We’ve been seeing a lot of books on the Hung Kung Fu system lately. Now here is one of Hung’s great forms; the Five Animal Boxing. Presented by Frank Yee with hundred of color photographs, this world-famous fist captures the essence and the shape of each of the original Shaolin animals: dragon, tiger, snake, leopard and crane. Some books, like this one, also act as significant contributions to a styles history and self-perception. If you are a Hung practitioner, a Southern Fist aficionado, expert on Shaolin or just a fan of this great style, you will find this hardback, glossy, well-photographed book a worthy addition.
It has been long enough now to seem natural that it became my fate or, at least, a “way of life,” as everyone calls it. People ask me what could possibly be the attraction. I have to tell the truth and admit that I always believed that some human activities are as linked to us as the appetites and emotions we consider define a human being. It is true that, through historical changes, the aliens among us have warped some of these foundational approaches. But activities like dance, story-telling, religion, philosophy, love and celebration are all “arts” in ways that pre-date the commodity market we presently call society.
It is true that all too often “the winners write history” suggesting to us that the answers lie in understanding what came before written history. The next great empire will be built on the sands of still unexploited cultures where ancient insights (that really are insights) may be bulldozed beneath the machinery of necessity. It is in times like these we need tend to those things that the future may see as “useless,” things like kindness, contemplation, harmony.
Fifty years is a blink compared to these timeless pursuits.
We were delighted to see this clip from a recent Liu Yun Chiao memorial held in Taipei.
Sifu Adam Hsu leads the whole room in a simple exercise that GM Liu reported he performed over 200 times a day; he recommended this two-move loop for improving all Kung Fu training.
Note the esteemed teachers of the Wutan Baji Community in the front row, among them Sifu Su Yu Chang, Sifu Tony Yang, and many others.
This is the first volume, by Sifu Wing Lam, of a proposed series on Northern Shaolin containing history and development of the art. It outlines the shape of that branch associated with Iron Palm master Gu Ru Zhang. In the background section there are a lot of stories and facts about the temple and some famous teachers.
This book is like a tour, more than a lesson. It walks us past history, physical requirements, proper hand and leg action and more. Then we are shown excerpts from some famous hand and weapons forms including the complete name lists of these routines, general information on weapons play and descriptions of common errors.
Many records from the Shaolin Temple have been destroyed forever. Forms, herbal cures, historical events: all have been scattered by the storms of time. Reconstructing the history of this world-famous temple and its sister style is a task that will be around for decades to come. Books like this will help us, eventually, to tell the whole story.
We’ve just received the second volume in Zhao Da Yuan’s big series on Qin Na (Chin Na).
This new text reveals dead-hand training, live-hand loops, counters, and even anti-weapon work. An entire curriculum on Qin Na; not just a few moves as so many others do it. This valuable multi-volume set is projected for at least one more book.
Balancing this with Tim Cartmell’s older version, and our extensive notes on the comparison between the two new translations, coupled with the in-depth reviews of all three, our product notes will help expand your knowledge of this essential part of Kung Fu fight training.
Take a look and see for yourself.
Teachers have tools, great teachers make tools. But that’s not all. Students also make tools, in their minds. And the persistent teacher will go inside those active minds too, creating new ideas and ways to view things. All, of course, to the student’s benefit.
Everyone who teaches the martial arts can fall victim to micro-management where endless corrections swamp all real promise of the student’s advancement. The patient teacher gets his student through this period as gently or corrosively as needed, with a definite prejudice to do as little damage as possible.
There are lots of ways to approach this, but one of the most valuable uses tools that are aimed at changing the way the student thinks about something, more than relying on repetitions and just chugging along.
You want to go inside and change the story in the student’s mind—just a little. So we use the brilliance of the language itself. To accomplish this, I want to review two powerhouse techniques of the English language: Metaphor and Simile. Even if you have bumped into this pair in English class and never did understand what they were about, stick with me and it will be easy, like rolling off a log (simile.) Read more →
Santa Cruz, California
Start the summer off with this new/traditional Kung Fu Linking Form. PLUM is sponsoring a 6 class seminar at our sister school, the Academy of Martial & Internal Arts. You’ll learn the first Linking Form created by world-famous instructor Adam Hsu. He developed this Kung Fu form almost 50 years ago, and it is practiced to this day by students in places like Taiwan, Japan, United States, Italy and Germany as a foundational routine for any Long-Fist training. The form itself offers a huge amount of Kung Fu information, highlighting the very foundations of this great art.
Plum’s director, Ted Mancuso, will teach the class Monday evenings from 6:00 – 7:30, starting June 6, ending July 18 (no class on July 4.) The first half hour will be open warm up, with form instruction starting at 6:30.
For much more information on this, along with other seminars and classes at our studio, click here.
And for those interested in the form itself, check out Adam Hsu’s book on the subject
The Five Ancestors is one style that combines five forms of Kung Fu fighting. Its core style is TaiZu, named after an Emperor of China who was himself a martial artist. Here we have a blend of Emperor, Monkey, Luohan (Shaolin), White Crane and Bodhidharma style. There is much emphasis on some unusual hand positions, strong blocks and body angling. This book includes much in the realm of the empty-hand fighting and weapons tailored to the style, such as the staff and the Bandit Knife.
What do I like most about the style? I think those small, southern partner sets made up of only four or so moves, but which can be grown into any shape and length. Ngo Cho is a fighting style with the ability to seek new combinations of usage, form, and training all its own. While it looks like the individual movements are relatively easy to learn, they open a lot of acreage when it comes to adapting to attacks. After all, Ngo Cho has been through a number of rough centuries (looking at the review table will testify to that.)
Another recommended book on southern boxing techniques (where, incidentally, many Kenpo practitioners will find their own ancestors.)
When he was covering sports and at the top of his form, Hemingway wrote about things like the squeak of the boxer’s shoes as they rotated on the canvas. Just a poignant little detail like something Roger Angell might use in a baseball piece.
The martial arts is loaded with such details. Some are so distinguished that they are hard to forget. The snap of your sleeve—just as you lock out a punch—is just such a one. It’s a sound that becomes associated with generating a little power but—more important/essential—is its wider halo of hints about how stiff your back leg is, if you’ve fully retracted the other hand, if your pelvis is pushed forward, if you’ve kept your spine lengthened, and more. So much told with a single action, a single snap.
I saw a movie where an older Clint Eastwood plays a baseball scout with failing eyes yet, when on the bench can analyze the potential of a rookie by the sound of his bat swinging. This, to me, resembles a typical day’s teaching.
Training for Martial Speed
In some systems it doesn’t take long for the snap of the sleeve to spread throughout the body with checking hands, double slapping, and enough different methods that someone might think you are playing spoons. I remember from my early Kenpo training that people would criticize the style as “slap happy.” And in many cases they were right. Read more →
Plum is adding another text by Andrea Falk, a translation of significance to Xing Yi practitioners: Li TianJi’s The Skills of XingYiQuan; 311 pages, with hundreds of illustrations. This is a thorough text on the style handed down to Li Tianji from his father, Li Yulin. It’s very well laid out with sections covering basic hands and feet, physical requirements and more. The bonus here is that this is one of the most complete descriptions of Xing Yi including all the basic concepts of Chinese martial arts seen from a Xing Yi viewpoint. Many forms, clear translation, a barrel full of detailed observations and hints.
While I reviewed this XingYi book I had cause to refer again to Andrea Falk’s Martial Arts Dictionary. Going back to it for some information, I realized that I had not fully represented it. Now I’m talking to the scholars out there. When Plum initially added Sifu Falk’s big Chinese/English dictionary of martial terms, I thought that since I have a fine translation application, this book might not be that helpful to me.
But Chinese is a funny language, mono-syllabic at foundation but bi-syllabic in use. It is crucial when you learn the language to understand that the “buddy system” of word next to word gives the important variations in meaning. A bi-syllabic dictionary like this will include a lot of these specialized words that you could not find in a normal translation application. They are customized to martial training; having different meanings from every day speech. If you want to work with translating martial material, or just expanding your knowledge of Kung Fu, you will find yourself browsing this big book over and over and thanking Ms. Falk that she compiled it before you had to.
Here’s a book where you are going to find the Chinese characters, the pin yin and the English translation all in groups of related words. It’s these related woods that really give you an idea of the meaning in Chinese. Sample here:
Quan Fist: Bare-handed training. Also used for martial arts in general.
Quan bei: Fist’s back surface.
Quan fa: Bare handed methods. Also term for fist techniques to separate from palm or forearm techniques.
Quan feng: Fist’s peak edge.
Quan gen: Fist’s meaty part, the heel of the fist.
Quan jue: Martial formula; short, pithy, usually rhyming explanations of martial theory, to aid understanding and memory.
Quan li: Salute. Right fist in left open hand is a common salute, In China the salute is given at attention, not bowing.
Quan li: Martial theory: the theoretical foundation behind a system or style of martial art.
Quan lun: the meaty part of the fist
Quan men: A style, or type, of martial art.
Quan mian: Fist “face”, first finger segments surface, the normal punching surface of the muscles.
Get the idea? …
Not for the first time, Sifu Adam Hsu is doing something remarkable. And, as with many projects that fall into the ‘remarkable’ category, it is also different enough (at least, in these times) that a few words of explanation are not mis-spent. In fact, he is producing something which utilizes one of the most traditional methods for teaching martial arts.
This concerns the coming release, through Plum, of the second and third volumes in his masterful series, Baji Thunder. Volume 1, which contained 7 DVDs, was titled, simply, “Foundations.” The forthcoming Volume 2 is entitled “Development,” and the third, to follow shortly after, is called “Advanced.” Foundations used Xiao Baji as its center; Volume Two’s “Development” constellates Da Baji; and the third, Advanced, is a 4 DVD set teaching Liu Da Kai and Ba Da Shi.
What’s so remarkable about issuing three DVD sets illustrating the three fundamental forms of a system? Hsu Sifu turns the whole form instruction structure on its head, in a sense, declaring that the forms are only a small part of the system itself. “Of course,” you would say, “a system is much greater than its forms.” But, typically, we still approach our learning by form instruction first, then the other stuff second. Sifu Hsu, in this series especially, says that is backwards.
I recently wrote a piece on forms practice in Kung Fu. In this article I expressed an opinion regarding the place of forms in training: “It is much better to assume forms are for forms’ sake, and not rely on them to be incredibly functional. They aren’t functional, that’s the way it is.” What I meant was that the particular package we call a form is not intrinsically important to learning the Kung Fu of the form. It may have great aesthetic quality, but this is a bonus.
Baji, as Sifu Hsu demonstrates, is especially clear about this. It tends to link well-practiced movements together later, after they are understood. This revives a truly traditional method of teaching. And you can see it. Baji forms just look different somehow. The reason for this is that the practitioners actually understand what they are doing. This lends a special urgency and vitality to their performance. And remember: Baji is a fierce and well-tested fighting style. According to traditional beliefs, this training is far more important than the form.
A quick glance at a partial list of entries from Volume Two says it all:
History and styles of Baji
The structure and meaning of these two forms (Xiao Baji and Da Baji) related to one another
The main 24 moves, each illustrated by instruction and insights (such as Adam’s pigtail story.) He gives details as anyone can, but his details shoot right to the core of each move: what’s the posture, where does the power come from, what is good—or bad– USAGE.
The Horizontal Strike: Learn to properly grind for power.
Punch Downward: The art of coiling to issuing.
Applications: for each of the movements with training hints.
Demonstration: Da Baji form demonstration in normal time and slow-motion.
As in any good teacher-student relationship, you, too, will have to contribute: your own knowledge of Kung Fu, your own skills, your own understanding of how to practice (although Sifu Hsu does offer much in this area) and, of course, your own dogged determination and practice.
What you will not find in Volume 2 is step-by-step instruction for how to perform Da Baji. What you will find are the individual movements and their power, timing, and applications. Having started in this classic manner, you can thread the movements separately to assemble your final version of the form. (At the finish of DVD #2 there is also a very clear demonstration of the form in normal and slow motion. By the time you reach here, picking up the sequence will give you little trouble.)
For those who have never practiced Baji, it might benefit to also pick up the Baji DVDs from Sifu Hsu’s earlier series (see discounts below) where he does do step-by-step form instruction. However, it is not necessary.
And for many of you who already have the earlier DVDs in your library, I offer this suggestion: put them away and pause your Baji practice, follow the instructions in the new series, then go back to your Baji and see if it does not add breadth and depth to what you have already learned.
Here is a pretty advanced Kung Fu puzzle: along with Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan and Taijiquan, what do all of the following styles have in common: Liu He Ba Fa (Six Harmonies, Eight Methods,) Mi Zong (Lost Track,) BaFa Quan (Eight Methods,) Liu He Quan (Six Harmonies Boxing) and Tong Bei Quan (Through the Back Boxing?) They are all candidates for membership in the newly minted category of “internal style.” What makes Tong Bei a candidate is that it specializes in loose and relaxed arm movements, a great deal of waist work, and special angular attacks which emphasize relaxation as a source of power.
From the start, Tong Bei limb training makes Tai Chi look stiff. As in Hop Gar, the extended arm positions are almost boneless, delivering power—at least during the training stage—through ropey and exceptionally fast cutting arm movements. Even in the Long Fist Kung Fu community Tong Bei is a Longer Fist art. Let me give an example: in Choy Lai Fut, a southern Long Fist style, the arms are whipped into any number of orbits but the stances, though fluid, are still strong and firm: mountains and clouds. Read more →
Here is a new/old article I wrote for the organ of Adam Hsu’s Traditional Wushu Association. It discusses some of those “hidden little” pleasures harvested from years of practicing martial arts.
Even if you have only visited PLUM a couple of times, you will note that we have a huge selection of materials: DVDs, English language books, VCDs, Chinese texts, en face books and more.
At present we have one of the largest collections online, and growing. When we started Plum we wanted to do two things: promote the Chinese martial arts and create a resource for all the various study projects out there. We’ve helped people compiling information on their style, their teachers and even their own family. From the beginning, this site has been the start of many translation projects that would never have happened without uncovering some out-of-print text. So, if you wonder at just the plain bulk of our project, look at our predicament; we don’t grab everything out there and some things are world class, famous texts. But there are also some pretty obscure texts which we can’t ignore; someone out there might need them! For instance, this new batch of books has a style we’ve never even heard of—”Shaman Kung Fu”—and even then it is not what you might think.
Things go better if we’re clear at the outset.
This is a meditation on mastery—not a claim to it. I’m still trying to spell it correctly. But, after watching and judging many, many practitioners for more time than I want to admit, I’ve come to the conclusion that mastery has two paths.
If you find that there are more, go right ahead with my blessing, see what happens, then report back.
The First Path
My first martial style, though technically not a Kung Fu style (even though, in those days, we were calling it “Chinese Kenpo”) is a perfect example. It consisted—theoretically at least—of, literally, hundreds of precise movements. Onto these movements were then heaped more and more variations and alterations until something inside your mind shifted. This path follows the idea that layers upon layers of technical precision will push you to a moment of realization—seeing in an unexpected flash, like the chill that comes when you solve a puzzle—and shift you towards new methods of moving. From that point on, you react more spontaneously, mixing and matching movements freely and wildly, but never again poorly. Read more →
A few restocks for your reading pleasure—click images for more info
We cannot say enough good things about this beautiful and comprehensive treatment on Hung Gar Fundamentals. We are so pleased to be representing this fine text.
Chuo Jiao Compendium (Chinese)
Difficult to find good (any) information on Chuo Jiao, Kung Fu’s fine kicking and leg art. Just got this back in, in a new paperback edition. This book comes and goes too quickly…
Mind Intent Six Harmony Boxing (Chinese)
In our opinion, there can not be enough material issued by the world-famous George Xu. Here is his master manual on Liu He Xin Yi (and yes, you sharp-eyed customers: it is a new cover design.) Perfect companion to some of his DVDs of the same subject.
Here is a piece I wrote for the now defunct Journal of Asian Martial Arts. A number of people have asked about the “myth” at the front of the piece. I believe it hints at the dialog between stillness and movement that can—and must— be found at the heart of martial practice. If nothing else, I hope that it offers some of our newer brothers and sisters an idea of why one would want to study this aspect of the arts. At the same time, it might work to dispel the idea that optimal practice is when you are thinking of nothing. Not quite true in this case.
Through my entire martial career I have been listening to everyone’s questions and problems with traditional forms. For most people, it all centers on practicality. For some people, the answer lies in detailed analysis of the forms and what self defense and fighting treasures are hidden therein. For still others, it’s a lost cause and the forms are considered great performances for the tournament circuit, little more. Whether traditional or contemporary, they are pretty much show items and therefore as variable as whim commands.
There is a long stretch of twilight zone between these two outposts.
For instance, some instructors say that forms do contain practical information, but only at the most basic level—punch and kick and such. Others say that the contents of forms are the secret stuff that will only burst into fire when you’ve spent enough time blowing on the embers. Read more →