Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Authentic Xingyiquan

I recently received my copy of Authentic Xingyiquan by Gong Zhong Xing, translated by Franklin Fick.
Mr. Fick is the proprietor of the Spirit Dragon Institute and has translated the book from one of his teachers into English. “Authentic Xingyiquan” is available both at Shen Long Publishing and Amazon.
Mr. Fick was kind enough to take the time to provide a little more information to the readers of Cook Ding’s Kitchen.
Could you tell us a little of your background?
I was born on the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. I started training martial arts when I was around 11 or 12 years old. I fell in love with the Chinese Internal Martial Arts early on. I took my first lesson in Taiji Quan when I was 13 or 14 years old and I knew it was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I have had the good fortune to have been able to learn under several very skilled teachers and also study Taoist cultivation. My interests also led me to completing a degree in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Would you give us a brief biography of Gong  Zhong  Xiang?
Master Gong was a disciple of Master Chu Gui Ting. From Master Chu he learned Taiji Quan, Xing Yi Quan, Weapons, etc. Master Chu is very famous in the world of martial arts. You can search the Internet and come up with lots of stories about him. Most of the stories illustrate his high level of skill but also his morality. Master Chu was a top disciple of Taiji Grandmaster Yang Chen Fu and also a top disciple of Xing Yi Master Li Cun Yi.
Master Gong was also a disciple of Bagua Master Wang Zhuang Fei. Master Wang was a student of Gong Bao Tien.
Much more detailed information is found in the book
What was it like training under him?
Classes were held on weekends in the park. Basically the classes were self study. You practiced what you were working on either by yourself or in a small group and Master Gong would come around and offer corrections or further instruction as needed.
So on a typical class day, I would arrive at the park in the morning between 9 and 9:30am and start by stretching, warming up, chatting with other students as they arrived, and then start practicing. When everyone was at the park, people usually broke up into small groups depending on what they were working on: Taiji, Xing Yi, Bagua, Weapons, Qigong, Push Hands, etc. Master Gong would observe and go around giving corrections and teaching new material. Then near the end of the training day, he would gather everyone together to practice one round of the Yang style Taiji Long Form (even if people were not studying this- he would tell them to just follow along). Then sometimes we would all chat for a bit and then it was time to go home. On a typical day class would end somewhere between 12:30-1:30 in the afternoon.
So it was a very informal setting but at the same time it was up to you to put in the work to advance. If you put in the work you would get corrections and learn new material. For example when I started learning Xing Yi from Master Gong, he showed me San Ti Shi and that is what I had to practice. So everyday (Sat and Sun every week) I would stand in San Ti Shi from about around 9:30 to about noon when it was time for everyone to do the Taiji Form. Of course during this time I was switching legs and taking breaks, but basically my day consisted of San Ti. Master Gong would come over and give corrections sometimes but mostly it was me just standing there. So I stood there for about two and a half or three months before I learned the first element (Pi Quan).
For someone to come to the class they would be interviewed my Master Gong and he would decide if he wanted to teach them or not, so not everyone was accepted to learn. He is a very traditional teacher. I think to excel in this type of learning environment is it necessary for the student to be very motivated and to also have an understanding of Traditional Chinese culture.
Among the teachers that you've had, what is it about GZX that stood out to you?
I am not very comfortable to answer this question. I would not like to compare my teachers with each other. I am thankful to each of my teachers and cherish the relationship that I have/had with them. Because of them I have the understanding and skill that I have today. Each of them made invaluable contributions.
I can tell you some of the things that impressed me about Master Gong. He excelled at many things in his life including business, martial arts, and calligraphy. He related his daily schedule to me once and it made me feel very lazy. In my relationship with him he was always meticulous in giving me corrections, answering questions, and passing his knowledge to me. I feel that I am very fortunate to have him as my teacher.
The book is over 300 pages long in translation. There is quite a bit of material. Does the book represent all the empty hand forms of his system of Xingyiquan?
Yes, this book represents the bulk of this Xing Yi system. In addition to what is covered in the book there are two Xing Yi weapons forms: Liu He Jian (Six Harmony Straight Sword) and San He Dao (Three Harmony Broadsword). These are usually only taught to indoor students. We will be releasing some demonstration DVDs soon that will not only cover the Xing Yi open hands forms but also the weapons forms as well.
I feel that I should mention that although Master Gong is a very traditional person, I feel that his true motivation in writing this book was to really share his Xing Yi system with the world. He was very open in writing about the details of his system.
Please describe the work that goes into translating a book like this. How long did it take?
I think to translate something like this it is really important to know the subject matter. A good grasp of Chinese is not the only thing needed. We were working on this translation project for a number of years. It could have been done a lot less time if we were able to devote the necessary time to the project. I guess I can say that the reason it took so long to get this translation finished was because life kept interfering.
Is Master Gong still teaching?
Master Gong is currently retired from actively teaching.
At the end of the book, GZX introduces the BGZ that he teaches. Would you say a few words about his BGZ?
His Bagua is very unique. It comes from Wang Zhuang Fei. Master Wang learned directly from Gong Bao Tien. From what I understand, Master Wang's family was very wealthy and he did not have to teach to earn a living.
It is a very good style. I witnessed my kung fu brothers training it and the basic training advanced their skill very quickly. The basics consist of walking the circle with what other styles call a crane step, where the foot is lifted up and then stepped forward, while holding static upper body positions, the eight mother palms demonstrated in the book. This practice transforms the body very quickly.
After this the student moves on to learn the 64 palms on the circle, eight forms for each of the eight animals. And, latter there is more advanced training such as the black dragon form, piercing palms, and big and small nine palace walking.
It is a very large system. One of the DVDs that we will be releasing soon is of Master Gong demonstrating his system of Bagua.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
The projects that I have planned will take me years to complete. It’s more of an issue with finding the time to get the work done than anything else.
I think the thing that will most likely interest your readers will be our most current project. We will be releasing a set of 4 DVDs of Master Gong Zhong Xiang demonstrating his arts. These videos were shot in Shanghai in 1986 so the picture quality is not blue-ray standard but the material demonstrated is first rate. The disks will cover Master Gong's Xing Yi, Bagua, Taiji, and Weapons Arts. These DVDs will be released with the original Chinese language narration, but they are demonstrations and are not teaching DVDs so this should not be an issue.
In addition to the DVDs previously mentioned we are continuing to document Traditional Chinese Martial Arts and Qigong with instructional videos and I also have several large book projects that I have been working on with topics that include:
Nei Jia Quan Volume One: Nei Kung - Essential Exercises for Developing Internal Power
Practical Taoism: The Chinese Way to Health, Longevity, and Immortality
And in the future you might see some more translations as well; maybe.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ba Gua Zhang Double Headed Spear

A friend send me this. The double headed spear seems like a natural fit for a BaGuaZhang fighter, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #44: A Song of a Pure Hearted Girl

One of the worlds' literary treasures is an anthology of the greatest poems of the Tang Dynasty of China. The Tang Dynasty was a high water mark in culture in ancient China and poetry was especially esteemed. The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems may be found here. Below is poem #44: A Song of a Pure Hearted Girl.

Meng Jiao

Lakka-trees ripen two by two
And mandarin-ducks die side by side.
If a true-hearted girl will love only her husband,
In a life as faithfully lived as theirs,
What troubling wave can arrive to vex
A spirit like water in a timeless well?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nearly Spring

Of green
dreams in winter,
thawed brooks purl anew.
Phantom sunflowers touch the sky

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Core Principle

Over at The Classical Budoka was a terrific post about the meaning of the techniques we practice in martial arts training. The meaning, the core principles. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

...Or, let’s say you’re in an aikido workshop and there’s some 50-plus people in attendance, with varying skill levels. You explain a kote-gaeshi technique. The guy grabs your right wrist with his right hand, and so you throw him down. The riai? Well, the guy is grabbing you so you throw him by stepping a certain way and twisting his wrist, forcing him to either take a tumble or you dislocate his wrist and elbow. For a large audience of  mixed levels of understanding, that should suffice.

But let’s take apart the notion that riai is an understanding of very, very core principles. In fact, if you were to drill down into that one technique, you would come up with some pretty heavy duty core principles that underly all of aikido.

First of all, why in heck are we starting that way? I mean, why let the guy get close enough to grab you, and then why does uke grab your wrist? One criticism non-aikido folk make of the art is that it’s “impractical,” it relies on the notion that people will grab your wrist, or take these huge, arcing swings at you with an open palm, like a sword attack. If somebody nowadays wants to fight with you, they don’t attack like that, critics say. They’ll come at you with boxing punches, or be hunched over and try to grab you MMA-style, or kick you…

The mistake critics make is based on a lack of understanding that the kote-gaeshi forms not only teach a particular reaction to a particular attack (a wrist grab), it teaches a generalized reaction to many forms of attack, be it a grab, punch, or kick: irimi, contact, control the attacker and control the timing and distance, become the center of the movement, and execution of a defense that renders the attacker unable to counter, in fact the attacker is yanked off balance by his own momentum.  Understand these general principles in kote-gaeshi, and you begin to see a glimmer of insight into nearly all the other kata of aikido. Miss it, and no matter how many forms you know, you are still not doing aikido right, because you don’t really understand the riai.

The same, I would hazard, goes for for karatedo, or any other budo. If you don’t understand the core principles behind the art, your techniques won’t look coherent. You’ll be doing something, but there won’t be a unity or cohesiveness. The techniques will look like disparate, unrelated actions. It will look choppity-chop.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Choose Your Parents Wisely

Eat, Drink and be Merry. Below is an excerpt from an article that appears at CNN.Com. The full article may be read here.

(CNN) -- As Dorrie Aber-Noyek enters the cafeteria at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, the staff bursts into a round of "Happy Birthday."

It's her 104th birthday, and the chef has made one of her favorite dishes, chicken Alfredo. Hugs are given, congratulations offered and then the hospital's CEO, Zeff Ross, cuts the party short.

"At one o'clock, Dorrie has to go to work!" Ross tells the crowd.

At age 104, Aber-Noyek, who has volunteered at Memorial for 37 years, still walks the halls to deliver the mail -- and it's a big hospital.

"I can slow down for you if you want," she tells CNN photojournalist Jerry Simonson as he tries to keep up with her as she rolls her cart down the corridor.

Aber-Noyek, who turned 104 in February, lives by herself, and other than a bit of arthritis and slightly imperfect vision and hearing, she says she's in perfect health. When asked for her secret to such a long life, she shrugs her shoulders.

It's not her diet -- Alfredo sauce certainly isn't low in fat, and she eats a piece of cake or a cookie (or two) every day (her favorite is chocolate chip). It's not her physical activity -- while she's always enjoyed walking, she never belonged to a gym or worked out regularly.

A new study suggests Aber-Noyek is typical of what scientists call "super agers." The research, published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that people who live to be 95 or older do not tend to have lived a healthier lifestyle than others who died earlier.

"As a group, the centenarians were really very bad," says Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and senior author of the study.
Barzilai asked 477 healthy Ashkenazi Jews between the ages of 95 and 112 about their lifestyle habits when they were 70 years old. More than 40% said they were obese or overweight, about 35% smoked and very few exercised. Their habits were no different from those of a comparison group of people from the general population.

"What this shows is that it really is the genes that helped the centenarians," he says.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Lenten Challenge Update

We're a few weeks into the Lenten Challenge and I wondered how everyone was doing with their practice?

If you've fallen off the wagon, then get back on! It's as easy as that.

For myself, the last few weeks have been a challenge. Overhauling the main bathroom in the house has been a late winter project. It's been quite a workout climing up and down ladders, etc.; however the results have been worth it.

I'm not as young as I used to be and am a little beat up as a result. Keeping with the Lenten Challenge though, I didn't count the physical labor as my work out. I've just stayed up later, stretched out more and am still continuing with my martial arts practice.

The Mrs started a new job. It's full time in retail and she's not going to have the classic 9-5 hours that she was used to in previous jobs. Some days she'll have to start at 7 pm, and on others she'll have to close which won't get her home until around 10 pm. She'll also have to work most weekends.

I'm planning on structuring my training around her schedule. On the early days she'll have to get up at 5:30 which is an hour earlier than I usually get up. I'll just get up with her and I'll have an extra hour every morning to practice. I'll also continue to practice in the evening, so this will be something of a boost for my own training.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Single Palm Change

A friend sent me this. The core practice of Baguazhang is circle walking. The foundation of all the techniques is the Single Palm Change.

Jet Li doing some Baguazhang in his movie, "The One":

Here is a video of some Bagua changes with motion sensors attached:

Friday, March 09, 2012

Fighting as Religion

I had previously posted about Cameron Conaway  (author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage Fighting Poet), a mixed martial artist and award winning poet. Mr. Conaway was kind enough to write this guest post for Cook Ding's Kitchen.
When I read this, the idea that resonated with me was that through a very different path, he's coming around to some of the ideas which animate the practice and ideals of Budo, not  unlike Nick Evangelista's The Inner Game of Fencing. I also thought it was a timely post during the Lenten Challenge.
Mr. Conaway's website is right here. Please pay him a visit.

Fighting as Religion
Cameron Conaway

Frank Shamrock and I discussed the issue of spirituality in the context of the martial arts.

“If I had to be categorized I’d be a secular humanist,” I said.

“Fighting is my religion,” he said.

His tone was measured. This was clearly a concept he had spent much time thinking about.

“Wherever I train is the temple – on the mats, in the bathroom brushing my teeth, it’s all keeping the body in check and this is all part of training.”

For the next few weeks this idea of fighting as religion swirled in my mind. Frank’s definition of training didn’t just include mat time or time at the gym. Even acts like brushing his teeth took on new dimensions. He wasn’t just brushing because we are supposed to, he was brushing because the health of the mouth is often a good indicator of the health of the body, because keeping the teeth in good shape will increase longevity and free up more time for training (no root canals, for example).

In this sense, fighting as religion would stick with us everywhere and be a constant source of good. Those nights where we just want to crawl in bed and sleep we wouldn’t – we’d have an extra incentive to brush our teeth first. It would make walking past a Dunkin’ Donuts stand that much easier. What once were minor daily habits would intensify and take on an importance similar to getting to the gym (something many of us martial artists value quite heavily). We’d strive to learn new languages or engage in deep conversations with friends, in part, because this would increase the health of our brain and fighting is a brainy activity. While the Gracie family have written detailed accounts of how fighting was/is their life, this concept of fighting as religion seemed at once different and more noble. Essentially, it wasn’t only about the fight competition or the sparring at the gym. Everything in life became a minor battle easily won. These easy victories and the overall tangible quality to each would make this religion of sustainability and rationality. Something that could be a positive force that changes our entire lives by not just changing the way we think about things, but making us think about things we normally wouldn’t have.

I am sure this is nothing new. In fact, I had this mindset when I was training for my own fights and I’m sure, for example, that judokas currently training for the 2012 Olympics in London have a similar mindset as well. However, now that I am retired from the fight game I’m interested in finding ways to still incorporate this mindset so that it is as feverishly sticky as it was when I had a huge fight coming up. In the end, I suppose it’s a matter of asking a question. What’s your fight?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012

100 Years

Today is a very special day to me. My late father would have been 100 years old today. Happy Birthday, Dad.

My Dad was born in 1912, the same year that Arizona became the 48th State. He fought in WW II, lived to see a man on the moon, the introduction of the personal computer and hear his favorite music on CDs before he died.

He was the oldest son of Polish immigrants and was born in Detroit, Mi. His father died when he was 12, leaving him to be the man of the house. Twelve year olds were a lot more mature then.

The family owned a bakery and later also a neighborhood bar. My dad was a baker, a bartender and in the later part of his life, worked as a crane operator in a tool and die plant.

My dad told me stories about delivering the baked goods with a horse drawn wagon. If he took too long talking to a customer, the horse would sometimes head to the next stop without him.

As a kid, my friends knew my dad had once been a baker and went on strike one time. They wouldn't play with me until my dad made some homemade doughnuts. You could never have had doughnuts so fresh. They were outstanding.

Finishing high school wasn't common back then, but he did. He also played baseball and football.

After high school until before WW II, he played semi professional football. Maybe that's where my youngest daughter gets her athleticism

The bar was the center point of the neighborhood. On Friday nights, they'd show movies outside in the street, projected against a house wall and provided popcorn to keep the kids occupied.

When Prohibition came, they closed the front door of the place and their customers simply came in the back door. They rarely had trouble at the bar as some members of the infamous Purple Gang were frequent customers. My dad also had a few stories about bootlegging liquor over from Canada.

Leading up to WW II, he joined the National Guard. He was released from duty in May of 1941, but recalled a few months later after Pearl Harbor. He served with the 32nd Infantry Division "The Red Arrow"Division, in the Pacific.

In 1946, he married my mother, a neighbor who was nine years his junior. I am the third of three sons, coming along when my dad was 45. All my memories of him are of an older man.

I spent a lot of time with my dad when I was a kid. He was the epitome of patience and gentleness. He had a dry sense of humor. He stressed to me how important it was to read, write and communicate well. While not a highly educated man, he could see through a brick wall in time.

I remember listening to "Texaco Presents the Metropolitan Opera" every Saturday on the radio. My father loved the opera.

My mother's hobby was entering sweepstakes and one of the big prizes she once won was a week in New York to attend the Metropolitan Opera. They saw my dad's favorite, La Boheme. They met the performers and the conductor. For him, it was the very best prize that she ever could have won.

Classical music was a staple in my home. Also books. He and my mom used to dance polkas in the kitchen on Sunday mornings when the local radio station had Polish Hour.

Once he had the responsibility of raising a family, he left the bar and bakery behind and took a "steadier" job with a tool and die manufacturer that supplied the auto industry. The company he worked for was eventually purchased by Chrysler.

One of my brothers worked at that plant for a while, and described my dad's light touch on the controls of the crane moving multi-ton dies around the building. He said that dad had them floating around like soap bubbles.

I think I was in high school when he retired; maybe it was just after. That lasted about a week before he went out and got himself a part time job. He drove a delivery truck for a local tuxedo rental chain of stores and would continue until just a couple of years before his death.

My dad was a big dog lover, and the dogs loved him. If there is a better recommendation for a person's character, I don't know what it is. I don't remember us having only one dog, but we certainly had as many as four. My dad always kept a box of dog biscuits in the car and made sure that every hungry looking stray he saw at least had a biscuit. I remember him daily making his rounds, making sure the strays had something.

After I moved out, my parents had a neighbor who didn't deserve the dogs they had. My parents took two of their dogs away from them. One became a member of the family and the other one ended up with my sister in law.

The dogs loved him. My wife and I once had a black Labrador. When we were moving houses, the lab stayed with my parents for a week or so. When we took her back, she just moped around. She wasn't happy again until we finally gave her to my parents and she lived at their house permanently.

My dad used to boil chicken every day for the dogs. They got the meat and we got chicken soup.

A common scene at my parents house would be my dad in his easy chair, with the four dogs clustered around him. When he'd get up to go to the bathroom, they'd all follow him over there and wait for him (not always patiently) outside the door then escort him back to his chair. The lab would be as close to him as she could and would usually be resting her head or a paw against his knee.

When my dad died, the lab still sat by his chair with her head or a paw on the corner of the cushion where his leg would have been. She died shortly afterwards. The vet said it was cancer. I think it was a broken heart.

At age 79 he had a heart attack. I remember him in the emergency room. The doctor who was checking him out dealt with a lot of old people and was making a point of speaking loudly. My dad's hearing was fine. I remember him wincing while the doctor was bellowing at him, but he didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him to pipe down.

He had a second heart attack while in the hospital. They tried sewing his heart back together, but there was too much damage and nothing would hold. He lasted about a week before he passed. Telling my mother that her husband of 46 years had died; and my oldest daughter, aged 4 at the time and especially close to him, were the hardest things I ever had to do at the time.

Time has passed. The ranks of that generation have thinned to where there is just a few of them left. There are few things as poignant as the passing of generations.

I miss him.

Happy Birthday, Dad.