The best reason for traditional martial artists to have a heavy requirement of material is to compound the idea and experience that ANY movement and ANYTHING can become a weapon or technique – a long tail way to show that forms become formless. Even more important, is that it provides a template to dabble in for a lifetime without boring the student to death by practicing the same 10 techniques for 50 years – it CAN be art for arts sake! It is not some weird punishment to test your unwavering commitment, or a pecking order that people get wrapped up in… It is a life long living art for you to enjoy and play around with! How beautiful is that?
However, the bad happens when the “broad” approach, knocks “depth” to the side entirely. There should always be a base of material in which the student should go “deep”. In my curriculum, that is all of the Lower and Intermediate level + Taiji & Xing Yi. That’s it. And even that is pushing the limits. Everything else is art for arts sake to keep you inspired on a healthy, positive, and interesting path well into old age while still building off the basics in new ways. Swinging a sword is so much better than playing bingo at the old folks home, amiright?
We cannot ignore “depth”, it’s important to pull out the guts and heart of the training beyond the superficial memorization most people get hung up on… But, we cannot also spend 3 years in a commercial setting doing two static postures. The only time this should be allowed is for the internal arts, which are an entirely different practice. These SHOULD be trained posture-by-posture with precision. Otherwise, when it comes to normal fighting and combat lessons, I cannot require you clean my bathroom for 1 year before I show you 1 punch. It is not like the old stories. Why? Because I guarantee students will drop from boredom, rent will not get paid, and then I get dinged with a bad reviews or something. They will just go to the MMA gym down the street, learn to punch on day 1, and assume traditional arts are worthless. Now, I know some readers will say “HEY! I am not like that, I am the one exception wanting the real hardcore shit! Lets spend 5 years doing just 1 form!” Grasshopper. I have heard that from over 1,000+ people. It sounds great, but the process itself will likely weed you out eventually with the lot. Everyone says that, few will do that – with me, or without me. We all have to work, pay the rent, go to school, manage family… Depth in a commercial class setting is not the way. Simply learn the methods, learn the forms & traditions, condition hard, and learn basic fighting in class in class, so you CAN go toe-to-toe with the MMA gym, or knock out the black belt kung fu guy up the street. Otherwise, the real depth that these arts beautifully hide, must be a self-serve process.
Alas, this is where the blog comes in! Instead of me cramming minutia down throats in class and sucking up your paid-for-recreation time with micro-movement snooze fests; readers can learn the form, move on, and if they want to go deep (or not)… Can simply DIY – Do. It. Yourself. That way, the burden of being good, or understanding a form, is where it should always be… On the students shoulders. I can open the door, you must continuously walk through it. Everyone has the same opportunity. (Or just contact me and I will be more than happy to give more : )
Here is DEPTH for Fei Hu (Flying Tiger):
After memorizing the basic form, you can do this for years on end and feel like you are only scratching the surface – (cat pun!):
Move your feet: Make every bow & cat stance transition seamlessly with 7-star stepping. Not the simple Muay Thai “split”, I am talking about the full-true 7 Star Step as I present it. “Stances” were never meant to be static as an end-all posture that just plants you to the ground like an anvil. They were actual live steps designed for the battlefield! Footwork is the most important part of fighting and warfare marching! Bring those static stances to life by training the form with 7 star steps. The form will double in cardio, and the archaic idea of stances will become actual real, usable, footwork – totally unique to kung fu. Tiger should have low, gaping footwork – as if wading deeply in a swamp. Fei Hu is designed to imply footwork through swamp, jungle, or marsh terrain. Your next tiger form will imply the same footwork, but with mountainous, bouldering and rocky, terrain. Also, practice these steps shoulder-to-shoulder with friends to see if you can perform them with range and as if being in rank and file.
Add blades: This form is paired with the Tiger Hook Swords and/or Bagh Nakh. You will notice the hook swords replicate EXACTLY what the empty hand movements do, something only achievable with this particular sword – just on a larger scale since you have reach. The Tiger Hook Swords are for anti-calvary units. To take down people on horse back (think of a tiger taking down an animal – claws reach, sink, hook, pull). The bagh nakh were used for hand-to-hand combat, assassination, and were also used as anti-rape weapons at one point (since they can be concealed and disguised as a simple ring. They can be concealed with blades in, or flipped around and used like bladed-brass-knuckles. Finally, depending on your sword design; you can pair a sword in the same hand as the bagh nakh for double-the-fun. Disclaimer: Use unsharpened to practice. Bagh Nakh are illegal and not made anymore aside as antique collectables.
Got that down? Now, switch hands and learn to use the sword in your left hand.
Evolve: Again, this is not LARP’ing, where we pretend and dance around like we are silly tigers from the latest rendition of “Cats: The Musical”. Every posture in the animal forms can be an opportunity to mediate and BUILD an emotional and mental attribute. Think Buddhist imagery meditation, but super-charged. Pick 1-2 postures from the form and get the PERFECT posture (low stance, gripping hands, etc.), it should be a grueling task to hold this posture for even 1-minute! Once you are in the posture, hold it as long as possible and mentally bring in the attributes of the tiger – courage, stoic, regal, etc. Meditate in that excruciating posture on just those attributes. Mentally visualize, and pull them into your meditation as if you are absorbing these attributes. Think of situations in your life that maybe needed more of this at the time, and burn those attributes into mental association with it… Then do the form. And repeat. The hard-ass work you are doing in that posture hold, as your body screams – that is what will eventually burn these “tiger” attributes into you with a far more intense result than the standard self-help book-seated meditation stuff. Do this regularly, and you will see your confidence, courage, etc. Begin to rise from within! Then, balance it out with Crane in the same type of practice. (This is not a nei gong or energetic focus here… Refer to Taiji/Xing Yi for that)
Weapons work: Work on blade withdrawal and position. It is the most important thing combined with speed and distance – which must be done with a 7 star step. Layer on Misalignment on the 22.5 degree angles and weight distribution to help push the sword through armor or something massive like a horse. A simple arm slash alone would not achieve this. This is incredibly specific, and will take months on end to get micro movements. Spinning or waving the swords in fancy spins is absolutely not the goal here, and has no real combat value – sorry!
Qin Na: As an empty hand form, every move is essentially a Qin Na. I will give a ton of these in classes, but you have to train it. Try every single one on a partner from standing position and on the ground. Figure out how to enter, and then the set up of strikes you will need to use in order to execute it while manipulating the opponent to submission. Practice reflex and fast grabs on drills such as my “thumb-in-eye-socket practice drill”. Find where the muscles can be separated and feel how to dig finger in, such as the obvious bicep/tricep separation and the thigh separation.
Condition: Use sand bags to dive fingers into mung beans for grip strength and finger conditioning. Go bouldering and get some agility. Tiger squats with weight vests. Run in the ocean at knee depth. Pop from kneeling position to bow stance with resistance. Finger tip push ups on the FIRST knuckles (do not let the fingers lock out). Finger tip pull ups. Tiger thrust kicks (teeps), iron palm/body, all other normal conditioning…You get the idea.
Okay, that alone can consume at least 1-2 years of non-stop solid training if you are looking to be honest and get some real results on all the different levels. I love this form! For those not here in SF, this is one of the first forms learned and is also detailed in the manual/book out on Amazon. I hope you all enjoy it as well!