Sunday, 28 May 2017

Tai Chi Movement #3- Wave Hands like Clouds

I have just started searching for examples of this movement on the internet and realised that among all the people doing Tai Chi out there I might just be the only one who would apply Cloud Hands the way I do.

I have found different variations of the movement itself as well. This makes my writing about my version and its application a bit unfair as you will be missing out on some really elaborate applications.

Now- how I always did this movement is starting from a posture like the Lute Playing posture like the picture below-

or the Spread Wings posture like this:

From either one of these ready postures I then rotate my front foot and let my body follow while my leading hand makes contact with an imaginary thrust and I then complete the rotation by passing the attack while I guide its force past me with minimal effort and my free hand follows the blocking hand to wind up for an outward strike.

When the rotation and step is complete I shift weight onto the new leading foot and strike outward with a knife hand to the groin or ribs. The strike could also be with the forearm.

That is how I do the form anyway. In sparring I often use an elbow strike or a straight punch instead of the outward strike.

Another way of applying this movement would be guiding a straight thrust past you with an inward forearm block while the body rotates and the free hand raises to prepare for an inward knife hand. Then, when the body rotates in the opposite direction again, the blocking arm pushes the opponent's arm downward and out while the knife hand flies in to strike the carotid artery.

Well- that is how I have been doing it.

This is what I found on Youtube, however:

I seem to find everyone to have a grappling application to the one movement or the other in forms nowadays. Not that I am really complaining...

What I do need to caution novices about, however, is that it is fine to learn elaborate moves in training, but fighting itself- especially grappling- requires speed and efficiency. Your opponent will not give you a second chance when you fumble on one of the steps to your awesome move and trying to force your body to recall that complex set of movements in the heat of battle is certain defeat.

The key to having your martial arts training more readily available to you in a fight is to keep the principle behind the technique in mind while leaving the execution of specific movements to itself.

The version of Wave Hands like Clouds that I do does not rely on a big evasive movement to step away from an attack, but rather body rotation and minimal involvement from the blocking hand to pass an attack and get yourself inside the opponent's defense. This clinch position in which you then find yourself is then ideal for close range attacks like the forearm strike to the ribs, hammer fist/ knife hand to the groin or the elbow to the solar plexus. If the rotation and passing is done on time the block is not even really necessary, but it does help to clear a bothersome arm out of the way for you to attack the body.

This approach is simple and that is where its effectiveness lies.

Karate also uses this principle in some of its katas.

That wraps it up for this week's post.

Next week's post is going to be about The Single Whip.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Reverse Crescent Kick in Taijiquan

Hi, blog readers.

As suggested by Travelling Lakan in our Martial Arts Forums group on G+ I write this weekend's post about the reverse crescent kick as we find it in Taijiquan. I admit that I have not seen a spinning version of this kick in Tai Chi forms, but using the principles of Taiji technique I have constructed a spinning kick for us to use in this discussion.

I was not able to get examples from the internet of this particular kick off the internet, so I made videos under the strict supervision of Master Patrys. She supervises all of my Saturday workouts and makes sure that I do not slack off when training. :D

I have not seen this kick in Shotokan before. To give you an idea of what a reverse crescent kick is I can use Ryu from the Street Fighter game series as an example. Ryu has a special attack called the "Tatsu Maki Senpuu Kyaku". I have yet to ask my Japanese friends for an accurate translation, but we gamers got to know it as the "Hurricane Kick" or the "Helicopter Kick".

Back in the 90's I thought Ryu's spinning off like that to be impossible, but the videos we find on the internet showing 720 and 1080 spinning kicks being performed show us that martial artists can push their limits when they are really intent on doing so.

Where the normal reverse crescent kick is well known without any aerobatics or acrobatics are the arts of Capoeira and Taekwondo.

I don't know Capoeira, so I won't elaborate on its technique.

In Taekwondo, however, this kick has a non-spinning version that can be used as a parry to sweep attacking arms or legs out of the way by using the kicking leg or an attack that strikes with the outer edge of the kicking foot.

The spinning version in Taekwondo uses a sharp twist of the shoulders- about 270 degrees and pushing beyond that- which in turn pulls the hips into rotation that in turn propels the kicking leg into a devastating whiplash effect. The rotation is sharp enough to sufficiently power the kick even if the supporting foot leaves the ground.

I have seen the reverse crescent kick in only one Taiji form before and it looks something like this:

Kung fu in general, and Taijiquan being no exception, launches a kick only after the supporting foot has been turned into position and planted. Turning the foot outward sets you up for front kicks, roundhouse kicks or just a straightforward lunge. Turning inward prepares you to execute spinning kicks or spinning attacks.

Taijiquan's attacks can be done on a slippery floor without falling because momentum is not allowed to run away with you. Weight is usually shifted to a place only when the foot is already there to receive it. This is a lot different from Karate.

This is why the kick starts with the cross-step placing the supporting foot in position before the kick flies out. The form has the hands slapping the kicking leg like what I am doing in the video. The reason for this is unfortunately not explained by Paul Crompton in his book. I suspect that it has something to do with disarming an attacker that uses a spear or a staff, though.

The upper body remains right on top of the supporting leg. The qi is lowered into the abdominal area to which Taiji snobs refer as the tan tien and doing this creates a feeling of the supporting leg being hard and very heavy while the rest of the body on top of it feels light and empty.

Hitting a bag from this posture with an explosive kick will reveal that the body feels unaffected by the kick and remains firmly in place while the bag buckles with a resounding thud.

 Now- I said that I have made a spinning version for us as well...

Taijiquan is a martial art of Wudang Temple along with Xingyiquan and Baguazhang.

The latter two arts have techniques that involve the body rotating. This rotation starts from the feet. From horse stance the feet rotate to twist the horse stance into a cross-legged stance. In Shaolin a cross legged stance reached by doing this is known as a unicorn step and counterattacks can follow from that position by just unwinding the stance again into a horse stance or bow stance.

The same happens in Wudang's martial arts. 

The tension built by this twsited posture can also be released by simply letting one of the legs shoot into a kick. In this case it is a reverse crescent kick. Unlike Taekwondo students, however, I do not let the momentum lift my body off the ground, though. Even if I do this kick at full speed- I still maintain my stability by keeping my qi lowered. Doing this will also work against a bag the same way as the previous kick, except that this kick is a lot more powerful due to the added momentum from the rotation.

That is it for this weekend's post.   

I hope everyone has a wonderful week ahead. I am starting mine in a court about 350 km from my home town. The joys of work... :)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Kicking in Taijiquan

Looking at martial arts competitions-particularly fights or sparring matches, it is very easy to get so captivated by the spectacular appearance of kicking techniques that one does not realise that a properly executed kick can land its victim in hospital or cripple him for life.

With Taijiquan, however, I  have not found much in the line of being spectacular when it comes to kicking. In fact- the front kick, which I am going to discuss here- appears in most forms. Circular and crescent kicks are also found in some forms and upward kicks with the instep also occur, but the front kick is basically guaranteed to show up in most forms if not all.

If you have practiced Taiji walking a lot you will feel that each leg carries the body's weight on its own for a long time. This in itself develops the strength needed to effectively execute this kick. Another thing you tend to become aware of is the shifting of weight from one leg to another.

Rooted posture is of paramount importance. This is especially true if the kick is done in a retreating fashion with weight shifted onto the back leg so that the front kick stops a charging opponent dead in his tracks. If the hip is not vertically in line with the supporting foot one would either lose control of the kick or get pushed back by his own kick.

The heel of the supporting foot does not raise at all when the kick is in progress.

When doing the kick in an advancing manner a lot of destructive force can get generated- especially if you start with your weight on the back leg. It is very important, though, to keep the upper body directly on top of the lower body at all times. Leaving the upper body behind while the hips shoot forward will not generate  sufficient power and will make for a troublesome recovery.

Leading with the upper body will actually impede the kick's reach and also rob it of power.

The idea is to put the momentum of walking forward into the kicking foot and to transfer that force into the target. It is very much walking through the target. Instead of the foot landing on the ground, however, it lands on the opponent's body.

I used to practice this kick a lot against a brick wall at an abandoned park or against a tree trunk.

When you kick hard surfaces like these you do not really want to strike with the ball of the foot as is done with Karate.

The same explosive power we create in punches by sharply contracting muscles at the point of impact gets generated with this kick. The body shoots forward, but only to the extent of weight drastically shifting onto the front foot, and the kicking leg shoots out knee first, whips out and then the abs, glutes and thigh muscles contract sharply to harden the body as the sole of the foot or heel shoots into the target.

Receiving this kind of kick is no fun at all and broken ribs, liver or kidney problems or even spinal injuries can occur. It is also not uncommon for the victim to be sent flying backwards when this kick lands.

I  have transferred a lot of the principles behind this front kick into my roundhouse, side, back and reverse roundhouse kicks. A lot of speed gets sacrificed as the supporting foot has to turn first, but believe me- a lot of power gets added.

The first kick that gets mentioned in the comment section here or on G+ will get its Taiji version explained in the next post. 

Stay well and train hard! :)

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Taijiquan move #1: Snake Creeps Down

When you look at the nice slow movements of Shotokan's Heian Yondan wrestling is the last thing that comes to your mind- if it ever comes to mind at all.

With Taijiquan the uninitiated observer will also not think of grappling when he sees much of the movements shown in Taijiquan forms.

This particular move took my karate mind a while to get around. Sure- in Karate we have a back stance that looks like this half-split stance used in the move we call (look at the post's title!) "Snake Creeps Down". We have a hand movement that looks very much like the one in this move which we know to be a knife hand block.

Now I want to know why the hell I'd want to crouch all the way down to deflect a kick away from my shin...


Sure- forms have lots of blocks and punches, but not everything is a strike or a block.

If we leave the cannonating pushes and heart-stopping punches out of the discussion for a while we can take a closer look at what is one of the most refined grappling techniques in all of the martial arts that I know of.

By now I am sure that many of you have seen takedowns that involve a hooking with the leg, a push with the hip and the horizontal pull with the hands. Most martial arts have that. Now what about a downwards pull?

In Japanese martial arts that is not so unusual as you may think. Besides the extreme example of Judo's Tomoe Nage (stomach throw) Aikido has throws that require the user to drop into seiza (kneeling) position.

Pulling straight downwards will not be of much help, but pulling a person diagonally downwards is a certain way to disrupt his balance. 

That is why my preferred application of this move involves pulling the opponent downward to the side of the arm that I am holding while I scoop up his leg with my free arm. Taking it further will end up looking like you are punching with an uppercut like this...

Practicing this with a partner will reveal that you have actually now learnt a more stable and more efficient version of Judo's Kata Guruma (shoulder wheel). Now this comes from a martial art that predates Judo by roughly a millenium. I'd even go as far as to say that Jujutsu is a couple of centuries younger than Taijiquan.

Hua sai! The Chinese knew Judo before Judo was even invented!

Something that learning this move has taught me is that changes of height in forms have huge significance, whether it be Karate, Taekwondo or Kungfu.

Next time you do a kata where you have to go from a low stance to a high one, look at what your arms are doing. Something is being lifted....

When you have to drop down to a kneeling position it is most assuredly not to block a kick to your shin. Someone is most likely being pulled down. 

Now- biokineticians and chiropractors are bound to tell you that:

1. Your knees should rather not bend beyond 90 degrees;

2. Lifting heavy weight with your back is asking for permanent trouble.

In Judo these difficulties are overcome by using the opponent's forward momentum to get him onto your shoulders so that he can practice his ukemi at the other end of the throw. At least that is how it should be, but we know that in real life the stationary opponent is lifted like a sack of potatoes.

With Snake Creeps Down no actual lifting is necessary. Instead the "creeping" hand is driven forward and diagonally upwards while the hips push more forward that upwards. Even against a larger opponent it does not feel like you are lifting someone heavy.

That's it for today.

What Taiji move should I discuss next week?