Thursday, October 15, 2009

Founder’s Day 2009 in Arlington, TX

A couple of weeks ago, I drove with a friend to Arlington, TX for a martial arts event called Founder’s Day. We had a formal ceremony Friday night (Oct. 2), followed by kung fu training Saturday and Sunday in a principle called The Five Circles.

Founder’s Day celebrates the birthday of Lama Zurdwang, a Tibetan shaman who founded a system of martial arts and health practices about 430 years ago that today is known as Daoqiquan (Dow-chee-chwan). Lama Zurdwang’s original principles were passed on to the Li family of China, who used them to become a formidable bodyguard clan. Over the ensuing centuries, the Li family continually applied Lama Zurdwang’s principles to meet the challenges of the times, until the last practicing Li descendant immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s and began to teach the system to an American boy in his back yard in Texas. That American boy grew up to become Dr. John Painter, who today is the Daoqiquan system’s formal lineage holder and teaches it at his Arlington school called The Gompa.

Modern Daoqiquan includes internal martial arts (tai chi, bagua, xing yi), external martial arts (animal style kung fu), meditation and health practices (qigong forms), firearms techniques, and more. It is truly daunting to think of it all at once! I only study the bagua part, whose full name is Jiulong Baguazhang, or “Nine Dragon” Baguazhang. Bagua can be thought of as a cousin of tai chi that specializes in circular motion.

Founder’s Day always begins with a Friday night ceremony. There is seated meditation, a lecture on Daoqiquan’s history, and a “bitter tea” ceremony. Daoqiquan training follows, Saturday and Sunday.

This year’s training was on the Five Circles, one of Lama Zurdwang’s original principles. The Five Circles are five basic ways to move. Imagine reaching your right arm ahead and to the left at 45 degrees. It does not just leap straight out, but it traces a great circle, standing vertically in the air like a wheel. Reaching out, the arm traces over the top of the circle, and it returns under the bottom of the circle. This is Circle Over. The other four are Circle Under, Circle Across, Circle Up, and Circle Down.

But these circles are not about the arm; your whole body moves (turns) to power and support the arm. You can forget the arm entirely, letting it hang at your side and using your shoulder. You can forget the shoulder and use the center of your body, etc. It is an extremely simple concept that is very difficult to do properly. However, done properly, the whole-body technique imbues these circles with incredible power that has to be seen (preferably, felt, as you are tossed through the air!) to be appreciated. Essentially, the muscles of your legs and torso are far more powerful than your arms, even if you have big arms. When all of those muscles work in concert, they give these techniques far more power than they “ought” to have.

For me, the weekend validated my last few months of home training and showed me what I need to do to make more progress. My circles are more “connected” than ever from the arms to the power of the legs and the turning of the waist. However, since I rarely have the opportunity to train with a partner (the closest fellow student is over two hours away), I am not yet able to use this power dynamically with all the variables that appear when I am facing another person. To make more progress, I need to train more with other people and make more creative use of training dummies (heavy bags, swinging poles, etc.).

Until then, should the need arise, at least I have arm muscles!

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