Applying Kung Fu To Your Life

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

As your traditional training progresses, you’ll get to hear older students interact with each other outside of class.  Sometimes it’s friendly banter and other times it might be to give or ask advice for any of life’s curve balls.  A curious observer would notice that for almost every question, the answer you’ll hear is “Just train”.  Having a hard time in school?  Train.  Having trouble with a family member?  Train.  Having a difficulty at work?  Train.

Is this just a simple cultural tradition passed down from master to student?  That’s what I thought when I first began my training.  My friends told me that it was a cleverly disguised marketing tactic to keep us coming to class.  But with unlimited classes per month, that didn’t make sense.

It didn’t hit home for me until years later but it all started with a very simple comment.

“Your movements are still like a blue sash.” Sifu told me as he finished counting First-Fist.  I was 2 weeks away from testing for my green sash so naturally I thought to myself, “Good! They should be! I’m still a blue sash!”  But as I reflected on this, I realized the puzzle. How could I expect to earn a green sash BEFORE I exhibited green sash-worthy movements?  And so I started pushing myself more.  Classes got harder, but another interested thing happened.  My discipline improved.  The surprising part was that it didn’t just improve in training but in other areas of life: studying, family arguments, finances, and even eating healthy.

What does training, studying, managing finances, family arguments, and eating healthy all have in common?  The answer is: to succeed in these, one must exercise some degree of self-control or willpower.  In fact, when researchers study self-control or willpower, they find that it is one of the main predictors of success in life.

However, fifty years ago, if you asked a scientist to explain what concepts like “willpower” or “self-control” were, they couldn’t have told you with any certainty. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that emerging research in this field began coming together to fully explain the mysteries of self-regulation.

As it turns out willpower and self-control are like a muscle – if you work it out, it becomes stronger. This may seem obvious to some people but what most people don’t know is that willpower and self-control in one area of your life affects all the other areas.  There is no such thing as willpower for eating healthy, willpower for exercise, willpower for spending, etc..  Rather, it is one system that can be strengthened collectively to affect all aspects of your life.

Even if you exercise self-control in something completely unrelated to your goals, your overall willpower and self-control improves.  In studies led by Roy Baumeister, people were told to sit up straight or stand up straight whenever they thought of it.  The results?  They strengthened their willpower in diet, exercise, studying, and even spending – tasks that had nothing to do with sitting up straight!

The studies were repeated with the same strategy but with different techniques.  Instead of focusing on posture, people tried using a different hand for regular tasks or they tried changing their speech habits by using formal words in place of informal ones (“yes” and “no” instead of “yeah” or “nope”).  All in all, the results were the same, willpower stamina and self-control improved in tasks that had nothing to do with the exercises.

If we relate this to our lives, we can see precisely WHY hard training improves willpower and self-control.  Practicing forms, single-step movements, kicks, sparring, and holding stances all require us to exercise self-control.  This builds our “willpower” muscle in everything. But beware, just doing the movement is not sufficient.  Studies have shown that if you don’t push yourself, there is no benefit to your willpower.  In other words, “No strain, no gain.”  So hold stances lower, kick higher and faster, press yourself and watch your willpower and self-control improve in everything you do. Having a problem?  Just train.

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Nathan Gershfeld

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Nathan Gershfeld

 

Dr. Gershfeld is in private practice in Yorba Linda, CA specializing in chiropractic and health promotion.  His approach emphasizes addressing the underlying causes of disease or discomfort and coming up with a strategy for prevention, treatment, and reversal.  He can be reached at (714) 986-9767 or by email info@gershfeldchiropractic.com

 

Better Sore Than Sorry

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Sore

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Sore

Traditional martial arts training involves pain.  There is no escaping it.  Mostly, we’re talking about pain that comes from sore muscles, some bumps and bruises, and maybe some hurt egos.  No one joined the school to learn dancing.  Each student who paid tuition assumes there will be some “discomfort” – probably a lot of it – in the course of training.  If they haven’t experienced it yet, then they haven’t trained long, aren’t paying attention, and/or are purposefully not giving their all.

The purpose of pain at our school is to develop oneself.  The body strengthens as the muscles get sore and grow stronger.  Muscles and bones bruise to teach the student to develop skill and defend better.  Egos are kept in check by every exposed weakness.  Strength, skill and character develop.

Why put yourself through this?  Because it is better to be sore than sorry.  All the hours of training will undoubtedly be worth it that one moment when your martial arts training comes into action to defend yourself and/or your loved ones.  To be sure, class is anything but relaxing on a warm beach in the caribbean.  But, if something was to happen on your way to that beach – you’d be ready.  You’ve taken pain in class to best avoid taking worse pain out of class.

Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

 “I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know exactly, did you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal? I learned through Jackson’s [Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Singer-Songwriter Jackson Browne] ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs, ’cause Jackson would get up, and he’d play the first verse and first course, and he’d play it 20 times, until he had it just the way he wanted it.  And then there’d be silence, and then I’d hear the teapot going off again, and it would be quiet for 20 minutes, and then I’d hear him start to play again … and I’m up there going, so that’s how you do it? Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.”  – Glen Frey, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Founding Member of the Eagles

 

So it is in songwriting as it is in kung fu (or any skill you want to perfect).  If you want to develop in any arena, it requires persistent effort over time with conscientious, deliberate thought and desire for perfection.

The Better You Get, The More Your Enjoy It

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

“Cooking should never be a chore.  The more you cook, the more confident you become.  That way, you actually start to enjoy it and that’s the key to good cooking – having a bit of fun along the way.”  Master Chef Gordon Ramsay, Restaurateur & Owner/Operator of Multiple Three Star Michelin Restaurants

With few exceptions, the better you become at some skill, the more you tend to enjoy it.  One major thing that separates our kung fu school from many other forms of physical activity is that unlike going to the gym to crank out reps, run some laps, or sit on an exercise bike, there is much to enjoy at our school.  There is a purpose behind the repetitions.  The challenge of learning an incredible amount of ancient knowledge with your kung fu brothers and sisters, developing and improving skills, and the joy that comes from finally mastering something that’s taken years of effort is quite compelling.  In fact, it’s for this reason that kung fu should be thought of as a lifestyle – a part of who you are – where training is no different from brushing your teeth, eating lunch, or retrieving mail.  Your training evolves as you evolve as a person and hopefully it’s there for the rest of your life to keep you safe, vibrant, and strong.  This way, you will continue to develop, improve and enjoy the vast benefits the art offers.

As your ability to spar, utilize various levels of power and control, apply technique(s), and maintain energy during class improves – training gradually becomes more and more fun.  Your confidence increases.  Things that were once seemingly impossible become almost effortless.  Your training partners who were once mere acquaintances are now truly kung fu “brothers” and “sisters” as together you’ve endured countless grueling classes as well as taken each other’s lives in your hands during sparring and weapons training.  Your body has adapted to better handle the rigors of class by strengthening and loosening muscles and joints.  Lungs and resolve were tested and the body’s of fighters were built.  A complicated puzzle is finally coming together.  A piece of art that resembled nothing is taking form.  All because you made the school’s training a part of your daily routine.

It’s for this reason that stopping after receiving your black sash should be out of the question.  Some have unfortunately considered the attainment of their black sash as the pinnacle of their training.  It is very much the opposite – it’s the beginning of their “real” training.  The black sash shows they had what it takes to grind through and develop solid core skills.  Continuing on and pushing their training further is when fluidity and real kung fu skills shine thru.  Of course, kung fu is not an escalator with a smooth and consistent ride up to mastery.  It has many tests of the student’s resolve, humility, and patience and possesses no finish line as there is no such thing as perfection.  Interestingly, it’s also at around black sash when the fun and the challenge of mastering this art begins.

Unlimited Classes

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Unlimited Classes

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Unlimited Classes

Most schools out there – be it for other martial arts, yoga, pilates, personal training, etc. – offer the student a set number of classes a week or month.  Most times, the classes are limited to a few sessions per week. This makes mastery in whatever is being offered quite difficult – assuming mastery is even something of interest.

Our school has offered – for 30 years at the time of this writing –  UNLIMITED classes for a reasonable monthly fee.  This means that with the few exceptions, students can train 3-4 hours a day, 6 days a week.  For those of you who might want to become masters and teachers of these ancient arts and want to open your own school someday, it is definitely advisable to get to every available class.  The same applies to those who truly want to maximize their learning and ability.  Our school teaches an incredible variety of complex skills from striking to joint attacks to Chinese wrestling to weapons that require a tremendous amount of time and effort to master.  Mastery in our martial arts is not for the weak-willed and flighty – it demands consistency, grit, humility and patience.  Each and every class is of value.

Of course, much can still be gained for those able and wanting to attend 3-4 classes per week.  Not everyone has the time or inclination to invest in maximizing their training – and this is perfectly fine.  A great realization is that in time and with consistent, dedicated training, these students can still develop excellent martial skill and robust physical fitness.  But for those who are interested in more… attend more.  Try to stay for 2, 3, even 4 classes a day.  It will quickly take you to new levels of ability and understanding.

Escape Techniques

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Escape Techniques

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Escape Techniques

Along with the first few stances, kicks, single step movements and San Shou, new students begin to learn escape techniques as their introduction to Chin Na.  As a beginner, these movements are essential to be able to break away from someone who is trying to control you with a strong grab.  Escaping a bad situation is most often the right decision for someone who has not yet learned how to effectively defend him or herself.  The escape techniques are excellent for making that happen and students should not discount the importance of perfecting those movements.

What new students don’t realize is how these “beginner” escape techniques become the first piece of some advanced techniques they’ll learn in the future.  They usually see higher rank using sticky hands to attack their partner’s joints and hear the smack of their partner wincing in pain.  They think “Why escape, if I can simply use sticky hands to lock them in and inflict as much damage as necessary?”   They want to skip past learning escape techniques and onto things that make someone hurt immediately.  It’s understandable to think that, but there is a reason for everything in our training.

Kung fu training is cumulative.  Much like with learning math, kung fu skills build on each other.  It’s quite hard to do trigonometry without a solid base of geometry and hard to do geometry without basic arithmetic.  Without strong foundations, more complicated techniques simply won’t work.  By building a solid foundation of escape techniques, you will eventually learn how to successfully follow the escape with a technique that often reattaches to the opponent in a more advantageous position for you.  This reattachment is usually followed by a vicious joint attack.  Additionally, many escape techniques put the opponent in an ideal position for a pretty forceful strike.  Like the rest of our kung fu, Chin Na is supposed to flow from one technique to the next.  So learn the escape techniques well and their will be more to follow in time.

Self-Study: The New Form

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Forms Practice

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Forms Practice

As you train, new forms are taught to advance the number of techniques you know and develop your physical abilities.  These forms are an essential part of the art and each movement contains many techniques for fighting.  As mentioned in a prior post, it is not enough to know the form.  You must really know the form.   So much so that there must be no chance to get it wrong.  That is when you truly “own” it and are able to utilize the techniques inherent in it.  This may take hundreds – even thousands – of repetitions and many evolutions of the form for it to become ingrained in your body.

Besides attending class every day, a simple way to develop mastery of your form is to practice your newest form(s) at least once or twice every day.  As there is usually a good space of time between learning new forms, you will have the opportunity to practice this form (or perhaps the last few forms) at least dozens of times.  Maybe it’s when you wake up, before you leave for work/school, after dinner or sometime before bed.  Practice it slowly – on count – at first and then do it again at full speed.  Make a habit of it and your forms and your martial skill will improve faster and you will test for your next rank with much more confidence.  Don’t forget – this does not take the place of attending class regularly!  Take as many classes as you can to maximize your progress in the art!