Two Views of Sifu John Leong

John Leong Jung GarAt Plum, we are lucky to represent not one but two views of Hung Gar Kung Fu Sifu John Leong, in two new books added to our collection: Beginning Hung Gar Kung Fu, a classic text, and Living Kung Fu, a recently released photo collection of Sifu Leong’s martial journey.

“Beginning Hung Gar Kung Fu” shows the wheels and bars that make Hung Gar so effective. The special photographic tribute of “Living Kung Fu” is a light show of visual testimony that showcases the martial life, celebrations, Lion dancing, and studio floors filled with mixed generations, just like a true family.


System, Not Style

di guoyong on xingyiquanWe are pleased to offer this presentation—long overdue by us—of Di Guoyong on Xingyiquan, Sifu Di’s systematic explanation of that deeply loved and appreciated style, Xing Yi Quan.

Contained in these three volumes is a full roster of forms along with comprehensive descriptions, from  basics all the way to weapons forms and partner practice. We have represented Di Sifu’s Xing Yi VCDs and DVDs for years, and find these books complement with principles, thoughts and even personal asides, sturdy companions to the videos themselves.

Many practitioners show good familiarity with Five Element Boxing, but we have only seen a few take such a direct and clear approach to the Art as a system. We are impressed, not only with the material itself, but also with Sifu Andrea Falk’s excellent translation of the Chinese (which is also included) into English. (Watch this space for the announcement of Sifu Falk’s new and expanded edition of her Wushu dictionary.)


Slices: Running Horses

Every style has a story. We like to give  readers a glimpse, a scene, a taste of the classical fighters and teachers who gambled in a deadly game of skill and courage.

In the 1920’s, houses in Beijing were heated with coal, which came from the mountains to the west. One day, a coal seller brought coal into town. He had a car full of coal and three horses pulling it. They were riding down the main commercial street of Beijing, called Chian Men Da Jie. There were lots of people around, including Master Wang (Wen Kui). For some reason, the horses bolted and began galloping down the street. The driver fell out of the car, and it looked like there was going to be a serious incident in which many people could get hurt, especially women and children. So the driver called out, “Help, anyone! Help!” Master Wang happened to be standing near the path of the galloping horses. When they came near, Master Wang raised his hand and let out a big yell, which startled the horses and slowed them down. Then, quickly, Master Wang stepped to the side of the first horses and pushing it from the side, using Yan Zhang…The horse fell down, and the other horses and the car came to a stop, preventing a disaster.   The driver thanked him profusely and said that Master Wang had saved him…

Liu Bin’s Zhuang Gong Bagua Zhang: South District Beijing’s Strongly Rooted Style
Zhang Jie et al.


Back in Stock: Sun Zhi Jun

sun zhi junWe know you are supposed to love all your children books equally, but some you just love a little more. And Cheng Bagua stylist Sun Zhi Jun’s masterpiece, “You Shen Ba Gua Lian Huan Zhang” (Swimming Body Bagua Linked Fist) is one of those. What’s not to love? It is a complete illustrated English language translation of his six forms, plus history and principles, and it is accompanied by a DVD, also in English, also with Sun Shifu instructuing.

Well, we’ve raved about it on pages before, so just let it be known that it is finally back in stock and can be found HERE.


Many Great Titles

Plum has seen an upsurge in English language texts for Chinese Martial Arts. Great! However, this has taken some energy from the site’s mirror-side of Chinese texts. Not that we don’t have a pile of those, too, to catalogue, but they take a little more time due to translation, acquisition, etc. Still, we will try to energize our presentation of these interesting—and, increasingly, en face (English and Chinese)—offerings.

This week we talk about three books, two of which are entirely new, with one rejoining us in traditional characters (the previous being in simplified characters).

wan lai shengThis first outlines the work of Wan Lai Sheng, a reality-combat proponent dating back almost one hundred years. Wan is best known for Ziranman and LiuHe, and also as a no-nonsense fierce fighter. This text contains great old photos of Wan.Kung Fu books

There follows a traditional Xing Yi sword text in the Li Cun Yi lineage—also well-photographed—teaching a set which contains a lot of dropping and angular movements. Good sword work, with a lot of lower level attacks.

praying mantis kung fuFinally, a small book on Tang Lang (Praying Mantis), which we feel to be an under-appreciated style. This rendition of the Lan Jie set, represented in photos by a teacher and his son alternately posing, is slight but solid; an unusual presentation in this world-popular style.


The Faces and Fists of Wong Jack Man

Since posting the sad announcement at the beginning of this year, of Sifu Wong Jack Man’s death, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to and hear from several of his students, each with his own story. For instance we—along with, apparently, many other people—did not know that Wong Sifu practiced the additional styles of Xing Yi and Tai Chi, along with his more famous Bak Sil Lum.

When a teacher has been teaching for many decades, myths and legends will naturally abound. In Wong Sifu’s case, the legend most associated with him concerned his famous fight with Bruce Lee. But I remember hearing another myth, that he taught in complete silence. However, some of his students report something far less exotic: that he was a teacher of sparse words and great actions—in other words, a classical teacher.

From some who trained directly under him, Wong’s exceedingly “heavy bones” were not an outgrowth of either Iron Palm or Golden Bell practices; there is little evidence that he practiced either. Does that mean that Wong Sifu did not know them, or merely that he did not give them much credit? Opinions on both sides, here.

All this in hand, Wong Jack Man was known as a high level practitioner of kung fu, thoroughly familar with his varied systems and teachings. There is no doubt that his memory will live for a long time in the hearts and hands of players and students.

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Jiang Rongqiao’s Bagua Zhang—Now in English AND Chinese

Jiang RongQiao BaguazhangAndrea Falk is doing wonderful translations.

Actually, she has been doing wonderful translations for a long time, but now she is going back, revising and improving on some of her earlier works to make them even better. We are still awaiting the massive expansion and rewrite of her earlier Wushu dictionary (this one promises to be almost double in size) which, she tells us, should be available through Plum shortly.

In the meantime, we have just received her new edition of Jiang Rong Qiao’s Baguazhang, and the delight is that she has added the original Chinese text. For those studying or even fluent in Chinese, this encourages and assists in understanding not only the original text, but also how a master translator works.

Look forward, in the near future, to her dictionary, as well as her three-volume translation of Di Guo Young’s texts on Xing Yi (we have a couple of those sets in stock now, and are awaiting more. If you would like a set, CLICK HERE).


Fun Stuff: Bruce’s Older Kung Fu brother

Secrets of Kung Fu—a popular publication, especially during the Seventies—hosted a huge variety of topics. For this issue, we have a drumming platform, a wooden man, a banner dance, an ancient arms dealer, Bruce Lee’s senior classmate, Ancient Chinese rocketry, a 20 year old exponent of Chou style, Kneeling to a Kung Fu teacher, and more…


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Anatomy of the True Teacher

martial arts teacherMy first taiji instructor, Lin Shih-Kuang, told me a story about a tragedy in his family. His father, involved in the government of Taiwan, suddenly fell from favor-in a hard way. Soon after this, Shih-Kuang had a birthday party. The usual friends and family were invited. Not one of them showed up—no adults, no children. Except for one person, his kung fu teacher.

The martial teacher is not special. He or she is like many teachers all over the world in all walks of life. But though a professional teacher, he is rarely a member of an organization. He is the old kind of teacher, as Aristotle was to Alexander, the person-to-person teacher.

Even in teaching physical movements or teaching flower arrangement or teaching science, a bond forms between teacher Read more →


Liang Zhen Pu, Together Again

Liang Zhen PuAs we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we are in the process of republishing several out of print titles, and the first one has arrived: Liang Zhen Pu Eight Diagram Palm, by Li Zi Ming, compiled by Vince Black.

This authoratative book was written by Li, the last living representative of the third generation in Bagua founder Dong Hai Chuan’s lineage. Having begun his life long study of Eight Diagram Palm in 1918 with his teacher Liang Zhen Pu, Master Li drew from over 60 years of experience in writing this work.

We at Pum are so pleased to have the opportunity to keep these important works alive and accessible.


Su Yu Chang’s Passing: April 29, 2019

SU YU-CHANG (1940-2019)

su yu chang Su Yu Chang started his training in martial arts at a early age with the famous Kung Fu style known as “Lost Track.” Master Chang Te-Kuei also introduced him to the art of Praying Mantis.

When he was 17, in Taiwan, he continued his studies there with Wei Xiao-Tang and Li Kuen Shan, both showing him the vagaries of Praying Mantis. He also kept an active interest in Lost Track so he contacted Li Yuen-Tzu. Sifu Li also initiated Su to the powerhouse of BaJi and the grappling art of Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling).

As time passed Su’s Baji experience was further enriched by Tong Chong-Yi. Yu-Chang expanded his Baji training by Ma Ying-Tu, a direct disciple of the famous Li Shu-Wen.

With his own skills rising, Su became an instructor at the Central Institute. In 1960-62 he was occupied teaching at a military school. At one point he decided he wanted the complete curriculum of Baji and PiGua, so he asked Li Yuen-Tzu, but this teacher was disabled so Su was sent to learn from Li Shu-Wen’s disciple, Liu Yun Chiao.

Su Sifu helped to bring his repertoire to the world with seminars in localities like USA, Japan, Spain and more. He also brought a puckish humor and enthusiasm to his art.

“Praying Mantis is so unique that your opponent will say, that even if you kill him, it was worth it to see these techniques.” 

My own dealings with Su Sifu were friendly and made somewhat familial, I think, by my having studied with Adam Hsu. Even in his later years, Su’s technique lived up to “lightning hands,” as he was known. He had a special ability—sometimes dizzying to students—to alternate instruction between Spanish, Japanese and English, all languages he spoke along with Chinese. It is said that he studied more branches of Mantis style than anyone who has ever lived. I don’t know about that, but I can spot a lifelong enthusiasm when I see it.

While watching a well-circulated video with my class one time, one of my students commented that the film must have been sped up. I asked him to pay attention to a man smoking a cigarette, who sat along the wall of the small room in which Su performed. You could see that his actions were at regular speed, proving that the film ran normally. Su Sifu was the fastest performer I have ever witnessed.

Read more →


INB: Instructor’s Notebook—A “Perfect” Lesson

Layers of Teaching

Martial arts hands us examples of the close relationship between what we teach and the way we teach it.

Chinese martial arts lessonAs a sifu, I have experimented with many approaches. Years ago, when I opened my martial arts studio, I tried to orchestrate topics as best I could. Each class was planned like a bank robbery or a wedding: details covered, ideas scrawled in the notebook, library information stacked and shelved.

Of course, none of my classes ever proceeded in so orderly a manner. In the brief moment following each class, I would evaluate my efforts and discover that about 80% of the presented “information” just went whizzing by. On top of that, there was always a richer, deeper batch of information that I never touched on.  Too different, too advanced. How would I ever get to it?

In this Instructor’s Notebook, my plan is to show at least one version of a teaching breakdown that pulls together, in a simple way, diverse and seemingly unconnected information. Read more →


Vince Black on Li Zi Ming’s Bagua Zhang

pa kua chang journalOne of our favorite items at Plum is the Pa Kua Chang Journal CD, containing the entire 38-issue run of more than 1,000 pages. The original journal, published by Dan Miller, is a treasure for the martial and Bagua community. In many cases entire issues are devoted to a single topic, and contain interviews with and articles by some of the great teachers, including Sun Lu Tang, Li Zi Ming, Tim Cartmell, Adam Hsu, Xie Pei Ji, George Xu, and so many more. The full run of the PKJ covers major topics, instructor profiles, training tips and historical scholarship. These focused articles, were and remain a great impulse to Bagua studies throughout the English speaking martial world; in many ways, it was ahead of its time.

That said, we are happy to announce acquiring permission to display occasional selections from this weighty work. We start with this article below, from Volume Five, Issue One, which is devoted to Li Zi Ming.

This first entry is particularly timely in two ways: first, its author, the renowned teacher Vince Black, passed away in February. Second, Liang Zhen Pu Eight Trigram Palms, one of Bagua’s famous texts edited by Li Zi Ming (Liang Zhen Pu’s student) and compiled by Vince Black, has been out of print for quite a while, but Plum is in the process of bringing it back. We hope to see it mid-May.

For those interested in the whole run of the Journal, click here. For those waiting for Liang Zhen Pu’s return, watch this space!

Click link below to load pdf article.

Pa Kua Journal Li Zi Ming


Hit Medicine Revealed

martial hit medicineThere is a whole branch of Chinese medicine associated with the martial arts, and to say that much of the information is secret would be an understatement.

But now, author Tom Bisio hands us an invaluable text, A Pearl From the Dragon’s Neck, comprehensively detailing revival methods, using vital points, cupping, moxibustion, massage, and pressure. He also includes herbal remedies to increase vitality and other approaches toward treating illness. As Bisio says, you can flip through the book and satisfy your own needs or curiosity—it’s that easy to use this text, and to apply it.

This book should be included in every martial first aid kit.


Where is Bruce?

bruce lee

The curious distortion of Lee’s airbrushed body says something about his cinematic popularity.

Is he still with us? Should we light an incense stick to his memory? Why not?

Bruce changed the world. He revised the image of the downtrodden who re-emerges and makes his way to victory. He brought a pair of cultures together—internally and externally—at just the perfect moment in history. And, some will say, he made a significant leap forward when he introduced the yellow jump suit into costumery.

Bruce brought humor, galantry, wit, physical excellence, tactical intelligence and more to his screen image and to his public presentation. In short, he crushed just about every “old man of Asia” image he could. As in the Chinese Connection, he took on so many opponents that,even as it exceeded cinematic plausibility, he nonetheless made it all somehow believable.

He was such a force of nature that it was difficult to define him or his message. Was he the “bad boy?” Superman? Robin Hood? Little trashy books, like this “Big Book of Karate—Best Issue Yet,” came into existence entirely to spotlight him.

Just reading the Table of Contents shows the strands of modernity beginning to entangle themselves to create the Blade Runner street market culture that is even now rolling itself out with steamed buns at midnight. Read more →


Two Passings

Liang Zhen PuBack in February, the martial world lost two of its pillars.

Vince Black died on February 26 at the age of 68. A practitioner of Chinese martial arts as well as Chinese medicine, Sifu Black had a lifelong relation with his studies, students and teachers. Among other well known instructors he studied with Li Zi Ming, Hsu Hong-Chi, Liao WuChang, Fu Shu Yun,  and Wang Shu Sheng. He was deeply involved in Xing Yi, KajuKenBo, Bagua and other arts such as Monkey Boxing. He left many students along with a wide range of material passed to new generations, such as bone setting, martial skills and internal practices. One of the gifts that Sifu Black gave to the martial world was his compilation, in English, of his teacher Li Zi Ming’s writings, a book entitled Liang Zhen Pu. This book has been out of print for a long while, but Plum is bringing it back within the next couple of months.

The day before Sifu Black’s death, on February 25, the esteemed Ralph Castro, one of the world’s top KenpoRalph Castro practitioners, passed away. He was 87 years old.

He was friend and student of such martial artists as Ed Parker, James Lee, Wally Jay, Jhoon Rhee and Bruce Lee (Sifu Castro being the only man to block Bruce’s back fist).

Born in Hawaii, he moved to the mainland in 1958 and opened the first Kenpo Karate studio in Northern California. He was a devoted family man, including his children in his lifelong love and practice of Shaolin Kenpo Karate.

May their memories be blessings.

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What is “frame?” If the answer doesn’t come immediately, don’t worry—this is a concept that confuses a good segment of the martial student body. At first glance, it simply consists of standing a certain way and holding your limbs in an agreed upon configuration. Of course, people assume different shapes—but sometimes what they think of as an impenetrable en garde really leaks like a hovel made from discarded pallettes. A good frame doesn’t leak.

There are said to be three main frames in the art and science of Kung Fu: large, medium and small. These divisions correspond to the foundational concept of heaven, mankind and earth. These are thought to be the universal levels of martial reality, whether coin small or galaxy large.

Although this gives us a fair beginning, a frame is more than a tri-sected “frozen” position—it is not just a stance, but a personal space in which to take that stance, to move around in, and to claim.

Some martial instructors designate this as an “envelope.” I disagree, because envelopes are mainly about  protective zones. Practicing your ‘frame’ also involves topics such as release of power, internal training and more. It is the shape of the entire body and how it relates to itself. A “small” frame, popular in some southern styles, is practiced with abbreviated movements, while Yang style Tai Chi is known for a large and rather elegant frame.

Frames are not straitjackets. They can be adjusted at will. You may adjust your frame for fighting, for multi-opponent attacks, for Qigong, for conditioning, for distance. Not only MAY you make this adjustment, but you SHOULD.

A good frame is a theme that brings together thought and actions. A frame integrates the elements of posture, stance, and intent within its shape. Unlike an envelope, which defensively limits fighting space, frame dynamically secures or even exceeds the space. It is responsive, not only to the opponent but to the action inside it.

Frames are not arbitrary, but they are flexible. The idea of a frame is really understandable when you consider weapons. In a knife-carrying frame you want to keep your limbs inside the frame. Facing someone with a knife, for instance, requires a different frame than going against a long stick.

Frame teaches boundaries; just let that tennis ball go out of bounds or that hooking punch take the big, inefficient path toward your pate. Recognizing your opponent’s frame is like knowing his private code. It encourages all the proportions and numbers like the painter holding up his out-stretched arm and thumb to measure a subject’s distance in space, or the gauging jab of western boxing.

One of the major achievements of Chinese martial arts lies in the genius of layered information. For instance, putting yourself into the right frame, correcting any inequities in posture and alignment, not to mention practicing that ever-present intention to explode out of your position—these all can be coordinated into a single frame exercise, a perfect example of deep layers of information: the data.

kung fu frame

Example of proper Kung Fu frame.

Taking the frame into your studio allows you to fine tune what you see in the mirror, work with partners, use equipment. Can you generate power from this position? Can you conceal the source of this power? Is your frame appropriate, considering your imagined opponent?

I don’t want to dishearten any practitioners’ efforts, but over the years I’ve seen many people obsessed with speed, power and balance (all good topics in themselves) yet almost oblivious when it comes to posture and frame.

The need for frames pops up everywhere. Eliminating couch slouch, ignoring instructions from your teacher, messing around with classical moves so they seem to FEEL more power, pushing yourself to distraction; in all sorts of ways frame training can have a positive effect correcting life’s bad habits no matter which corner of the mat you start with.

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How to Make Friends With 60:40 Stance

Kung Fu Stance  60:40We have been practicing and discussing how to make friends with 60:40 stance in our recent community classes. This is where 60% of the weight is on the back leg, and 40% is on the front leg. Often the most uncomfortable or difficult to understand stance, where many students are just bearing it until they can pop out of it at the first opportunity. Yet it is of utmost importance because we move through this stance all the time. Going from 50:50 Horse Stance to Bow Stance, or Horse Stance to Empty stance and most places in between, we must move through 60:40. So it teaches us about how to maintain full engagement through transitions. All stances done correctly, feel alive, not inanimate like a stone. Taiji is moving meditation where there is stillness in motion, and motion in stillness. It should dynamically balance the 6 directions, heaviness and lightness, fullness and emptiness. Transitions are agile and adaptable according to what presents from moment to moment.

60:40 is not very far from 50:50. It’s only a 10% differential!

One thing that seems to turn a light on for students is noticing that 60:40 is not very far from 50:50. It’s only a 10% differential! Read more →


Teach Your Students Well

sifu adam hsuAs we previously mentioned, we are working on the production of Sifu Adam Hsu’s newest book in English—we hope to have it out by mid-year.

Since Hsu Shifu is in Taipei and we are in California, a lot of our communication over the fine details happens through email, so we were particularly happy to get a nice long voice recording from him last week, talking a good deal about his motivations  for this volume in the first place—that is, an ever-increasing concern over the current state of martial study and practice. Hsu has spent the better part of his long martial career on this very subject, what constitutes authentic, traditional practice, and how to keep real martial arts healthy and adaptable in the future.

What inspires this short post, though, came partway through the recording; it was his imperative, his plea to just teach our students the basics, teach our students well.

We remain inspired to do just that, at our studio and on Plum.

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New Arrivals: Tai Chi Staff, Shaolin Fists

Trying to keep up with the tower of material stacked high here at Plum, waiting to be catalogued and madeTai Chi Staff available to you!

Today’s newest additions start off with the Yang Tai Chi 68 Staff DVD (2 parts) demonstrated by the popular Jiang Jiang Ye. This 68 move form is one of the longest sets we’ve ever seen, especially considering the low percentage of repeat movements.

The other welcome newcomers are in our ever-increasing series of en face (dual language—English/Chinese) books, each with a companion VCD (also in Chinese with English subtitles). This series offers nice color photo breakdowns with dual-language instruction, and then the VCD, with demo and instruction. For those of you learning to read Chinese, this is a great learning aid.

The first of these is the famous Shaolin Small Red Boxing (Xiao Hong Quan). This short and easily learned (we said easily learned, not perfected) tao lu shows the handed-down postures and actions of this strong and definite Middle Boxing. This is an example of the core forms of Shaolin.

The next book/vcd presentation teaches a Shaolin Baji Quan form. Over time, Shaolin has married many styles with its own system—Baji, Pigua, Tong Bei, Mantis—archiving the deeper reserves of each style to include its forms, herbals, fighting and Qigong.