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.

Wood Carving Kung Fu

In keeping with our martial art’s Chinese heritage and their definition of the term “kung fu”, which refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete…. this Chinese wood carving artist has significant kung fu.

“One tree, four years of work and an indescribable amount of talent: that’s what it took to create this incredible masterpiece. A famous Chinese wood carver chopped down a single tree and tirelessly worked on it for over four years to make this piece.

It all started out with a simple tree trunk…

Then Zheng Chunhui, a famous wood carver, spent over four years creating this masterpiece.

The carving is based on the famous Chinese painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival.”

The original artwork was created over 1,000 years ago.

The piece won the Guinness World Record for the longest wooden carving and measures over 40ft (it is 2.286 meters long, is 3.075 meters tall at it highest point, and is also 2.401 meters wide).

The intricate carvings of daily life in ancient China are so detailed and perfect, they could drop your jaw.

It’s no surprise that this incredible work of art is drawing so much attention. It’s amazing, but not just because it’s so big, but also because it’s so incredibly detailed.

Source:  http://www.viralnova.com/tree-trunk-carving/

Science of Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

“The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.”

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

Flexibly Rooted

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Flexibly Rooted
Parents take note – there are three aspects of kung-fu training that enabled our students to do well in life.  These aspects revolve around being “flexibly rooted”.  Through the years, the school has seen firsthand these three things enable our younger students with the knowledge and discipline to become highly competent and confident adults.
  1. Consistent and enduring training.   This includes not just a physical level, but also a discriminating use of time and experience that reflect in their pursuit of education and work ethic.
  2. Awareness through self respect.  As they learned to push themselves and achieve their desired goals, they grew to respect not only others and their kung- fu training , but they grew to respect themselves.  A sense of confidence and ability that they learned to apply in a full range of different circumstances.  A learned habit they would call on time and again in hard times as well as good to know they can accomplish anything because they persevered in their kung fu training.
  3. Through self effort they learned self-discipline and self-efficacy.  Nothing was given to them – they had to earn it through toil and persistence.  And in the process they learned never to give up, no matter how hard it was.
Throughout the history of this school, the use of these kung-fu principles have not only come to bare in our young students future academic and professional careers, but also in their personal sense of themselves.  Whether it be with their wives, kids, friends, work associates, or strangers, they stand flexibly rooted!

In the News…

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu was recently interviewed as a subject of an article published in the CSUF newspaper, The Daily Titan.  We know Master Jeu Susing as Master Bob Hsing…

Tai Chi Can Help Students Reduce Stress

– POSTED ON NOVEMBER 4, 2013POSTED IN: FITNESS

Students at the Brea Shaolin Kung Fu studio focus their energy into their balance. Tai chi helps with movement of the body and lower body strength.  Chu-Ling yee / Daily Titan

Students at the Brea Shaolin Kung Fu studio focus their energy into their balance. Tai chi helps with movement of the body and lower body strength.
Chu-Ling yee / Daily Titan

Students suffering from stress and are overwhelmed by school may want to try tai chi. Tai chi, an ancient kung fu fighting defense, can help relieve stress and lower blood pressure.

Tai chi originated as a form of martial arts, but due to its health benefits, tai chi is now taught as an exercise too.

The exercise can ease tension, strengthen the lower body and help blood flow more easily throughout the body. Tai chi provides a workout without the intensity of a regular cardio workout. The movements are typically circular and never forced.

Master Charles Robert, owner of Brea Shaolin Kung Fu, said tai chi helps the thighs act as a second heart. Tai chi movements help muscles in the thighs contract, causing less strain and work for the heart to pump blood. Robert has practiced tai chi for 20 years and his studio teaches more of an internal and competition form.

Internal focuses on breathing and less of muscle power to exert force. Competition form of tai chi is not fighting, but it is judged on timing and technique. Tai chi instead focuses on the little movements of the body.

There were originally five styles of tai chi: Yang, Wu, Chen, Hao and Combination. Years ago, an assembly gathered in China and decided to standardize the five different forms of tai chi to create a competition form.

Anybody can begin taking tai chi for its health benefits and further their skills by tackling competitive aspects of the practice.

Master Jeu Susing who teaches tai chi at the studio begins teaching students the basic Twenty-Four Movement, which consists of 24 separate movements. The competition forms of movements are titled by numbers of steps in them.

“The teacher is the key,” Susing said. Average students are unable to reproduce the same results by themselves. Students are limited to what they know.

Master Susing teaches students not only how to do the movements, but also how to improve their chi.

One of the main reasons why tai chi is effective in helping to relieve stress is attributed to the deep breathing that is involved. When students are focused in what they are doing and are breathing correctly, they can find peace with themselves. They focus on themselves and forget about the situations that are causing them stress.

Stress causes high blood pressure, chest pain and fatigue, according to the Mayo Clinic. By taking tai chi, people can help prevent future illnesses. Tai chi has also been proven to  help ease fibromyalgia and arthritis.

Doug Robson, 66, said tai chi has helped him with arthritis and keep his body limber. Robson attends classes at the studio twice a week.

Tai chi eases the joints and lubricates them with all the movements they do. There is no aggressive jumping involved that could harm the bones.

Another benefit of the exercise is that no one is there to scream at the students, because it is a relaxing environment.

The lower part of the body also gets stronger since tai chi requires people to move their hips and use their legs. There is a misconception about tai chi that it is a slow-paced exercise most suited to seniors. Robson said anyone can do this form of exercise.

“I can do just about any form and it will start calming me down,” Robson said.

He recommends practicing tai chi for 15 to 30 minutes a day. Susing said people can see improvement within three months.

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

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.

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.

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.”

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

Fighting Foundation

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Stances are a critical part of technique.  A student must learn proper balance of body both for defensive and offensive ability.  Before any technique can be mastered proper body posture and a mental attitude must be present.  This is a required foundation for ability in technique.  It grows and changes as a student pursues it.

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.

Kung Fu Wisdom

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Wisdom

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Wisdom

When you have envisaged a goal and created its attainment on the plane of mind, nothing can stop you from realizing that goal but the creation of your failure on the plane of mind.

There is no such thing as failure unless it is accepted.  There is no such thing as defeat unless it is accepted.  There is no such thing as evil unless it is accepted.

Exercise vs. Training

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

The Difference Between Exercising and Training

Why did/do you you go to school?  Why do you think there are grades and exams and reviews in school? Why not just pick up a few books and start reading randomly? Why do you work at an organization with a structure? Why are the most successful organizations the ones with the best policies and strategies? Why not just walk out into the world and figure out some random way to make a living? Why do you practice the same movements over and over again? Why not just move your limbs the way you want to or draw some random colored lines and hope they make sense?

Success doesn’t work that way. And a transformation from skilled to unskilled, fat to fit, weak to strong, or unhealthy to healthy doesn’t work that way either.

Exercise is as any activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.  It is exercise for today – focused on the short-term.  Training, on the other hand, is way more than that.

Training is the act of learning, practicing, analyzing, monitoring and progressing per a plan that is designed taking into consideration the student’s current position in the relevant space and future goals. It involves careful instruction, self-reflection, structure, testing, commitment, and adherence.  It is exercise with a purpose.

It is important to understand that random acts of physical activity, though better than a carefully planned regimen of sitting around, eating junk, and doing virtually nothing, won’t take you far in acquiring skill. You need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn to understand your body and it’s capacity for strength, agility, and flexibility. You need to practice movements that have a purpose. You need to strive to progress. You need to train.

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

Wondering If You’re Getting Any Health Benefits From Your Program? So Was I.

Brea Shaolin Kung fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

When I walked into the Shaolin Kung Fu School for the first time, I wasn’t thinking about my health.  My aim was more about self-discovery.  Could I develop some new qualities to even a mediocre level, let alone a higher sash level, when I was starting with no experience and no skill?  Where would any balance, any flexibility, any technique, any mental focus really come from?  These would certainly not spring out from my years of “training” as a black sash in the art of Couch Potato.  The only qualities achieved from that program were my remote control thumb techniques and a well developed spare tire.

Early on, I didn’t figure to achieve any health benefits, because I wasn’t sure I’d be around long.  It seemed to take many weeks just to not fall over on a low stretch kick.  Watching the more experienced students practice sometimes made me feel agonizingly slow and lacking in talent.  The road to yellow sash seemed miles and miles long.  Moving in inches was making for a long journey.  I could tell this was going to be another story of the tortoise and the hare, where I was the tortoise once again.  Like the tortoise, I knew I could be determined and consistent at least.  However, I do believe I was sweating a lot more than a tortoise.

After about ten months at the School, I went to my doctor and had blood drawn for a follow-up to a medical procedure.  By coincidence, I had baseline tests taken shortly before I started kung fu.  I was curious to see how my heart and blood qualities had changed following less than a year of training.  The results showed pretty big changes:

  • Overall Cholesterol at 178, improved 15%.
  • LDL’s (the “bad” cholesterol) at 113, improved 19%.
  • Blood pressure at 104/70, improved by 19%/21%.
  • Pulse rate at 52, down from 77 or 32%.

I was excited, and felt this was nice improvement, especially for a tortoise.  Maybe best of all, it reminded me that studying kung fu is not a competition with others, and certainly not a race.  My first year of diligent effort had paid off nicely, even recognizing my own skill level and slow starting physical condition.  I was competent in many basic techniques, and shown improvement in flexibility and balance.  And surprise, I had achieved much improvement in an unexpected area, my health!

By Jim Reeder, a former Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School student

The Components of Martial Skill – Power, Speed, Endurance, and Technique

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Power is something that most everyone can develop.  Proper breathing (timely exhaling during the execution of a strike), whole body strength (a firm rooting to the ground, strong and loose muscles, and release of energy), and proper body alignment (posture and structure) create more power than what simple muscles can deliver.  There is far more to power than strong musculature.  Of course, if you attempt to employ power without correct speed or technique, then you have a wasted movement as you will not likely impact your target or if you do it may not have much effect.

Speed is a necessity for many techniques to work.  Without proper speed, your movements will likely be blocked, avoided or countered or, defensively, your blocks and evading techniques won’t be effective.  As with all of the components to fighting ability, speed can be developed with consistent training.  Each time you practice a movement – be it a punch, a kick, a sweep, a throw, a joint lock – you must try to do it faster (while maintaining both proper form and power).  Relaxation is a must to maximize speed as tightness delays movement.

Endurance ensures you have the physical capacity to successfully utilize techniques after a good deal of physical exertion.  You never know when you may be called on to defend yourself and loved ones from one or multiple opponents.  Sparring is typically held towards the end of class for this very reason.  Much of the hard work has already been done and it forces you to gather yourself (read:  “your energy”) and give 100% focus and effort when sparring your opponent.  This hard training is often when “chi” is cultivated and can come into play for more advanced students.  Never forget, you may be strong and fast, but if you’re too gassed to react properly in a physical encounter – you’re history.

Technique conquers all.  Technique is a broad concept that covers the proper execution of defensive and offensive fighting movements – including striking, grappling, throwing, sweeping, timing and distance.  It is the essence of any and all martial arts.  You may have power, speed and endurance (which might make you an incredible athlete), but without technique you will very likely not have the ability to successfully defend yourself against someone who does.

Learning a technique is one thing, but truly possessing a technique in such a way that you can call on it immediately in a fight is another.  This kind of mastery takes many years of practice with your kung fu brothers and sisters.  It’s learning the technique, re-learning it, repeating it over and over in hundreds (even thousands) of different positions and scenarios for the purpose of using it in the few serious physical engagements you may encounter.  Luckily, it doesn’t require a large arsenal of these mastered techniques to successfully defend yourself from untrained and even trained adversaries.  However, mastering technique is unquestionably the most difficult and time consuming of the four components.  It is also one of the most rewarding.

You must develop and maintain power, speed and endurance to make techniques work.  In fact, all four components of martial skill must be present.  If a punch or kick is flying to your face or body, your speed and technique will allow you to create space from the oncoming blow and block it.  Speed, power and technique are still required to successfully counter the attack.  Endurance may be required in certain circumstances, but is a necessity in your training when you are developing your speed, power and technique.  The endurance aspect brings ALL the components of martial skill together when you are exhausted while sparring and have to draw on your highest abilities to bring power, speed and technique to bear against an opponent.

Training at Home

“A day of missed training can never be recovered.”  This thought has been echoed by Kung Fu masters for generations.

There is no question that the more time you spend intently practicing your art the faster you will advance and the more skill you will acquire.  That said, when you can’t attend class for whatever reason try to spend some time training on your own.  Many have found solitary practice indispensable for overcoming weak areas, practicing new movements and conditioning their body.

There are three kinds of home practice.  The first is focused on creating a class-like workout at home, which would typically include kicking, single-step movements, forms, stances, exercises, etc.  Ideally, this workout is based on a self-examination of your kung fu skills and a focused effort on overcoming your imperfections (e.g. stances, kicks, saltongs, upper body strength, etc.) or further development of movements and techniques that you want to perfect.  If you are lucky enough to have a housemate or family member to train with you can even work on chin na, san shou and potentially sparring, although sparring must be done cautiously (just be careful not to get injured.)  This should be your primary training when not at the kung fu school.  At the very least, practice the latest forms you’ve learned or work on perfecting the eight stances and holding them until your legs begin to shake (and then a little more).

The second kind of training, some call it “cross-training”, can also be of value by way of physical conditioning.  This training seeks to develop speed, strength, and endurance.  Swimming is an excellent exercise that both strengthens and stretches your body while giving your joints a break from gravity.  Jogging, lifting weights, yoga, and playing various sports will all benefit your kung fu training as long as you are careful not to overdo it and avoid injury.  Another good idea is to combine some of the above exercises with traditional kung fu training.  For example, jog a lap around the block, do a few forms, followed by push ups and stances, and repeat.  An excellent work out.

The third kind of training involves resting your body and using your mind.  Simply put, there are times when you must rest like when you are sick, injured, or just plain exhausted to the point where you become irritable and achey.  Resting your body and brain allows it to recharge and regenerate, which is necessary for growth.   Many studies have supported the benefits of getting eight hours of sleep and how it significantly improves both physical and mental performance.  Daytime naps have also been shown to be healthy.

While your body is resting, kung fu training can continue in your mind through self-imagery.  Imagine yourself in various sparring scenarios successfully utilizing counters to your opponents attacks.  Go further and think of your opponents response to your counter and what you would do.  Or, you can think about chin na techniques you know and visualize exactly how they are to be performed.  The same can be said for san shou.  You can even think about your forms and what fighting techniques can be derived from various movements in the form.  This self-imagery training is very valuable and many professional athletes swear by it.  One of the all-time great golfers, Jack Nicklaus said, “I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie.  First, I “see” the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I “see” the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball.”

At times life can get hectic and unfortunately take precedence over coming to the school for class.  However, you can and should find a way to practice on your own – if even for a short time – and you may very well find your skills move to the next level because of it.  Sample home workouts will come in future posts.  Keep training…