Be A Victor Against Your Will

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Lao Tzu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Lao Tzu

“With the fruits of victory desist;
Never seek to break a beaten foe,
And flaunt no prowess with the victory,
Assert no strength, show no pride;
Be a victor against your will
A victor who will not dominate.”

Lao Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC) Ancient Chinese Philosopher and Author.  Tao Te Ching, V. 30 (Moss Roberts Translator)

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.

Late To Class

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

A point of etiquette when coming late to class.  When joining class after it has started, go to the back of the line when bowed in unless Sifu tells you otherwise.  Stay at the back of the line until that section is over.  For example, when joining class in the process of doing kicks, go to the back of the line until kicks are over.  When they are over and the class is directed into forms or something else, go into your normal place in line based on your rank.

The Day Of Your Test

It’s test day.  Hopefully, over the prior few weeks you have practiced and re-practiced all that you will be tested on.  On test day, however, there are a few things for you to do and know to help you have a successful test:

  • Be sure all of the testing paperwork is turned in to sifu well in advance of the test day.
  • Do not talk to sifu or any of the examiners.  You are to ask questions to the “second”, the black sash who are running the test.
  • Arrive at the test early (say 30 minutes) to warm up your body.  Stretch, do some kicks, practice forms, don’t be afraid to break a little sweat and get the blood flowing.
  • Try not to stress too much about the test.  Hopefully, you’ll be fully prepared to excel on your test, so simply do what you’ve been practicing.  If you’re not prepared, there’s nothing you can do about it on the day of your test so simply relax and do your best.
  • Line up in order of rank just prior to the test.  The second will instruct you if this is your first test.
  • Bowing properly is very important.  When called up, stand at attention, bow to the second and then to sifu before taking your place on the mat.  When instructed to sit down and rest, bow to sifu first, and then to the second before returning to where you were sitting.  Think of it like entering a room for testing and the second is a guard to the door.  You first bow to him or her – sort of like asking permission to enter the testing room.  When finished, you bow to sifu first on your way out the testing door, and then to the second before sitting down.
  • Students are to follow the directions of the second.
  • Mistakes.  Of course, you want to make zero mistakes during your test, but if you make an error there is a protocol to follow.  Stop, bow to the second and request to begin the form over.  If it’s granted (which it typically will for those testing for lower ranks), return to where you started the form, relax yourself and when ready to begin again, stand at ready position and await instructions from the second.  Those testing for higher ranks (brown and up), don’t have the luxury to start over.  They should just continue with their form the best they can or just bow and return to the starting position if totally blanked on a form.
  • While putting on your sparring gear or adjusting your uniform, be sure to turn your back to sifu just like in class.
  • Sparring is typically done with higher rank, but may be done with those you are testing with.  It is your responsibility to attack them and do your best to use as many techniques as possible to successfully get in on them.  Do not be disheartened if you don’t connect with the higher rank.  Be sure to defend yourself as best as possible when they counter your attacks.  You are not expected to best a higher rank, but you are expected to try hard to utilize speed, power, control, and, most importantly, technique suitable for your rank.
  • Forms must be done with as much speed, power and proper technique as possible.  Stances should be low and no hesitation between movements.

Do your best and enjoy the experience.

Circle Kicks Before Class

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Circle Kicks

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Circle Kicks

If class hasn’t officially begun 5-10 minutes after the hour, then it is the responsibility of the highest rank in class to start circle kicks.  There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The highest rank should run through all the kicks they know until class begins – starting with the more basic kicks and moving to more advanced.  These include:  stretch kicks, off-side stretch kicks, snap kicks, heal kicks, turn kicks, side kicks, outside crescent, inside crescent, back leg side kick, hook kick, back leg hook, double side, jumping snap, double snap, pema, outside pema, back leg spear, front leg spear, saltong, back leg saltong, rolling, and all sorts of combination kicks, etc.
  • Call out what kick is to be performed before starting.
  • If the class has a lot of people in it, form two lines for circle kicks
  • Should there be lower rank in the class who don’t know the next kick called out, then provide them an alternate kick that they do know.  For example, if they don’t know a hook kick, have them do a side kick.
  • If there is a very new student who knows only a few kicks, the highest rank asks the next highest rank to take the new student off to the side to work with them on what they know.  If there are many new students in the class, then have them sit at the side and watch.
  • When all kicks have been performed, start doing single step movements.  After all the single step movements have been performed, move into tan tuis.  When all tan tuis have been completed, check with sifu for direction.

Failing a Rank Test

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

When you are told you may test for the next rank, it means that you have learned sufficient forms, techniques, and skills to potentially pass that test.  However, there are two things you need to do to pass.  The first is to prepare yourself in the weeks and months prior to the test by attending class regularly and practicing those things you will be tested on.  The second is to perform well at the test.  Without the former, the latter can be quite difficult.

If you don’t prepare and you don’t do well on your test, you will not pass and get the next rank.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad person.  It simply means you weren’t up to snuff on the day of the test.  The purpose of the test is for the student to perform under a stressful situation that requires exactness, concentration, and execution.  Those three attributes are exactly what are required should you need to defend yourself or others outside of the school.  The higher the rank, the more that is expected of you and the better you must perform to pass.

At some point after the test, you will be told what specifically you did or didn’t do that caused the failure.  Take this constructive criticism with you to your next class and the classes that follow and try to work on the areas of weakness.  It is important to come back to class strong and continue your training.  Remember, this is not a reflection on you as a person, just a reflection on the quality of your movement during the test.  Lastly, and most importantly, kung fu is a way of life that can keep you vital, vibrant, and strong the rest of your days.  Rank tests are only a part of your training.  Consistent, hard training will take you as far as you want to go.

Forgotten Belt

It happens.  The forgotten sash.  Don’t go home and skip class!  Although it’s important to remember your sash, it’s more important to attend class and develop your skills.  Simply follow this protocol.  You are to go to the back of the line and stay at the back of the line for the duration of the class.  If the instructor calls out your rank, then you go up and do as instructed, but you are to remain at the back of the line.

Don’t Rush Your Training

Each student learns at their own pace.  Some have the ability to not only learn quickly, but to seemingly ingrain the movement upon learning it.  It’s possible for this to happen, particularly for more advanced students.  It is thought that these students are talented, which they may be for this moment of their training.  On the other hand, some students struggle while learning new things – be it remembering what was taught to them or simply having the body strength and coordination to do the movement.

It matters not whether you are one of the fast learners or slow learners as people catch on and “get it” at different times in their training.  At the end of the day what matters is the student’s ability to not just practice the movement until he gets it right, but to practice it to such an extent that he can’t get it wrong.  This poses a bigger challenge for most beginning and intermediate students as their is a big difference between getting it right and not being able to do it wrong.  Getting it right might take doing the technique/form tens of times.  Not being able to do it wrong probably takes doing it hundreds, even thousands of times.  This is when kung fu comes alive.

Most student’s see the next form, the next set of more advanced and fancy looking techniques and want to learn them – which is understandable.  Perhaps they think that just by learning something more advanced there abilities will automatically become more advanced.  However, it takes a great deal of practice to get to the point where you can’t do a technique or a form wrong.  This is why “advanced” students still practice the basics and beginning students should try not to rush to learn too much too fast.  In fact, stick to what you’ve been taught in class and be diligent in improving the details of what you’ve been taught the best you can.

Ask The High Rank

If you have a nagging question about how a technique is applied or if you are doing a part of a form correctly, ask the high rank.  Traditionally, before or after class you should find the highest rank available and ask your question.  If the highest rank is busy talking with someone else or training, then find the second highest rank to ask your question to.  It goes down the line to the third highest rank and so on.  No matter how trivial or insignificant you feel the question might be – the high rank have been around for awhile and it’s their responsibility to pass on what they know to the lower rank.

Training Hall (or Mat) Etiquette

Unlike most Korean and Japanese martial art dojos, the Chinese training hall (or mat space) is not considered sacred.  Rather the area being trained in is looked upon as important for the reason of distance to the teacher and practitioners.  If someone unknown gets too close without being invited, they are not only considered rude, but it could be thought of as a hostile act or challenge.

At this school, we simply use the mat as a designated training area.  You only need to bow to a higher rank for a mutual agreement that you may enter their training space.  If no one is on the mat or if you would be the highest rank on the mat, you may enter the training hall at will.

The main idea behind this isn’t to give higher rank more privilege, but to teach the person coming on the mat caution of approach and good manners.  And it teaches the practitioner on the mat a good sense of his surroundings and alertness even when concentrating on a workout.  You can never be too aware!

Keep training…


KWON® Kung Fu Sashes

In their earliest uses, sashes were pieces of cloth wrapped around a practitioner’s waist to hold up their pants.  Later, as time progressed, the cloth was made wider so that not only would it hold up the pants but it was also used to practice breathing techniques by always pressing tightly on the dan tien (a few inches below the belly button.)

The color of these sashes was usually black since, in China, that was the easiest and most accessible color of dye used for clothing.  In the early 1900’s, the Japanese would begin to use belts as a distinction of rank, black being the highest.  In the mid-1950’s, many international kung fu associations also began to use ranking distinctions but they kept their original sashes and most adopted the black sash as their highest rank.

Our school’s ranking is as follows:

  1. Non-rank
  2. Yellow Sash
  3. Orange Sash
  4. Blue Sash
  5. Green Sash
  6. Brown Sash
  7. Red Sash
  8. Black Sash (1st Degree)
  9. Black Sash (2nd Degree)
  10. Black Sash (3rd Degree)

Weapons Etiquette

  1. If you haven’t been trained on a weapon at our school, don’t touch the weapon.
  2. Never touch the mat with your blade.  It shows you are not ready for the responsibilities of the weapon.
  3. If someone is using your personal weapon during class and you are called to train with that weapon, you may bow and request it from them.
  4. Before attaining the black sash rank, you are to use wooden weapons.  Metal weapons may be used for practice upon earning the black sash rank.

When NOT To Train

A question that almost everyone encounters during their training at our school is, “When should I not train?”  There are a number of rules of thumb to be followed regarding this:

  1. Don’t train, if whatever illness you have is contagious.  Obviously, you don’t want to get your kung fu brothers and sisters sick.  If you feel well enough to workout, then spend some time training on your own outside of the school and be cognizant of your energy and don’t push yourself too hard.  Alternatively, you can always come and watch class, which is in itself an enlightening experience.
  2. Don’t train, if your body is overly tired and aching (not necessarily muscle soreness from hard workouts).  Your body requires energy to combat whatever is ailing it and hard training takes energy away from your body’s rehabilitation efforts.
  3. Don’t train, if you are finding yourself short of breath.
  4. Don’t train, if your doctor told you not to exercise.

Otherwise… train.  There is certainly no guarantee that a potential threat to you or your loved ones will happen while you are feeling 100%.  Training when you are a little under the weather helps to prepare you for the worst.  Lastly, if you’re injured or sick and still attending class, be sure to inform your instructor (before class) so that accommodations can be made, if necessary.

Proper School Etiquette

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

Throughout the history of China, the cultivation of a good moral character has been foremost in society.  Confucius (551-479 B.C.), one of the greatest teachers in ancient times, practiced and taught etiquette, instilling in his people the importance of respect for others and for the self.  This is especially recognized by martial arts practitioners, as they understand how important more character is in developing martial skills.

Many different things have been written over the years with respect to martial arts etiquette.  Regardless of the small differences between the various styles, one point is universal:  all agree that martial arts will not be taught to anyone who is of bad moral character.  This it is important to actively cultivate a good moral character as part of your Kung Fu training.  This is the core of your etiquette training.  Specific etiquette practice in the school is not only mandatory, but essential to anyone who wishes to devote themselves to a martial art.

Northern Style Shaolin Kung Fu – YOUR style – has some very simple rules that must be followed at all times.  They stem from a hierarchy that acknowledges respect for those who have more experience than others.  All of these are generally learned as a part of your class or by observation.  But since sometimes details may be overlooked, the following is a list of etiquette tips that will help you.

  • When adjusting your uniform or sash turn your back to the instructor/highest rank until finished.
  • The proper way to bow is to open your left hand and place the palm of it over the fist of your right hand.  Your eyes should be straight forward and your back should be straight.
  • Always bow whenever your instructor, or a higher belt gives you instructions.
  • Response to your instructor should be swift and crisp!  That means move when you are called up or going to sit down.
  • When entering the training hall, wait to be “bowed” on to the floor or to the dressing area.  NEVER cross or enter without permission.
  • When your instructor is in the office and you wish to speak to him, always knock and await permission to enter.  NEVER enter the instructor’s office unless you have been invited and NEVER enter if no one is present.
  • Street shoes or tennis shoes are not allowed on the mat.  Only bare feet or cotton bottom shoes are allowed on the mat.
  • Extra articles such as shoes, shirts, gym bags, etc. are to be placed in the storage area provided.  NEVER leave these articles lying around in an unorganized manner.  This creates an unpleasant image and should be avoided at all times.
  • Absolutely no talking during class unless you are specifically asked to respond to a question or teach by the instructor.
  • Remember the studio is your studio and should be maintained in a fashion similar to your home.  The organization and cleanliness of the studio is a direct reflection of your inner self and should be maintained in a respectful manner.

Following these basic tips is appreciated and will contribute to the enjoyment of your training at the Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask (before or after class only) a senior belt.  They will help you.  Remember, the new student is watching you for proper etiquette.  You are responsible for perpetuating the details and respect for your art.