It’s Alive!

Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor covid has been able to stop our new book by Sifu Ted Mancuso, “Hawk Splits Sky: Jibengong Practice, Bagua Zhang Mastery,” from publication. But it’s not like the forces of nature haven’t tried really hard.

Nonetheless, the boxes of books and the spindles of DVDs are now arrived, and you can CLICK HERE to read more about our project, and to order at our introductory price.

Woohoo!

Oh, and for the first month (until January 15), if you would like an autorgraphed copy, just ask.

See Below for more info…

Here is a short interview with Ted Mancuso on the project.

Q: Your new Bagua book, “Hawk Splits Sky: Jibengong Practice, Bagua Zhang Mastery” is finally about to come out. I know you’ve been working on it for quite a while. How does it feel?

A: To be honest, I’m very happy that it’s over, but I also have a little trepidation. Of course, that’s true with all the books that I produce; I always wonder: Are they good enough? Did I explain clearly? Do the pictures work? Or, is someone going to read it and say, “This guy Mancuso is an idiot?” That kind of stuff.

But this book especially concerns me. (Jiben)Gongs in martial arts can be difficult, because so many think they know them already as, say, Basics, so they process the concept intellectually before they practice the Gongs physically. In other words, if I say, “This is a book on Jibengong,” some are going to say, “Of course. That’s what you need to get good at Bagua — that and walking the circle of course; Basics are everything!” But Jibengongs are not Basics.

The gongs that I chose for this book come right from my classes; they’ve worked for years. Some of the Gongs may not initially resemble Bagua — possibly more like Xingyi. Some of them may embrace too large a concept, such as Open-Close. Others, of course, will be easily recognized. But because Gongs are both practice and concept, they can be difficult to wrap your mind around.

Q: Well, in addition to the book, you also include more than 3 hours of DVD.

A: That was our idea from the beginning: to give practitioners enough real-life examples of using the Gongs in order to play with the concepts.

The two DVDs are meant to do several things: first, of course, to teach the Gongs themselves, then to employ Usage to incorporate the Gongs into practice. But the usage DVD…I have to tell you — I’m going to be interested in seeing what people think about it, because it is definitely not what most martial artists are used to seeing on DVD. Now, if they are part of a school, that’s probably exactly the way they see it practiced. The word “practice” is key to this: on the DVD you’ll see our two senior students practicing and working out usage; that means that there are lots of hits, but also misses and fumbles; not everything is immediately accurate. Nonetheless, everything is going towards how to use these gongs, or even the concept of Gongs, to get better at Bagua. So, I’m excited about it, but I’m also apprehensive.

I’ll give you an example: You will see that one Gong emphasizes verticality; another might emphasize Open-Close. You’re not going to see the typical “ ‘A’ punches, ‘B’ Blocks,” in other words. Gongs are practiced concepts, and to get towards ‘correct’ you have to travel in the land of ‘incorrect’ for a long while (not unlike Bagua itself).

 

If you would like to read or view a little about this project and Jibengong, click links below:

Jibengongs and the Bear Palm Gong in Bagua

What Is Jibengong?

Bagua Zhang’s Jibengongs

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Bagua and the Pandemic Pivot

The unprecedented changes triggered by the pandemic are ongoing. Like every school all around the world, the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts is adjusting to the changes. We struggle onward despite these challenges, but there are surely more ahead.

Many cling to a hope for the ‘return to normal’ but that’s backwards thinking in so many ways. Change is normal and we’re undergoing global change right now. Others talk about ‘the pivot’. Here at the Academy, it has me thinking about the Bagua. Perhaps it’s because Sifu Ted has been working on a Bagua book, one that I’m sure we’re all eager to read. But also because Bagua is all about changes and pivoting. It is the essence of that art.

NOTE: Just to forewarn you, this essay will spin in circles, like a Bagua article should. As long as it doesn’t become a downward spiral, we’re good, right?

Those who practice alongside with me at the Academy will find this ironic. Bagua is a major component of the Academy’s curriculum, and it is the one style that I do not partake in at all. My aversion is not out of disrespect. I have tremendous respect for the art. It’s just that Bagua has just never resonated with me. Continue reading

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Tradition Rebounds

We’re starting to open up classes to new students!

Interested in trying a class at our world-recognized Academy of Martial & Internal Arts? Click HERE to let us know.

Two ongoing longfist students, Christopher and Rachel, practicing foundational moves.

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Instructor Nick Hancock Displays Fine Form

We found this great clip of our Nick Hancock demonstrating Northern Shaolin’s most famous form known as #6 Short Strike. Watch and enjoy.

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Longfist Kung Fu Fundamentals: 12 Wk Class Starts Sept 28

Wow, it has been a loooong time since we have been able to add a class to our schedule and welcome new students to our school.

So, we are excited to introduce our newest 12 week series, Longfist Kung Fu Fundamentals, taught by Nick Hancock. Nick is a professionally trained teacher in both Chinese medicine and traditional martial arts, bringing his particular expertise and talents to training movement as well as principles and theory.

The fundamentals of Longfist Kung Fu establish the basics  of Northern Chinese martial arts. This series of classes will not only introduce you to moves, health maintenance and Qigong, stances, usage and an authentic routine, but each lesson will be grounded in classical training methods.

Returning and continuing students of the Academy are welcome to join this class as part of your membership fees, but please register so we can save you a place.

Click image to learn more about the class, and to register.

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Tai Chi Training Secrets: How Do You Practice Martially, When You Are By Yourself?

A recent letter from one of our favorite correspondents, Gary Shapiro, put the question: “We spoke about how practicing taiji with the martial aspects in mind enhances it’s health effects. So— how does that work? Can one practice “martially” solo? (and how?).”

In our newest video, Sifu Ted answers this and offers some training tips for integrating martial aspects into Tai Chi practice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmfSN6ywSqU?rel=0

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Year of the Metal Ox: Narrye Caldwell’s Annual Outlook

One sure thing: as soon as the calendar page turns from December to January, we start to get inquiries about when people will see Narrye Caldwell’s post for the Chinese (Lunar) New Year. Well, here it is! As always, enjoy.

 

Year of the Metal Ox—February 12, 2021

Let me start with a true story. Twenty years ago we had a presidential election that was too close to call. Everything hinged on a razor thin margin in Florida that showed George Bush leading Al Gore by a mere 537 votes. State law required a recount. A month of legal battles ensued, and finally a Supreme Court decision stopped the recount in Florida. This resulted in Bush winning the presidency with 271 electoral votes, one more than required, in spite of losing the popular vote by a significant number.

That winter I attended a Chinese New Year’s talk by one of my teachers, Lu Ming. Ming’s talks were always sprinkled with stories and clever insights. And this is what he said, with a sardonic
chuckle, about the election I just described: “If it had been a Rat year, every vote would have been counted.”

Well, here we are. The election we just had is the one Ming foretold. It happened in a Rat year, and yes, every vote got counted. This past Rat year brought much hardship, which there is no need to review here. But the one silver lining is, “in a Rat year, every vote gets counted.”

Overview of the year

First let’s talk about the Metal Ox. Ox qi is associated with the long view. The Ox is a yin Earth sign, so patience, endurance, constancy, and persistence are its superpowers. Remember that, because though there is much to be done and the world is in a frightful state right now, the new qi coming in with the Ox year brings the strength required to shoulder burdens, take on the necessary work, and keep our eyes on long term solutions.

Each year’s astrological signature is made up of the combination of heaven qi—which is Metal this year—and the Earth qi associated with the animal sign—in this case, Earth. From the traditional Five Phase view, Earth nourishes Metal so we have a harmonious energetic quality to the year. Think of it this way—the stability and constancy of Earth, when unobstructed, can transform base metal into gold. We have an opportunity now. Through hard work and sound judgment, we can recover what is precious and lies buried deep within us. So, noses to the grindstone, all.

Now for the fun part. Here’s a quick look at how each animal sign can best utilize this year’s qi. Continue reading

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Becoming A Sifu

sifu

Sifu Ted, Sifu Linda, me and Sifu Lam, along with fellow students, Phil, John and Jerome after we did a Kung Fu demo at the County Fair in the mid-80s.

When do you become a Sifu? The simple answer is you become a Sifu when other people start calling you a Sifu. A more legitimate answer is you become a Sifu when your Sifu says you’re a Sifu. However, like many aspects of Chinese culture, there’s simple answers, and then there’s a deep dive. At the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts, we like those deep dives.

The title “Sifu” is a fine example of simple answers versus deep dives. On the simplest level, it’s the Chinese term for ‘master.’ It gets complex when you go deeper. “Sifu” is the Cantonese pronunciation, which sounds kind of like “sea-fu.” Master Ted Mancuso’s lineage has both Cantonese and Mandarin influences. Among his masters are Grandmaster Adam Hsu from Taiwan where they speak Mandarin and Grandmaster Kwong Wing Lam from Hong Kong where Cantonese is spoken. In Mandarin, it’s “Shifu,” which sounds a bit like “sure-fu.” Although Cantonese and Mandarin use the same written characters, there are regional dialect distinctions and vast idiomatic differences, so the comparison isn’t always an X=X relationship. This gets even more complicated, deserving of an essay of its own, so we won’t dwell on it too much here. At the Academy, we generally default to the Cantonese, most likely because that set the precedent in the 70s and 80s when Kung Fu was beginning to cross the Pacific. Continue reading

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Better With Age

After class the other day my student Harvey, who has studied with me for more than 15 years, asked me a pointed question: “How and why does a longtime practitioner maintain his or her interest in studying Tai Chi?” This caught my attention immediately, because he asked me to consider it from the advanced study point of view, not the more common basic level.

wu tu nan

Wu Tu Nan

After 50 years practicing Tai Chi, I admit that the shoe may be old, but it still fits.

I went home and wrote this question at the top of a page of wide-ruled yellow paper: “What is the attractive secret of Tai Chi that encourages people to play the game without getting bored?”

I immediately filled the page with notes outlining all the remarkable qualities of Tai Chi; for example, how the slow pace encourages curative postures and uniformity of movement, and how this allows us to craft our life instead of violating it. Tai Chi adjusts you to rhythms of action rarely seen in daily life. Conforming to an attack also teaches you to conform to terrain, timing, other classmates—a rainbow of patterns. Continue reading

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Bear Bones

Thanks to our student, John, for sending this to us. And as one keen observer on youtube noted, those are three-sectioned sticks, not nunchakus. Not that the bear cares…

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Chang Gong

Whether you are the ancient hermit of the Dark Forest or a week-in week-out practitioner, martial training always rewards perseverance with increased skills you have gathered and accumulated like rain. Skills like these come mostly from just hanging in there and that’s the reason they stay in the shadows, unnoticed.

The results of CHANG GONG, or “Long Practice,” signify skills that comes as messages through time. Its ceaseless evolution allows practitioners to keep track of their progress, even if just stockpiling. But maybe there is a better way to say this: Chang Gong is NOT a method you seek, but an unexpected outcome of continuous attention. This unhurried yet rewarding quest for skill is unequalled in its effectiveness. Nowadays it is called a superpower, moving forward but not yet peaking.

A friend of mine asked his brother—a Juilliard graduate who played flute, professionally—how long it would take to lay a decent foundation with the instrument. The musician looked skyward—a moment of contemplation was all that was needed—the answer: 15 years.

Although Chang Gong is evident when watching great teachers or world-class competitors, in this article I concentrate NOT on the master or soon-to-be master, but on those people who receive, at most, a pat on the back for their own skills. In those, too, we discover the alchemical development of Chang Gong, what Daoist practitioners call “bringing the extraordinary out of the ordinary.” It is here, near you and all around you: ordinary abilities coupled with the phenomenal, coming out of the mere pedestrian. Continue reading

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Stretching For the Art

You’ve finished your workout and the idea comes to you: why not stretch a little? It can only help, right? But immediately your brain floods with questions: How important is it to stretch? If I have just worked out, is stretching necessary? Which is the best for me and, even more importantly, which should I avoid? And, as a martial artist, which stretches best fit my style?

Any stretching related to Chinese martial practice could be associated with more than 300 different martial branches, consequently presenting a tremendous range of stretching and pliability options, along with related foundational interpretations. Add in gyms, fencing schools, and physical therapies and you can see that guidelines could help in this explosion of choices. Continue reading

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Adam Hsu on Chen Style Taijiquan

It is no secret that we at Plum greatly admire Adam Hsu (Hsu Ji) and his teachings. We have published some of his books and DVDs, excerpted and reprinted articles, and referenced his many principles and theories. He is also our teacher.

Although many have read his works and seen his videos, it’s not exactly the same as being able to take a class with Master Hsu. So it is with happiness that we are able to share this (free) excellent video of him giving a short lesson at his regular location in Taiwan, on Chen Tai Chi Chuan applications practice.

Enjoy!

 

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Sanshou: Partner Practice in the Age of Quarantine

Why is partner practice so different from solo practice? In my daily Taijiquan practice in a time of sheltering-in-place, the answer of course is quite obvious. As a martial artist, I find I am missing the feedback I feel, the energy from a partner’s response, and our discussion as we explore via push hands, partner forms, and apply specific applications taken from our Yang and Chen Taijiquan sets. But on the other hand, practicing by myself for many years, I have learned to use my imagination as I focus my Yi, my intent, on how my spiraling energy wraps around an imaginary arm, leg, or body, and how I am potentially responding to an opponent’s approach.

Have I been practicing by myself in my backyard? Yes. And as such, my imagination runs wild! But I must confess, twice a week during this time of sheltering at home I have been meeting with a friend to connect, practice, and learn from each other. I have to say that being outside, physically distancing while practicing different forms and weapon sets has been safe and beneficial. I still can watch and learn, ask questions, and discuss a move’s application and meaning. But honestly, partner practice has intrigued me the most when we meet.

I am calling it physically distant partner practice (PDPP?). Specifically, we have challenged ourselves to relearn an interactive form we learned years ago: Sanshou. This is a two-person set that relies on the interaction between two people in contact with each other. There are many, many Sanshou sets. In all of them, through an exchange of attacks and blending responses, one intercepts and melds with a wide variety of attacks, and then returns an appropriate response that flows naturally. It is a stylistic, dynamic, honest set of stimuli and responses between two people. One learns to feel small changes that become large, responding by touch and movement to turn an opponent’s attack into one’s own attack.

Now how does one relearn and then refine a two-person set without being able to be within 8 feet of each other? It isn’t that hard to relearn it: as the one who remembers it (mostly), we could move in parallel, just like we originally learned it, rehearsing as we would any form. We filled in each other’s gaps of memory. But putting the two sides into practice against each other became more problematic.

We start a good twelve feet apart, facing each other. I found that simply mimicking the progression through the moves became entangled with my thinking: What does this mean? When is the right timing? To what am I responding? Suddenly, two brains remembering the set in a rote way while applying it visually (and not by feel) became a bit of a problem. I found that while I could see an attack coming (eight feet away!) and could respond to it, it was completely different from feeling the actual, physical energy coming my way. And since my partner was relearning this set from a more distant memory, she often became confused as to what came next with the most sensible response.

So we talked about it. We would stop and discuss as we rehearsed a particular cycle of attack and response. And, we found we could hold a dialog as we moved through the set. “I am shoulder stroking you, so you shift back, wipe underneath your arm to catch my elbow, and using the resulting spiraling energy, launch a hook punch. No, no, with the other arm!”

Continue reading

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Practiced Intent

Internal martial practice is an important step to deepening and improving your kung fu.

In this video, Sifu Ted demonstrates and teaches a short exercise learned decades earlier from Sifu Wing Lam, for developing and incorporating intent into movement. Following the instruction is an interview with Ted, where he further elaborates on these concepts.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGc4FdYOzrg?rel=0

 

 

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