Doorway To Power

March 14, 2009

I’d like to elaborate on the previous idea of soft and hard power and to continue developing that line of thought. As I’ve probably mentioned a dozen times before, power can be separated along two orthogonal axes. There is soft and hard along one dimension, and internal and external along the second dimension (there are probably several more dimensions others may want to divide kung fu by, but those classifications are by and large regarding different styles, as opposed to different powers).

I previously described soft power as pushing a door open, whereas hard power is breaking the door apart. The differences should be plain with this explanation. Soft power is gradual, while hard power is sudden, explosive. One might say, a hundred pounds of force is still a hundred pounds of force. But though a hundred pounds of force may be required to gain entry–that a door might require a hundred pounds of force to open and a hundred pounds of force to break apart–one method preserves the object, but changes its state from open to closed, while the other maintains the state of being closed while changing the object from a door to pieces of the door’s material. To put it more abstractly, one method preserves intent but changes the direction, while the other method changes the intent but preserves the direction.

This is rather important, as no effective system of fighting exists as either completely soft power or completely hard power. All usable offensive power lies somewhere in between. The difference in styles is only a matter of where along this gradient the style primarily emphasizes. For example, tai chi, with the exception of the Chen branch, emphasizes soft power. As does jujitsu. A style such as hung gar, on the other hand, emphasizes the hard, though to be fair, hung gar is so expansive the statement isn’t entirely accurate. Regarding Chen style tai chi, it contains a healthy dose of hard power, though the focus remains on soft power.

I want to move away from mentioning and using specific styles as examples though, as though it is more often than a hindrance more than help. Any mention of a specific style would only result in distortions from existing preconceived notions of said style whether right or wrong. Instead, I want to focus on the existing door analogy.

Soft power and hard power are complementary, and are mutually exclusive. As well, they are diametrically opposed to each other, one capable of completely neutralizing the other. Soft power seeks to redirect the hard power, while hard power seeks to use speed and strength to drive through before it can be redirected. Imagine trying to push open a door that might fall apart from the weight of the push, or busting open the door that is on a loose set of hinges. The objective is achieved, but the energy expenditure is wholly unnecessary. And in a fight, the most efficient fighter of two equals in strength, speed, and skill is the winner.

The sole objective of a fight is to last longer than the opponent. With hard power–the more intuitive power to use–the idea is to cause enough pain and physical damage to the opponent to cause the other to stop returning the favor. The objective of soft power is a little different. Soft power cannot be used for causing damage. At best, soft power can achieve a throw into a body slam. Thus outlasting the opponent with soft power is literally that: waiting for the opponent to tire while expending as little energy as possible to neutralize attacks. While this sounds great in theory, it is impossible to pull of between two equally skilled combatants in practice.

Both soft and hard systems rely on the horse, the root, the stance. Newton’s second law states that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Thus, for us humans to physically move about, we must use the ground as leverage. The ground is what gives us our energy to maneuver. If the opponent is standing on the ground, so must we. Otherwise, there would be nothing for us to push off of, and instead of causing damage on impact, we would fly backwards ourselves. That would look rather pitiful.

To be completely soft, even the foundation must go. Not only is that impossible, the effectiveness of every action would immediately be halved. Thus pure soft power is not practical at all. Instead, soft power is used to complement hard power, to be used during the times in between the hard movements. Such down times have to exist, as by nature, hard power is explosive, and it wouldn’t be terribly explosive if the energy output was constant. Any practitioner of hard power receives a considerable boost in stamina with strong soft power. This is because while someone who knows only hard power is required to use hard power for every motion, one is versed in soft power can substitute soft power in certain instances.

Orthogonal to hard and soft is internal and external. I know I’ve said this before, but internal power is power which an outside observer cannot see, and in fact cannot necessarily detect, while external is easily seen. To continue with the door analogy, internal may be the chemical structure of the door, while external may be the door meeting your face.

Most people confuse internal with soft, and external with hard. Hard external is very obvious. Hard power, as I stated above, is intuitive. External power is intuitive, because that’s the power we use when we do things. Even something as simple as typing this up requires external power. Not much, granted, but the power is still external. External soft is the next easiest to grasp. It requires externally exerting gradual changes in power. The width or shape of the curve is largely unimportant for this categorization, so long as it is a curve and not a spike. There are more ideal shapes and less ideal shapes, and faster is typically better albeit more difficult to create the right shape. But that topic I reserve for another time.

Internal power is incredibly difficult to grasp. What most people think of internal isn’t actually internal, but is either soft external power, or simply hard external power. That is not to say that they don’t know what internal power is, but that most people tend to misattribute the term. Because internal power cannot act on its own, it is not used in the same sense that one might use a limb. Instead, its purpose is to support and perhaps eventually supplant the external power, so that movements suddenly start relying on internal power more and more.

Internal hard power is most easily illustrated by the image of a shaolin monk during a performance, gathering “chi” to a specific part of the body. While this may be how this is explained by the system, the more general explanation is to say that monk is activating the internal hard power in those parts of the body.

Internal soft power is the soft version. It is the most abstruse of powers, as if you really think about it, it means soft power that cannot be seen, effectively no power at all. But it is there. It exists. It is actually the relaxation of the entire body. This is more difficult that it sounds, as most muscles in our bodies are constantly being flexed or are in a perpetual state of usage. This is because to so much as stand, our muscles have to support our frame and prevent it from collapsing due to gravity. The undoing of this intuition is extremely difficult. But if done properly, it can create an enormous boost in soft power.

External power can be trained through movement. Push-ups, sit-ups, practicing forms, etc. are all methods of external training. In order to train internal, the opposite has to happen. Instead of doing, internal training ideally involves no motion at all. It is, in some respects, a form of meditation. Rather than radiate the energy outwards in external training, internal training draws the energy inwards. This is the key component to the internal workout. Just as in external training, there is repetition, there is what I call cycling of energy for internal training. Slow or fast, gradual or sudden, cycling of this energy determines whether it is hard or soft internal power being developed.

Before ending, I want to mention something quick about weapons as a segue to the next post. Weapons are used as an extension of the arm. But a weapon needs to be met with a weapon, while the arm can be met with any part of the body.

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Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2008

It’s Christmas! So many things have happened in the past month. The S9 is finally out, and it’s as much a reviewer’s delight as any non-iPod player could be. Its sound and video quality are both awesome (Cowon is known for sound quality, and the AMOLED does videos superbly), but it’s UI is still rough around the edges despite the capacitive touch screen. One can’t possibly review it without evoking the iPod Touch, and quite frankly, nobody’s going to be able to come out with a new product that will be immediately comparable with the mature iPod Touch line. I await firmware revisions to fix the existing bugs, and maybe even to add more functionality. That having been said, I’m quite psyched about getting one myself. If only it wasn’t Christmas and I actually had the money to spare at the moment instead of spending it on presents…

On the same train of thought, I’m slightly disappointed at the lack of sales for the Panasonic LX3. I decided that while I’m waiting for Red to whip their Scarlet line into shape, I’d buy myself a nice point-and-shoot. I decided against the Casio EX-F1 because of the poor image quality and auto-focus. I’m not sure if subsequent firmware revisions have corrected the auto-focus issue, but I’ve moved on. The LX3 is comparable to the F40 in terms of low-light performance, but like the G9 in terms of features. The only thing lacking is that it has a max zoom range of 60mm, though it does have a wide-angle of 24mm. But since most pictures are taken at 50mm anyway, it doesn’t matter that much.

It seems a lot of other stuff have been discounted though, and I’ve taken full advantage of that. All this buying certainly accounts for my current lack of cash, though my lack of wealth in general can be fairly attributed to the recession in progress. But anyway, I picked up the UCS Millennium Falcon for less than $350 total, which to me, is a steal. In fact, I have the thing in a box, unopened, still sitting in the doorway where I left it when I picked up the package. I also picked up the Skeleton Ship Attack from a collector’s shop for a little more than MSRP. I now have a troll vs. skeleton vs. agents thing going on. As soon as I pick up the new pirate ship, it’ll be an all-out 4-way naval battle. I have the fireboat (that really floats) too, but I’m not sure I should include it yet. And yes, this entire paragraph was entirely about Lego.

On a more somber note, things are going to be bad for retailers this year. Yes, entertainment is probably at its peak. But it will be at the cost of big-ticket items such as TV’s. With the recession happening, the idea is to buy smaller gifts. And where gifts in the past averaged several hundred dollars, they’re now more likely to be in the twenty to fifty dollar range. The truth is, the economic meltdown is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. I’m seeing a minimum of two years before signs of rebounding even begin appearing, possibly another year or two before things actually get better. 2009 is going to be a bad year all around, and I know both companies and individuals are hording cash to brace for its impact.

On a lighter note, here’s a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/whatever present: a more advanced beginner’s tip.

True power can only be attained when the body is relaxed. That is not to say that any part should be soft and flabby. Instead, it means to be ready. To be holding power is to be tight. For example, clench hard, and your arms start shaking. This is a bad thing in practice. Power needs to be projected from the body in bursts. And in order to do so, the part of the body that the power travels through must be relaxed. The entire chain, from generation to projection, must not be tight. But power is useless if it isn’t focused. So if the power is coming from the ground, it is equally important to be able to have the legs focus the power travelling up. This basically means that even though the legs are relaxed, they do not move. This focus must extend to the part of the body that’s acting, so that the energy has a purpose and isn’t merely thrown out of the body like an old rag.

One must acquire strength in order to do this well. By well, I mean naturally. That is, after all, the goal of training. Anyone can copy motions if they go slow enough. But to be able to have the techniques come out as needed is a different story and requires significant training. And foremost is to have the muscles to be able to pull off the technique and do it well. But this isn’t the same strength as from weight lifting. The strength developed from weight lifting is dead strength. In order for raw, brute strength to become power, it needs to be alive. This means working muscle groups together in the same way as a technique, but with resistance. Such a training regiment doesn’t just improve muscle memory, it also links the muscles together, and strengthens that link so that the burst of power becomes a natural movement. Thus, you can say that this training is to accelerate the process of turning an unnatural movement into a very natural movement that would otherwise have to be acquired through years of repetition.

For example, one method of training the grip is to constantly lift heavy and cumbersome items from the top (as opposed to from the bottom). But because every style focuses on a different type of power from a different part of the body, I leave it as an exercise for the reader to develop the most appropriate exercise. The only requirement for the exercise is that its motions are the same as that of the techniques that need to be developed.

Then, when a technique has become natural to the point where you can put power into executing the technique but still remain relaxed, that is the the body has physically mastered the technique. The mental aspect is completely different, and something I will save for a subsequent post.

I’m back (again?)!

September 4, 2008

I must blame my lack of updates this past year on a lack of time. That doing this through TOR is worse than trying to squeeze blood out of a stone doesn’t help much. I actually have two major articles in draft form, regarding martial arts. I might have to update them a bit, but they are still as relevent a year ago as they are today.

Actually, more than anything, the recent acceptance speech by Republican VP Nominee Sarah Palin has prompted me to come back. Considering that most of the guys in OKFS are over 60 and don’t speak English well, and most of the people currently frequenting PKFS aren’t of the politically savvy variety, this is unfortunately the only way to get this off my chest. I think picking Sarah Palin to be his VP is John McCain’s idea of being a maverick. With all the scandals surrounding her, scandals that otherwise would have immediately flatlined any Democratic campaign, you really have to wonder if McCain actually put any reality into the decision, or if he saw the most strategically-sound proposal on paper and went for it without so much as looking at the facts beforehand. Does this sound familiar yet? If this deciding-before-having-all-the-facts behavior is indicative of the kind of maverick John McCain actually is, I sincerely wonder if he’s the right kind of maverick. Even if he is interested in change, just as much as Obama, I have to ask whether as president, he’ll make the right decisions, or the ones he thinks is right.

That’s really all I have to say about the matter. I will be voting for Obama. Hope, like prayer, alone isn’t enough to protect or save this country. But unlike prayer, hope is better than nothing.

As for kung fu news, I’ve recently come to several fascinating revelations. The idea of circles has become even more abstract, because with the most recent revelation, I’ve come a full circle, from hard, to soft without hardness, now back to hard again, but with softness, and softness with hardness. It’s really a concept that must be felt; it’s difficult to explain, especially in English. And it’s practically impossible to understand without reaching the point of being soft without being hard. I’ll write something on it. I’m sure out of every dozen people who’ll read this, ten will say they understand, offer their interpretation, but not really understand, one will not understand and start asking questions, and one will just not say anything. That’s how it always is.

I am no longer bothered by the little feuds and arguments at PKFS. The particular breed of dog that was giving me trouble in the past no longer associates with me, and I do not associate with dogs. Anyway, I’m not an animal-lover, so I have no inclination to do unnecessary things like give animals a personality or attempt to treat them in the same way I might treat a fellow human. I have respect for life itself, and the desire and will to live inherent in every living creature. But I don’t try to discuss current events and politics with them. Anyhow, I think we’ve come to a mutual understanding, give or take, facilitated by something that still lingers between us. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it most likely is a good thing, probably left over from our better days when we were more acquainted. We do vehemently deny its existence in front of everybody, but when nobody’s looking… That’s how I feel anyway. And that’s all I’m really going to say about it.

There are other feuds brewing. I really don’t want to politicize the place. Please leave the politics outside the door. I swear, if I catch even the slightest hint of people starting to rally behind me, I will smack them down hard and then if they don’t stop, I will leave. Politics has no place in any of the schools, and that’s that. At the same time, if people start rallying behind other people who are at odds, I won’t let things get too far either. My ultimate allegiance? To Sifu. Other than that, everyone is fair game.

On the video game front, Spore is out. I think. I’m downloading it anyway, so it must be out, right? Ugh. I can’t keep track of things when things get released in the scene before the street date.

And well, I’m looking forward to checking out the COWON S9. It is by far the most interesting PMP since the iPod Touch. Obviously, I’m not going to get one if it sucks. But it has promise. So we’ll see. It might actually be my first real PMP. I put this in a lot of categories. That’s what happens when I don’t write anything for a year, and suddenly have all sorts of stuff to write about. Hopefully, I’ll be getting better at frequent updates and not worse.