Expand Yourself

Just in the final stages of the book I’m writing on Kung Fu Saber. I had an insight about why I’m fascinated by weapon’s work. Below is a rounding out of some of these thoughts.

Kung Fu Weapons TrainingI’ve mentioned a few times that I have a slightly different idea about the relation of weapons play to martial arts and, even, human life. Usually I focus on the cliché that any weapon is “an extension of our body.” Of course there’s truth here but it’s not exactly a revealed secret.

However, looking at weapons training in a different way we can actually gain some insight by saying “the human body can be an extension of the weapon.” We all do it. Think of the spear, for example, as a ten foot extension of our fingernail. But we forget that if we want to really master the spear we will have to make our bodies fit into the spear’s nature, not the other way around. The arms do not move too much. The hands must work in accord. Most importantly, we must do incredibly small movements to get the correct big effects. If we work too big, the spear will leave our service and may even turn against us. Read more →


Classics Texts for the Scholar’s Shelf

Three more for the martial scholar, the warrior or just someone who likes books (some such people still exist, thankfully). In each case, just click a picture to see and learn more.

Chinese Martial Arts booksC087 Bagua Sword Studies
by Sun Lu Tang, $12.95
60 pages, many photos of Sun Lu Tang himself
Published 1927

Some people think of Sun as the most famous internal stylist of all. Here is a classic Bagua sword in a first edition facsimile. We also offer a nice translation (available on the sale page for this book).

Hand-Arm Record, Wrestling, Archery notes, Shooting record
by Wu Shu Deng $15.95

Hard to believe but there are few surviving texts, even from the literate Chinese scholars, on the real details of warfare, strategy, techniques and customs. The so called “Arm Record” is one of the few, and has over the centuries been employed as a kind of standard, not only for what was exceptional but for what has been lost, too.


Nei Gong 13 Sections Illustrated
by Bao Ting, $11.95
Published 1927

Some strange photographs which appears to have been taken at a boardwalk. Qigong of an almost Yoga-like style. Much reclining. Some lying flat. Some objects to be used for “patting” or what is often called Luo Han Qi Gong. All demonstrated by a noted Xing Yi player. This book is meant to be clear enough in its Chinese instructions to substitute for a live teacher.


In Good Standing

WujishiWe received this (unsolicited) review of Wujishi Breathing Exercises, from our friend Tim, in Alaska.

Wujishi is one of those important resources in the martial world that eventually goes out of print and drifts away…except in this case, we tracked down the publisher, bought the copyright, and republished it in 2013. It is one of the first books to be published on what is now a rather popular topic—Zhan Zhuang—or standing exercises. It is a component of the qigong of most traditional martial practice and, of course, is the basis of Yiquan.

Tim writes:

“It might seem counter-intuitive to many people that so much can be accomplished “just standing there” rather than doing a lot of complex movements. Some people might find what is described in the case-histories in the book hard to believe. I am experiencing some of the changes described in the book:

My hair color is changing from gray back to darker color
The hair on my head is getting thicker (balding reversing)
Cysts (fat deposits) on my arms are slowly dissolving
Spider veins in my ankles are disappearing
My energy and mental clarity are improving
Type 2 diabetes reversing (this might be partly diet changes, too)

These changes take time to happen–but they do happen. It works like a slow moving magic bullet.

From my experience I would say to people–yes, what is described in the book is real and it is worth spending the time to take up the practice of Zhan Zhuang. While I don’t claim to be an expert on Zhan Zhuang, my impression of “Wujishi Breathing Exercises” is that it teaches what is essential in a simple manner, yet is also very effective.
I am starting to learn the Zhan Zhuang practices taught by C S Tang in his “YiQuan” book. Starting with “Wujishi Breathing Exercises” is good background for further study.

After seeing that Zhan Zhuang practice can actually reverse aging, I’ve been giving copies of “Wujishi Breathing Exercises” to relatives and co-workers. I just sent a copy to my employer’s wellness library–this book is so remarkable I want to share it with anyone who will listen!”


Anyone else have things to say or report about standing practice? We would love to hear…



Managing Forms

You’ve been practicing awhile. You are no longer a novice. Your belt or sash no longer wears stiffly as though it were just a larger version of a bow tie. You now have “rank” whether or not it is formally recognized in your style.

FormsYou have accumulated some formal training, too. You may have collected or been taught enough forms that their practice looks to be a little out of hand. You like forms. You don’t want to lose them. You practice pretty diligently your CURRENT form and some others but you feel a little slippage. What to do? Read more →


A Glimpse into Bajiquan

Adam Hsu Baji ThunderBaji Thunder, Adam Hsu’s 3 volume course on the elusive art of Bajiquan, has been one of the most ambitious projects ever seen from a single instructor.

Sifu Hsu has created a series of 14 DVDs teaching the core of Baji Quan (Eight Ultimates Boxing,) probably the fastest rising style of Kung Fu out there at this moment. He has also combined authentic Kung Fu tradition with modern practical concerns by teaching far more information than the average presentation. Typically, a series centered around key forms would devote 70 per cent to the form and 30 per cent or less to applications and usage. Here the formula is reversed. Baji has a unique training method that results in its signature mix of power, simplicity and beauty.

Yes, we know that this is a large series and can be seen as something of a financial commitment—though pricing out each DVD you’ll find them well under $30 each, not to mention the fact that you can buy this series in parts as your bank account allows. And, yes, we know that showing you a few minutes of video can’t fully demonstrate such a rich style or such a vest landscape of information and training. But we couldn’t resist placing a sample of each volume here.

So enjoy watching the style that has protected kings and presidents for centuries.


Natural Speed: Three Step Program

unlocking martial speed I won’t keep you in suspense about what the three step is, so here’s the saying: “Slow is fluid, and fluid is fast.” On at least one level, pretty much everyone might agree with this. And, as your Kung Fu skills increase, that border between fluid and fast will start to wash away.

The hard part is not fluid to fast; the real difficulty comes from nursing fluidity out of slowness. This concept is just weird to those born into a digital culture where every question is answered with too many hits and not enough solitude.

Read more →


There Are No Secrets

Are there secrets in the martial arts? I often read of well-meaning martial instructors using this phrase, inferring that hard work is the guarantee to progress, and that long-held and closely-kept secrets are the stuff of legend. Whenever I hear this statement applied to martial arts or, for that matter, any other pursuit, I try to avert my gaze so my eye-rolling will only be apparent on the inside; in other words, a secret.

Secrecy is a volatile topic, in or out of martial training. I know the subject is way too big for a simple article like this but it might at least stir up some thoughts.

First, I believe that secrets are everywhere. They are natural to our species; they come with the territory of being human and expand with our envy. Anyone with sisters knows that they keep secrets (thank God!) Parents, teachers, bosses…even that supposed universal public activity— science—is a long chain of one secret after another, from A-bombs to bickering mathematicians to infectious disease research held close until notoriety comes knocking. Our world—from the billions spent each year on industrial espionage to the billions supporting finance—could not even exist without secrets.

In the world of martial arts, secrets often start with teachers. Read more →


Adam Hsu’s Bajiquan Trilogy: Volumes 2 & 3 Are Here!

Bajiquan Thunder Volumes 2 and 3 with Adam HsuAt Last!

After more than one year’s anticipation, not just the second installment of Adam Hsu’s magnificent Bajiquan trilogy, but the fabulous third and final volume have both arrived.

There is so much in this series of Baji DVDs that we’re just going to suggest that you either look at the descriptions on the sale page, or click to the Table of Contents for the whole series components. We sincerely consider this video presentation of Bajiquan to be the best, at present (and, most likely, the best that ever will be.)

See for yourself.


Thinking in Circles? Try Bagua!

BaguaAlready wondering what you are going to do with those lazy days of summer?

For those in our area (Santa Cruz, California) how about joining us for 4 classes on Bagua Zhang (Saturday, July 9 – 30, 11:00 – 12:30)? This course will focus on the core movements, routines, and principles of this great and beloved martial art. Ted Mancuso, director of Plum and author of several works on the subject, will teach this introductory seminar.

Put your feet where your thoughts are, and do some circle-walking at the Academy in July. Hope to see you there.

For more on this and other classes at our Santa Cruz studio, click here.


Wong Fei Hung’s Five Animal Fist

Wong Fei Hung style Five Animal Fist Kung FuWe’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.



Today I celebrate fifty years in the martial arts.50_3b

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 50_2band 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.50_1b

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.


Bajiquan Celebration in Taiwan

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.


Remarkable Adam Hsu

Adam Hsu Baji thunder Volumes 2 and 3Not 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 that a few words of explanation are not mis-spent. In fact, he is producing something completely new based on one of the most traditional methods for teaching martial arts.

He will soon release, through Plum, the second and third volumes in his masterful series, Baji Thunder. Volume 1, which contains 7 DVDs, was titled, simply, “Foundations.” The forthcoming Volume 2 is entitled “Development,” and the third, to follow shortly after, is called “Advanced.” Foundations centers on Xiao Baji; Volume Two’s “Development” constellates Da Baji; and the third, “Advanced,” is a 4 DVD set teaching the rare Liu Da Kai, along with Ba Da Shi.

Just issuing a series with this much depth (three DVD sets, comprised of 14 disks) is a remarkable achievement. In them, Hsu Sifu turns the whole form instruction structure on its head. In a sense he is 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 later. Sifu Hsu—in this series, especially—contends this backwards. Read more →


A Walk in the Young Forest: Northern Shaolin vol. 1

Young Forest, Traditional Skill Northern ShaolinThis 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.

And for more English language books on Shaolin click here.

Shaolin Kung Fu Praying Mantis style


Practical Qin Na: Second volume arrives

Qin Na Kung FuWe’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.


Instructor’s Notebook #29: Metaphorically Speaking

martial arts teacher toolsTeachers 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.

martial arts teacher toolsEveryone 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.

Critic5There 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 →


Adam Hsu Linking Form in Santa Cruz

Linking Form

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


Kong Han Ngo Cho: Five Ancestors of Kung Fu

Kong Han Ngo Cho Five Ancestors FistWhat a great book! If you have any interest in Five Ancestors Fist (Ngo Cho Kun) or Southern Boxing in general, this large, well-illustrated volume is a must-have for your library.

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.)


Snap of a Sleeve: Training for Martial Speed

training for martial speedWhen 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

training for martial speedIn 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 →


Li Tianji’s Xing Yi Legacy; Andrea Falk’s Dictionary

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? …