Thursday, April 22, 2010

A horse is a horse, of course...

…unless it is jumping over a river.

There is a move in the 32-motion tai ji jian (sword) form called 跳步平刺, or tiao bu ping ci. A rough word-for-word translation might be “jumping stance horizontal thrust”.

That describes the motion pretty well – after surging forward, you lift off one foot and take a small jump, land in a preparatory position, and thrust forward. With a horizontal blade.

Another, older name for the motion is 野马跳涧, or ye ma tiao jian: experienced tai ji people will recall our old friend, 野马分鬃, (ye ma fen zong), part the wild horse’s mane. Indeed, the motion in the jian form features a wild horse, this one jumping over / across a river in a valley.

Suddenly we get a much more powerful image of the horse leaping, making distance – and landing gracefully, blending into the next motion smoothly.

A similar motion appears in many tai ji sword forms. In the Sha family style 24-motion sword form, it is called 虎包头 (hu bao tou = tiger shakes its head??). Another similar motion appears in the Sha family’s 36-motion sword form, actually composed of two bits, 退步勒马 (tuibu lema, step back and tame the horse / control the bit in its mouth) and 灵猫扑鼠 (ling mao pu shu = swift cat grabbing a mouse, a reference to nimble footwork?).

Returning to more commonly seen sword forms, we have the 42-motion competition form – the same move also called tiao bu ping ci.

So what’s in a name? I am definitely not a fan of the kung fu flicks where fighters call out flowery names of overblown techniques before attacking. But hearing about the older, more descriptive name of the motion in question last night – and hearing my teacher lightly chastise a Japanese student for not contemplating the meaning to be found in the written characters – made me think of Liu Jing Ru Laoshi.

He put together some of the forms we practice in his line today. For both these and other, older forms, he attached names, usually descriptive in a suggestive way rather than mere descriptions of physical techniques. That is, “open the window and gaze at the moon” rather than “grab the guy’s arm and pull it across to the right with both hands, then unwind that energy to smack his ____”. They are both saying the same thing, just with different words.

Many of these old forms had no names for the motions in the old days. “Do this. No, like that. Faster. Then do that.”

I’ll take the newer, more suggestive names. Too poetic for some people, maybe, (what the hell? I punch him before he punches me. Who needs all these tigers and moon-gazing?). But we can find hints and suggestions in names like these, and I’ll take every hint I can get. “Jump stance horizontal thrust” doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

mantis fist

“That doesn’t look like a mantis at all” went one of the comments on youtube video of Liu JingRu Laoshi demonstrating one of the forms of Six Harmonies Mantis Fist (六合螳螂拳).

I’d never thought about it that way before. Liu Laoshi told us it was a mantis form, we learned it, we do it, nothing more to it. True, he is most famous for his ba gua zhang, and secondly his xing yi quan, but Liu Laoshi’s third art is Six Harmonies Mantis. (See the cover of the Taiwan edition of his book, far more exciting than the cover of my mainland edition). So as far as I am concerned, he is the boss, at least in our particular line.

I am stilllllll working on an interview with him. It has been an endless project , with the actual interviews conducted once in Beijing and twice in Tokyo, then the endless translating and writing.

Somewhere in there I asked him about Liu He Tang Lang Quan, the particular branch he teaches. We were learning two of the eight forms that week in Tokyo. One of them (藏花 or cang hua) is much shorter and not, at first glance, obviously mantis-like. By that I mean no motions obviously trying to “look like” a mantis, as we often see in tournaments and exhibitions. (Then again, in application, it becomes very mantis-like, at least to my eyes.)

The other form we learned, 短捶 or duan chui, is much longer and has a few motions which more closely resemble those of a mantis. That, and the fact that it appears first in his book, led me to think it was a core form of the liu he tang lang quan syllabus.

Yet according to Liu, duan chui was not originally part of the liu he tang lang quan syllabus. It was originally called duan chui quan (短捶拳) and was a family art. Someone in that family (林世春) mastered both arts and passed them down together. We can only speculate how much each art may have influenced the forms of the other.

Anyway, these forms have come down to us and I am doing my best to see them with mantis eyes and to do them with a mantis body.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The things I wake up to...

Springtime in Japan. Work late, drink late, wake up early….and get a blast from the past in real time. Wake up, check email before breakfast...

My friend and one-time karate nemesis unearthed ancient video from our university karate days and transferred it to DVD. Being technological dinosaurs, neither of us uses Twitter or Tweeter or whatever. So he sent me live emails while viewing ---

“I just watched you NOT break some boards. I had a bunch of old video of us “back in the day” put onto DVD, it’s great! We were not bad. You could not break two boards and smashed T’s fingers but who was looking, oh yea, the camera was.”

“Now you just lost a match in Denver cuz you punched him in the face. That’s a no-no.”

Naturally I recall neither of these events and my brain is filled only with images of my elbow going (change that: smashing effortlessly) through 3 boards (maybe it was 4?) at a different testing.

Cue the Metallica song about memory.