in abject poverty or in jail or who lives where there are limited resources if fighting is silly.

So fighting, killing and defending yourself are always there just under the surface. It's terrifying and yet it's what we are to some degree. That to me is very interesting.

So I look at the whole phenomenon. Why do people get in fights? How do they happen? What should you do? How do you move? What state of mind do you have to be in to move that way? How do you get in that state of mind? How does that state of mind affect the body?

After years of asking these questions and actually training fighting, principles start to emerge. Eventually, I found that to fight well, you have to really change as a person. You have to be passionate, feel, be vulnerable, move in a relaxed way, and grow up (as well as know how to punch, kick, clench, wrassle and all that kind of thing). All these things I should of learned to do anyway, but fighting helped me actually do it.

So if you see my classes and we are doing some kind of walking exercise or something that looks like two idiots slow dancing, we are getting our fight on. And if you are currently a student of mine and wondering if we are spending too much time on all this relaxed movement stuff. Don't worry, the hard stuff comes sooner than you would probably like.

In the interest of full disclosure, I love practicing and training to fight, but the actual stuff can be nasty. I feel terrible if I am too big an oaf to avoid a fight in a bar or something. And if I loved actually fighting so much I would probably be doing mma fights every weekend. I AM thinking about doing an mma fight in the near future, but getting injured would really suck. Do I have enough testosterone to even give a damn? Maybe. I will keep you informed. I asked my girlfriend what she thought about me doing some mma fights (thinking she would say, "don't do that, you idiot." Instead she said, "Cool!") Damn, now i am getting scared. Can I take back what I said about fighting being totally awesome?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Understanding vs. Skill

Everyone wants to learn and knowledge about just about anything is pretty easy to come by. You just hear or read something and you know it. Spend some time on wikipedia and you know more.

But learning to do things is a little more complicated. Usually this is because it involves the actual doing of something which requires the senses and the body.

Knowledge about skills trails behind the actual development of skills. It is like a culture for the skill to reside in. First there was Jazz music in the form of players pushing the boundaries of what sounded good and "what worked". Later Jazz chord and scale theory emerged to explain what was happening. You can learn everything about how Jazz is played but it doesn't mean you can play it.

To play it would require integrating your instrument with your body learning how to listen and feel and developing a sense for harmonies and rhythm and a whole host of other things.

I have taught my share of English in Taiwan and I was often faced with the dilemma of teaching the skill of speaking English vs. teaching the students to be able to test well. The tests are often testing their knowledge of English rather than their ability to use it. You can memorize the dictionary and every rule of grammar but that doesn't mean you can communicate your emotions and ideas, tell a joke, convey how to do something or feel a poem.

One thing that is problematic is that when these "knowledge cultures" arise sometimes the skill gets forgotten. When I was involved with salsa, there were thousands of "moves" that people would teach each other. If you memorize enough moves, you were good. After a while, you might start teaching those moves. Meanwhile, almost no one developed the skill to actually feel music, interpret it and interact with a partner on a deep level that was fun to do and inspiring to watch. Sure, a couple of people eventually get some kind of skill, but they are the exceptions.

Martial arts as an activity is one of the worst about this. Go in and learn 50 forms and then the names of a bunch of techniques and your lineage and PRESTO, you're a martial artist. That's bullshit. You can't fight unless you develop the skill of fighting. End of story. This is why martial arts such as Muay Thai, wrestling, bjj, boxing, and judo tend to have better fighting skills. They emphasize skills over knowledge of techniques. It doesn't mean the other arts are inferior, just that they may be lost in the learning of knowledge penumbra.
If you are doing a martial art, what skills are you getting better at daily?

The worst thing about gaining knowledge without skill is that even that knowledge is often wrong or not completely right. Tell a musician that you can't play a certain note and he will probably show you a way to do it. If you tell me that you can't lean and do wing chun, I will show you how you can.

Get the skills. They are the only reason the knowledge culture exists. Skills open up your world, but knowing things doesn't change anything.

Monday, November 30, 2009


In a previous entry, I mentioned that movement comes first. You have to learn how to move around in a relaxed mental state and properly interact with the ground. After movement comes interaction. 

In some sense, interaction is going on all the time. Gravity is pushing on you and the environment is interacting with you through your senses. Maybe a better way to think of learning to interact is to become more aware of the interaction that is always taking place. 

You can interact with the ground as I said, or maybe a wall or a ball or any inanimate object. You can also interact with animals and people. No matter what you do, you are doing some kind of interaction, but how do we get the best interactions or at least improve them as much as possible?

The first step is attention. It's not good enough to see or hear, you need to actively look, listen and feel. 

When you move around, in order to be balanced and move naturally, you should have your attention focused outward rather than inward. Some people call this "confidence". I think of it as the way a healthy person should be all the time. You should have a bubble of intent or attention around you. I don't mean a literal bubble...just think of it as a metaphor for how far around you your attention goes. It can be as small as just around your skin or up to 10 meters, 100 meters, a kilometer...I don't think there is a limit really. It should also be all around you and not just forward. If you are really focused outward, your body will relax, because your mind isn't telling it to tense up. Your mind is busy experiencing the world around you.      

At the point something enters into the area you are paying attention to, you are interacting with it. I don't want to get off track getting into the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and how intent and attention can be real forces, but let's just say that interaction occurs when your attention is on something. 

You start interacting with someone when they have their attention on you and you on them. If there is music playing, you interact with it only when you notice it, not when you just hear it. 

All of this may sound obvious, but here is the problem that often happens. People forget this simple phenomenon. You can get so wrapped up in your head and what you want or need that you can forget to interact. 

If you play in a band and you don't listen to your band mates because you are too busy trying to play perfectly or show off, that is not a full interaction. If you talk to someone and you just want to rant about something even if they don't want to hear it, bad interaction. If you are counting dance steps while you dance with a partner, bad interaction. If you are fighting and you throw out programmed moves, bad interaction. If you are having sex with someone and you are visualizing other people or situations in your head, bad interaction.

Luckily, bad interactions won't kill you in the short term or most of us would already be dead. They do do some pretty bad things though such as preventing fun, learning, energy and basically life in general. Living is interaction and the experience of that interaction is emotion.

Most people have been hurt physically and emotionally or they are too scared to let go to have real interactions with other people. Or perhaps they are busy wishing reality was different than it is or that people were different than they are so they can't let go and interact.  Other people are busy trying to get people to react to them in a certain way. 

Some people didn't get enough love and attention at a young age so they run around looking for people to give them energy, attention and/or approval. That isn't real interaction. Some people "fall" for a man or woman they know and start to see that person as the answer to their life. This expectation keeps them from really interacting with the person and perhaps starting a real relationship. Some guys never make friends because they want that person to first give them status and "respect" them before really interacting. 

Ok, so on to fighting. Fighting is an intense form of interaction. It can be terrifying, dangerous, and the person you are interacting with may or may not have their attention on you. To be as good as possible, you need to really understand how interactions work. Dancing should be a snap. You should be able to have great, fun conversations with people. You should be able to be vulnerable and your emotions should express themselves naturally on your face. If you can't do these things, you need to keep working on interaction. 

Of course, you can try to skip straight to fighting but in my experience you will have trouble going beyond your basic size, strength and speed. You will plateau and probably get really frustrated.  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nickname blues

Names have weird mojo. There is a sound to them, a rhythm, a categorization effect. They don't define you and yet they seem to exert substantial influence. Everyone has a few names they don't like and people will even come up with character profiles based on a given person's name. "Oh shit, girls whose names end in -y are crazy!" For myself, I notice I seem to only be attracted to girls whose names start with B, M or S. Probably nothing to it, but it's a fun mental construct.

When a couple are expecting a baby, they have to spend a bit of time pondering a name because the name just might exert a bit of influence on how their precious offspring will end up. His or her destiny.

But in the end, you are stuck with a name just like you are stuck with premature balding or an unfortunate face. You can't change your DNA but there is one way to sort of change your name. The nickname. If you are "street" enough, you will probably get a nickname. Hopefully it's a good one. But, if it's not...(hurr hurr)

[This is the opening scene from The Wire, the greatest television show of all time in my opinion]
You might even be tempted to put a nickname out there for yourself, to push a nickname so to speak...not a good idea. In one of my favorite episodes of Seinfield, George decides to go for the name "T-bone" and it results in his co-worker getting the nickname. Here he decides to push the matter further.

You can almost always tell if someone picks their own nickname. It just doesn't have any weight or feel right. I met a woman in Thailand on my last trip. 5 minutes after meeting her, she says, "Everybody calls me 'Squish'." 5 minutes after that, she was fire twirling. I understand the feeling..."I want to reinvent myself so I will henceforth be called 'Squish the Fire twirler!'" Things just don't work that way.

I am the first born son in a family that follows the tradition of naming the first-born son after the father. The fifth in a row. There are only so many variations on Will, Bill, William, Billy, Willy and so on within a family before you long to be something completely different. Damn, I wanted to be know as Ozymandias or something.

Most of the nicknames I picked up were variations on my name. They were less nicknames than jibes. Wilma, Chilly Willy, the Mongrel, Mounger Man, War Monger, Fish Monger and the like. Luckily they never stuck. I almost got "Doc" one time, which ain't bad. Then later in Taiwan I fell asleep outside at a music festival and was seen passed out being attacked by a goose. That got me "goose" for a couple of weeks. Still nothing stuck. I seem to be doomed to go by my name.

Even things associated with me have trouble picking up cool nicknames. In college I had a yellow 1978 Honda civic that I bought for $1,500. It had an 8-track player and loads of character. I was on a road trip with some buddies and they even brought up the issue. "Dude, your car needs a nickname. What we gonna call it?" Some girl says, "well, if it's yellow, you should call it sunshine!" We laughed and made fun of her for not knowing how to nickname a car for almost an hour. "Ha, you need to go to the store? Hold on and let me go get 'sunshine'." After said hour passed, we looked at each other and my friend said, "You realize what we have done, don't you?" I said, "yeah, shit, now my car is named Sunshine." So I was stuck with an 8-track- playing Sunshine.

The whole reason I am writing this blog is that I was working on the bar I am building in my apartment in Taipei today. When I moved in, I noticed that a corner of my living room was a closed off stairwell that used to go to the lower floor. There was a metal railing that got in the way of using it for much of anything. I immediately saw the possibility and decided to build a cute little corner bar. I brought hundreds of bricks up 6 flights of stairs and have been working on making it "cool". My friends started asking me about it and I brainstormed ideas for a silly little name. Somebody mentioned "The Dojo" and that sounded great. I could run the bar with a little karate kid headband and put a rising sun flag behind the bar. Issue solved.

So, I get the bar partially finished and one of my friends comes over, a friend with a well-established nickname he didn't pick..."the Bull". That night he seemed obsessed with telling me about gay bars that he heard about where people piss on each other. "Dude, you should totally call your bar, splashers!"

"Ha ha ha, yeah  right." Well, there were a few dudes over that night and we drank a fair amount. The next morning, I go to my bathroom and there was piss everywhere. I talk to my friends and say, "damn, Bull was kidding about calling my bar 'Splashers' but after looking at my bathroom, it really is...." I was just joking, but guess what my friends now call my bar.

I guess I am happy just to be known as Will.

Ok, this entry has gone on long enough, but I will leave you with a story that I feel conveys the real dangers of caring too much about nicknames. In Taiwan there is a sport group that meets weekly. They have a tradition that everyone who participates gets a nickname. Mostly the nicknames are stupid and vulgar. A woman might be known as "Roboslut" or something. One friend I had put mousse in his hair and became known as "Vassilino". Silly stuff.

Anyway, this one guy had been involved for a while and was kind of leader in the group. His nickname was "Flaming Penis". After a long time of being involved in the group this new guy comes to participate. He is a male model. Flaming Penis tells the male model that he has decided to give him the nickname of "XXX"...something really insulting and lame. The model says, "so what if I don't accept that nickname? Why can't I be 'Flaming Penis'?"

"But 'Flaming Penis' is my nickname."

"Ok, so how did you get that nickname?"

"I wrapped newspaper around my penis and set it on fire and downed a beer before I put it out."

"How long did it take you?"

"I dunno, like 10 seconds."

So, the male model announces to everyone. "I want to take 'Flaming Penis' nickname. I will wrap my penis in newspaper and light the paper on fire and finish a beer in 8 seconds. If I can do that I want his nickname." Everyone gathers around and agrees to the contest. The guy pulls it out, wraps it in newspaper and lights it and skulls a beer quickly and puts out the fire." The whole crowd chants, "Flaming Penis! Flaming Penis!"

The man formally known as "Flaming Penis" is not about to go down without a fight. He announces that he will beat Mr. Fancy Pants Male Model's time to regain his nickname. The crowd goes wild.

He pulls down his pants but stage fright and temperature seem to be affecting his performance.

Someone yells out, "Hahaha, Look! He got a vagina!"

The crowd yells out, "Vagina Boy! Vagina Boy!"

Take a guess as to what his nickname is now.

So, yeah, my name is Will. Let me know if you need me to pick you up with Sunshine to come to Splashers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I often divide up what I am teaching into three areas when people ask me about it: movement, interaction and fighting.

Movement means not just moving, but moving in the most natural way possible. You really can't move incorrectly actually, but you can move and not be in the right state of mind for movement or you can move inefficiently for what you are trying to accomplish.

Most people move quite well in many areas of their lives. It is not unusual to be completely awesome at putting on a sock or tying a shoe. Its usually the bigger movements where we run into problems.

One area where you can run into problems are simple whole-body movements like walking. If your intent is directed inward and you are wrapped up in your head, you will probably lean forward. This results in the body being out of balance. If your body is out of balance, you have to use muscles to compensate. Using these muscles all day leads to soreness and eventually chronic problems.

Some people have suffered stresses in life to the point where they can't let go at all when they move so they keep whole areas of the body locked up.

The body can only really relax and move naturally when emotions are allowed to flow. So some people have been given a reason to try to stop themselves from experiencing and/or expressing certain or all emotions. This will cause the body to lock up in reflection of the constricted emotion.

Some people can move well when they are alone but experience serious problems when around people or when doing specific activities. If you are worried about what people think or how you look, you can't move naturally (or you could say the fact that your attention is in the wrong place will cause interruption to natural movement). If you don't think you can sing and are worried that your singing (or any other activity) is inadequate, you will probably clench up in preparation for beginning to sing.

So I try to help people overcome these kind of issues and continue to work on my own. Some of the problems people have in this area tend to be pretty universal while others are specific to the individual.

These issues are also extremely "deep" in a person. What I mean is that it isn't a matter of showing or telling a person how they should move. That doesn't work. Their movements are tied up with their identity, their past, their parents, their culture, their everything. You have to go back to very simple slow movements and relearn things you already know how to do. Along the way, you also have to confront a lot of personal emotional issues. I find that I have to use a delicate touch (difficult for me) when dealing with these areas. It is no accident that there are whole schools of psychotherapy dealing with movement and emotional health.

All things being equal I would rather not get into the way people move and control their bodies and just teach straight fighting. It can be frustrating and messy stuff. So why do it?

Because you can't get really good at anything if you have fundamental movement issues and what's worse, the activity won't be fun on a fundamental level. If I teach wing chun without addressing these issues, people will do it, get better, then get a little better, then quit without much to show for it. If I teach 100 people, I will get a couple of people who already move naturally and they will learn to fight very well. Another couple of people will stumble upon the right way to move on their own or through some eureka moment. What about all the rest? Those people deserve to be great at something too, and I cannot in good conscious take their money and teach them just wing chun, when I know that they are not ready yet to make use of that fighting strategy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kungfu flying

I need to make a flyer.

I have always gotten students by word of mouth, but now my students are getting better and I would really like for them to have more people to interact with. Also, I love teaching so the more the merrier. 

If I were totally awesome, I would do something like this. 
But I have learned from experience that people who are planning to study martial arts often don't quite see the humor in things the same way I do. 

I think what you are supposed to do is put on some pajamas, pick up a staff and strike a cool kungfu pose and take a black and white picture in the mountains or maybe get a cool silhouette of a dude in a pose. Then you pick out a fortune cookie font and cut and paste some info about wing chun from wikipedia. Gotta be sure to say efficient and centerline a bunch of times for best effect. 

I was going to post some funny flyers that I found on the internet, but it's kind of depressing. They are all EXTREME and often have people kicking, especially the Taekwondo ones...Oh wait, here is good one. I knew good ole Aikido wouldn't let me down.
Yeah, I don't think so. 

Damn, if I am going to have a flyer, I need a logo. I think you just take a Yin Yang symbol and throw some Chinese characters on it, or maybe add a snake or crane or something, maybe some weapons. This is getting hard.

Ok, I will sketch something up in MS paint. Here you go.
That can be my logo. A dude chillin in hammock between two wooden dummy palms drinking a pina colada (I tried to draw a beer, but it was too much work and beyond my drawing skills.) Don't worry, this is just a draft. I will turn the sun into a yin yang symbol and draw a dragon flying across the sky or something. 

Of course I am kidding. I still have no idea what I will do. Probably just get name cards with my blog address written on it. Whatever I do, I will post it here so you can make fun of my photoshop skills. 

Now, what's the best filter to make a convincing chi blast?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feelings, mental state and the body

The body is a hugely complicated organism or maybe I should say the body/mind is a hugely complicated organism.

I think most people think that the mind "controls" the body, but actually its more like a symbiotic relationship. It may seem contradictory but the mind and body seem to be both one and the same and reflect each other. I mean  to say that what happens in the body is reflected in the body and vice versa.

There are so many things going on in the body at any given time that you can't every hope to control it. You can mentally focus on one tiny thing and control it, but what is happening to the rest of your body while you are lost in controlling one aspect.

The rest of the things happening in your body are influenced or affected by your mental state or your emotions. If you are feeling anger, you can't just tell your body to relax. It can't happen. If you are agitated, so is your body. If you are trying to learn to fight, but you feel anxious, your body can't do the things it will need to do. The same goes for any activity.

This is why it can be so frustrating to learn new skills sometimes. If you think you can't play music or have no rhythm, then you will be tense when you try to play a piano. Your mental tension will be reflected in the body, or you could say that it is all the same thing and you can't separate the two.

This tension will mean that you can never connect to the activity you are trying to do. Certainly you will learn to fake it better, but it will never inspire you or anyone else until you get in the proper state.

Sometimes it happens naturally or by accident. It took an injury for me to do it in wing chun. But usually it never happens before the person quits the activity.

Of course there are some activities like human interaction you can't quit, so a person may just isolate themselves or just be awkward socially forever.

So, what does all this mean? It means you have to deal with the mental state before you engage in an activity, during the activity and after. Hell, you need to monitor your mental state all the time. Eventually, you can learn to just decide to be in a certain mental state.

To get started, get ready to do an activity like singing (this is what led to the creation of the Alexander Technique) and see what happens to you physically. Does your body start to tense up before you actually do the activity. You need to be completely relaxed and happy and direct your attention outward and not inward. Then start doing the activity with no expectation to do well. When you feel yourself getting tense or not having fun, stop. Start over and just have fun. Getting better comes from completely engaging in an activity.

How would you do the activity if it were easy or it came naturally? Stop worrying about outcome, you are exactly as good as you are. Trying doesn't make you better, it gets in the way of you doing the activity. You can't "try" and be engaged. Trying is just tension. Do and let what happens happen.

Always let yourself feel and express that feeling. Bottling the emotion results in tension and eventually disease and insanity. You have no choice but to experience emotion, its a side effect of life and kind of the whole point.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Escaping mental loops

What I call mental loops is when you get caught up in your mind and have cut off your connection with the world around you. In general, the thoughts involve things you can't change about the past or the future. I think we all do it from time to time, but some people do it almost all the time. It can result in insomnia, depression, and paralysis (inability to act or proceed with life). It can be some nasty stuff.

I have certainly done a few rounds with mental loops in my time. At different times of my life, I have obsessed on...

  • death and its inescapability 
  • afterlife religious possibilities
  • what I should be doing to be a better person, have more money, etc. 
  • the seeming pointlessness of life in general
  • am I doing the right thing
Certainly all of these topics should be considered and thoughts in general are necessary and in no way bad. The problem occurs when you get these circular loops that you can't control. I think we often try to think our way out of the process when it is thinking itself that gets you in the loop. It's like curing alcoholism with beer.

As is so often the case the answer is to get out of the worries about the past and the future and be fully in the present. You can get that advice anywhere, but how do you do it? The answer is through the body. The body can rescue your mind. 

First, it is important to understand how the body reflects the mind and vice-versa. When you are locked in a mental loop of regret or worry, your body will clench up and your breathing will be shallow. Lock up your body and you can find yourself going into a mental loop. Also, your attention is focused inward giving energy to the mental loop. 

To stop it, you have to get out of your head and focus outward. Start looking and listening to what is around you and let your body relax. Breathe deeply. Feel. The instant your body relaxes, your mind will get off the treadmill. 

I used to have terrible insomnia, I found that it was caused by three things. Caffeine, insufficient physical activity and/or mental loops. I would sit in bed and worry and I couldn't sleep. Relaxing the body and focusing outward, pretty much solved it for me. I still forget occasionally, because knowing something doesn't mean you will do it all the time. 


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wing chun drills

Here are some drills that will help you learn the basic principles. Do them the way they are written but then play with them. Change them and make up your own. 

Basic Body isolation 
Goal: Learn to move specific parts of the body while maintaining a relaxed sunk position.
Hierarchy of requirements: stay relaxed, move the body part, use as few muscles as possible to do so
Drill 1: Shoulders. Move a shoulder up, down, forward and backward. Move in a circle. Try as many directions as possible. Do it with each shoulder. Move them together. Try going in circles together and then while the shoulders are in opposite positions.
Drill 2: Upper body (at sternum). Move upper body right, left, forward and back.
Drill 3: Hip. Move right, left, forward and back. Also move in a circle.

Rag doll
Goal: To learn to relax, center and sink
Hierarchy of requirements: centered, relaxed, sunk
Drill 1: Stand with feet about shoulder width apart. Relax all muscles and find the most centered point in your body.  Pretend that there is a string lightly holding your head up in a centered position. Find the center point where you are in balance and let all your muscles liquefy as much as possible. Become a rag doll that is just hanging on the skeletal structure.  Imagine that there is a heavy weight hanging between your legs and weights attached to every joint (shoulders, elbows, knees, wrists). Relax the mind as well as the body. Take three big breaths and let go as much as you can with each breath.
Drill 2: Stand up straight. Fall into the rag doll position. Take a step in a stiff way. Fall into the rag doll position. Lean forward…rag doll. Lean back, to the right, and to the left always returning to the rag doll position. Get into all kind of weird positions with your arms raised or down and then return to rag doll position.
Drill 3: Get into the rag doll position. Move around while never leaving the rag doll position. Move from your waist or center of gravity. Feel yourself being as raggedy or liquid as possible. Stumble like a drunk and observe your body move.
Drill 4: From the rag doll position, turn your waist and let arms flap without controlling them. Do it fast and slow.

Assisted movement
Goal: To learn to DO something with the minimal amount of effort stemming from the relaxed sunk position
Hierarchy of requirements: rag doll position, accomplish the task, relax the moving arm
Drill 1: Have someone pick up your arm and place it somewhere. They should hold you by the finger, hand or arm. Give up control. Feel the weight at each joint. Feel the blood drain out of your arms, your bone marrow drain down your arms down through your body and into your feet.
Drill 2: Do the same thing as in drill 1. When your partner puts your hand at a certain point, he or she will tell you to “hold position”. Hold the position as the partner lets go. Try to move as little as possible.
Drill 3: Move your own hand or arm with the other hand. Make sure you give up control to the opposite hand. Do drill 1 and 2 that way.
Drill 4: Now use only one arm, hand or finger and move it in a direction while maintaining the rag doll position and feeling the weight on your joints and feeling the blood drain down the arm and into the body and into the feet. Stop in a position. Do this in multiple directions with the arm unturned and turned in the air and against a wall.
Drill 5: Put your arm in a position quickly and then go “rag doll”. Let everything drain down yet hold the position. Do it in the air and on a wall. Try putting your body in weird or leaning positions and do it as well. Sink down always.

Various “Wall” drills
Drill 1: This drill is better to do with something you can grab or hold onto. Get into the rag doll position. Push your body back and forth by extending your arm and retracting it. Maintain rag doll position and remember to feel weight on joints and to feel internal energy draining down.
Drill 2: Lean on the wall. Push forward and feel how it feels. Try pushing “outward”. Try single and double hands and all possible positions right, left, up, down and across the body. Try it without leaning.

Hold a distance/Maintain hand at a point
Goal: Learning to move whole body with the hand or independent of the hand
Drill 1: Hold one hand in front of you in at a set distance. Walk around holding that position. Try different positions with one and two hands. This should be pretty easy.
Drill 2: Hold your hand in a set position in the air. Move the body back and forth and in as many ways possible while holding the hand in a fixed position. Try it on a wall. Try it on a hanging rope or something that moves easily. Change the hands. Try revolving around the point.

Goal: Learning to maintain the hand and arm in space under pressure
Hierarchy or requirements: rag doll position, no movement of the arm
Drill 1: Place one hand and/or arm and put it in front of your body. Place a finger from the other hand behind it pointing forward. Have a partner push you (start gently and use increasing amount of force…never TOO much). Try different positions.
Drill 2: Same drill but without the finger.  Try to imagine that the finger is still there.

Goal: Learning to maintain the rag doll position under external force
Drill 1: Get into rag doll position. Have a partner push and pull you around. Start easy and increase amount of force. Start with back and forth and then add all directions.

Dance time
Goal: Learning to move others by moving self
Drill 1: Lock arms with a partner. Start by grabbing each others internal elbow (elbow pit?).  One person is passive or in rag doll position. Take a step forward. Do not move the arms. Visualize yourself moving and not moving the other person or perhaps the two of you moving together. Go back and forth. Try right and left and diagonally. Try it holding the hands or wrists of the person. 

Guidelines for new students Phase 1

So many new students recently that I can sometimes overlook some of the basic skills they need to learn. Here are some of the basic concepts that I think are important in the first stage of learning.

Phase 1
What are we doing? What is this stuff?
Our primary goal is learning to fight. We are trying to learn the best and most effective way to fight using any information and technology available. One of the things we do differently is that we try to learn the principles of fighting rather than the techniques. Some of the things we have to master on the road to learning to fight are body and mind control and the principles of interactive movement. These things are all very interesting and apply to many things outside of fighting, but fighting is the primary goal. 

How to learn
This is not the Will show. Ok, it’s my class, but I am just a guy who plays around with and looks for good fighting and movement principles. I learned these principles from people and books but mostly from trying them out and playing around with them. These principles exist for you to find (along with many better ones). They don’t belong to me. If you are interested in this stuff, make a commitment to figure it out any way you can. I will help, but you have to do it. It is easy if you just work the drills (and make up your own). 

Class time
In class, don’t wait for me. Start working on this stuff the minute you get there. There is a lot you can do alone or with a partner. If I am boring you during class, go do what you want to do. Take responsibility for your own learning.

Any skill takes work. You must play with this stuff any chance you get. Even five minutes a day has a major effect. Play with this stuff when you are walking around, watching tv or whatever.

You must master the basic skills in this phase in order to progress. If you proceed without mastering these skills, you will get confused and frustrated and stop learning. It is also not fair for someone who has mastered these skills to have to work with someone that is not ready for more advanced skills. The most advanced skills are just a series of smaller skills stacked on top of each other.

Wing Chun Techniques
These are the techniques I need you to know at this stage. Feel free to ask me about them at any time.
Stance - See rag doll
Siu lim tao - Do it while maintaining the rag doll position and thinking about weights on your joints

Key Concepts
Body habit
We are all a collection of physical and mental habits. We learn one way of doing something and that is usually good enough. After you learn to walk one way, why change it? Who needs a more efficient way of picking up a beer? For what we are doing, however, we need to relearn how to do everything we do in a more efficient manner. We begin doing this by letting our way of holding our body go and going to the “rag doll” position. We then relearn to do things and use the minimal amount of effort required to accomplish it. This is that whole “empty the cup” crap. Let your way of doing things or of controlling your body go in order to discover a new way. Is it more important to do things your way or the best way? Let go mentally and physically and observe the differences. 

Understanding vs. doing
If you hear something and understand the words, you think you understand. When learning a skill, understanding doesn’t count for much. You can do it or you can’t. Nobody cares how much you understand the guitar, only how well you can play it. Informational learning by itself translates to 95% failure. It is ok to not understand. In fact, it’s normal. Just keep doing the drills. If you really get lost, back up a step. Be careful if you think of yourself as “smart”. It is easy for smart people to “understand” stuff and never bother to master the underlying skill. Dumb is good. 

Principle vs. technique
People love techniques. I don’t teach many techniques. If you deeply understand a principle, you can create an infinite amount of techniques that illustrate that principle. You own it. There are not that many principles. I hope to help you understand them as quickly as possible so you don’t need me (you don’t already).

This skill is easy
These fighting principles are simple if you take them step by step. If you learn little skills, they lead to great things.

You kick ass!
Ok, that is cheesy, but it is absolutely important. You have to believe you can fight first. I can’t teach you to fight if you want to learn to first before you believe. If you believe you can fight, you are halfway there. Start every class thinking how much ass you can kick (I can kick about 57 pounds worth). Finally, the best way to be successful is to help others be successful. Help your classmates and you will learn fast.

Halloween hair affair

I have never been the greatest at preparation of any kind, and certainly not for Halloween.
My general rules for coming up with a costume are...
1. No pun costumes
2. Gotta make it yourself
3. No masks or too much make-up
4. No boxes or complicated stuff
5. No gory, or "cool" costumes, the more ridiculous the better
4. Gotta do it day before or day of.

Last year, I had two hours to get my costume together so I decided to be Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Here is what I came up with.

So I shaved the "bozo" cut in my head. Nobody knew what the hell I was supposed to be, but they loved the fact that I looked stupid, so I kept the cut for a while.

I kind of grew attached to the look, but after a while you get tired of talking about bald heads, mustaches and how stupid you look. I don't think it did me any favors for attracting new wing chun students either. It lasted about a week.

This year, I planned to do the "bozo" with much longer hair and a bigger mustache so I went into mustache training at the beginning of the month. Wasn't sure what I was going to be, but I was sure a-thinking. Then, a week ago, I had to shave it for a job I did so no more mustache. Oh well, what you gonna do? I wanted to do something involving shaving my head because I was tired of having long hair. So, I shaved it.

 I wanted something good, but the best I could do was Mr. Clean.

Here is my version with Lady Gaga.

Ok, so the hair stuff doesn't end there. My friend with a shaved head was looking for ideas and all he had was some kind of flame wig. He wanted to go as heat miser.

I said, "no way, dude. You don't want your beers to get lukewarm in your clutch. Go as Super Saiyan Michael Phelps!"

"What's that?" he says.

"It's this."

Ok, he didn't know what the hell I was talking about because he not nearly as nerdy as I am. I just thought it would be cool for him to be the most obscure internet meme I could think of.

My friend didn't even know what Dragonball Z was  (I promise I only know what it is, never read it) so he wikipedia-ed it and decided to go as that.

So this fool just happens to have a Dragonball Z wig and then on the day of Halloween puts together a costume that would make lifestyle cosplayers hard. He even had a perfectly cut out comic accurate Chinese character on the back. He was a hit at the party we went to, but damn, I wanted my Super Saiyan Phelps.
Then, I got my chance...I saw a huge dude walk in dressed as Michael Phelps. I grabbed my friends wig and did some fast talking. The outcome....

That's right, Super Saiyan Michael Phelps sucking on a bong.

Mission accomplished. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The secret of the one-inch punch

The one-inch punch was made famous by Bruce Lee. He would occasionally demonstrate  his ability to quickly generate force with very little movement. With his fist just one inch away from a target, he would knock larger men than himself back or even off their feet. Here is a demonstration.

Wow! Ok, not really...or maybe a tiny "wow". The one-inch punch is what I like to call a kungfu parlor trick like the bed of nails, or bending a spear with your throat. Certainly there is some technique to it, but it doesn't really demonstrate anything that unusual except maybe basic physics.

When you put your fist one-inch away from something, you can't effectively "hit" the way most people try to hit. You have to push or hit through the thing in front of you. Funny enough, you can push people at 1 inch or even zero inches. When you push someone quickly, they get moved backward quickly.

If you want a more dramatic result, you will need to use your body to generate power through the feet, waist, torso and/or shoulders. You can get the basic effect by straightening your arm (pushing) while turning your waist at the same time quickly.

Actually, doing it well does require some understanding of power generation and the ability to relax so it isn't a totally worthless demonstration. I call it a parlor trick because the way it was presented was designed to create mystery rather than illustrate principle. It's meant to make the puncher look powerful. I like the way they put the chair right behind the guy so he will pretty much have to fall onto it at an awkward angle, all done to increase the drama and mislead. Still, I suppose it could be worse. It's nowhere near as bad as the crap seen in this video.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Body isolation

One of the very first things I have students do when they start taking classes is body isolation. There are many parts of the body that we don't normally use in everyday life. We have to open up the pathways and get used to moving them just as dancers do. First we have to isolate and get used to using the muscles by themselves. Then we can work on getting them to work naturally in concert.

This part of my class is completely stolen from dance classes so here is a video of a dancer doing body isolation. He is certainly better at it than me. A couple of things to note are: 1. He doesn't do the shoulders. They are extremely important to do, perhaps the most important. 2. Remember to keep breathing and relax everything other than the specific part that is moving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You can't control your body

People often say that the lungs are interesting because you can consciously control them, and yet, the body also unconsciously controls them so that you can breathe when you sleep or are engaged in other activities. I think the body works this way to some degree.

You feel like you can mentally control your body because you can give a mental signal to lift your hand and the hand will lift. You can stick out your tongue or shake your booty whenever you choose. Giving signals for the body to do something specific works for simple movements but something else happens when you engage in complex movements. The movements are too complicated for the conscious brain to handle and it has to get out of the way and let the body take over. Even standing or walking is too complex to be totally controlled consciously. When learning to do skills or "difficult" movements the faster your brain stops trying to manage all the delicate movements involved, the faster the skill can be learned. 

The sensation of "trying" to do something is usually wanting to learn something faster or control an outcome with the conscious brain. This results in clumsy jerky movements because the wrong part of you is leading the movement. The body itself should be left in charge. 

Another way that the body is influenced is by mental state. If you are relaxed, the body will relax. If you are nervous or angry, the body and face will show it. The body is constantly reflecting emotion and mental state. This is natural. 

As I have mentioned before, problems occur when the brain fights the body when it is trying to reflect emotion and mental state. People try to lock down their face to hide anger. They clamp down on the body to keep it from showing nervousness. Tension results. If it happens often enough, people can locked in a tense movement or in an unproductive mental state. 

When you are doing an activity like wing chun or playing piano, try relaxing and putting all your attention on the activity, but "let" your body do it. Have no concern about outcome or doing it "right" and see what the body wants to do. 

Letting go is not easy, but it is extremely important. Grace is what results when the body is in charge. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese Saints

I promised I would write something funny so I started thinking about Yo Mamma jokes. In my opinion, there are only two really good Yo Mamma jokes.

Yo Mamma is so fat, her nickname is "Daaaayum!"
Yo Mamma is so fat, she sell shade in the summertime.

Anyway the reason I bring that up is because I once had a Chinese American friend (ABC or huaqiao in these parts) that was complaining about feeling left out as young girl when her friends would tell Yo Mamma jokes because her mom was skinny.

So I made up one up for her.

Yo Mamma so Chinese, she eat a hamburger with chopsticks.

Anyway, she loved it and that brings me to today's "humor" and the reason for the above title of "Chinese Saints."

Since I had to work all day writing fluff articles at a trade show, it got me thinking about what led a couple of my friends to start the website Expoextra. It was the boredom and absurdity of trade shows and writing about them.

So, as bad as the gig was today, it made me long for the days when we we had so little to do that making a website and magazines for no money to make people laugh seemed worth doing. Below is an article the three of us worked on together for an Expoextra magazine distributed at Spring Scream in 2001. Probably 50 people read the thing so I am bringing it back in honor of a shitty trade show gig. (Dave and Sean, If you guys got any problems with me putting this on the web, let me know). Here you go.

Chinese martyrs and venerable persons currently being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church

Though Catholicism has extended into China, there are currently no Chinese saints recognized by the Catholic Church. To correct several hundred years of oversight, the Vatican is considering the following candidates for sainthood in early 2003. Below are condensed versions of the potential hagiographies of the leading candidates.

Saint Chen the Chainsmoker (1897-1972)
This individual from Ningbo kept a single flame alit for 65 years using qigong breathing techniques and judicious cigarette management. The flame was sent from heaven in the form of a burning bush when Chen was only 10 years old. Upon encountering the divine blaze, Chen promptly used it to light a cigarette. He was able to keep the flame alive until his death in 1972 by continually lighting each new cigarette from the last. During the torrential rains of 1919, Chen single-handedly enabled the citizens of Ningbo to continue to enjoy hot meals while all other fire-starting implements were rendered useless. 

Saint Li the Filial Son (1850-1895)
Li became a paradigm of filial piety for his community in Nanjing by never leaving his mother's side - not once in all of his 45 years. From youth to his mid-thirties, his favorite place of comfort was underneath his mother's skirt. It is said, when she passed away, he was forcibly restrained from joining her in the coffin, which considering her ponderous bulk, would have been a near impossibility. The devoted son died the next day of heartache, or possibly, acute arterial blockage. 

Saint Wang the Noodle Maker (1850-1925)
Supercharged virility and a willing wife led Wang into a most difficult dilemma: how to feed a family that numbered 69 offspring. An intuitive farmer from Anhui Province, Wang ordered his sons to till the field while he made noodles in the kitchen. It is reported that poor Wang never took a break from his noodle making. During one 15-year period, he even spent 15 years making one noodle that his family consumed just as quickly as it was produced. 

Saint Zhen the Cheapskate (1850-1895)
Though Zhen earned a good living as a civil servant, it is a well-documented fact that he never spent a single cent. Bills and coins were deposited into false walls, paychecks would lie uncashed in a drawer. Virtually everything that Zhen needed was scavenged from dumpsters and the rest was obtained through the kindness of gullible tourists. Needless to say, he remained a morally upstanding citizen. 

Saint Dong the Dishwasher (1905-1990)
Dong took great joy in his standing position in the kitchen, where, starting at the young age of six, he remained tirelessly until his death at the age of 85. It is reported that Dong was locked in a near transcendental state as he continually washed one large platter. Apparently, he fell into a steady rhythm and with hand moving in circular fashion (suds and warm water were naturally used) is thought to be an inspiration for the popular Falun Gong sect now outlawed in mainland China. An emblem of dedication and commitment, the story of Dong inspires all of us to become more modest, and perhaps, seek less out of life. 

Saint Hsu the Scholar (1850-1925)
Living out the maxim that "education is everything", Hsu spent the better part of his years completing his final year of high school study. He was perpetually locked in preparations for the "Joint University Entrance Examination". According to Department of Education records, Hsu took this examination no less than 60 times, revealing a lifetime of dedication that spanned nearly the whole of his adult life. Hsu came just one question away from successfully completing this exam before his untimely death at age 76. Friends and associates marveled at his dedication, and his repetitious zeal. Still, others thought it would be better to abandon this pursuit for the sake of more profitable interests like taxi driving. 

Saint Lu the Livery (1850-1895)
Like all earnest young men, Lu from Southern Shandong Province had dreams of making it rich in the big city. He reputedly borrowed the sum of 300 yuan from a neighbor to purchase a pedicab that he would use to ferry goods and passengers throughout the city square. With the promise of financial gain and as much bicycle as a young man could buy with 300 yuan, Lu set off for the city. Little did he know that he would never pick up a passenger nor earn one red mao for the remainder of his 85 years. His misshapen face, rough disposition and lack of dental insurance kept many potential fares away form his pedicab. Still, despite the economic misfortune, Lu kept at his job and appeared in the city center every morning. Operating a pedicab did have its advantages as his community smile when they fondly remember Lu's angelic countenance in the midst of his mid-afternoon slumber. 

Saint Tse the Sentry (1905-1998)
In a little known commercial building in downtown Taipei, Tse faithfully kept watch over the front door for over 45 years. It is reported that he never left his post, choosing to sleep on cardboard boxes kept under his desk in evening hours and peeing into a large thermos when nature called. Even during his sleep, his hacking snore and fitful shaking was enough to keep unwelcome visitors and Mormons at bay. He lived modestly with only a few possessions including a 19" black and white television, tea cup and the clothes on his back. Tse was also passionate about Chinese calligraphy, which he practiced daily at his post. Yet, due to a shaky hand and nervous tick, he was never able to draw a straight line, nor complete a discernible character.

Saint Xiao Bao the Hungry (1905-1950)
A snail of a woman, Xiao Bao survived in Northern Shanxi for 45 years on a single mantou, or loaf of Chinese-style bread. According to legend, she practiced circular eating that at times did not preclude the consumption of her own excrement (well, not that there was much of it at any given time - a mere flake or two). Xiao Bao would lick a corner of the loaf which had yellowed over the years. On feast days, she might flick a piece between her thumbnail and forefinger. [ From You Think You're Hungry:The Lean Years of Northern China, as translated by Dave Rudusky]