Showing Up

“80% Of Success Is Showing Up.” – Woody Allen

Whether you like or dislike Woody Allen and his body of work, his success as a comedian, actor, director, and playwright can not be denied.  His quote above should motivate you both in and outside of the school.  He went on to say, “People used to say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen.  All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack.  They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.  So that was my biggest life lesson that has worked.  All others have failed me.”

If you want a high level of fighting ability, robust physical fitness, constant self-improvement, self-confidence, and more – then show up to class.  Using this principal of “showing up” will also serve you well in the other important areas of your life.

A Little Paranoia

Paranoia:  an unreasonable feeling that people are trying to harm you, do not like you, etc.

A little paranoia is a good thing to have.  A healthy amount will keep you aware of your surroundings, mindful of those who might mean to do you harm, and prepare you to act in the event something unwanted happens.  An unhealthy amount of paranoia will likely require medical attention as you can’t think or focus on anything else.  A little paranoia will keep you prepared for the unexpected.

As always, the lessons you learn in class are applicable to real life.  When classmates are swinging weapons around, you need to keep an eye on those weapons and not get too close if you can avoid it.  If a student comes in to train and seems off, be particularly focused and careful when you begin practicing San Shou, Chin Na, or Sparring with them.  If the class is full and everyone is tightly packed for Kicks or Forms, keep an eye on where everyone is so you don’t hit them and they don’t hit you.  Little lessons like those and the many more you learn in class can really benefit the student outside of the school.

Outside the school, if you’re in a place where the energy just doesn’t feel right or you hear something that seems off, take preemptive action and keep your distance or simply leave, especially if you’re with friends or family who are not trained.  If someone you don’t know interacts with you and you sense they don’t seem very balanced emotionally or mentally, be careful.  You don’t need to talk with them – feel free to walk away – while always keeping an eye on where they are.  Even if you’re out having lunch at a restaurant, try to find a place to sit where you’re back is covered and you have a clear view of the entire establishment.  These are just a few examples of a little paranoia.

Be aware of your surroundings and the people in it.  Although it may take a little time and energy, it has the potential to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Sleep After A Late Class

“I can’t seem to fall asleep after training in late classes.  My body just doesn’t want to shut down.”

This is not an uncommon thing to hear between classes and there are a number of reasons one might have that issue.  Unfortunately, the medical community has yet to come to any conclusions as to why it’s difficult for some to fall asleep after exercising at night.  It does agree, however, that to fall asleep, both mind and body must be in the right place – one of relaxation and comfort.

The issue is that kung fu training greatly stimulates both the mind and the body.  Learning new things and giving 100% focus on making them work correctly requires significant mental energy.  Sparring, san shou and chin na also require a great deal of concentration and increases the hormones’ cortisol and adrenaline in the body, which is our way of coping with higher levels of stress.  These hormones can keep the body in the “fight or flight” state long after class and prevent easily falling to sleep.

The strain of hard physical exercise found in training can also keep the body humming long after class is over.  This is typically an issue for those not in peak physical shape – their heart rates simply don’t return to normal rapidly enough.  In fact, beginners or those just getting back into training may find there heart rate still high long after class is over.  This rapid blood flow can impact getting the body in a place of “relaxation and comfort”.  However, this issue will gradually go away as you get in shape and the exercise will provide a better night’s sleep once you finally conk out.  If you’ve maintained a consistent training schedule and have gotten in good shape, training at night and falling to sleep afterward is typically not a physical issue – it’s probably more of a mental one.

Here are a few ideas to help you on your way to easy slumber after evening classes:

  1. Have a small meal before and after exercise.   Be sure each meal has a good balance of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates.  Obviously, don’t eat anything high in sugar or caffeine.
  2. Cool down after class with gentle stretching.
  3. Warm green tea is good to drink post-training as it can calm the body and possesses L-theanine, which induces relaxation.  It can also help sleep quality, but look for low-caffeine teas when looking at options.
  4. Meditation is also something to consider to help get your mind and body in the proper state.

At the end of the day, those people who work out (be it early in the morning or late at night) will have a deeper and more meaningful sleep than those that don’t.  Also, sleep is incredibly important for recovery for those who regularly train.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

“For the warrior, the path to enlightenment comes by openly and objectively studying all forms of martial arts, sticking to the true path of the warrior, allowing no dishonesty in your heart, sharpening and trusting your intuition, and diligently practicing and clinging to the truth.  In time, once the clouds of confusion have cleared, you will come to true enlightenment.  

Many think that they are on the true path of enlightenment some through religion, and some through education.  But true enlightenment can be seen by what a person has done, not by what he says.  Those who have missed the mark may chatter all day long about this and that, but they have never done anything.  Anyone can make a good argument, by few can show good results.”

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), founder of Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship.  The Book of Five Rings Trans. D.E. Tarver

Self Study: Sit-Ups

Sit-ups are somewhat synonymous of abdominal exercise development.  While the muscles surrounding your abdomen get an amazing workout from kung fu training (particularly kicks), there are many exercises that focus on developing strength and endurance in those muscles (rectus abdominis and obliques).  Many of these exercises are performed in class from time to time, but are always great to add to your post-class routine in conjunction with push-ups and some stretching.  They are also a great exercise to perform at home as a self-study.

Quarters

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Quarters

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Quarters

This exercise works the upper abdominal muscles.  Lay down on your back with a straight body (or with slightly bent knees) and cross your arms over your body and have your hands on the opposite shoulder.  The movement is quick and simple – just lift your head and look at your toes.   When you see them, let your head back down to the ground.  A very basic exercise for those just starting to work their abdominal muscles.   For those of you who have no problem doing these, try doing them as quickly as possible up to 100.  If that didn’t test your muscles, then try doing 200.  Then move on to the next exercise.

Bicycles

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Bicycles

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Bicycles

This works the sides of your rectus abdominis, as well as the obliques.  Lay on your back, put your hands behind your head, and lift your legs off the ground.  Twist your body to touch your right elbow to your left knee, then immediately release and touch the left elbow to the right knee.  If you do these quick enough, it looks like your riding a bike, hence the name, bicycles (or bicycle crunches).

Leg Raises

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Leg Raises

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Leg Raises

This works the lower abdomen.  Lay on your back with your arms at your sides pressing down and your head raised off the ground.  Bring your knees up to your chest and shoot your feet straight up above your head.  Reverse the motion to complete one repetition.  This exercise is also good for the spine.

These are only a few of the multitude of exercises that work the mid-section.  As mentioned, the muscles of your abdomen are used a lot during training (think of turn kicks) and it is for this reason that various types of sit-ups are helpful for building strength and endurance.  Try them when you wake up in the morning, during commercials, after class, etc. – you will notice the benefits within a week or two.

A Kung Fu Formula

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts - Formula

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts – Formula

When you are called on to perform a form there are a sequence of orders – a formula per se.  The name of the form first.  The name of the form (again), then “Ready!” second.  Thirdly, the name of the form, then “Begin”.  There is a reason even for this.

This same formula is used for possible conflict.  First order is to be aware of a possible situation or problem.  Second order is to size up the situation and be ready to act.  Third order, Act!

The psychology and mental discipline of a kung fu practitioner is as important as his speed and power.  All skill sets are learned through consistent practice and repetition in as many ways as possible.

Warrior State of Mind

Brea Shaolin Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Martial Arts

“Strive to remain calm and steady even in a crowd of people rushing here and there.  You are a warrior.  You should lead those that are less settled, not follow them.  This state of mind will only come with practice and time.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), founder of Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship.  The Book of Five Rings Trans. D.E. Tarver

Invisible Growth

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Invisible Growth

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Invisible Growth

If one point can’t be drilled into each student enough is the idea of effort and consistency.  In our world of fast food, remote controls, light switches, movies, etc., most people expect results to come on command.   They expect instant gratification.  People start a diet or exercise routine in the morning and expect to see a different body that night when they look at themselves in the mirror or wonder how much weight they lost when they step on the scale.  Some people are ambitious enough to turn the TV off for a night and read a few pages of a book – only to set the book aside because the beginning was too boring.  We expect to see immediate results and constant feedback or else we believe something isn’t right.  However, that is not the way things work… not with kung fu and not with most things in life worth pursuing.

In fact, what is happening every day you train is “invisible growth”.  The development of kung fu skill is the pursuit of perfecting all the details that make up the art.  This perfection is gradual – it’s a process that requires painstaking effort and consistency mentioned time and again in class.  Because there are so many nuances to the movements, you won’t really know what you’re getting better at day in and day out.  By the time you recognize you’ve gotten better at some aspect of training, you’ve practiced the techniques over and over and over again – even many hundreds and thousands of times.  It’s quite likely that it is someone else telling you how much better you’ve gotten because you can’t even tell the difference.  When they ask what you’ve done to get better, your answer will likely be, “I don’t know – I just trained!” because there was probably no aha moment.  Those people probably weren’t around to watch you in class day in and day out.  They had and have the same opportunity as you to get better.

One last concept to help grasp the idea of “Invisible Growth” is that of compound interest – which was dubbed “the 8th wonder of the world.” by Albert Einstein.  “Compounding” has the same benefit to your kung fu skill as it does to money.  When it comes to the compounding of money – saving $20 a day and compounding it at 8%/year will yield $109,767 in 10 years, $353,412 in 20 years, $894,215 in 30 years, and $2,094,604 in 40 years.  No small sum for half a life of saving.  Although more money was saved from day 1 to year 30, there was much more money earned by the compounding effect during years 30-40.  This is the 8th wonder of the world working in your favor.  When it comes to compounding kung fu skill, the same phenomena will occur.  As you put your time in and learn movements and techniques, much will be new and their will be no compounding going on – yet.  As years go by and your body has internalized many of the basics, the compounding effect will kick in.  New movements will take little effort to learn, understand and utilize.  Your skill will flow as your body has memorized how to effortlessly move, react, and adapt to change.

By training an hour everyday you’d hit 10,000 hours of training in about 30 years and become a “kung fu millionaire”.

A Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu - Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu – Low Ceiling

One very effective way of lowering your root, creating power, and becoming more effective in sparring/fighting is to imagine that the ceiling of the room you train in has been lowered to about a foot or two shorter than your height.  An actual room like that would be hard to come by, so you’ll just have to visualize it when you train.  You would literally have to lower your head and bend your knees just to get in the room.  Imagine it.

When practicing kicks in this room, your stances will have to start low so your head doesn’t hit the ceiling.  When executing the kick, your stances must then stay low – don’t pop up!  This means you must sink your weight throughout the entire kick.  This will help your kick become even more powerful.  It also makes you difficult to sweep to the ground if your kick is caught as your center of balance – your root – makes you very heavy to the opponent and you have much greater balance.

Practicing single-step movements and forms in a room with a low ceiling also requires a great number of changes so as to not bang your head.  Let’s disregard movements that require standing at full height, jumping kicks, etc.  Focus on the majority of the movements that require stepping, turning, twisting, switching stances, punching, kicking, etc.   Like with the kicks, performing these movements with such low stances will create enormous power and stability.

During sparring, San Shou and even when implementing Chin Na, keeping low will provide a new perspective to your training.  Don’t mistake keeping low with being slow.  Your legs will burn for some time by keeping so low and that might seemingly slow your movements down.  Realize, however, that it’s only temporary due to your legs being gassed.  As you continue with this type of training, you will become incredibly stronger, your body looser, and those two things will help you move far quicker than before.

This new way of training will likely have an almost immediate impact on your skill level.  You will become a much more solid and smooth martial artist.  However, this type of training takes a good deal of focus and willingness to suffer – your legs will undoubtedly go through a great deal of growing pains.  But, if you care about progressing in your kung fu, it’s worth the pains.  In class, take a low stance in kicks, single step, forms, etc. and use the mirrors to try to maintain the height of your head through whatever you’re working on.  If you’re not in a position to look at a mirror, simply envision yourself doing what you’re doing and keeping your head on a level plane.  Do not bend your back to make this happen.  There will be times when movements dictate a higher or lower stance, so allow for them when they occur.  Otherwise, try to keep low, stable and supple.

Cleaning Your Uniform

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Uniform

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Uniform

Keeping your training clothes clean and ready for future classes can require more effort than the typical washing.  As you know, most classes command a good deal of sweat from our bodies and that sweat collects bacteria as it reaches the surface of our skin.  That bacteria is often caught in the fibers of our uniforms – often causing them to smell a bit.  Here are a few tips to help keep your clothes fresh and clean:

  • Pre-soak your clothes in baking soda then wash as usual.
  • Plain white vinegar is another relatively inexpensive alternative.  There are three options:
    1. Soak your clothes in a mixture of a cup or two of white vinegar and water.  This should take about an hour or two.
    2. Add a half cup of white vinegar directly into the wash with the detergent.
    3. Fill a spray bottle with a diluted white vinegar mixture (1:1 ratio with water) and spray the areas that need attention and let sit for an hour.

Hopefully this helps you and and the kung fu brothers and sisters you train with.

Training In The Cold

Training in Cold

Training in Cold

As we enter the fall season and the not-to-distant winter, it makes sense to talk about training in cold weather.  Training in the cold is typically not as pleasurable as training in the heat, but then it also doesn’t have the physical problems associated with training in high temperatures and humidities.  Although it may take a little time to warm up and get the blood moving in your body, once it is warm you should be fine to train.  Here are some tips to help make your training better and prevent sickness during the winter.

  1. Dress in layers.  Wear your kung fu jacket and feel free to wear a long sleeve shirt underneath your jacket on days that are particularly cold.  Chances are, however, that once your internal body heat rises after some hard training you will likely feel “overdressed” for class.
  2. Keep warm during class.  Once you have warmed up your body, keep it warm during cold classes.  If you feel your body starting to chill when you’re at rest, sit in a stance.  You don’t want to cool off a body that has heated and even drenched your uniform with sweat.
  3. Do not stretch when your body is cold or has cooled off since training.  Stretching cold muscles can lead to injury.  Be sure to have an elevated heart rate when stretching.
  4. Dry off completely and put on dry, warm clothes after class.  Definitely bring a dry set of clothes to change into after class.  This means an undershirt as well as warm sweatshirt or jacket and pants.  Use a towel to take the sweat off your head, neck and face.
  5. Cover your head and neck after class.  Keeping your head and neck warm after class is essential to keeping warm and preventing sickness.  Putting on a hooded sweatshirt is a good solution.  Wearing a wool cap and putting a dry towel around your neck also works.

We train indoors and don’t have to worry about snow and wind, so working out in a cooler room should be no big deal.  The steam coming off of your body and those of your kung fu brothers and sisters will quite likely heat up the room during class!

Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Training In The Heat

This summer had some particularly hot and humid days.  Training in the heat, like training in the cold, is just another one of the challenges each student needs to accept and, oddly enough, is an important part of the school’s curriculum.  Violence can happen in any season and training in the various extremes of temperature is just another way of being prepared.  Additionally, learning and understanding the capabilities of your mind and body during difficult training conditions is part of the learning process.  That being said, there are a some things to note about training in the heat.

First, classes are typically adjusted somewhat to account for the heat.  Although they aren’t dummied down per se, classes held in extreme heat will focus on things that don’t overly press and fatigue the body.  Before class, Sifu or the instructor will remind the students about the physical symptoms of heat exhaustion (general fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature) and tell them that they can bow out of class to get a drink should they feel the need.  Just a gulp or two is all that is needed once or twice during class.  Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious physical issues that are not taken lightly.  It is better to take things a little easier and train the next day, than to push yourself and be out for a week.

Second, one of the biggest issues during the heat is hydration.  Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before and after class.  Sports drinks with electrolytes can be particularly good for post-workout rehydration.  There is water available for students after class, but when the weather is hot it’s advisable to bring your own bottle of water or other drink to ensure there is plenty to drink.  Having a little ice in the bottle to cool it down helps, although making it too cold with a lot of ice is not typically advisable as it can shock the system.

Third, this one is fairly obvious, but train in the light kung fu t-shirt instead of the kung fu “jacket”.  The t-shirts are both lighter and breath better.  Be sure to bring a towel to dry the sweat off with and light, breathable clothes to change into after class.

Fourth, it is often less hot in the later classes (7-8pm during the week) and the earlier classes (10-11am on Saturday).  There can be a substantial difference in both heat and humidity between the 5-6pm class and the 7-8pm class.  If you have the flexibility, try going to a cooler class.

Lastly, if you are starting to have symptoms of heat exhaustion or to cool off when class is over, take something cool and put it around your neck – this works wonders.

Reflexes

Brea Shaolin Sparring

Brea Shaolin Sparring

If you’ve seen enough martial arts movies, particularly kung fu movies, you will notice that the writers/directors like to show the most skilled characters casually catch a falling cup from a table, snag a flying dart out of the air or quickly catch a punch with their open hand that was flying toward their head.   Many times, the skills displayed are exaggerated, but sometimes what they show are very real.  This skill is generally given the term of “reflex action” or more simply “reflexes” (although not the dictionary’s definition of reflexes).  While catching a falling utencil out of the air is not something we train for at our school, many will find heightened reflexes a nice by-product of kung fu training.

Reflexes, in the martial arts nomenclature, are, among other things, the ability to react very quickly to a stimulus such as fists speeding at your chest, feet flying at your gut, elbows rushing to your head.  That being the case, sparring at the school is the ultimate developer of quick reflexes as your desire to avoid getting hit/swept/thrown outweighs slow thinking and slow action.   It demands awareness of what is going on around you and your surroundings as well as instantaneous reaction to an action.  There is definitely no daydreaming during sparring.  Partner forms such as dui wushu and spear vs. sword and the training of san shou also develop the students reflexes.  Peripheral vision, sense of touch and sound, even a sort of sixth sense all come into play during those exercises and most all of the training, which is why martial artist’s reflexes are at a higher level than most.

Without awareness and concentration of your environment, there is no way to utilize and exhibit martial skill.  However, if you are aware of something that is happening quickly, you must respond quickly and with exactness.  If your opponent feints an attack to your head so that he/she can take out their primary target – your knee, for example – you must both see and feel the attackers intention and react appropriately.  If you’re outside of the school and something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts and be prepared to react quickly to what might come.  Awareness of your surroundings is the first step to developed reflexes.  The more you train, the more heightened your awareness.  The more your train, the faster and more coordinated your reaction to an action will be.

So don’t be surprised when you open the refrigerator and catch that falling container before it spills on the floor… it’s just one more benefit of your kung fu training.  If it falls to the floor, there’s only one answer, clean up the mess and train more.

Live In the Moment

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment.  A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment.  If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719) Author of Hagakure

When you come to the school to train, your focus should be on giving everything you have in that class.  Pay attention and concentrate on what you’re doing and what is going on around you.  Otherwise, you won’t get the most out of your time.  Even worse, you can get hurt or hurt one of your kung fu brothers or sisters.  The same principal applies to the other areas of your life.  When you’re at work or school, focus all your energies on those things alone.  When spending time with your family or friends, do your best to focus on those people.  Carefully determine what you spend your time on and give them your full attention…. then it follows that, “If it’s important, do it every day.  If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.”

Never Too Old For Kung Fu

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Centenarian Hong Dongchu, a lifetime practitioner of Chinese Martial Arts, when asked about his longevity replied, “One of the key reasons I can reach 100 is because I am exercising every day.”

Crescent Kick

The Crescent Kick (or Outside Crescent Kick) is a specialty kick that is limited to attacking an opponents head and arms/hands.  For this reason, it must be practiced as high as possible to ensure speed, power and balance.

Crescent Kick

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and turn the hip of the back foot across the body.
  • Pick up the back foot and with a generally straight leg, bring it up towards it’s opposite shoulder.  As it approaches the top of the shoulder bring it across the body and back down.
  • The non-kicking foot naturally turns and grinds into the ground – mostly on the ball of the foot.
  • Both hands should be hit at about head level to prevent potential injury to the lower back.
  • Contact is made with the outside of the foot.
  • Always try to deliver 100% of power and speed to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by practicing the kick thousands and thousands of times.

Side Kick

The Side Kick is one of the most powerful kicks in our arsenal.  Due to its form and power, this kick is difficult to block and is best avoided by moving out of range or to the side of the kick.   The Side Kick’s targets can be as low as the foot and as high as the head.

The Side Kick:

  • From a horse stance, move your back foot forward behind and in front of the forward foot.
  • Place it down with the heel pointing toward the target.  As you are shifting weight forward onto that leg, pick up the knee of the forward leg.
  • Kick out the foot of the forward leg and counterbalance by gradually moving your torso backwards.  At full extension, the body should be a straight line towards the target.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the heel of the foot and at full extension of the Side Kick – the heel is higher than the toes.
    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Heel
    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Heel
  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • The Sick Kick is effectively used at a downward angle to crumble an opponent to the ground.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by doing thousands and thousands of them with purpose and a pursuit of perfection.

Turn Kick

The Turn Kick is typically one of the more difficult “beginner” kicks.  I use the word beginner because it’s simply one of the kicks taught to new students.  It may take years to gain proficiency with this kick, however.  The kicks range is typically from knee to head.  It can be thought of as the leg’s equivalent to a hook punch as it is coming from the side.

The Turn Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and pick up the knee of the back leg.  As you are shifting weight forward, TURN (hence the name Turn Kick) the waist to parallel the target while releasing the kick and extend the leg completely (avoid cutting the kick short.)
  • The non-kicking foot turns and grinds into the ground on the ball of the foot.
  • The hip of the kicking leg is forward of the hip of the standing leg – the hips are parallel to the target.
  • The same arm as the kicking leg counter-balances the kick by going the opposite direction of the leg.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the ball of the foot.
    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking - Ball of Foot
    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking – Ball of Foot
  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by practicing the kick thousands and thousands of times.

Heel Kick

The Heel Kick is often learned in conjunction with the Snap Kick.  Much of the action of both kicks are the same.  There are a few differences surrounding the purpose of the kick.  As the Snap Kick is like a straight punch, the Heel Kick is like a push.

The Heel Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and pick up the knee of the back leg.  As you are shifting weight forward, release the kick and extend completely (avoid cutting the kick short.)
  • The hip of the kicking leg is forward of the hip of the standing leg.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the heel of the foot.

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Heel

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Heel

  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • The Heel Kick is often effectively used at a downward angle to crumble an opponent to the ground.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by doing a whole lot of them in class day in and day out.

Snap Kick

The Snap Kick (or Back-leg Snap Kick) is likely the first “fighting” kick a new student learns.  Although it is one of the less complicated kicks to learn, it is very powerful and effective in a fighting situation.  Like most kicks, it can be delivered to targets as low as the shins and knees and as high as the head.  It is the leg’s equivalent of a straight punch.

The Snap Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and pick up the knee of the back leg.  As you are shifting weight forward, release the kick and extend completely (avoid cutting the kick short.)
  • The hip of the kicking leg is forward of the hip of the standing leg.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the ball of the foot.

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking - Ball of Foot

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking – Ball of Foot

  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • The Snap Kick can also be “double” kick, where the first kick is targeted low to the shins or knee and immediately followed up with a higher kick to middle or high targets.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by doing a whole lot of them in class day in and day out.

Stretch Kick

The Stretch Kick is one of the first kicks new students learn.  It is not a fighting kick, however.  The Stretch Kick is intended to, as its name implies, stretch the hamstrings and lower back.  It also serves to warm up the body for the fighting kicks that will follow.  New students may find that it tests their balance as well.

The Stretch Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, swing your leg straight up as far as it can go.  Don’t over-stretch the kick in the beginning.  As time goes on and you feel more comfortable with the kick, try to get foot as high as it will go with proper form (i.e. with a straight leg) and work toward head (or overhead) height.
  • The hip of the kicking leg should be well forward of the other hip at the top of the kick.
  • As with all kicks, your upper body should be relaxed.  Release any tension in the shoulders, hands, and face.
  • Unlike most fighting kicks, your arms can be held low at the sides of the body for balance.

Enlightenment and Martial Arts

Enlightenment and Martial Arts

Enlightenment and Martial Arts

“The only secret to real enlightenment is to keep your heart and spirit true, work hard, and be honest with yourself.  Truth is not true because you want it to be.  You cannot bend the truth and still reach enlightenment.  You must accept truth whether you like it or not, and adjust all of your views to fit accordingly.”

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), founder of Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship.  The Book of Five Rings Trans. D.E. Tarver

Re-Starting Your Training After Time Away

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Sometimes life has a way of interfering with your kung fu training at the school.  It can arise from a new job, school, injury, relocation, extended vacation, or something else that simply prevents consistent attendance.  Hopefully, it isn’t anything permanent and you can return at some point.  Hopefully, your kung fu meant enough to you to retain much of what you were taught and to come back and re-start your training.

There are a number of things to consider when re-starting.  First, as you probably imagine, you are likely not going to be in “kung fu” shape.  You may have exercised and kept your body strong, but unless you consistently trained on your own there will definitely be some sore muscles after your first class.  In fact, there will likely be some sore muscles for weeks following your first class back depending on how often you train, your rank, and what you remember.

A key to successful re-engagement is to gradually increase your workload over a period of weeks and months (not days) and to stay consistent.  Take one class a day 3-4 days a week.  If you are sore, push yourself to continue to train those 3-4 days (more days a week may likely be too much and less days a week too little.)  Your body is relearning the movements and regaining the strength, endurance, and flexibility needed to make them work correctly.  If you are not sore from 3-4 days a week, you may try to add on an additional class or two, but don’t push yourself too hard in a hurry to get back to where you left off.  You can increase your workload and start training 2 hours at a time or add another day or two to your training.  Pressing too hard and too fast can cause injuries or even burnout.  In time, if gradually done, you can easily be back to 2-3 classes a day, 4-5 days a week in a matter of months and your skill level will climb.

Second, as with any new student, you need to begin with and focus on the basics.  Spend a good deal of time working on basic stances to build leg strength as well as the forms to develop endurance, balance and coordination.  Do not be in a rush to regain every form and technique that was once yours.  All in good time.  Quality of movement is paramount so take it one technique, one form at a time starting from the earliest things you were taught.  Patience, consistency, humility, and effort is everything when getting back (and staying) with your training.

Stances

All Kung Fu styles have their strengths, but one they all share is strength of the lower body, or leg strength.  They all employ low stances so as to be able to root themselves for offensive as well as defensive movements.

The twelve ton tois that we train are actually sets of movements which are designed to work on your stances.  Ton toi means thunderkick in Chinese.  Low stances gives a practitioner a lot of jumping and kicking power as well as excellent cardiovascular training.

So lower your stances!

Massage and Your Martial Arts Practice

Brea Shaolin Martial Arts - Massage

Brea Shaolin Martial Arts – Massage

Therapeutic massage in China has a very long history.  An ancient book dating back to first century AD says, “if the body is benumbed as a result of the blocking of the jingluo (or meridians), it may be cured by massage.”  Massage departments were established in the Imperial Court during the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907 A.D.)  Further development took place in subsequent dynasties.

Massage falls into the broad range of traditional Chinese medicine practices that have a history of thousands of years, which can’t/won’t be discussed in detail here.  Massage is a sibling of acupuncture, herbal medicine, qigong and exercise, and diet that make up Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It’s historical purpose is not simply to relax muscles and relieve stress, but to be an integral part of a complete medical system.  It’s goal is to cure diseases, both acute and chronic, by relieving symptoms and attacking the root of problems.  Traditional Chinese Massage treats not just sports injuries, joint and muscle related disorders (including dislocated joints), and minor broken bones, but also internal chronic disorders.   The ancients found massage as a method to treat atrophy, paralysis, digestive system disorders, and more.  Commonly known in the west, Acupressure is just one of the techniques of Chinese massage where pressure is applied to acupuncture points.

Your kung fu practice will likely benefit from consistent massage – be it administered by yourself, a western massage therapist, or a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner.  When sore, explore the sore area of your body by pressing and massaging the areas surrounding it.  You will likely find one or more places that help release pain and pressure.  If possible, find a qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and find out for yourself how advanced Chinese massage can be a valuable piece of your overall health.