Archive Page 2

13
Oct
09

Thoughts from GM Cook on “Forms”

Ni Hao. I’ve been thinking about this subject after, once again, recently experiencing a familiar interaction with a couple of new students. Bruce Lee once famously ( or infamously depending on one’s point of view ) stated in an interview, that he thought ” Forms are a road to nowhere “. Me, I take the latter point of view concerning this subject. I don’t know what caused him to reach this conclusion and I can only speculate. I speculate that Yip Man and his previous teachers must not have explained ” forms ” to him. It is true that in some very traditional schools ” forms ” are taught merely as a dance. Once all the forms in a system are learned, the student and Master  ” return to the beginning ” and begin to break down each movement in each ” form .” Other teachers like myself and those that taught me had a different philosophy, that being teaching a ” form ” and breaking it down into the present individual techniques plus the concepts those techniques express before learning another “form “. Either approach will work, but a teacher may lose a student, especially in these modern times when a student is not some sort of indentured servant to the Master at his school or a monk at a temple, if the teacher fails to impart some level of education as to what the ” form ” being learned is really all about. I raise this subject because of two very recent interactions with students. One who is a student in my Self Defense course and another who is a student in my adult class. Both have experience in other styles from what I teach. The Self Defense student studied years ago and quit after three years. His reason for doing so was that after nearly three years of study he was allowed to participate in contact sparring. He told me how the blackbelts at the school looked incredible running their kata. And yet when it came to sparring,  this ( at the time ) young adult who had run the streets of Baltimore beat every blackbelt in the room. He asked himself what he was learning if he could beat the top students easily as a blue belt. He felt as though he had been wasting his time for three years and walked away from study. My full time student has experience with several other schools and near ten years of study. He has been with me a short time. The other night the students were working on a quite basic technique taken from the very movements I had taught this fairly new student. As they were working this technique, I would step in and do the technique to his partner talking all the way through it, explaining each individual movement that made up the complete ( and seemless ) technique. I showed him exactly where in both the ancient animal based Qi Gong exercises conducted at the beginning of class and in the very first ” form ” he is learning where this technique came from. A near visible lightbulb flashed over his head. Both of these students said almost identical words to me…” Wow! You know, Master Cook, nobody ever explained a form like this to me before “. My self defense student said these words relating to the techniques he had learned as I do not teach any ” forms ” in the Self Defense course, but this is irrelevant to this discussion. What is relevant is that in both of these instances ( and this scenario has happened innumerable times in my 30 year teaching career ) two people that had studied two different systems at schools in different parts of the country from different instructors had very similar experiences. They learned ” forms “, but had no clue at all as to what they were doing beyond running them like some sort of a choreographed dance routine. Very sad. I do not look at ” forms ” as a ” road to nowhere ” although I agree that one cannot become a proficient fighter by running them only…one does need to engage an ” opponent ” in practice to really comprehend concepts like timing, speed, balance, etc. along with the physical feelings of contact made when blocking, striking, throwing,etc. Yet this idea remains – ” forms ” are a reference manual of technique and concrete ideas and abstract concepts. Every movement executed in a ” form ” has – or should have – purpose. A ” form ” should be understood to be an educational tool that instructs, through endless repeatition, footwork, handwork, breath control, muscle control and tension, and technique. Most important, a ” form ” should awaken in the practitioners mind the concepts the techniques and the individual movements in the ” form ” represent. Many ” hard ” and ” soft ” techniques are very, very similar if not identical in their individual concept…it is how the concept is expressed that is different. Many techniques or movements also have ( as the “principle of opposites ” expressed through the Tai Chi Diagram – the concept of Yin and Yang _ demands ) both offensive and defensive applications. Beyond this separation of offense / defense, many techniques also contain conceptually the very idea understood by serious students of ancient Chinese Philosophy…Yin and Yang dissolve into nothingness, negating each other, becoming one. In applied technique this means that we do away with the idea of separating offense and defense and execute both at the same time. All of this can be come to be understood through learning ” forms “, but only if the ” forms ” are taught in complete context. Complete context is not as an empty dance, but an encyclopedic reference manual that can be understood on many levels and , just like a book, offer deeper and deeper comprehension each time it is ” read.”  Of course, one must have a teacher that understands the ” concept of Forms ” in this manner. If not, as like  the students mentioned above I have encountered in my career, ” forms ” will always be an empty dance and ” a road to nowhere “. What a pity…

23
Sep
09

Thoughts from GM Cook on “Styles”

I’ve been mulling this thought over again in my mind as I have received a couple of phone calls over the last two days. The calls were a result of the latest advertising campaign for my school. I always ask the caller what their interest in Kung Fu is…why did they choose Kung Fu as opposed to any other martial art. What has occured in these two latest calls is this ; the caller states that they are looking for a very particular style, inevitably a style I do not teach. I ask them why they are looking for that particular style. They tell me that they have heard or read about it and that it sounded like the ” Holy Grail ” of styles to them. I try to explain that no such style exists and how some styles simply work better for different people and that the caller needs to explore a bit to determine what style fits them best. I also explain that I teach a variety of styles to my students, taking them through a varied curriculum of 15 empty handed forms ( weapons are taught after completion of these forms ) then allowing them to choose a direction to focus on…”hard” style, “soft” style, a style that focusses more on grappling than boxing, etc. The callers find this interesting, but I already know as I am speaking that they will never come to my school. I know this because I know that these people have closed their minds to any other possible outcome to their search than the one they have decided on. It is interesting to me that the overwhelming majority of these people have either no experience or extremely limited experience in the martial arts. They have put their trust in the cover article of a magazine or something they found online. This leads me to say the following ; there is no ” Holy Grail ” style of martial art. The now extremely popular Brazilian JuiJitsu is a great workout and a great sport style. But as a pure street fighting system it is lacking. The last thing a person who finds himself  / herself facing a multiple attack situation wants to do is to take the first attacker to the ground to put a choke hold on them. That choke will take upwards of 7 seconds to have the desired effect of loss of consiousness of the attacker. Meanwhile of course, the first attacker’s buddies are just going to stand there and watch their leader being choked out, right? No, they won’t. They will tear you off of the lead attacker and in the process literally kick the crap out of you while you are down on the ground. On the other hand of this argument is what does the pure boxer do if faced with even a one-on-one attack situation and he does find himself taken to the ground by a reasonably skilled grappler? The pure boxer will find himself way outside of his element and in big trouble at the very deep end of the pool. Yes, there are styles within the martial arts that offer some degree of a blend of techniques, but these are few, especially here in the USA. Many focus on one area, such as BJJ focussing on grappling or Tae Kwan Do focussing almost exclusively on foot fighting. The problem with this is that the artist who chooses to focus on only one aspect of the martial arts has imposed limitations on themselves. They frequently become so specialized that they are at a complete loss when faced with a situation that is outside of their area of expertise. All aspects of the martial arts have their valid reasons for existing…if a thing can happen in any situation imaginable, it can happen in a combat situation. Knowing that this is a truth, we must logically conclude that we must have at the very least a cursory understanding of all approaches of the arts. This does not mean that one needs to be a Master of all the arts…one would need several lifetimes to acheive such a thing if it would even be possible under such a scenario! But a practitioner should be more than familiar with a varity of approaches. The priciples of absorbtion and redirection in the ” internal ” or ” soft ” styles should be understood well enough to be utilized by the practitioner of an ” external ” or “hard ” style and vice-versa. The practitioner of a pure boxing style should know well enough how to be able to utilize joint manipulation techniques ( and how to counter them ). In short, we should not as practitioners of  ” the martial arts ” confine and limit ourselves to one aspect of the arts. We should pursue mastery of that which we feel ” fits ” us best ( and much of this  ” fit ” is personality driven…a person of a passive nature will almost universally be more comfortable with a style such as Tai Chi Chuan as opposed to the direct and violent confrontational attitude of a style such as ShanTung – ” Black Tiger ” ) on our journey across time. We should never cease pursuing never ending self improvement in both ourselves and our chosen art. But we should not neglect understanding nor certainly not choose outright ignorance due to ego issues, other approaches to given situations than that which our chosen art offers us. Think of this outside of the martial arts world…who would you rather spend hours of time with; an individual that has the capability to discuss with obvious knowledge a wide variety of subjects or a person who only knows everthing there is to know about only one subject? Yes, the level of information you could acquire from person who knows that one subject better than anyone else would be substantial. But the facination would wear off quickly if no other subject could be discussed. A well rounded education is important for both the average person in the world and the practitioners of the martial arts. One can be a specialist in ancient Greek literature, but please have some semblance of a clue of some general knowledge of other areas. Across history many of the finest minds of the martial studies from cultures across the globe advocated the concept of the ” scholar-warrior “. From monks at temples in ancient India and China to the Greeks of ancient Athens ( Thucydides for instance) to Japanese Samurai such as Musashi through to institutes of higher learning here in the US such as West Point or Annapolis, the constant is education and knowledge of areas outside of ones expertise. As Bruce Lee so eloquently put it to his “student ” in a scene early in the movie ” Enter The Dragon ” …” It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon…do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory”.

06
Sep
09

Thoughts on “nutrition”

Ni Hao. I would like to comment on Vinny’s comment regarding “nutrition”. I too get a laugh from the phrase ” fastfood martial arts “. I also am dismayed by that phrase. I am dismayed by it due to the reality that so much of what passes for ” martial arts ” in the world today, but most especially in the United States, falls into that catagory. Much of this is due to the overegulation of our broader society in general and the litiginous nature of our present modern society. Many ” martial art schools ” will not teach certain techniques out of nothing more than fear of being sued into oblivion by a student ( or more likely the parents of a younger student ) because that student received an injury during class. By the action of avoiding teaching certain techniques or not teaching certain styles coupled with using an overabundance of protective gear ( head to toe padding so constrictive as to leave the person playing attacker near immoble for example ) everything taught at such a school is watered down. Usually, the bigger the school the greater the watering down. This is a result of there being so many students in so many classes that the classes are being taught by ( maybe ) a first degree black belt. And most of these “black belts ” earned that rank through study under other “student teachers ”  who receive a lesson with the actual head of the school once a week. This leads to the status of  ” fastfood “. The school is a money making machine and it is understood by the owner that the bottom line is the primary function of the school. It is assumed that most students will come and go within a year, perhaps less. A typical class runs 45 minutes long and largely consists of people lined up in neat rows “practicing ” punches and kicks. When a technique is ” practiced ” all reality is removed from the scenario by the overuse of protective gear. The students psychologically and unconciously rely on the gear. What care is there if the student is actually hit? There is no pain received from the blow, so there is no fear. How does this relate to “nutrition” some of you may be asking at this point? Easy – it relates to nutrition for the mind. If the mind understands that the body will not feel pain because the protective gear will disallow that feeling, if the mind understands that the body will not be touched when “point sparring ” because actual contact is disallowed, the mind suffers from lack of  “nutrition”. The mind comes to believe that  this practice ” is real ” when in fact it is not-at all. I have taught students that came from schools that teach in this manner. ” Black Belts ” that have never been truly hit. The first time they get hit they fold and drop. The mind just received a serious dose of nutrition as the body is registering pain from the hit just taken. Please understand that I am not advocating the use of un-necessary brutality in teaching. I am, however advocating realism. Practicing exercises that teach how to absorb a blow, practicing techniques in a realistic ( yet still controlled ) manner, sparring with moderate contact…these methods are vitamin nutrition for the mind. The body takes the hit and there is pain, yet the mind comes to understand after being on a steady nutritious diet, that pain is temporary, that the body can continue to function through it. In a real life dangerous encounter with an attacker one must be prepared to be hit. If ones reaction to being hit is to drop into a fetal position from experiencing real pain from a blow, one is doomed. If ones reaction to being hit is to acknowledge the pain of the hit and then engage the opponent with a ferocious counter strike, doom is now the realm of the opponent. The other part of this ” nutrition ” for the mind is meditation. Meditation feeds the mind by ” removing and organizing the clutter ” bringing us to a mental state of clarity, focus, and calm – an inner state that is reflected in our outer affect. Meditation is a super vitamin of nutrition for the mind. For the body, food is our source of  ” nutrition “. We should eat the best food we can. We should eat a well balanced diet and eliminate from our diet that which we know is terrible for us to consume. Know that there are two types of  ” Chi “…refined and coarse. Refined is taken in through the lungs through breathing ( ” Chi ” in Mandarin very literally means ” breath “, but is also translated as meaning ” ultimate ” as in the case of  Tai Chi Chuan which is translated as “Great Ultimate Fist ” ). Coarse Chi is taken in to the stomach through the food we consume. The higher the grade of food we consume, the higher the grade of Chi and the greater amount of Chi do we take in. One can receive near zero benefit from consuming a diet purchased at McDonalds and Krispy Kream. I do not mean to imply here that one must be a strict vegan purchasing only all organic produce. What I am implying is to learn what food is good for the body, what to eat and when. One should know what to eat before a heavy workout session and what to eat immediately after to receive the maximum benefit from both the pysical exercise performed and the ” nutrition ” consumed to best compliment all that pysical work. One should know what foods are best known to ward off sickness and disease and eat these, knowing of course these foods opposites which contribute to sickness and disease and to avoid them. ” Nutrition ” for the person who has chosen to follow the true path of the ” Scholar / Warrior ” consists of many diets. There is the obvious physical nutrition we receive through exercise ( which includes our training ), but there is also the nutrition we receive through the consuming of the foods that are the best for us. And then there is the most often neglected nutrition, that for the mind. That nutrition comes in the form of meditation and never ending self education i.e. continuing study of other subjects which interest us be it music, history, medicine, science…The true ” Scholar /Warrior ” neglects none of these areas of potential “nutrition”. Our path is one of constant examination, reflection, analysis, education and self-education…a path of constant self -improvement always leading us to achieve the status of  ” Tong Chi Ren ”  i.e. a Superior Person ( and that means leaving ego in its place !!! ). Our path is a journey across time and we must come to understand that this journey is not measured in days or accomplishments or things acquired both material and not ( such as “one more form” ) but in the never ending polishing of the that which is that which we are.

28
Aug
09

Some quick thoughts on the comments…

I would like to say a few things about the comments so far. As for the questioned posed by Steve concerning “warrior mindset” and the potential difference between the level of aggression in a style such as Shan Tung versus something like say,Pa Men…there is no difference. This is where the concept of  ” being ” really comes into play. Recall I have stated that ” as you run the form, the form runs you ”  and that ” when running an animal form, be the animal “. The Tiger explodes with ferocity in its attack on prey…this is its  ” nature “. The Preying Mantis will sit patiently in perfect stillness as it awaits its prey to enter into the Mantis’s range prior to the explosion of released speed used to suddenly overwhelm the prey…this is its  ” nature “. Pa Men uses softness to absorb and redirect the opponents attack taking the opponents energy directed at us away from him and then returning that energy coupled with our own energy back to him…this the  ” nature ” of Pa Men. So, whether a “form” is modeled on the ” nature ” of an animal or modeled on concepts of physics and geometry such as ” Classic Manner ” the “form” ( or more properly the ” style ” ) still has a ” Nature ” of it’s own. In the ” warrior mindset ” there is no difference between using any of these styles in combat. There are, quite simply, ultimately only ” technique “…a methodology. Regardless of the style, when we utilize the style in either ” Practice ” or in “Combat ” the  ” warrior mindset ” is the same. We are ” Being ” the style and the style is  ” Being ” us…the execution of our movements reflect the ” nature ” of the technique being expressed through us. The mind is still calm, focussed, clear, and poised like the open bow regardless of the technique being expressed. We are expressing the ” nature ” of the technique by ” Being” that which we are expressing and that which is expressing us. Thus, to the warrior, there is no difference between the extreme aggression of the Black Tiger or the water like principles of Pa Men. There is only the ” Nature ” of the technique  ” Being “. The attitude is the same in true practice or in combat. ” Be ” the technique, train until the technique ” Be ” you understanding on all levels that the mental and physical training has one ultimate aim…to destroy the opponent. I will return to this subject and give more thought concerning this at another point in time.

20
Aug
09

Thoughts from GM Cook

Just some thoughts on the comments so far. Good discussion with good points raised and good questions to push the discussion. Yes, I do relate speed, timing, focus, calmness,etc. as “spontaneous reaction to stimulous”. This concept arises from the ancient philosophy of “wei -wu- wei” or “thought-no-thought”  and “action from non-action” and “thing -no-thing”. Faced with an opponent that has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that their intention is to do us harm, our first “action from non-action” is to mentally put ourselves in a “warrior mindset”. That is, calm, focussed, relaxed, poised in readyness like a drawn bow. This mindset , largely achieved through a combination of training and meditation, is our first “spontaneous reaction to stimulous”. It too is done without concious thought…when presented with the situation of the opponent we enter the prepatory mindset with “no-thought”. We do this without thought as we are already and always “there”. ” There ” implies our normal state of acute awareness, also a result of training and meditation. What we are “being” is shifting from a “normal” level of awareness, to an extremely acute and focussed place of awareness, i.e. all of our focus on ” the little play” that is being played by the opponent and ourselves. In this mental place there is no action, there is no reaction, there simply is being in a place of ultimate immediacy. The opponent presents us with opportunity merely by his physical affect. Regardless of whether he is moving or standing still, opportunity is fully present. We can wait for him to move and then we counter and strike, or we do not wait and move first with our attack. Either movement should be fluid and seemless, a “spontaneous” movement that brings the confrontation to a swift and certain outcome in our favor. This “fluid and seemless” movement – an expression of concept demonstrated through the technique utilized – cannot be described as “block-counter-attack” nor “attack”. The fluidness and seemlessness, the ” oneness of the movement executed in the total present of the moment” eradicates any notion of separateness between “defense” and “offense”. Ultimately, there is no such difference, so in ultimate expression of technique there is no “defense / offense”, there is just the “isness” of the moment…we are in total and complete harmony with the opponent.  This concept leads one to understand that ultimately, there is no ” I ” there is no ” opponent “, there is just the being of the expression of concept through technique in the total present of the moment…” total being in complete isness “. Think on this and discuss. I will post comments when I approve them as events of the day permit.   Tzai-Jin…

19
Aug
09

Updates from GrandMaster Cook

Hello. Well, I think I’m getting a handle on this blogging stuff. I’ve spent some time going through the various pages of wordpress. It seems that I must monitor comments and approve them before the option to view comments is allowed by anyone visiting the blog. This does in a way protect me from someone who does not even know me or has ever met me to claim to know me or to have been a student or to do such a thing as use profanity in their comment ( anyone doing so will be deleted by me). So, I will get in the habit of checking for comments each morning and approving them. Good to see what was said so far on my first topic. You guys can now all read what has been said and continue to comment if you choose. You too must check in often to see the posted comments. To the Kendo practitioner – welcome. I shall say this to you…whether utilizing a weapon or utilizing empty hands, the concepts of Speed and Timing, separately or versus apply. All is the same.

15
Aug
09

Good day from Grandmaster Cook

Hello to all fellow martial artists. This is my first post on my new blog. What I would like this thing to be is more of a discussion forum on Kung fu and other martial arts. I would like to “throw out a topic”  relating to the martial arts, give some of my thoughts on the subject, then leave the blog open for discussion. My first subject is speed versus timing. Speed and timing are two very different things,especially in Kung Fu or any other martial art. To be fast is great, but one must always keep in mind that “fast” is just an idea. Speed must be relative to the opponent. This is Timing. I may move a block slow or fast, yet if it arrives in time to block or redirect the strike being thrown at me my movement has been successful. I may move a block into position with less speed if I see the strike coming early because the opponent “gave himself away”  by too obviously telegraphing his attack. I may move a block into postion with great speed if the opponent is very tricky and I only see his well disguised attack at the last possible moment. In both instances Timing is what allows success. Think on this concept. Remember always though that the best block there is is to not be there. This applies to much beyond the physical.




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