How To Prepare For A Test

Class

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…

Spinning Movements

As you progress and learn more kicks, hand techniques, chin na, and forms (even weapons), you will find there are a number of movements that require you to “spin”.  The key element (and the reason why these movements are done somewhat sparingly) is that at some point you expose your back.  Exposing your back has potential for disaster as you are unable to see what’s going on and a number of vital areas could be attacked and quickly end the fight to your opponent’s favor.  However, after developing the ability to execute spinning movements with proper timing and distance, these techniques can provide advantages in combat, such as the element of surprise, the combining of a defensive and offensive move at once, and the development of a powerful strike/movement through the torque of the spin.

An example of all three is the spinning side kick.  If an opponent launches a punch or a snap kick, quickly blocking and stepping away from the punch or kick while spinning will likely surprise the opponent as well as provide defense from the attack.  Follow it up with a powerful side kick to the midsection and you have one very effective movement.

Even a number of chin na movements utilize a spin.  Fortunately, for those techniques the back is mostly protected as you are leading your opponent to the eventual lock and he’s likely both wondering and worried about what was happening to him.  However, if you’re opponent understands what you’re doing, then he will likely react by spinning along with you to avoid being locked.  You’ve likely uncovered a skilled fighter if that’s the case.

So, as you learn spinning movements, make an effort to consistently practice them in san shou and sparring to develop proper distance and timing.  In sparring, using spinning movements as you’re learning them is a calculated risk, which may result in your opponent’s advantage more often than not.  That’s ok, however, as if you keep trying and persist in making the technique work, then it will be yours to draw on when needed.  If executed properly (at the right time and distance from your target), spinning movements are just one of the many different fighting skills available to students.

Kung Fu – A New Language

One of my favorite metaphors regarding learning and mastering kung fu is that of learning and becoming fluent in a new language.

Before elaborating on this, I want to be clear that if you can become fluent in a language – which most adults and older children are – then you can become “fluent” in kung fu.  It simply requires consistent, almost daily practice with others for years.  Kung Fu fluency is the ability to spar another practitioner in such a way that your body can naturally and successfully move and respond to various attacks/counter-attacks and your mind has the nimbleness to decide what your body should do in the split second it has to react.  This does not come easily, but it’s definitely proven worthwhile to those who have achieved that level of ability.

When learning a new language, you begin by learning the letters, common words and sentences of that language.   While learning the basics, you are definitely not able to manage a conversation with someone who is fluent.  They would speak quickly and easily and you would have no idea what they were saying.  In fact, they would likely be confused with what you were trying to say to them with what little you know.  An equivalent in kung fu would be a beginner student sparring an advanced practitioner – there would simply be no contest.

In kung fu, the beginning of training includes learning basic kicks, punches, stances, single step movements, escape movements and basic block and counter techniques.  For most, these beginning movements seem awkward and unbalanced.  This is ok and can be expected to last for weeks, months, and even years for some.  However, if you keep pressing yourself to grow and improve, these basic movements won’t feel so strange and you’ll be on your path to martial fluency.

As you progress with a new language, learning and memorizing new words and combining them into grammatically correct sentences becomes a major part of your learning.  While doing this, you continue to utilize and build on the fundamentals taught in the beginning.  You begin putting sentences together both in writing and in speaking.  Memorization and repetition is required to develop speed of thought.

As you progress with kung fu, new striking and blocking techniques, and, most especially, new kung fu forms are learned.  Learning forms is similar to the learning of sentences.  You continue to develop the basic fundamentals that were taught in the very beginning.  You begin to feel more and more comfortable with some of the beginning forms and techniques.  Additionally, sparring skills are developing and some confidence is gained when sparring those close or below your rank and/or ability level.

As years go by, you become more and more comfortable with your not-so-new language, you have acquired a good deal of mastery with hundreds of words and can easily put sentences together both on paper and verbally.  You are working on fine tuning your grammar, but mostly are engrossed with speaking to others who are fluent with the language as this is where you learn you uncover your speaking deficiencies.  You are approaching fluency.

With kung fu, you are an intermediate-to-advanced student.  The basics have been mastered (sort of) and you are consistently working on improving the smaller details of more advanced technique training.  You want your abilities and techniques to be sharper, faster, and more powerful.  Your reflexes and reactive movements are becoming clean and your sparring has become crisp. However, you still have difficulties with various movements and can get stuck from time to time while sparring.

After years of studying your language and practicing speaking to native speakers for some time, you are now fluent.  You are able to hold conversations with most anyone in that language and speaking it is as common and easy to you as walking or eating.  There are still words that you don’t know and a good deal more you can learn about the language, but you are able to speak effortlessly at will.

Among martial arts masters, there is a common theme that once they reached mastery, “form” went away.  Sure, these masters would continue to practice forms and other things they were taught, but their sparring became fluid and their movements to various attacks and counterattacks were able to be performed with controlled intention and precision.  They truly owned their art – this is fluency in kung fu.

Two-Man Forms – Choreographed Showmanship or Martial Skill?

To begin with, we should make a distinction between the more modern made-up wushu type two-man forms and the traditional two-man forms.  The made up ones are strictly for show, mostly using gymnastic skills.  The two-man forms for training exercises in the traditional arts place great emphasis on practical fighting skills.

For many styles, two-man forms were developed due to the aggressive techniques employed in their fighting methods.  This would make practicing techniques at speed dangerous, especially for beginner and intermediate level students.  The intention of two-man forms, just as in any of the other open-hand or weapon forms, is to practice the forms at fighting speed and power.

At first, the forms are taught slowly and at minimum speed and power until the practitioner’s skills increase.  This is a part of the arts that might look easier than it is, for the blows and speed are aimed at the correct targets on the opponent.  Should a practitioner fail to do the movement correctly is could easily result in a dangerous injury.

This forces both practitioners to use their skills to a high degree.  The movements must function equally between the two practitioners in speed, power, and application, not just in order to continue the form, but also so that one or both don’t get hurt.  And through constant practice one builds quick and controlled reflexive movements that could easily be used in real life circumstances.