The Chinese Internal Arts
issue 29 Autumn 2000
*** this issue has been archived off ***
( only selected articles remain)
Inside This Issue
* Foreword
* Regular events
* Master Luo
* Beijing 2000
* Mike Sigman's Seminar review by Simon Geschwindt

Saying of the month:

When people of great wisdom hear the Truth, they diligently practice it;
When people of moderate wisdom hear the Truth, they practice it now and then;
When people of lesser wisdom hear the Truth, they laugh at it;
If there were no laughter, there would be no Truth.
-- Lao Tse

Master Luo's Visit to Crowthorne

In June we had a visit from Master Luo Dexiu but due to pressures of time, the report didn't get into the last issue.

The workshop's theme was Principles of Internal Power in Taijiquan and their use in applications. As in his previous workshops, everyone was inspired by Master Luo's energy and skill and thus everyone practised with great enthusiasm. As a result of enthusiastic practice of Press (Ji), one of the students (Rob) developed a nice bruise, the size of a tennis ball, on his upper arm. Unfortunately our photographer didn't think of taking a picture. So here are just a couple of pictures that were taken.


Beijing 2000

Our trip to Beijing was very successful (as usual). We trained again with Master Du Xianming (Chen Taijiquan) and Master Yao Chengguang (Yiquan). Master Du was very pleased with our efforts to raise funds for his wife's wheelchair, and to express his gratitude and contribute to our collective development, he has given us a set of silk reeling and Qigong exercises that he would like us to share with all students. We have already started the process in the classes and will give out a leaflet that we have prepared containing a summary of the exercises (as a memory aid). We have provisionally set the time for Master Yao's UK visit for next April. We plan to have two kinds of seminars. One set will be mainly for health development, and one geared more towards martial art development, including strength testing, strength release and pushing hands. If there is interest, we can also have separate workshops on combat applications. Master Yao is expert in all of these areas!

Below are some pictures from our training.

Training with Master Du

Yiquan training in the park.Master Yao and Eva

Mike Sigman's Seminar review
by Simon Geschwindt

Treffgarne, 22 November 2000: 'Obscurantism' is a strange and formidable-looking word describing the use of strange, formidable language to hide knowledge from others. Obscurantism is a hallmark of most oriental martial arts. They are shrouded in mysticism and unintelligible jargon because, either their masters want to protect their knowledge, or the disciples want to hide the fact that they haven't understood it.

The martial arts have this in common with medicine. You 'crack your shin' playing football; by the time you reach hospital you've got a 'fracture of the tibia'. The medical profession, there to save lives and to heal, protects its authority and importance with walls of technical jargon. In martial arts, the stakes can be even higher - knowledge is about the power to kill and maim. Obscurantism traditionally prevents such dangerous knowledge from leaking to those who could turn it against you.

US 'internal strength' instructor, Mike Sigman, is not only a martial artist; he's also a footballer. During his recent CIAA weekend seminar in Reading, he told us he'd bruised a knee during a game. He didn't tell us he'd suffered a 'lesion to the patella'; simply 'a bruised knee' - something we could all understand. Mike explained in equally simple terms about the body's structure, how to create a 'ground path', and how to improve strength by moving from the body's centre or the abdomen. There was no reference to dragons or tigers. It is so much easier to be taught in plain English using western terminology - a style which reflects Karel and Eva's own policy of cutting through esoteric concepts and arcane language.

This is not to deny the efficacy of metaphor in aiding visualisation and meditation, but to criticise its role in obscurantism. The same applies to foreign and jargon words. These are essential where they replace laborious description, but only where they are clearly understood - not where they serve merely to throw a smokescreen over understanding.

Apart from 'plain talking', Mike's other great strength is distillation. He has succeeded in concentrating a huge number of elements from various martial arts into a few straightforward exercises, for which he asserts plain, straightforward aims and objectives. For example, he has boiled down an awful lot of moves into one simple 'Universal Exercise'. This involves pressing down and lifting up, 'opening' and 'closing' - in Tai Chi terms - and serves to introduce 'reverse breathing'. Each time you press down (exhaling and 'closing'), the lower back is relaxed and bowed slightly out; each time you rise (inhaling and 'opening'), the un-bowing of the back and the drawing in of the abdomen contribute to the upward force.

During the seminar the Universal Exercise was supplemented by 'repulse monkey' and 'cloud hands' with constant emphasis on movement from the abdomen. Personally, I found Karel's 'body roll' - a variation of 'silk reeling' - a better substitute for 'cloud hands'. The 'body roll' seems to put more emphasis on the down and up movement of the abdomen (Dantian).

Mike has also concentrated many of the elements of most Tai Chi forms into a simple movement comprising push forward, press down, pull back, lift up - excellent for those with busy schedules. He stresses that all supplemental exercises must be carried out from the waist with the body used as a unit, and with relaxation and softness to allow development of whole-body muscle sets. "High repetition and low effort are the key, and perseverance is important," Mike emphasises.

He says one of the best exercises for the legs is a series of side-to-side dips, going down on one leg and then the other. Personally, I found that this too could be boiled down by simply doing the Universal Exercise on one leg. But, however you do it, "Use common sense in your progress, because injuries can be harmful and slow down your progress," he warns.

Mike's excellent seminar answered a lot of questions for me, and confirmed one or two of my own ideas (which is always nice). The most important of these was the sense that many of the fundamental aspects of the internal martial arts can be simplified; and that much of their obscurity may be due to difficulties in translation from the Chinese, particularly where the original has been couched in oblique metaphor for the sake of preserving it from non-initiates.

However, I would like to offer a couple of points of (hopefully constructive) criticism.

First, although Mike solicits questions, I had the impression that he sometimes doesn't seem to see the point of them, and dismisses them too easily. Secondly, he commented that the qinna exercises were "just games". In which case, why not leave them out? Even before he made that comment, I had the feeling that the Qinna was padding. I would have welcomed simply more of what he had given us previously - i.e., development of internal strength through his basic movements, together with pushing hands, and more time for his excellent exposition of fa jing explosive energy.

Finally - martial arts instructors often get their laughs at others' expense - they need their 'fall guys', figuratively as well as literally. With Mike there was none of that. His reputation as a man of formidable powers preceded him. Yet, he was very gentle with us. However, there was perhaps one relatively innocent exception - he couldn't resist teasing us with 'SPD'.

This is a curious concept. SDP (Self-Perception Disorder) is Mike's term for the inability to accurately perceive one's posture or movement. One example is the conviction that one is moving from the abdomen, and that the arms are still - that they're only moved from the centre, a bit like the vanes of a windmill - whereas, the harsh reality is that the abdomen stays stock still, and the arms flail around like tentacles.

The problem with Self Perception Disorder is that it can seem to be at everyone's expense except those who have got it. By definition, someone who has SPD will be unable to perceive that fact. Whereas anyone lacking in confidence might - probably erroneously - believe the jibe was aimed at them, without logically leaping to the conclusion that, if they think they've got it, they can't possibly have. I did notice one or two people trying to catch a reflection of themselves to check just in case, and some critically eyeing others. Mike's description of SPD got a few chuckles. And, by martial arts standards, this was just good-natured teasing.

My minor criticisms are mere pebbles on an entire beach of precious gems (to put it obscurely). I enjoyed the seminar immensely, and am very much looking forward to the next.