Steel (or Iron) Fan

The Chinese have a saying regarding weapons, “The shorter it is – the more dangerous.  The more ordinary looking, the deadlier it is.”

This saying is perfectly appropriate for the steel fan.  The Chinese often turn ordinary household implements, like a pair of chopsticks, a wooden stool, a rice bowl, and even a pair of sandals into a deadly weapon.  It is considered a short weapon, about 14 inches long, very innocent looking, and not that much different to an everyday paper fan, except the ribs are made of stainless steel instead of bamboo strips, and the paper is replaced by toughened silk.  When carrying one unopened, no on can tell it is a weapon at all.  Even when opened, the fan itself looks quite ordinary and harmless.  However, in the hands of an expert, the innocent looking fan can be a lethal weapon.

The steel fan is quite a handy weapon to have, it is easy to carry and is inconspicuous.  When the weather is warm, you can use the fan to cool yourself and chase the flies away.  When you are in danger, you can use the steel fan as an effective weapon for self-defense because the ribs are made of steel.  You can use it to block and deflect much larger weapons by wrapping the fan against your forearm and turning it into an “iron bridge hand.”  You can use it for “chin na” (grappling) and you can use it for acupressure point striking.

When folded, the fan can be used like a short dagger to cut, to jab, and to slash.  When unfolded, the fan can be used like a spring-loaded knife  with sharpened ribs to stab, slice and spear your opponent.  Combine it with your body movement and footwork and you can turn the short fan into a long weapon by launching yourself at your opponent while throwing open the fan.  Thus, turning a soft implement into a hard weapon with a flick of your wrist.

You can also flick open the fan as a fake, as the action makes a loud noise that will distract your opponent’s attention while you kick or throw a punch elsewhere.  The open fan can work like a saw to slice with the tips of the ribs opened up into a semi-circle.  While the fan is open, you use the broad surface like a backhand slap against the face of your opponent.  It is indeed a very versatile weapon.

The fan is considered an “internal” weapon, because it uses the “soft” to overcome the “hard” and the short to overcome the long.  When using the fan;  “the mind must be coupled with the heart, the heart with the strength, the strength with the chi, the chi with the fan, the fan with the eyes, and skill with dexterity.”

10,000 Hours of Practice

There have been a number of studies and books written about groups and individuals who have mastered various disciplines such as singing, musical instruments, chess, various sports, martial arts, sculpture, painting, even mathematics and science.  They addressed the question, “Is world-class skill or “mastery” the result of innate talent or effort?”  The bulk of the studies conclude that natural “talent” matters very little in the long run when evaluating what it takes to master any given discipline.  Another conclusion is that roughly 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice is what’s necessary to acquire world class ability – otherwise known as “mastery”.

This theory of 10,000 hours of focused, hard training dedicated to consistent improvement certainly applies to developing mastery in kung fu.  Proper stances, punches, kicks, blocking and countering techniques are new and fun to learn at first and progress in martial arts typically comes quickly in the beginning.  This is when you are introduced to the various fundamental elements of training.  However, plateaus occur as you progress and  begin working on mastering what can be thought of as “small” details of the basics.  After learning what might be considered more advanced techniques, often times these fundamental elements of “basic” training often seem less interesting.  Unfortunately, this is sometimes when students become less enchanted with their training and look for something new to stimulate them.

Not enough can be said regarding the importance of truly mastering the fundamentals of kung fu.  The basics are the building blocks to advanced techniques as much as simple addition and subtraction are the building blocks to algebra.  When you learn new movements, place special attention on the fundamentals that are the basis of the movement.  As an example, a good side kick is required to develop a good hook kick or spinning side kick (both of which can be thought of as more advanced.)  Without a good side kick, it is impossible to develop the other two to a high degree.

As you continue your training, be cognizant of the skills and areas you are weak in – remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Improvement requires extra focus and attention on those skills that you are struggling with and/or are new to you.  Spend time before class starts or after class ends developing those weak portions of your practice.  Even better, spend time training on your own – outside of the school – working on what needs improvement.  Often it’s as simple as lowering your stances or having faster kicks with better form, but sometimes it can be as advanced as envisioning sparring scenarios and “what if’s” that might occur and shadow boxing to those scenarios.  Working on weaknesses can be difficult as our ego want quick fixes to our inadequacies.   However, this struggle for improvement is what breaks us through the inevitable plateaus.  This training is a very important part of the 10,000 hours.

For those wanting to master this art, training 3 hours/day, 6 days/week, for 10 years can roughly get you to mastery at 10,000 hours.  Training 2.5 hours/day, 5 days/week will take roughly 15 years to hit the 10,000 hours.  Training 2 hours/day, 5 days/week will get you to 10,000 hours in around 20 years.  This may sound like an awfully long period of time, but consider two things.  One, you are developing a world class skill and physical ability that can benefit you in a number of ways.  Two, you are hopefully enjoying your training.  Like most disciplines, more fun is had as your skills develop and become more advanced.

Not everyone needs to become a master, but consistent and diligent practice with an excellent instructor over a long period of time can make true mastery in kung fu a possibility for those willing to put in the time and effort.


Stretching is an important part of Kung Fu training regardless of style.  Proper stretching will enable greater flexibility of movement and also help prevent damage to the body during hard training.  Contrary to popular believe, the best time to stretch is not at the beginning of a workout, but rather at the end, when the body is warmed up and a lot more pliable.  This is the time to focus on stretching areas of the body that retain tension and tightness.  On top of adding flexibility and reducing muscle soreness, this kind of stretching will make you feel great and likely help your sleep.

Please remember that stretching by itself is not a cure-all for problems in training.  Contrary to hype in modern martial arts, doing the splits and being extremely flexible doesn’t necessarily increase your martial skill.  In face, if stretching is done incorrectly, it can actually harm the body parts it was intended to help.  However, when stretching is done correctly – with care and consistency – it will greatly benefit a student’s training.


Internal Training

Internal training occurs solely through the practice of the empty hand and weapons forms and moves through three stages.  In the beginning, diligent and thorough practice of the forms with the correct postures and details of the techniques is required.  The second stage progresses beyond technique, as the forms are performed with swift coordination, precise timing, fluid rhythm, flowing momentum, and maximum focus.  Combining these qualities with an understanding of the techniques allows one to practice the forms as if one were encountering an opponent.  The final stage reaches the state of chuan, no chuan (technique, no technique), yi, no yi, (mind, no mind).  The Chinese maxim reads “from no yi shoots out true yi,” meaning that from thoughtlessness comes true meaning.  The internal practice follows the tradition of Zen rather than Taoist methods of consciously or willfully guiding the chi through special routes.  All one needs is a total commitment to the form without any mistakes or artificial feelings for the true unification of mind, body, and action to occur.

Kung Fu Brothers and Sisters

A major component of your training is the kung fu brothers and sisters you train with.  What they can teach you to do, or in some cases not to do, is vital to your progression.  Also, as you have no idea what size, body type, strength, speed, weight, fighting skill, etc. of a potential aggressor, it is extremely valuable to have many types and qualities of training partners to prepare for potential physical encounters outside of the kung fu school.  Those kung fu brothers and sisters closest to your rank and ability level are particularly important.  Should you train for years, these training partners will indeed be thought of as your kung fu “brothers and sisters”.

First, in the beginning of your training you must carefully observe the higher rank.   Who they are.  When they bow.  What they do.  How they do things.   Your body will not likely be able to copy or handle the physical training that is required of the higher rank, but that is to be expected.  While you are resting and they are training, focus on the little details that are likely common with the highest ranks and that may be lacking with the lower ranks.  As you progress and learn more, there will be less time to observe as you will have more to practice. Spend your rest time observing not only how the higher rank do things properly, but also how the lower rank might be lacking in certain areas.  Upon being one of the advanced students, you likely will have little down time to view the lower rank, but when you do it’s your responsibility to observe their weaknesses and help them either during or after class.

Second, having a mixed class (as our school does) provides a variety of different bodies to work with.  Children will be able to practice defending themselves from both younger and older children, as well as adults, which can be invaluable to their self-confidence and self-defense.  Women can defend themselves against other women and men.  All students benefit from training with students of various sizes, skills, strength, and speed.  Should a hulking giant grab your neck – you will be prepared.  Should you face someone with boxing skill – you won’t be surprised.  Ultimately, each student becomes aware of how to deal successfully with aggressors possessing superior height, weight, strength, and conceivably skill, although skill is what matters most as your training progresses.  For this reason, students should hope for a flourishing school with full classes.

Lastly, your kung fu brothers and sisters will be with you suffering through the hard practice and learning this very old and often complex art.  Together, you will share the pains that go along with this training and much like a military unit or sports team, there will be a camaraderie that develops into long-term friendships.

A Zen Story

Zen Master

Long ago, in the age of the Shogun, there lived in Japan an infamous young samurai.  Through many years of arduous training he had developed great strength.  Along with this strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit a weakness in his opponent’s form.  He would wait for his opponent to charge at him, thus revealing the weakness, and swiftly cut the aggressor down.  It was this talent that made him invincible.  He vanquished all who dared to fight him.  In his quest for a worthy opponent, he traveled from village to village and found that none could stand before his prowess.

One fateful day, he came to the village of a certain old master.  Skilled as this master was, he was known far and wide as one who possessed great wisdom.  The samurai challenged the master as soon as he saw him.  And much against the advice of his concerned students (who had heard the arrogant samurai who vanquished all), the master agreed to the duel.

As soon as they reached the appointed place, the samurai began to hurl vulgar insults at his senior.  He threw dirt and spit in the master’s face.  Seeing that this had no effect, the samurai spit out every obscenity he knew; all to get the master to show his hand.  He did this for hours.  And all this time the master stood there like a stone Buddha; his sword in his hand, his eyes expressionless, and every-so-ready.  Finally, the samurai found himself exhausted.  He gazed at the master with respect.  He humbly bowed and left, a much wiser man.

After the samurai had gone, the students asked the master about what they had seen.  “How did you defeat him without striking him?” one asked.  “Why did you endure such insolence?” another asked.  The old master smiled and replied, “If someone comes and gives you a gift and you do not receive it… to whom does the gift belong?”

The Way of the Mantis (part 3)

After five long years of solitude, Dushu reappeared before the Shaolin Temple gates.  He once again asked the monk on watch for an audience with the great Master Chang.  He was once again told that Master Chang had no business with him.  And so he waited.   At the end of three days, the temple gate opened and a young monk bade Dushu to follow him.  They came to the inner courtyard and there once again was Master Chang.

Dushu bowed saying, “I humbly thank you for your audience Master Chang.”

Master Change returned the bow and asked, “What is it I can do for you young man?”

“I still wish to become a student of the temple,” Dushu replied.

“You must still prove to me your power of discipline, and last time you could not even beat my lowest student,” said Master Chang.

“I have learned much since then,” replied Dushu.

“Very well then, I shall summon my lowest student once more.”

“I humbly beg that I many contest you myself master,” said Dushu.

Master Chang slowly studied Dushu saying, “You have at least learned humility and thus I shall grant you a challenge.  But after your first, it will be through, and you will never be allowed to challenge here again.”

Dushu nodded in acknowledgement.

They bowed to each other and to Master Chang’s small surprise, Dushu did not ragefully attack him.  So the two began to slowly circle each other.  Suddenly and with great skill, Master Chang struck out and was quickly blocked.  He struck again and again and each time, even though his blows were strong and well aimed, Dushu managed to block or parry them.  The bout went on for several hours until Dushu almost managed to throw Master Chang.  Then totally to the surprise of Dushu and the astonishment of the watching students, the great Master broke his stance and, putting his opened left hand over his fisted right hand, he gave Dushu the sign of repect.

“I do not know where or from whom you have learned this, but you have learned well.”

Dushu respectfully replied, “It is the way of the mantis, and I have learned it from nature.”

The Master accepted Dushu as a student.  Some years later he also became a great master, and the knowledge of the mantis became a part of the Way of the Shaolin Temple.

The End

The Eight Stances – #8 Rooster

The eighth of the eight stances is the Rooster:

  • 100% weight on back leg
  • Front leg knee is parallel to ground, at minimum.  Knee is slightly turned inward to cover groin.  Foot hangs loosely.
  • Shoulders at 45 degree angle to target.  Front arm is parallel to ground and extended in punch with slight bend at elbow.
  • Rear arm is bent at elbow and fist is near elbow pocket of front arm.
  • Body is relaxed – almost sinking.
  • Focus on point above fist to maintain balance.

Rooster - FrontRooster - SideRooster - Back

The Way of the Mantis (part 2)


After Dushu’s failure at being accepted into the temple he felt so ashamed at having failed to achieve his ambition that he decided never to go home again.  So he went into a great forest and built himself a small cottage.  There he stayed for five long years, and in those years nature would teach him many things.  He learned patience, humility, tranquility, and the way of the mantis.

It happened on day when he was taking a long walk through the forest.  He grew tired and decided to sit and rest near a large bush.  As he sat there he noticed a praying mantis on one of the branches of the bush.  The mantis was slowly and purposefully stalking its prey.  Dushu grew more interested and got closer to better observe the ways of the strange creature.  Dushu was fascinated by the graceful yet lethal movements of the mantis as he captured his prey.

Suddenly a small bird lighted upon the same branch as the mantis.  Dushu was a little saddened as he thought his new found fascination was about to be eaten.  But to Dushu’s surprise, the mantis stood his ground and began even stranger movements than Dushu had yet seen.  The mantis’s two long, powerful arms slowly rotated around the front of its body.  Then the bird, which was four times the size of the mantis, tried to catch the mantis in its beak, but the smaller mantis thrust up on his rear legs and pushed the bird’s beak to the side.  Then the bird spread its wings and jumped at the mantis with its talons but the mantis jumped to the next branch.  The bird followed but the mantis jumped again.

Each time the bird would jump at the mantis the mantis would get away at the last instant.  Then the mantis jumped on the back of the birds head.  The bird began to flutter its wings and hopped around madly, but the mantis held on with one of its powerful arms and began to saw frantically at the back of the bird’s neck with the other.  And soon the bird began to bleed from the wound.  Then the mantis jumped away and the bird followed, but the bird was so tired and hurt that when he tried to spear the mantis with his beak, he was easily fended off by the mantis’s large and powerful front legs.  Finally, the bird, too tired and weak to fight any longer, flew away.

Dushu sat there fascinated and dumbfounded.  He reached up to the branch that the mantis was on and captured him.  Then he took him back to his small cottage and studied the mantis and its movements.  Five years passed and Dushu learned much.  By imitating the quick and powerful movements of the mantis, he had created his art.

To Be Continued…

The Eight Stances – #7 Reverse Bow

The seventh of the eight stance is Reverse Bow:

  • Legs and feet are like that of the forward bow stance (#2)
  • Waist and head turn to look in the direction of the back leg
  • Front arm is extended up in a blocking position.  Elbow is mostly pointed down and palm is facing out.
  • Rear arm is guarding arm pit/ribs area and palm is also pointing out
  • Back is perpendicular to ground
  • Front thigh is parallel to ground in low stance

Reverse Bow - FrontReverse Bow - SideReverse Bow - Back

The Way of the Mantis (part 1)

Three hundred years ago in the Chinese province of Canton, there lived a young man by the name of Dushu.  Dushu was the son of a very wealthy merchant, but he did not wish to carry on his father’s line of work.  His greatest ambition was to enter a Shaolin temple, and the only way anyone entered a Shaolin temple was that they must become a monk.  And as all the Chinese people knew, this was no easy task.

At the age of twenty, Dushu set off for the province of Shantung, where there was a Shaolin temple under the great Shaolin Master Change.  When he arrived at the temple gates he asked the monk that was on watch if he, Dushu, the wealthy son of a Canton merchant, could have attendance with the great Master Chang?  The monk did not reply, but disappeared for a brief time.  When he reappeared he told Dushu that Master Chang had no business with him.  Dushu replied in a loud and desperate voice that he had come a long way to see Master Chang and, besides, this was no way to treat a rich merchant’s son.  The monk made no reply nor did he make any further replies for three more days, in which Dushu just sat at the bottom of the gate – waiting.  Dushu had been warned it would not be easy to gain entrance in the Shaolin temple, but nevertheless he was determined.  And so he waited.

On the fourth day the great temple gate opened and a monk came out and bade Dushu to follow him.  Dushu, feeling a half sense of success, quickly did so.  The came to the inner courtyard of the temple and there stood a small middle-aged man.  This was Master Chang.

“An what is it you wished to see ma about young man?” asked Chang

“Master, I have traveled a long way at great expense to come to the temple so that you might take me in as a monk” replied Dushu.

“Ah, so you wish to become a Shaolin monk?  Well have you ever had any Kung Fu training?  For in order for you to become a monk at your age, you must first prove to me that your body and mind have been well disciplined” said Chang.

Dushu knew this well and in his younger years he had studied many fighting arts, but all his teachers had told him there was nothing as good as the Shaolin Kung Fu.  But nevertheless Dushu was quite determined and replied in a rather assuring tone that his body and mind were quite well disciplined and besides, he had a considerable fortune that he got from his father, and that surely would be more than enough to pay for the disciplines he had not yet learned.  Master Chang game a half smile saying,

“You have much to learn of the Shaolin ways, but nevertheless since you seem to be so determined, I will allow you a chance at showing me your great discipline.  I shall grant you’re a bout against my least skilled student.”

Dushu was about to protest having to fight the lowest student but something inside him stilled his thought.  Inside a few minutes, there was a young bald-headed monk half Dushu’s size standing before him.  Dushu inwardly reassured himself that this would not be such a hard task afterall.

Master Chang clapped his hands and the student and Dushu bowed.  Just as the student was re-erecting from the bow, Dushu jumped at him with a kick and found himself on the ground.  He quickly got up and started swinging as fast as he could.  But to Dushu’s amazement, all of his blows were stopped and he was once again easily thrown to the ground.  He got up once more and in a fit of rage began to strike out a fast as he could, but again he was easily blocked.  Then the student struck three very fast blows to the center of Dushu’s body and he was on the ground once again.  Only this time he could not get up.

The master clapped his hands, and the young monk left.  Then Master Chang said,

“When you are able, you may leave.”

To be continued….

The Eight Stances – #6 50-50 Stance

The sixth stance of the eight is the 50-50:

  • Front Leg – 50% – Much like the front leg of the Forward Bow stance (#2)
  • Back Leg – 50% – Much like the back leg of the Horse Stance (#1)
  • Be sure to keep back perpendicular to the ground and head erect
  • Sit in the stance
  • The front fist is face level and palm up.  The rear fist is underneath the elbow of the front arm and palm down.
  • Eyes are in the direction of the front fist

50-50 - Front50-50 - Side50-50 - Back

The Eight Stances – #5 Praying Mantis Stance

The fifth stance of the eight is the Praying Mantis:

  • Weight distribution is 70% back leg and 30% front leg
  • Sit on back leg with foot at 45 degree angle.  Front leg is bent with knee turned inward to protect groin.  Front leg weight rests on ball of foot.
  • Shoulders are at 45 degree angle to target.  Arms are bent at elbow and at “fighting ready”.  Elbows are directly above knees.
  • Mantis hands can be thumb touching pointer finger, thumb touching pointer and middle fingers, or thumb touching all fingers.  Wrist is relaxed and bent.
  • Back is straight and slightly rounded.
  • Eyes look over knuckles of front hand

Tang Lang - FrontTang Lang - SideTang Lang - Back

The Eight Stances – #4 Dragon Stance

The fourth stance of the eight is the Dragon Stance:

  • Twist to the left or right and sink down in this low stance
  • 70% of weight on front leg – 30% on back leg
  • Back knee gets very close to touching achilles tendon of front leg
  • Front arm bent at elbow and palm is facing outward.
  • Rear arm is protecting armpit/ribs area with fingers facing up
  • Eyes are looking underneath front arm
  • Keep back straight, but slightly rounded
  • Rear foot heal is off the ground and weight is on toes

Dragon - FrontDragon - SideDragon - Back

Chinese Kung Fu Virtues

Use Kung Fu ethics to balance personal judgment

Use Kung Fu technique to become fully rooted

Use Kung Fu practice to assist those in need

Kung Fu must not be used for evil purposes

A hero adopts a hero’s ways

Virtuous warriors have their duties

The Shaolin Way


KWON® Kung Fu Sashes

In their earliest uses, sashes were pieces of cloth wrapped around a practitioner’s waist to hold up their pants.  Later, as time progressed, the cloth was made wider so that not only would it hold up the pants but it was also used to practice breathing techniques by always pressing tightly on the dan tien (a few inches below the belly button.)

The color of these sashes was usually black since, in China, that was the easiest and most accessible color of dye used for clothing.  In the early 1900’s, the Japanese would begin to use belts as a distinction of rank, black being the highest.  In the mid-1950’s, many international kung fu associations also began to use ranking distinctions but they kept their original sashes and most adopted the black sash as their highest rank.

Our school’s ranking is as follows:

  1. Non-rank
  2. Yellow Sash
  3. Orange Sash
  4. Blue Sash
  5. Green Sash
  6. Brown Sash
  7. Red Sash
  8. Black Sash (1st Degree)
  9. Black Sash (2nd Degree)
  10. Black Sash (3rd Degree)

The Eight Stances – #3 Empty Stance

The third of the eight stances is the Empty Stance:

  • Virtually all bodyweight rests on the back leg – rear foot is at 45 degree angle 
  • Front foot is on its heal with toes pointing up and slightly inward
  • Front arm is bent, elbow facing down, hands open and eyesight gazed between thumb and fingers
  • Back arm is bent with hand nearby front arm’s elbow
  • Shoulders are at 45 degree angle to front

Empty Stance - FrontEmpty Stance - SideEmpty Stance - back

The Eight Stances – #2 Forward Bow Stance

The second stance of the eight is the Forward Bow.

  • Front leg is bent and stance is low enough whereby your knee blocks your eyes from seeing the toes.  Front thigh is parallel to ground in low stance.  Back leg is almost straight.
  • Front knee is directly above the heel – not too far forward, nor too far back
  • Front foot is facing forward, but slighting turned in.  Rear foot is at 45 degree angle from direction of punch.
  • Eyes look over the knuckles of the front fists
  • Arms are bent and relaxed – parallel to the ground and punching out with tight fists.
  • Weight is distributed 60% to the front leg and 40% to the back.
  • Head is held gently upright, as if suspended by a string from above.

Forward Bow - FrontForward Bow - SideForward Bow - Back

How To Prepare For A Test


The first step for a student and his or her family is to realize that it is very important to ask to be tested.  In the same vein, do not ask for the results of a test that was taken – you will be told in time.  When a student is seen to be ready to attempt the challenge of a test, he or she will be informed of the opportunity and then must decide whether or not to participate.

Should the student decide to take on this physical and mental challenge, he/she must focus and try hard to polish their movements with extra practice.  The higher the rank testing for, the more that is expected of the participating student.  Not only should the movements be done correctly, but more important to advancement, stances must be low, strikes must have proper power and relaxed balance is crucial.

On the mental side, one should be very focused on what is needed for the test and be aware of any distractions that might take away from performing at the highest level.  If on or near the date of an exam there are extra pressures with school or work of conflicting social schedules, the student might consider possibly putting off the test until he/she can confidently bring both physical and mental abilities to bear on the task at hand.  Testing is not designed only to test a student’s physical abilities, but also how he would act under stressful conditions.

Failure is not designed merely by the outcome of an exam, but rather by the individual’s understanding that he must always try to improve and always be willing to learn from his/her mistakes.  In martial training, as in everyone’s life, challenges never end and failure is decided by the person and not by the challenge.  Little is learned through easy victory, but much can be learned through temporary defeat.

Keep training…


Consistency in Kung Fu training, no matter the style, is an absolute must.  But rather than going on about all the pros and cons of the subject, let me explain it in the form of a story that was often told by Grand Master Cheng:

Once many years in the past, there was a very famous old Kung Fu master who knew his time had come.  So he called his three oldest students to his bedside to tell them the greatest secret of Kung Fu.  He bid the eldest of the three to kneel down close, and with his last ounce of chi, whispered the secret into the student’s ear.  And right after that he died.

The eldest student sat upright with a combined look of amusement at what he’d been told and deep sadness over his good teacher’s passing. The other two student’s had a combined look of sadness and great anticipation over what the greatest secret of Kung Fu was.

“Well!”  they finally blurted out, “tell us, what was Master’s secret?!”

The oldest student looked blindly at them and said, “Keep Training!”

Your Personal Space

Everyone is entitled to their individual personal space – a safe and comfortable distance from those around us.  Most of us are aware of the “close talker” – the person who gets uncomfortably close to us when communicating.   Unfortunately, their proximity undermines their point and we are focused on why they chose to get so close and how we could create some distance from them and return to a “normal” homeostasis.  Truly, a level of comfortable space is an innate need within us.

Chinese culture has a lot to teach us about this.  Our American custom of shaking hands in some circumstances puts us too close to the unknown.  The Chinese bow grew out of necessity and self-protection before modern civilization and organized protection from the government.  In more ancient times, people crossing paths had a healthy suspicion of those people passing by, hence the reason why they bowed from a distance instead of shaking hands.  Keeping a protective separation was a way to provide time for action in the event they encountered an aggressor and needed time to react.

For this reason, for self-defense, do your best to keep a “bubble” around you (much like the Leonardo Da Vinci’s, “Vitruvian Man” pictured).  If you feel anyone is potentially aggressive or dangerous, do not hesitate nor feel awkward about intentionally keeping distance from them.  This space arising from your awareness could potentially be the difference between life and death.

Weapons Etiquette

  1. If you haven’t been trained on a weapon at our school, don’t touch the weapon.
  2. Never touch the mat with your blade.  It shows you are not ready for the responsibilities of the weapon.
  3. If someone is using your personal weapon during class and you are called to train with that weapon, you may bow and request it from them.
  4. Before attaining the black sash rank, you are to use wooden weapons.  Metal weapons may be used for practice upon earning the black sash rank.

Muscle Memory

One of the most important differences between beginning, intermediate, advanced, and expert martial artists is the level of muscle memory that is acquired.  When a movement is repeated over time, long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.  Examples of muscle memory include riding a bike, typing on a keyboard, even handwriting, walking and talking.

Although the precise mechanism of muscle memory is unknown, what is theorized is that anyone learning a new activity, or practicing an old one has significant brain activity during this time. The walking child is gradually building neural pathways that will give the muscles a sense of muscle memory. In other words, even without thinking, the child is soon able to walk, and the muscles are completely accustomed to this process. The child doesn’t have to tell the body to walk; the body just knows how to do it, largely because neurons communicate with the muscles and say, “walk now.”

Muscle memory thus becomes an unconscious process. The muscles grow accustomed to certain types of movement. This is extremely important in kung fu training and is also why learning to do things right the first time is stressed.  You want your muscle memory to reflect the correct way to do things, not the incorrect way. Your muscle memory can actually play against you if you’ve constantly been practicing something the wrong way.

Teaching kung fu to students who have trained at other martial arts schools is typically more difficult than teaching someone without training.  It’s a lot harder to teach someone who’s learned a different fighting style for a few years because the first step is breaking them of the incorrect or incongruent habits they’ve acquired, which are now part of the muscle memory.  This requires diligence on part of both the teacher and student to focus effort on changing muscle memory.

Most top level athletes and performers in a variety of fields believe that muscle memory is best developed when the same activities are practiced over and over again, with any corrections of form that are needed. Thus, there needs to be a focus on the “quality of the quantity” of training.  This consistent and continual practice is what is required to develop kung fu fluency.

Beginning students are simply learning and internalizing the basic kung fu movements of stances, kicks, punches, etc.  As students improve, they are good enough to apply what they’ve learned in sparring at an intermediate level – although they may appear clumsy and uncoordinated.  At this point, these students typically still lack the muscle memory needed to adequately defend an opponent’s counter to their attack.  After much more practice and development of muscle memory, the student’s abilities become advanced and are then adeptly able to counter their opponent’s counter.  Because muscle memory doesn’t require conscious thought, it is smooth, quick, and powerful.  The final step, to reach an expert level of skill, requires such a massive amount of muscle memory and reflexive skill that very little thought is used when sparring.  The body just does what it has been programmed to do thru repetitive movements and the accumulation of muscle memory.

The Eight Stances – #1 Horse Stance

The first stance of the eight is the Horse Stance.

  • Imagine the position of your lower body when riding a horse and that’s how the lower body should sit in the stance.
  • Toes point forward – almost inward – and the kneecaps spread outward somewhat.
  • Eyes look over knuckles of the front fist
  • Weight is spread evenly between the left and right legs (50-50) and the muscles of both the thighs and rump should be used to hold the stance
  • Back is relaxed, mostly straight, and perpendicular to the ground

Horse Stance - FrontHorse Stance - SideIMG_1515


“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle


Each of us have 24 hours in our day to pursue our goals and enjoy our downtime.  Many of those hours are spent on activities basic to living such as sleeping, eating, bathing, grooming, etc.  Time and thought must be placed when deciding what activities are worthy of your daily (or almost daily) attention.  Hopefully, kung fu is one of those daily habits that has become a big part of your life.

Self-defense, physical strength, endurance, cardiovascular health, flexibility, enjoyment, camaraderie, personal development are just a few positive and enduring results you get from making a habit of your kung fu training.  It’s probably more interesting than going to the gym and doing the same weightlifting routines or grinding it out on an exercise bike.

Once training has become a habit, then one of the keys to kung fu development – consistency – will be in place.  Next, you need to once again employ habit, but this time during your actual training.  Developing the habit of pushing yourself in practice to punch harder, kick higher and faster, lower your stances, block properly, counter-attack sharper, focus your energy, etc. will propel your skill and health to new heights.  As a positive side effect to increased skill and health, you will start to enjoy not only your classes and personal training more, but everything in your life takes a turn for the better.

Positive habits in your life can mean the difference between achieving your life’s goals or not.  Spend some time to actively review what you “repeatedly do” and develop those habits that propel you to “excellence” and eliminate those that don’t.