Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Corner stones of a "softer" method


In my upcoming seminar on the half hard, half soft art of Hong Yi Xiang, I will be concentrating on various "internal" or "soft" elements - and marrying these with the more familiar "external" or "hard" elements.  I hope to do this by using form - and extrapolating to function.  This should also give participants a good idea of why the heck one should bother with traditional forms or "kata" in the first place.

So what are some of these "soft" elements?

Well as I've discussed many times before they have precious little to do with qi/chi balls or paranormal powers.  Instead I'm going to cover some of the more subtle, but very useful, skills of grounding, movement/evasion (including footwork) and deflection/interception/entry that are actually quite counter-intuitive at first glance, yet obviously practical and simple at the second: concepts that make sense in a civilian defence environment and even in the cage/ring (as my students have found).


I have previously discussed the battle stance of xingyi - santshi or "zhan bu".  Of course, as you will see from my article, the stance is used extensively in Hong's bridging forms - along with a healthy mix of other stances more familiar to the external artist.

In my article on the subject I talked about grounding and its importance in grounding - the stability of your base.  The stability of your base determines not only whether you will be able to withstand unbalancing (which is catastrophic in terms of defence) but also your ability to generate force (which relies on a solid launching platform).

Keeping you out of the grappling range

A related issue to which I allude in my article on the xingyi stance is the question of civilian defence grappling - or rather non-grappling: the need to stay out of the full grappling range.

The battle stance is ideal for this purpose - and is used appropriately.  In the seminar I will be discussing a number of other, related and complementary strategies the forms employ to keep you moving in a way that avoids the clinch or greater grappling entanglement.

I have used these successfully for decades to deal with shoots and other grappling attempts.  Obviously nothing works every time: no approach has any kind of guarantee. But the methods employed in Hong's forms work well enough for me: they have been my go-to for avoiding being taken down when I don't want to go down - precisely because they keep the requisite "buffer" between you and your opponent at all times, without sacrificing your ability to land blows with force.

Hand and foot timing

So far I've covered defence as a kind of major issue but what most people really want (rightly or wrongly) is force multiplication.  Lucky for them, Hong's forms have lots of tips in that regard, the top one being a fairly cool and unobtrusive way of developing the optimal hand and foot timing - so as to maximise the use of your body momentum behind each punch/kick and accordingly your force.

I have covered the importance of this in previous articles, particularly this one, so I won't go over the same ground.  What I will remind you is that you see it happen all the time in the octagon - so why would you do things any differently in your own stepping/punching?

I will also reiterate one very salient point I made in my previous articles: just how hard it is to learn this kind of stepping.  "It seems so easy" people say.  Until they get video taken of them trying it and see just how far short of the mark they have fallen.

Why do I repeat this warning?  For one very good reason: as I've discovered, Hong's forms make timing your step with your punch an absolute breeze.  Indeed, I can tell how Hong modified standard xingyi techniques so as to make the optimal timing intuitive, rather than counter-intuitive.  In my view Hong's material is worth learning for this reason, if no other.

Simultaneous defence and counter

I've previously gone on at length about the need to understand that no deflection and counter are truly "simultaneous". Regardless, Hong's bridging forms come pretty darn close to the mark.  There is virtually none of the "one, two" or "block and counter" you see in the typical external form: almost every single deflection feeds directly into a counter - or is a counter itself (immediately upon completing its deflection/interception).

Most of the techniques in Hong's forms contain a kind of "block and punch in one movement", but others turn the deflecting arm into an indirect attack at the last second in a very surprising way.

In yet other cases, the techniques use of a kind of "rolling progression" where one defensive technique feeds into another offensive one using a circular momentum.  This is a big part of Hong's forms and not only creates an effective "wheel-like" circle of deflection, it also uses the centrifugal force of that circle as a force multiplier, so that the final counter is delivered with more force that would otherwise be available.

I've taken one such movement straight out of Hong's material and applied it in the drill below, particularly the end when you see the backfist application.

Indirect fist

Last, one of the topics I propose to cover is Hong's "indirect fist" concept: where attacks you've launched along one particular line can be "re-routed" when resistance is encountered.  This can be used in conjunction with defences, as I alluded to above, or it can simply be a means of "worming" your way around obstacles (like your opponent's guard) to deliver a potent counter to your opponent.

Su Dong Chen, one of Hong's most senior students, illustrates the principle below.


Of course, these are just some thoughts off the top of my head.  I tend to teach quite "organically" and I'm sure I will cover a great number of other issues/methods unique to these forms - as they come to mind.

For those in Perth, I hope to see you at the seminar (details are here).  For those who can't make it, I'll be sure to put elements of it up on the net, as is my custom!

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tang Shou Dao seminar in Perth

Further to my recent article about the "bridging forms" of Hong Yi Xiang's Tang Shou Dao, I've decided to hold a seminar in Perth on 4 October 2015 from 10 am to 2.30 pm at the Lake Nenia Retreat in Mundaring (the Honbu dojo of the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts).

Anyone who is going to be in the Perth region on that day is welcome to attend.

If you are a karate practitioner, I hope it provides an added angle to how you see your karate as it has for me.  The "bridging form" component of the Tang Shou Dao system is one of the few Chinese arts that crosses over very well into the Ryukyuan arts (and to my eye seems to be heavily influenced by it).

If you are an external gong fu practitioner, this should be right up your alley.

If you are an internal arts practitioner looking for something that gives you ideas of practical applications to your art, then I believe this will also be of interest.

If you are a more modern combat sports or reality-based practitioner, you'll be surprised by the sophisticated science that underlies this traditional art.

Cost and registration details can be found on the electronic flyer (click on the picture).

You can register on Facebook here.

I am practitioner of Okinawan karate (since 1981) who has also been training in the Chinese internal and external (southern and northern) arts (since 1990).

For more detail on the material I'll be covering in my course, go here.

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Essential Jo - free download promotion

As some of you will recall, the Kindle edition of my textbook "Essential Jo" has been revised to a "print replica", which means readers can experience the Kindle version in the same form as it is in print.

The older version has been taken offline.

I had been informed that those who had purchased the old version would be able to "update" theirs without cost.  However having bought my own book previously, I note that this is not the case.

Accordingly I have arranged with Kindle to offer a free download promotion.  Kindle only allows this for 5 days at a time, so I've chosen from 18 - 22 September 2015.

Apologies to all.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

It started as an ordinary Facebook post - but you won't believe what followed...

This morning we filmed an application of the last two movements in taijiquan, "apparent closure" and "cross hands".  As a joke, my students filmed one application with some "hopping" - à la the "fajin fantasists".

I belong to various Facebook martial interest groups.  One in particular is a skeptical internal arts group called The Fajin Project. After uploading the video to my YouTube channel, I posted a link to the group.  The conversation that followed has to be read to be believed!

The internet is indeed a strange and wonderful place.

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, September 7, 2015

Taijiquan application focus: brush knee

Brush knee is one of those central techniques you find in taijiquan - one of its "defining movements", if you will.  Chances are that if you stumble across a picture of someone doing taijiquan, it's either single whip or - or it's brush knee.

So I thought it might be useful to run through the ubiquitous brush knee and show some of the varied applications - running from those that people most often use to those that might be more obtuse and even seem "inventive" (but which, I'm sure you'll agree, actually follow the literal form of the technique).

If you want to run through my video at the end of the article, you can.  It goes on a bit.  Or you can just take a look at my brief analysis that accompanies each of the gifs below:

The first, and I think most common, interpretation of brush knee is a deflection against a front kick.

It certainly does work for that.  In so doing, it uses taiji's "continuing momentum" of which I've previously written.  Notice how I draw my own weight back to "absorb" Jeff's force into a near "vacuum" where I can easily deflect the last contact, then use my coiled momentum to spring back.
Of course, most folks "in the street" don't really do or know front kick.  If they kick, they tend to kick with a low roundhouse.

Unless you're a sports fighter, the attack you're likely to face in a civilian context will be in the melee range.  In that range a shin kick to your thigh is easily jammed with brush knee by pressing and redirecting your attacker's thigh.
Again, there's the same deal with the "coiled energy" counter.
Then there's the more inventive uses of brush knee - in this case, against a higher roundhouse (or other kick) that you manage to catch.  Note that my hands in this case actually follow the literal form of the "brush knee" sequence.

Importantly, I don't let Rob turn around and slip out; I use the "block" (together with a side evasion) to stop any "rollover", then bring him down with the "push" part of the sequence.  Note my use of the forearm rather than the palm!
On the other hand, nothing stops me from using the palm as a face strike too - especially when the kick is higher.

As I explain in the video, there are probably a dozen things I'd rather do than block a high roundhouse kick this way, but hey, it can happen: I might have to do it.

In that case, why not shove your free palm straight into your attacker's face?
But here's where I think the brush knee really shines.  And quite frankly, I suspect it is the very last thing on people's minds when it comes to applications of this move.  Taijiquan is for me an "anti-grappling" art.  You don't want to be caught up in a clinch.  Note how my literal form collapses Rob's grip with my arm, draws back to centre line and under his leg (with my elbow dropping onto the top of his thigh as he kicks) and allows me to break his structure when I "uncoil" the momentum, using that palm to drive forwards.
But then there's always the "non-kick" and "non-grappling" applications.  Nothing wrong there.  For whatever reason, Jeff and I swapped legs here, but you get the idea.  The video shows the effectiveness of this technique against a more determined, penetrating thrust/push/punch.

Essentially you can set this up as a "rolling push hands" drill.
And last, but not least, there is no good reason not to think of the "downward block" as quite a useful deflection even for a chest/head height attack!  Crazy, I know - but the video explains it.  If your arms are up already, then a high level punch can be stifled from above quite effectively.

I have my good friend Colin Wee to thank for this particular realisation.

Of course there are many other applications - I have yet to do a qin-na demonstration (although the clinch comes into that).  Consider my knife defence article featuring brush knee as just one other example!

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Half internal half external forms: 1


For a long time I've wanted to do a piece on what have sometimes been termed "bridging forms" - forms that help students transition from the external arts to the internal arts.

The problem (or blessing - depending on how you look at it) is that none of the 5 or so "bridging forms" I know are in any sense a "bridge" from anywhere to anywhere.  They are a combination.  They combine features of the internal arts and external arts. That's all.

Personally I think this is deliberate.  And functional.  They don't need to be a "bridge" to anything.  They work perfectly well on their own.  They are just a combination of "hard" and "soft".  To think anything otherwise is to imagine that "soft" is better than "hard" - instead of realising, as Chen Pan Ling did, that the best fighter will use an appropriate combination of hard and soft techniques to achieve an optimal result.  In other words, the answer never lies at an extreme.  You must not be too reliant on physical force.  But if you concentrate all your efforts on "pliability", "relaxed movement", "pinpoint timing" etc. and fail to recognise the need for a bit of "oomph" you won't be able to fight your way out of a wet paper bag.  You'll have a head full of techniques of which you can apply approximately zero (which might lead you to becoming a fajin fantasist!),

Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan - Five Tigers Descend the Western Mountain

The first of the forms I wanted to highlight in this series is one designed by Hong Yi Xiang, student of my own grandmaster Chen Pan Ling.

Here is the form.  You'll note the clear mix of shaolin (almost karate-style) hard techniques like triple punches in front stance, mixed together with xingyi like stances and footwork.

The video at the end shows the applications in their entirety, but I thought these gifs would suffice as a brief run-through:

The opening move seems a bit daft to some. Indeed, I had one chap write to say that "ideally your block should go one way and your head the other".  But this assumes that you will always get the ideal.

What I like about this form, right from the opening move, is that it teaches you how to deal with positions you'd rather not be in.  And completely subverts many of the assumptions you might have been making about what is "workable" and what isn't!
The downward blocks shown in the form always cop criticism.  "Don't drop your arms" you're relentlessly told. Well it just so happens that this is another "golden rule" that isn't quite so "golden".  Consider that Steve here is going for a kick to my thigh and is totally focused on the kick.  Yes, I drop my guard to jam his thigh.  But unless Steve is very very good at feinting, I will have plenty of time to deal with the kick with my dropped arm: he won't be throwing a punch at the same time as his kick is foiled - there is always a gap in timing.
The "tiger mouth" movements at the start of the form look nothing less than comical to some.  Yet they actually hide a wonderful bit of subtle wisdom: a soft, curved rising deflection that I've found works against pretty much any angle of punch.

I've tested this with full power punches intended to land.  I did so yesterday.  I have a busted face.  But it wasn't because of this technique!  It worked - as it always has.
I don't propose to say too much about the "hou tien" techniques - the horizontal strikes to the solar plexus or kidneys - other than that they use the whole body and rely on the entire forearm and not just the whip of the backfist.

These techniques are also reliant on the "load" of the body using the twisted stance.  In the video at the end, you can get some sense of the importance of the detail in the form - why the pulback hand rises as you load for the hou tien.
The rising block is Hong's favourite - the "steeple" I've covered elsewhere.  It's followed by the humble "soto uke" (the inward block).

Against a "one-two" it really is a great response.

Note the weight transfer back to deal with the attack followed by the weight transfer forward to deliver the counter.  Very taiji-like - but with totally "external" techniques!
You might find the "inverted pressing" palms of Hong's "bridging forms" quite perplexing. But this exchange shows how effective the move is intercepting punches and deflecting them using a "wedge". Note the follow up deflection in the form sequence - a downward sweep - which deals with a powerful follow up punch after the jab - a right cross.

The sequence is followed by a kick - shown somewhat artificially here (because I've isolated the technique from its full sequence).
While it might seem a tad complex, I find this little sequence to be absolutely beautiful in its "predictive" ability.  Note that it allows for a third punch by Jeff as he retreats.

I won't go through the detail - the video at the end does that in (some might say excessive) detail.  But to me, this is magic.  Love this sort of stuff.  I find bits coming out in sparring and it makes me smile.
Here's a bit of detail on the "elbow smash" and what comes just before.  You have to be careful in practise, but the upward deflection should be executed with a forceful inverted knife hand carotid strike.

I pause a bit between the strike and the grab in order to make it clearer - where in other examples it just looks like I've gone for a straight grab and smash.  If you do it fast, you miss the "magic" of not only the upward knife hand deflection, but the carotid strike.
Hong's simplest bridging form is this one - "Five Tigers".  But really it is a work of genius.
Virtually everyone from Hong's former school (Tang Shou Dao) has abandoned the practise of this form and its sister form Da Peng Zhan Chi, citing it as something "for schoolkids".  The truth is, the forms have so many subtleties that I can't count them.  In this sequence alone, the movement allows for continuous attack with multiple attacks, while simultaneously allowing for (and intercepting/evading) likely responses.

Even the turn at the end is pure genius.  What looks like a basic way to turn around is actually a sophisticated way to avoid a grapple.

This concept is expanded upon in the next form, Da Peng Zhan Chi, but even here it is elegant and powerful.

Hong was well aware of the dangers of being grappled or clinched in a civilian defence scenario.  Like all great masters he based his system on "anti-grappling" - grappling using civilian defence methods intended to pull you out of entanglement - not those that led to your own entanglement with a single opponent (which could be disasterous).

The video showing the applications in some detail are shown below.

I've had some commentary that the video is "to booring because it is so long".  Well I'm sorry that my attempt at recording all that I remember about this form within a single hour lesson, without any rehearsal, makes for poor YouTube viewing.  Maybe if it weren't provided for free, people like this might view the information differently - even if they didn't agree with all the contents?


I have previously written about how the internal arts have "advanced" features.  By this, I meant that they had features that required significant skill to "pull off" under resistant conditions.  I did not mean that they were "better".

Indeed, I subscribe to the view that often the simplest technique is the best.

So why learn something "advanced"?

Because we, as martial artists, should be constantly striving to improve ourselves.  We should be moving towards greater refinement, greater skill, greater understanding.  Why?  Well if you're like me, you're not getting any younger and you want to rely more on subtle skills, efficient movement and predictive, minimalist movement - even if that requires a great deal of skill to pull off.

Someone wrote to me last night that "advanced techniques tend to fall apart under pressure".  Indeed.  But that isn't a reason to abandon "advanced skills".  If it were, surfing champions wouldn't bother with fancier moves.  Tennis players wouldn't bother with "between the legs" half-volleys.  Etc.1

In other words, not only can we fairly assume that we will inevitably be caught in a situation where our "basic" movements are not enough, we have a higher reason for pursuing advancement - gong fu: skill acquired through great effort.

To my mind, Hong's "bridging forms" are not "bridges" to anything.  They are fusions.  They are forms that stand on their own.

Hong himself denigrated them as "material for kids".  But I can't help but see this as part of the natural inclination to put down that which one creates oneself.  It can't possibly be as "great" as what the old masters created - can it?  And if you subscribe to a "soft is 'better' than hard" mentality, you'll have to justify the combination of soft and hard as something 'lesser' - something "inferior".

But as I'm sure you'll agree - whatever your view on this form and its sister form, Da Pen Zhan Chi, there is nothing "basic" about this material and it is in no way "suitable for children".  It is as complex as anything out there.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it presents a kind of pinnacle of Hong's own development - of his understanding of where hard and soft meet, somewhere in the middle, to make something work optimally.

[For those interested, I'm holding a seminar in Perth on this form and others on 4 October 2015.]


1. It's interesting to note that in testing these applications in free form fighting,  I had my face smashed a bit.  I have 3 loose teeth and woke up this morning with half my lips swollen and blue.  It's a reminder that, to quote my student Steve, "We aren't playing cards."

(The photo on the right was taken only an hour later - my face is regally blue now!)

But what failed wasn't some fancy application.  It was the simplest, most conservative technique I could try.  I just mistimed it.

Copyright © 2015 Dejan Djurdjevic