Malaysia Trip Recap

A little over one week back in the U.S. and I feel like I’m just getting over my jet lag.  It’s a weird feeling popping wide awake at 1-2 a.m. and being dog tired during the daylight hours.  Anyhow, I thought I’d jot down a few notes on my experience in Kuala Lumpur and training with Grandmaster Chin Lik Keong.

First, my experiences with Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur:

  • The food in Malaysia is pretty tasty and dirt cheap.  Despite the meatiness of a lot of the food, there was still plenty of tasty vegetarian fare.  I’m still amazed that I stuffed myself silly at a vegetarian restaurant for roughly $6 USD.  Actually, I’m also surprised that we managed to order anything at that restaurant between my broken Chinese and the wait staff’s broken English.
  • There’s entirely too much shopping in Kuala Lumpur.  I suppose some people really like this, but I’m not a big shopper.  I’m also not much of a haggler, so I probably got ripped off (by local standards) for the little batique scarves I bought. 
  • Durian is gross.  I guess the only thing I can reasonably compare it to is Brandywine tomatoes.  People either think they taste divine or like rotting fruit.  Except the experience with durian is much more intensely divided.  One comment I heard which expresses my sentiments: “Durian tastes like hot, salted, rotten garbage.”  I gagged at the taste.
  • Although there were gross fruits, there were fruits that get two thumbs up: mangosteen, guava, rambutan, dragon eye (longan), and dragon fruit.
  • The driving and traffic in KL is frightening. After 10 days, I still had a nervous reaction every time our shuttle turned and pulled towards the left side of the road.  Being an American right lane driver is too ingrained in my psyche.  Also, pulling a shuttle across three lanes of fast oncoming traffic is a little nerve-wracking, especially if you’re a passenger on the side of the oncoming traffic.  A manuever like that around here would spell high-probability accident.
  • The verdant tropical surrounding are gorgeous.  I’ve never seen so many palm trees.  I realize there are a lot of farmed palm trees, but it still looks cool to see vast expanses of palms.

Training with the grandmaster was an interesting experience (*note to avoid confusion*: Sigong in my frame of reference refers to GM Chin Lik Keong and Sifu refers to Master Sam F.S. Chin):

  • Sigong’s touch is very light and precise.  I think a lot of us had this fear that he might be a frail old man and that we shouldn’t use much force with him.  That thought was quickly dispelled when it became obvious that despite his light touch, he could neutralize our force and play with us at will.  If he doesn’t want you to, you can’t actually land anywhere to apply force that affects him.  On the flip side, he could pull and push you off balance with ease.  The more force you tried to use, the more that force would work against you when the GM decided to pull or push.  In terms of the ILC curriculum, it was experiencing a highly refined ability to maintain 45 degrees on defense (no solid point to land on) but having the GM have a 90 degree contact (solid connection and control) on you. 
  • Spinning training with Sigong was different.  The training was more focused on sticky hands initially with the spinning introduced later as a way to flow around force at the point of contact.  Under Sifu’s curriculum, we start with spinning hands to learn changes at the point and then move on to sticky hands to learn control at the point.  Ultimately, I see both approaches leading to the same goal (learning to control and change at the point); it’s interesting to train it starting from different places.
  • Sigong had us do exercises to loosen our shoulders so that we could feel circular movements at the shoulders.  I believe the point he was trying to get across was the turning the circle during spinning hands involves movement at three joints: wrists, elbows, and shoulders.  Some of us (myself included) don’t utilize the full mobility of our shoulders and consequently hold unnecessary tension while spinning.  Properly utilizing the mobility with these three joints allows more freedom to turn the circle while spinning and makes for more flowing and relaxed engagement at the point of contact.
  • Training with Sigong involves more specific technique training than training under Sifu.  It took me a little bit to switch gears from my usual training of focusing on principles to practicing specific movements.  We spent the first day or two working on upper hand control, and most of the rest of the time working on lower hand (which additionally serves as upper hand training for your partner).  When sufficient proficiency with one movement sequence is obtained, the next step or movement variation is shown and we proceed to train that.  The principles are learned via extrapolation from the specific techniques.  This is quite different than the present curriculum under Sifu where the principles and concepts are introduced first to give a context for the specific training.  You could say Sifu teaches more of a top-down approach whereas Sigong takes more of a bottom-up approach.
  • It was interesting to see the differences in Sigong’s training approach to the current ILC curriculum under Sifu.  I wasn’t initially a fan of the systematized curriculum in the beginning.  But I now see the wisdom of the curriculum as opposed to the traditional teaching approach.  Training under the curriculum, you get a big picture view and understand the context of training much earlier.  This context helps guide the training.  With the traditional approach, you get personalized corrections for your weaknesses, which is fantastic if you have frequent access to the teacher and can make all the mental jumps to connect the dots from the specific training.  The curriculum on the other hand allows the seeds for the principles to be planted; with these seeds of knowledge, the skill and understanding can grow even with infrequent direct interactions with Sifu.  The systematic approach enables passing on the art beyond the inner circle of students and allows satellite training groups to make steady progress even without constant direct instruction from Sifu.

That sums up most of trip experience.  I’m sure other thoughts about the trip will pop into my head at some point.  But until those thoughts hit me, you’ll just have to wait for a future blog post.