Choy Li Fut’s 10 rules of conduct vs Ip Man’s 9 vs Cobra Kai’s 3

My last post about the various sayings (sometimes called “rules”) attributed to BJJ patriarch Carlos Gracie, and how they were actually copied from elsewhere lead me on to thinking about the 9 rules that Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man created, perhaps in response to the well known 10 rules of Choy Li Fut, from the previous generation.

Sets of simple rules to follow help bind a style together and give the participants a sense of a shared identity. Even Cobra Kai has a short set of rules to be followed – “strike first, strike hard, no mercy”, and of course, “Cobra Kai never dies!” and “Defeat does not exist in this dojo!”. It seems that if you want to make your martial art a success then a short list of simple and easily followed rules is standard practice.

Oil Painting of Chan Hung.

Choy Li Fut was one of the first commercial martial arts in China – in fact, when Chan Hung (1806-1875) opened his first Kwoon in 1836, it was probably the first ever place where you could actually go and buy kung fu lessons. The concept of “martial arts” as we know them today – i.e. as a commercial enterprise – was unheard of at the time, and Chan Hung was an innovator in this respect.

Chan Hung’s Choy Li Fut was a combination of older family systems like Li Gar, Choy Gar and Hung Kuen, with the word “Fut” meaning Buddah, added out of respect for his religious beliefs. Choy Li Fut is known for its big circular techniques, twisting body and agile footwork.

Chan Hung himself lived an eventful life. He was hired as a coach for local militia (the butterfly knives found in Wing Chun and Choy Li Fut are a direct ancestor of the “two short swords” used in local militia training in the 1840s), and allegedly served in the Ching army, fighting the British at the outbreak of the Opium War.

By the end of the century Choy Li Fut had become the most popular martial art in Guangdong with schools in every major county and town in the province, dominating the other styles like Wing Chun and Hung Gar. But the progress of Choy Li Fut was far from plain sailing though. For example, all martial arts schools in the area were banned for a period of 10 years after the Red Turban rebellion around 1855. Choy Li Fut declined substantially on the mainland after the Communists took over in 1949. In Hong Kong, where it could still survive it was on an equal footing with other martial arts, and no longer in a dominant position.

Chan Ngau Sing (1864-1926)

One of the successors to Chan Hung was Chan Ngau Sing (1864-1926), who took over the Hung Sing organisation in the 1890s when it was still a very large organisation, but in decline. Chan would have been a rough contemporary of Chan Wah Sun, teacher of the famous Ip Man, and they would possibly have mixed in the same circles.

Chan Ngau Sing managed to revive the fortunes of the Hung Sing association, I think, because he was very good at marketing and managed to make Choy Lee Fut very appealing to the working class clientele of Guangdong. It was Chan who made martial arts more respectable for the average working class man by improving its image with innovations such as a 10 point code of ethics for his members:

Ten Points

  1. Seek the approval of your master in all things relative to the school.
  2. Practice hard daily.
  3. Fight to win (but do not fight by choice).
  4. Be moderate in sexual behavior.
  5. Eat healthily.
  6. Develop strength through endurance (to build a foundation and the ability to jump).
  7. Never back down from an enemy.
  8. Practice breathing exercises.
  9. Make the sounds (“Yik” for punches, “Wah” for tiger claws, “Tik” for kicks).
  10. Through practice you cannot be bullied.

They’re quite bullish. Ben Judkins did an interesting comparison between these 10 rules of conduct from Choy Li Fut and the much more moderate 9 rules that Ip Man created for Wing Chun, much later on, which read like an evolution of Choy Li Fut’s 10 points.

Ip Man and students, 1950.

Wing Chun’s 9 points:

  1. Discipline yourself to the Rules: Keep Sacred the Martial Morality.
  2. Understand Propriety and Righteousness: Love your Country and Respect Your Parents.
  3. Love Your Classmates: Enjoy Working Together as a Group
  4. Control Your Desire: Stay Healthy
  5. Work Hard and Keep Practicing: Never Let the Skill Leave Your Body
  6. Learn How to Keep the Energy: Quit Inciting a Fighting Attitude.
  7. Always Deal with World Matters with a Kind Attitude that is Calm and Gentle.
  8. Help the Elderly and the Children: Use the Martial Mind to Achieve “Yan”
  9. Follow the Former Eight Rules: Hold to the Ancestors’ Rules Sincerely.

While some of the rules seem identical to the Choy Li Fut 10, it’s interesting to note how bold statements like “Never back down” have evolved to become “Quit Inciting a Fighting Attitude”.

By the time of the (admitedly fictional) Cobra Kai dojo of the 1980s even these 9 rules were too long and complicatd. The marketing process had been refined down to just 3 simple rules.

Martial arts, if they are to survive, must change with the times. I feel that Chan Ngau Sing, Yip Man, Carlos Gracie and Sensei Johnny Lawrence of Cobra Kai, knew this very well.

The 3 main rules of Cobra Kai.

For more information about the history of Chinese martial arts in the Pearl River Delta in the 19th century, see Ben Judkins book The Creation of Wing Chun.

Beginning Tai Chi, in the Wu Chi stance

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Stand in a place high up. Looking out over a valley, or the sea, or if you’re in a tower block then look out over the city. Don’t try to think and analyse what you’re looking at, just be open to it. See the place where the sky and land meet.

Open your body posture, holding the arms as if about to embrace an old friend. Let the breath enter the body and leave without any interference. Let the body breathe itself. Start to notice the breath as it goes deep inside you. Feel for the sound of your heartbeat. Get in touch with the rhythms of your breathing, of your heart beat and keep your internal focus there, while maintaining your external focus wide, on everything around you.

If you notice your mind has become caught in thought, simply return it to the body. Stand for as long as you want. Feel what happens to you as you enter a more natural state. You may start to feel a kind of inner strength.

This is the feeling you want to have in the Wu Chi position before you start the Tai Chi form.

How quickly you can enter that state depends very much on how much you’ve practiced it, what’s going on in your life and the state of your health. It’s much easier to achieve this state of Wu Chi in nature, without man-made things in your field of vision or man-made sounds polluting your ears. But if you’ve got a feel for it, then you can do it anywhere. Your body is after all a part of nature.

Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell

49
The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people. She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness. She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust. The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait. She treats them like her own children.

Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

My first time sparring in BJJ

meBJJ

I was reminded recently of a blog post I wrote for Cook Ding’s Kitchen a few years ago about starting BJJ after years of doing Tai Chi. I just re-read it and decided it was ‘not too bad’, so I’m sharing it again here.

Here’s a quote about my first time sparring in BJJ.

We fist-bumped again and went for round 2. He then proceeded to act out a BJJ clinic on me. He was tapping me out using every sort of conceivable lock or choke hold I could think of at a rate of one tap every 2 minutes. And worse, he wasn’t even trying. I quickly realised he’d let me tap him the first time just to see what I could do. This went on for the full 30 minutes. It wasn’t a matter of being out-muscled – it was clear that he possessed a knowledge that I didn’t. I wanted to lie down, curl up and die after about 10 minutes, but something in me refused to give up and I lasted until the end of the class. The black belt running the class was keeping an eye on me, and expressed some concern about the curious wheezing noises my breathing was making and asked if I’d like to sit out, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I kept going until the end. It took me about 2 days to recover fully. My next class was the same, but this time the blue belt I fought was a smaller female, who repeatedly jumped on my back and tapped me out with chokes until time was up.

That was it, I was hooked.

There was a type of knowledge here I could learn, and it worked in a fight, and it didn’t matter if the other person was stronger than you. There were no forms, deadly techniques or imagining ‘what if’ scenarios. You were hit by reality from the first fist bump.

 

The importance of the Dragon to Xing Yi

black dragon roof ornament

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

The Dragon is unique amongst Xing Yi animals because it is the only mythical one. Yes, I’m aware that some lineages of Xing Yi include a Phoenix as one of their 12 animals, but I think this is simply a mistranslation of Tai, a kind of flycatcher bird native to China. You sometimes also see it mistranslated as Ostrich, which is even stranger. You occasionally see Tuo translated as “water lizard”, or “water strider”, but it’s clearly a crocodile, another animal that is (or effectively was) native to China.

The question of why Xing Yi, whose animal methods are based on real, observable native animals, should include a Dragon we’ll leave until the end of this post, but for now, let’s look at its characteristics.

Dragon in San Ti Shi

The Dragon is one of the important animals in Xing Yi Quan because, together with Bear Shoulders, Eagle Claw, Chicken Leg, Tiger Embrace and Thunder sound, Dragon Body forms the famous San Ti Shi posture, (different lineages have slight variations on those, but they’re fundamentally the same).

san ti

San Ti Shi demonstrated by master Zhu Guang, credit Hsing Yi Leeds

Dragons in Chinese mythology have very flexible spines – they fall and rise through clouds with a long, flexible body that coils and rotates, twists and turns. You often seem them decorating Asian temple roofs, or spiralling around a pillar:

yellow and green temple

Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

It’s the flexible nature of the spine that is the characteristic we seek to emulate in Xing Yi Quan. In Xing Yi the spine is characterised by a coiling action, a counter-rotation between hips and shoulders, that means the practitioner can easily generate power, or, always has the potential for generating power from all positions.

The typical Dragon Shape example you see demonstrated looks something like this one:

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Dragon, demonstrated by master Zhu Guang, credit Hsing Yi Leeds

 

Notice how his posture is placing a lot of torque on the spine, and creating potential energy. The right shoulder pushes back, but the right hip pushes forward. That is what is meant by “dragon body” in our style.

(And just to counter some things I’ve read a few times: It is not about creating a ‘spinal wave’ that moves vertically up the spine – that’s not how spines are designed to express power in human beings if longevity is one of your goals. Force (jin) itself can move up the spine to the hands, but there’s no actual physical ripple or wave that should move up your spine, like a whip cracking. I have seen some styles of Chinese martial arts that do this – they crack their spines like a whip. Good luck with that when you’re 70 I’d say, but each to their own.)

Xing Yi and Xin Yi Liu He Dragon comparison

A question came up recently (which inspired this post) about how Dragon in Xing Yi can possibly be the same as Dragon in its sister art Xin Yi Liu He, since they look different.

My first response to that is, of course, they are the same. Not identical in outward expression, but the same root.

These two arts developed in different geographic locations, but they share a common root. Take monkeys as an example: In biological terms, all modern-day monkeys look different, but they share a common ancestor. You can tell they are related. While their colourings, their sizes and their behaviours may have evolved along different lines, they’re still belong to the same species. It’s the same with Xing Yi dragon and Xin Yi Liu He dragon.

One phrase my Xing Yi teacher liked was “one root, 10,000 endings”, so there can be infinite variations on a dragon posture, or sequence, but the root, the essence of what is being expressed, is the same.

Every lineage of Xing Yi has its own slight variation, but in Hebei Xing Yi you usually see Dragon expressed in that rising and falling squatting posture shown above.

Here’s a video of Mike Patterson showing some applications:

This is the posture that is not found in Xin Yi Liu He? Really?

First, I’d dispute that. Here are two videos I found quickly online that are very similar to the standard Hebei Xing Yi version. This one looks like a prototype for the standard Hebei move, ending in a similar squat:

 

And then there’s this one called “Dragon wags tail” from http://www.xinyiliuhe.net , which has a different stance, but the movement is virtually identical:

 

Perhaps the confusion happens because the most common “dragon” movement you see in Xin Yi Liu He is this one (that you see translated as variations of “dragon shakes its shoulders” or “dragon shoulder” or “dragon carries the shoulder pole”.)

It’s one of the “3 old steps”. I like that name. Again, it implies that the dragon is a fundamental quality to the art, which is what we say in Xing Yi. I’m speculating here, but perhaps in Xing Yi’s San Ti Shi we see the bringing together of these “old steps” into a single posture that is held and practiced without movement, but with the same internal feeling?

If you look at what is being practiced in the Xin Yi steps above you see the same qualities of dragon that we look for in Xing Yi – the flexible, rotating spine. On the inside, it’s the same thing. Also notice that his arms are being held in a way that resembles wings, like dragon wings?

Let’s look at some more dragon movements you find in other lines of Xing Yi beyond the usual rise/fall squat movement you see:

This is Zhang Xi Gui is the director of the Shan Xi Xing Yi Research School. Notice the same ‘wing’ shape to his arms?

Notice the different flavours of the dragon are there – the strategic leg placement to set traps and trip, the coiling body motion and the ‘wings’ and ‘claws’ feel in the arms.

It’s already clear there is more to the ‘dragon’ than just a single move. I’m trying to get to the point where I can convince you that dragon is a quality, not a move, that can be expressed in various different ways.

Dragon principles in Xin Yi Liu He

In terms of Dragon principles being expressed in Xin Yi Liu He the best video I’ve found is this one below.

Dragon is expressed all through this video and the teacher really goes into detail about the body actions. And again, it all matches with Xing Yi – the rotation of the spine, the actions of the hips and shoulders to create power that I talked about earlier.

I really like this video (despite whatever that young German man is doing to that tree 🙂 )

 

I hope that’s been enough to get you thinking. We need to stop thinking about Xing Yi animals as ‘this move’ or ‘that move’. It does this massive, practical, ancient and subtle art a huge disservice.

And going back to what I mentioned earlier – the other reason for the dragon being the only mythical creature in Xing Yi/Xin Yi’s animal styles?

Well, the dragon is the emblem of Yue Fei’s family and he is often illustrated with a dragon emblem on his robe:

yue fei

Qing dynasty illustration of Yue Fei By Unknown author – 清宫殿藏画本. 北京: 故宫博物馆出版社. 1994., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57090030

Was Yue Fei practicing what we call “Xing Yi” today in his back yard? Of course not, but the ideas that underpin it? Then yes, he was. His army used these strategies very successfully in battles against the Jin army, but for (much) more of that story, see my podcast.

Make Xing Yi wild again

animal animal photography avian beak

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Rewilding is an environmental process that brings nature back to life and restores living systems. Apex predators and keystone species are reintroduced and we let nature reclaim parts of the landscape, without human intervention.

The coronavirus pandemic has lead to a kind of enforced rewinding of the urban world. As the human race retreats indoors for the next few months it’s a chance for nature to reclaim parts of cities. As tourists left corona-stricken Venice, swans, fish and even dolphins returned to the canals. In England, the constant background hum of traffic is dimmed as people stay at home. As I stand in my back garden and look up at the last of the blossom on my cherry tree I can see more birds flitting about in its branches than normal. I can hear more bird song than usual.

One of my favourite martial arts, Xing Yi, was once a wild and untamed martial art, but over time it has become a rather domesticated and pale version of its former self. Human ideas have come to dominate in Xing Yi, where once nature was its real inspiration. But now Xing Yi can no longer be practiced freely with other people maybe we should take this time to do the same thing with it and other martial arts — rewild them and return them to the source.

animal close up country countryside

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our hook into the natural world

After trees and fields, our next point of entry into the natural world is usually from seeing wild animals. Even in cities, animals are all around us, but we rarely pay much attention to them. Foxes roam our streets at night, magpies land on our rooftops and birds of prey can even hunt in our gardens. In the past animals provided inspiration for many martial arts. Xing Yi, with its various animal ‘shapes’, in particular, was one of them. Unlike humans, wild animals aren’t separated from nature by civilisation. Even our pets can unexpectdly reveal their wild side on occasion.

Unusually, I was first introduced to Xing Yi Animals as part of my Tai Chi training. My teacher’s teacher had learned Xing Yi, along with various other martial arts in Hong Kong, before moving to the UK in the 1970s, but rather than teach the whole art to his UK students he used the 12 Animals as coat hangers for techniques which suited their individual body types and attributes. The main arts he taught my teacher were Tai Chi Chuan, Northern Shaolin and Buk Sing Choy Lee Fut, but to help his students become more effective in sparring he saw a lot of value in using the Xing Yi animal strategies. So, for example, one student who was good at straight punches would be given Horse to work with in sparring, and another, who was more stocky and good at rounded punches and kicks would be given Bear.  Learning in this way was very individual. You were given some sample movements, and it was then up to you to build from there by adding in other techniques that you found worked well in combination.

My own teacher also used the Xing Yi animals in the same way and from this little dip into the art my curiosity for Xing Yi was piqued and I became hungry to learn more. My search for Xing Yi-proper lead me to eventually meet an actual teacher of the full art, who was kind enough to take me on as a student. And while his techniques had more variety and specialisation, and the body methods looked more distinctively “Xing Yi”, (they required a good grounding in the 5 Element fists first, and were quite different to Tai Chi Chuan) I was pleased to see that his overall approach to the animals was roughly the same. After first learning a set sequence, he would then introducing variations to help you get the flavour of the animal through free experimentation. He encouraged you to actually observe the animal in question. Rather than being prescribed an animal to work with, his students tended to naturally gravitate towards one animal or two; the ones that suited their personalities and abilities.

Xing Yi Snake

The author practicing Xing Yi Snake with Glen Board, author of Xing Yi – A study of Tai and Tuo Xing . Photo by Emma Heeney (c) 2020 Somerset Valley Publishing

A proficient Xing Yi practitioner however, he taught me, should always be able to switch between animals freely, as required by the situation. Tiger, for instance, is good at entering from a distance while striking heavily on the opponent. Bear, for example, is good at close infighting and Snake is good at close quarter grappling. Moving between all three in an encounter may take only a few seconds.

Ultimately, the goal for a Xing Yi student is to get good at all 12, rather than just one or two, then leave them behind entirely and just practice “Xing Yi” itself. Of course, this training progression assumes you have hours of free time to practice, since this was the traditional way. The reality of adapting Xing Yi to our busy, modern lives is somewhat at odds with this expectation, so I found that focussing on an animal or two that suited me personally was perhaps a better use of my limited time. Bear-Eagle, Chicken and Monkey were my favourites.

Rewilding Xing Yi

In modern times, Xing Yi animals have taken something of a back seat to the 5 element fists, or set linking forms. Rather than expansive fighting strategies derived from nature they have become somewhat domesticated, reduced and institutionalised. Really, each animal should be practiced like a mini martial art in itself, yet it is often shrunk down to a single move repeated over and over.

Rewinding Xing Yi would involve putting the focus back on the 12 animals and expanding them. And that’s starts with research.

We live in a time when it’s possible to view Xing Yi from all over the world on your laptop at home. Between all the different lineages of Xing Yi there is enough animal content preserved to fully flesh out the characters of each animal. If we start to look at as many variations of them as we can possibly find between both Xin Yi and Xing Yi, we can build up a bigger picture of what a Xing Yi animal represents.

Even better, find another Xing Yi practitioner and share your animal methods.

Xing Yi Chicken

The author practicing Xing Yi Chicken. Photo by Emma Heeney (c) 2020 Somerset Valley Publishing

And let’s not forget that we can still do with a lot of the Xing Yi animals what the founders of the Li tradition of the Song Dynasty tried to do, which is to get back to nature through direct observation. Amongst the 12 animals, there are several which it’s possible to observe directly yourself in the countryside and woodlands of the United Kingdom. For instance, chickens can be found in farmyards. Horses can be found in fields, and swallows still perform their aerial acrobatics in our skys. While there are a goshawks living in Wales and Scotland, Sparrow hawks are common throughout Brtain, and you can at least find birds of prey on display at many centres throughout the UK.

The other way we can rewild our practice is to change where we practice. My teacher always taught outside, in nature, because that was the way he learned in China. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, if he said he was going to be there, he was there. In fact, if you turned up to practice in a snow or rainstorm he’d be happier and teach you something especially good! Experiencing the weather directly is one way to get closer to nature. You can only learn to take the environment into account in your practice if you have to deal with it on a regular basis. Practicing at night under the night sky where you can see the stars is another great way of turning your head back to nature. Stop practicing indoors. Training in village halls is fine, but that perfectly flat wooden floor is making life too easy for you. Get outside and feel the wind on your face, it will do you good.

brown and white eagle

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I’m not suggesting that we abandon the fundamental principles of Xing Yi and adopt a delusional approach to practice, where our only judge of what’s correct is our own opinion. Animals living wild in nature don’t have the luxury of opinions. Their methods of hunting for prey or defending against predators either work, or they starve or get eaten.

The principles of Xing Yi are not derived from old sayings or old books. They’re derived directly from nature.

We’ve been ignoring nature for a long time now. As the coronavirus sweeps the world an old, uninvited guest has returned to the table. To quote the excellent poem, Sometimes a Wild God, by Tom Hirons,

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

We can fear this guest, or we can embrace him.

Let’s let nature be our teacher once more.

Let’s make Xing Yi wild again.

woman walking on a log in the forest

Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

Tai Chi: One part moves, all parts move

pexels-photo-62376.jpeg

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking of the way to describe what ‘whole body movement’ means in Tai Chi. The problem is describing a specific feeling, or body movement using words, which leaves the meaning open to interpretation and misunderstanding.

In Yang Cheng-Fu’s Ten Important Points, No. 7 says:

“7.) Coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say “the motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist and manifested through the fingers.” Everything acts simultaneously. When the hand, waist and foot move together, the eyes follow. If one part doesn’t follow, the whole body is disordered.”

This is an expanded version of the more condensed and often heard phrase: “One part moves, all parts move”. But it’s also misleading.

If you take the line “Everything acts simultaneously” at its literal meaning you don’t have Tai Chi movement. You have robot dancing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like robot dancing as much as the next Peter Crouch fan, but it’s not Tai Chi. When you see a performer doing the robot dance she often swivels the waist sideways, or dips the hip with the arm locked to the body. With the dip the whole torso and arms all move downwards together, simultaneously. Something like this:

giphy

It’s fairly obvious that this is not what is meant by Yang Cheng Fu when he says to move the body parts simultaneously, and yet I do see people falling into this trap quite often. They obviously had no intention to set out moving like a robot, but when the brain gets the idea that the body must move as a unit, the resultant expression can often end up far from the mark.

Instead, the way the body moves in Tai Chi should be more like ripples emanating from a stone dropped in a lake. The central point is the dantien. The waves begin there and ripple out to the extremities (feet, head and hands).

giphy-1

When you move, the dantien moves first, and the rest of the body follows in a coordinated action, almost as if dragged by the dantien. It is loose, connected, relaxed and powerful, rather than stiff, jerky and ’empty’.

The parts of the body don’t all move together at exactly the same time, otherwise you’ll end up like a robot. Instead, you want to be more like the way an animal moves. Animals demonstrate some of the best, most graceful, full-body, co-ordinated movement you’ll ever see.

The Cheetah is the classic one that’s used to illustrate open and close in the body, but also the directed head position. Just look at how the head helps with the coordination when running here:

giphy-2

While we run with a torso held in the vertical plane and the Cheetah runs with the torso in the horizontal plane, the head position remains key.

Point 1 of Yang Cheng-Fu’s 10 Important Points is:

1.) Head is held upright to let the shen rise to the top. Don’t use li, or the neck will be stiff and the chi and blood cannot flow through. It is necessary to have a natural and lively feeling. If the spirit cannot reach the headtop, it cannot raise.

In the Cheetah, the engine is the dantien area. The torso does big opening and closing movements as it sprints and the head points the way, keeping the spine flexible, but extended.

Be less robot, be more Cheetah.

Two recent stories

I’m still using this blog for posting my ideas and blog posts, but I’ve decided to start putting a few new stories onto my new Medium page.

I’m using Medium as a place to post more polished articles. They’re basically my better blog posts that I’ve tidied up a bit and made more coherent.

Here are the first two I’ve done:

Let me know what you think!

 

 

Happy Christmas!

A very merry a Christmas to all my readers! 2019 has been a terrible year in many ways – not personally, but for the state of the world – but this blog has kept me on my toes, forcing me to think and rethink my ideas, and distracting me from world events.

Thanks to everybody who has inspired me – you know who you are.

Here’s a book I got for Christmas that I’ll hopefully make time to read. It’s time we all started to turn our heads back towards nature.

Tai Chi Notebook, the book, will be coming in 2020, so look out for it!

Have a happy New Year!

Graham

Elite Sports Ultra Light Preshrunk Adult Gi Review

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So far I’ve mainly reviewed martial arts books, but I’d also like to branch out into reviewing other martial arts products, so, being a BJJ enthusiast, I jumped at the chance to review the Elite Sports Ultralight Preshrunk Adult Gi when they offered to send me a review sample. Here’s my review.

Elite Sports Ultra Light Preshrunk Adult Gi review

Price: £59.99

Web: Elite Sports (UK)

Direct link to product

Verdict: Great value!

What is it? The Elite Sports Ultra Light Gi is a kimono for wearing in Jiujitsu classes. Jiujitsu gis differ a little in style and shape from Judo gis, and they also need to take a lot of wear and tear. They need to be tough, yet light enough that you don’t end up drowning in your own sweat.

How did it look? See for yourself. Here’s a video:

The video is also on our new Instagram account.

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There’s a nice range of colour options available. I went for the navy colour, which I really like. If I was being picky I’d say there was about a 10% difference in colour shade between the trousers and the top. That’s not a big problem for me though.

Is it tough enough? Yes, there were no signs that it was going to rip any time soon, and at under 3kg in weight, it was also light and didn’t feel cumbersome. The Elite Sports Gi manages to hit a great balance between toughness and lightness. The stitching looks solid and there were no problems with the tailoring at all.

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Did it fit? I went for the A2 size and it fitted me perfectly. The cut is great – called “fitted” – and being preshrunk it fits nicely as soon as you put it on. Flowing through jiujitsu movements the gi felt great – it’s been tailored so that there’s enough room for your arms and legs to move freely. It’s got a nice balance between stiffness and softness so that it keeps its shape as you roll. It’s not going to end up wrapped around your head like really soft gis can, but it also doesn’t feel too stiff.

The trousers are tied with a chunky cord, which looks like this:

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The cord might feel a bit odd to start with compared to other gis, but they didn’t untie once for the duration of a whole class.

The material of the gi itself is really smooth – this had the advantage that it’s easier to flow around people, and makes your jiujitsu feel really silky because there’s slightly less traction against the other person, but equally, it could make it slightly harder to hold people in positions.

What do you get in the box? Along with the gi you also get a free white belt. Like the gi, it’s good quality, and thick.

Did it shrink in the wash? No. I washed it at 30 degrees (which the label recommends)  and there was no shrinkage at all. There was also no colour loss.

How did it smell? Some cheaper gis can have a nasty smell when you first open them, but it’s important to note that when I first got the Elite Sports Gi, the gi smelt great – apparently there’s an “Antimicrobial Inner Lining” to this gi which has the effect of reducing sweat odour over time as well, which is a nice feature. I’d say it works too – even after a heavy rolling session, the gi didn’t smell that sweaty.

Would you recommend it? Yes. At just £60 this is a great value product: recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

Tai Chi is open and close happening simultaneously

 

Wu Jienquan not lean

Wu Jianquan

Tai Chi is opening and closing happening simultaneously.

That’s one of the secrets of Tai Chi, right there. Unfortunately, as with much of the truths about Tai Chi Chuan, the statement doesn’t make any sense unless you already know what it means.

As an art, much of Tai Chi is self secret like this. In one way that’s frustrating, but in another way it’s freeing because it means teachers don’t have to hold things back. The secrets reveal themselves over time.

Look at the Tai Chi Classics, for example. They’re a collection of pithy martial arts sayings that hide deeper meanings. “5 ounces of force deflects a thousand pounds“, “Walk like a cat.“, “Store up the jin like drawing a bow.”, etc.

Many of the sayings in these documents don’t mean anything to people reading them who don’t already understand them. So, there’s no risk in losing ‘the secrets of the art’ by publishing them, which is perhaps one reason why the Tai Chi classics are in wide circulation, while other martial styles keep their writings secret, held only within families.

Perceiving opening and closing

When you’re doing your form, can you perceive movements that are obvious opening movements, and movements that are obviously closing movements?

It’s good if you can. If you can’t then think about this – roll back (lu) is clearly a closing movement, and ward off (Peng) is obviously and opening movement. Look for the same actions in the other movements. On the opening movements, the body expands outwards. On the closing movements the body contracts inwards.

ycf_roll_back

Yang Cheng Fu – Roll back

But that’s not the end of the story.

If you’re perceiving the form like this – a series of opening and closing movements that happen one after the other, then you’re not quite on the right track.

The key is that the opening and closing are both happening all the time simultaneously. So, as one part of the body is closing whilst another part is opening.

Look at the yin yang symbol. If you follow it around in a circle with your eye you can see that as one aspect grows stronger, the other aspect diminishes, but is also being born again and growing. It goes on in an endless cycle.

PakuaPostHeaven

It’s these cycles you need to pay attention to in the form. It should feel like this cycle of opening and closing movements is going on with one movement giving birth to the next, rather than perceiving them two separate movements where one starts, then stops, then the other starts and stops. The movement is continuous. It goes out, it comes back, it goes out again.

Silk reeling circles

Let’s break this down into something more tangible.

A while ago I made a video course on the basic single handed silk reeling exercise. This exercise is great because it gives you a chance to work on opening and closing in a relatively simple movement.

Out of the whole course, part 1 is probably the most relevant video to explain what I mean:

Here’s what I’m doing in the video: I’m looking for a slight stretch across the front of my body and a slight stretch across the back of my body (the yin/yang aspects). As the arm goes out the front of the body gradually becomes more taught until there’s enough tension there that I can use it to pull the arm back in. As the arm comes back in, the back of the body becomes slightly more taught until there’s enough tension there to use it to expand the arm outwards. This is all integrated with reverse breathing which powers everything from the Dan Tien area. It’s a very stretchy, rubber band-like practice.

You can start with big, crude circles, but work down to smaller more subtle circles.

But ultimately you’re looking for the feeling of the cycle of yin and yang, opening and closing going on in the body.

It’s this feeling that you need to take into the Tai Chi form where opening and closing happening simultaneously through a myriad of different movements.