Little Nine Heaven (Hsiao Chui Tien)

This page will document my experiences learning the Little Nine Heaven system in general and Shih Shui and Iron Body training specifically. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be dead by now if not for this training due to the amount of physical trauma I have endured in my life. It is starting to catch up with me and I have adopted a strategy to help balance things as I age but I have lived a fairly reckless life that would have killed ten normal men; this is no exaggeration. I have been hit in the head with just about everything and have been in at least a dozen car and motorcycle accidents, with several motorcycle wrecks that I shouldn’t have walked away from at all. L9H and Judo which taught me how to roll and interact with the ground in a relaxed manner have saved my life, in my opinion, several times.

Other than our senior brother Al Lam, I believe my brother, Gary and I were the first to begin learning this awesome, simple, brutal style, the oldest known Taoist martial art . This was back in the end days for the school in Orange, California. The simplicity and let’s face it, the cool ass name, was the very thing that drew me to it; Hsiao Chui Tien epitomized the concept of “fighting in a phone booth” and the development of close range, “no inch” power is taken to the highest level. The secrets of the system were unfolded for us by Lao Tzu and we realized how deep and extensive this system actually went but we were still clueless as to the true potential possible with this ancient practice.

I love the simple brutality and the focus on mercilessly ending the fight and I also noticed immediately the similarities to Splashing Hands. If you think about it, those that know both styles, the side shuffle and the side step in the Hsiao Chui Tien forms is the same move and the possibilities involved with the combination of the two swam in my head. Now all the time I had spent developing a Splashing Hands-based fighting style would once again have to be altered to include the obviously superior L9H style, at least for close-fighting.

I believe the perfect combination can be achieved by combining elements, theories and aspects of Hsiao Chui Tien into vicious close range power, the gap control and machine gun punching and kicking from Splashing Hands, the rotational speed and power afforded by Ba Kua, the one punch power of Hsing-I and the pin-point striking of Tzu Men Chuan along with the sensitivity and feeling of Tai Chi. This combination approach is certainly not the only way and there is much in favor of the method of staying with and truly mastering one style. It is something for junior brothers and sisters to think about; it is too late for me, I already have the curse of wanting it all.

A particularly memorable series of training sessions occurred at the Little Nine Heaven Retreat in Rainbow, California. I had the opportunity to work with Lao Tzu and Master Carl Kao from Florida on the full gamut of Hsiao Chui Tien skills and I learned a lot about this unique system. We were doing photos for the soon to be released Little Nine Heaven book and went over everything except the sword forms. It was quite extensive practice and the knowledge that was flowing around with both Masters working together was something special in which to take part. I really kick myself today for being so anti-picture in the past but it was always such a hassle in the days before cell phone cameras. The pictures below are the only ones I have from that session and I don’t know if they are being used for the book or who has the pictures we took but I will make a point of asking Lao Tzu and post more if they are available.

My first real attempts at learning to fight past a basic level with the Hsiao Chui Tien way began with private lessons at Lao Tzu’s house in Irvine with a fairly accomplished junior brother as my training partner. We got together a couple times a week for awhile and I learned so much as we practiced training drills from the L9H system, forms refinement and of course sparring. He was of a stocky build and pretty strong so it was a good pairing with my long lankiness. It was very hard for me to keep my Splashing Hands tendencies in check and try to apply the new things that Sifu was showing us, it took nearly all of my focus and attention because I had spent so much time changing from the Jeet Kune Do way to Hsing-I and Splashing Hands. We would simulate different types of attacks from striking to grappling and use Hsiao Chui Tien techniques and theories to counter.

It was a collaborative effort between my partner and me, I thought, and I was sincerely trying to work together to help each other improve. We had a few good exchanges and each got the other a few times but there was never any doubt in my mind that I could roll over him if I wanted to because I was so much faster and could hit much harder with way stronger hands. If I used Splashing Hands to close the gap and came in close to finish with close range power it would have been over quickly. But I was working at about 10-20 percent trying to ingrain the new techniques, tactics and theories; We would counter punches and kicks and sometimes we would simulate some grappling moves then counter with L9H.

It was my turn as the grappler and I came in with a half effort attempt at a double leg takedown, not even opening with punches and sweeping in to the side of the leg like you would if it was a real attempt at takedown and my partner stepped in with a well timed elbow right in my throat, which was the counter we were practicing except now he had suddenly ramped it up to the reality level. Maybe it was an accident, I don’t know. It sucked and instantly pissed me off which Sifu immediately recognized and he stopped the action and sent me inside to “splash water on my face”. I came back out and we finished up with no further incident because he really hadn’t hurt me, so I let it go, but it was the first indication that he had a problem of some kind. That was the last time we trained together and I was disappointed to find out later from second hand sources that he had some kind of internal agenda going on when I thought we were training together with the spirit of brotherhood the whole time. There were many times during our sessions together where I easily had him and held back and now I was kind of sorry that I did.

I know Lao Tzu wants everyone to play nice and help each other, losing ego along the way and I for one, fully understand the great benefit to be derived from this approach. I just question whether human nature can be truly overcome by enough people to really foster and potentiate this way of practice, especially when it comes to open sparring. I think a select few are mentally and spiritually developed enough to maintain the possibility; I know I had adopted the attitude well enough, although I had my moments where ego raised it’s head, but preserving the Way meant more to me. If I can do it, I guess anyone can.

I heard later that my former partner had quit learning from Lao Tzu and said although Lao Tzu was good he could not teach, implying that his students aren’t any good and that he thought I, personally, would have been better! Well, I think I could be better too, but of course, he never said anything to me in person, I heard all this second hand after I praised him on the L9H site. I couldn’t believe it; here was this semi-talented upstart thinking the entire time we were training together that I sucked, while there I was holding back and trying to learn new sophisticated techniques and theories that he should have been thankful for the opportunity to learn together.

Instead he harbored some misguided view of himself compared to my abilities; if he only knew. If he ever reads this just know that you saw nothing of what I can actually do and that I have been through things in my life that he couldn’t fathom and this is no brag, just fact. If I wasn’t good I would be dead now and probably others as well. One time for sure I saved my friend’s ass in a gang fight, well, two of us against a gang with another friend as our wheel man and another time my brother was in more trouble than he would admit at a punk rock show at the hands of skinheads. I also literally saved a guy’s ass from falling forty feet to the ground by catching his arm and hauling him back to safety. Look for those stories on the Instructor page of this website. My final message to him would be, that as far as I am concerned, the talking part is done and I am easy to find.

My visit to Taiwan in 1988 with Lao Tzu and another junior brother from the Orange school in California was one of the high points of my life. It was my first time out of the country besides surfing and partying in Mexico, and was an assault on the senses and sensibilities of a still pretty immature kid of twenty-eight years old. We were there primarily to compete in the annual Tang Shou Tao full contact tournament and Lao Tzu was there to train with his teachers. I was at a point where I really wanted to see what I could do with about 8 years of training and a handful of point tournaments and some real fights under my belt. I tell the full story of this visit on the Splashing Hands page.

Besides fighting and the missed opportunity to be with the most beautiful Chinese girl I had ever met due to my roommate and I converging on our shared room with the same plan without proper coordination, I most remember meeting the Honorable Master Chiao Chang Hung. We went one day after our morning training visiting the Master at his business office in Taipei. I don’t remember a lot of detail and I have always been regretfully bad about recording events with pictures but I do have this one of the Master and me from that day.

With the language barrier there wasn’t a lot of conversation between us personally, I know I bowed frequently and kept my mouth shut. My impression of Master Chiao was that he wasn’t really that fond of Westerners, it seemed like he just tolerated us, not that he was anything but hospitable; he exuded an energy that warned you not to fuck with him. I have always described it to people that it was like how I imagine it would be in the presence of an uncaged tiger. I had of course heard the stories of his background and I knew that this was a guy that had killed, really killed, a number of people. I thought he looked awesome for his age and was a testimonial to the efficacy of his teachings.

We didn’t really train while we were there; it was not the custom for grand-students to learn from their grand-teachers although the custom was altered during that trip with Eric and me learning Tzu Men Chuan from Master Chin. Master Chiao was also getting around with the help of a cane; I think this was soon after he was hit by a motor-scooter stepping off of a curb on the streets of Taipei, which anyone who has been there knows, could happen to anyone. The point is he wasn’t getting up to show us anything but we got a great lesson nonetheless.

We were sitting around a small table and Master Chiao reached out and picked up a small classic style wooden backscratcher about two feet long and brandished it in the air like a conductor and began demonstrating Chian-Kuan Jen sword-fighting techniques with Lao Tzu as the opponent, using his arm as a sword. Again there was the language barrier and even with a translator it wasn’t perfect; but seeing is worth a thousand words, to paraphrase. Master Chiao would say a few descriptive things with each technique he demonstrated such as “the snake wrapping the vine”  and “traveling down the branch to pierce the trunk” showing different aspects of the Thirteen Characters, all while never leaving his seat.

It was very impressive and informative and I learned so much about integrating the use of a weapon, any weapon, with the principles of empty hand fighting. It wasn’t until some years later that I learned the first sword form and received more formal instruction from Lao Tzu. I was blown away by the extent of technique contained within this seemingly simple form. I only have a junk practice sword and a real sword designed like the Little Nine Heaven sword would be one of my first bucket list purchases.

I would have to say that the most real world benefit for me from the Little Nine Heaven system would be the Iron Body aspects of the Shih Shui system, closely followed by the love-making techniques. The Iron Body training has saved my life on multiple occasions and I recount examples of this on other pages of this website but this page will be comprehensive in it’s scope. I have mentioned before that I have endured some legendary trauma to the head and I have some concern about TBI (traumatic brain injury) related symptoms developing as I age. My first real head trauma I can remember happened at a fairly early age of ten years old when I lived in Illinois so perhaps some  of my trauma enduring ability is genetic. I have had several dentists tell me one time that I have a thicker than normal jaw where the molars are and God knows I have a thick head.

We lived in a rural ranch-style split level home with a long flat concrete driveway that connected to the street of our cul-de-sac. This is the house that had a creek running through the property and was bordered by a thick woodland and was the location of the incident with the kayakers I wrote about on the Hsing-I page. It was winter time and the driveway was covered with a thick sheet of ice of varied texture and I was delighting in a game I came up with in which I would get as much of a running start as I could using the walkway into our house that jutted off of the driveway that was thawed using salt to dissolve the ice.

I would get an angled running start and transition to the ice on the driveway in a diagonal path with as much steam as I could muster and hit the ice, sliding gleefully down the drive arms waving for balance, totally unable to steer, of course, then hit the end of the drive where a patch of bare concrete would allow me to stutterer-step to a stop. Kids who grew up in such environs will relate. All went well until it didn’t and it was a doozie as they say, whoever those assholes are.

I launched into another rep as it were and had a full head of steam as I slid toward the finish line and with just a slight change in the complex variables of nature I hit an irregular bumpy spot, a rock protruding up through the ice sheet that I stubbed the toe of my boot into bringing my forward momentum to an abrupt stop, launching me head first down the driveway with viscous speed, allowing no chance to break my fall. Probably a good thing because I would have broken both wrists if I landed wrong without a correct Judo break-fall although I was pretty good that and it has saved me several times as the reader will see. Given the time, in a normal fall, I may have pulled it off but there was no time. My arms were waving around at my sides when the force slammed me right on my face, I didn’t even have the time to turn my head to the side.

Those who know me can probably guess that the first thing that hit was my nose and this incident was really what created the honker I have today. My nose has only been broken  twice, and neither time was in a fight. This was the first time and the second time was years later in the pit at a punk rock show. It was a complete accident and occurred when a guy I was following around the pit suddenly threw his head back in time with the  music while at the same time I was crushed up against him  by the crowd of punkers behind me. The back of his head hit the bridge of my nose and I felt the crack; the music was too loud to really hear anything. I knew it was broken but it was clean and I barely missed a step as I gripped it with my hand and pulled it to reset it, albeit imperfectly and kept skanking on. (Skanking is a slang term for slam dancing which is the original term for “moshing”. Skanking and slamming were the accepted terms used by the cool punks; yes, my eyes are rolling as I write this. )

The broken nose which manifested the next day as two black raccoon eyes was really never diagnosed or assessed after I got up off the driveway and ran into the house. My mom was more distracted by the bump on my forehead that soon swelled to the literal size of a baseball. We rushed to the hospital where they missed or dismissed the broken nose but also assured us that the large bump was a good sign, much better than no bump after such a significant strike to the head. My parents were given the usual instructions for watching out for concussion and we were sent home.

The double black eyes, a strong indicator of a broken nose, appeared the next day but was never related by anyone to my nose which had a hook to it that it didn’t have before. Our guardians were pretty clueless about things sometimes and this was just one of many occasions. I healed, although it affects breathing through my nose to this day, and lived to endure more, the usual bumps and bruises of being a kid running wild until we got into jumping off wooden ramps with our bicycles. One of our makeshift constructs collapsed on me just as I was launching and I went ass over tea kettle, as old people say, and bonked my head pretty good, again, and on top of that, getting some painful road rash abrasion on my left knee.

The same thing happened again; the parental units were concerned about the bump on my head and completely disregarded the angry wound on my knee which began to sprout little blisters around the wound area. Then a red streak appeared on the inside of my thigh about half way up from my knee. The common wisdom of the time among non-medical “experts” was if you had a red line coming from the wound up toward the heart you had “blood poisoning”, a potentially fatal infection.

My mommy, the self-styled mid-wife, initially said that since the streak on my leg was not a line (it was a wide mark like if you scratched the skin to relieve an itch) and it started well above the area of the wound, it was probably not blood poisoning but luckily she had no strength in her conviction and took me to the doctor just to be safe. The doctor said that if we had waited another twenty-four hours I would have been in real trouble. He had to dig several rocks out of the festering wound, gave me a round of antibiotics and a green salve to use like a poultice on the wound itself.

Everything came out all right that time but I had many such incidents growing up. I knocked all my bottom teeth out when I was still small enough to need to stand on the edge of the bath tub to reach the light switch. I was kind of a strange kid and I loved playing deep sea diver in the bath tub with the bathroom door closed and the lights off. I climbed out of the tub onto the edge and as I reached for the switch my wet feet slipped out and I went straight down, teeth to tub with no break-fall whatsoever. The wailing began instantly and when my mom came in, the bathroom looked like a slaughter house. I recovered from that too, of course, but my bottom permanent teeth came in crooked. Luckily I was pretty young and while I remember the incident, the trauma from the memory is not there, unlike some of the other occurrences.

My memory is not complete as to how it happened but when I was six or seven I was getting out of the back seat of the heavy American made sedan that our family tooled around in and I was struggling to close the creaking medieval portal gate that passed for the door of this beast of a car with my pipe-cleaner arms and I guess I didn’t get my hand out of the way in time. My thumb ended up being slammed in the door, the full weight crushing the crap out it; luckily no broken bones but lots of blood and a scar I still have to this day. I am actually not one hundred percent sure that one of my family members, probably my mom, didn’t do it trying to help me close the door; I was getting out of the passenger side and that is the side she sat on, of course. It is not hard to visualize the scenario.

One of the worst things that happened, probably around the age ten or twelve, I mentioned briefly on the Hsing-I page. It seriously fucked with my head to the point that I no longer wanted to play baseball, a sport that I really loved and at which I excelled. It was my final year of All Stars, looking forward to trying out for and playing Pony League, the “big time”; I was at times a pitcher, first baseman and outfielder, with a reputation as a pitcher for being a flamethrower that was somewhat wild, with several hit batters under my belt. What happened was probably karma. I could pitch, run (I did a 10.2 seconds 100 yard dash in ninth grade) and hit pretty well for a skinny goof. One of my favorite games was to throw the ball up in the air as far as I could and then run after it and catch it as a fly ball, an exercise I learned from a book about Willie Mays. My Uncle Bob and I were never closer than we were during those years I played ball. I wonder how things may have been different if not for this incident.

I was up to bat against a pitcher who threw fireballs and he was trying to move me back as I crowded the plate as a right handed batter so I could get on top of his fastball. I had my back arm out over the plate too much and the fastball ripped into the tender meat of the inside of my arm just above, thank God, the medial epicondyle which would have broken, no doubt. It hurt so bad that I can draw beads of sweat just thinking about it today. I doubled over and gamely tried to take my base without crying like a little baby, not really succeeding. The coach and Uncle Bob came out to first base and they examined my arm and watched it swell before their eyes and I was done. No thanks, fuck this. You could see the laces from the  ball perfectly embedded in bruising, it looked like a baseball was sticking out of my arm.

I quit then and there, it was suddenly not worth it and the relationship between my uncle and I was never the same. It was never great but he took pride in my success as a baseball player and we got along well during those years. I think he even hugged me once that I remember. But after quitting Judo and now baseball he probably lost what little pride he had in me.

While not really related to physical trauma I had my share of medical maladies; the usual and the unusual. I ate a bottle of baby aspirin and had to have my stomach pumped. I was “lucky” enough to get chicken pox at a fairly young age; it was pretty severe and I don’t know if it would exactly correlate but if I got it as an adult and it was that bad it could well have killed me. I got a case of German measles that was so bad I was hallucinating that the bed I was laying in was on fire. I ate a raw hot-dog one time and my eye swelled shut from some kind of allergic reaction. I still like an occasional dog but I have never been able to make it through two; half way through the second one I always start to feel nauseous. I might not be alone on that one.

One hot summer day for no apparent reason, during a family cookout, I broke out in canker sore fever blisters of some kind that covered the entire inside of my mouth and tongue; hundreds of them. It was like I had chewed a mouthful of razor blades and I was miserable, hot, sweaty and in excruciating pain. It lasted several days and the docs had no idea. I also got to experience the weirdness of general anesthesia when I had my tonsils removed  and again later in life after a motorcycle accident. That temporal fugue state of no memory, being awake one second then waking up again with no feeling of the passage of time, not even a dream, is scary and fascinating at the same time.

I mentioned before that I give a more detailed account of growing up in Illinois on the Hsing-I page but other than the assorted hornet stings and non-venomous snake bites and other insults that come from living around the forest, that was about it for memorable trauma as a kid, as if that weren’t enough. But the fun continued when we moved to California and my interests began to branch out.

We ended up in the Orange County area of southern California, “the OC”, and I began to pursue in earnest a dream that began while we were still in the northern Cal area; surfing. I threw myself into it like everything I do and had many awesome and awful experiences which will be more detailed on the Instructor page of this website. Suffice here to say that I suffered  many more blows to the head from leashed surfboards snapping back and hitting me while out in big waves and was near to drowning many times.

My dreams of being a pro surfer were dashed mainly due to the injury I suffered to me knee as outlined on the Hsing-I page, but also by one particularly huge day, the biggest waves I had ever seen let alone been out in, thinking about taking off and just realizing that I didn’t have the commitment necessary to survive in such an environment. Surfing is still one of the greatest challenges of my life that I met and followed through on with some success. I tell this full story on the Instructor page which gets much more in depth on my different endeavors outside of Kung Fu.

I started racking up injury time again after I purchased my first motorcycle. You may be able to guess by now how I handled my immersion into this most complicated and fascinating sport; a full head first dive ending in a cannonball. I rode a motorcycle as my only form of transportation for years and with that level of exposure in a traffic environment like one encounters in southern California it is not if, but when, something is going to happen.

I got my first motorcycle around the early 1980’s and it was a Honda CB500, I forget what year, maybe a 1980. It was cool for about five minutes and then I wanted something faster. I installed a four into one exhaust pipe to squeeze a few extra horses out of what was a lost cause while I figured out how to upgrade to a better bike. It didn’t help that soon my brother, always following my lead, bought a bad-ass 1984 Kawasaki Ninja 900, the state of the art at the time, which he wasted no time upgrading with race modifications and illegal-in-California parts but more on that later.

They (whoever those pricks are) say that most accidents happen close to the home and it was certainly true in my case. I was tinkering in the garage with the carburetors trying to sync the output without a carb balancer; basically doing it by ear and feel with short test rides.  I took off down the street with no  helmet so I could hear what was happening with the bike: this was before I started wearing leathers and I was clothed in Levis and a tee-shirt.

A car turned onto the street ahead of me from a side street and pulled to the right toward the curb like they were parking; no turn indicator of course. I made a mistake by assuming and went to go around to the left because I thought the car was parking on the right side of the street when it was actually turning left into a driveway. A frequent effect, if you will, in this type of situation is a temporal distortion or slowing of time and movement, a natural attribute of the brain to allow reaction time from the body. I saw the situation unfolding before me as the car pulled in front of me, panicked when they saw me and stopped, blocking the road in front of me. This is a common reaction from vehicle drivers when they fuck over someone on a motorcycle. I angled the bike toward the rear of the vehicle and intentionally laid it down in a low-side slide in an effort to avoid a broadside collision.

I was successful and my bike jammed up underneath the rear driver’s side of the car and after a nice instinctive break-fall, I slid along just behind the bike but managed to stop before hitting the car myself. My right shoulder and hip had taken some trauma and I had significant road-rash on my shoulder but for the most part was unscathed; not easy to accomplish after dumping it at 45+ m.p.h. My bike was a little beat up but I pushed it back up the street to home after dealing with the accident situation and we both lived to ride again.

Along with teaching how to fall properly, martial arts in general helped strengthen my body inside and out; Shih Shui in particular without a doubt saved me from more serious injury on a motorcycle or from being knocked out in fights  as I will relate in several stories. The story is about to get good because my next motorcycle was a beast. I will go more in depth about the nefarious circumstances of my life on the Instructor page but I had a job at one time that required travel at all hours and the ability to get away from the police if necessary.

One of the guys involved who later became a junior brother under Lao Tzu McNeil, had a bike he let me ride one time and it was like nothing I had ridden before or since really, including the more modern sport-bikes of the 21st century. I had to have it so I convinced him and his partner, another good friend of mine from high school to sell it to me so I could use it for work. I will delve more into my association with these guys on the  Instructor page. The bike was a conglomeration, the Frankenbike, I called it, of the frame from a 1979 Kawasaki KZ900 frame with the swing arm (the fork that holds the rear tire) beefed up and the angle changed to keep the front end on the ground for drag racing, combined with a Kawasaki Z1R 1000 c.c.  race motor filled with illegal for-the-streets parts, including a Bassani Competition exhaust pipe with no baffle; totally illegal and would make windows shake when it was started in front of the house. I was still at Mom’s and she made me roll it down the street to start it.

This thing had the smoothest most intense acceleration and transfer of power and was almost impossible to wheelie making it a beast in the quarter mile. But it would start to get speed wobbles (an uncontrollable shaking of the handlebars and front end) at around 130 m.p.h and did not corner worth a shit, certainly not compared to my brother’s fully worked Ninja that I mentioned earlier. But my bike could take his in the quarter mile easily and it was a lethal weapon in the hands of an idiot.

I go more in depth into my time behind bars on the Instructor page so look for the full story there but this bike was instrumental in me getting my second longest stretch in jail of two weeks locked up for evading arrest (I wasn’t) and reckless driving (I guess, technically) because I was going 110 m.p.h. on the freeway, which is nothing, really, compared to the Autobahn in Germany. But I had many good times screaming around on that thing until one fateful afternoon.