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Wind and the White Crane: Hidden Hand Attacks.

I have used lockdown as a chance to complete a number of projects. I have also done a lot of reading on a wide variety of topics. This included finishing some books I had stalled on, and looking at some others I had just never got around to giving my full attention to. In the latter category were a number of books on Ninjitsu, including some by Stephen Hayes. Books on this topic often have a lot of chaff in with the wheat, although to be fair, that is true of many martial arts books written in the 80s, if not in general!
One of the sections that interested me was that on stances, the stance associated with the element “wind” in particular.
As I have discussed in my own books, I feel “stance” and most of its English alternatives is an unsatisfactory term. It is a transitional rather than stationary configuration. Hayes likens them to snapshots or frames from a film rather than being stationary. Most of us, even many high-grade martial artists, have a relatively shallow immersion in the art. Stances are an important training aid but it is easy to become diverted by the details rather than passing through to master the underlying concepts. Interestingly the Japanese term “kamae” translates as “pose” or “posture”, but also as “base”. Stances are often the foundation for learning.
From Stephen Hayes Ninja Vol.1:
“The wind level of consciousness is characterized by the receiving posture, or hira no kamae. The receiving posture couples a freely moving base and the power to harmonize the body with the intentions of an attacker. The feet are placed hip-width apart and carry the body weight evenly. The knees are flexed slightly more than in the natural posture, creating a feeling of balance in the hips similar to that experienced just before sitting down on a chair. The back is straight, in a natural manner, and the shoulders are relaxed. The arms extend outstretched to the sides with the hands open, and the eyes gaze forward in soft focus, taking in the whole picture without limiting the concentration to one single point.
The body should have an extremely light, almost floating feel to it. Epitomizing some concepts that are the opposite of those embodied in the shizen earth pose, the wind-level hira no kamae prepares the fighter for adapting to and going with the attacking moves of the enemy. This adaptive sensitivity is centered in the chest behind the breastbone. The evenly distributed balance facilitates quick and easy movement in any direction in response to the attacker’s intentions. The outstretched arms have the potential of becoming tools to carry out punches, strikes, deflections, blocks, throws and locks, as well as acting as distractions and calming techniques.
In self-protection situations, the hira posture is used to handle attackers in a way that subdues them without injury, if possible. The pose itself is nonthreatening, and it appears to be an attempt to fend off an attack or to reassure an adversary that there is no hostile intention, as upraised open hands traditionally symbolize surrender or benediction. From the hira no kamae, footwork proceeds with circular or straight- line movements, as appropriate for the specific circumstances. The arms are used to entangle the adversary with spiraling actions or intercept the adversary with direct advances.”
Another book on Taijutsu (by Charles Daniels, taught by the same sensei as Hayes, Masaaki Hatsumi) shows a posture it calls “hoe no kamae”. While this uses an L stance and raised forearms, I suspect the application is similar.
Those of you wise enough to have invested in a copy of Crash Combat or Attack, Avoid, Survive (thank you!) will know I place considerable emphasis on evasion rather than parrying or blocking. The basis of this is the ginga movement from Capoeira. Could the wind kamae be an alternative or complimentary evasion technique to ginga?
Sadly, I do not currently have much room to dance around, so I cannot experiment much with movement and evasive moves in hira no kamae. Some observations:
On its own, hira no kamae and hoe no kamae look like the fighter is just standing there saying “Go on dude, hit me!”. This is one of the symptoms of regarding a stance as static, amplified by still photography. In practice, this posture will be used to allow fast body turns. The outstretched arms contribute to maintaining balance. Study the body twist used in the photos below. Hira no kamae is not used, but it could have been passed through if the defender had thrown up his arms for stability. Both of my martial arts titles explain how to use quick evasive turns similar to that shown. You will find these in the bayonet and knife sections, as well as elsewhere in the text.
Hira no kamae may have reminded some of you of the white crane-inspired movements used in some styles of Kung Fu and Karate. Not surprisingly, white crane styles often put a considerable emphasis on evasion.
The extended lead arm can be used to parry attacks that cannot be fully avoided. Brought up under the attacker’s armpit and we have the Tai Chi technique of “diagonal flying”. This is effectively the same principle as using a straight-arm Karate parry against a foe’s torso and breaking their balance.
Hayes’ books often show defensive strikes made against the attacking limb, including from hira no kamae. This is also a tactic favoured by many white crane styles.
The wind posture is likely to place a defender side on to an attacker. As described above, the lead hand may be used for an assortment of parries and strikes. The latter include finger jabs to the face and clawing actions. The rear hand has the advantage that is has a considerable distance in which to generate power, and that it is effectively hidden from the attacker’s view. This is the equivalent of the “tail” position used with swords and other weapons. The foe has no idea from what direction a rear hand attack may come, and the rotation of the waist can create power and velocity.
One option is to adopt a side-on horse stance as the forward arm parries. The rear hand then executes a classic reverse punch, the hips twisting through ninety degrees to transition into forward stance. Hook punches are another useful technique for an enemy you are side on to.
In Complete Wing Chun (Vol.2) the author discusses Pak Hok Pai, a white crane style with several techniques suited to attacking an opponent to the side. In best Batman tradition, two of these are called “pow” and “kup”. Pow chui has been described as a straight uppercut employed with a semicircular body motion. I like to think of it as a “long uppercut”, although technically it is more of a long shovel-hook. Targets include the testicles, kidneys or throat. Kup/ cup chui is a downwards, overhead strike that can be targeted at the soft muscles of a kicking leg or the forearm, biceps or triceps of an attacking or guarding arm. The temple, nose or top of the head can also be targeted with kup. Like the corkscrew hook described in Attack, Avoid, Survive, a kup can be used to reach over and around a guard. The difference is that the kup typically comes from the rear hand while the corkscrew starts as a lead jab.
A more horizontal motion, intermediate between pow and kup can be used to throw a lateral, circular strike (a “roundhouse punch”, perhaps?), more open and straighter-armed than a hook. While this has elements of being a “haymaker”, many of the standard objections do not apply if correct tactics and a hidden hand posture is used. The back and kidneys or below the guard are the favoured target areas. An upward angled or horizontal strike can be applied to the area of the sixth to tenth ribs: above the floating ribs and below the level of the lower tip of the sternum. This is likely to affect the lungs. All these punches are powered by waist/hip rotation and are most effective with a relaxed, easily accelerated arm.
Kup and pow are both performed using the second knuckle of the fingers as the striking surface. These are the knuckles that would make contact if you were knocking on a door. Some styles call this a “leopard fist”. Attack, Avoid, Survive showed a related technique, the half-fist, used to attack soft, narrow targets such as between the ribs. The thumb is often pressed against the side of the fingers, rather than being clamped across them as with a conventional fist. Rear hand attacks can also utilize palm-strikes, chops and hammer-fist strikes.
In “How To Use Tai Chi as a Fighting Art” Erle Montaigue describes the Stork Spreads Wings Punch, another potential rear hand attack. The “Stork Spreads Wings” posture is often translated as “white crane…”:
“This punch is one of the most powerful punches from any martial art. It is totally centrifugal and quite fast considering its distance…This is one of only three punches in T’ai Chi that uses the first two knuckles, in T’ai Chi we use the knuckles that most suit the position of the palm upon impact otherwise we use extra muscles to hold the palm into position and there-by lessen its impact…If you block with the right fist across to the left against a left face attack with the left palm underneath it, … the left palm then takes over the block while the right fist is thrown out at the target with the turning of the waist…Your left palm looks after the left fist while your right fist circles back up in a centrifugal punch to his left temple”
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Phillosoph

Cross Stepping Post: Part Three

Some time ago I started what was intended to be a series of posts on the “Cross Stepping Post”. Part One introduced two of the movements and the intention was to let the reader try these out for a couple of weeks before covering the thing as a whole. Part Two gave some advice on learning part one. As with most of my plans, real life intervened and a year has gone by! Here is part three, the full sequence. (or rather, one side of it!) 
For part three we will only consider the footwork, which is the essence of the thing. There are some hand movements that can be added but it is better to concentrate on your footwork, balance and co-ordination for now.

Begin with your right foot slightly advanced and your left foot angled out. Your spine should be straight, your belly and bum pulled in. Your knees are slightly bent, your shoulders are relaxed and your arms hang down by your sides. Try not to look down at your feet. If you have some familiarity with Tai Chi or other soft or internal martial arts these conditions will be familiar. If you are not familiar with this body condition consult the Tai Chi section of my book or other good works on the subject.
Still with your feet in the starting position it should be possible to lift your right foot from the ground without noticeably shifting your weight. If you are new to this you probably cannot do this. This is one of the objectives you will aim for.
For the second step you raise your right foot and place it behind your left. Your calves should brush or touch. The right foot is raised “flat”, without the heel or toes lifting first. It is placed flat behind the left. This will take practice, so persevere.
For the third stage the left foot is raised and the heel passes down along the inside of the right foot. As the left heel passes the right heel the left foot straightens up. The left foot is brought forwards in a sort of sweeping action and is placed on the ground. The final foot position is a mirror of the start position. You should have maintained your balance throughout this sequence. The chances are you did not, but this will improve with practice.
For the fourth part the left foot is raised and placed down ahead of the right. The lead leg will touch the rear knee. Note that for the previous steps the forward foot has been used. The right/ forward foot is stepped back. The left foot is now the forward foot and is moved in the next two steps.
The next step involves the rear foot, which in this case is the right.

The rear/ right foot makes a semi-circular step forward. Again, lift the entire sole rather than the toes or heel. Place the entire sole down. This move returns you to the start position with your right foot advanced, although you may have changed location slightly.
The next step is the “transition” step. This will take you from a right forward stance to a left forward stance. The action is the same as the fourth step, but in this instance the right foot steps before the left. The rear foot steps forward so that you are back in the starting position, but this time with the left foot forward. You now repeat the sequence on the other side. You left foot steps behind the right. The right then withdraws and advances etc.
Here is the sequence as a single image you can print or load onto your phone.

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Phillosoph

Cross Stepping Post: Part Two

 

It occurs to me this morning that the previous post on “the Post” needs a little more information. Some of you reading that post will not be familiar with Tai chi, Bagua or have read the relevant parts of my book. If you are only familiar with hard, external interpretations of martial arts you may find the seemingly simple movements of the Cross Stepping Post surprisingly difficult.
The essence of the Cross Stepping Post is the cultivation of stability and balance. Your upper body needs to be relaxed and your weight down in your pelvis. Since we are not performing the arm movements at this stage your arms should hang down by your sides, relaxed like hanging vines. If you are used to putting lots of muscular tension into you stances this will probably be one of your first problems in performing the Post.
From Tai Chi we have the advice:
1. Sinking of shoulders and dropping of elbows.
2. Relaxing of chest and rounding of back.
When you attempt the movements of the Post your upper body should be as relaxed as possible, having a slightly hunched shoulders look that comes from a lack of tension.
The other useful thing to remember is that in martial arts movement generally comes from the waist. Don’t attempt those kick-like foot movements just by moving your leg. You will need to rotate your waist/hips to swing them around.
I hope that helps. Persevere and I will post some more information on the exercise soon.
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Phillosoph

Cross Stepping Post: Part One.

Recently I have been looking into a concept that Erle Montaigue called “the Post”. Erle described the Post as being an abstract way to learn very practical things. He as even gone as far as to say that the Post contains two exercises that give every thinkable internal body movement for self-defence without having to think too hard, and are probably one of the most valuable training aids ever. Certainly this apparently simple sequence has much greater depth than is first apparent. I am going to devote a few blogs to this topic and invite the reader to try it with me.
What  Erle calls the Post is actually two sequences, one from Tai Chi and the other from Bagua. The Tai Chi one is called “Stepping over the Gate” and the Bagua “Cross Stepping Post”. Initially I am only going to deal with Cross Stepping Post.
If you dislike long complicated katas, you will be pleased to hear that Cross Stepping Post has only four different steps. These are mirrored on the left and right sides so there are actually eight steps and two linking sets to change sides. Complexity of the arm movements varies. Performing this exercise without the arm movements is very beneficial since it lets you concentrate on your balance and foot movements. You can go through the foot movements anytime that you are standing around, waiting for the bus etc. In his main video on the post (MTG54) Erle demonstrated a very simple set of arm movements. In MTG55 he also details the post and there demonstrated a more varied set of arm movements. On this video Erle points out that what is actually going on internally is actually more important than the actual physical movements. Bear this in mind as you practice.
Both videos are available as downloads or DVDs from http://www.taijiworld.com
I am going to introduce the Cross Stepping Post gradually. For this first blog I am going to suggest learning just two of the steps. They are similar, and once you have some grasp of these you will have learnt half the necessary moves. Just practicing these two steps will also probably reveal to you that your balance and stability is not what they might be.
The first step we will learn is actually the second step in the sequence. I call this the “Forward foot kick” although you must keep in mind that this foot action and the others have many other applications than the one immediately apparent. It is not just a kick!
Your feet are close together and your knees are probably brushing against each other. As the lead foot heel withdraws past the other heel the foot straightens up so the toes point forwards. The foot goes back about a foot length and swings in an arc to the forward position. Heel and toe are placed down at the same time and you should be in balance for the entire movement. Cross Stepping Post actions are performed without obvious shifts in weight such as leaning.
The second move is step four, a “Back foot kick”. Position of the feet is similar but a little more natural in that there is some space between the forward and rear foot. The feet are close enough for the knees to brush. In all these moves the toes always point forward or to the outside. That is, if your right foot is pointing at an angle it is to the right, and to the left for your left foot.
The beginning of this step puts some torsion on your waist and hips. You utilize this by moving the back foot in an arc and placing it down. This is a very similar movement to the forward foot kick but uses the rearward foot and has less initial backward movement.
No arm movements yet. Work on your balance and footwork Experiment with these two movements for a couple of days. See if you can improve your internal balance.