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.

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.

The Base of a Mountain

Martial Arts Foundation

Martial Arts Foundation

“In this world, if you start at the base of a mountain and travel far enough, you will find yourself on the other side at the base of the mountain again;  you are still at the base of the mountain, but in a completely different place.  This is the same for any path of study.  You start at the beginning and struggle uphill.  You go deeper and deeper into it until you find yourself on the other side with a heart of understanding.  This is the way of all learning, and it is the only path to enlightenment.  

Understanding this, I do not hold back knowledge from my students because they have not trained long enough.  Each person is different and understanding comes differently to each of us, so I try to gauge the student’s level of understanding and teach each one what he is ready for at that time.  I do not like pledges or oaths of secrecy.  There are no secrets.  Knowledge is open to all, but few truly want it.  There is no need to hide things; most people go out of their way to avoid the truth.  

With this in mind, teach the students everything they can handle and hide nothing, because very few of them will ever come to real understanding anyway.  Leave the knowledge in the open and only true warriors will find it.  Give them everything you have and help them past whatever shortcomings they have.  The teacher should help the student come to his own enlightenment.  Only this way will the student truly know strategy.”

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

Martial Arts – Much More Than Fighting

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

“Most people view martial arts from a very limited standpoint and see martial arts training as a way of fighting only.  Do not be deceived – martial arts is much more than simply training in fighting techniques.  In fact, the physical aspect is the least of the goals.  Those who view martial arts this way are far from enlightenment.”

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

How Often Should I Train?

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu martial arts

Preparing to Kick

The question of “How often should I train?” might not be asked out loud, but has probably been thought by many students thru the years.  In our modern world where a high level of martial arts skill is not a necessity for survival, it might seem like a simple question.  You train when you can fit it in… hopefully no less than 4 hours a week, which is perfectly fine.  But, to those who want more – for those who want to squeeze every ounce of kung fu from their training – the answer is different.  Your training becomes high on your priority list and you train as often as you possibly can – 3+ hours a day with a day or two off a week.  In fact, your goal is to not miss a class.

Only more advanced students comprehend how vast our school’s kung fu is with its multitudes of striking, shuai jiao (wrestling), chin na (joint locking), and weapon techniques.  When they do comprehend it, it’s both mind boggling and intimidating.  In the beginning, most students want to simply learn new things, but as training evolves you want to be able to utilize everything you learn in a fighting situation.  Even mastering a few techniques takes a great deal of commitment and focus.  For those who decide to make this kung fu their own, there are three keys:

  1. Daily (or almost daily) training for multiple hours and multiple years – it’s no longer a “hobby” or way to “stay in shape”
  2. Healthy diet of natural, whole foods – meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts to provide maximum nutrients per calorie ingested
  3. Sleep – 8 hours a night to reenergize your body, rehabilitate sore muscles and damaged body parts, and relax your mind.

Assuming you eat and sleep well daily, you can train as much as your schedule and body allows.  Classes are scaled based on rank, which means lower ranks can expect more down time than higher ranks.  Thus, you can begin upping your training hours whenever possible.  Initially, you will likely notice your body is more fatigued and sore than normal after upping your training hours.  However, your body will adapt and get stronger in time (again, assuming sufficient sleep and nutrients) and you will find your kung fu skills increase remarkably over a few months time.  If your body becomes truly exhausted with aches, pains and a material lack of energy, then it’s time to take a day off to rest and recover – maybe even two days.  Otherwise, push.

Remember , the Chinese term of “kung fu” refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete.  The secret to our kung fu – our martial art –  is not in “secret techniques” or any such nonsense… it’s consistent effort over years with correct instruction and learning.  This is the key.  Thus, the answer to the question of “How much should I train?” is answered by another question, “How much skill do you want to acquire?”

Shuai Jiao – A Primer

Shuai_jiao_platform

Shuai Jiao is one of the major disciplines of our school’s curriculum.  Simply put, Shuai Jiao is the Mandarin Chinese term for wrestling.  It is one of the oldest recorded martial arts in the world with legends of formal military practice going back to 2697 BC.  It’s underlying purpose was to throw the opponent to the ground in such a way to kill or otherwise incapacitate the opponent.  For hundreds of years, shuai jiao became one of the foundations of most of the major Chinese martial styles, although in more recent times it has become a popular sport within Northern China.  It is also likely that shuai jiao was the parent of or influencer of other asian arts that focus on grappling and wrestling techniques, such as jiu-jitsu, judo, and aikido.

The Mind Of A Warrior

“It is because a mirror has no commitment to any image that it can clearly and accurately reflect any image before it.  The mind of a warrior is like a mirror in that it has no commitment to any outcome and is free to let form and purpose result on the spot, according to the situation.”

Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646) founder of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu style of swordsmanship. The Way of the Living Sword.  Trans. D.E Tarver