About Comments

We’re having a minor problem with the ability for readers to leave comments. If you would like to comment on an article, please click here and we can add your comment to the article.

Jan
21
2019

Year of the Earth Pig: Feb. 5, 2019-Jan. 24, 2020

Plum’s resident Chinese Astrologer, Narrye Caldwell, once again graces our site with her annual post on the upcoming New Year—this year’s party is hosted by the Earth Pig.

Chinese paper cutting-Pig

Made by Fanghong

The year of the Earth Pig arrives on February 5, 2019. If you’re feeling a bit, well, dog-eared, after last year, I’m happy to tell you that the Pig Year will usher in a return to civility. Enough of this junk yard brawling and posturing with everyone’s hackles up. The Pig is all about conviviality, grace, and harmony. So let’s break this down.

First, there are always one or more elements to consider in every year. Last year (Earth Dog) was double Earth. The earth element can provide nourishment and stability. But too much, without any balancing influences, can cause stagnation and obstruction. That, combined with the Dog’s uncompromising defensive attitude (read stubbornness) can create an environment of intractable hostility and anxiety. Witness the January stand off between Congress and the White House, the culmination of a year of this sort of thing.

With the upcoming Earth Pig Year, we have an Earth/Water combination. Water brings in the possibility of flow, movement, ease. In Chinese culture, water is a symbol of prosperity. It also signals the end of a cycle, a time when things dissolve and return to a state of incubation so that a new cycle can begin. Water can flow gently, or it can sweep you off your feet like a tidal wave. Much depends on other elemental influences. In this case, we have Earth combining with Water. Think of this like the banks of a river, or the land forms around a sparkling lake. Earth contains the water, gently guiding it along, so we benefit from flow and circulation, but are protected from torrential rain and floods.

Now, about that Pig. Pigs, like the water element, are at the end of a cycle. In this case, the 12 branch zodiac cycle. So the Pig is related to that auspicious moment when an old cycle is going to ground while a new cycle is being seeded. Now, don’t expect the sudden appearance of a progressive and enlightened new age. This process takes time, and careful management of the qi. I’m going to take a risk here and predict that the dissolution of this current cycle of corruption and divisiveness will unfold over a period of 2-3 years. Yes, we’ll see some welcome endings in 2019. But then in 2020 we’ll need to show patience and attention to detail so the Rat can continue to incubate the seeds of change with careful data collection and analysis. Then we’ve got the Ox year in 2021 to put noses to the grindstone and do the required work to stabilize new foundations, before a courageous leap into a progressive new era can be launched with the Tiger qi in 2022. All I can say is, we better do things with scrupulous integrity over the next couple of years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Read more →

Jan
19
2019

Speed and…uh…Timing

I tell my students over and over to “go fast, but don’t hurry.” In the martial world, too early can be as bad as too late. After all, how long do you want to wait for the plane to land? On the other hand, who wants it to arrive maddeningly early?

Timing is a necessity. Your practiced movement truly timed can reroute the heaviest of punches., dissolve the fiercest attacks. On the other hand, confusing your opponent’s timing is like striking him blind.

After you recognize the two most physical and assumable goals in martial arts—power and speed—there is a next level to explore—impact and timing. Timing makes sure things arrive when they should; impact helps determine how much of that power is beneficially transferred. Read more →

Jan
12
2019

Stand Still, Be Fit

The CDC released some disturbing data on falls for the year 2017. More than one in four seniors experienced falls. Among Americans, falls were the number one cause of injury and death from injury. The CDC recorded 29 million falls, 3 million emergency room visits, resulting in $31 billion in medicare costs. Most alarming was the fact that two thirds of those who fell, fell again within six months.

Fall prevention remains a major focus in the home care environment. I had some trepidation when I first transitioned from hospital work to home care. I had to learn to think on my feet when home safety and fall prevention were issues. There was no exercise equipment or additional personnel to rely on. What could I do for a patient who couldn’t walk because of weakness and poor balance? I posed this question to my supervisor. She told me that the most effective thing that I could do with such a patient,
was to wheel him/her to the kitchen sink, and assist them to stand.

At this stage of my career I didn’t know why this simple intervention would be beneficial. My supervisor was very experienced, so I had no reason to doubt her. Somehow, intuitively, I knew that she was right. I also knew that many martial artists supple-mented there training by holding static postures/stances up to thirty minutes at a time. Anecdotally, they reported increased leg strength, balance, and improved body usage as a result of this practice.

I told my patients that the sink was their “ballet bar”; a place for them to build a solid foundation. They would use the sink to stand, and keep holding on to it if their balance was too poor. Standing time would be gradually lengthened, and trials of unsupported (grip free) standing would be added in order to stimulate the body’s own reflexive balance reactions. Read more →

Jan
2
2019

The Passing of Wong Jackman

Wong Jack ManWe are sad to announce the passing of Northern Shaolin Sifu Wong Jack Man. Known long before his famous fight with Bruce Lee, Wong Sifu had become a major proponent of Bak Sil Lum, Iron Body, and Golden Bell skills. With the death last year of Kwong Wing Lam, Gu Ru Zhang’s lineage has lost two of its aficionados.

Our thoughts go out to his friends, family, students and colleagues. May his memory be a blessing.

 

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

NOTE: We’ve been investigating a glitch in our “comments” section. Until it is fixed please leave your comments on the form below. They are important to us.

Dec
30
2018

Lean Into Wu

wu style taichichuan

One of our most popular books has just returned:

Wu Style TaiChiChuan: Forms, Concepts and Application of the Original Style, by Wu Ying-Hua and Ma Yueh-Liang. This book, along with its companion, Wu Style Tui Shou (Push Hands) book by the same author are two contemporary classics in the Tai Chi Library. Both are now back in stock.

Dec
28
2018

Five of Five: New Books

We welcome five new texts, three of them in both Chinese and English. Among the lot we have a nicely done 5 Animals routine. We also have something very unusual: a duet set where spear battles…another spear. Do not try this at home.

Happy New Year to all of you from all of us—Ted, Linda and Debbie

 


Hua Tuo’s Five Animal Frolics

Short Blades and Bayonets

Shaolin Dueling spears (Six Harmony)

Hong Style Long Fist, Yan Qing branch

Great Spirit Five Elements Boxing

 

 

Dec
23
2018

Personal Practice

What is a practice? What can it do? Practice is not just a workout. It is a recognition of engagement at that moment. It records, immediately, every nuance expressed in your story, laying those tiles piece by piece. Often, workouts sidestep the mind and can barely be remembered by dinnertime. From practice we recall the sense of the entire story—not just the memory of unexpected revelation, but some lasting fragrance announcing those days when summer starts to lean on autumn.

What is a practice? It’s fashionable to have a practice these days. But most of these practices are prescriptive; you can find a practice or take a pill.

Practice may be intensely personal, but the feeling is indisputably ancient and universally human. Yet, authentic practice is in danger. Many people start a practice, only to alter it when it gets difficult, or choose one off the shelf that is already modified to be easily done. Commodity driven, practice becomes a spiritual fast food, and everyone gets a diploma because they wrote it themselves. Read more →

Dec
19
2018

Caylor Adkins

Caylor AdkinsWe recently learned of the passing of Caylor Adkins, who died in November at the age of 84. Mr Adkins was well-known for decades as a Karateka, but his work bridged both Japanese and the Chinese martial arts, most specifically in his insightful text on Iron Ball, Wooden Staff, Empty Hands.

We mourn his passing, and extend our heartfelt wishes to his family, friends, students and colleagues. May his memory be a blessing.

Dec
18
2018

The Dragon in Bagua Zhang

One of Plum’s longtime favorite and recommended books is Tom Bisio’s “Essentials of Bagua Zhang.” Below is an excerpt dealing with his view of the Dragon’s influence on one of China’s greatest masterworks in the world of martial arts. You get an actual ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ in the passage below, in that Bisio himself quotes Francois Jullien on The Dragon. Please read…

“Therefore Ba Gua emphasizes continuous movement, countering and re-countering, and dynamic states of change and transformation. These ideas are often described by using the juxtaposition of opposites: “stillness within motion”; “stand like a nail and move like the wind”;and “firmness and gentleness in mutual assistance.” Another image used by Ba Gua practitioners is that one should “walk like a dragon, turn like a money and change like an eagle,” varying the shape, spirit and dynamics of one’s movements. Francois Julien’s description of the dragon motif in Chinese culture is a beautiful metaphor for this idea of constant change and could easily serve as a description of Ba Gua Zhang in action. *

“The body of the dragon concentrates energy in its sinuous curves and coils and uncoils to move along more quickly. It is a symbol with all the potential with which form can be charged, a potential that never ceases to be actualized. The dragon now lurks in watery depths, now streaks aloft to the heavens, and its very gait is a continuous undulation. It presents an image of energy constantly recharged through occillation from one pole to the other.” **

Essentials of Bagua Zhang

 

* “The Essentials of Ba Gua Zhang,” Gao Ji Wu and Tom Bisio
A mature, solid book on the art of Ba Gua Zhang with a number of ares of focus such as the 36 and 48 Methods offering the blood and bones of the art, individual animal postures, applications and standing postures.

** “The Propensity of Things: Toward History of Efficacy in China,” Francois Jullien, New York, Zone Books, 1999, p. 151

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

NOTE: We’ve been investigating a glitch in our “comments” section. Until it is fixed please leave your comments on the form below. They are important to us.

Dec
14
2018

How Legends Grow

kung fu weaponsAfter 5000 years, an ocean of rumor and a mountain range of myth still proscribe the land of Kung Fu. And the stories that most attach themselves are often related to the origins of weapons.

Not every weapon has a backstory and a legend. But the folk stories that accompany weapons—believable or not—range from the commonplace to the downright suspicious, like that unreliable character in “The Usual Suspects.” They fall, generally, into the myth-building activity of explaining how the triple staff works, or why the Tiger Hooks must be played in a certain way.

Standard backgrounds on all but the most uncommon weapons exist, but here I’ll tell a few of the old, lesser-known tales.

For instance, there is a knotty inheritance to the entire category of flails (sticks with linked sections). Most martial artists are familiar with the nunchaku, a pair of short dowels of equal length, linked together at one end. This weapon is said to have been used as a threshing tool, although its origins are tangled and I’ll return to that in a bit. Read more →

Dec
9
2018

Back to Bajiquan

Just restocked a handful of Baji books, and they can be found HERE

Bajiquan

Essence of Baji Boxing

bajiquan

Bajiquan Heritage

bajiquan

Grappling Baji—Xiao Baji

Nov
30
2018

Two Times Three, But Who’s Counting?

kung fu booksOur offering today centers around “two”—a triplet of Chinese texts each with a special relationship to the number. 

The first of these is a text recommended by Adam Hsu, on the rare “Wild Goose” saber, a cross between a saber and a straight sword. This unusual weapon balances perfectly the special features of both types of blades.

 

Next comes one of the best two-person sword sets ever created: the San Cai Sword. This famous form can be practiced individually or with a partner. As single set it covers most of the actual strokes associated with this weapon. When two people square off—and this is a rare thing—the movements are actually those of two people fencing. Among other things this allows rehearsal of a very different but universally applicable flavor—intercepting with an unusual defense.

 

https://www.plumpub.com/images/CB/sc300/bk_sc349m.jpgFinally, a fun item. This is a copy of Gung Ji Fuk Fu, the prime set for the Hung system. But this version takes the normally illustrated single practice and adds to each page a drawing of the formerly absent opponent and his actions. All of the drawings for the “other side” show the opponent getting his come-uppance…and then some. 

Nov
27
2018

The Sophistication of Simplicity

tai chi basicsEarlier today, I had the opportunity to work with a group of beginning Tai Chi students. A few hours later, I met with another group of students in my advanced Tai Chi class. Now, relaxing at the dusty end of the day, I realize that what I had taught to these two classes was essentially the same material.

I know the saying that ‘all the knowledge is ultimately basic,’ but I wonder if that is true. Might there not be such things so advanced that they should be held in storage until the student is ready? The question is important because this will occupy, in some measure, the rest of my life, and maybe my student’s.

The idea is that training, like wine, ages and deepens. But sometimes I think that the reason for the change in taste is that we are switching wines somewhere in the process. Read more →

Nov
24
2018

Q & A: Single Move, Same Way?

Dear Plum,

I have been thinking a lot about repeated moves in Tai Chi Chuan sets. In Chen style, for example, Single Whip is done in Eighteen Movements, 7 times in Lao Jia (Old Frame), 7 times in Xin Jia (New Frame), once in Lao Jia 2 (Cannon Fist) and one in Xin Jia 2. Plus it is done in Xiao Jia (Small frame), and if someone wanted to argue that some weapons moves are really Single Whip, I’d not disagree.

So, if you are teaching would you prefer a student did Single Whip the same way seventeen times in the various sets? Or would you prefer that the student show off seven or seventeen ways to do Single Whip? I could understand if the choreography was set up to go from seven different position to Single Whip or maybe from Single Whip to seven different positions. But that’s not the case. Likewise, if you wanted to teach how to get from Wave Hands like Clouds or Repulse the Monkey on the left seide and then on the right side you need three reps – but five?

Tai Chi MovesI have heard lame excuses like rectifying the position in space. 20 generations of grandmasters could not find any other step? Someone who shall remain nameless suggested it was to do with meridian qi flow? So I asked “If the qi was not right on the first three Wave Hands what will change on the 4th and 5th?” Read more →

Nov
23
2018

Q & A: Yi (意-Intention) and the Levels of Tai Chi

I have been told that tai chi can be done on three levels: up high and lightly for stress relief, down low working the muscles for health, and in the middle for combat. But as I was drawing a diagram for my students, it didn’t seem complete.

The more I looked at it the more it seemed that it should go like this: on one level I can do the forms to just reduce intention in tai chistress, on another level I can do the forms and unpack the techniques and applications, and I can do it for health (but there is more to health than just exercising the body and range of motion, it includes qi gong as well, which appears to be linked to energy), another level I can do it for is the flow (that awesome flowy feeling when all the moves are one continuous motion and energy feels like a shadow following the flow), and finally when you do the form feeling like your moving through water and/or stuff in the air and specifically to connect to energy and your own energy just spikes. Read more →

Oct
29
2018

The Cinematic World of Hong Kong: The Heritage of Hung Gar

Kung Fu CinemaSometimes a book comes along dealing with a topic in which you thought you had little interest. Then you open it and—wow!—it reciprocates to open up a world for you. Lingnan Hung Kuen: Kung Fu in Cinema and Community is one of those books.

It looked like a nice gift item. But once we got into the text, we realized that this book is more than just a pretty face; in well-written text, the authors explore not only Hung Kuen’s Lam family and their amazing insight into recording their style photographically, but sets this against the backdrop of 20th century Kung Fu cinema.

Starting from what many people call the birth of modern Kung Fu films—One-Armed Swordsman—it proceeds to other beloved classic (and not-so-classic) films. Topics such as choreography, masculine and feminine roles, plots, historical representation—even a wonderful section on full-color, hand-painted Kung Fu film posters from Ghana—fill the pages of this book.

The photos of Lam Sai Wing alone make this a lasting treasure.

 

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

NOTE: We’ve been investigating a glitch in our “comments” section. Until it is fixed please leave your comments on the form below. They are important to us.

Oct
24
2018

The Lightest Touch, the Heaviest Load

kung fu qualities

Kung Fu hides many of its secrets in terms of opposite qualities such as fast/slow, open/close, light and heavy. But don’t let the words obscure the story. The names are significant, but it’s their entwined relationship that holds the real stash.

Take heavy and light. In the martial arts community, especially the Chinese branch, there is persistent intrigue about the heaviness of a trained artist’s arm, or the lightness of an expert’s sensitive touch. For instance, Grandmaster Yang Chen Fu (of Yang Style Tai Chi) was said to bring men to their knees simply by resting his arm on their shoulders.

Now don’t be misled—despite similarities, light and heavy are not the same as rooting. Rooting sinks and stabilizes your body. Lightness and heaviness are power delivery methods—angle and intensity. And, as with most traditional training, the body never travels without the mind, or intent.

Scrutinize these two poles. Heaviness implies authority. A heavy kick is one that can launch an opponent across the room while folding him like a road map. Lightness, a little harder to master, can penetrate a fighter’s defense so thoroughly that he starts swatting at himself. Read more →

Oct
21
2018

Bak Sil Lum Sash Event

Today there are nine new Black sashes in the martial art of Bak Sil Lum (Northern Shaolin) style.

At an event hosted by Sifu Scott Jensen a contingent of his senior students were awarded black sashes, a solid rank requiring years of training. Each candidate demonstrated skills, starting with a set from the empty-handed division of the core ten roads. Next came  demonstrations with single—then crossed—weapons, followed by controlled and free sparring among the honorees.

We saw a school with

tremendous internal support and offering a wide variety of skills. These skills, acquired over decades and inspired by the enthusiasm of Sifu Jensen, have been handed down with a real concentration of Wu De (Martial Virtue). Guiding this ceremony, Jensen and his wife, Rachel, awarded each participant not only a black sash but a Chinese name, a certificate of merit and two handwritten calligraphic scrolls.

Among the other surprises and presentations were a number of Bak Sil Lum forms we had never seen before, a special demonstration of a version of San Cai Sword, and the Sil Lum Partner fighting set performed by Erica and Pauline Bermudo. Student testimonials were honest, sincere and spoke of personal experience demonstrating just how effective martial arts can be, even in the non-martial world.

As a special treat the event was attended by SiGong Wong Jack Man himself.

 

 

Sifu Jensen’s 10,000 Victories school offers classes in the San Rafael area. His curriculum includes Bak Sil Lum, Tai Chi, Xing Yi, Bagua weapons and internal training.

Oct
15
2018

More on the “Hard” Wing Chun

hard wing chunHere is a DVD on the Wing Chun “Upper Arm” set which we believe correlates to “Searching for the the Bridge” in the Yip Man tradition.

This is a “harder” form of Wing Chun, and related to Hung Gar. It is not the only Hard version, but one of the better known. This DVD offers a relatively easy to pick up (though not master) sequence. Sifu Lin Xin is well-known (and well-rated by Plum customers) for his teaching in this hard style Wing Chun, as well as his work in Hung Gar and the rarer Hop Gar.

 

 

Oct
12
2018

Adam Hsu on Sparring

In my own teaching, I frequently apply lessons derived from Sifu Adam Hsu’s observations. Having trained with Hsu Sifu, I have had the experience, more than once, of “aha” moments. Sometimes the “aha” was not pleasant, but in every case the thinking was logical and truthful.

So it is with great pleasure that I announce, here, a new book from Hsu Sifu that Plum will publish in the next year. Keep an eye on Kaimen for details, but in the meantime, enjoy this excerpt from Lone Sword on Sparring.

Adam Hsu On Sparring Very few people today can do real Kung Fu sparring. I don’t know about other styles, but as far as I am concerned, many of the so-called Kung Fu sparring bouts I’ve seen from mainland China, Taiwan, the United States and other countries are just typical sparring. Most examples of sparring today are pretty much like common fighting. Don protection gear, follow the rules, omit dangerous movements that would disqualify you, and jump into the ring to do it. Win or lose, almost no technique is needed. In other words, you don’t even have to study a martial art.

Some years ago there was a joke shared among some of us sifus in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many of them are world renowned and very fine martial artists. Once when we were invited to sit at ringside to watch Kung Fu sparring, I remarked that it wasn’t very enjoyable to see our ancestors from the Han dynasty fighting in the ring. At the time of the Han dynasty, I think the martial arts level was low. Fighters relied on lots of natural power, that is, muscle strength, action/reaction, courage and cunning, either to kill or be killed. Today, two thousand or so years later, what’s the difference with what we are doing now? Read more →