Tai Chi Is the Fastest Martial Art

Q: OK, I’m intrigued—what makes Tai Chi the fastest martial art.

A: Of course, we have to first admit that speed is relative, but let’s come back to that. There are some very simple reasons that Tai Chi is so fast and, really, being the “fastest martial art” isn’t all that big a deal. But to think of a style that moves slowly and ends up being one of the fastest martial arts—that’s a special technique.

Q: What is it?

A: Let’s see if we can mine it for clues. The first reason is that Tai Chi’s attempts to go slowly help it to create a perfect map. Like an engineering drawing, everything’s got to be right; or an architectural drawing—there can be no sloppiness. Now, you will find the same thing in, say, Shaolin, but you have to wait longer, and if don’t have such a great teacher, you may not get it at all—that kind of precision isn’t for everyone. Read more →


Becoming A Sifu


Sifu Ted, Sifu Linda, me and Sifu Lam, along with fellow students, Phil, John and Jerome after we did a Kung Fu demo at the County Fair in the mid-80s.

When do you become a Sifu? The simple answer is you become a Sifu when other people start calling you a Sifu. A more legitimate answer is you become a Sifu when your Sifu says you’re a Sifu. However, like many aspects of Chinese culture, there’s simple answers, and then there’s a deep dive. At the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts, we like those deep dives.

The title “Sifu” is a fine example of simple answers versus deep dives. On the simplest level, it’s the Chinese term for ‘master.’ It gets complex when you go deeper. “Sifu” is the Cantonese pronunciation, which sounds kind of like “sea-fu.” Master Ted Mancuso’s lineage has both Cantonese and Mandarin influences. Among his masters are Grandmaster Adam Hsu from Taiwan where they speak Mandarin and Grandmaster Kwong Wing Lam from Hong Kong where Cantonese is spoken. In Mandarin, it’s “Shifu,” which sounds a bit like “sure-fu.” Although Cantonese and Mandarin use the same written characters, there are regional dialect distinctions and vast idiomatic differences, so the comparison isn’t always an X=X relationship. This gets even more complicated, deserving of an essay of its own, so we won’t dwell on it too much here. At the Academy, we generally default to the Cantonese, most likely because that set the precedent in the 70s and 80s when Kung Fu was beginning to cross the Pacific. Read more →


Bagua Zhang and Xin Yi Quan

Got in a short stack of great books—limited copies on each, at the moment, but thought we would let you know about them.

One of them, the book on Dai Style XinYiQuan, incorporates those QR Codes instead of including a packaged DVD, so that with a simple scan from your phone’s camera, you can watch video material online. Here you go!

dai style xinyiquan

The Secret Techniques of Dai Style XinYiQuan

Bagua Sword

Bagua Sword and Dragon Shaped Sword (with DVD)

Bagua Swimming Body

Bagua Swimming Body from Gao YiSheng lineage


Beware The Rabbit Punch

From our astute and ever-watchful correspondent, Gary Shapiro


Bagua Zhang’s Ji Ben Gongs—Plum’s New Project

    Here is a short interview with Ted Mancuso, Plum’s director, on his upcoming book/DVD project. Covid slowed us down, but now we are back at work again, and hope to have this finished in the new year. 

Q:    Your new book is on Bagua Zhang Gongs. What is a Gong?
Ted:     In Andrea Falk’s incredibly useful Chinese martial arts dictionary, she defines Ji Ben Gong as “basic skills, or basic abilities.” In our new book and DVD, we expand a little on the term Ji Ben Gong, or “Gong” for short, by saying that it has three components specific to the style you’re studying:

~A Gong is an elevation of a basic (ex: The Gong, Hawk Splits Sky has drilling and upward punch as basics.)
~A Gong is a physical representation of a concept (ex: Hawk Splits Sky has verticality as one of its concepts.)
~A Gong is a pathway to usage (ex: One of the usages for Hawk Splits Sky is infighting.)

Bagua Zhang bookQ:    How do you present this information?
Ted:     We present the Gongs from several different points of view: on the DVD, we demonstrate both instruction in how to perform the Gongs, plus we have added an unusually large section of Bagua usage related to the Gongs. In the text, there is additional information on walking the circle, plus articles on what Bagua actually is.

It’s a problem with most traditional styles these days—but even more so with Bagua—that players can look pretty good performing a form, but when they actually move, the key elements are ‘lost in transformation,’ so to speak.

Q:    So, the idea is to maintain the Bagua ‘flavor’ throughout your Bagua practice?
Ted:     Yes, and Gongs help you to do that. They are short exercises, or loops, that through practice help you to understand the attributes and qualities—the essence, essentially!—of your style. Honestly, I think just about every traditional Kung Fu style has a series of Gongs; Bagua, certainly, is rich with them, which makes it curious to me how little they are taught. In some senses, they are the true secrets to a style.

Q:    Certainly, it is common to see a student doing the form, say, a praying mantis routine. But as soon as you see the application or the usage or the exercises, they look very generic. Would you say that the Gongs keep the movement of Bagua from being generic, and make them specifically Bagua?
Ted:     Yes, I think that’s true, but it’s not because of the attempt to keep it pure. I mean by that, the Gongs help maintain the particular energies, strengths and movements of a form or of a style. However, even if they don’t move or hit or strike they still can persevere, because they can also feed the meditative aspects of our nature.

Q:     Would you say that that, even though you don’t emphasize this in the book, there’s also a qigong aspect to each of these Gongs?
Ted:     It’s somewhat like Adam Hsu says: if you want to erect a 10-story building, you start by digging.

Q:     That’s interesting, I think I see what you mean. So, the inclusion of Gongs into your practice builds the foundation of the style that you’re studying—in this case, of course, Bagua Zhang?
Ted:     Yes. This guy goes to his sifu and says, “I don’t want to stay in this style,” and the sifu says, “No problem if you decide to leave, but first wait five years so you know what you’re leaving.”

Q:     Let’s go deeper on this. We know that Bagua is circular—
Ted:     Circular, yes, but what does that mean? Imagine a student who has been practicing Bagua for a while, does her circle walking, etc. But does she have ‘circularity?’ I’m not trying to be cute or esoteric, I really mean it. How does she represent circularity? Has she incorporated the idea of 360 degrees multidimensionality? Does she defend her back as well as her front? Do her straight punches incorporate chan ssu jin? Does her torso move, and does she have twist? So, the Gongs actually teach you how—as in this example—to be circular, how to have Bagua-ness in every Bagua move.

Q:     And usage?
Ted:     In a way, that is the most exciting part of the project. We think we have done something different here—most instructional media, of course, is scanty on any usage at all, but those who do include it, most often do so by showing a move and then 1 or 2 applications of that move. Not bad, but also very stiff and, to my mind, a too-simplistic wrong approach, especially for something as sophisticated as Bagua.

To me, first, it is important to emphasize usage, not applications (yes, I know, you have heard this from me before!) Applications give a false impression, that there is a 1-1 relationship between a move and its attack or defense. Insert tab A into slot B. That’s lazy and, frankly, disrespectful of the traditional arts.

Every move—and this is especially true for Bagua—contains a myriad of so-called applications. Applications are good for belt-testing: “Show 3 applications for the spinning side kick.” Usage, on the other hand, demonstrates an understanding of the concepts inherent in each move. “Hawk Splits Sky,” the first Gong in our book, contains the qualities of piercing, drilling, verticality. Train the Gongs, incorporate the concepts, and you will be doing Bagua.

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Short Stick Superior: The Whip Stick

One of the questions readers most ask us is , “What short stick videos do you recommend?” People love the short sticks. We do actually represent quite a few on our site, and among the best is Sifu Jack Yan’s Whip Stick book/dvd combo. So we are always happy when our customers agree! Thanks to H.A. for his unsolicited review that arrived in our inbox today:

Jack Yan’s Whip Stick DVD

“I’ve learned some whip stick stuff before. Yan’s presentation is quite clear and has very useful reminders of things like basic drills to practice and their purpose in becoming fluent handling the weapon…during the routine instructional section, he reminds us of important details like prepping the hand position for the next move and seeing that as the end of the move, rather than seeing the point of impact part as the end.
Because of my previous instruction, I’m not worried about usage, which isn’t featured here. Still, the patient presentation is well worth the price to own!”

The Newest Great Items

Today’s diverse selection of new material available is really all about the classics: two DVDs of an older master presenting the rarely seen style of “Xin Boxing;” a completely redone and reimagined instructional DVD on Water Boxing (LiuHeBaFa) from Helen Liang, whose original work on the subject was one of the first; and the original Chinese text from Sifu Wang FengMing, student of Master Feng ZhiQiang, on the Bang (also known as the Special Taoist Stick and Ruler).

While it is true that material of this quality is becoming more ephemeral at this point—coming into print then going out of print with a sad regularity—we are always so pleased at Plum when we are able to find and offer it when it is actually available. Enjoy!

water boxing liuhebafa

Water Style (LiuHeBaFa) with Helen Liang

Tai Chi Ruler Bang

Taoist Stick and Ruler

Xin Fist 7th Routine

Xin Fist 4th Routine



Instructor’s Notebook: The Art of Forgetting

 If there’s an art to forgetting forms, then I am a master. I’ve forgotten entire systems of martial arts.

Remembering didn’t seem as crucial during the early days of my career, in the flurry of Kung Fu training that let everything Chinese be associated with martial arts. During that time, a plentitude of people teaching Kung Fu assured us of a never-dry fount of available material, even if there was a dearth of instructors in any consistent style. As a matter of fact, we basically took whatever was offered in our neighborhoods (our neighborhoods often encompassed 50 to 150 miles circumference). Or we just waited. I remember a teacher from the midwest who stood about 6’ 4”. He had one Kung Fu option in his neck of the woods: Monkey style. So, every time he sparred and correctly dropped his stance, he’d find his face and the senior students’ fists on the same line. Ouch! That alone would be a good reason to forget at least certain parts of any form, if not the entire style. Read more →


A New Book Bevy

Well, we are happy to mark ourselves safe from the devastating fire that, over the past two weeks, destroyed over 80,000 acres in and around Santa Cruz county, the place we call home. Several friends had to evacuate, but none lost their homes or lives, although almost 1000 residences were destroyed, and it will take a long while to put all the pieces back. On a positive note, many of the trees here are redwood, which have natural fire repellent properties; as a matter of fact, there are actual benefits to them from fire, so most of these treasures still stand strong.

Now that we can once again concentrate on work, we have a well-rounded offering of new books into our Chinese books sections. Added to that, we have restocked a few hard to get items, which we will announce as soon as we can get to it. For now, below are the 5 newbies to welcome to the neighborhood.

Baji Collection

Bajiquan Collection: A good comprehensive text on Baji

Hand Arm Record

Hand Arm Record: Nice expanded edition from Lionbooks

Monkey Style Bagua

Bagua Zhang Monkey Palm: A recommended text on this little discussed Bagua animal

Single Ring Monk Sword

Jin YiMing’s Classic on the Single Ring “Monk” Sword

Bagua Zhang and Xingyi Quan

An unusual book on the Ruyi Kung method of Bagua Zhang, incorporating health practice with the martial



Hello all,

Sorry we have been absent for the last week. As many know, we live in Santa Cruz (California) and there are fires in and around our town. We are safe so far, and it seems that we will continue to remain so, but just dealing with preparing to evacuate (in case it comes to that) has upended all work. We are also hosting our friend and her puppy, who had to evacuate from her house in the mountains.

We will be back soon with new book and DVD announcements, articles and a good lot of stuff. In the meantime, stay well and safe!

Our best,

Ted and Debbie

P.S. The sky at sunset these days



Adam Hsu Tan Tui

Adam Hsu Tan TuiDecades ago, when I taught franchise information to a group of fledgling martial school owners, I was exposed to a process known as “total immersion.” This was an unstructured method of  training where a manager might be awakened at 3:00 am by “some potential student” pretending to want information in the middle of the night. Though somewhat stressful, this concentrated approach often produced surprisingly good results.

This immersion method can be easily applied to martial training; a cluster of related methods and experiences become essentially positive, nature’s contribution essentially transforming. Most students have heard at least one story about the dedicated student who lives with his master, sleeping in the courtyard to capture any and all of the style’s wisdom. In these times,  such stories are less frequent or tenable, but this does not mean that the approach is less powerful—we just need to be creative and disciplined in how we focus our studies.

If a student asks me how to deepen her Art, I ALWAYS tell her to find a good teacher—one teacher. This is, of course, not always easy to do, but it is one of the many reasons we started Plum. Because, although distance learning will rarely equal the experience of touching hands with expertise, at least we can indicate those instructors who are not only top-of-the-line, but also who encompass enough depth to plumb (no pun intended).

Then it should come as no surprise that one of those teachers we often promote is Sifu Adam Hsu, so we are always happy when we can add a new offering from him—this time, specifically, a beautifully designed new book dedicated to 10 Road Tan Tui, one of the most popular Long Arm forms in the world. This is a companion volume to his popular DVD series on this form. In addition to the content—a good instructional breakdown—it is also a graphic delight. You will immediately note the square size with a striking grey cover wrapped by a green paper belt, an atypical elegance not often associated with martial texts. The photos are excellent and fit, along with the text, in the distinctive square format.


Better With Age

After class the other day my student Harvey, who has studied with me for more than 15 years, asked me a pointed question: “How and why does a longtime practitioner maintain his or her interest in studying Tai Chi?” This caught my attention immediately, because he asked me to consider it from the advanced study point of view, not the more common basic level.

wu tu nan

Wu Tu Nan

After 50 years practicing Tai Chi, I admit that the shoe may be old, but it still fits. 

I went home and wrote this question at the top of a page of wide-ruled yellow paper: “What is the attractive secret of Tai Chi that encourages people to play the game without getting bored?”

I immediately filled the page with notes outlining all the remarkable qualities of Tai Chi; for example, how the slow pace encourages curative postures and uniformity of movement, and how this allows us to craft our life instead of violating it. Tai Chi adjusts you to rhythms of action rarely seen in daily life. Conforming to an attack also teaches you to conform to terrain, timing, other classmates—a rainbow of patterns. Read more →


Heads & Tails: Adam Hsu on Martial Marketing

Plum’s new series, Heads & Tails, presents the thoughts, experiences and points of view from top martial teachers and practitioners (CMA). It is not meant to be a passive offering—these are ideas to wrangle, consider, argue for and against. This first excerpt comes from Sifu Adam Hsu’s newest book, “Life Is Too Short For Bad Kung Fu.”

“In the old days, there was a market for martial arts novels, but not for martial arts. Then, there was a market for Kung Fu movies, but not for martial arts. Now there is a market for Kung Fu video games but still not for martial arts. No one can be blamed except the martial arts themselves. It’s a shame that martial arts has to rely on novels, movies and video games to survive. Martial arts have never been able to find a market on their own. But there is, clearly, a huge and excellent market in health and fitness, which has been waiting for martial arts to take over. Moreover there are competitors from other countries who will fight with us and take the money away from our hand. Martial arts are too weak to take advantage of such good opportunities. It is so odd!”

We want to hear from you, so please send your responses and revelations on the topic at hand in the form below. We welcome the heat.

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NOTE: Please leave your comments on the form below. They are important to us.


Bear Bones

Thanks to our student, John, for sending this to us. And as one keen observer on youtube noted, those are three-sectioned sticks, not nunchakus. Not that the bear cares…


Wang ShuJin’s Swimming Body DVD

Wang Shu Jin Bagua Kent HowardSome things take a long time to materialize, but when they finally show up, they are worth the wait. Such is the case with Kent Howard’s Bagua Swimming Body Palms DVD, companion to his excellent and popular book of the same title.

Howard’s style is clear and clean, and one realizes that he sincerely intends viewers to be able to learn the material. We recommend his work (we also offer his video and DVD on Wang ShuJin’s style of Bagua Linking Palms) with great pleasure.


Chang Gong

Whether you are the ancient hermit of the Dark Forest or a week-in week-out practitioner, martial training always rewards perseverance with increased skills you have gathered and accumulated like rain. Skills like these come mostly from just hanging in there and that’s the reason they stay in the shadows, unnoticed.

The results of CHANG GONG, or “Long Practice,” signify skills that comes as messages through time. Its ceaseless evolution allows practitioners to keep track of their progress, even if just stockpiling. But maybe there is a better way to say this: Chang Gong is NOT a method you seek, but an unexpected outcome of continuous attention. This unhurried yet rewarding quest for skill is unequalled in its effectiveness. Nowadays it is called a superpower, moving forward but not yet peaking.

A friend of mine asked his brother—a Juilliard graduate who played flute, professionally—how long it would take to lay a decent foundation with the instrument. The musician looked skyward—a moment of contemplation was all that was needed—the answer: 15 years.

Although Chang Gong is evident when watching great teachers or world-class competitors, in this article I concentrate NOT on the master or soon-to-be master, but on those people who receive, at most, a pat on the back for their own skills. In those, too, we discover the alchemical development of Chang Gong, what Daoist practitioners call “bringing the extraordinary out of the ordinary.” It is here, near you and all around you: ordinary abilities coupled with the phenomenal, coming out of the mere pedestrian. Read more →


Three Clean Quarters

We have three new books for you, all in Chinese and well presented.

The first book, Wu Jin, starts us off with an historical and cultural text so old we have no knowledge of its author. Among unnumbered pages is presented authentic military strategy, along with close hand combat. This is a general’s text with battlefield formations, down to the blood soaked soil, and with illustrations that probably helped win the world in its time.

The next text on Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan adds another volume written by and photographed with the famous Ma Hong, one of the top Chen Tai Chi masters of the last and probably present century. This book is beautifully laid out; unfortunately we only have a couple of them, so it may go quickly.

Finally comes a text frone of Dong Haichuan’s disciples, Liu Fengchun. This book demonstrates postures and palm changes with great photos, apparently salvaged from the original edition.

Wu Jin (Book of Heraldry)

Ma Hong Chen Style Taijiquan

Liu Fengchun’s Bagua Palms


Li Deyin VCDs

During the quarantine, we have been doing some cleanup around Plum and are finding some interesting items that, for one reason or another, we never catalogued.

The items below are a great example: out of print VCDs from famous Tai Chi Sifu Li Deyin. We have EXTREMELY limited quantity on these: in many cases, only one copy. We’ll try our best to remove those that sell out, but it’s possible that we will get simultaneous orders…we’ll do what we can.

Click image(s) to ADD to the shopping cart.
All VCDs are in Chinese only, and the price is $7.95 each. They are all brand new and unwatched.
If you are ordering a two part set, and only want it if BOTH parts are available, please put that in the notes!

And you can expect to see more “one-offs” coming in the near future.

TC Sword

Tai Chi 32 Part 1

Tai Chi 32 Part 2

Tai Chi Part 1

Tai Chi Part 2

Xing Yi Part 1

Xing Yi Part 2



Stretching For The Art

 You’ve finished your workout and the idea comes to you: why not stretch a little? It can only help, right? But immediately your brain floods with questions: How important is it to stretch? If I have just worked out, is stretching necessary? Which is the best for me and, even more importantly, which should I avoid? And, as a martial artist, which stretches best fit my style?

Any stretching related to Chinese martial practice could be associated with more than 300 different martial branches, consequently presenting a tremendous range of stretching and pliability options, along with related foundational interpretations. Add in gyms, fencing schools, and physical therapies and you can see that guidelines could help in this explosion of choices. Read more →



Happy to report the return of three unlikely roommates today.
Click each image for more information and to purchase.

Hao Wu Style Taijiquan

Hao Style Tai Ji Quan Developed by Master Liu Jishun

Pak Mei Kung Fu

Pak Mei Kung Fu Developed by Master Thomas Cheng

Cai Haikang Bagua Legs

Master Cai Haikang Leg Techniques of Ba Gua Zhang Succeeded from Jiang Rongqiao