Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning to Soar with Eagles

A long time ago I was a new black belt, which meant I was at the bottom of the heap. I was also on my own without any instructor nearby.


So I really worked on my Isshinryu, continued the youth program Charles Murray had begun in his church, taking in into the Boys Club of Scranton.


I also had a lot of free time, after work. My wife was working at the YMCA evenings, so rather than sit home and watch TV (remember that was when you used rabbit ears and antenna() I began to travel and train with the many people I was meeting at tournaments in the Penna. region. Mostly to have adults to work with.


I gained some idea of what other people were doing, then when I saw that style in tournaments it meant more. Prior to that tournaments were just an opportunity to compete and get a workout with people I didn’t know.


I had developed an interest in Tai Chi when I was in college, and I wanted to give that a try. Not for martial reasons, just because.


So there I was, finding private  lessons with Ernest Rothrock. I suspect I was as much fun to work with as a bag of cement. I had no transferable skills from karate to tai chi.


Ok, I had one skill, a big one. Never quit what you start. I didn’t and eventually I learned a bit.


Although I had seem kung performers at tournaments for years, I did not pay much attention to them, as I was there to compete.


But beginning the first time I had to compete in the same division as Cindy Rothrock, her then husband would later be my tai chi instructor, Chinese forms instructor, and friend and mentor, I was now noticing the Chinese competitors.


In the fall of 1979, after finding I had to judge Kung Fu competitors in tournaments, I began to realize I did not know what I was judging. Of course the judge does not have to know to judge, but I wanted to do a fair job for everyone.


Now the tai chi form is long, and it alone would take me two years to just learn. I knew there was no way to even do a credible job learning kung fu, but I had no desire to do that, I was more than content with my Isshinryu.


So one evening I approached Ernie and asked him if I could learn some kung fu forms, just to know more about what I was judging.


I knew he knew a lot, my tai chi lessons were teaching me that, and I knew he was teaching Pai Lum (at that time) but I had no idea what he knew.

Not everything, but a hell of a lot I didn’t know.


So he said, fine, that would be an additional ½ a week for you and what do you want to study?


Realizing I knew what I did not know replied – No idea what do you thing I should learn?


He then turned to a list of maybe 300 forms on the wall and said – Pick One.


I had no idea what any of them were, so I said  - I have no idea, what do you suggest?


So he picked one, a Northern Shaolin form (Sp? We never got around to spelling them) Dune De Quen.


And I began another impossible form study.

Not even in the system he was teaching his students. It was a black belt equivalent form in Shaolin. As the weeks progressed I would see his students peering as he taught me. Mostly to see what he was showing me.


Dune De Quen was a long form (I eventually began to wonder if there were any short Chinese forms). I believe it took me 8 months to learn the entire form. (a year or so later I did enter a Chinese division, with coaching from Ernie, and did a credible job for someone who is not a kung fu stylist,


I now had a patterm, tai chi class in Scranton, kung fu forms class in Scranton. Form practice time in Wilkes-Barre Saturday afternoons. All the time training many places, teaching and always working out.


Form followed form, Pai Lum forms, Tai Tong Long forms. Sil Lum forms, 3 section staff, and others.


I knew on Sundays he would travel to New York and study Eagle Claw with Shum Lung. He even took a trip to Hong Kong with his teacher. The name impressed me and I asked him what that was.


He explained that Eagle Claw was an old system that eventually joined the Ching Wu Association. There it had 10 common association forms before the student began the Eagle Claw.

So having big eyes, I asked him if I could study an Eagle Claw form. Ok begging was involved as by this time we had become friends. A lot of begging.


Eventually he told me he would ask his instructor, and the answer came back yes.


 What he told me is that he would teach me the form Hong Kuen.


Then he explained it was one of the 3 major forms of the system It contained all of the empty hand techniques of the Eagle Claw system. It was a moderately long form, of 10 rows of techniques.


The longest form Lin Kuen had 50 rows of techniques. They were shorter but covered every possible variation of the clawing techniques.


There was much much more to Eagle Claw, in time I became aware of it, but that is beyond this article.


Now in those days, there was no internet, no youtube, nor access to the Chinese books on the system, and I did not read Chinese so they would have been little help.


So you learned one little lesson at a time, and worked to retain it.  The whole form took me about a year to get down, and that would only be the beginning of the training for that form.


Eagle Claw takes its names as the shape used by the hands for the Chin Na which are the core of the system. It is a northern system, and contains a great many things.


I did get the form. And continued on to many other studies. But understand that the words that I got the form are not the same as the works I was proficient of the techniques of the form and could use all of them.


I think perhaps I was an experiment for Ernie. He knew I could remember long forms. I was a chance to try to teach what he was learning.


Many years later he did switch his students over to Eagle Claw. Waiting first to become an accredited instructor in the system (which took him 25 years of work, and the most complex examination I have ever heard of.)


I did accomplish what I set out to do, become more knowledgeable of the Chinese systems.


And having some knowledge made me realize how bad so many of the judges were, I don’t mean intentionally bad, just they did not know what they were judging.


Let me talk about one brown belt I was judging in in Central Penna. Karate and Kung Fu were in the same division. However most of the judges gave the higher score to the kung fu competitor. But he evidenced far less skill than the karate brown belts in the same division. I realize I was just one set of eyes, but it was clear to me the others did not know what they were seeing, and assumed because the style was kung fu it was superior to karate. (and many times the reverse had occurred in the Black Belt Divisions which amounted to the same thing.)


I was not on a crusade to save the world, A few years later I became disenchanted with the whole competition process and moved what I did away from that.


After moving away from Penna, without others to train with, I  chose to stop most of my Chinese studies, but for several forms and my Tai Chi.


Now as it happened today I discovered some really interesting information on Eagle Claw on youbube, but you have to know what to look for, and where to look.


Among my discoveries there is the beginning section of Hong Kuen, just as I learned on my first night.


Here is that section.


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