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Speed: Unpunch & Unkick

martial speedThe following simple techniques will drastically improve your martial speed.

My confidence in this teaching tip stems from the fact I have used it so many times and it always delivers.  It is based on a key concept in what people call “reptile response,” or conditioned reflex; in other words, actions that are hard-wired to get you to safety as fast as possible.

In daily life, you snatch your fingers back without thinking, just before that slamming car door crushes them. By the time you realize you have placed your palm on that hot stove, your hand has already pulled away. Trail-walking, you demonstrate an unsuspected agility, ducking suddenly to avoid an eye level branch that almost poked you in the face. You reacted without actually “seeing” the problem.

My point, is that these unconscious survival recognitions can be consciously retooled for speed. Visualize your hand and that slamming car door: the threatened limb pulls away in the most efficient line possible. If you could harness this pure reaction you would have a valuable asset for martial training.


Ultimately, the body does know best—it always attempts to remove you from danger. That’s the secret behind “withdrawal” training. We start by withdrawing, and then reverse it. Read more →


Help Us Help You

george xu china's living treasuresWe got an email from a kind customer, who wanted to alert us to the fact that a link he was clicking did not bring up the intended information. After a few minutes’ investigation, I would say he was putting it mildly: we had provided clips—many clips!—for each of the DVDs in China’s Living Treasures series and, with only a few exceptions, not one of them worked.


Access to the free clips are now (fingers-crossed) fixed, as well as some other inconsistencies between the two pages where most of these videos appear. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, they are produced by Vincent Lynch, and represent a nice serving of the cream of traditional martial arts teachers, most notably, George Xu, Yu Hua Long, Wang Hao Da, and others. They are seriously made DVDs with straightforward instruction and now, should you want to see clips of the material, you can go straight away and do so. This is the page for the complete collection at Plum

I mention this for two reasons: one, is that you can once again get a glimpse of some fine teaching and superb martial artists.

The second reason relates to the title of this post: if you see something on Plum that does not work, please let us know! Chances are, you are not the first to stub your toe on the problem. While we continue  our behind-the-scenes revamping of the site, we are committed to making this present version work until its last day.

So don’t be a stranger and let us hear from you!

(And here’s something we KNOW does not work as it should: the built-in WordPressComments Form. So use this one below to get the message to us.)



Listening to the Wind: On Internal Practice

Tai Chi secretsAbout a week ago I asked my Tai Chi class if they ever get bored doing the form. They unanimously answered “No,” their explanation being that the form always provides new material to concentrate on, things to master.

This suggests that the act of repetition can be either boring or freeing, and leads me to one  of my favorite topics: the constant dialogue between the internal and the external. This shows itself in practice, the threat of untutored and thoughtless redundancy chasing away the liveliness of repeated mastery.

The issue centers on spontaneity, a sure antidote for boredom. I begin on the side  of normal practice, the rehearsed routines, the definitely non-spontaneous forms.  In this formative environment students are taught to see dichotomy as adversity, “that move can’t be right both ways.” What they don’t understand is that the structure of the basics and the surprises of the spontaneous are not enemies,  causing chaos but two sides of the same magnificent statue  complementing each other.
Read more →


Four Books, Five Elements: Tong Bi With a Dash of Qigong

tong biAnnouncing FOUR new books in our Traditional Chinese Section!

The first three display an abundance of riches; all are on Wu Xing Tong Bi, or Five Elements Through the Arm Boxing, a style of ancient moves and modern popularity. Like Bajiquan, attention to this style is growing rapidly. Distinctive, fast, elegant and powerful, Tong Bi utilizes one of Kung Fu’s major principles—connected limbs and torso acting as one. Though many moves look loose and “whippy,” there is great power here. These three represent a cross-section of Wu Xing Tong Bi’s special basics and forms.

We’re also excited about a new book on Qigong routines pared down to short, effective exercises for the average person; all created by the master teacher Wang Pei Sheng.

Click the images for more information, and to purchase.


8 + 8: Bagua plus Baji

bajiquan baguazhangHappy to announce the return of a couple of hard-to-get items:

Sifu Su Yu Chang’s rare DVD performance and instruction of Liu Da Kai (Six Great Openings) Baji, detailing this important form, including applications with some atypical additions such as tie-ins to Chinese bagua bajimedicine, courtesy of Chang Sifu’s training as an acupuncturist.

Sifu Sun Zhi Jun’s masterful compilation of his Swimming Body Bagua Zhang—it’s a book! it’s a DVD encompassing about 6 hours of training! it’s translated beautifully into English by Suzanne Robidoux. What more could you ask?

Click each image to go to the page for more information and to purchase.


Foundation Building: Two New Bagua DVDs

sun zhi jun

Heath Palm

Without a doubt the work of Bagua stylist Sun Zhi Jun has been one of our most requested and purchased teaching series. The forms and shapes are extensions of Chinese medical theory. Now, after Sun’s passing, his disciple, Li Chun Ling, has taken up the banner and is issuing two pruned and simplified forms, one on posture and form, the other on health practice. The Cheng style is well-represented by these “foundational” tao lu.

Hologram Palm

The Bagua Health Palm (24383) is probably the more difficult of the two, but its movements are pretty easy to imitate. I not would not call this QiGong, more like the preferred NeiGong. Beside a relatively large and wide spectrum of tao lu, it is clear that Sun’s instruction and methodical organization, make this version of Cheng style Bagua a lead horse in the race.

The Hologram Palm (24384) claims only one position per circle, held with a flourish for the sake of performance. The Hologram shows a characteristic Cheng posture while walking alone, with others, or even just standing.


Tai Chi’s Long Bow

Addressing its reputed character, we get the impression that every earnest instructor tries a different approach to proclaim Tai Chi as a martial art.

Considering those instructors who do try and make the point feasible, the spectrum of possible arguments is endless. For instance, one common example has the instructor picking a bystander on whom to demonstrate sample mayhem: Single Whip throws the student back ten feet; Fist under Elbow twists his arm, coupled with a surreptitious punch; Snake Creeps Down leaves the recipient on the ground, hammered to the roots, so to speak.

My problem with this approach is that students are shown that Tai Chi is a martial art, but are not taught how Tai Chi is a martial art. I often wonder—even for those believing in the efficacy of Tai Chi—how they believe they can reap the art’s benefits without actually attempting some level of execution, even without a partner? Read more →


Celebrating Skill and Friendship

Last week, we wrote about Sifu Donald Hamby’s Gathering of the Masters kung fu exhibition, showcasing some of the best traditional kung fu teachers and performers.

This week, we have some video footage that we shot while there. These three videos feature a smapling of the rare and unique forms we saw there—many of which come from the legendary Ark Yuey Wong and his Five Families Fist—as well as a good sampling of southern boxing style. Top notch performers, and everything from Elephant Boxing to Bagua Judge’s needles, Hakka Boxing right next to Monkey Fist.


Part 1
Eagle Claw Applications 0:13
Fu Jow Pai 0:29
Lau Gar Stick 1:04
Elephant Boxing 1:36
Shaolin Short Strike 2:19
Heaven Mountain Comet 2:48
Hung Boxing 3:50
Lau Gar Fist 5:55
WuDang Tai Chi 6:28
Eagle Claw 8:55
Eagle Boxing 9:29
Eagle Claw Applications 10:06

Read more →


Principle-Driven Skill Development

martial principlesA book like Principle-Driven Skill Development was inevitable. The western attraction to de-construction can be highly functional and, as demonstrated here, is particularly applicable to martial principles.

In this book, teacher Russ Smith not only presents solid information but dissects years of experience to show the foundational principles of martial studies. He really thinks about how to get the most content from the “external” world into your “internal” brain (the true “internal” style). Instead of focusing on just series of techniques, this book concentrates on things like gate control, penetration, timing, unified movement and more. If you are in any phase of teaching martial arts, there are many “lesson plans” to be had here.

Some of the variations in fighting technique might make you nod your head and suddenly see a new angle. By the same token, a previously hidden correlation that you have suspected for years may show you just exactly why some movements “fit together so perfectly.


A Gathering Indeed

kung fu gatheringFriday, we drove south, over 350 miles to Monterey Park, in Los Angeles, in answer to Sifu Don Hamby’s invitation to attend his 3rd Annual Kung Fu Gathering of the Masters. Despite expectations based on decades of tournaments and events, we could not have anticipated what we encountered once the drumming started.

Sifus Don Hamby and Fenton Fong (Fu Jow Pai)

Sifu Hamby, widely known and recognized as a master teacher of the Hung Gar system,  created a powerful exhibition—more of an appreciation—showcasing a huge array of traditional performers with exceptional levels of skill. Read more →


Triple Irony

three sectional staffMartial artists always have something to do. In my case I have been reconstructing and improving my weapons skills—at least, I hope so considering the practice put in. It can be a slow process. It’s tough enough to fight through the quirks of each weapon. You also have to overcome the tendency for former ghostly versions to confuse you with what you are studying now vs. what you thought you’d absorbed from the Cenozoic period when you first picked up the weapon.

Given my personality, I often pick up the one weapon that matches the origami crinklings of my brain: the triple irons, or three sectional staff. Read more →


More Living Treasures from China

Adding nine new DVD from the estimable China’s Living Treasures series.

These include some excellent instruction on the Wu/Hao branches of Tai Chi, which is very rare in the west. Also included are instructional DVDs showing smooth and graceful performances by Yang style master Ye Xiao Long. George Xu returns with an advanced form of the Chen classic Pao Chui. Finally, a two-disk set on Wild Goose Qigong, a nice way to start your day.

All of these can be found on this same page.


Jeet Kune Do & Wing Chun: Inexpensive Intro to Bruce Lee’s art

We’ve just added to our hurt books division one of the best explanations of Jeet Kune Do, its working and goals, that we’ve ever seen—Basics of Jeet Kune Do. This is one of the special series on Basics (we also have one by Sifu Paul Eng of Praying Mantis style) relying more on detailed explanations of the total system than simplified instructions on the mechanics of basics kicks and punches. A nice, conversational approach; this would be a perfect explanation of the system, or just a lot of tips for delivering movements you probably already know.

As noted, this new acquisition is in our “hurt book” section. We have about thirty of these so-called “hurt” books (which, as in this case, look like they just came off the bookstore shelf). You can pick up this book from us for $7.95, instead of the regular price of $16.95.

While you’re at it, don’t forget that we are now restocked in the great Randy Williams DVD series (now, at a lower price, and discounted for multiple copies). And if you are looking for a more detailed description of Wing Chun’s Kicking Methods, we highly recommend Osmond Lam’s extraordinary and well-reviewed Evolution of Wing Chun Kung Fu Kicking Techniques.


Look Who’s Back!

Just a quick note to let you know that three books have returned to Plum. The first two—Paul Eng’s Kung Fu Basics, and Brian Kennedy’s Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals—can be found in our wildly popular (and ever-changing) “hurt books” section, where you can pick up some real gems in near new condition for whopping discounts (most between 40-50% off the retail price). We sometimes run out quickly, but when they’re available they’re a true bargain. (See below for our most recent customer feedback concerning these titles).

Of course, the Shaolin 10 Animal Form is a classic text for Southern Kung Fu. These old Hong Kong books are becoming harder and harder to find in print; a number of them have disappeared, but when we find them we grab them for our Plum customers. Just so happy to see this one return.

Click each image to go to its page.

kung fu books








(about Plum’s hurt books) “Everything arrived in great condition. Your hurt books are in better shape than most regular books. Also, great job packing the order, with the cardboard. I usually don’t leave feedback or comments, but everything far exceeded my expectations.”


Sunday, After the Tournament

Kung Fu tournamentPacking up over a hundred books and DVDs, we departed the Convention Center Sunday, about noon. The two-day spread of the TC Media Kung Fu tournament had allowed us to schmooze with a lot of teachers, students and fans. We felt like we’d been talking continually for two days, but then again, conversations spin off easily when the subject shared is close to heart. The activity was energetic: sifus such as Liang Shou Yu, Scott Jensen, Byron Brown, Yang Jwing Ming, Bryant Fong, William Dere, and Wu Bin criss-crossed the floor; students bumped into former teachers, colleagues engaged in catch-up; we even got to meet up with a few of our own former students. The ear-assaulting booming music compelled an intimacy, where listener and speaker leaned in closer while recounting their tales. And of course, many numerous folk stopped by us to commiserate on the loss of Kwong Wing Lam, commenting on how much he had done promoting the martial arts community. Read more →


Family Resemblance

I’ve been asked to judge at the annual Tiger Claw tournament this coming weekend. One of the things unique at this event is that it will feature, in its traditional column, not one, but TWO, Shaolin divisions.

This is particularly significant because, for the first time, these two competitions will offer double examples of true traditional Shaolin. This may resolve the question of just what, exactly, is Shaolin, by offering two separate but similar visions of the style.

These two divisions are distinguished by geography. First, we have the SongShan mountain and Temple, along with local students numbering in the thousands. In contrast, is Bak Sil Lum (Bei Shaolin, in Mandarin), a style that, though it migrated from the North, did not earn full recognition until it reached the South; thus, NORTHERN Shaolin. Much of this transportation was due to the efforts of iron palm master, Ku Yu-Cheung.

A comparison of these two branches holds up well under our gaze. The SongShan look has a rough, almost magical, shape and movement. The key sets are performed with a raw power. In contrast, Bak Sil Lum looks like it has been sanded down, smoothed, sharp edges removed.

But the kicks, the timing, the power, the poses…all show a family resemblance that deepens in the way quirks and similarities show themselves as you chat with your newly discovered cousin. Lineage can mean a lot more than a vase given to you by a wacky aunt, which you keep buried in a closet for 1500 years.

History is a told tale. It is not a fact. That’s why it is so important. This family reunion is an important step and suggests turning the focus to similarities rather than trivial differences. Having studied and taught Bak Sil Lum for a number of years, I can say that Shaolin has it own presence, in any of its manifestations.



Coming Events

Plum will be travelling in May and June to a couple of kung fu tournaments:

kung fu tournaments

10th Annual Tiger Claw Elite Kung Fu Magazine Championship,
May 19-20, 2018, San Jose, California

This year’s 2 day event will feature a NEW EXTERNAL DIVISION dedicated exclusively to Songshan Shaolin – the Kung Fu directly from Shaolin Temple alongside Traditional Kung Fu, Modern Wushu and internatl divisions in such arts as Tai Chi, Bagua Zhang and Xingyiquan. On Sunday, three Showcase Championships—the WildAid Tiger Claw Championship, the Year of the Dog – Top Dog Championship, and the Ku Yu-Cheung Bak Sil Lum Championship will preside.


Third Annual Gathering of the Masters

Hosted by Grand Master Donald Hamby
Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Federation (TCMAF)
Monterey Park, CA
Saturday, June 23, 2018, 1 pm to 5 pm

Teachers and students are invited to participate in the Third Annual Gathering of the Masters. Demonstrations of hand and weapon forms, combat techniques, sparring, sword or stick fighting, push hand, chi sau, and other specialties will be highlighted and promoted.

For more information, email Sifu Hamby.


The Gift of a Teacher

kwong wing lam Yesterday we attended the memorial for Wing Lam, my teacher for a number of years. Over a hundred students and family gathered in the chapel to pay last respects. Many people crowded the middle aisle, most of them dressed in black or white, as per the formal instructions for a Daoist ceremony. The middle aisle was barely large enough to hold the river of people crowding forward, first to take the incense stick then to bow or gesticulate as did the man on his knees right in front of me. Finally people walked to the coffin to view and bow. I turned back, though, unable to allow myself to change all those images I already kept in my head.

Debbie and I re-seated ourselves. We listened as a line of people stood and addressed the audience while two TV screens showed images to highlight the spoken word.

Again and again, students and family stood to speak their peace. Some insights about Wing Lam’s humor, kindness and knowledge brought sparkle like the sun on ocean waves. The illumination was as scattered as bursts of fireworks.

And the same message kept coming through again and again: how much they owed Lam Sifu as a teacher and as a person. How much he promoted his arts. How, finally, near the end, he did not want to bother anyone. This was his shy side. I remember him telling me about a photographer flying up from Burbank to take his picture for the cover of Black Belt Magazine. It seems he was a frustrating model. The camera man wanted Lam to show some technique like subduing his opponent with a nasty “grimace” on his face. I asked him what he did about this. “I told him,” he said to me, straight-faced, “in Kung Fu we don’t grimace.”

And now, the next day, I get a package from Hong Kong, a new book detailing Hung Gar in media, including 3-D glasses and photos, wild colors, and many famous masters of the Hung style. Beautiful illustrations, movie posters, scenes from advertising. Original photos of Lam Sai Wing. My teacher would have loved these. It’s not an instructional text, but here it is, as a reminder. I am sure there will be many more. Those eulogizing him kept saying, “You are all part of Wing Lam. Your teacher is always in your life.” With absolute serious I can say I have never seen so many people, especially men, break down and cry as they testified.

A little later we burned “money” to help his spirit billow upward to the sky.


Wing Lam Passes: April 25 2018

kwong wing lam Sifu Kwong Wing Lam passed away today from kidney failure following a period of illness. His study, beginning at age 8, brought him instruction from top notch practitioners such as Sifu Yang Shang Wu and Zhao Jiao.

Training with him for more than a decade, I recognized a teacher truly concerned for his art. His martial background was exceptional, and his practice was unfailing. He was, without a doubt, one of the most faithful and dedicated of all the practitioners I have ever met. His attitude was strong and clear, a physical, moving inspiration to his students in Tai Chi, Northern Shaolin, Hung Gar and other satellite fields. His was one of the first video courses of good quality and wide range, expanding the extended membership of these arts.

His martial interest took him down many paths. Convinced that Kung Fu weapons were too light and flimsy he started reconditioning and re-designing traditional weapons to the point of making an arsenal of superb and highly sought after instruments.

His fidelity to Kung Fu itself, minus politics or gossip, created a safe space in which students could practice and improve.

The pictures, conversations, teaching and inspiration he left behind cannot help but remain for years to come.

Goodbye, Sifu.