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The other day I came out of the main house to start warming up for training and I had a light bulb moment. It hit me how lucky I am to be here training and spending my time dedicated to Gongfu. Sure, I definitely miss my family and friends, among other features of ‘standard’ life. Like being able to go out to eat at a restaurant, or see a movie with those same people. At the same time I am here with other equally amazing people.  I get to spend time with someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Yang who has probably forgotten more about Gongfu than I know. And as well, my time is spent with his disciples who know a lot too. How many other people really get to do something like this? How have I come to be in this particular path out of all the other ones I could have found my self on? There’s a bit of sacrifice in all things. What do you feel like you sacrifice?

Over the last 5 months being here at the retreat center I feel like I have a new body. I brought a few aches and pains with me last year when I arrived in September. Training every day, all day, gave me some as well. But many of them are slowly disappearing. Injuries from years ago feel different now. I’ve begun to feel muscles I didn’t know I have. I’ve begun to move in ways I didn’t know possible. For example, we do a hip rotation exercise to loosen that area of the body. Initially it felt a bit like bones in a grinder. I thought I was going to tear or break something. But now, NOW, I feel akin to a rhythmic belly dancer who can use a hula hoop to it’s maximum potential….. almost anyway.

My flexibility is still an issue and something I must constantly work on to maintain, maybe more so than anything else. A very considerate woman of about 50 years has been here training and feeding us hungry martial artists. She cooked us a great Chinese New Year dinner (it is the year of the horse) with curry pork chops, stewed beef tendon, Chinese cabbage, and some dessert buns. Another day she did sweet and sour pork tender, shrimp and seaweed, sauteed bell peppers and more. It’s been spoiling us. I mention her because she talked with me about her stretching experience. Everyday after a nice hot shower when the muscles are warm she stretches. After 6 months she’s made considerable gains in her flexibility and leg strength. I’m still young and definitely have time, which she’s proven. But I suggest anyway, for anyone under 25 (when the body is still growing) who has the slightest inkling that they want to be flexible, in the near or far future, have to start stretching NOW! Don’t wait! I wish I had started when I first learned of stretching. Your whole life is connected and you can’t get time back once it’s gone. In some ways I sacrificed that time for other activities which I have less to show for.

On another note, we’ve been hatching a new group of chickens to be egg layers. Here is a shot of the 1st of 3 batches we’ll do.




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Hope everyone had a great new years!

Although it was nice and quiet here over break, with only Dr. Yang, Frank, Javi, and myself, it is great to have everyone back.

It seems for the most part, all have had a good break and we’re getting back into the schedule. Hence I’ll be back into blogging on Sundays. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or thoughts. I’ll do my best to respond to posts. Discussions always make the topic at hand more interesting (it’d be interesting to hear what people are thinking).

This semester the 5 year students will be working less on body conditioning and more on sequence training.  So far the new schedule feels funny after getting used the last one, but I’m sure we’ll live. We fortunate and lucky though, because it also means we get to spend more time training with the seniors. Here is the general schedule we’re looking at:

- Mornings > Internal Focus > including squats, qigong, tumbling, taijiquan, push hands, centering drills, weapons, taiji ball, and additional partner work.
- Afternoons > External Focus > including sequences for Long Fist/ White Crane/weapons, reaction training, candle watching/punching, body conditioning, applications, and additional partner work.

Talk to you next week. Wish us luck, or if you have something better, we’ll take it! Take care!

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We’ve made it through the 11th semester. Our new 5-year group did a good job learning the curriculum and working together. Part of that though was because of the work Dr. Yang and the disciples did in the previous 5 years to build a good, effective schedule and mentality to work from. Without that, it would have been much harder for us to learn, get along, and be successful. We as well all had to put effort into adjusting to the environment and personalities here at the center. Some of us weren’t used to being in such a small community. All our space is communal, just as is handling responsibilities like chores and cooking from day to day. We each chipped in in our own way whether it was creating exercise circuits or organizing the schedule. I bet the disciples, Jon, Frank, Javi, and Nicky hadn’t been asked so many questions in a long time.

I  want thank Rii (our media teacher), Jon and Javi for guiding us through media lessons. Rii drives up here from San Fran on her own expense and time to spoil us with nice equipment and much more. We now have the basic understanding and abilities for video production. As well, Nicky and Frank constantly checked our forms and sequences. Of course thank you to Dr. Yang for taking us on, the dedication to teaching us, and keeping us on course. We plan to continue working hard and learn as much as possible with time we have here.

Last week we had our testing. Testing went well. Though I am happy with how I performed I know I can do better. I actually exceeded myself in the mountain running. I managed 50lbs at just under 18 minutes. This next semester we probably won’t have time to run in our schedule but if I manage my energy and time right then I’ll be able to do it anyway. We’ll have to see though. The goal in my mind is to get that down to 15 minutes. There are many minor details and basics I’m still ironing out which distract me from being fluid. I fell short when it came to memorization skills this time around but in general I improved much since the beginning of the semester.

This last weekend Javi took us for a hike around the retreat center’s property. It was beautiful and the pictures below don’t cut it, but they’ll have to do. We went about 4 miles and did about 2,000 feet of elevation gain (given that my phone gps is accurate). We meandered through out a creek bed for a good portion of the time. It was cool, and the air was refreshing. It was grounding and relaxing being in the woods after the end of the semester. As an experiment for my body I wore 5lb weights on my ankles. They threw my balance off so I had to be mindful of how I moved. My legs held up fine but I was definitely ready to be done after about the 5 hours we took.

Since it’s break I will be working on a lot of things I was too busy to get done during the semester. That means I’ll also be taking a break from blogging so I be focused. Happy Holidays and a New Year! Look for the next blog at the beginning of next semester around January 16th.

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Pressure is a necessary thing. In nature diamonds are made from the pressure of the earth. In training it’s best to let the pressure push and enjoy where the ride takes you. But this isn’t easy everyday. Some days I don’t like or want any pressure as if I’ve gotten sick of stepping up the staircase of improvement. But I know this is a poor attitude; it is the fight I fight with myself and no one else. I am thankful for the pressure from Dr. Yang and the disciples to constantly be smarter and better than the day before. It is this pressure that makes us better martial artists and human beings.


Living at the retreat center fine tunes just how much it is up to the individual to accomplish goals. It’s more obvious here. In society it’s easier to find excuses and distractions and call them all “necessary.” Here there is no travel time, no cooking time (except for cooking days of course!), no family, no other people, no jobs, no hobbies…nothing but the schedule our group of 12 (about on any given day) is committed to.

Having discipline is a necessary part of being here. Discipline creates an environment for things to be accomplished. It is also about being true to yourself and your community. Even though it can be difficult to follow (we’re still human), discipline shouldn’t be placed on an elevated platform out of reach. Discipline comes down to habits. Everyone can take a minute to examine their habits and see ways of being more committed to improving their focus in life. Sometimes its the small things, like not picking your nose. Or maybe it’s something more obvious like not flicking the booger at your wife or kids. Replace the bad habits with good ones. Sometimes multiple steps are needed though. Instead of booger mayhem, save some money, go to the store, and buy a tissue box or handkerchief. Being disciplined is simply taking the required steps to make the improvements that are needed. I suppose you first have to be aware of your booger picking and flicking habit first though.

Discipline must not only be used to work smarter and harder, but also to know when to rest. This last week I had nasty sore throat and I found I had difficulty balancing work and rest. This was especially the case with an awesome Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday. Javi, Michelle, Nathan, and many others did an awesome job cooking and making it happen!

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Now is the time to stay focused though. That’s because we are getting close to the end of the 11th semester for the retreat center. One more week to train and stay healthy so we’re ready for testing the following week. It will be three, maybe four days of testing. It’s the time to really sink in, dig deep, keep our minds attentive because most injuries are from going back down the mountain, not climbing up.

I am looking forward to testing and am nervous as well. Thinking back to the previous testing session, we had to perform well at our mental and physical limits. It was an accomplishment as we saw improvements in ourselves. I feel similar now. There are somethings I have struggled with, like the mountain run. And other things like the logs I am more confident about. I know I still have lot more practicing to go though. The test is a step to the next step; there is always a way to improve.

Following the test we will spend a few days cleaning the center before winter break. Dr. Yang, Frank, and Javi and myself will be staying here. Everyone else is heading out.


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Upstairs is where most of the 5 year students and an occasional guest sleep. There are five of us that share the room right now. We use air mats and sleeping cushions/pads. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that we don’t have beds because we usually hit the floor like rocks. I speak for my self at least. We don’t really spend a lot of time in here. Sleeping in the same room has been good for getting to know each other and has been a positive thing. It’s basically like having good brothers.

These last few weeks have been odd. Normally training ends at 6:30pm and we have media time or Q&A time with Dr. Yang. Lately though, we’ve have had some days end at 6pm for lectures and presentations.

Breaking the schedule a little has been good. Although we lose some body conditioning time we gain a moment for the mind to focus else where. These “distractions” have been similar to pausing from something you’re trying hard to think about. Once you give it a break, it’s easier to come back to later and finish. Just a little change is good to keep things fresh.

For a few of the rescheduled days we got some lectures on TCM theory by a Qigong instructor Lisa O’Shea. She is a good friend of the center. The lectures she did were very informative.  They helped me understand connections between some of my habits and health. I eat less food now which has helped me think more clearly. We all appreciate her efforts. Check out her site as she has some good information there.


Another day Javi, a senior student, did a lecture on his thoughts about the future for YMAA. This is something that’s very important to all of us here. After all we are here to not only train, but to build the skills necessary to take on the challenges ahead in order to preserve traditional Chinese martial arts. In a modern world based on a different set of values, this isn’t easy, and we must think about how best to do this. I hope to write about this more as I develop more thoughts.

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Last weekend we moved about 60 beets and chard from the outside to inside the green house. This weekend we moved a bunch of mustard greens both inside and outside as they needed to be spread to the other beds. They’ll be hardy enough to stand the cold weather that’s coming.  There are some leaves falling but mostly things are green. Surprisingly, we have had little rain. It’s suppose to be raining nearly everyday now. California isn’t doing well in this respect. Some one do a mighty rain dance for all of California. Thanks!

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Here’s a nice picture of the gazebo with some mist. As part of our physical conditioning we do lots of jumping for the legs. One of the drills is jumping up on to the wall in the picture (slightly higher than the knee) and back down as many times as possible for 30 seconds. I’ve been doing 3 rounds to build endurance and pacing. It’s easy to jump quick for the first 15 seconds and be burnt the last 15.  Shin pads suggested. Here’s why:

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Normally you end up with a bruised shin and minimal scraping, but this one went straight to the bone. I must have caught one of the edges funny. Since we’re training Gongfu there’s bound to be some injuries here and there. Scratches, bruises, and strains are the worst it gets. The stumps do tend to dish out some decent scrapes to the arms though. But we take lots of precautions to make sure nothing serious happens. A continuous conversation here is how to train hard and stay safe, both physically and mentally.

Since that wasn’t such a pretty picture I’ll leave you with this one.

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Here are the demonstrations of the high logs, low logs, and stumps. Thanks for waiting so long, it’s been an experiment with different programs to format the videos correctly. For now you’ll have to use the links at the bottom of this post.

On the high logs it took me about a minute. The goal is to be able to do the high log and the horizontal rope (seen at the beginning and end) in a minute. Whoo!

On the low logs I’m working on two things. Being as fast as possible and being as creative as possible. To be fast I run from one side to the other making as few steps as possible. I skip the not so solid logs and jump to the sturdy ones. It’s easier this way because you can get your momentum going. To be creative I try to find difficult routes. Sometimes I do laps around the outside, figure 8′s or zigzag. This tends to be much harder because of the kinds of logs and angles that you have to deal with. As well your momentum is constantly cut to shreds. Endurance becomes much more important. Either way keeping the feet and body moving as fast as possible is a high priority.

This is also the same for stumps. But stumps are trickery, especially on slightly damp days. Each stump has a different point of balance and some of these points are particularly small when you try to run across the top of them. Just like the low logs, finding challenging routes is essential so you don’t get stuck in same foot work. I compare these logs and stumps to the foot speed training we do. If you’re a moving target, you’re harder to hit. But it is different, as there is no backwards or side to side…yet. If you can maneuver around on these obstacles then it makes moving around on flat surfaces easier. You’re ankles, legs and balance all become stronger and more reliable.

High Logs

Low Logs




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We’ve gotten to the end of our second month. As with anything there have been both good days and bad days. As you know we run up the mountain for leg conditioning. It occurred to me as I was heading to the bottom the other morning how much easier it was going down than up.  I know, that’s obvious. But what was more valuable was that the mountain, in addition to a literal thing that causes sweaty clothes, suddenly became a metaphor. In life you have to climb many mountains over and over again. Maybe they’re different mountains or maybe they’re the same one. I suppose the individual decides. It’s easy to go down to the bottom and much harder to go back to the top. Maybe water has the right idea? But then what’s the point if we always take the easy way out? Maybe though you could go further? But aren’t mountains meant to be climbed? The views must be astounding. But what do you think?

My legs have been getting stronger. My foot speed on the low logs, high logs, and stumps is getting quicker. The low logs are essentially a massive version of pick up sticks that you run across as fast as you can. Of course you’re supposed to do this without breaking your ankle between any of the criss-crossed logs. The high logs are single logs connected from tree to tree about 10ft off the ground. You do the same thing, run along them as fast as you can, and again without falling off. The stumps…well dido, you use your balance, foot speed, coordination and rooting. This week I’ll get some video/photos showing what I am talking about for next weeks blog.

Hope everyone is doing well like usually.

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Sorry I missed last weekend’s blog. It had been a long week for me and I was quite exhausted. Dr. Yang helped me recuperate by giving me some advice and good food. It is such a special opportunity to be here learning directly from him and I am very thankful for all the effort he puts into us.

Last weekend, we did take the life of the young rooster. It’s not an enjoyable experience. It causes you to be much more empathetic and aware of what goes into eating meat as life is a valuable thing.

I’ve also planted a bed of beets over that last week for winter. I’ll be looking at some creative ways to cook them up and let you know what I find.

Below I’ve added two names of guys who came out here to train. They also treated us using acupuncture and Tui Na massage which was amazing after a hard day of training. These guys are great. Matt was only able to stay a week. Gray was fortunate enough to stay two months. I thank them for their patience for the time it’s taken me to get this up.

Here’s Gray’s bio:

My full name is Grayson Estrada (though I often go by Gray).  I attended Five Branches University of Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture in Santa Cruz, CA and recently graduated with my 4-year Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture.  My undergrad Bachelor’s Degree was in Studio Art from California State University Chico.
My ultimate vision is to integrate Traditional Art, Internal Martial Arts, Qigong, and the Healing Arts into a seminar based business model that people can practice as a path to healing.  Also, I feel the Healing Arts and the Martial Arts should be taught as an integrated whole because their relationship with one another is deeply reciprocal.  Within this synergistic system, I also plan to teach seminars on Food Healing and Emotional Intelligence.
My path to the Healing Arts stemmed from emersion in the Martial Arts.  The first style I formally trained in was Kuk Sul Do, a Korean Internal Martial Art, under Charles Duran.  I then progressed into studying the Chinese Internal Martial Arts, primarily Hsing-I, Bagua, and Tai Chi under the North American Tang Shou Tao Association.  Under this organization I was also trained in Jin Shou Tui Na Massage and Cranio Sacral Therapy.  Most recently, I had the unique opportunity to live and train at the YMAA Retreat Center for two months under Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming and his disciples / students.  My current emphasis is on maximizing the therapeutic, restorative, and healing aspects of the Internal Martial Arts, so that people are able to live and embody radiant health via the influences of these martial traditions.  I hope to teach the above mentioned tenets on a large scale with other like-minded practitioners who are willing and able to teach with open and receptive hearts.
Here is a link where more information can be found about me and part of an organization that I work with:  http://nourishing-life.org/practitioners/
The other gentleman I’d like to mention is Matt Abeyta:
 Mathew Abeyta, 37 years old, from Sacramento, CA. Trained locally in massage (CA). After 13 years of practice and many classes of different styles of massage I have lent my work to a more myofacialtechnique with long strokes mixed in.  My philosophy in massage has evolved into the system of understanding what a person physically does, how a person’s emotional state is (at the moment of a service), and learning how that particular person’s tissue reacts to different pressures and techniques, in order to find what works the best. I feel one can coax the tissue into relaxation and then apply deeper strokes to fortify that state of relaxation. I tend to apply a stroke with one hand and read the tissue response with the other.  I am currently the spa manager in a highly reputableAVEDA salon in the northern California territory. Strands Salon and Spa. Other than a good hands on massage, I also offer the Chakra massage, Hot Stones, and pregnancy services. I love meeting the babies after they are delivered.  I plan on reading Dr. Yang’s book on massage and making that a part of my practice as well.

This last week we went through a testing experience. It gave us a feel for how the semester tests will go. It was two long days of pushing ourselves to the max (from speed drills to taijiquan form and everything in between). Thanks to Dr. Yang and the senior students we learned a lot from it and it will severe as guidance. Because of it we have begun to revise our afternoon training schedule to be more efficient. I’ll eventually get the whole thing up here but for now patience will have to do.

The most common comment I heard for my self was that there needs to be more connection between the lower body and the upper body. Another general comment was to use the whole body (funny how “whole body” made it in there again) when jumping. The suggestion paid off because I was able to take my jumping to the next level, literally. I made it to 5th stair with a ~6 to 8ft running start using two feet to push and land. The dog, Xiaohu, wasn’t there at the time, I promise.

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For Saturday afternoon work we did some more renovation on the garden to clean up for winter. Some of the radish we planted and then relocated as sprouts (earlier plant pictures) turned out to be daikon instead. Daikon need more room to grow than radish. So we transplanted more of them. I counted about 70 for myself. Some went outside, but most went into the green house (the close bed and the far right bed in the last picture). Hopefully I did a good job as they will be some of our food for the winter. Next weekend we’re going slaughter a few chickens for food. One of them is a young rooster. We have an older rooster who will kill him eventually. This actually happen on one of my livestock days when I visited in March. It will be good to realize where my food comes from. At least these chicken have lived very enjoyable lives. Here they get to roam around all day and eat bugs as opposed to the nations supply of fast food chickens. They get to live in stacked cages and crap on each other. I think the food documentary Food Inc. talks about this.

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