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Archive for November, 2008

Blinded Me With Science…

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

One day as I was playing chi sau and trying to use techniques I knew from my forms, I began to wonder why we are so precisely instructed on the hand and foot movements. I mean the self defense aspects of Kung Fu are simply to deal with the attacker quickly. Why so much attention on exactly how far the punch must go or the angle of the fist from the elbow? If I was attacked it seems the scuffle would be awkward and sloppy, certainly not precise and crisp like our forms….right? I can’t make the attacker move into the right area for my attacks…can I?

I’m sure most normal people don’t get so tortured by their own brain, but I was stuck thinking about this for quite a while, trying to decide my stance on the issues. It wasn’t until teaching my anatomy and physiology students about optimal muscle length that I put the answer together in my head. Like so many things in Kung Fu there are many reasons for the precision and meticulousness of our forms. If I have learned anything from Sifu Jones it’s that Kung Fu is mutable, that is, it can adapt to any situation. The list of reasons for our forms training is long but here is at least one explanation that I found interesting.

Our muscles are organized into contractible units called sarcomeres. The units contain two proteins, actin and myosin, that are sort of like the cables that pull our muscles when contracting or moving. Think of a winch that pulls a cable, with each pump of the handle the cable is draw towards you and whatever is at the end of the cable is pulled closer to you. That’s basically what we are talking about with muscles, the “whatever” at the end of the cable would be your hand, or foot while the cable would be those proteins in your muscles. If the cable is not inserted into the winch enough, there is not enough to get a good grip and really pull the cable, consequently if most of the cable is shoved into the winch it also wouldn’t pull as there would be no room. Same thing with your muscles, the most effective and useful way to use our muscles is at the optimal length so that the proteins overlap just the right amount for maximum work.

The placement of our hands during forms takes advantage of this. For example, the gwa choy must be made to stop before the fist is extended too far from the body, which would weaken the punch and keep you from putting your full weight or “center” behind it. The elbow strike must be on the same horizontal plane as the shoulder so you can twist your waist and not loose your balance. If there is an optimal length for muscles that means there is an optimal length for punches and kicks. Remember this when practicing your forms, under or overextension is incorrect, you must maintain your balance and power through proper body mechanics…..correct form!

Soldier 101

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Lots of people have asked me what’s the craziest thing I’ve had to deal with since TKFF opened its doors. The following is probably it…except for the time I spoke with a ninja, but that’s another story.

It was the perfect Friday afternoon. Not too hot with a great spring breeze. I had an hour before instructing the next class and I thought I would enjoy my lunch outside. I had no idea that danger was lurking outside the door. I grabbed my sandwich and headed out back. The air was thick with fresh honeysuckle. One bite later, Elizabeth, our office manager walked out. She looked very disturbed.

“I really think you need to get up front and see what this guy wants,” she said. Her body language told me not to argue, so I sighed, took another quick bite, and went to meet our visitor.

“Hey, you the main instructor?” The visitor stood next to the front desk. He wore a faded camouflage shirt, baggy commando pants, and scuffed brown boots. His black greasy hair covered his eyes. With his arms folded across his chest and his head tilted to the left, he was trying to look intimidating. I thought he might fall over if he leaned any more. He also had a friend with him, a bean-pole of a guy wearing a purple shirt with the word “nasty” on the front. He was standing glued to the wall.

“Yes.” I said, still thinking of my sandwich.

“Yeah, I train with X (I can’t remember the name) and I did a tour for the U.S. Army. I’ve also trained with Chuck Norris’ boys.”

“Great, how can I help you today?”

“Say, look, I’ve been all over town and I’ve put down all the instructors.” He moved away from the counter and turned toward me. “That’s what I do, man. I go from school to school, challenge instructors, see if they got anything for me.” He started poking his thumb into his chest and began to strut. He looked like a drunken rooster. “So far nobody’s touched me.” Now he was doing a horrible version of an Ali dance. “I know 101 ways to kill, man. Got my skills from Uncle Sam, in the jungles.”

Again I said, “Great, how can I help you?” I was hoping this wasn’t going where I thought it was.

“I don’t see how that mantis bug stuff you do deals with real combat.”

OK, now I’m really upset. My lunch hour is slipping away, my sandwich is getting soggy, and my empty stomach is groaning at me while I am listening to this lunatic!

I grabbed a brochure off the counter. “Why don’t you come back Monday evening at 6:30 for our open class. That will give you an idea how mantis kung fu works.” I walked over, handed Soldier the brochure, and was on my way to the front door.

“See, all I gotta do is send my elbow into the throat.” Now he was shadow boxing. “So, I mean there’s no way you can handle me. I exterminate bugs.”

Before I reached the door, Soldier rushed me. I stepped to the side. His fist sailed passed me. I shot my left leg out and swept him off his feet. Soldier hit the floor hard. His partner, Mr. “Nasty”, just stood frozen to the wall with his jaw gaping open.

I looked down at Solder, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, man, just testing you. How’d you do that?” he asked, getting up.

“It’s time for you guys to leave.” I held the door open and Mr. Nasty quickly exited.

“No hard feelings, man. Just messin around.” Soldier regained his balance and charged again! I couldn’t believe it!

I ducked his punch, grabbed his shirt, twisted my waist, and threw him again, only this time out into the parking lot. I closed the door and stood in front of it. My heart pounded my ribcage and the rush of adrenaline burned my stomach. “If you come again, you will be hurt. Then I’m calling the police.”

“It’s cool, I’m gone. Some moves you got, man.” As Soldier and Mr. Nasty were walking off, he shouted, “You the man!”

Watching them walk away, I recalled some stories my Sifu told me that happened to him in the late 60’s and 70’s. In those years, lots of crazy people challenged instructors. I had thought those days were gone but Soldier proved me wrong. So, all martial arts instructors beware. The Soldier still lurks about and he knows 101 ways to kill.

* Side note. Since Soldier’s visit, I’ve replayed that day in my mind repeatedly and thought of several ways I should have handled it. I hate that it got physical, but I learned from it. As a result, we implemented new policies into our curriculum as to how to deal with whackos. We call our deterrent program Soldier 101.