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Archive for May, 2009

Fighting the Frustration

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

In every student’s Kung Fu journey comes a point where they do not feel that they are progressing like they should. This has happened to everyone that has learned to fight in this way, back hundreds of years. It is completely normal, but it can be very frustrating.

It is very much like walking through a long, wide hall. One in which you cannot see the end, but you know that this is your path. While walking down this hall, you may all of a sudden you find yourself at a wall. In this wall there are many doors, but only one will be unlocked and available for your passage. After passing through that door you are again looking down another long, wide hall.

The halls are wide because each student’s journey through Kung Fu is different and each door represents a different solution. Sometimes the student will find the correct solution themselves and continue on their Kung Fu path, however help is usually needed.

Here are a few suggestions to move past this frustration:

  1. Play your forms with emphasis on applications. All of the fighting tools you need are in your forms. The more you play them, the more will come out when fighting.
  2. SLOW DOWN. The slower you go, the more time you have to think about something different to do or how to get out of a situation.
  3. Try new things and new people. Playing hands with someone new can often spur a new direction for you.
  4. Try focusing on a single principle/idea when fighting. Example; begin trying to catch people’s center by plucking.

Very often, the best thing to do is to ask a Ja Gow or Black Belt. We all love this stuff, and would love to spend some time with you to help you get better. Learning to fight at Tyler Kung Fu & Fitness can be a daunting task. It is certainly a slow and frustrating one, but it is also extremely rewarding.

Most of all, KEEP TRYING. As in most martial arts, you learn the most by doing something over and over and over and over again.

Been Caught Stealing

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Honestly? I don’t like to fall.

I don’t like to fall and I try to keep myself from falling as much as possible. Oh, I’ve practiced falling safely and I’ve been thrown (a lot), and I usually learn something valuable when I get thrown, but I still don’t like falling; it doesn’t feel good and I’ve been known to break bones when I do.

I know that when I play hands it is inevitable that I will be thrown and that I will fall, and fall hard. I accept that, but I guess in a way it’s important to me to do what I can to keep myself from falling whenever possible. One of the most basic ways I know how to do that is by staying rooted and keeping my center.

“Aha! Your center you say…I hear about my center a lot in class but, what is it and how do I find it, much less keep it?”

Well, think of it as your center of gravity or balance point. When a person is standing straight and still, it is usually located slightly lower than and behind the naval, but since Kung Fu is not a static exercise, your center of gravity changes with every movement. When you hear someone talking about having your center it usually means that they’ve done something to make you off balance, therefore giving them a little more control of the situation.

“Alright, now that I’ve sort of found it how do I keep it?”

Horse stance! Forward stance! Ladyhorse stance! You thought those stance drills were just for torture discipline and strength training? They are. They also teach you how to root and to find your center in each stance as well as when shifting from stance to stance. For those of you familiar with 8-basic stances, think about when you shift from Ladyhorse stance into Cat stance; if your center is too high you tend to wobble a little until you get your balance again. The more you practice 8-basic stances, the more aware of your center you become and the better you can flow from stance to stance without wobbling.

Also? I love the motto “work smarter, not harder”.

I love Kung Fu because it is incredibly efficient (among a fragillion other reasons). I like the fact that theoretically I can play hands with someone bigger and stronger than me and by working within the principles, being solid in my stances and technique, and by stealing their center (replacing their center with mine) I have a better chance of controlling the situation – without muscle.

Lately I’ve really been trying to use all of the drills we’ve been learning and to be more aware of both mine and my opponents’ centers; using my stances to make me more efficient at making them work harder. Usually their skill is greater than mine or my timing isn’t quite right and I get beat up, but, sometimes I succeed–and wow…when everything “clicks” it is a feeling like no other and makes the 40 previous beatdowns and all those hours of stance drills Worth. Every. Minute.

Kung Fu: The Real McCoy

Monday, May 18th, 2009

MMA and ground fighting are the new craze in martial arts. Every time you turn on the tube you can find a UFC fight and I can’t help but be interested. The people that train MMA are amazing athletes. Their bodies are in superior condition, through both physical strength and endurance training.

I recently had the opportunity to visit another school that teaches Brazilian Jui Jitsu and train with them. I introduced myself to the instructor and thanked him for the opportunity. He explained the general outline of how the class would be conducted and asked if I had any other martial arts background. I told him that I had been doing Kung Fu for about two years.

With the instructor, an assistant instructor, about six other students, and myself, we began the warm up – some running, push ups, sit ups, etc. After the warm up we went through and practiced several techniques: the Kimura, passing the guard, and a few chokes. Most of it was Greek to me, as I’m not used to doing my training from the ground, without shoes, and wearing a gi.

Then we began sparring…from the ground…on our knees. I was completely out of my element. Suddenly this guy dove at me, head first. I yielded back, wrapped my forearm under his neck and choked him out. My opponent quickly tapped. This caught the attention of the instructor. He told his student, “We’ve talked about that. You have to protect your neck. Tuck in your chin.” We set back up and he dove in again. This time I yielded to the side, caught his neck in the bend of my elbow, and choked him out again. After he tapped and we set back up, my opponent says “And what type of training did you say you do?”

(more…)

Forms vs. Fighting

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I get this a lot: “I just wanna fight. Not waste time learning forms.”

OK, I understand that way of thinking—for beginners. And I agree, however you will only remain a beginner if you keep that mindset.

That’s not true! What about UFC? Those guys don’t practice forms. They just fight and get better.” I hear that a lot too, or, “Bruce Lee didn’t do forms. He studied every art and threw out the unnecessary forms.” Both of these are false statements.

The whole forms verses fighting thing is really a moot point. The argument comes from totally misunderstanding what a form is. A form doesn’t mean hundreds of moves. A form is simply techniques linked together. Look at boxers. They don’t have forms per se but they shadow box with a flurry of hooks, jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and they do it over and over again. And guess what? Over time, the moves become totally embedded into their muscle memory, which is the point of forms or drills training.

In the UFC, each week these great athletes train like crazy, repeating the same techniques in the air, on bags, then on each other. Is that not forms training? And Bruce Lee did Wing Chung, a style which has forms. Wing Chung gave Mr. Lee his base as a fighter. Without forms training, how else would those techniques have gotten into his body? Michael Jordan practiced millions of free throws without even holding a ball. Tiger Woods practices his swing without hitting a ball.

Do you see the point? Forms training is fighting. It’s putting the techniques into your body so you don’t have to think about them. Many times, in fighting with my kung fu brothers or my students, I’ll do something and say, “Whoa, where’d that move come from?” It came from forms. I didn’t make it up. The problem is when an instructor can’t pull the moves from the forms and then show you how to actually use the techniques in combat. In that case, yes, from a fighting perspective, forms are useless.

Black Rings – Dying but Determined

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
This is the final post in the Black Rings series. Thank you for stopping by.

Finally! I collapsed to my knees and was ready to crawl out the door when I realized that if I left, Sifu would see me as a quitter. I struggled back to my feet and began again, but Sifu said I would have to finish outside because he had to leave. I followed him outside, each step sending my legs into crippling cramps. He told me again I could go home, the words taunting me like a cup of cool water to a desert wandering man. Every quaking cell in my body wanted to say OK but I shook my head “no” and continued. It took another thirty minutes to get to 350 and to redo the twenty Sifu told me were terrible. My dad was a great support and agreed to wait for me. He took a nap inside the car while I was out on the hot asphalt under a streetlight with June bugs dive-bombing my face, feeling like I was slowly killing myself.

Finished, I dragged my body to the car. I removed my jacket and squeezed it out like a wet rag. My white t-shirt was practically transparent and my pants clung to my quivering legs. I slid into the passenger seat and reached to close the door when something caught my eye. At first, I thought it was a shadow cast by the car’s interior dome light, but upon further study, I realized I was looking at the same black rings around my socks that I had noticed earlier around the other students. I smiled, though I couldn’t believe I actually had the muscle capacity to do so.

The black rings were from sweat dripping off the bottom of the black Kung Fu pants and staining my white socks. I closed the door and melted into the seat. I glanced at my socks again. How cool was this. I was one of them. It was awesome. I too had earned the black rings.

So, what’d I do? The natural action any twelve-year old boy would do. I hid those socks under my bed until the next night and wore them again. That went on for about three days until I was afraid the socks would disintegrate from compounded funk. Now that I think about it, that explains why at the end of the week no one in Kung Fu class wanted to be my partner.

Black Rings – Muchacha…

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
This is the third post in the Black Rings series. Check back tomorrow to continue the story.

     By bow one hundred, my right leg was on fire and I thought any more pressure would cause the knee to buckle. By one-fifty, every muscle in my back was in spasms. By two hundred, both legs were numb and I could barely lift my shoulders. My throat begged for moisture and my tongue felt like someone had wrapped a thick towel around it. Sweat stung my eyes. I didn’t think I could do one more, and the thought of cheating was extremely tempting. Why was I doing this?

     Gaining strength from watching the other students, who had presumably gone through this same torture before me, I continued, but by number two-seventy-five, everyone was leaving. As much as my broken body could, I pushed it to go faster, but on number three-hundred, the lights went out and Sifu said he had to lock up. With my voice box parched and barely functional, I told him I was on three-o-five in hopes of receiving his admiration and the OK to quit. Instead, he told me the last twenty bows looked terrible. Those words hit me worse than a kick to the stomach. Sifu watched me do maybe ten more then said he’d seen enough. He said I could leave.

***

To All The Would Be “Kung Fu Fighters”

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Sifu Jones, the Ja Gows, and the Black Belts have always pushed the slow and soft way of learning how to fight in our often brutal system of Kung Fu. A few of the up and coming students witnessed something on Friday that proves that it works. What happened that afternoon is the result of many years of hard work and practice. I want to set the record straight about what happened and what it takes to get there.

During the Friday afternoon hands time, Ja Gow Adam and I touched hands for a bit. During our hands play, things quickly escalated to the point where we were going fast and hard. We were pushing ourselves; punching, kicking, throwing, yielding, grappling–you name it and we probably tried it. It was soft, controlled, and with no ego, and that made it a whole lot of fun (but educational it was not).

I know that we stress playing soft and slow, and that it can be difficult, but that is how you learn to fight safely without any rules or pads. Soft and slow however important, is only a part of the story. This story also includes several years of learning forms, conditioning our bodies, and learning to fight. All of the forms and the horse stance help to condition and train our bodies to react without conscious thought, but the most important thing–what has tied all of the forms, stances and drills together–are the years of playing hands soft and slow. Constantly helping each other get better by staying soft, relying on feel, trusting your partner and trying new things. That is the goal when you touch hands with your fellow students. Help each other. (Do not misinterpret this to try and teach one another, please leave that to the instructors)

Things everyone needs to work on (myself included):

  1. Stay Soft. Softness keeps you from hurting someone or yourself.
  2. Stay Slow. Ja Gow Bob Hung from California said “If you can do it slow, you can do it fast. If you can only do it fast, you are doing it wrong.” Also, you can not learn/get better when going fast.
  3. No Ego. If you get hit, it is your fault, there is a gap in your defense. Put your attention to closing that, not “getting back” at your partner. At TKFF, inflated egos are “popped”.
  4. Help Each Other. You cannot get better by yourself. You need practice, and you need feedback from those you touch hands with.

These few things, along with the proper hands etiquette, will allow you to learn in a safe, enjoyable manner, which is our goal here at TKFF. And remember, we love answering questions about fighting!!

Black Rings – The Bow

Monday, May 11th, 2009
This is the second post in the Black Rings series. Check back tomorrow to continue the story.

      His voice startled me. I had no idea he was standing behind me. I turned and looked up. Master Fogg was a tower of a man, lean with ripped muscles on top of more ripped muscles.

     “Yes sir.” I was almost too excited to speak. I had mowed over forty lawns that summer and saved all my money inside a Nike shoebox to join Kung Fu. I couldn’t wait. I just knew I was going to learn all the cool moves I’d watched on Kung Fu Theater. Sifu would probably start out teaching me the sword form. Then we’d move on to some joint locks and throws. I would then finish up with iron body training and join the guy hitting the swinging log. My heart was pounding with anticipation. Man, was I clueless.

     Sifu waved over another student to join us. He was a kid, maybe two years older than I was. I thought, cool, a sparring partner. His name was Drew.

     “He’s going to show you the bow,” Sifu said.

     The bow, no problem. I would just

     “Then you will practice it 350 times.” Sifu glanced at the clock with its cracked face hanging on the wall. “If you start now, you might finish by the end of class. But if you mess up, even on the 349th time, you start over. Understand?” He left before I had a chance to respond.

     The bow. Three-hundred and fifty times. For the entire class? My dream of fighting with a sword was just cut in half. Watching everyone else practice their cool forms, I followed the student over to the corner next to the dusty weapons rack. Drew demonstrated the bow and I felt worse. The traditional Kung Fu bow was not merely bending forward at the waist. It involved twisting the right foot to a 90 degree angle and sinking down on it before you shot out your left leg forward and then back again, all the while, thrusting out your arms like a double punch. I practiced a few times with Drew then he left me alone to begin the journey.

***

Black Rings

Friday, May 8th, 2009
This is the first post in a series of four. Check back Monday to continue the story.

     My first Kung Fu class was on a sweltering July night in 1982. I vividly remember the smell of the place as I entered the school. The air was heavy with sweat, Tiger Balm, Jow, soured carpet, and incense. I don’t know if you can actually smell testosterone, but I’m sure that was in the air as well. However, the one thing I remember most are the black rings.

     The Kung Fu class shared space with a gymnastics school, and we were crammed in the back of the building separated from the gymnasts by a floating wall of hole-riddled sheetrock. There was a fine layer of white sheetrock dust on the weapons rack and lying next to the baseboards were small chunks of the wall that had met their demise from the tip of a spear, rope dart, or staff. Chinese music was playing in the background along with the pained sounds of grunting, heavy breathing, and a rhythmic thump, thump as a senior student struck a swinging log attached to a rope with his bare arms.

     I ducked into a tiny, makeshift changing room—probably smaller than an airplane toilet’s—and ripped open the package of my uniform. It had that new clothing smell and the material felt stiff. I threw it on and stepped onto the training floor. Every student, around twenty of them, all guys, wore the same traditional kung fu uniforms as I did, but mine was clean, crisp . . . and dry. Theirs literally clung to their bodies with perspiration. I should’ve just worn my “rookie dweeb” sign.

     I wasn’t sure what to do. Everyone was training hard and I was just standing there looking clean. I saw a student stretching so I mimicked him. As I continued to warm up and wait for Sifu Fogg, the chief instructor, to tell me what to do, I noticed that everyone had black rings around the ankle part of their white socks. Kung fu pants have elastic bands in the bottom to hold them tight around the ankles and most everyone’s pants were too short so I could see their socks. I thought the rings were pretty weird, but by the end of class, I would know intimately how those rings got there.

     “Are you ready to begin?” Sifu asked.

 ***

Determination

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

     Yesterday two students came in for a makeup Graduation. Both students are adults and the test was on a Wednesday night at 6:30. Those details are important because that’s the point.

     Here are two adults. They have spouses, kids, jobs, “to-do” lists, bills to pay, and they’re tired and would probably rather go home. Yet they arrive at the kung fu school on a Wednesday night to sit in horse stance for two minutes, run a mile and a half, and demonstrate weapons and empty-hand forms—all with the possibility of failing—and still, they showed up. I’m blown away by their dedication.

     The moment reminded me of my dad, who despite having a full-time job, being active in the National Guard, having a wife and child to care for along with his widowed mom and three brothers, he still drove fifty, sometimes a hundred miles to earn his Masters degree in business (that was way before online classes).

     I see that kind of determination in my students.

     I had the luxury of youth when I began Kung Fu. The only hindrances to my training were eating, sleeping, or going to school. No mortgage to pay or a spouse to spend time with, I could do Kung Fu anytime.

     Now, I’m blessed with these great students who continue to “steal time” in order to practice Kung Fu. I am so impressed and humbled by their determination. Students often thank me for teaching them, but that’s backwards.

     I want to thank them for allowing me the privilege.