Through the Looking Glass - 2

 

Chairs

 

Whenever Archie visited local schools, questions inevitably got around to his training methods. If he came empty handed, Archie would of necessity demonstrate using whatever was available. More often than not, he would request some chairs. Once they were brought to the floor, he would ride the wave of nothing less than a flow of consciousness as to just how many training techniques could be created using chairs as platforms for body weight manipulation.


 

These photographs were taken at the school of Master David Bird, well-known the Pacific Northwest as an Arnis pioneer and successor to the late J. Cui Brocka. Some of Master Bird s younger students had questioned Sifu Archibeque on ways to develop strength. Archie had the chairs brought out, then began to improvise.

These first two photographs are only a partial glimpse of what occurred. Archie went to the ground, face down, and reached forward with his right hand to grasp one of the chair legs. Then, lifting the entire chair from the ground from this awkward angle, he rolled like a log, clockwise, all the while holding the chair off the ground, until he rotated a complete circle, and was face down on the ground once again. At that point, he lowered the chair, grasped it in his left hand, then repeated the process in the opposite direction. While not impossible, the effect of this exercise was a slow and gradual burn to the working muscles, while the entire body was making minute balance adjustments on the fly, effectively making this a whole body workout.
 

Next, Archie set both chairs in tandem, then placed one foot on each chair. With feet on the chairs, and hands on the ground, he executed push-ups.
 

These are generally within the capabilities of trained athletes, and for the most part, our group executed without difficulty. It was only when Archie began doing the single hand variation, followed by the one finger on each hand that the group began drifting to the far perimeter walls of the dojo, looking to be inconspicuous.
 

Master Archibeque spent years developing physical challenges which would enable his students to switch Chi on or off virtually at will. Most of these drills are built on the concept that your body is put into an untenable stress position, which can only be held if, using mental focus, you are able to energize the body, stimulating its inherent capacity to maintain integrity and protect itself.
 

Again, think of this like the fire hose on the roadway. When full of water, it is energized , then becomes a solid, self-supporting object. Even automobiles can pass over, without impeding the flow of water to the hose.
 

Archie then had the group set the chairs apart, facing each other, separated by approximately one body length. He dropped to the floor and energized his body so that he became stiff as a board, at which point we were instructed to lift him onto the two chairs, his feet on one chair, his head on the opposing chair.
 

If you haven t done something like this before, the bridge drill can be quite imposing. Recognizing this, Master Archibeque carefully belayed any fears, and within the hour, virtually the entire group had been guided into successfully performing this seemingly impossible exercise.

Again, it is Archie s nature to leave you with an appropriate challenge, in effect inspiring you to progress in your personal training once he leaves. On this occasion, he returned to his suspended position between the chairs, then began doing full body gravity dips, allowing his neck and body to loosen, dropping toward the ground, then re-stiffening and returning to initial bridge position. The photo speaks for itself. This is not for the timid!

Still inspired by the moment, Archie mounted the chairs in a sideways position, after reversing the lead chair and having a student sit in the chair to hold it firm. Using his left arm, he supported the weight of his body on the seat of one chair, then set his bare right foot and ankle on the back rest of the anchored chair. He then proceeded to do body lifts, pumping up and down against gravity, with what can only be described as an impossible stress load on his arm and leg.

 

 

It would be right about here Master Archibeque would smile broadly, turn to the group and say  Now you re all in trouble, my computer s working ! . By that he acknowledged he was being inspired by the moment, and was signaling the evening promised more to follow.

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Archie returned to the two chairs, placing hands on the seat of one chair, then the top of his feet (his insteps) over the back of the anchor chair. He then raised his entire body weight high toward the ceiling, then reversed direction and lowered himself into a full body dip. He repeated this process for some time until the gasps of the group prompted him to give one of the younger people a try.
 

After the group tried its luck, Master Archibeque returned to the chairs, anchored both chairs with volunteers, the chairs facing away from each other, and began executing full body dips to the ground, with full arm extension. To those who experienced Archie s near legendary strength, these extension exercises were of profound importance (and long acquaintance). As I recall, there were no takers when Archie asked for volunteers to the exercise. Then, Jack Hyland, now a master martial artist in his own right, but at that time, a student, volunteered and did a very commendable job as is evidenced in the photograph.
 

As mentioned previously, these photographs are only a smattering of what occurred. Typically, I would be snapping pictures only when brief opportunities allowed, and much of what unfolded was never documented, except in our memories and recollections. At the time, these photographs were taken primarily for personal enjoyment. As participants and students, we were too busy enjoying the show to understand we were experiencing something profound and unique, which, unfortunately has only been documented in part.
 

 

 

Elastic Media
 

During his years of active training, Master Archibeque was a major fan of virtually all elastic media. Elastic media might include any material capable of stretching and rebounding. It might be old tires, inner tubes, virtually anything capable of stretching, sustaining a significant load, and returning to original shape, without degradation. Undoubtedly, Archibeque s favorite elastic training tool was a thick rubber tube used as a washer (actually an O ring) in drainage basins, and major water lines (as in city water mains). These tubes would typically be made of a rubberlike material, approximately 1 2 inches thick, circular in shape and constructed in one piece. They came in loops, and sizes varied widely, ranging anywhere from 1-10 feet in diameter. As far as we knew, they were indestructible. We never wore one out, and did not know of one ever failing. Since Archie worked on a road crew, these rings would become available when an existing main was being revised and the old rings were being discarded. For years, he would stockpile these items of trash for eventual use in training. They became for each of us, a valued tool. Even today, I have several hanging in my garage, which are used to assist my own students in their training.
 

Here, we again see Archie s preference to involve all class participants in an exercise, whenever possible. Two of us are holding the elastic, while the third (and sometimes even a fourth) grips the elastic, then does a forward lordosis full body dip toward the ground. All this is done while constantly adjusting against the stretching and balance challenging propensity of the elastic. After completing the dip, the student then returns to starting position. A typical routine would involve 10 up/down cycles, then the three-way partnership would rotate to the next person. Understand, the persons, standing and holding the elastic are experiencing quite a significant workout to their own arms and ligaments as the process unfolds.
 

Sifu is renowned for the integrity of his stances, his rooting, and balance. This is in no small part attributable to the extraordinary exercises he developed and incorporated into his training regimen. Here we have Master Archibeque using the elastic ring to work against the strength of one of his students as they step away from each other in forward stances, connected with the elastic material at the neck. This is an extremely dangerous maneuver, and requires considerable experience in iron body conditioning before it can even be undertaken. Gun Fu Black Belts are easily recognized by their leatherly necks and their overwhelming attachment to ground root. This exercise speaks to the degree and intensity of training required to reach that profound level of achievement.
 

Archie always kept one of the rings doubled over and suspended from a horizontal bar in the outside training area. This is a picture of myself, balancing on my abdomen over some of the elastic strands, intending (hoping???) to hold my position for a count of 60.
 

That was a very long minute!

 

 

Archie found discarded tires to be an excellent medium for developing wrist strength. There were many exercises involving tires at our training camp. Here you see Master Archibeque showing how to effectively use the resistance of the discarded tire to develop finger grip, wrist and forearm strength, while developing the ligaments of the lower arms. Other uses of tires have not been photographically preserved. They would include throwing the tires for distance; walking the length of the cow pasture dragging tires with your feet; practicing stance movement stepping through tires and on tires; using tires to absorb falls, and even, in extremely rare instances, using one to fix a flat on a car.
 

 

 

Here s a glimpse of Archie doing the same aerial suspension I had done earlier, laying across a doubled over O ring. He s holding position for 60 seconds while struggling with gravity, and the tension of the elastic material against his abdominal wall.

 

 

 

These simple pictures show myself working one of the many stations installed by Archieque in the cow pasture. These devices typically have elastic rings mounted between anchored PVC tubing, and I am using one elastic triangle to develop strength and integrity in various stances and foot positions, while under stress. Deja vu! It s Shaolin Temple all over again!

 

Archieque had many versions of training dummies at the site. Typically, each dummy would be a workstation, dedicated to a particlar aspect of training and development. As you can see, a typical workstation consisted of a tree trunk anchored in the ground, with various mountings of elastic media used to develop either hand, or foot technique using principles of resistance, and then resistance with movement, and then resistance over periods of time. As you can see on some of the stations, there can be multiple strands of elastic. It is within the context of the exercise to use both hands and arms, or any combinations of limbs and/or body the user sees fit to employ at any point time. You were expected to be creative at all times while working your conditioning.
 

In the final shots, Master Archibeque is working at a station. Of particular note is the garage door spring attached to the top of the anchored tree section. Garage door springs were highly regarded items at Gun Fu camp, and they always found a home on one of our workstations where their afterlife continued post garage door, bringing additional years of profound discomfort to Archie s many students.

 

 


 

 

 

Iron Hand
 

For many students of gun Fu, iron hand training is at the core of their practice. It was always a matter of personal choice. Archie didn t encourage it, nor did he discourage it. Whether or not you chose to master iron hand, your were required to become proficient at breaking, as a self defense skill. While breaking and training for breaking are discussed elsewhere in this article, and also on the website, I thought it would be worthwhile to give you a direct glimpse of Master Archibeque s iron hand.
 

Iron hand training takes years of focus, determination, and discipline. There is no shortcut, and the path involves pain, injury, and recovery from injury, in a never-ending cycle. Even when the objective is met, there will remain questions and doubts as to whether the sacrifice was worth it. For that reason, undertaking iron hand training is a decision made only after considerable thought, and assessment as to the benefits relative to the sacrifices.
 

Archibeque retained full use of both hands, even after years of iron hand training. He did have to sacrifice other interests...such as playing musical instruments. Though he was never a typist, the question is moot. The size of his hand, the thickness of his digits, and the tendon tightness resulting from iron hand training, would have prevented him from ever using the keyboard beyond basic key pecking.
 

In the mature stage of his training, Archie focused extensively on breaking. As we ve indicated elsewhere, he preferred breaking rocks, since they were readily available at no cost and provided genuine challenge and opportunities for augmenting his discipline. On occasions, he would do other things. For example, there were 5 gallon buckets throughout the camp, and some would be filled with sand, others with rice, gravel, stones, or whatever other media of the moment Archibeque was interested in working with. In the above photos, you can see Master Archibeque working with both a container of sand, and a container of pea gravel. As we photograph, he struck the media with various changing hand forms and shapes. Sometimes he punched with a closed hand, sometimes he clawed like a tiger, sometimes he stuck his fingers into the media with a spear hand, sometimes he did fingers individually, sometimes he would stick all five digits into the media then turn his hand clockwise or counterclockwise, as if turning a doorknob and sometimes (rarely) he would experiment with changing the temperature of the media (as in heating it).
 

Again, iron hand training is always a very personal decision. If that path is chosen, you may forever forsake other paths that might otherwise be available in the martial arts.
 

Most students of Gun Fu trained diligently in breaking techniques, even though they had chosen not to master iron hand. Other masters within the Gun Fu system specialized in the internal arts, and these included generation of power from emptiness, rather than iron hand. Still others focused on pressure point striking, ultimately taking it to the highest level of poison hand (as an alternative of equal merit, to iron hand). In the net, every student was capable of breaking rocks as part of training for Black Belt. Every student at Black Belt level felt capable of breaking bones or tearing flesh with virtually every strike.

 

 

Archie once referred to the iron hand, the atom bomb of martial arts. By that, his meaning was clear. Whatever the situation, when the iron hand is employed, destruction results. There is no turning back. It is the highest of responsibilities. Fortunately, training was so rigorous that students of weak character or questionable merit were quickly rooted out.
 

As an aside, the training regimen for iron hand is generally so intense and demanding that typically, only one hand can be completely developed over the course of time. Usually, this is the dominant hand. In Master Archibeque s case, and my own, it was the right hand.
 

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It always concerned us that some who came to class seemed completely obsessed with the idea of iron hand training. Because of the danger that could be done to oneself, and others, Archibeque always looked for reasons not to train someone in iron hand. One of the most frequently occurring reasons, was rooted in a question repeated many times over the years by students just beginning to train. One or two weeks into training, these questionable students would present to Master Archibeque with the proposition they should also be training their subdominant hand. They reasoned, since all the masters were focusing on one hand, they would be better served training both. This of course, is the great dilemma in life, and in the martial arts. Before you master one thing, you are propelled by your belief that more is better, adding an entirely new path before your first journey has even begun. When a student questioned, Archie simply replied, The iron hand is your atom bomb. Puzzled by his response, they might come to me for explanation. I would only add, The iron hand is your atom bomb, why would anyone feel they needed two?

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