Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Sil Lim Tao Part 2

The second section of Sil Lim Tao is in set in stark contrast to the first section.

It feels far more animated, is great fun and adds far more scope for attack or defense - attack/defense may be more accurate as I try to force myself away from consciously blocking or attacking . This section is aware of low/high/side/back gates, dealing with kicks/knees to the body and opens up a treasure chest of different ways to utilise the arm when still adhering to the principles founded in the first section.

The beginning gum sau to the left then right can be thought of as a way to ward off a kick or knee but do not lose sight of the fact that it is also an opportunity to cause damage and disrupt the structure of the opponent.
The following rear double palm strike/gum sau I usually associate with a similar situation to one which requires an elbow to be drawn back but could be used to deter a knee from an opponent to the rear.
Forward double gum sau, I've ran out of commentary on the gum sau.
The double lan sau then executed I will leave out of this post as I never really appreciated it until I learned Chum Kiu.

From the double lan sau position the arms are extended fully as a double fut sau. This makes little sense to me as to why this is included in the first form and turning footwork is not. I can, however, appreciate this from a Biu Jee perspective in that the arms go from being as far from the center line as possible then returning. The concept of the lan sau to fut sau also helps enforce the directness of the form, the hands do not arc towards the opponent but the side of the left palm goes in a straight line from around the right shoulder to terminal extension of the arm.

Double jut sau. The jut sau appears a middle ground between the tan sau and the man sau but in my mind is far more aggresive than either. The jut sau involves a small turn of the forearm at the moment of impact. This turn is executed when the man sau cannot proceed directly forward and the full turn into tan sau, which seems almost entirely defensive, is not required.
Next we move to a position I do not know the name of, both hands moving to a wu sau position but, with the fingers pointing forwards ready to head towards a bil jee strike. This manourvre is a perfect example of 'following as the opponents hand comes towards you' the double bil jee is then performed, remembering to always keep the fingers bent to stop them from breaking upon impact. Both palms then move downwards on an almost vertical plane keeping the arms fairly straight then straight back up to perform either a wrist strike to the chin area or providing a rather helpful defensive against an incoming arm , perhaps both if you're lucky.

Huen sau both wrists and return to the neutral position.

This section of the form provides a release from the cultivation of the first section. The section should be practiced with next to no energy, in a very dynamic way - as if firing thunderbolts with the radius and ulna as the barrel - and of course utilising the ever helpful middle ground.

The use of the wrists is elaborated on in this section. In the first section the wrists are used in, almost, static positions. The second section teaches the use of the wrists when the situation is in flux - no need to move use the wrist to move into position then move the arm, we can simply adjust the wrist as the arm does whatever it needs to to maintain a good position. This adjustment improves the 'little idea' greatly but also complicates matters hugely as form is no longer dictated by fixed positions.

Onto my favourite section, the third - the beautiful middleground and melting pot of the first two sections.

For reference some video of Sil Lim Tao:

Yip Man performing Sil Lim Tao

Ip Chun in action

Samuel Kwok & a hall full of people, complete with comedy nokia phone ringing for ambiance

Monday, 24 September 2007

Sil Lim Tao Part 1

Sil Lim Tao

Or the first form of Wing Chun Kung-Fu

Sil Lim Tao is the bedrock of the Wing Chun system.

Sil Lim Tao begins by teaching the correct stance & posture for the practice of Wing Chun. The adductor stance is achieved by standing with the legs together, bending the knees slightly, then putting out the toes as far as possible followed by the heels. The back should be straight, breathing lowered and the fists at the sides around the area of the solar plexus, with the forearms parallel to the floor.
This stance is absolutely fundamental and is used in almost all situations. Much of the footwork in Chum Kiu, the 2nd form, and much of Biu Jee, the 3rd form, can be seen as simply a way to move the adductor stance to a different position on the floor or to utilise it to generate power and opportunity by adjusting weight between legs.
The hip should be forward or 'engaged' and the buttocks pulled in, as to what degree this is to be adhered to I am not yet sure.
The initial dropping of the center of gravity , when the knees are bent, is to allow one to get into the practice of adopting the correct center of gravity before attempting any Wing Chun - I should imagine the legs would normally be around shoulder width apart and all that will be required will be to lower the center of gravity, eliminating the need for the 'toes out, heels out' part.

The hands often seem to be forgotten at the opening to Sil Lim Tao. As we drop our center of gravity and bend our knees the hands come up to the chest, then the feet move out - this appears to be the neutral adductor stance. Do not simply place the hands into this position. The hands may appear to make their way up to the chest but the manoeuvre also involves the ulna and the radius going from a vertical to a horizontal position, the practical upside of this is that if someone is holding you from behind and you perform this manoeuvre with one or both arms is that that someone will receive an elbow to the body.

Note: as the center of gravity is dropped I also place my tongue on my palate or, if I'm feeling flashy, I'll place the tip of my tongue on my palate.

Of the initial double gan sau, double tan sau movement I have very little to say at this time. I understand it is used to mark the gates: inside, outside, upper, lower, and that it also serves as a rather nice defense - is it, perhaps, that tan sau is the fundamental upper gate defensive and that gan sau is the corresponding lower gate defense.
Oh, and of course don't forget the double elbows when drawing back.

The next section consists of:

Left fist to center
Left punch
Tan sau, with cut
Huen sau, circling hand
Retreat, rear elbow
Repeat with right

We are beginning to form the basis of the Wing Chun system. The first movement teaches the position of the rear arm, usually wu sau, in this case a fist. The position of this hand is very important, if the arm is not in contact with another arm or the arm is not striking then this is the position the arm should be in - I think, maybe....doesn't really work for locks or traps...

Next comes the punch, the arm switches from rear to front. When this action is done alternately from left to right we have chain punching, the centerline is paramount. To be careful not to dismiss this as merely a punch, I busy myself with trying to co-ordinate the movement of my shoulder, wrist and elbow - It makes life easier later on when you try to co-ordinate the hips & legs as well.

The punch then becomes a tan sau and the motion between the two becomes an opportunity to train getting the most out of every little movement, hence the 'cut' - the 'cut' I perform is basically a reduced form of the 'left,right,up,down' cuts performed near the beginning of Biu Jee. In the form the punch becomes a tan sau after it has hit the target, or ceased being a punch . The movement between the punch and the tan sau as executed in the form allows for the punch to become a tan sau at any point in its travel to the target - I like to think that the hand is simply traveling to the center line of the opponent, if it does not encounter anything on the way a punch is delivered, if it does encounter something on the way a tan sau may appear.

Next we have the huen sau which shows how to move the arm between inside gate & outside gate. This is something I believe, at the moment, is better explored through dan chi or chi sau as it seems to rely on sensitivity of the wrists. Another function of the huen sau is to develop the wrists. In the form I tend to do a full circle/arc of the wrist joint in the expectation that I can then huen sau effectively using any section of the circle/arc.

As the hand retreats we move from huen sau to a grabbing motion, lap sau??. The motion should involve all fingers working and ensure that the thumb is not opposed, despite what great things evolutions claims about opposable thumbs you don't want to use them on someone who knows chin na.

The next section:

Left tan sau
Huen sau
Wu sau
Fook Sau
Huen Sau
Wu sau
Rpeat fook sau, huen sau, wu sau three times.
Pak Sau
Palm stike
Tan sau, 'cut'
Huen Sau
Repeat with right.

This is the most difficult section to write about. It can be practiced many ways and no doubt the most talked about is when it takes 40 mins+. I, personally, have taken longer than 30 mins to do this about erm... 5 times in my wing chin career. Relaxed, tense, mechanical, fluid . I practice all of these in the hope that I'll end up in a glorious middle ground. Most of this section of the form I believe, as above, takes on more meaning when applied to dan chi or chi sau than when discussed as part of the form.
This is, however, a very good time to devote attention to ones breathing.
This section, since it is slow, also allows for contemplation of form. I feel, when doing this section, I have time to balance out the differences between perfect form and what my body is capable of.
The last thing to note is ending pak sau-palm strike. This can be done 2 ways:

1) Pak sau, return to the center, then strike.
2)Pak sau, keep hand around shoulder level, then strike.

Both seem to have real & training benefits.

The first section of the first form appears to be the equation from which the rest of the system is devised. The concepts given are elaborated upon later but a good understanding of these basic concepts should, in theory, lead one to adopting the forthcoming lessons beautifully.

Looking over the Wing Chun terms in wikipedia I am swaying over a move to pinyin or, perhaps , a mix of both pinyin and the standard English version of the Cantonese.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Song Zhong Dan Cong

2007 Song Zhong Dan Cong from Teaspring.

Description from Teaspring:

'Song Zhong Dan Cong are harvested from old tea trees descended from the Song Dynasty specimen. These trees grow in the high mountains of Feng Huang Shan, about 1,000 metres above sea level, where the soil, sun light, clean air and water provide an ideal environment for it to grow. Song Zhong is the best of Dan Cong variety and is considered a treasure in Chao An county, where only close friends and relatives are served with a tea of this grade. Like Pu-erh tea, this tea improves with age.'


'the dried leaves are very aromatic even before they are steeped. The tea has a distinct orchid-like sweet taste and a pleasing aroma. Delicious and refreshing.'

First off to say that I would really like to taste an aged variety of this tea, I have not come across any aged dancong in my tea adventures. The more I read the more it appears there are aged varieties of almost all teas, not counting old tea I don't like at the back of my cupboard.

One curious thing about this tea is that in later brewing, beyond 14/15, the tea does not give the usual weak, sweet water taste but a rather more unpleasant, faintly bitter, water. This does not really detract from the tea, as all the brews that count and more are fantastic, although it does seem a little strange.

I have experimented gaiwan & yixing brewing with lots & little amounts tea all giving pleasing but different results. Using a large amount of leaf means the first few brews need to be lighting fast and even then are a little bitter. I don't mind a little bitterness, some of my guests do.

This tea, along with the Meghma oolong have drawn by far the most interest from non tea friends - hopefully soon to be tea drinking and sharing friends.

The tea itself is of large, full, twisted leaf and perhaps appears more roasted than it it is. The liquor has the wonderful smack of lychee I come to expect from dancong but brings with it a beautiful sweetness of caramel that comes through in both the taste and aroma with great strength. It has enchanted a fellow tea head so much that he been regularly begging for 'just a few grams to take home'. Luckily I have some just arrived in from Teaspring, hopefully of the same caliber.

This is the finest dancong I have yet tasted and is still very affordable. The only trouble is that it will simply encourage me to spend even more on the genre. Although the tea has delighted me in many ways it has also given me a new standard from which to evaluate this class and given me a good hint as to what I can expect in the future.

In the mean time I will have fun experimenting with the new batch and explaining to my friend that if he wants any more I'll send him the link.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Breathing & Tension

Breathing has been something which I have greatly overlooked when practicing out with the forms.
When observing ones breathing during training there seems to be a direct correlation between the breathing moving up from the dan tien towards the chest, usually due to loss of composure, and tension vastly increasing in the shoulders. Seems obvious when written down that loss of composure or inset of panic will lead to tension, the purpose here is to alleviate this issue. I also finds that, paradoxically, fatigue leads to use of muscle power as opposed to reliance upon technique.

To correct this problem I have a few possible solutions.

The first, which seemed to work for me many years ago, involves pushing beyond normal fatigue. When younger I used to train twice a week at class and most days with my neighbor. The tension in my shoulders subsided simply by grinding them down, adhering to continual chi sau rolling until the shoulder muscle has given up the ghost. This now appears to be a rather crude method and since having a period out of training I feel that a more involved solution may be required. My shoulders have developed more since my grinding down days and my life has ensured I do not have quite the same amount of disposable time. Looking at these two factors leads me to believe that this may be a very long, drawn out process which could land me back at square one were I to take another break from training.

The second solution is perhaps more obvious, sensible and cannot fail to be incorporated into my training. This will involve exceptionally gentle and sensitive contact with the arms of others in chi sau, drills and dan chi allowing me to breath naturally during training. Hopefully this will get my body into the habit of lowered breathing not only in excessively laid back training but all areas of my practice. I am not 100% confident that this will enable me to remain relaxed when being struck or finding myself in a rather compromising trap or lock.

Thirdly I cannot overlook the role of the mind.
Be it generating the panic or desperately seeking the hit even if it means fighting force with force, the mind is still major factor in the training environment. If I can't relax when training with someone I've known for years how can I expect to relax when under real pressure?
Aside from the obvious ways of using the mind to keep everything relaxed - pouring over eastern literature, meditation, chi kung (the eight brocade in particular) and almost anything related to taoism - I'm trying to devise exercises specifically related to my wing chun training.
By exercises I mean explicitly where my mind is located during training. I have usually kept my mind fairly absent from training using whatever happens to be hand - being in an almost meditative state, chatting with my partner about any day to day matters or explaining what I'm doing in a fairly detached manner.
It may be time to add a little more structure by using my usual method for most things in life, practicing two extremes and then slowly trying find the middle way by gradually combining them. The decision to be made is which extremes to use?
I've got to begin somewhere so I'll begin with total absorption in the training I'm doing and total concentration on my breathing and dan tien. I suspect it may be as much work to separate the two factors as to recombine them but I'm in no particular rush.

I will further endeavour to continue utilising the exercises that really brought this issue to the forefront of my practice - the eight brocade exercises within chi kung.

Finally to state that I do not intend to make use of my breath for striking or blocking purposes like breathing out with the strike and in as the hand returns. The goal is to achieve deep natural breathing throughout practice to maintain fluidity, and relax my bloody shoulders.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Chi Gerk & Stance work

Performing the chi gerk, sticky legs, drill has thrown up some glaring errors in my most basic of requirements - my stance.

The drill itself my not be essential learning for the practitioner although I don't believe it can do much harm. I have spent time and effort trying to correct my stance for the past few months and was under the impression that I had a reasonably steady base, albeit one that occasionally fails. Using the chi gerk drill (bong gerk, kick etc) even the slightest error in the connection to the earth is amplified. It may be the case that my stance is reasonable enough to deliver a kick, or even a block then kick, without any tremor down below but when incorporating chi gerk into chi sau this simply will not do.

The solution:

Frighteningly simple, I had decided this course of action before discussing it up the chain, my instructor concurs - executing Sil lim tao on one leg then alternating.


Feet together, legs straight(ish)

Drop down, bending knees, elbows back, fists at chest height, back straight.

Toes out, heels out -- adductor stance!

90 degree turn, shifting all weight & balance to rear leg

Lift front leg until thigh is approx parallel with the floor

Relax front leg

Begin form

Repeat with other leg

Have sore legs.

I would like to have the opportunity to work on this for a month or so at least before again attempting chi gerk, not just to save face, to evaluate the astounding outcome I envisage. Guess I'll just have to wait and see what's in store.