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.


Peasant Master

Chen ZhengleiAs promised last week, we are happy to announce the addition of a new biography of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan master Chen Zhenglei.

This book has something for everybody interested in the topic of Tai Chi Chuan—this includes the martial artist seeking Tai Chi’s principles; the person interested in Tai chi as a health regimen; the teacher studying his master’s personal approach; or an enthusiast investigating the general growth of Tai Chi. This dual story—that of a teacher along with the history of his famous style—is well-written and -translated into English, and is a fine accompaniment to the many other representations (books and dvds) we offer from Chen Zhenglei.

And if you want to see the Master move, check out our earlier post HERE.


A Demonstration of the Rare Rabbit Style


A Chen Routine by Chen Zheng Lei

Master Chen Zheng Lei was in our area, co-sponsored by our favorite Chinese martial arts magazine, and they generously posted this 5 1/2 minute piece of performance—a beautiful and meaningful demonstration.

This comes just in time (almost) for our announcement of a new recommendable biography of Chen that will come in next week to Plum. We’ll keep you posted on its arrival and availability.

In the meantime, enjoy the clip below. I’m also including links to the wide range of material Plum currently represents from Chen Sifu.

Chen Zheng Lei’s 5 part book series (translated into English by the estimable Sifu Jack Yan)

Chen Zheng Lei’s Instructional DVDs (in Chinese/English subtitles)

Chen Zheng Lei’s Instructional VCDs (in Chinese)

Chen Zheng Lei’s 6 part DVD series on Tai Chi theory and principles (in Chinese/English subtitles)


The Righteous Blade

You grip the Kuan Dao but you haven’t lifted it yet. Something is different here. The blade is thicker than a saber and yours may have more edges; at the butt end, the metal or wood shaft may be capped with bronze. Your Kuan Dao looks fierce as well as heavy, the kind of thing you would not want to drop on your toe. The bright tassel, at a point on a vertex, resembles a lone swallow in a deserted tree. You try to put that all aside now, hefting the weapon, starting its inevitable dance, barely under your control as it acquires momentum.

Wooden shaft, huge blade, hand guard, tassel (often) and metal butt contribute to one formidable whole that has been wielded throughout much of China’s military history. The “dao,” or saber, is called “master of all weapons,” and it’s this blade that claims a prominent share of the Kuan’s length.  Its most famous practitioner is, without a doubt, General Kuan Yu, an esteemed military figure of the Eastern Han dynasty. Read more →


More from the Kong Han Goh Cho Kun Archives

5 Ancester's FistFive Ancestors Fist is a famous and powerful style combining major techniques from the system. This second volume from Sifu Kun, Kong Han Goh Cho Kun continues archiving the important aspects of its no-nonsense training. Representative forms include Open Hands (Three Battle Cross), Short Dagger and Sai. In both cases of the weapons there are numerous applications as well as forms.

This text is everything we like to see in a martial arts book: numerous, well-defined photos; clear and generous instruction, and a decided committment of contribution to a style. Combined with Sifu Kun’s first volume on Five Ancestors, a student could be well along the path of this great Southern style.


(Almost) Hot Off the Press

Long Fist SecretsThe Spring 2019 issue of Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine is dedicated to Shaolin, and will feature, among many other fine articles, a new piece on Long Fist Secrets Revealed by Plum’s director, Sifu Ted Mancuso.

We received our advanced copies, but if you would like a copy for yourself they will be available soon at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know this magazine it might be a good time to subscribe—they’re running a 50% discount off yearly subscriptions at the moment.

Xin Nian Kuai Le!


Change Is Good: Sifu Jack Yan’s Book/DVD Packages

Eight Immortals SwordChinese Whip Stick Kung FuTong Bei QuanPlum has represented Sifu Jack Yan’s book and DVDs on Tong Bei Quan, Whip Stick, and Eight Immortals Sword for several years. Sifu Yan’s excellent instruction is clear, his English text well-written, and his teaching generous. Initially, there was one book containing 3 forms, pointing to 3 separate DVDs.

Now Sifu Yan has re-packaged each DVD with its own 64-page booklet, preserving the quality of the original production, but making it easier (and less expensive) for practitioners to collect ’em all. You can find all three: Tong Bei 36 Essential Moves, Chinese Ash Whip Stick, and Eight Immortals Sword in both the English-language books AND the DVD sections of Plum. And if you order two or more, you get a 10% discount.


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 →