Sunday, February 28, 2010

What Is The "On Guard" Position In Tai Chi Chuan?

Something dawned on me a week ago that really caused me to think about martial styles; is there consensus about an "On Guard" position in Tai Chi Chuan?
I began training in the martial arts around 1980, and wrestled before that. In Tae Kwon Do and Karate, there were various "hands up" on-guard positions. In Western Boxing Your fists are up. In Aikido we used the Hanmi (swordsman) stance with hands in a relaxed medium extended position. In Bagua there is the Fan Jang-type extended guard. In Xingyi there is the San Ti or Pi Chuan guard with one arm relaxed and extended and the other at the Dantien as a low guard.
With these arts as background, I had never concerned myself with wondering about whether I need to have a guard up, it was always there.
With Tai Chi Chuan however (I have practiced Yang-style since 1996), I realized that most partner interaction begins by mutually raising and linking arms in push hands. Even in the complex two-person San Shou form, the defender has no raised guard pre-attack. Instead, the positions are reactive to what the attacker presents.
Now, this wasn't too much of a problem for me. I've had my share of sparring matches, Tournament fights and streetfights. But when I look at students which have only been exposed to Tai Chi Chuan, it seemed like they would just stand with their hands down and wait for a push or other attack. That split second it takes to get your guard up may be too late. If you wait to react as your opponent has initiated an attack you are just playing catch-up. An extended guard allows you time to blend, and only makes sense.
With this in mind, I contacted various Tai Chi Chuan instructors and asked Their opinion on the issue of an "On Guard" position in Tai Chi Chuan:

Seattle Instructor Andrew Dale:
My teacher, TT Tchoung always used raise hands and a “come try me” posture."

Jake Burroughs, Mike Martello, and Me
Here's what My Xingyi instructor Jake Burroughs said:
I am learning Zhao Bao, and know the Sun. In Sun Taiji we have an on guard position no different then any other art.
Taiji is not like Aikido. Do not wait for your opponent to swing on you. Remember the first to get hit is usually the first to lose!
(D.R.) -A little vague, but indicates a "hands up" position.

My Yang-Style instructor, Michael Gilman:
"The position right before the releasing phase of
ward off would be my choice. The strong side is back as you sit on
the strong side leg, the strong side arm is raised to protect the
chest and upper body, while the weak side toe touches and the weak
side arm is lower to cover the lower body. It is so similar to a
boxing on guard."
(D.R.)-Hmm. This was the first reply to mention ward-off. But it sounds like a transition phase of the posture. I am going to visit Michael soon, so I will get more details then.

Wim Deemeere, Combat SanShou:
I can’t comment on other tai chi styles as I don’t practice them so
this may not be universally applicable. But in the style I study, the
on guard position is “Seven stars”. You can see an example of it at 55
sec. here:

The problem is that you don’t see it in the round form if you don’t
know it’s there. Because it flows into the next movement right away.
When you look at the square form, you’ll see it very clearly though.
In the example above, it’s plainly visible because I step back into
it. In other instances, it’s done right before “grasping bird’s tail”
and you can hardly see it anymore. Of course, the way the practitioner
does it can bring it out more or hide it. As always, there’s lots of
Seven stars has SD applications too of course; it’s not “just” the on
guard position.
There are also Daoist references involved and I know other styles
refer to it as “Strum the lute” but it’s essentially the same
Another thing: in the form, it’s usually done as a high guard. But
that isn’t necessarily how you use it. I often use it in the low
position for a variety of reasons. You can see this here:

Again, this is how I learned it. Other styles will probably do it
differently (or perhaps not at all, I don’t know) but I’m not
qualified to comment on them.
(D.R.)- So we see Wim using what his system calls "Seven Stars" as the same as "Play The Guitar" or "Raise Hands" in the Yang system

Christopher Dow
Christopher Dow is author of "The Wellspring", one of the best books on the cutting-edge of explaining how Chi works:
I practice a version of Northern Wu Style, a sibling to Traditional Wu (Wu Chien Chuan, et al), but I originally learned Traditional Wu. The change-over was simply a practical concern, not because of "quality."
Both have the on-guard position, variously called Play Guitar, Strum the Lute, Play the Pipa, Patting Horse, Three-Point Concentration, Seven Stars, and Big Dipper. The latter two are so called because the shape of the arms resembles the constellation the Big Dipper, which is made up of seven stars. The other names probably are self-explanatory.
In the Traditional Wu form I learned, the position is done with the weight in a sitting stance with the arm of the forward foot extended, hand about face high, palm facing naturally to the side, and fingers pointed up and out. The other arm is retracted slightly, with the palm facing the forearm of the fully extended arm. This is the typical on-guard position, and can be simply a neutral, waiting position, but it often is reached by using a sit-back, and can be used actively—for example, to trap an in-coming arm between the palms and breaking it at the elbow.
The Northern Wu form I now practice calls it Seven Stars, and it's done a bit differently—in a way that does not readily lend itself to being an on-guard posture in the sense of being a neutral, waiting position. The stance is the same as in Traditional Wu, and so is the basic arm shape, but the hand positions are what make it different: the palm of the forward hand is turned to the face, and the palm of the slightly retracted hand is positioned with its palm facing the forearm of the forward hand and its back facing the practitioner's neck—essentially between the extended forearm and the body. Basically, it's like the Traditional Wu position but with the forearms twisted in unison to alter the directions the palms face. It is done sitting back, stepping forward, stepping left, stepping right, and from central equilibrium.
In all directions, the forearm that is to be the extended one rises vertically in front of its own shoulder, about eighteen inches out, and at the same time, the rear arm and hand move into position behind it. Then the practitioner twists his waist toward the opposite side, causing the vertical forearm to sweep across the front of the body and end with the elbow directly over the opposite knee. It is important to think of the elbow leading, not the forearm, wrist, or hand. Thinking of the forearm, wrist, or hand will cause the movement to use upper body and arm strength instead of whole body strength and will cause the practitioner to float rather than sink. If the movement is done incorrectly, the results will be ineffective. Leading with the elbow not only allows full body strength and sinking, but also gives the forearm a whipping motion that usually is imperceptible to someone watching the form but that should be felt by the practitioner.
As with the movement's usage in Traditional Wu, the Northern Wu version can be used to trap an incoming arm and break it (though the rear forearm has to turn farther, bringing its palm to face the user, too, to do this). But the movement has additional functions. One is to snare an incoming forearm with the rear hand as you sit back, and then use the forward forearm to armbar the snared arm, either simply jolting the aggressor to the side, wrenching or breaking his elbow, or following through more completely for a take-down. Another possibility is that this Seven Stars position readily turns into a sideways block with the extended forearm that is then followed very naturally by a press, with the extended arm rotating around the palm of the rear arm as the extended elbow rises. The rear palm, now pressing against the inside of the extended arm's wrist, then propels the press for any of the press's three uses. (Or rather, the three that I know of. There likely are others.) And a third very potent usage is that, if the hand of the whipping forearm is balled into a fist, it makes a dandy and very quick hammer fist to the side of your opponent's head (temple, jaw, neck), arm (especially elbow), or other body parts. So, in the form I practice, Seven Stars is rarely neutral, often deflective (sometimes more aggressively so), and potentially damaging.
If I were to use a simple on-guard position, I wouldn't use the Seven Stars that I now use because it's not geared for that. Instead, I'd use the very standard version from the Traditional Wu style I learned, but probably more relaxed, with the hands at chest level instead of face-and-neck high.

So there we have it; the consensus is some version of "Raise Hands"

That being said, perhaps the problem lies in getting Tai Chi Chuan students used to using a similar pre-engagement posture. Most partner interaction relies on mutually accepted engagement such as push-hands.
For real-world self-defense application, the student must have a game plan for an attacker throwing punches, and an extended guard is the best way to train for that.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Fun: The Great Missile Logo Conspiracy

In a Fox Newsery-Glen Beckery-befuddelment-type collective freakout, the Right Wingnut-Jobs are agast at the new logo used by the Missile Defense Agency.
According to "The Telegraph" UK, Teeth are gnashing and hands are wringing amongst the John Birch Society side of the Republiklan Party:

"The circular red, white and blue sign, which has also been compared to the communist hammer and sickle symbol, first appeared on the Missile Defense Agency’s website in the Autumn."
"I'm having trouble seeing past the crescent and star in the new logo," one critic posted on "Is this our signal to the Muslim world that we're not going to shoot down their missiles?"
"Frank Gaffney wrote on BigGovernment. com: "The new MDA shield appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo ... Team Obama is behaving in a way that – as the new MDA logo suggests – is all about accommodating that 'Islamic Republic' and its evermore aggressive stance."

So let's have a little fun with these Regressive Lunkheads. How about having Frank Gaffney explain why the Republican Party inverted the stars on their Elephant logo the year George W. Bush was elected:

Yes, that's right. They turned the stars upside-down. It was never like that before.
Here's what This Website says:
"In witchcraft the pentangle is used with the "head" of the star pointed down, illustrating man worshiping Satan. When pointed down it also becomes the face of the goat. Satanists use a pentagram with two points up, often inscribed in a double circle to emphasize the exclusion of God, and sometimes with the head of a goat inside the pentagram. Why would a nation based on Christian principles install as its leader someone who was a member of a secretive satanic cult called Skull and Bones?"

So right back at ya, Republifuks.

How about this Missile my buddy designed and you see being installed down by the party area at Dojo Rat Headquarters:

Conservabots, listen up; This is called "Art".
This aughta put the fear of Pacific Northwest Hippies into the likes of Frank Gaffney, Glen Beck and Sarah Palin.
It's off an old Navy Corsair aircraft, a long range fuel tank, disguised as a Chinese Missile!
It was masterfully designed and created by "Doc", one of our local artist friends.
When we installed it, Doc stood back and said "Fuck all those Totem Pole guys".
The Chinese writing allegedly says "Flee Mother Earth".
If it serves as a useful totem to keep Rush Limbaugh off the property, it's worth it's substantial weight in gold.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four Martial Blogs To Check Out

Some of you will remember my young friend and student Zac, alias Zacky Chan. Zac has been teaching english in Japan, dealing with cultural issues, and studying Aikido in the heart of "Aikido-land".
Most recently, he has traveled a bit, and experianced the Aiki practice of drinking and doing Karaoke with Sensei and fellow students.
Check out Zac's struggle with Japanese Beer and Aikido at Gaijin Explorer.

Dan Djurdjevic was featured in a previous Xingyi post. His training is in the Chen Pan-ling lineage of Xingyi, Bagua and Tai Chi Chuan. He is an excellent writer and his video's display quality martial arts. You can see Dan's Blog at "The Way Of Least Resistance"

"Daniele" has just started a martial Blog that promises to include Guitar talk and other cool stuff. You can see her Blog at "Hun Yuan - Universe Meditation".

And finally, Restita from the Seattle Wushu Center has a blog going called "Don't Fight The Tao", which looks to have some local interest in the Seattle area.

Check 'em out!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Worlds Strongest Boy

From The "Huffington Post":

"Giuliano Stroe, from Romania, has broken a new world record for number of "air push-ups." Stroe is five years old, and this is his second mention in the Guinness book of World Records. The first mention was for hand walking. Stroe has been in training since he was 2. His dad spoke to an Italian paper about their work out routines: "He has been going to the gym with me ever since he was born. I always took him with me when I went training. But he's still only a child and if he gets tired or bored we go and play."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Great Xingyi Article And Site

Thanks to "Man Of The West" for writing in with this suggestion for a great Xingyi page. The instructor is Dan Djurdjevic, an "inner circle" student of the son of Chen Pan-Ling. Dan's writing on his understanding of the Five Elements in the Xingyi system is very detailed and the video above shows his interpretation of the interplay between the elements. There are a few other videos with other masters as well as Dan doing a solo version of the techniques in the video above.
Good stuff, I'm bookmarking his site, which is linked HERE.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: "Martial Maneuvers"

"Martial Maneuvers" by Phillip Starr is a useful, yet paradoxical book.
Starr has a deep and varied background in martial arts, beginning in 1956. He opened his first school in 1973, and has developed a style he refers to as Yiliquan.
The subtitle of "Martial Maneuvers" reads "Fighting Principles and Tactics of the Internal Martial Arts". Here-in lies the paradox; this is not your typical Internal Martial Arts book.
Instead, Starr draws on his experiance in Kyokushinkai Karate and has written a book based on the elements of successful one-step sparring.
In fact, I think I only saw one technique familiar to Tai Chi Chuan; "Slant Flying". Admittedly there was more emphasis on footwork that reflects Xingyi and Bagua, but most techniques are right out of conventional one-step sparring that could be found in nearly any Karate system.
With that said, his presentation is thurough, and he does have good drills for this type of application. However, very little emphasis is placed on grappling and takedowns, let alone joint locking or other advanced techniques of the internal arts. Starr instead places his focus on squaring off with an opponent and punching. He does have useful tips on timing and footwork, but unlike the close-range work of Taiji and Bagua, Starrs drills are more representitive of sparring at Karate range.
This book would best serve students who face-off in one-step sparring or point fighting, as his drills apply to timing, footwork and strategy at that range.
It has a folksy smash-mouth presentation, but lacks the finer details of internal martial arts that advanced practitioners may be looking for.

This book was provided to me for review by Blue Snake Books, with this title and hundreds of other martial arts books available at their website at THIS LINK.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Old Dude Kicks Some Ass -(UPDATE)

And you say, "Oh Dojo Rat; surely you wouldn't stoop so low"?
Why yes indeed, I would!

Once again while surfing the fetid waters of the internet I have stumbled upon this crash on the side of the road. It's terrible, but I just gotta look...
I can't tell exactly what starts the argument between these guys, but I do believe the Old Dude is amped up and makes things worse.
The young guy clearly has picked the wrong Old Fart to intimidate, Old Dude looks like an ex-jock and is quite a bit bigger. To his credit, he does move his seat to the front of the bus, but he keeps running his mouth.
Not a good example of conflict resolution. But when he hits the guy, it's hard, fast and repeatedly.

Of all things, "The Mail" (London) has the back story on this confrontation, along with a video of Old Dude getting tased at a baseball game.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Soft" Power

I thought this was an interesting experiment in "soft" or "internal" power, going from a completely relaxed state to the delivery of power. At the end you see him begin a Yang-style Tai Chi Chuan form, which ties the concepts together.
More thoughts on this later...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tales From Kwajalein

Years ago, I met a guy who we will call "Tony".
Tony had been hired to travel to a remote Atoll in the Marshall Islands named Kwajalein. At the time, Kwajalein was an open secret; a U.S. military base deeply involved in early tests of the "Star Wars" missile defense system.
Tony was skilled in restaurant management, and the military had hired him as a civilian employee to improve the standards of the officers club at the base.
The island paradise of Kwajalein had been subjected to harsh colonial rule by the Germans, then managed under Japanese civilian control. The relatively peaceful civilian occupation took a turn for the worse during World War Two, and Kwajalein suffered heavy attacks from American forces, eventually becoming an extension of American power in that part of the Pacific.
Tony loved his job improving the officer's club, and bought a small sailboat to explore the islands. Things were ticking along quite well, until "the coffee pot incident". It seems that Tony had been flirting with the wrong girl, another American civilian at the base. Tony was pretty popular at the time, he would hand out candy to the groups of island kids that teased him and followed him around. But another American took exception to his romancing a particular girl. This guy came into the officers club, picked up a hot pot of coffee and threw it on Tony. No serious damage, Tony rubbed himself down with ice and avoided a bad burn. But the other guy had fled outside and there was quite a ruckus. A mob of kids had found out that a man had tried to hurt Tony, and they tracked him down and stoned him to death. Since Tony had no hand in it, nobody was charged and it was Tony's first indication that life was going to be very different on Kwajalein.

Kwajalein was the receiving-end of Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense program. One of the big events Tony witnessed was when a U.S. missile was launched from California and aimed right at the huge lagoon that the atoll wraps around. He said everyone on the island took lawn chairs and all the Booze they could carry and went down to the lagoon to see the missile come in. At first it just looked like a distant star in the evening light. Then it got closer, and closer, until it crashed into the lagoon right in front of them. He said it was the closest thing he could imagine to seeing the start of a nuclear war.

Civilian employees on Kwajalein were instructed not to visit or get involved with residents of the smaller and more remote islands, a rule that was constantly violated. One time Tony and a friend loaded up cases of raw chicken and flew over to one of those remote islands for a change of pace. They landed on a beach and were warmly greeted by the islanders. As they were unloading the chicken, people started grabbing it and eating it raw. Tony told them it had to be cooked or they might get sick, and a great feast ensued. They partied with their hosts late into the night, and it was time to get some sleep. Their hosts insisted, you guessed it... that they bed down with their daughters.
But the most striking story Tony had was about the old crippled native that literally lived in a large crate on the edge of town. The poor old guy had at one time been a leader of his people, and had now been reduced to begging for food. When Japanese militarism came to Kwajalein, Japanese soldiers broke both of his legs, and thirty years later the once-great man was belittled by mean folk in a dog-eat-dog Pacific Island existance.
Tony and his friends felt sorry for the old chief. One day they went to his crate, gathered him up and carried him down to their small sailboat. They put him up on the bow of the boat and set sail for a tour around the island. Tony choked back tears himself as he described the scene; The old chief had never seen his island by boat since the Japanese had tortured him and broke his legs. As he sat on the bow of the boat, tears rolled down his face. Tears at the changes modern life had brought the island, with the large military base. And tears at the kindness and respect given to him by these American civilians for taking him on the boat.
As descriptive as every story was told, down to exact details, I still wasn't quite sure that everything Tony had told me was true. That is, until he dug out an old relic from his island adventure; a Kwajalein phone book, with his name in it.

copyright D.R.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Fun: Kung Fu Kid

Check this kid out!
It looks like she is doing a Chen-style Taiji form, and perhaps slides into a little free-style Wushu towards the end. It just keeps getting better.
-Full disclosure, I totally ripped this off from the Emptyflower Forum, available at THIS LINK.
--This was so good I had to steal it!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Choke-a-thon

Sensei Strange has started this year's "Choke-a-thon".
Kicking it off are the guys from Kaze Uta Budo Kai, showing some Judo and Aikido choking techniques. You can see the video's at the highlighted link above. Sensei Strange, being a Texan and all, poked Ol' Dojo Rat with a sharp stick to see if I was up to the challenge. At this time, the only choke video I have in the can is one that uses a lock flow to get into the choke. The two chokes I am using are the front or guillotine (I think), rolling into the side or "Hawaiian" choke.
Keep in mind, this type drill is not how you fight, but just getting used to how to switch techniques as an opponent struggles to escape.
Go to the link above to see Kyle and Nick use some of their favorite chokes, and if you leave a comment Sensei Strange may just send you a bottle of his home-brewed Beer!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rise, Drill, Fall, Overturn- Part 2

Above we see Tim Cartmell demonstrating Xingyi's Pi Chuan, or splitting fist.
There's a lot of information in this clip, which includes the rising, drilling, falling and overturning of the palm.
This sequence however, has more to do with unified body movement than just an overturning palm.
Here's what famous author and martial historian Robert W. Smith had to say about Rise, Drill, Fall, Overturn:

"The fundamental tactic- and one the masters practice by the hour- is the same as in Pa Kua: rise, drill, fall, overturn. Twist as you rise and overturn as you fall. Twist as your head pushes up and overturn as your head contracts. Twist while your hands stretch out and overturn while they lower. Twist as your foot goes foward and overturn as it drops in place. Your waist rises as you twist and falls as you overturn. Rise equals go, fall equals strike. Together they mean to strike like a rolling wave. Each part must be clearly differentiated: all must be done like lightning. This is facilitated by keeping the body relaxed until the last instant. A cardinal principle of Hsing-i is that all movements must be done lightly and briskly without the heavy muscular contraction of Karate."

Mike Patterson in Pi Chuan, Splitting Fist

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rise, Drill, Fall, Overturn

In this post, we examine the concept of Rise, Drill, Fall, Overturn. There is somewhat of a controversy about whether overturn should precede fall in the terminology, but we'll touch on that later.
In this video, Kent Howard does a good job explaining the concept. As we can see, the Chinese Internal Martial Arts do not use hard blocking techniques. Instead, the most efficiant angle of blending with a strike is the goal. The motion of rise and drill shoots at an angle into the incoming force. The overturn and fall (or fall and overturn) then joins and leads the opponent. Bringing the opponent into your center of strength, using your body mass is the key. It's not just yanking the guys arm down, it's pulling him into your strike or throw.
More coming up...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Fun: Tied To The Whipping Post

Sometimes I feel;
Sometimes I feel;
Like I'm tied to the internet
Tied to the internet
Sometimes I feel like I'm Blogging...

Come on!
I know it's Friday and there are some of you who are stuck in an office cubicle, tied to your whipping post...
Release the ties that bind you, it's Friday!

Seriously, you think you got problems?:

"I don't know why I let that mean woman make me a fool;
She stole all my money,
Wrecked my new car,
Now she's with one of my good time Buddies
Drinkin' at some cross-town bar-
Sometimes I feel,
Sometimes I feel,
Like I'm tied to the whipping post..."

P.S.; We do a great combat ukulele version of this...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bad-Ass Military Hapkido

Those of you who read Dojo Rat regularly know that I am often critical of the "McDojo" aspect Korean Tae Kwon Do has devolved into.
I have a Second Dan in TKD so I feel my criticism is within bounds.
But strip away the sport aspect of Korean martial arts and you have one of the most bad-ass fighting systems on the Planet.
My TKD instructor, the late Tae Hong Choi, taught these techniques to Special Forces guys while he was stationed in Vietnam during the war. This demonstration clearly appears to be a military team, and the cream-of-the-crop. Top level guys, weapons disarms and sentry elimination.
Of course, not all Korean soldiers are trained to this level. My friend Brian was an Army Ranger and we trained together at the old TKD school. He had been in Korea, and had lost team members on the DMZ doing stuff that nobody is supposed to talk about.
He told me that the bulk of the South Korean soldiers he met and watched in demonstrations were not exceptional in martial skills. In fact, his Rangers were a lot better in some cases. You have to realize that with mandatory service in Korea, young guys roll through on a two-year program and then head to College and a bussiness career.
But I have to admit, this video demonstrates some exceptional skills...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

80% Of School Fights Are Girls

From CBS:

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (CBS) Two teenage girls went at it.
Two adults allegedly watched and another minor videotaped the whole thing in Louisiana. The fight popped up on YouTube more than a week ago. Days later, in Lowell, Mass., local authorities discovered similar videos online and said local educators report about 80 percent of school fights are now girl against girl.
We plugged in "girl fight" on YouTube and 267,000 videos popped up. Under them you'll find pages of comments from viewers all over the world.

(D.R.)-- This is clearly a trend that has changed since I was in high school in the '70's. I mean, I remember a couple of girls that could kick a guy's ass, but I don't remember a single girl fight.
Does this mean that boys are fighting less?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The "Roman Army Knife"

From "The Mail Online" (London):

"The world's first Swiss Army knife' has been revealed - made 1,800 years before its modern counterpart.
An intricately designed Roman implement, which dates back to 200AD, it is made from silver but has an iron blade.
It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick.
Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails.
The knife was:

'Perhaps a useful gadget for a wealthy traveller.'
Modern Swiss Army knives originated in Ibach Schwyz, Switzerland, in 1897 and were created by Karl Elsener.
The knives which provide soldiers with a 'battlefield toolkit' have since become standard issue for many modern day fighting forces thanks to their toughness and quality.
Nationalist Elsener decided to design the knives after he realised the Swiss army were being issued with blades manufactured in neighbouring Germany".

(D.R.) But where's the corkscrew?

Read more:

Monday, February 1, 2010

February: Cute Hippie Chick Of The Month

Um, yum...

Ok, there must be some lonely geek sitting in his Mom's basement that knows where this picture came from.
Is this a screen grab off a romantic comedy?
I'm guessin' it might be Jennifer Aniston.
Very, very nice.