Xingyi Sheltering

Practicing in isolation due to Shelter in Place orders has me reflecting on the time-honored tales of incarcerated Kung Fu masters. There is a story of when Xingyi Grandmaster Guo Yunshen (1829–1898 郭雲深) was imprisoned for accidentally killing an opponent in a duel. By some accounts, he was shackled in handcuffs and leg irons, limiting his ability to practice. He resolved to focus on a short Xingyi technique that his fetters would allow, a powerful basic attack called Beng Quan or crushing fist (崩拳). He allegedly used a half step to accommodate his leg shackles. After three years, he was sprung from jail, and in that time, he had mastered Beng Quan so consummately that he built his reputation on it. It was said that his “half-step Beng Quan could strike anyone under heaven (ban bu beng quan da yu tian xia 半步崩拳打天下).”

Grandmaster Guo’s tale inspired a Jet Li movie, his 2001 sleeper, The One. This was a Sci-Fi flick about multiple incarnations across multiple dimensions, casting Jet multiple roles setting him up to fight his ultimate opponent – himself. This Hollywood production that was panned by American critics, but for martial artists, The One worked on a deeper level. Jet’s evil incarnation, Gabriel Yulaw, used the linear attacking methods of Xingyi. Jet’s good incarnation, Gabe Law, deploys the circular strategies of Bagua. Xingyi and Bagua are the dominant soft styles of Chinese martial arts other than Tai Chi and they are frequently coupled together as complimentary practices. On May 1st, 2020, California posted an official non-exhaustive list of permitted outdoor recreational activities, including ‘Soft Martial Arts – Tai Chi, Chi Kung (not in groups)’. Xingyi and Bagua are both ‘soft’ too, so we’re good. Continue reading

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Reflections of a Changeling

As I sit in reflection over the last two months I am impressed by the power exchanged through change and adaptation.  Surfing during this time has also informed my impressions on these subjects.  Many of these lessons are also transferable to martial arts but I will let your imaginations fill the martial aspect as I respectfully leave that to my more senior practitioners.   

First, as noted by the length of existence and reverence of the I Ching, the study of change offers insight and power to those adept at aligning with the patterns of the changes of nature.  The I Ching is a tool of such study.  The Chinese zodiac reveals discernable cyclical patterns of change.  There are others.  Change often happens in pattern.  Change also directly correlates to movement.  There cannot be movement without change and there cannot be change without movement.  So both beget one another.  The universe sets forth the ultimate movement.  In my interpretation, it is our job as sentient beings (if we wish to thrive) to follow the discernable patterns of that change through our own aligned movement of mind, body and spirit in further alignment with the greater forces that surround and inform our lives. Continue reading

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Kung Fu Training: You Always Hurt the One You Love

Over my years of teaching martial arts, I’ve had quite a good time explaining some of the more obscure switches of Kung Fu’s winding pathway: the splits, front and side; gyrating and rolling children, long past their bedtimes; and the fine art of setting things on small altar stacks, then crushing them. And that is not even considering my favorite: the technique of slamming your own body with your own limbs. Seeing this for the first time may bring the reaction; “Boy, my teacher is so powerful he can hit himself and scare attackers off.”

The art of striking yourself is called “auto-impact” and is generally introduced after students are particularly skilled. The principle is to use your own body to augment its own power; it can also greatly enhance speed. To show how it works, let me take examples from the classical forms. Continue reading

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Shaolin sheltering: Weird Weapons

Among the first commandments for stifling COVID-19 is ‘do not touch your face’. This was extremely difficult for me. Spring is allergy season. It makes me cough and sneeze, and the last thing I want to be right now is a coughing sneezing Asian. What’s more, my nose is always itchy. To keep from scratching, I need one of those pet cones. The official term for those is ‘Elizabethan collars’ but I’ve called them ‘cones of shame’ in the wake of the movie Up (2009). The Chinese actually have such a thing. It’s called a cangue, a word derived from the old Portuguese canga meaning ‘yoke.’ It’s called jia (枷) in Mandarin. Used for prisoners, a cangue is a wide heavy wooden collar about a yard square like a flat Elizabethan collar for humans. If you are imprisoned in one, you cannot feed yourself or touch your face. It’s a torture. Just imagine the agony if you weren’t free to pick… I mean ‘scratch’… your nose because your neck was cuffed by a cangue-of-shame.

A legendary Kung Fu hero fought in a cangue – Wu Song (武松), a fictional character from the 14th century classic Outlaws of the Marsh. This epic has 108 heroes very loosely based on historical figures alongside fantasy ones, akin to British tales of King Arthur or Robin Hood. Among those 108, Wu Song stands out as one of the most beloved, in part because he was a drunken master and readers love irreverent boisterous drunks. He’s famous for killing a tiger after drinking 18 bowls of wine (the limit was 3 because it was especially strong, but no one had the courage to refuse Wu Song another round). If you see a Chinese painting of a bearded warrior pummeling a tiger, that’s Wu Song. There was also famous incident where Wu Song had to escape his captors who planned to murder him while he was restrained in a cangue. Continue reading

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The Simple Art of Breathing

This simple method of breathing works well for people practicing Chinese martial arts, Chinese medicine, meditation and what is commonly referred to as Qigong (Chi Kung). We call it simple, but it is also profound; as it relates the physical act of inhalation and exhalation with the mind’s intent, keeping a special focus on a most familiar activity. A little investment of time each day is all you need to start, and, unlike more rigorous approaches, this one will never hurt you. Try it!

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What Are We All Up to, Part 2

Thanks to Travis for sending us a small part of his daily training routine. We’d love to see yours, too….

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Copper Whiskers

This is an article about one of the great weapons, a weapon that has been employed in real combat but which is also considered an instrument of beauty and style. People react variously to a two-edged straight sword; some see its performance as art. This is rare. Traditionally, scholars wore a straight sword to blend the literary with the martial. It is said, that Confucius wore a sword for just this reason. It is not typically a battlefield weapon, but those who protected their villages commonly wielded the two-edged blade with authority. Today, most who pick up this weapon say they are “playing the straight sword,” and, despite their concentrated practice, its simply for the pleasure of moving it. And there is more I want to say about the straight sword, but I’ll put that off until later.

There’s a certain level of elevated skill that comes with each weapon. Here’s a comparison of the straight sword to its fellows: Staff 100 days; Saber 1000 days; Sword 10 000 days. Continue reading

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Black Sash, White Mask

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Shaolin Sheltering

L-R Sifu Ted Mancuso, Sifu Linda Darrigo and Gene Ching with Sifu Lam. Photo is from a Kung Fu demonstration they did in the mid 80s.

Master Ted Mancuso, the proprietor of Plum Publications and founder of the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts, is my elder Kung Fu brother, or my Sihing (師兄) in Cantonese. We both trained in Northern Shaolin Kung Fu (Bak Sil Lum 北少林) under Grandmaster Kwong Wing Lam and our friendship spans nearly four decades now.  Master Ted graciously allows me train alongside his students, my martial nieces and nephews, or my Sijat (again in Cantonese 師侄 – it’s not the same in Mandarin), and I’m very grateful to be part of his Academy. Thanks to Ted’s foresight, the Academy closed just ahead of California’s Shelter-in-Place order, so it’s been several weeks since we’ve held class. The Academy sits across the street from Dominican Hospital; During our last sessions in April, we could see them setting up emergency tents in preparation for the inevitable crisis. So we knew this was coming. We just didn’t fully understand the impact yet. And we still don’t. 

What I do know is that the order has had a tremendous impact on my practice as I’m sure it has for everyone. Staying healthy and being out of work is a more pressing concern, but I really miss class. Ideally, isolation should not inhibit Kung Fu, especially not for Shaolin proponents because our roots lie in renunciates. The lone monk studying snakes, cranes and mantids to penetrate mystic martial secrets while living a solitary life high atop a sacred mountain is a romantic image we all share.  While I’m no monk, I do have a daily regimen that I practice in solitude like any serious martial artist.  And now that I have more time, I’ve expanded that to fill the gap. Unfortunately, I’m not on a mountaintop.  I’m sheltering at home where I don’t have a yard that works for working out, but I’ve rearranged the furniture in my living room to make more space.  At Shaolin Temple, it is said that Shaolin can be practiced in the space it takes to lay down an ox. I was raised in the suburbs, so I have no idea how much space that is.  Nevertheless, the forms I learned at Shaolin Temple fit, along with some others, just not many Bak Sil Lum forms.  Bak Sil Lum left the temple centuries ago and has expanded into its own unique system that takes up more floor space. Be that as it may, this solo training at home just isn’t the same as class at the Academy. Continue reading

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What Are We All Up To?

Hello all,
We’ve been getting nice emails from some of you, letting us know how you are doing. Some tales even include pictures and videos! Woohoo! We love that.

Below is a taste of what we have received. If you would like to contribute, by all means write to us. We miss you.

More from John:
Seeking the round in the straight and the straight in the round










From Tony (Tai Chi class):
Thank you for the update. Although I feel somewhat isolated, this has been a profoundly creative time for me. I’ve been deepening my practice; T’ai Chi has been a gift, and there are plenty of empty places to practice on town these days. 

These are some of the places I’ve been practicing. Of course, there was no one there to take my photo. 🙂 Making the best of a bad situation.

From Harvey (Tai Chi class):
I have been doing my home tai chi routine, mostly yang, but have included morechen.
Sifu Ted’s classes are always unique and find it amazing how he pulls apart sections from the set to work on.
From Judy (Bagua Class):
Miss you. Am keeping up with the posts on reeling silk and appreciate all that you are doing. I have a bagua circle on my drive way. Almost  Daily training Is keeping me sane. I’m getting the yang side DOWN in my forms (at least my version) and working on basics (isolation means talking less, training more right?)
From John (Tai Chi class):                       From Kaz (Bagua Class):
(Click image for video).                             (Click image for video)











From Jean (Tai Chi class):
I asked Karl if he would be willing to practice with me (at a distance) in the school parking lot.  We tried to put together the San Shou choreographed set. There we were, 6 feet apart, gesturing in the air.  “So I shoulder stroke you…”  and I would jump back as if bumped, etc… Cumbersome but really rather amusing.

From Karl (Tai Chi class):
Jean and I got together, keeping our distance, of course. We talked, practiced, explored San Cho, straight sword and a little staff. San Cho is interesting…we are starting about 8 feet apart, and oppose each other from a distance, talking through what is happening..for me, just breaking it down and talking about it is quite a challenge. And, talking through Chen, trying to dream up applications is kinda fun, just exploring and discussing what this or that might mean.

I find I am enjoying practicing more on my own. On the one hand, planning an afternoon time to practice has added a time structure, as I realize I have really begun to depend on Monday-Thursday evening classes for my practice those days, but have been missing my own personal, alone practice. So that is good…(not getting together) shows me that practicing with others is something I really miss. I know, stay home, but there is gratification about finding an empty parking lot and practicing with another human.
My thinking right now, oddly enough, is about feet and my relationship to the ground. I need to sink deeper into the earth, that’s one bit of intent to practice. But I practice in my back yard on a kinda uneven surface. Imagine 2×4 foot flagstone, separated about 10 inches apart. Filling the space are bricks and pea gravel. (I like drainage and keeping water on the property). This creates an ever changing surface, but not too radically. I find that I need to be very aware of where I am because it is easy to catch the edge of my shoe, especially when pivoting. Not to mention I have had to reset a few bricks after coming down pretty hard with my weight! So, expanding or contracting the reach of my steps depending on what will be next has been added to my form, or realizing I am on the edge of flagstone and need to add awareness to the inside of my foot, awareness like that. It is interesting.
Anyway, I find I am responding more quickly to changes under my feet. A new awareness.
Take good care. I appreciate and miss our discussions and interactions!
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A Martial Artist Washes His Hands

Right now we’re all awash in the best methods of sanitizing our hands, so why not have some fun with it? We did! Get down and dirty (um, I mean clean) with a kung fu teacher who knows his hand positions.

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Beng Jin: Kung Fu’s Hidden Skill

Here’s a new video on Beng Energy. If you’re one of our Tai Chi students you have probably heard me lecture on this special quality, and are undoubtedly practicing this right now! But Beng Jin exists in all styles of Kung Fu, and is worth exploring, especially when your temporary opponent might be that nice fig tree in your backyard.

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Daily Neigong (Qigong) Routine

Our illustrious and accomplished colleague and friend in Sacramento, Sifu Robert Nakashima, has generously created and shared his daily Neigong routine.

Running about 20 minutes, even just watching this video provides calm and comfort, although getting up and trying it yourself is highly recommended. The setting, the presentation, even the light chirping of birds in the background—along with, of course, Robert’s smooth and beautiful performance—all contribute to a real gift.

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Playing Around with the Rattan Ring

Our first video for you at home utilizes a training tool called the Rattan Ring. Actually, there are several alternatives you can substitute if you don’t have one of these hanging around! 

Please stay safe, and keep in touch!

Ted, Linda and Debbie

Since we are not able to hold in-person classes at our studio, we are creating some online training for our dear students. May all be well and healthy.

The rattan ring is an unusual training device originally geared for martial artists. Its possibilities are almost unlimited; the ring entices participation, rolling defensively, uncovering tremendously tactile information. The ring can dissolve an attack, neutralizing it on contact; it can trap and catch an opponent’s limbs, or smother an attack by simply shifting it away. This is a tool that reflects a lot of the trainee, moving until it balances, edging through a cat’s cradle of possible actions.

Now, in this time of confusion and doubt, we thought that handling and training with the rattan ring might be good medicine. It’s not going to cure anyone, but an intriguing and even distracting martial instrument can be relaxing and involving. After a little work with the ring, the interactions between muscle and wood start to blend, the rotational actions fold outward and sketch out shapes of physical prowess and mental sharpness. If you need us, here we are:

Our studio: Academy of Martial & Internal Arts, Our Chinese martial arts website (articles, DVDs, books, tutorials):

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Free Livestream Qigong Class, Thursday, March 19

Next session, Sunday, March 21, at 10am PDT, on Zoom:


Our friend and colleague, Sally Chang, sent this to us this morning…

With news in a nosedive, I decided to offer this Qigong class FREE for EVERYBODY. No experience necessary, I’ll guide you the whole way.
Invite a friend, and show up with whoever you’re holed up with. I think it’s important to have a spirit of generosity in these times.
(don’t ask me for toilet paper though..) 😉 It’s a stretch for me, for this introvert, to be so public. But my feeling is, if someone joins in and feels even a little bit more grounded and sane, then it’s worth opening the doors wide.

Let’s hold each other in a safe, coronavirus-free space, move and breathe and have a laugh together, and feel more balanced in a changing situation. It’ll be my first time doing a livestream so please be patient and forgiving if there are any bumps; hopefully the interweb tech spirits will be with us 🙂

Join Me and Invite a Friend Today, Thursday @ 5pm-6pm (PDT)

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