Ton Toi

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Ton Toi

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Ton Toi

Ton Toi’s are a set of training exercises that are used by most styles of Kung Fu.  They originated in the northwest of China – probably having come from a long ago extinct style, but picked up and used by many current styles.

There are three types of Ton Toi’s. The 12 patterns or sets are the most often practiced. They have probably remained the same as they were taken in and used by other styles. Another type is the 10 smashing fists sets used by Tung-lung practitioners.  There is another 12 set Ton Toi’s that is used by Ba Gua styles.

Ton Toi’s mean “springing kicks”.  The sets are primarily used to develop powerful kicks.  Combined with hand sets that create a very strong body frame, Ton Toi’s prove to be very useful for all styles.

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!

Using the Mirror

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Using the Mirror

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Using the Mirror

The mirror can be helpful for developing your kung fu ability.

Before or after class, you typically have time to practice anything you like:  kicks, stances, forms, chin na, san shou, etc.  By paying attention in class, you see how higher rank perform certain movements.  Perhaps you had a movement that was taught or corrected in class by Sifu.  The mirror let’s you judge for yourself just how well your movement stacks up.  Is your technique well balanced?  Are your stances low and strong?  Are your kicks and punches fast and sharp?  Is your posture correct or are you leaning, tense or just off?  The mirror and your honest judgment will give you the answers.

During class, the mirror is helpful in a different way.  Like the above, you can measure how high, fast and powerful your kicks are getting, how your stances compare to the rest of the class, etc.  However, during class, the mirror can be used when being taught new movements and greater details of old movements.  You can see multiple angles via the reflection and see things you might not have seen otherwise.  The mirror can also provide you with better peripheral vision to ensure you don’t hit or get hit by others.  It can even help you see others if you get confused or stuck – hopefully that doesn’t happen.

The mirrors can do all of that for you and more – the only thing you need to do is use them properly (i.e. not a great idea to look at yourself in the mirror when sparring and definitely not when you are standing at attention).  And one more thing, clean the sweat off of them after class every now and then.

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 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.

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.

The Key To Tai Chi

Brea Tai Chi Martial Arts

Brea Tai Chi Martial Arts

The Key To Tai Chi

By Jeffrey Reulbach

Everyone is aware that keys unlock and open doors.  Within every martial art there are keys that open doors to the highest level of skill in the style.  The key to unlocking the door to those higher levels of skill in Tai Chi is referred to in Chinese as sung.

Sung is usually translated by the word relax.  The concept of relaxing in Tai Chi does not mean to become limp or to recline.  To be loose or open are more closely related to the idea of sung.  When doing an empty hand form, push hands, sparring, weapons, or chi kung (energy work) the relaxation must be in total.

Of course, reaching a high level of sung doesn’t happen in an instant.  Developing the true relaxation of Tai Chi that enables the artist to be soft and yielding but not limp and weak is progressive.  To gain the real skill of Tai Chi self-defense you have to be relaxed in mind and body.

Relaxing the body means that you must free it of all unnecessary tension.  In other words, you have to use only the amount of muscular exertion needed for any action.  For example, when doing a push or palm strike the arm doesn’t get real tense or stiff, it remains soft but firm enough to get the job done.  To accomplish this means you have to pay very close attention to the movement in order to feel tension.  To get rid of tension in the body, you have to focus on loosening and opening the joints.  The relaxed tendon is an important part of issuing internal force.  Gaining the kind of sung in the body necessary for higher level skills calls for reeling tension in the joints, especially at the shoulder, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.  In addition, excellent physical posture and alignment with gravity aid in the development of physical relaxation.

Mental relaxation is the other side of the coin needed for skill in Tai Chi.  A sung mind is open and yet extremely focused.  Relaxing the mind also means to rid it of unnecessary tension.  The idea of getting rid of tension in the mind means that it only concentrates on the task at hand in the present, which means it is free from the shackles of the past and the anxiety of the future.

To rid the mind of tension, visualization is very important when doing a form.  Tai Chi is often referred to as “swimming on dry land” because of its appearance and the fact that swimming is a relaxing activity.  Applying the image of swimming means that you imagine you are moving through water, feeling the sensation of the water’s pressure on each movement.  The imagined water, over time, produces a buoyant feeling of floating and flowing in movement, and a calmness in mind.  Although there are other excellent visualizations, the “swimming on land” is extremely effective for releasing tension and developing sung.

Turning the key of relaxation in Tai Chi has many positive benefits.  It makes more use of your parasympathetic nervous system producing a calming effect.  The increase in relaxation helps to combat stress-related illness, which is a primary reason why so many turn to Tai Chi in the first place.  As a martial artist, relaxation gives you speed, heightened awareness, and the ability to adjust to an attacker smoothly in a self-defense situation.  The key to Tai Chi will not only benefit internal martial artists, but anyone who is willing to unlock and open the door.