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 →


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.


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.




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 →


New Bak Sil Lum (Bei Shaolin) DVDs

Bak Sil LumBak Sil Lum (or Bak Siu Lim) is the Cantonese pronunciation of Bei Shaolin, or Northern Shaolin style. It is recognized by experts as an extension of the real Shaolin Heritage. Its most famous exponent was Gu Ru Zhang, known as a master of Iron Palm (striking arts) and Golden Bell (body conditioning arts).

In the US, there are at least two main branches of Bak Sil Lum: those through Wing Lam, and those through Wong Jack Man. We have happily just added a slew of new DVDs in the Wong Jack Man lineage, represented here by Scott Jensen, a direct disciple. (We also represent books in this lineage by Rick Wing).

Find Scott Jensen’s DVDs on Plum Blossom Fist, Lian Bu Quan, Duan Da, and more….right here!


A Maze of Seminars

martial arts seminarsWe are starting some new seminars at our school in Santa Cruz, California and I can feel my negativity to the topic returning. I’ve had my doubts about seminars, my own and others, in the past. But when I think more about them I see good attributes and also some shaky ones.

One of the things I realize about the seminar experience is that teachers and attendees basically are looking for the same things, just from different perspectives. This universal quest covers many variations: that nugget of vital information, the fit of teacher to student to school, the kinds of problems where answers do not just sit there but create a chain of practices and observations that can not be neglected, much like the sheer mechanical efficiency of a perfect  murder mystery. Some programs are exceptional, in that the surprise of information is even better than expected.

On the other hand, I have also witnessed many events where participants end up completely baffled, unable to clearly state what they learned, much less able to break it all down. I’ve grown tired of reports from those who attended last weekend’s gathering but have already forgotten its contents. From the informational standpoint, I have felt that confusion buzzing in my ear, like an angry bee, while I try to tell myself the barely microscopic benefits I have gained. Read more →


Restocked! Shang Style Xing Yi Quan

shang style xing yi quanStarting off a season of newly arrived books and DVDs—some we’ve had before, some never seen.

The first of these are the three volumes on Shang Style Xing Yi Quan—we only got a handful in our last shipment—unfortunately, these classics are few in number—but for now you can click the image to get more information, and to buy.

So much more coming!


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 Read more →


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 →

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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.