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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This is maybe not entirely martial, but is a beautiful demonstration of Intent.

I think it will also take your mind off of your worries for a few minutes! Enjoy.

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Academy Class Suspension (Update)

Update, March 26:

Hello dear friends,

Well, we thought we would check in with you, see how you all are faring, and update you on our classes. 
These last couple of weeks have been difficult for so many people—really, all of us, even those introverts among us! Pieces and parts of our normal lives have been upended, and something which for many was a distant concern came suddenly to the forefront. I think we have all spent at least a few moments treasuring our communities and friendships, big and small. We’ve heard from a few of you how much you miss the studio and its community—we concur, and miss you, too.
Sadly, however, it seems like we were being a little optimistic a couple of weeks ago in thinking we could start up classes again this coming Saturday. It’s just not appropriate at this time. So, we will have to continue for, hopefully, just a little while longer to practice on our own. We wish it were otherwise.
We have been posting on reelingsilk some videos of our own and a few from others, with more to come. We hope you are able to continue your training, and would love to hear from you—what you are doing, how you are working out, and if you have any questions about your practice. Please don’t hesitate to write.
We will keep you updated on the studio status and when we might see classes starting up again. In the meantime, please check our site for new posts and information. Most importantly, keep well and stay safe. You are precious to us.
Ted and Debbie

Dearest Students,
We hope this finds you and yours well. We have spent some time considering what is best for the health of both our students and instructors, and late last night decided that, out of an abundance of caution, we should suspend classes for the suggested period of two weeks, starting today, Saturday March 14. Although things could change, we would look forward to reopening on Saturday, March 28.

We encourage you to keep an eye on this site for any changes to the reopening date. We will also be posting some articles to read and training exercises you can do to keep up your practice, starting with this beautiful 3- minute Qigong For Healthy Lungs, from colleague (and longtime student) Sally Chang.

Feel free to keep in touch and, above all, stay safe. We miss you already, and look forward to seeing you soon.

Best, Ted and Debbie

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Tai Chi For Health, 3 month class starts January 8

nc_tccolor1• Learn a complete form in just three months

• Traditional, fluid, moving meditation

• Small Class, detailed instruction

• Emphasis on correct posture and form for health, balance, and vitality

• Authentic martial structure for strength and flexibility

tcclass_JoshPhilbw1• Move like you’ve never moved before!

Wednesdays 6-7 pm
New Class starting: January 8, 2020

$65 per month, or $165 if paying for full three month tcclass_karlandkirkcourse in advance

Academy of Martial Arts
1570 Soquel Dr. (Across from Dominican Hospital)

Taught by Narrye Caldwell, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with 30 years Tai Chi experience. Narrye is a Licensed Acupuncturist with over 20 years of clinical and teaching experience. She has a private practice in Santa Cruz and is on the faculty at Five Branches University.

Click here for information.

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