Saturday, January 20, 2007

An important concept in mind-body exercises like yoga and just about any martial arts is Chi, or Qi.
I have to give the late Stan Rossi a lot of credit for radically transforming my understanding of Chi. It was a long long long path, frought with a healthy dash of skepticism that was released without hesitation after one class with Stan.

To explain what happened I have to go through many years of training and discussions. I first heard of Chi from a judo instructor I worked with. He called it by it's Japanese name, Ki. I asked him what Ki was and he said, "let me show you". He reached out his finger and held it two inches from my forhead. I felt a touch, even though he never touched me. It was like magic!
I later learned from Mister Ho that Chi is an essential life force that flows through the body. He said there were channels in the body that followed (though not exactly) the blood circulatory system. Tai Chi moves this force around and projects it outwards. This force can heal your body, and be used as a devastating weapon by martial artists.
Yet even as I watched people use this to bend rebarb, even when I could muster chi to take pointy sticks in the soft part of my neck, I still was skeptical. I thought it was some trick, or a combination of physical mechanics. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time wondering what it was.
And while I was in Dallas, I remembered Stan Rossi coming to practice with us. He was a student then, with no students of his own, but he said something quite profound. "to master chi, you first have to believe in it." I smiled and listened, but inside I was sooooooo skeptical. I pictured him as one of those goofy new age philosophers and almost forgot him entirely.
Then about ten years later, I am in his class in Austin. I had come to believe something was going on because my Chen lessons had reached a point where I could feel something, particularly in the holding column position that Stan was practicing that night.
We were in a circle, and I felt the chi between my hands stronger than ever. In fact, it was hard to push my hands together. I could feel it bouncing back and forth. Stan was walking around the circle, helping students whith their form, when I turned my hands towards the center of the circle, sending the chi in his direction.
He turned around immediately. Understand now, he had no normal cue what was going on with me. If you saw a film I would have just tuned my hands a little. There was no noise, only a subtle movement that Stan detected as surely as if I had turned a fan on him. He walked over, looked between my hands, where I could feel this strong field, and passed his hands between mine in an exploratory manner.
From then on, I was a believer in Chi.
Chi and Prana
Lately I have been fascinated by the connections between Yoga and martial arts. The study of this life force is very similar. In fact, they were probably originally developed in ancient India and enhanced and changed in ancient China. However my understanding of both systems is in it's infancy, so take my comparisons as speculation at best.
Yogi's call this life force Prana, and as near as I can determine they are discussing the exact same thing. However, I think Yoga practitioners manipulate and enhance Prana in very different ways from how martial artists use and enhance Chi.
Both disciplines use breath control. Both encourage different types of breathing. Both stress the immense importance of Chi (Prana) for health and long life.
Martial artists usually accompany Chi exercises with great sweeping movements of the body. They can focus Chi in different parts of their body. They can even send it into other things, like a sword or an opponent. One practice I have seen many times is people relaxing their arm and filling it with Chi...the arm cannot be bent.
Yogi's, to my knowledge, only focus on the health aspects. When I spoke with one yoga teacher about moving Prana she winced and said "do you want to move it?" It made me think about how Yogi's observe the flow of Prana while martial artists seek to control Chi and utilize it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Personal Martial Arts History

I have been on a three month "sabatical" from martial arts (Tukong Moosul) practice. I am not sure why I dropped out of training for a while, but it's not really important. Martial arts is deep in my bones.

Childhood Stories

When I was a young child I watched a show called Kung Fu. I always thought that character, Kwai Chang Kane was sooooo cool. He was a monk who committed one act of violence in China and was forced to wander the wild west America as a result. He walked from California to the east coast encountering Chinese bounty hunters, Native Americans, railroad and chinese, gunfighters, witch doctors, mining slave labor camps. All these stories filled my imagination. He was always forced into situations where he used his amazing martial arts skills. But in the end he always found a peaceful solution. That kind of set it in my mind. Be a strong man, but seek peace.

Karate at the Rec Center

When I was in Junior High and early High School I got a chance to take American Shotokan at the local recreational center in Vinton, Virginia. I was a fat kid, who was into books more than exercise and I loved Karate. I soon found myself practicing all the time. I particularly liked the nunchuks. After a couple of years I moved to Texas and didn't have the opportunity to take lessons until I moved to Arlington.

I started thinking seriously about learning martial arts. UTA had a lot of clubs, and the DFW area is a major city with a lot of good teachers. I went on a tour of many different schools, taking a week or so of Akido, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Hopkido, Shao Lin, Judo etc....

Yang Style Tai Chi

One day I was in the student center and I saw a demonstration of Tai Chi Chuan. There was a practitioner of Chen Style who really impressed me. However, when I asked him to teach me he said he he wasn't taking students and referred me to Chin Han Ho, a practitioner of the Yang Style of Tai Chi. He taught me for about five years, and I came to love Tai Chi. I still practice the long form and have taught it to a few friends. I continued to practice it off and on (mostly off) for a few years.

Mister Ho emphasized the health benefits of Tai Chi. He would show the martial application, but I think this was mostly to ensure our form was correct. He also was an excellent teacher of Chi Kung. He taught a soft style for health and a hard style that helped students harden part of their body to withstand blows. He was able to bend steel rebarb with the soft part of his neck for intance. I didn't know it but I was suffering from hyperthyroidism, and as a result became mentally and physically...well I wasn't myself.

Chen Style Tai Chi

After I was cured I started to rebuild my body. I was out running and I saw these Chinese exchange students practicing Tai Chi. I joined them every night for a few months. The teacher was showing us Chen style. It was very informal. After a couple of months he refered me to a graduate student named Paul Chen who had practiced in the Chen village. Paul and I got along very well. I studied with him for about a year and he taught me the first Chen form. He particularly empahsized how to move energy through my body, and techniques for using the whole body to generate force. To this day I work on some of the principles he taught, though sadly I can't remember the Chen form.

After about a year and a half with Paul I got a job in Austin. I kept practicing the Chen form every single night, and would go visit Paul. But slowly, over time, working by myself became tedious and lonely. I sought out another school to practice with. After trying a few schools, including Wu style, and a couple of Chen teachers I wandered into Stan Rossi's class.
Back to Yang

Stan Rossi was a fine teacher of Tai Chi. He had practiced with several teachers in Hawii and Dallas. He was teaching Yang style in Austin. As soon as he saw me he knew my teacher was Chin Han Ho. We vaguely remembered practicing together in Dallas.
Sifu Rossi had learned under my teachers "brother" Chung King Tu. I rememberd Master Tu very well. He would come and teach at our school, and was clearly respected by my teacher. He was amazing at the art of push hands, taking on the whole class one at a time until we were each beaten. When he was delivering food in South Dallas someone shot him through the lung and heart. The next day Master Tu was on his feet practicing "holding jug", his recovery was a testamant to the health benefits of Tai Chi.
I practiced with Stan for a couple of years, but life the universe and everything seemed to change that. They moved school location and times, and I was really starting to yearn for soemthing more.

I continued to practice Tai Chi sporadically. I practiced a form of Yang that was somewhere between Sifu Rossi's style and Master Ho's style. Although I wasn't as regular, I was making slow progress in my ability, and my understanding of Chi.
Yet I was wanting something more. I was beginning to feel that my martial arts were getting too much art, and not enough martial.

Tukong Moosul

Over the years I had met many other martial artists who I respected. I kept hearing about a teacher named Wonik Yi, who taught a style called Tukong Moosul. Two teachers who I respected greatly considered him their teacher.
I went and visited the school and enrolled the first time I talked with Master Yi. I have been going there a few years, and have had a couple of breaks in training, but by and large consider this school to be the finest school I have ever known.

Master Yi teaches a special style he developed which combines hard style martial arts techniques with soft style techniques. He has had the benefit of practical military training and practicing martial arts in the Korean Buddhist Temple. In fact, he is a kind of real life Kwai Chang Kane.

And so, on this day that ends the great ice storm of '07. For the first time I feel like I feel like I am learning the Martial Arts that I had dreamed of when I was a child, watching those campy martial arts films on TV. Master Yi teaches great techniques, how to kick, punch throw, use weapons of all sorts. But what I really admire is the spirit of his classes.

His students are respectful of themselves and others. This respect is an integral part of Master Yi's training. He also teaches us that we can accomplish anything when our mind and bodies are aligned. This to me is the essence of martial arts. Not busting boards or throwing people in the air, but using your mind to move your body in response to a seemingly impossible challenge.
This discipline of mind and body sets the expert martial artist apart from a common street fighter. The connection of mind and body keeps drawing me back to martial arts. It is why I keep going to Master Yi's classes, where it is emphasized over and over.

Certainly other schools have their merits, but personally I would recomend Master Yi's Tookung acadamy to anyone seeking to learn martial arts. If you ever want to visit the school just drop me a line. I would be happy to give you a tour.