The Water Stance
December 6th, 2010
Golden Harmony Kung Fu, Virginia
Blog #1 – Sifu Gordon Wicks
The open road, the sun rising behind us, stretched south west before us. Brian Montgomery (5th year student) and I drove towards what would be an exceptional weekend of martial arts unity, history and training. The International Association of Independent Karate Schools of America held their 16th Annual Training Seminar in Franklin, Tennessee. With Honoured Guest Teacher Grand Master Rob Moses as the center focus of the event, Golden Harmony was proud to be representing Kung Fu and our family.
The drive journey brought us through the southern Virginia, right into the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Knoxville, the home of the Volunteers, and around Nashville, the music capital of the South. Franklin, Tennessee is a warm, small town outside of Nashville that has been ranked the #1 small town in America to live, three times in the last ten years! With perfect blue skies and a warm breeze, we were warmly greeted by Master Fritz (United Martial Arts), our host, Master Chapman, Sensei Burk (Traditional American Karate and founder of IKSA) and our own Grand Master Rob Moses (founder of Tai Shan Tong Long).
After a quick meet and greet, we headed to the hotel for a brief discussion with Master Burk on the history of Karate, Tae kwon do and Aikido in the United States. A fascinating man, Master Burk has worked for Black Belt Magazine for thirty years, researching, writing and editing articles on martial arts. Then it was off to train with SiGong at the black belt class.
Mater Chapman holds classes at the YMCA in Franklin. This facility is unlike anything I have seen before in a Y. The complex has soccer fields, a pool, sauna, work out gym, a giant gymnasium (where we would be spending most of our time), indoor running track, heavy bags, youth center, kindergarten, everything. The list goes on, but I digress. After signing in, we were escorted upstairs to a mind/body room, and an incredible lecture on the geometry of movement.
SiGong Rob Moses has be developing, through out his entire martial arts career, methods to identify, study and apply the physics of the human form. The interactive lecture was centered on the use of the Ying Yang symbol as a 2 dimensional diagram of the natural characteristics of the body in motion. As Grand Master said, “You are all black belts here, with an incredible vocabulary. This is how you can analyze your movements within space and time, and create a kinetic flow of energy from multiple centers within the body”. Wow, seems heavy, but with the playful analogies and physical demonstrations by Grand Master, the concepts were quite clear. At the root of these meditation movements, was what SiGong called a “Water Stance”.
The use of buoyancy within your hips, knees and ankles; sinking energy gives one the feel of being rooted in the Earth while constantly shifting between emptiness and fullness. This allows the body to be mobile and agile while remaining rooted and stable, again the Yin and Yang concepts working in harmony with one another. The class progressed into moving this fluidity into the torso, arms and hands, using the eight directions to cast the energy (Fa Jing), extending out beyond our physical reach or through our imagined targets through proper alignment of our bones, head and vision. By projecting, for example, outwards on a downward movement (or strike) such as a vertical chop, one is able to increase power and extend the range of the circle. Looking downward would result in a shortening of the projection and limit its force, and compromise postural alignment of the spinal column.
Needless to say, this several hour introduction into the genius of SiGong’s concepts was a symbol in itself of the things to come over the course of the weekend.
After the class, the black belts were invited to Master Chapman’s home, for a southern country meal, prepared by his lovely wife. Three days of preparation provided us with a meal to remember; cornbread, turnip greens and vinegar, coleslaw, white bean stewed with pork belly, fried chicken, and a table of assorted southern pies. A gracious and joyful host, Mrs. Chapman opened her home, opened our hearts and filled our stomachs! During the meal, various martial artists from around the country sat with Grand Master and picked his brain as they cleaned their plates. Si Gong was happy to elaborate on his concepts and share his insight into martial movement.
After the dinner, the group split, some heading home to get a good night’s rest for the coming day, while we branched off in the yard, getting into practice with other martial artists. Brian was off with Master Cagle (Combat Arnis) working with the short sticks while I joined a young student of Master Chapman and a few of Master Fritzes’ top students, working with our shadows on the lawn cast by the house’s warm glow. After a brief presentation of a gift from Golden Harmony to Master Chapman, we were off with Grand Master back to the hotel for a late night of discussion and more light practice.
Our talks that night included candid histories of Master Burk’s and Grand Master Moses’ martial arts careers. We talked about the founding of the IKSA, Grand Master’s years with Dr. Kam Yuen and the development of Tai Shan, and the masters relationships with the late great David Carradine. Two of Master Burks students stayed up with us for a while and we cross-trained our styles, working on Kung-Fu applications within their Traditional American Karate forms.
The next day opened with Grand Master’s class, a warm up utilizing Yang style Tai Ji principles with free movement. Dubbed the ‘Snowman’ drills, the exercises consisted of creating spheres within the body, accentuating roundness and again buoyancy in the water stance. Creating a sense of roundness (reflecting on how a snowman is a structure of spheres piled up on one another, the largest being at the base), we began to move around, ‘holding’ a bubble of water in our arms (empty concept) and ‘sloshing it about. The practice created an opportunity to feel water weight, and gravitational and centrifugal forces; shifting constantly between emptiness and fullness. The class ended with an exercise of projection by throwing an imaginary ball (snowball) like a baseball pitch in ultra slow motion. With high knee lifts and a long extended follow-through, the practice tried our balance, and challenged us to breathe through our movements, and to create linkage through the entire body.
The day continued with a two-man fighting form by Master Burk. The form was a good introduction in Karate posture and application. It was fascinating for me to work with a student of another style, practicing a completely different type of martial art, the three styles working as one! An incredible sense of unity filled the gym. After Master Burks class it was Master Fritz’s turn. His class would be a lesson in Combat Tai Ji Chuan and pressure point strikes.
Master Fritz is from Wisconsin, a race car driver, motorcycle enthusiasts and a master of deep understanding in pressure point striking. We practiced some of the parrying and trapping techniques to country western music, getting into the flow and natural rhythm of the techniques. Master used me several times to demonstrate pressure point attacks with multiple meridian points. Explaining the point’s locations, names, and acute affects, were quite interesting and painful! Master Fritz is a kindred spirit, not surprisingly, as he has been a good friend of Grand Master Rob Moses for a decade. His emphasis on love and the sheer enjoyment of movement overshadowed the deadliness and severity of his pressure point techniques.
The seminar broke for the lunch midday. Brian and I ate quickly and in Golden Harmony fashion, took the extra time to practice some of our own skill sets. We worked Siu Lim Tong Long, in the open gymnasium. The other schools seemed enthralled with the unique and elaborate movements of our mantis style, and quite a few people approached us afterwards with questions and compliments on the complexity and skill of our form.
After the break, Master Cagle (Combat Arnis), from Asheville, North Carolina, taught the weapons class. With 36 years in the martial arts, the master’s skill and vocabulary were undeniable. We worked with partners, learning the six strikes (the beginning of our 14 strikes) with their blocks and counters. This drill is exceptional and is now being adopted into the Golden Harmony Virginia, stick drill repertoire. The drill included, blocking, striking, trapping and peeling (disarming), with single stick vs. single stick.
Master Chapman held a sparring class, mid afternoon. Being an expert of organization, the master held the class in strict format with a constancy and intensity well appreciated by those participating. I personally spent the hour, working the heavy bag, and Brian sitting and talking with Grand Master Rob Moses.
Finally, Grand Master was up again, to teach the closing class. He had taught a children’s class during the day, and now all of the participants were back in the main training hall for his class. Tam Toi (Springing Legs) was the final topic! Spending the entire hour on just the first combo, gave us all a unique insight into Grand Master’s complete comprehension of the Shaolin system. We also practiced different variations of the combo, with open hands and worked on various speeds and focal points. Grand Master’s oral history of the Shaolin System and Tao Mo gave a very real and practical sense to the near mythical story of the founding of our Tradition.
The closing ceremonies consisted of a few awards, certificates, speeches from the Masters, and a fine meal provided by a local Italian restaurant. A SOKE Award was granted to Master James (United Scorpion Karate), a plaque of acknowledgement was given to Master Burk for his 40 years in the martial arts, Master Fritz for his 35 years and a few other amazing recognitions. Mrs. Chapman was also awarded in recognition of her 16 years of devoted hospitality to the masters. Grand Master Rob Moses held an emotional and insightful speech of his trip to China and the Shaolin Temple with David Carradine. The memories brought tears to the Masters eyes, and my own, but were quickly subdued in typical Rob Moses fashion with a cleansing breathe and a joke! All in all it was an incredible and unique experience that ended with all of us piling into the local bar and having a few celebratory drinks, passing of business cards and the making of future plans of working together.
By remaining fluid, adaptable, open minded, and strong hearted, Golden Harmony continues to reach out, connect with and form lasting bonds with the martial arts community at home and abroad. The common threads of hard work, enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge of self ties all of us together in Unity. We can learn from the Water Stance, with its principles that are applicable to all aspects of our life and strengthen our impact on the martial arts community and the world as a whole. Peace and Blessings to the Masters all present at the seminar, our Grand Master Rob Moses, and our SiFu Rupert Harvey and to you, all the students of the Way of Truth.
SiFu Gordon Wicks
Golden Harmony, Virginia Branch