Sifu Goldberg

I was watching Jackie Chan movies a decade or so earlier than most people had heard the name. I loved the training part of his old films which fit the classic formula but with the addition of humor and whimsical disregard for physical laws.  Here was the white whiskered, surly sifu who had put Jackie into some contraption that look like the cartoonist Rube Goldberg had designed it in a fugue state. Often Jackie would be doing something like being stretched on a scaffolding of bamboo, all limbs tied by vines stretching his limbs in four directions while his agonized struggles powered a huge leaf fan to stir a light breeze over his snoring master. That sort of thing…

It’s not as if Kung Fu history were not actually peppered with such wild inventions (or for that matter all of military history right up to the Stealth fighter). I’ve even designed and built a few of my own some of them silly and others completely sillier.

There is, of course, the famous heated iron urn of Shaolin which when moved, left indelible pictures of a tiger and a dragon forever blazoned on your forearms. But this was initiation, not training. Take dummies and poles for instance. Just about everyone is familiar with the Wing Chun dummy, but what about the Baji dummy, and the Bagua poles? Even all this only pales before Choy Lai Fut’s entire dummy collection every one of which has at least one flexible joint just to emphasize how willing people are to bludgeon themselves if you will only give them the chance.

Some devices create mini environments like the CLF eight bag stand where, once you get them going, you are attacked from four directions with eight bags all at once. Tai Chi uses the same surround sound approach but all to hold up a single huge  ball (see top). Not exactly portable but when there are no Push Hands partners around…

Many odd devices are highly specialized. Think of a wooden box like a Kleenex container. The box is filled with yarrow stalks, chopsticks, whatever. You thrust your hand through the oval opening, , bend your fingers and pull hard attempting to sheer the twigs on the way out. The function of this training device? Rather obviously for spear handing the stomach, latching onto the opponent’s rib cage and then pulling hard.

The old legend has it that Shaolin dummies were spring loaded to attack when you depressed the floor boards, the Bang! A wooden man with an extended spear was barreling down toward your startled body.

Of course not all the devices were loony. In fact some are ingenious and relatively simple. And, like the heavy bag they are particularly effective if you understand what to do with them (which it seems most heavy bag workers don’t). If some one asked me what was the one essential item (not a weapon) that everyone should incorporate into his or her training some years ago I would have said the kettle bells. But everyone has caught up to that. For Chinese martial artists now I think the answer would have to be the ball. You can use the ball a lot of different ways from throwing it up and catching it to the most sophisticated of uses. But  just holding onto it and rolling your arms around it will give you a lot of training.

What the ball addresses is the inability of people to make a true circle. Most students can do circular motions at the height of their eyes but the moment the ball falls lower than the heart their arms want to drift off on a straight line. The ball is a great antidote to this. There are all sorts of others way to work with it, on a table top, hand to hand, between two people, and just for our plum customers a neat little exercise by our New York correspondent Gary Shapiro…

Click for movie

Leave a Reply

What do you have to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.