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You can absolutely trust the information in the Northern Shao-Lin Long Fist book. Master Yang is one of the foremost authorities in the world on Shao-Lin Long Fist and Chinese martial arts in general. Jeff was his first 'formal' student. It is my understanding that as such, Master Yang imparted everything he knew to Jeff. But, that is another story unto itself which I am not qualified to discuss. However, having been a student and friend of Jeff for over 25 years, I feel confident in saying that there are only a handful of people in the United States with his knowledge, understanding and level of skill.
There are many different forms in the Long Fist system, both bare hand and weapons. Do not judge your knowledge or skill level by how many forms you know. It is far better to master a handful of forms than to be mediocre at a vast number. For example, Lien Bu Quan is the first form we teach the beginning student. If you only learned Lien Bu Quan, but mastered all the different applications and fighting strategies developed in that one form, you'd be a formidable martial artist indeed and a person who was mediocre at twenty more advanced forms would not be a able to defeat you. That being said, I don't know of any publication which lists all the forms developed under the Long Fist system. Everything I've seen is directed at the beginning and middle level forms. To become proficient in Long Fist, or any Chinese martial art, requires the aid of a qualified teacher. While it is possible for a person to learn the physical steps of a particular form from a book, a book can not possibly impart the nuances of what is going on between one movement and the next.
You are not doing something wrong, but something right. The most likely reason for the soreness is because you changed the way you're doing the kick. Before, you were winding up. When you wind up into the kick, you're using your body weight and momentum to launch yourself, but when you start from a stance and step through it incrementally it forces you to use different muscles. The reason you want to walk through it one step at a time is specifically to take the 'momentum' factor out of the equation. Momentum can't be easily stopped once set in motion. In fighting you must be able to change direction in the blink of an eye. If you're using momentum to get into the kick and circumstances change, you're stuck and you have to hope your opponent doesn't take advantage of your bad position.
Lien Bu Quan, Gong Li Quan and Yi Lu Mai Fu are the foundational forms. The continuous stepping is incorporated into the power training. As you build the power training it should be applied in the continuous stepping, then all of this is incorporated in the more complex techniques of Yi Lu Mai Fu, each benefiting the previous and the next.
Allowing the form to dictate the breath is helpful in gaining a better understanding of exactly what each movement in the form is doing, i.e., it's application. An offensive movement (Yang) should naturally result in an exhale while a defensive movement (Yin) should naturally draw the breath in, just like a bellows. Allowing the form to dictate the breath requires relaxed muscles and movements which is a primary factor in developing the continuous stepping in the first place.
With the White Crane 'beak' you can use the thumb and any number of fingers. I generally use the thumb, index and middle fingers. In White Crane you don't really "grab", rather you "pluck." This is when you intercept the opponent's punch or hand strike, redirect it slightly, wrap your thumb and finger(s) around his wrist and "pluck" the wrist downward, upward or to either side. Since the crane is not a powerful creature, this plucking is done in coordination with the opponent's movements, pulling or leading them in the direction they were already going. The crane beak is also used for striking.
The few little corrections you made to Lien Bu Quan has really changed how well the entire set looks and feels, it's been like night and day for me. I was practicing with a friend who is doing the form the way I use to and I feel bad because I taught him to do it that way. So, I corrected him as best I could and he's just as frustrated as I was (still am).
One of the best ways to increase your own understanding is to explain and teach it to someone else. Albert Einstein once said, "You don't truly understand a thing until you can explain it to your mother." The continuous stepping takes time and practice, just as does the power training. It is common for a student's power or jin at this level to be mostly local, meaning its primarily generated from the upper body and shoulders. As the continuous stepping improves, the connection between the feet, waist and hands will be established. This will then allow the jin to flow freely from the ground to the point of attack. As this happens, the power in Gong Li Quan as well as Lien Bu Quan will be enhanced and increased. Over time you'll realize that the more you relax while doing the forms, the more powerful they become.
I'm starting to understand the notion of sticking to your opponent, staying relaxed and feeling for whatever he's leaving open with your arms and hands. How does the sticking theory apply to kicking?
Incorporating the feet with the hand techniques does not necessarily mean ‘kicking’ but, more importantly, ‘stepping.’ The importance of the art of stepping cannot be over emphasized. Just as the hands coordinate one with the other, as in the ‘mother/son’ technique, the feet also need to coordinate with the hands. Through the practice of some rudimentary drills and then, on a more advanced level, two person sets such as Shang Xia Zhi and Kong Shou Dui, we build stepping coordination into our fighting techniques. Your stepping must be firm yet light and agile, staying rooted and stable at all times, coordinating each step with the technique you are applying at the time. In the Chinese martial arts fighting is very dynamic and so, stepping is one of the most critical components of being a good fighter. If a person cannot do bare hand forms smoothly and fluidly, with power and speed against thin air, he cannot hope to be an effective fighter against an actual opponent who will be applying force. In the same way, if a person cannot incorporate stepping into his fighting technique, he cannot possibly hope to do a kick much less coordinate that kick properly with his hand techniques. On a more advanced level, stepping is an integral part of Chin Na and Shuai Jiao. In my opinion, kicking and punching in general, represent the lower more basic levels of Kung Fu which is why they are the main focus for the beginner student. Chin Na and Shuai Jiao represent the higher, more advanced levels since they require the ability to flow with and adhere to the opponent’s movements while using coordinated stepping. Of course once a student reaches a higher level of skill all four components, Kicking (Ti), Punching (Da), Wrestling (Shuai) and Chin Na (Na) become equally effective and will be used in coordination with each other.
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Are you saying that I need to start thinking of hands and feet as a whole and coordinated together, even though in some of our drills we practice them separately?
Yes. Ultimately the hands and feet as well as the knees, hips, wrists, elbows and shoulders work together as a whole. This is known as Liu He or the Six Harmonies of the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists. Drills are designed to force the student to focus on a particular part of the body or a specific form or technique. One drill will be a stationary single punch and single block while another will focus on forward and backward half-stepping using a single knee kick. Other drills incorporate stepping and punching, stepping and kicking, stepping with punching and kicking, and so on.
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What is the difference between "Jin" and Qigong?
Jin is the word which refers to the power we generate through our movements. Qigong literally means "Qi Work" or exercises which build and enhance our Qi and Qi flow. There are many types of jin, hard, soft, soft-hard, offensive, defensive, borrowing, drilling, twisting, etc. Most often these different types of jin are used in conjunction with one another. For instance, you might use defensive and borrowing jin together in the same movement. This is where you would first defend against the attack and as you’re redirecting the attack with a defensive jin like peng (ward off), you incorporate borrowing jin to use some of the attackers power or motion to uproot or take him off balance. Another word which is also pronounced "Jin" is used to refer to the essence of something, i.e., the deeper meaning of a style for instance.
I've been studying "The Essence of Shoa-Lin White Crane" by Master Yang and it seems that there are about 15 thousand different exercises and drills in the entire book. How can a person get to a point where he could practice all of them in a reasonable amount of time?
Master Yang puts the vast majority of everything he knows into his books in
order to give the reader as complete an understanding of the style as possible.
So, he probably includes everything he can remember from his teacher(s) as well
as everything he’s discovered on his own journey, a journey of more than 40
years. There are a lot of things I learned from my teacher, Jeff Bolt, over the
many years I studied under him which I don’t teach to everyone,
not because I’m trying to hold anything back or keep it secret, but just
because there’s so much accumulation over 25+ years of study.
I’m quite sure there’s a train load of stuff that Jeff didn’t show me for
the same reasons. In today’s society there’s just no way to go through all
the drills and exercises of any given style in a class room setting. Every once in a while, I’ll throw something
out there during warm-ups or during class which the students haven’t seen or
practiced before; 1 – To show them there’s still a lot they don’t know
yet, and 2 – Every once in a while it breaks up the monotony of doing the same thing week in and
week out. But we always go back to the routine.
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With my previous teacher I remember applying Die Da Jiao before and after training, but something always bothered me about the actual training part. Regardless of how we trained, our arms for instance, to withstand greater impact, be it by whacking trees or doing two person sets, or whatever; my question was always, "How do you know when you've trained enough for that particular training session?" I mean do you bear through it till they start bruising or is that too much? I used to train with my old teacher a lot like this, but we would always just go until he said stop, sometimes I was all bruised up, and sometimes not. What is your view/opinion?
Regarding training methods, I tend to lean towards being exhausted with shaky knees at the end of a training session, not walking away with bruises all over the place, or worse. We do have training methods which build your ability to receive a blow while free fighting but not let it disrupt your flow because you build up to that level slowly, learning to twist and turn as you’re hit to cause the blow to be more of a glancing blow so that you’re not receiving a direct blow. Again, all this is built up slowly over time so that when you reach the level of going at near full speed, you’re still relaxed and calm and you can talk normally during free fighting, plus you’re eventually moving and stepping during free fighting as well, staying calm and relaxed throughout. Calm and relaxed is the key. Learning to do the forms while staying calm and relaxed with steady coordinated breathing is part of the process of getting there.
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I've missed so many classes, I just don't know where my motivation went for a time.
We all go through dry spells where we can’t, for various reasons, get out and practice or attend class. Here’s something to consider during those times, visualization. You cannot discount the value of “mental practice.” Whenever you can’t physically go through the form(s), you should ponder the various movements, visualizing them in your mind. Visualize yourself doing each movement absolutely correctly. If you know the application for the movement, visualize making it work against an opponent. You will be amazed at the positive effect this will have on your physical practice.
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