Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stepping into the role of Sifu

     I have been busy the last few weeks teaching a beginner's Shaolin Kung-Fu series through Free Arts of Arizona.  It has honestly been some of the most rewarding time I've spent in my life. There are 10 kids raging in age from 10 - 16  and they all seemed enthusiastic.  I gained a new appreciation for all my teachers. Especially my own Sifu.  He has often made teaching seem effortless, apart from being an amazing martial-artist he is also a very good teacher. He is great at building a rapport with his students as well as being explain and demonstrate the finer aspects to his students. 

I've ran classes before, I've filled in for my instructor a number of times. I teach groups of beginners regularly at my kwoon. One thing I've noticed about teaching martial arts is that you truly have to understand the material you are teaching. When you are going through a form or an individual technique, your body has to go through the movement and you have to be able to describe what you are doing as you are doing it. Hand Placement, Stances, the targets you are striking to while you are performing your movement. You can't go off of a pre-packaged lesson plan written by someone else.

     Teaching also allows you to work out your own questions with your movements. Try going through your techniques mentally. Perform any simple movement - i.e. A round-house kick, A horse stance, A straight punch, A joint-lock. If you've done it any number of times before, executing the move will be seamless you won't need to think about it.  Then try and perform the movement slowly and try to talk through it as if you are teaching an absolute beginner the movement for the first time. I gaurantee you that you will probably stumble a few times if you don't completely have it down or if you haven't really thought about it. Teaching will also give you a deeper level of understanding of your art. This is why I'm more than happy to help my fellow students before during and after class because I'm also deepening my own understanding of the art so I'm grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.

      There are also the things you teach without words, the things you do by your actions while in a training session. Do you show discipline and focus during your class time. Are you giving your students the deeper lessons of Kung-Fu? As I sat for the first time in front of the kids I was tasked to teach, I realized what an awesome responsibility that was and I was extremely nervous. I am also learning how to be a better teacher, I have learned to spot when I am losing my students' focus and attention. When to provide positive encouragement and when to provide firm discipline. The importance of a lesson plan for each lesson. Which students require a little more instructions to be pulled out of their shells. Its still a work in progress but hopefully one day I'll get there.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Its been a long time/ since I left you/without some posts to step to....

My blog posts have been sparse and intermittent, I have not had much time to blog which I hope to change soon. I've been working on some of my new years resolutions with some success. Although less than I would have liked. I've removed some goals and added some new ones since then.  So here is how I've done so far


 Original Goals

1) Train Daily - My goal was to rain every day. Whether it is working on technique, strength training, endurance. I committed  doing at least one training session of at least 20 - 30 minutes at a time.


Training Results
       I've started training for 1 hour to 1.5 hours each morning. My workout consists of 2 parts - qigong and forms. For the qigong I do Yijinjing postures and/or Hua-To's 5 animal frolics. I go to a nearby park early in the morning and work out. I've also been experimenting with including conditioning programs like P90x outside of my daily training sessions to improve my strength. I've started and stopped the P90x a couple of times. I've had 2 week trials but I have not been able to not skip days due to time constraints and muscle fatigue. I need to look at re-orienting my schedule so maybe I do my conditioning work in the morning and
my form practice /qigong in the evenings.


       I've noticed huge improvements in my cardio-vascular conditioning, flexibility and reflexes. My stances are more solid and I've also been able to understand certain movements more intuitively. This has also led to improvements in class. I've become a better teacher when instructing students and my sparring has improved tremendously. It was hard to wake up an hour earlier everyday but after two weeks it became like clockwork. I didn't even think about it. It became a habit like brushing teeth and I was bothered if I didn't train so if I missed a morning, I would do make ups at lunch time or in the evening.


2)  Martial Arts Program - It was a goal at the beginning of the year to start a non-profit martial arts program for at risk youth in my area.


 Martial Arts Program Results


 I'm partnering with Free Arts of Arizona and I'm extremely excited because I am going to teach a beginners Shaolin Kung-Fu series for 9 weeks starting June 1st! 


3) Diet - My goal was to go to a Vegetarian diet at the beginning of the year. My diet has been 70 percent Vegetarian /30 percent Vegan.  I'm trying to slowly cut out all animal products from my diet (I still consume limited amounts of dairy in the form of cheese).


Diet Results
I've lost 15 pounds going from 180 - 165 lbs. I've cut my body fat percentage from 15% to 9% and lost 2 pant sizes going from a 34 to 32. I feel more energetic but I feel like I've also lost some upper body strength as I haven't been doing as much strength training. I also have not quite figured out the right protein balance as  I'm experimenting with different plant based protein sources such as hemp powder, beans, nuts and tempeh.


4) Meditation - Here was my meditation goal - "I will meditate daily for a total of 20 to 30 minutes a day. Whether it is doing it early in the morning or late in the evening. I can combine it with my training schedule."


Meditation Results
This is the area that I've struggled the most because I have not practiced seated meditation much in the last 6 months. I've found more success with more motion based meditative movements such as walking meditation, Taiji and doing things like Yijinjing and even sometimes yoga. I haven't yet fully mastered the art of sitting still and I would like to be able to sit in zazen (seated meditation) for at least 15 minutes. So if I reread my goal then I have had success but I would like to be able to explore seated meditation more.


Added Goals


5) Learning Mandarin - I would like to be able to eventually read and write Chinese. I think this will give me a greater understanding of Kung-Fu. I've signed up for a 6 month subscription to learn conversational chinese at www.melnyks.com which I've really enjoyed.  The podcasts are free but you have to pay for the worksheets and transcriptions. I've experimented with using MIT's Open Course Ware to see if I could self study using their course content for Chinese I but I found that I did not learn as much as I did with the conversational Mandarin at Serge Melnyk's site.


6) Explore the philosophies of Ch'an Buddhism and Taoism - I wanted to have a more in depth knowledge of Ch'an Buddhism and Taoism to also further my understanding of the art.  I've been studying online at www.buddhanet.net which is a fantastic resource for Buddhism. You can find general introductions to Buddhism as well as translations of sutras in all the different branches of Buddhism (Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana). Shaolin Chan Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana branch.


I've also picked up a few books that I've also found valuable to increasing my knowledge in this area. I'll compile the list and post them on here at some point.




7) Knowledge of Chinese Medicine. In particular the knowledge of Acupuncture points and Qi meridians - I've always wanted to get an in depth understanding into pressure points for Martial arts as well as for healing.  My goal is to first understand the meridians and then work on knowing all the points in the human body.


8) Skill in  joint locking (Qin-Na) and ground fighting - I would like to work on getting more skill in joint locking as well as ground fighting (throws, take downs, sweeps as well as defense on the ground). My instructor is a fantastic wrestler and we have been exploring all the throws and joint locks in many of our existing Kung-Fu forms. My goal is to be able to skillfully apply Qin-Na locks as well as take downs. I've neglected to improve on this as I've relied too much on my striking skill.  We've had new students who come from grappling based arts who have shown me that I have neglected this area of training for too long (special thanks to Big T for kicking my but and showing me I needed to improve my ground skills)


9) Complete the P90x program from start to finish - I have not been able to finish the P90x program all the way through. The DVDs are sitting on my kitchen counter taunting me daily. my goal by the end of the year will be to have completed it once.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Training with classical weapons in the age of the Gun

In my Kung-Fu school we train with classical chinese weapons. Staff, Broadsword, Straight Sword, Chainwhip, Kwan Dao (Halberd), Tie Cha (Sai), Er Chie Kuen (Nunchaku), Spear, 3-Sectional Staff and others. Some people would question the benefits of training with such weapons when the most commonly used weapons are pistols, rifles, shotguns and other projectile weapons. The classical weapons were the military weapons of their day, so shouldn't we be training with the current military weapons of our time?


There are some benefits to training with classical weapons. Here are a few:


1. It challenges your mind when learning how to handle a classical weapon  
    Each weapon you train with has a unique feel, training with a staff has a different feel than training with a spear.  There are different principles involved in correctly using both.  Flexible weapons like the nunchaku, spear, 3-section staff and chain whip all have a different feel than using non-flexible weapons. Long weapons have different advantages and disadvantages than using short weapons. You have to learn the strengths, weaknesses and principles of each weapon until you can truly use it effectively.  By learning to use each weapon effectively, you are training your neural pathways in different ways which will enhance your mental development.


2. You train your body so that you can make the weapon an extension of it
     True skill with weapons occurs when the practitioner handling the weapon makes it a part of him/her.  The weapon becomes like another limb and the practitioner has full and complete control over it. Having broken my nose with a 3-Sectional staff, I can tell you that this is way easier said than done. It takes countless hours of practice to acheive this feat. But once you do you gain an advantage over your opponent because you can extend your reach and fighting ability with it.


3. The Weapons train your body in ways that your empty hand techniques do not
     Training with weapons also trains different areas of the body in ways that empty hand forms do not. One of my staff workouts incorporates using different staff spins using both hands 50 times each. My shoulders, forearms and wrists are extremely sore afterwards but it is a great workout. Each weapon works the body in a different way.


4. Everyday objects become weapons
     
     When you train with classical weapons, you can substitute them for everyday objects. A detachable broom handle can substitute in place of a staff, A garbage can top and a stick can substitute for a broadsword and shield. You can use an umbrella or a cane as a straightsword or broadsword.  There are certain weapons forms that incorporate the use of benches which can be substituted for chairs.  A tragic example of this is how the 9/11 hijackers took control of the airplanes using simple boxcutters. Pre 9/11, the security teams at the airports screened mainly for guns and knives but the attackers  used boxcutters  as weapons against defenseless passengers and flight crew. So after the security screening the passengers were unarmed but unfortunately the terrorists were not. 

5. Training with weapons can increase your overall skill
     Training your mind and body differently can improve your overall martial ability. Also when you understand the true principles behind using a weapon, you no longer need to use it. Legend has it that Xingyichuan (Mind-Form boxing) was created by General Yue Fei.  It was supposedly based on spear fighting techniques. If you understand the principle that the weapon embodies,  you can discard the weapon and use your whole body in its place.  

The dialogue between the King of Qin and Jet Li's character 'Nameless' at the end of the movie 'Hero' exemplifies this point. The King is discussing the levels of swordsmanship. 
"Swordsmanship's first achievement; is the unity of man and sword. Once this unity is attained
even a blade of grass can be a weapon.The second achievement is when the sword exists in one's heart. When absent from one's hand, one can strike an enemy at paces even with bare hands.  Swordsmanship's ultimate achievement is the absence of the sword in both hand and heart. The swordsman is at peace
with the rest of the world, he vows not to kill and to bring peace to mankind"*

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Love is the Secret Ingredient

If you love it enough, anything will talk to you.
George Washington Carver

I have gone through a love/hate relationship with training. When I first started studying kung-fu, I loved it and I could not wait to wake up the next morning to practice. I would take every opportunity after class to go over something with my fellow students. Then I went through a phase when training became a chore. It became something I was supposed to do and not because I loved it. I began to question why I began studying kung-fu in the first place and at one point I thought about quitting altogether. I had many drastic changes going on in life and kung-fu seemed like one obligation that I could do without. My attitude changed and I have come to love my training again. When I am practicing in the park first thing in the morning, my hands are cold and there is silence save for the occasional jogger or person walking their dog. I enjoy training, whether it is doing Qigong, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Black Tiger Fist or any of the other material I am working on. I end my workout feeling so invigorated and alive. I love the feeling I get when I am going through forms. Trying to push myself to move as powerfully and as gracefully as I possibly can. To push myself so my stances are lower, my movements are fast, my punches and kicks powerful. I feel truly alive and free.

I think that if training becomes an obligation rather than an act of love, it will become something that we dread instead of value. It'll become something to check off our list. We won't pour everything we have into each session and in doing so we cheat ourselves of the opportunity for true growth. The opportunity to make our art a part of ourselves and to get the chance to gain true mastery instead of mere competence.

I have come to appreciate the gifts of Kung-Fu training. The ability to hone the mind, body and spirit. The gift of being able to apply what I have learned in the Kwoon to other areas of life. To apply the same skilled practice and focus to my work and my home life. I have learned to love Kung-Fu and all martial arts for the many gifts they give. Discipline, Focus, Respect, Strength, Health and Inner Peace. I love the soreness I feel after an intense training session. I love the camaraderie with other students. The many different areas of training (Internal, External, Hard, Soft, Empty Hand styles, Weapons). I love the poetry of the forms. How two people can do the same technique completely differently and everyone can give it their own essence. I am grateful for all that martial arts has given me and I am in the process of trying to come up with a way to pay that gift forward. I hope that maybe one day after I have poured enough love and sweat into the art, I will be able to truly understand all that it has to say.

Shiny Colored Belts and the myth of the Black Belt 'Expert'

The system of belt ranking that many modern martial arts schools use was invented by Kanō Jigorō the founder of Judo. It was originally devised as a tool to allow students to measure their training progress and to give greater granularity to martial arts training. Students would be able to track their progress against the expectations of whatever belt level they were supposed to be.

The Black Belt symbolizes for many people the highest achievement that one can achieve in any art. Tell someone who does not study martial arts that you have a black belt or black sash in any art and you immediately become viewed as an authority or expert in whatever art you supposedly study. Sometimes people have multiple black-belts in different martial arts styles and are expected to be experts across many disciplines. In Kung-Fu there were three levels - Student, Disciple and Master. You were a student from the time you started your studies until you displayed a certain level of competency. Masters would then make the most promising of their students disciples and teach them more of their art and include teachings previously unavailable to students. Discipleship was given to students who were not only sound technicians but also displayed strength of character. Then after further training, refinement and many years of long and hard study. A disciple would become a master himself.

You can purchase any belt or sash you want from any martial arts supply store. It doesn't make you any more skilled than you were previously. A black belt merely signifies that you have displayed a certain competency while studying your chosen art. It can be like getting a college degree after four years. You are competent in your chosen field but you are by no means an expert in your area. Just like the quality of an education varies between schools so does the quality of black-belts vary between students. Some schools promote their students on a much more lenient scale and require less from a black belt or black sash student than do other schools.

There is a danger of putting too much emphasis on the belt or sash that you wear. Sometimes people get obsessed with belts. They become so focused on the next belt and getting to the mythical black belt that it becomes a race. Never satisfied with truly grasping their current level, they are in a huge hurry to get to whatever is next so that they can get to the promised rank - the black belt/black sash. Rank fuels their ego and finally there is a point where the ego is so big that they finally assume that they have learned all their is to know about their chosen art and finally they quit. Sometimes it is because they get humbled during class after sparring a student who they assumed was inferior because they had a lesser rank. Once they get humbled by the lower ranking student, the ego cannot take the bruising so they question the material instead of questioning their commitment to training.

In my 8 years of studying Shaolin Kung-Fu, I am always amazed at how much more there is to learn. Just when I think I have gotten to a level of competency, there is an additional level to get to. There are not just additional physical challenges, but mental and spiritual ones as well. You have to learn how to subdue the ego so that you aren't so impressed by your own achievements. You merely have to set the bar higher for yourself, to try to improve so that you were better than you were the last time you were in class. To make it to the next training session/class. As the Old Master wrote in the Tao Te Ching - "The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Focus on the next step, not the journey.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Community and Practice

I have always found it strange that I could never do as many push ups by myself as I could in class. Is it the venue that gives you the extra bit of strength? Is it the instructor encouraging you to push yourself past your preconceived limit? Or is it just having more people around you that gives you that extra bit of strength.

I've been thinking about the importance of training with a group of people and how it helps you become a better martial artist. Most of my closest friends I have met at the Kwoon. There is something about training and enduring hardship that makes people bond quicker. I spent many hours after class drilling techniques with students in my group. Asking senior students for help, providing help to junior students who needed it. I don't think I would have been able to gain certain insights had I not been training in a community. To paraphrase Morpheus in The Matrix, "There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path".

There are certain disciplines that you can learn on your own and become expert at. Martial arts is not one of them. No matter how much you practice on your own, you can never truly manifest your skill unless you practice with others. It is one thing to learn a technique and spend hours honing it. It is quite another to use it in a sparring match against different students with different body types and temperaments. You quickly find out how vast the difference is by knowing a technique and experiencing a technique until it is part of you. You may find a technique works well against a smaller opponent but you find yourself frustrated because a bigger stronger student shook off your attacks with ease and delivers a painful counter. You have to experiment and find what works and what doesn't.

Most of the learning I have done has been after the training session where I spent hours practicing with fellow students. We would share insights and give each other pointers. Sometimes you need someone else's point of view to see when you are doing something wrong. Sometimes I get frustrated during sparring sessions when nothing I am trying seems to work. I would ask students I sparred with after class how they would always get in a technique on me and they would tell me whether I was telegraphing or leaving an opening. This sharing of information is invaluable to improving. I've had to bury my ego many times when people would wipe the floor with me but it was a great learning experience. I frequently give pointers to junior students if they need help.

Most students learn initially by mimicking their instructor. It is only after diligent practice studying alone and amongst other students and that one is able to go from copying to ownership. You make your knowledge a part of you.

I've made many lasting friendships in the Kwoon. Most of my closest friends are my fellow students. There is something about enduring hardship that makes fast friends. I experienced something similar in the Marines. I've poured sweat, broken bones, strained muscles, tendons and ligaments but I have gained far more than I have ever invested. I could not have gleamed a portion of the knowledge I have received had I not been part of a community.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Micro Training

In modern society it is hard to find huge chunks of time to do anything. If you work 40 plus hours a day and have a family, it is hard to block out a two hour period in a day unless you do it first thing in the morning or schedule it at night. If you have school, your schedule is equally as hectic since most of the studying is done outside the class room. Anecdotal studies say that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. If you spent an hour a day training, it would take you approximately 27 years to master martial arts. It also takes deliberate practice to focus on areas of weakness so that you can master the skill.

So how can we log enough time to achieve martial arts mastery, if our day is loaded with other tasks that require our attention? The answer is micro training, short workouts that can last from 5 - 20 minutes in which your training has a single focus. Here is a sample of some micro-training sessions:

you want to work on punching technique, you can take a short break at the office and find a quiet space with little distraction(At my office there are courtyards where there aren't any offices within walking distance). You spend 10 minutes doing sets of punches - 100 horizontal fist punches, 100 vertical fist punches, back fists, hammer fists, reverse punches. The entire workout can be done in 5 - 10 minutes depending on the speed.

You can do isometric exercises at your desk.

Then you can spend your next session working on techniques mentally. Visualize an opponent attacking you a variety of different ways. What would be some of your responses. if you have the space - do some light shadow boxing.

Work on movements like forms - you can do one form at a tai-chi like speed. Or go over more than one form if you have the time.

If you work 8 hours in a day you can get through 8 sessions. If you do each session for 5 minutes you have 40 minutes of focused training time. If you did 10 minutes that would be an extra 1.5 hours you trained in a day. You can easily add this to your regular morning or evening workout routine to supplement your training.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Resolving to keep resolutions in MMX

As is customary at this time of year, We are all making our New Year's resolutions on what we want for 2010. I have made tons of resolutions through the years but very few stick. My goal this year is to keep to my goal list. Since the primary focus of this blog is martial arts and Kung-Fu in particular. I am posting them here to keep myself accountable to the few readers who read this blog (thank you for your comments and input) I think accountability for resolutions is a good key to keeping them. I also think that defined goals that can be accomplished incrementally will also allow me to accomplish my resolutions. Having a fuzzy, pie in the sky goal like - "I want to be Kung-Fu awesome" is not as readily achievable as - "I plan on improving my overall strength and flexibility by 20%" or "I will cut my body fat percentage by half". The latter can be measured and progress can be gauged. I guess it is the engineer in me that likes something quantifiable. Being awesome is subjective and can only be defined by others. So without further adieu here is my goal list for 2010 as it pertains to Martial Arts

Train Daily - I will train every day. Whether it is working on technique, strength training, endurance. I will do at least one training session of at least 20 - 30 minutes at a time. If I can squeeze 2 or 3 sessions in a day then that will be ideal, but my minimum is one 30 minute session a day. The sessions will have focus and intensity . On days where my body needs a rest, I will focus more on internal exercises like tai-chi and Qigong. I may also look into possibly trying out new martial arts like boxing and grappling.

Meditation - I will meditate daily for a total of 20 to 30 minutes a day. Whether it is doing it early in the morning or late in the evening. I can combine it with my training schedule. Meditation does not necessarily mean seated meditation (zazen). It could mean practicing tai-chi with full awareness, walking meditation or some form of Qigong that is meditative in nature.

Martial Arts Program - I've had an idea for a couple of years to start a non-profit martial arts program for at risk youth in my area. The goal is to make an after school program for at risk youth.my target demographic are adolescents to young adults. I think that there is so much benefit that can be gained from studying a martial art; confidence, health and discipline. I also think that it is a duty as a human being to improve our little corner of the world. This would be one way for me to do that. I have had a couple of false starts in 2009. I had meetings with my instructor that never went anywhere because we were all doing other things. There will be no such excuses this year.

The Vegan Experiment - I have been flirting with going on a completely vegetable diet for a while now. I haven't made it stick for an entire year. This year I do it. The caveat is that my diet will allow me to maintain and possibly enhance my training regimen. I don't think that will be a problem since there are plenty of world class athletes who don't eat meat. I will track my progress and maybe try to post my food log. I will also look into organic foods and juicing.

Philosophical and Mental Training - I plan to increase my knowledge on the history and philosophy of my art as well learn about other arts as well. I will read and learn more about Chan Buddhism, Taoism and Kung-Fu. I will also look at the history, philosophy and techniques of other martial arts. Every art has a warrior code of ethics, I will absorb what is useful to me and make note of it.

Practice Outside the Training Hall - If I train for an hour a day but do not incorporate my training into my every day life then my training is useless.I believe that often we only focus on the physical and neglect the mind and spirit. This is not an endorsement of any religious point of view. You can work on developing character without any particular religious framework. There are core principles that are common to all cultures.Traits like honesty, compassion, and courage are character traits that are essential to being a warrior. I signed up to be part of istartswith.us and I thought that would be a great way to exercises things like compassion for others. Nate St. Pierre's site is inspiring and I don't think you can not read his blog and not be fired up. All it takes is 15 minutes a day helping others, it doesn't sound like a lot but 15 minutes each done by a lot of people is huge.

So those are my goals and I'll be doing my best to achieve them. I'll be having the rocky montage playing in my head when I go through them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Martial Arts and Morality

Can you be a martial arts master without first mastering the art of being a decent human being? Any traditional martial art has a code of ethics for its practitioners to follow. Students and Masters followed a code of conduct usually based on humility, respect for others, compassion and integrity. Shaolin monks saw their Gongfu as a way to acheive enlightenment (wu-chan). A way to enhance their spiritual practice of Chan Buddhism. Most if not all traditional martial arts have their practitioners follow a moral code. Morality and martial arts seemed to be intertwined, by practicing the latter you seemed to gain a better understanding of the former. You could not be a martial arts student without being a decent human being. There was so much emphasis on this that students would first be put through a trial to test their integrity before ever being taught a punch or a kick. Masters would make students do chores for several years before judging them worthy to receive their teachings. Today the only requirement to studying an art is the ability to pay the instructor a membership fee. Students will receive lessons of morality when they receive the oral history of their art and learn the traditions from their instructors, but the emphasis is not as strong.


One of our Senior Master's with whom our school was affiliated with was accused of a heinous crime. He was accused of sexual assault and harrassment. My instructor made a decision and wanted to break free from our school's affiliation and even brought this to the attention of our Grandmaster. The Senior Master in question pled guilty to a lesser charge and lied to our Grandmaster about our instructor as retaliation for trying to break away and now our Grandmaster has severed ties with our school. Any diligent investigation would exonerate my instructor but I think it was more about politics and revenue than it was about doing what was right. Most of the students at my school including myself have vowed to continue training with our current instructor as we cannot honestly be affiliated with a Master who obviously would violate the very principles of Shao-lin Kung-Fu. I have studied at my school for almost 7 years and this whole debacle made me want to quit altogether. Shaolin at its root is based on Chan Buddhism. Buddhism preaches the eight-fold path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. This master violated every precept and violated the trust of the students he was supposed to lead as a teacher of the way. Martial training is supposed to bring enlightenment. It is supposed to help us not to combat others, but to uproot that which is not right within ourselves. Any Kung-Fu that is rooted in Shaolin cannot possibly allow its 'Masters', the very people charged with its preservation, to possibly act in a manner that is unbecoming of even the most basic of human decency.

Bottom line, you cannot be a martial arts master without first being a decent human being.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What does meditation have to do with Kung-Fu?

Whatever branch of traditional martial arts you study, chances are you are going to run into meditation. It is at the core of Kung-Fu. It is its lifeblood. One of the legends of the origins of Shaolin states that Bodhidarma (Tamo) taught the monks meditation exercises like the Yijinjing (muscle/tendon change classic) to build their endurance so that they were not falling asleep during seated meditation. The monks took their new found strength and used it to develop their martial arts. Meditation has made a resurgence as of late, with more and more people taking it up either for spiritual or health reasons.

Meditation in Kung-Fu is also used for health and enlightenment. Doctors like Hua-To found meditation and qigong enhanced longevity and so he prescribed his Five animal frolics to patients to improve their health and well being. Chan buddhists and Taoists used it as a way to achieve enlightenment. Most traditional martial arts have meditation as a key component of their practice and use meditation for similar purposes.

I have often asked myself questions about meditation. What is meditation's purpose in the martial arts? Is it possible to be a skilled fighter without being able to meditate? What does sitting still have to do with how hard I can hit. Why is such an emphasis placed on it in traditional martial arts? The further I have explored the different avenues of meditation, I have come to appreciate it more than ever. I believe it is critical to development as a martial artist.


Here are some benefits to meditating when practicing the fighting arts

1. Meditation allows a practitioner to be fully present. You cannot face an opponent and be able to see his vulnerabilities if you are thinking. Thinking of fear, thinking of what you ate for dinner. Thinking about what techniques you should use. In any given day your mind is processing millions of thoughts. meditation teaches you how to separate you from your thoughts. So that you can be able to completely focus.

2. Meditation also allows you to have better awareness over your own body. How to regulate your breathing and control your heart rate in stressful situations will give you a clear advantage over an opponent who is not trained to do so. Better and deeper breathing lets more oxygen flow to your cells when you need it the most (like when you are defending yourself ).

3. Meditation can also improve your overall technique. Strikes are more efficient when the muscles and joints involved are working complementary to each other. Unnecessary tension before delivering strikes can limit their effectiveness. if you are breathing deeply and relaxing, you will be able to deliver strikes more quickly and powerfully than if you were tense.



Friday, April 17, 2009

The P's of practice

There is a common maxim in the school were I train. A new student usually asks the same question when they first start. It is usually something along the lines of "So what is the secret to getting really good at Kung Fu ?" One of the older student usually replies, "The secret to Kung Fu is ...... practice, practice, practice". We usually say it as a running joke but the truth is that consistent practice is the only way to achieve any mastery in any martial art or any endeavor.


We all cannot be like the Shaolin monks and devote hours upon hours a day to martial training. It is hard to find time to train when you have a fulltime job and a family (or whatever life demands are placed upon you). What we can do is apply intelligence to our practice so we can maximize the time that we do spend.

Persistence - persistence is a key component of practice. You have to set aside time that you can practice regularly in order to get the full benefits. It does not have to be huge chunks of your day, the key is consistency.

Precision - Set a few minutes aside to try and come up with a precise goal for your practice session. it could be something you are trying to improve, like getting better at using a particular technique. Having a precise goal in mind and focusing on achieving that goal during practice are a great way at improving as a martial artist.

Progress - You have to continuously seek to modify your practice so that you are progressing. Maximize the intensity of your workouts so that you can gain the most benefit. It is also a good idea to record your workouts so you can note your progress, this will give you a better gauge as to how you are progressing and allow you to tailor your practice if need be.

Patience - realize that true mastery may take years, enjoy the journey and remember that skill takes time to develop. Kung-Fu is mastery through time and effort, you need time to incubate your effort and see it come to fruition.


The secret to Kung-Fu and all other martial arts is there is none. The difference between a great martial artist and the beginner is not "innate natural ability" or being gifted, it is countless hours of practice. I'll end this with another quote from The Art of Peace.

"Progress comes to those who train and train; Reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere." - Morihei Ueshiba



Sunday, April 5, 2009

Its not how you fall, it is how you get up

I broke my left arm during class three weeks ago. It was a freak accident that occured during glove sparring while sparring with a fellow student. I spent a week off in a mini pity party of sorts but decided that the rest of my body is not broken so I can still work out. I spent a lot of the time spending extra time focusing on meditation and qigong. I was struck by how much I use my left arm during techniques. I went to class the next week and tried sparring with one arm using my right side forward. Normally it would be considered madness to keep sparring with my broken arm but the other students usually are pretty well controlled so I didn't mind trying it out. It was a good excercise in thinking on your feet and modifying your techniques. I learned some interesting things:

1. Blocking with one hand is not a very good option
If you have only one arm that you can use, you can block some strikes but if your opponent locks up your one good hand with theirs, you can easily get hit in the face with their free hand. I learned this lesson pretty early. It is better to use evasion and yielding. I love this quote from Morihei Ueshiba , the founder of Aikido

"Seeing me before him,
The Enemy attacks,
But by that time,
I am already standing,
Safely behind him"

2. Use deception and odd angles of attack to compensate for any weaknesses

I moved around unpredictably and tried using deception with feints and fakes. Fake strikes with your arms and kick or do the reverse and fake a kick and strike with a punch. I would crouch low using monkey stances to give myself a smaller silhoutte. this way I had less openings and I could disguise my length so my sparring partners would try and get in closer and I could use kicks and sweeps when they were in range.

3. Pay attention but don't be too tentative.

It was hard for me to not stop thinking about my injury and trying to keep my hand the furthest distance away from my sparring partners at first. This made me a bit too tentative as I wasn't seizing openings that became available because I was afraid of hurting myself. I had to force myself to overcome this and it was extremely difficult but I got better at it after my arm started feeling better.

4. Analyze everything and spend more time thinking.

This can be done anytime. You don't have to do it when you get injured. Look at other students when they spar, analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Look at techniques that they do well that you could incorporate into your own repertoire. Look at other matches to see what openings are being missed by other students. Mentally rehearse new combinations that you could try or try to figure out techniques that you could adapt to suit your own needs. The mind I think is an often neglected part of martial arts. Studying theory and concepts is just as important as your practice time. It is the reason why athletes spend so much time studying game film.

5. Defense wins championships for pro teams but is a matter of life or death to a martial artist.

Striking in martial arts is given way more focus than blocking or yielding. It is because we remember the hits but don't really appreciate how much skill is required for a great defense. If I had got my arm broken while being attacked in the street, I would be quickly dispatched if I did not try to block or evade after the initial injury. It is also alot harder to defend attacks with only one good arm. I realized that i have to spend alot more time working on defense and I should try to devise some drills to improve.

Although getting injured sucks, on one hand I am grateful because it forces me to look at things differently.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Breaking through the Plateau

There comes a point in any type of training from the martial arts to body building where you seem to stagnate. You don't make any significant gains and it seems that your skill level never improves. One of the main causes of this is that your training routine hasn't changed. The body has no time to adapt and grow if there are no new challenges. The Plateau seems like a never ending plane where most people get tired of putting in effort where they never see any results. As a result boredom sets in and they abandon their training altogether. I am currently seeing this in my own training and I am taking some steps to try and make some changes:
  1. Self Assessment

In order to figure out where you need to go, you need to first figure out where you are. You need to identify your areas of weakness. Here is a sample of mine:

  • Cardiovascular conditioning - My cardiovascular fitness needs major improvement. I would like to have greater endurance. I need to include more cardiovascular training into my current regimen.
  • Strength - I would like to add 10 pounds of muscle and drop to 10% body fat. My last measurement as of last week was 195 lbs with 20% body fat which was eye opening. Adding 10 lbs of muscle would improve my striking power and overall strength. A sub component of this is going to be improving my Core strength which I think is essential in Shaolin Kung Fu and most martial arts. A good core helps you maintain balance which is essential when trying to rapidly change direction.
  • Flexibility - More advanced Kung Fu forms require greater levels of flexibility. Drunken System requires catterpillar rolls, cartwheels into splits and a host of other techniques that if done correctly would require me to be more flexible.
  • Timing - I need to improve the ability to deliver strikes and counter attacks as soon as openings present themselves. I also need to be able to deliver techniques from muscle memory without thinking. This way I don't miss opportunities when sparring.
  • Knowledge - I would like to increase my overall knowledge of my art and other arts in general. This includes doing more reading on history and philosopy of martial arts.
  • Nutrition - I need to eat a lot healthier. One of my goals is to have a Vegetarian diet. Although I realize that most people would say that it is incompatible when trying to build muscle. There are a host of olympic level athletes who are vegetarians like Carl Lewis.

The regimen I devise is going to incorporate each of these areas into my new routine. I will be doing a lot of research in trying to come up with the best plan to achieve my goals. I am also going to have to keep track of my progress on a weekly basis. I plan to start my new regime next week.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Red Belt - Movie Review

I picked up Red Belt after an unplanned trip to my local neighborhood Blockbuster where I spent an extra 30 minutes playing the new Star Wars- The Force Unleashed Video Game. The game was good, not good enough to purchase and make a permanent part of the collection but definitely good enough to rent from Blockbuster and spend a week trying to beat it.

I had heard mixed reviews about Red Belt. I had a friend who watched it and said he didn't like it very much and didn't see the point. I went in with low expectations and finished the movie impressed but not wowed. Now if you are looking for your classic martial arts beat 'em up where your fearless hero goes in from the jump just whoopin' major ass and major choreographed fight scenes then you will sorely be dissapointed. This movie is not so much about the fighting as it is about fighting philosophy. Although I must admit that there were some very large plot holes that really made me scratch my head.

Mike Terry is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor who runs a small dojo. He is an idealist, someone who follows a warrior code or budo. He practices Jiu-Jitsu but does not believing in fighting for competition because as he says, "A competition is not a fight." He believes that a competition has rules and structure that must be followed by the participants. In real life, there are no such rules. A fight to the death does not have limits. Bruce Lee made similar statements in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do. So he believes that training for a competition will make him lose his edge. He shuns entering into contests and tries to eek out a living as an instructor.

His wife played by Alicia Braga, doesn't share his idealism and thinks he is too caught up in his ideals to make a living. Although it isn't said, I think she is the daughter of Mike's teacher and grandmaster. She doesn't see why he can't temper his ideals with practicality.

An accident right outside of his school sets a chain of events off that causes him to go back on his original beliefs. A woman crashes into his car outside of his school. She shoots out the school's window by accidentally discharging a gun belonging to one of the student's who happens to be a Police Officer. He goes to his brother in law's bar where he breaks up a bar fight between a movie star and one of the bar patrons. He receives an invitation to dinner and a gift from the movie star and believes that his fortunes are starting to pick up. He is offered a production role on the movie star's new movie. His wife is offered a business partnership with the movie star's wife. Then it all comes crashing down when what appeared to be good fortune is actually misfortune in disguise. Then all at once Mike's life begins to unravel and he is forced to enter an MMA competition that is sponsored by his brother in law to pay off his debts to a loan shark.

The movie highlights some Jiu-Jitsu philosophy and does a pretty good job of it. Chiwetel Ejiofor is probably my favorite actor now. After seeing him in Children of Men, Serenity, Talk to Me and a few other movies, I think he is one of the most underrated actors out there. He is believable as a Martial Arts instructor even with supposedly no martial arts background.

The action scenes are filmed with the same herky-jerky camera angles that most movies employ nowadays to hide fight choreography. The Bourne Identity series employed this technique also and it is really annoying because itis hard to tell what is going on. I guess it is harder to film jiu-jitsu because as a grappling art it does not lend itself very well to fight choreography but I think they did a good job with this movie.


















Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lyrical Swordsman - The GZA


One of my favorite MCs of all time is the GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan. I was a teenager when I first heard the Wu-Tang Clan's first album - Enter the 36 Chambers and I loved it. It was everything I ever wanted in an album: Raw, gritty and innovative. Plus they fused hip-hop with kung-fu cinema that I grew up watching as a kid growing up so I was able to combine my two favorite things in one album. Of all the MCs in the Wu-Tang clan, my favorites were the GZA and Ghostface Killah.

The GZA recently put out an album called 'Pro-Tools' which I recently purchased from Amazon's MP3 download site. I had high expectations being that his earlier album , 'Liquid Swords' is one of my all time favorites. The album didn't disappoint me and I think it is one of the best hip-hop albums out right now.

It struck me how the principle of Gong-Fu applies to the art of MCing. Mastery through time and effort. The GZA is one of the most consistent MCs out there. You can tell by listening to his flow and delivery that he obviously hones his craft. I appreciate true skill regardless of the field and the beauty about skill is how effortless it looks when it is applied. Everyone remembers the GZA going off on Soulja Boy at a concert of his recently.




50 cent decided to come to Soulja Boy's defense and made some comments about the GZA. I recently was browsing through the album and stumbled upon a track called 'Paper plates' on his album, which lo and behold seems to go at 50 cent. Normally I think most rap-beefs are just a ploy for publicity *cough* 50 vs. Kanye *cough* but I do enjoy a lyrical dismantling and this is definitely one.



There is a proverb that goes "The match is over the moment the swordsmen touch swords".

How come I don't see the Front Snap kick in MMA that often?

I enjoy watching the UFC fights when they come on cable TV. Most martial artists who study traditional martial arts have poo-pooed MMA since its inception but I enjoy watching it. Most of the fighters are highly conditioned athletes. The UFC has come a long way since its inception. It used to be no rules, no weight classes and no gloves. If you watch mixed martial arts nowadays, it is more akin to boxing in terms of regulations and rules for the fighters.

I have watched many UFC fights and it seems that although mixed martial arts is supposed to be a hybrid of striking (mainly boxing and kick-boxing) and grappling (mainly jiu-jitsu and wrestling), you don't always see all the techniques from kick-boxing and grappling appear in the matches. There are a certain subset of techniques that I see most fighters use in a majority of most fights. The roundhouse kicks, jabs, hooks, elbows, uppercuts and knees seem to encompass about 95 percent of the strikes. Rarely do you see a hammer fist or a back fist thrown although I have seem some fighters use them. Most of the leg techniques I see thrown are round house kicks to the legs or head. I rarely see fighters throw Front Snap kicks which seems like it would work pretty well and could be delivered faster than a round house kick especially to the mid-section.

Next time I see a fighter throwing front snap kicks to the body, he is instantly becoming my favorite fighter.

Trying to use skill in push hands and getting your ass kicked

Once a year in August and we have an entire month dedicated to Tai-Chi push hands in Black belt class. Where you get to try and gain internal skill by facing off against other students. It is essentially trying to put the tai-chi form and other internal arts into practice. We also do this once a week during tai-chi class but

It would seem that when you are moving really slowly and have your eyes closed it shouldn't be that hard to do but whenever I try to do it correctly, I seem to get mauled by other students.

First there is the problem of trying to keep the tai-chi principles when doing push hands: Keeping the posture straight and relaxed, no double weighting, using softness and yielding instead of brute strength. The other problem is trying to use fajing or internal power. Which seems to be the most challenging. The idea is to not use brute strength and push your opponent but to use your internal energy to strike. It is like trying to hit someone while not using your muscles, it seems impossible.

So the variety of students run the gamut, there are tall, short, male and female. It helps because you are not just doing push hands with similar opponents so you have to adjust to each individual. Being fairly tall, I have a hard time with students who are a lot shorter than me. I have to bend my legs more while keeping good posture and I don't really have much of a reach advantage since for push hands you are so close that it is negligible.

I start off fairly well with students who are more skilled at it than I am. We are going at a good pace, not using brute strength , keeping our elbows in and generally having good rounds. Sometimes I get killed because I forget to yield after the first technique is thrown and then comes elbows and other strikes and I end up on the floor.

Generally I enjoy push hands with the female students because they seem to genuinely grasp the principle of softness that is essential to push hands. They don't try to muscle through a technique if they see an opening and just use brute force. The problem for me is when I engage in push hands with someone who is new to push hands or hasn't had much practice. I am trying to use softness but I am not good enough to deflect their attacks because they are using strength while I am trying to yield. Then they end up trying to go really fast, which in turn makes me go faster as I am reacting to the pace they are setting.

I always tell myself to not worry about 'losing' matches as long as I am keeping in line with the principles of push hands. The skill will improve to the point where it will not matter. In the mean time I have to tell myself to let go while I get manhandled a bit. It is a good excercise in controlling the ego because it is extremely frustrating.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Encountering Fear .....

About a week ago, I hear a woman's voice yelling from right outside my apartment. Her voice had hints of fear and frustration. She was yelling at someone saying, "No, leave me alone! You said you would never touch me again. Now your pushing me. Leave me alone." Obviously it sounded like a domestic dispute and I thought about just calling 911 and leaving it at that. I was concerned that it would escalate and I couldn't stomach the thought of the woman getting hurt while I did nothing. I walked out my apartment and headed towards her voice. I see them, a young couple in their early 20s, they are right by the street. The man is close to her leaning towards her aggressively. She is trying to get around him but he is holding her arms.



I ask, "Is everything alright?" but obviously I know it is not. She says everything is fine. He yells "Everything is fine bro!" I tell him, "I am not talking to you,I am asking her. Are you okay". He walks quickly towards me, she holds him back, telling him to stop. I experience a flash of anger and blurt out, "I wish you would, I would crack your #$%^&ing skull!" It has never sat well with me and never will. He tells his girlfriend that he wasn't trying to do anything and walks towards me. He is standing about a foot away from me. I size him up and realize that he has been drinking and I have about 20 - 30 lbs and at least 6 inches. He is within my reach and I could have struck him in the solar plexus, groin or face faster than he would have been able to reach me. He is looking at me and sizing me up as well.

I realized that I was genuinely afraid! My stomach was in knots and my right leg was shaking a little bit. The man didn't really wanted to fight and apologized for the disturbance. I told him that I didn't care that they were making noise but I was concerned for her safety. He was conciliatory and apologized again. Even offered a handshake which I took ( I was still waiting to see if he was going to try anything). I looked at her again and made sure she was okay before leaving. I waited around the corner to make sure that he didn't escalate and then left after a couple of minutes.

I know he didn't really want to fight. He was trying to save face in front of his girlfriend. When he offered an apology, he was able to save face when I accepted. I guess I didn't really want to fight either but I was surprised by my fear. I was very afraid and I was pretty shocked by it. I think I was more afraid of the unknown: I didn't know how everything was going to play out, I didn't know how I or he was going to react. Was he going to have a weapon? Was I truly ready and would I react fast enough? What would I do if he pulled out a knife or worse? What if my training failed me and I couldn't think and defend myself. I realized a few things from the encounter:


  1. I should have called the police if I thought she was in real danger. It was pretty dumb to just try and wing it like that.
  2. My anger flashed because I can't stand bullies. Ever since I was a kid, I remember getting picked on and feeling helpless to defend myself. Which is one of the reasons I started studying martial arts in the first place. I have never looked too kindly on someone who would fight or abuse someone weaker. I still should have controlled myself a little better and I probably would have been able to diffuse the situation a little easier.
  3. I was able to keep relatively composed in spite of being afraid . Although being that afraid was somewhat disconcerting. I need to focus on this in training with visualization.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Being a Dad at Kung Fu

On the rare occasions I take my kids to class, they are usually watching while I train. We usually have a minimum age of 12 years to start classes although exceptions are made for children whose parents join the class also.

My son is 6 years old and has never really expressed an interest in martial arts before. Basketball has been his favorite sport since he could talk. We signed him up in a Preschool/Kindergarten league at the YMCA and since then he was all about basketball. I love hoops too but didn't start playing until I was a freshman in high school. Growing up in Zambia, the sport that every kid played was football(soccer) so I played it too until I started playing basketball.

My son asked if he could start studying Kung Fu and I initially told him to wait until he was 10 so he could have the coordination to do it. Plus we use traditional weapons such as the straight sword, Kwan Dao, Staff and other weapons which would be a little unwieldy for a 6 year old.

We had an offer to sign up family members for a month free and I took the opportunity to sign my son and niece up. My niece is 4 going on 5 and my son talked her into going with him since he didn't want to be the only young child in the class. I wanted to make sure he would have the discipline and attention span to sit through a whole class. I stayed next to him the whole time to keep an eye on him. He loved it, his eyes lit up when going through the techniques and he yelled, punched and kicked with such wide eyed zeal and enthusiasm. I don't think I was ever more proud in my entire life. It was great to see him enjoy it as much as I do. Although I was a little too insistent on giving him pointers on his stancework and form when throwing punches. (His bow and horse stance do need a lot of work but hey, he is only six). But I imagine this was how some of the Masters who passed down their teachings to their children must have felt when their children started training their art. Did Yang Luchan smile inwardly when he was teaching his sons Yang Pan-Hou and Yang Chien-hou tai chi as kids? There is no way he couldn't have. Fatherhood and Kung Fu are both awesome, especially when practiced together.

Life, Consistency and Writer's block

I haven't updated this blog in a long time because I had a frustrating case of writer's block. I didn't have anything to update and upheaval in my personal life made me lose focus on my training. I still attend class regularly but I haven't had the spark to put in the extra practice time I reserve for myself in the mornings.

The Kwoon has always been a place where I can go and recharge my batteries. After some pushups, situps, squats, forms, punches and kicks, I usually feel rejuvenated and ready to take on whatever faces me. Kung Fu has been my refuge since I started studying. Although lately I have started to let things slip. I don't seem to wake up early enough to train and I feel like I am in a general funk. I know that there are times when you have periods in your life that are lows that pick up later. I am hoping that this is one of those things.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Like Hannibal from the A-Team .... I love it when a plan comes together.

There are times when Kung-Fu is frustrating. When you are on what I like to call "The plateau of despair". It is when for some reason you are plodding along in your training and can't really see any improvement. Normally experts say this is when you should switch your workout and try something new like different excercises. I have felt that way about my sparring and my ability to perform techniques instantaneously. As an Engineer and an avowed geek, I analyze my sparring matches. Pouring over them with detail. I keep a log of all the techniques I try.







I have a top 10 list of techniques I know I can throw automatically without thinking. My instructor recommended getting a sparring diary and doing this and I have tried to maintain it to the best of my ability. What frustrates me about my log is I can never seem to log that many successful attempts and I always end up trying to refine a move and the student I am training with is kicking my ass. I always try and usually fail to get all the moves I am working on...usually no more than 3 moves from a form per class work. I don't know how or why but for some reason during the last class, I was in the zone. Everything I threw seemed to land. I had laser like focus, I saw the openings that the people I was sparring with gave me. I pulled off every sweep I have been working on in the same round. Iron broom, Drop kicks and scissor take downs. I pulled off combinations and followed through. I completely landed a cart-wheel kick without telegraphing it. I usually telegraph my sweeps but for some reason, I didn't that day.



The junior students I was sparring with were asking me what I threw and how I landed it. I was able to explain my reactions even though I wasn't consciously thinking about it. It felt good to make progress and see the one glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. I guess because I always have people in my school whose skills I admire. My instructor especially, he makes complex moves look easy. When he performs forms it is graceful and powerful. Sometimes it is good to see that I indeed have made progress and the hours that I put in the Kwoon have indeed been paying off.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Scholar Warrior....the ultimate badass

In the west, we prefer our fighters to be short on words and long on ass kicking. We appreciate a guy who will dismiss the chit chat and civility and get right to the face smashing. Look at most action movies, the protagonist says one line before he starts unleashing holy hell on a lot of bad guys. Stallone, Seagal, Schwarzenegger, Eastwood and many others have all played that role.

In traditional eastern martial arts the exact opposite is true. A fighter who only fight is considered a brute. Most martial arts masters were men and women of meny talents. They wrote books, practiced medicine, wrote poetry, created art and studied philosophy. Shaolin monks and nuns didn't just learn how to fight. They studied zen buddhism, art, science and medicine. A Shaolin monastery was like an institute of higher learning and martial arts was but one part of it. Throughout history there have been many masters who were as talented in other areas as they were in martial arts. Wong fei hong, Sun LuTang, Chen Man Ching, Bruce Lee, and many other martial artists had great intellects that matched their fighting abilities. It is something I have always admired. I'll examine some of these masters in future detail and make it a series.

Nothing like pain to make you humble....

Today I spent the day in the park trying to learn a form from the drunken system. Lan Tsai He - one of the Eight Drunken Immortals and it kicked my ass. I am sore everywhere, my back , legs and muscles that I never thought useful. The drunken system is taught in our system right before disciples become masters and I am pretty far off. It was good to see how hard it was, catterpillar rolls, sinking one legged squats and many other physically challenging moves, some of which I couldn't do. It was good because I realized I have a very long way to go before I get there. It gave me a goal to strive for: When I test over it, I will perform all the moves in it. I also realized how much harder I have to train in order to get there.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Someone needs to turn this book into a movie....


Chronicles of the Tao


With some of the Chinese classics that already become turned into TV series' or movies; Journey to the West and The Three Kingdoms. I am surprised that no one has turned this book into a movie. It has got everything you would want in an epic martial arts film. Philosophy, martial arts, war, drama and intrigue. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was based off the Iron pentalogy. This story in my opinion is just as good.

It is the tale of Kwan Sai Hung who is born at the beginning of the 20th century in china. He is born into a wealthy aristocratic family. At the age of 11 he joins a Taoist hermitage on Huashan mountain. He learns many different aspects of taoism in the monastery: Meditation, Astral Projection, Philosophy and Martial arts. While Kwan Saihung is growing up in the Monastery, China experiences a lot of upheaval. He decides to leave the monastery to fight with the nationalists in a war against Japan. He later returns to the monastery when he realizes that war only causes more death and destruction.
There are many interesting subplots throughout the book that are in classic Kung Fu movies. There is the 'Our secret kung fu manuals that would give someone unbeatable techniques were stolen and we need to get them back' subplot. There is the 'renegade student who used to be the prize pupil leaves the monastery and causes all types of havoc' subplot. There is the 'student who is disillusioned with his studies and decides to go see the world but realizes the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side' subplot. The ' encountering supernatural phenomena while entering uncharted areas during meditation' subplot. Add in a mix of philosophy, encounters with the martial underworld (jiang hu) and some epic martial arts battles and you have a great novel.
He is forced to leave the monastery when the communists take over the country and crack down on religious organizations. He comes to america where he tries to adapt to american culture. He goes to New York, gets a job in a kitchen, learns western boxing and eventually ends up in San Francisco. He eventually ends up teaching some students of his own which is where the book ends.
There are martial arts battles sprinkled throughout the book that are awesome. Some of the epic battles are between the Grand Master of Hua Shan and a Dwarf, between Kwan Sai Hung and 'the Tigress'. There is a lot of insight into life in a taoist monastery, the history and philosophies of taoism and martial arts.
I say if it does end up as a movie, Zhang Zhiyi plays the tigress. Gordon Liu or Chao Yun Fat play the Grand Master and you get Tony Leung to play Kwan Sai Hung and Donny Chen to play butterfly. I will accept casting credit and maybe an extra or consulting role if any producers are thinking about making this. That or a date with Zhang Zhiyi, whichever works.

Politics in the Training Hall ......

When I picture the ideal martial arts school in my mind, I see a montage of images. The opening scene starts with students sitting in meditation postures looking serene. Then it cuts to them all training in unison, doing forms and kicks in unison. No talking, just training with the instructor giving an intense stare. My montage comes from all the martial arts movies I watched over the years.

A real martial arts school is a little different. Martial arts school are simply groups of people who study martial arts. As with all things that involve people, you are eventually going to come across the negative aspects of human behavior in groups. Human beings are communal creatures and so individuals will always be influenced by their group. This can be both positive and negative depending on the group that an individual belongs to. Clicks within the school, backbiting, dissension between students can quickly poison the atmosphere in a school. All it takes is a click of a few students to give off this negative energy and they begin to attract like minded negative people until slowly but surely the attitudes of a majority of students are negative.

It can be something as simple as not liking they way your instructor teaches certain things. Or not liking a fellow student. Whatever it is, if left unchecked it can undermine an instructor's ability to teach effectively. Usually the students who cause this kind of problem never stay in their prospective art very long. Eventually, their own ego gets the better of them and they leave but not before trying to take a few students with them.

The point that we have to remember as students is that we chose to study martial arts. No one is forcing us to study and practice. It is always about choice. You can choose to study a different art, or not study at all. At some time you have to divorce the martial art from the students who study it. Students will come and go, but the art is a living catalogue of techniques created by individuals over many generations. The art will continue in some form long after we all are dead and buried. We as students are part of this legacy, we continuously contribute by practicing and in some cases teaching it to new students so that it continues to thrive.

Focusing on the art and why you study it will always help you when you feel like your negative feelings overwhelm your positive ones when belonging to a particular school. I am not saying to ignore those feelings altogether. Examine them and really see if the way you feel is due to internal school politics or because the reasons you began studying the art no longer apply. If the atmosphere in a school is so intolerable to the point you feel it makes you want to quit then maybe finding a different school may be your best option. Usually though all the discord can be traced back to a few individuals and by helping them adjust their attitude will definitely improve the overall attitude in the school.