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Training in Ziranmen an interview with Rudy Ibarra

Alex Kozma’s latest book, Warrior Guards the Mountain, 375 pages fully illustrated, is now available from his site as a downloadable ebook and limited edition paperback from CPI Publishing. It includes information from the out of print book Ziranmen (which will not be reprinted) - namely the Wan Lai Sheng translations from his famous 1929 book on martial arts, and interviews with Serge Augier and Rudy Ibarra - but adds much new material and then relates the author's experiences, training and conversations with many other masters from across Asia giving rare and in depth access into the development and practices of these remarkable individuals. Contents of Warrior Guards the Mountain and a sample chapter can be seen at www.bagua-retreats.com/baguaretreats/Books.html

Ebook £12, Paperback £20 (plus postage)
UK post first class £3-50, Europe Airmail £5-00, rest of the world outside Europe airmail £8-00. To order Warrior Guards the Mountain in paperback or PDF format contact Arjuna Das at ancientwushu@ymail.com

Below is an excerpt from Rudy Ibarra's interview:

4. Can you describe Ziran Men training methods you have undergone, and the challenges of these? With Master Lu Yaoqin, we worked three things everyday, Nei Gong, Taolu (Form) and Jiji Fa (Combat). Never before had I seen these three elements complement and supplement each other so harmoniously. There is a direct relationship between the healthful, artistic and combative aspect that I had never felt before. Not only do the theories, principles and the way in which we train them link the three, but as mentioned they even physically appear similar!

There are three “outer” requirements in Ziran Men training. The first is, Ruan Gong, Soft and Flexible skill. To be very flexible with your entire body, particularly your legs, basically to be able to go into and out of whatever position is required at that time such as being able to put your legs anywhere on the opponent. Master Lu Yaoqin demonstrated this by executing a “heart center” kick to a student standing less than an arm’s distance away, his knee came up and the foot popped upwards an inch from the side of his jaw and then snapped it back down as if nothing happened. Stretching everyday and relaxation techniques works this aspect.

The second is Ying Gong, Hard Skill. This is the necessary ability to strike the opponent so he really feels it while having the ability of being able to take his strikes. This is slowly developed through two man contact drills and Pai Da Gong which are conditioning practices where one develops external force and special skills through the use of unique equipment such as sandbags, bamboo, iron balls, iron arm rings, and wooden post. These practices are designed to strengthen the ligaments and bones for striking and are done very softly and repetitively without the use of hard force.

About Ruan and Ying Gong, Master Lu Yaoqin says in the old days everyone had a special skill that would take hours of everyday and years to develop. In these modern times, only a basic level is required so half an hour everyday on each is enough. He also commented on how certain schools mistakenly take one or the other to extremes. For example a certain teacher that refrains from exertion or teachers of styles that over condition parts of the body to the point of deformity.

The third outer requirement is Qing Gong. Light and Agile skill. It consists of practices to work lightness, agility, coordination, and smoothness, which includes Ziran Men’s very important body method and stepping method exercises. Qing Gong is also developed with the use of forms, fighting drills and sparring. Qing Gong is so when an opponent strikes not only are you not there but you have already naturally counter attacked. As martial artist, this of the three outer skills we want an advanced level of. If half an hour a day of Ruan Gong and Ying Gong is sufficient, Qing Gong one should work everyday for the longest time of at least two hours.

As for the challenges, I think the first of the training method challenges would be physical Pain. Pain one will get from initial Ziran Men training until whatever weakness is strengthened and developed, whether its arms, upper body, waist or leg work. For example, after more than a decade studying martial arts I had my leg basics down from the deep stance work training most Chinese styles have, but I had never felt the soreness in the lats, the upper back and the shoulders that lasted for a few months. There were days when I couldn’t pick up my chopsticks. For another student who hadn’t done as much stance work, his primary issue was stance work and it was killing him. Sometimes the pain involved endurance, for example doing whatever form three or four times in a row with no break on Master Lu Yaoqin’s count was a daily routine.

Another challenge would be Patience. Patience to do the same form, weapon, two-man set, fighting drill or Pai Da Gong (Conditioning) until you derived what you were supposed to derive from it. Master Lu Yaoqin always set a goal for you and was looking for specific results or an acquired level of understanding and naturalness when he taught and corrected. When it comes to correcting and taking one to the next level he is relentless and never gets tired of telling and showing you the same thing. And you do the same thing until your almost sick of it. There were many times when I thought I would never move on from a form or drill and just when I was sick of doing it and even dreaming about it in my sleep, Master Lu Yaoqin would say, “At a basic level you have it, but you must continue training it.” Then he would start teaching me the next thing. Unlike the compliments I received in Beijing, Master Lu Yaoqin rarely gives them.

Next on the list would be correcting previously trained bad habits and being receptive to them. Entire sets, fighting techniques and even certain basics like Pu Bu, had to be forgotten and relearned. Many a night Master Lu would ask me to demonstrate something previously learned and afterwards tell me to forget it and we would start new. This happened in combat, forms and Nei Gong. For example, in Shen Fa, discovering, studying and instilling natural instinctive motion as part of my body method, getting rid of tension and self resistance, and allowing it to become totally natural.

Another challenge would be our very important Nei Gong work. Our basic and most important is Nei Quan Shou, Inner Circling Hand. First was the initial pain of the low posture with the relaxation of the upper body. Next came the repetition of the same step and circling hand motion. And last the complete focus of intention and mind that starts off with a couple minutes and by adding another minute every few days ends up at the eventual goal of at least one hour. The amazing thing was Master Lu Yaoqin would always know when I hadn’t practice Nei Quan Shou. He usually would start off, “your body seems extra tight…”, or “you look very heavy today…did you practice Nei Quan Shou this morning?” Every time he was right that I hadn’t.

From Alex Kozma's "Warrior Guards the Mountain ," 2010

  For more information call: 718.986.8011 or email: rudy@naturalstylekungfu.com