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Archive for May, 2010

No Ifs, Ands, or Buts About It:

Friday, May 28th, 2010

“Hello, my name is Wintor and I’m addicted to kung fu.”

That was how I introduced myself when I started the instructor program a hunnerd years ago. When I was asked what it was about kung fu that hooked me, I said that it helped me slow my brain down; that it made me put aside everything that went on throughout the day, forcing me to focus on something outside my brain and trust me, that is no small feat.

After recovering from almost a month of upper respiratory funk where I wasn’t able to breathe and could only train minimally, I wound up in my enthusiasm of feeling better, dislocating my shoulder. I was completely out of commission for about two weeks before I relocated my shoulder and started feeling better. Once again, in what was at that point, almost overwhelming enthusiasm to be able to train again, I reinjured myself in weapons class. However this time the injuries were severe enough (and stupid) that I finally had to admit that although I had no problem working through the pain, I was doing more damage to myself than I was making myself stronger.

It was determined that I needed to see an orthopedic shoulder doctor and after some pulling of strings and some behind-the-scenes schedule manipulations, I met with the doctor who immediately sent me off to have an MRI (which is another story entirely in itself). When I met with him again he told me that based on what he saw on the scan, surgery was totally dependent on how I chose to handle things. He told me that he wanted me to see a physical therapist twice a week for two hours at a time for a month and then looked me in the eye and coldly said two things that got my attention: “I can see you’re going crazy, not being able to work out, but unless you want surgery you need to do exactly what I tell you. Ultimately it’s up to you.” and “Physical therapy only; no running and No.Martial.Arts.” At that point, if you included the upper respiratory funk, I’d been unable to train for about four months.

I’ve been told a lot that I can be a hard person to read, but I don’t buy it anymore. In one week I met two complete strangers who within 10 minutes knew exactly how to speak to me so that I accepted everything they said without rebuttal; the shoulder doc and the physical therapist who, for two hours a day, twice a week for a month laughed at my every attempt to finagle, wheedle and charm her into letting me do more physically.

When I started physical therapy she had some concerns that were based on the severity of my injuries and the extreme level of pain I was in daily (anywhere from 7.5-9 out of 10) on whether the amount of physical therapy prescribed was going to be enough to keep me out of surgery. For the first week and a half she would have me do a few very small exercises (which hurt me into delirium) for the first hour and then would spend 30 minutes tirelessly ultrasounding me and another 15 minutes would be spent with my shoulder completely wrapped in ice packs. After two weeks of working, ultrasounding, massaging and icing my shoulder still hadn’t relaxed enough for the inflammation to go down so she decided to tape my shoulder blade in place for a week. There was a pretty decent setback at the beginning of week three and she started to get worried – we were running out of time and she wasn’t sure the small amount of progress I’d made was going to be enough to keep the surgeons at bay. My list of exercises got smaller and more refined but more weight or resistance was added and our time was split evenly between exercises and her alternating between massaging my shoulder and manipulating the actual injuries – to the point where I would literally see stars and become nauseated. Somehow, somewhere within the last two visits my body worked; my range of motion and strength doubled and my pain was only registering a 3 or 4. When she signed off on my sheet and was saying goodbye she was optimistic for the first time in a month.

When Sifu suggested I write about my experience with being injured and how I dealt with it I wasn’t exactly sure how I would talk about it. Because honestly? I’m not sure I’ve dealt with it very well at all. In the five and a half months that I have either been sick or injured and unable to train I have learned that I am a very very physical person and that I have to have the physical to balance the cerebral. Oh. My. Goodness, there’s been a lot of cerebral going on. These five and a half months have continuously taken me out of my emotional comfort zone, to ridiculous degrees, which only compounded the barrage on my brain: for a while I would be jealous of strangers I would see in the park or running down the road and I still continue to experience intense frustration at my limitations; I experienced a prolonged period of discouragement, in which I seriously considered quitting kung fu; as a fairly independent person, I’ve had to ask people for various degrees of help, which I’m not accustomed to doing; and the hardest for me, through all of it I’ve had to rely on people; kung fu brothers & sisters, old friends and even a relatively new friend for emotional support which not only launched me into the stratosphere of discomfort but has also humbled me beyond words.

So even though I did the work and was given the ok to slowly add in regular activities (“No sparring for a while Wintor, end of discussion.” Is my addiction really that apparent?), have been taking advantage of every chance at physicality I can get, and am slowly starting to get things balanced, my dealing with being injured is really so much more about the people that I’ve had the good fortune to surround myself with and how they continue to help me through it, no questions asked and no rebuttals.

The Running Man

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Being separated from my kung fu family has been harder than I anticipated. While I’ve always been one to push myself, it’s so much better to have support and motivation from others. I have really started dissecting my training and trying to find new ways to push myself and reach the next level. While most of you might not be as geographically separated form the school as I am, we all have times when we work out alone or individually and that’s good for your kung fu.

We all have plateaus and stages we go through in our training as well. The secret is to not fight them but use them to your advantage. If I am honest I have been through 3 or 4 serious plateaus even close to burnout in my training. We must remind ourselves that this is normal and not the enemy of our training but a tool to help us progress.

When I go through a plateau I try to change my focus and accept some changes in my training. I often use it as a chance to focus on other aspects of training I normally don’t spend much time on. It’s a great time for very slow hands for example. Maybe just do feeling drills and chin na drills for a couple of weeks. Its all about being completely “rounded” (no pun intended). If you tend to dislike really slow drills then use them on your tired days, or during a plateau. If you have been pushing your forms really fast, take it easy and think about each individual move in a form, play them “tai chi” slow and think about your balance in each stance. If you have been playing your forms 25 times each every day, maybe cut that down and use the extra time to write down each move of the form on paper. This gives you another way of thinking about the forms and really gets them in your head and in your body. We often get blinders on but the truth is we have to work on so many things in order to increase our skill; these times can be very useful.

One of the things I’ve done recently is embrace running. I’ve never really been a big fan of long distance running but I was very fortunate to have a group of kung fu brothers that helped and motivated me to run and work hard. Sifu Jones would push us both mentally and physically in our runs. I found myself looking forward fondly to the bonding that happened during those runs and in turn enjoying the physical effects running had on my skill. Still, running was simply a part of training I had to push through, sort of like horse stance. You guys at the school have a great opportunity to motivate each other and help each other reach greater levels of skill than you could alone. Take advantage of it, we never know what life has in store for us and I can honestly say the time I had with my kung fu brothers and sisters was invaluable to my skill in kung fu.

Since moving I found running a quick way to get some cardio in, warm up my body for forms and P90X (another post altogether), and spend time getting my head mentally prepared to push myself in my training time. As time went by I began to look forward to my morning runs as a time to clear my head, enjoy being outside a bit, and think about things in my life such as medical school, and especially kung fu.

Take some time and think about what you can do to use your plateau to increase your skill. Figure out a way to make it work for you and add to the overall journey of increasing your skill!

Since I’ve been running everyday for quite a while now, thought I would share my “relaxed” running play list with you. I go through stages in my music as well but here are some recent favorites I use to try and relax into my run rather than push for speed right now.

In no particular order:

  • Superman’s Dead – Our Lady Peace
  • Salvation – The Cranberries
  • Ignition – Toby Mac
  • Just Like a Pill – Pink
  • Undone (Sweater Song) – Weezer
  • Suddenly I See – KT Tunstall
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (This includes No Easy Way Out, they must be together!)
  • Uprising – Muse
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  • Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
  • Sugar, We’re Going Down – Fall Out Boy
  • Going the Distance – Cake
  • Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz

Feel free to comment and add your own favorite running songs. No making fun of my song selection, unless you are going to come visit me and hang through a full workout with me, then you can make fun of them.

Where Will Kung Fu Take You? – by Jenn Mink

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

In my short 24 years on this Earth, I’ve done some pretty amazing things. I moved to Guatemala right after high school, I went to college and learned a second language, and I lived in Spain for a year. People often ask me how I was able to do so much and still do kung fu. I ask them, “How do you think I was able to do all those things?” Because of kung fu.

Now, when I say I moved to Guatemala after high school, I mean to say, I intended to move to Guatemala after high school. It didn’t actually turn out that way. You know how you know everything when you get out of high school? Yea, turns out, I didn’t. Anyone who’s travelled or even seriously thought about travelling in a big way can tell you it’s not only the fun and excitement it seems. For every ounce of fun and excitement, it’s every bit as much terrifying and nerve-wracking. That was one of those things it turned out I didn’t know, but I found out in a hurry.

I was supposed to stay in Guatemala for six months, living with a family and volunteering with a small local eco-farming organization. They weren’t so organized though. When I arrived in the small town of San Lucas Toleman, I was already deep in the throes of the panic of being on my own for the first time, in a foreign country for the first time, and not speaking the language very well. Hoping- desperately needing to be put to work so I could meet new people and give my mind something to do other than race in the chaos of my panic, I went to the coffee plantation. I was then given a menial, uninteresting job and I was put to work alone. I needed to do something to escape the unbearable conditions inside my head. Even going back to the States wasn’t a quick enough solution. The constant noise and anxiety eroded my reason. I learned what it was like to feel like you’re being driven out of your mind by a foreign invader. How do you fight back? How do you take back your mind from fear, anxiety, confusion and panic? Kung Fu. You go to that place of discipline, that well rehearsed sanctuary that has become an unavoidable creation of the forms. It is a habit so deeply engrained in your mind and body the panic cannot overcome it. Was it enough to get me through six months? No. I needed more training, but it was enough to get me through three weeks, enough to keep me sane long enough to realize I was in over my head. So more training I got. I came home with no idea what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I worked and I trained and I learned. I learned about myself and found my calling. I used the greater discipline and focus I developed over that year between Guatemala and college to complete a four year degree in three years and I continued to train. When I was done with my degree, I was ready to try again. I left for Spain for a year. This time I was ready for the fear, confusion and panic. After two more black tests and countless hours in horse stance, I had become more than familiar with them. I had learned to sit with them without letting them unbalance me and then to work through them. They no longer control me. I have learned to embrace the unknown, the difficult and the painful as opportunities for growth. I’m not fearless or invincible, but when I’m afraid, I jump anyway because the rewards if I do are much more enticing. Because I jump, I’ve seen Spain, Rome, the Alps, Berlin, Paris, London and Ireland. Where will kung fu take you?

Muscle Memory – by David DeWalch

Monday, May 24th, 2010

In Kung Fu we train with repetition, performing sequences over and over in order to place the sequence into our muscle memory. As with other traditions passed down to us from our Kung Fu fathers there is a physiological and scientific basis to muscle memory.

When an active person repeatedly trains movement, often of the same activity, in an effort to stimulate the mind’s adaptation process, the outcome is to induce physiological changes which attain increased levels of accuracy through repetition. Muscle memory is fashioned over time through repetition of a given suite of motor skills and the ability through brain activity to inculcate and instill it such that they become automatic. To the beginner, activities such as brushing the teeth, combing the hair, or even driving a vehicle are not as easy as they look. As one reinforces those movements through repetition, the neural system learns those fine and gross motor skills to the degree that one no longer needs to think about them, but merely to react and perform appropriately. In this sense the muscle memory process is an example of automating an OODA Loop insofar as one learns to Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

In this physiological description it is demonstrated why we train in the way that the Masters have handed down to us. Repetition is key in training our brain to work in conjunction with our muscle groups so that when the need arises we are ready to defend ourselves without conscious thought. Additionally, this is the reason that we train for good technique and form. In other words if we train with poor technique and poor form this is the information that our brain stores as the muscle memory resulting in unskilled and inadequate Kung Fu.

A common mistake is to perform the actions with too much speed that sacrifices attention to the exact mechanism of the technique and good form. Speed comes with training and is not a necessary component to obtain muscle memory. Again repetition of a movement and good form with focus placed on stances, plucks blocks and strikes is essential to building muscle memory. Speed and skill comes with time, training and patience.

Ready For Some Football – Part Two

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

***

I actually tried to hunch down and hide, but everyone was staring at us. I finally stood, and with shaky knees, followed John down the rickety bleachers. Our steps echoed through the gym.

We had told a few friends what we did and they were nice enough to encourage us by whispering, “You’re dead,” as we went by.

“Stand there.” Coach Martino pointed to the center of the gym.

We did. The three other coaches stood behind us with their arms folded behind their backs, legs wide, military style.

Martino addressed the class. “What you see here, gentlemen, is two quitters.”

Whoa, talk about a knee to the stomach. Coach ambushed us!

“They’re not only quitting the team . . .” Martino paused, letting the words hover over the players’ heads like a chunk of bacon dangling over a pack of pit bulls. “They’re quitting YOU.”

I couldn’t believe this. He was painting a bulls-eye on our chests.

I scanned the bleachers now in front, and above me. My soon-to-be former teammates scowled as if coach had just told them John and I had kissed every one of their girlfriends.

I glanced at John to the left of me.

Oh crap!

He was easing his right foot forward and twitching his fingers—the way he always does before he spars.

I was about to vomit. John’s preparing to fight the entire football team who has—now that we’re gone—a minimum weight class of 195 pounds, and I have to back him up.

“So,” Coach continued, “after this class, they’re no longer a member of this family.” Coach sneered at us then blew his whistle. “Fall in for laps.”

The gym floor vibrated from the sixty-plus players trudging down the bleachers.

No one talked to us as we filed from the gym onto the field.

None of this I could figure out. We were not good football players. What is the deal?

John and I ran the five laps in silence, constantly checking over our shoulders. Some of the guys were cool, most indifferent, but a few were jerks.

My kung fu Spidey-sense told me that we were going to have some trouble in the locker room.

We finished the run, played catch, then jogged back inside.

I didn’t even make it to my locker before the fight began.

Two dudes behind me grabbed my arms and ran me into the wall of lockers. I managed to twist my head so my nose wouldn’t take the blow. I couldn’t see John. His locker was around the corner from mine. But I did hear lots of shouting and locker-banging.

Two big hands dug into my shoulders and spun me around. I locked eyes with my two assailants. They were two guys I’d never liked. This had nothing to do with quitting. They just wanted an excuse to fight.

I lifted my hands and shifted into a fighting stance.

The two morons had their shirts off and their fists circling in front of them. Two more idiots stood behind them, shouting, “Get him.”

“Take this karate boy,” the closest one said as he punched.

How many times do I have to tell these imbeciles, I do kung fu, not karate?

I ducked. His fist plowed into the lockers. I came up with a snap kick to his groin then blocked a punch from bozo number two. As he pulled back for a second blow, I nailed him in the jaw with a right hook. I was able to kick him in the stomach before the other two tackled me.

We rolled on the filthy floor, fists flying everywhere. My head hit the concrete floor as fists pounded my face. The coppery taste of blood filled my mouth.

The locker room was a bloodthirsty frenzy with everyone shouting and clapping.

We kept rolling until we hit a bench. I looked up. A forest of legs surrounded me. I caught a glimpse of someone’s backpack sitting on the bench. Somehow, I was able to tuck in my legs and kick the guys off me.

With blood dripping from my swollen lips, I sprang to my feet, grabbed the backpack, and went to swinging. I clobbered two more before someone shouted, “Coach is coming!” Everyone scattered.

I whirled around to face the two dudes that had first pushed me. They had their fists cocked but neither looked too eager to move first. The one I’d kicked in the stomach had my Nike shoe print on his gut.

I stepped forward. I still held the backpack, ready to pile drive their fatheads into the lockers.

Coach came in and broke it up. The two guys left, talking trash. I waited until they were out of sight before I dropped the backpack.

I still didn’t know where John was until he walked around the corner. Aside from some bloodstains on his gray gym shirt, he looked normal, like another day at the office. Behind him, three boys came limping out, holding their stomachs. Their faces were swollen and bruised.

“Hope you girls enjoyed your last day of athletics.” Martino shook his head and walked off.

I washed up and we headed to the office to change our schedule.

Football or kung fu?

Looking back now, I think John and I made the right choice.

Ready For Some Football – Part One

Monday, May 17th, 2010

To say that high school football in East Texas is a big deal, is an understatement. However, quitting football is even a bigger deal.

During our eighth-grade year, John Cheng and I juggled kung fu training with playing football. After practices, we’d head home drenched in sweat with our entire muscular and skeletal systems shot. Yet, we’d still roll out of John’s car and put in some kung fu time.

One afternoon, we looked at each other, and said, “Why are we doing this?” We agreed that football was not in our future but KF definitely was.

Feeling confident with our decision, the next morning we strolled to the coaches’ office to tell them we were quitting so we could devote more time to the Fu.

The season was over, and John and I were on the second team. I played maybe two games. I figured us quitting would be no big deal.

We got to school early because there was a particular coach we hoped to talk to, Coach Smith. He was in Sifu Fogg’s fraternity and he was pretty cool to us. Hoping Coach Smith was the only one there, we knocked. I was very disappointed to hear four “Come ins” from the other side of the office door.

We stepped inside the huge office to see all four coaches sitting at their desks. The place reeked of burnt coffee and cheap cologne. Each coach looked up from his newspaper and stared at John and me as if we were a pair of water bugs they considered squashing. Plastered to the wall above their heads, was a banner that read A Football Team is not just a team. It’s a Family.

My backpack suddenly felt a thousand pounds.

“What do you want?” Coach Martino, the head coach asked, as he searched for something on his desk. It was a mess. Stacks of folders, World History textbooks, copies of sports magazines, papers, and a Big Chief yellow pad scribbled on with Xs and Os covered his desk. I kept waiting for something to fall, but it never did. Coach bobbed and weaved around the assorted piles smoother than Ali dodges punches.

When I tried to speak, some kind of shrill squawk burst forth from my voice box, a toxic mixture of puberty and fear. Thankfully, John was there to take over.

“We want to quit football,” he said, “to spend more time doing kung fu.”

So there it was, out there. As quick as a blink we had stepped off the cliff.

Silence filled the room except for the ticking of the coaches’ Coors Light wall clock. It sounded like a bomb in my ears.

As if on cue, the three other coaches slowly folded their newspapers, laced their fingers behind their heads, and then leaned back in their chairs. They stared at us. The rusted springs from their swivel chairs grinded and set my already frayed nerves even more on edge.

Martino found what he was looking for, read it, scrawled something on it, then added it to another pile. He rested his elbows on top of a coffee-stained playbook then squinted at us over his round glasses the way Clint Eastwood does before he blows somebody away with his .44.

As always, John stood there with no emotion. I, on the other hand, was fighting off a stroke.

Hoping for an ally, I glanced at Coach Smith. He just scowled at me, chewing his toothpick. I quickly looked away and tried to focus on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. It hung crooked on the dingy paneled wall above the coffee pot. Looking at hot bikini babes is usually a cure-all for a fourteen-year-old boy, but this particular morning it just made me feel stupid. It’s like she was laughing at me, saying, You just signed your death warrant, kid.

After sixty seconds of tortuous silence, Coach Martino pulls out a pouch of Redman chewing tobacco and stuffs a huge brown wad into his mouth. “Alright,” he says, as he rolls up the package of chew. “Finish class. Then clean out your lockers and tell the office you want a schedule change.” He spit in a yellow plastic cup and wiped his thick black mustache. “Now get outta here.”

The other coaches went back to their papers and Martino started writing something in a black folder.

John and I ran to the gym and didn’t look back. We couldn’t believe it had gone so smooth.

With a huge weight off our shoulders, we ascended the old wooden bleachers for the last time and found our spot midway up. Athletics was our first period. All we had to do now was get through this class. We sat and waited for the coaches.

Coaches came in, blew their whistles, and said they had some news before we started our morning run.

“Cheng, Jones,” Coach Martino shouted. “Get down here.”

Oh crap!

***

At What Lengths?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Josh Davis, three-time U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in Swimming, said as he stared down his lane at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the thought crossed his mind that 4 hours of swimming each day for 10 years—a total 25,000 miles—now came down to one moment in time. That’s unbelievable!

I love studying the championship habits of Olympic Athletes—well, really, the habits of any successful person in their field. What is their secret? At what lengths did they go to reach their goal?

As you know, from my earlier blog, “Committed or Interested”, (if you haven’t read it, stop now, scroll back, and read) I don’t believe there is a “secret” to success. The secret is busting your tail with hard work and putting in long hours.

Sifu Fogg always told us there’s nothing secret about mastering mantis kung fu. He said, “You just train hard, then do it again and again.” I’m doing that, but I’m still holding out for the kung fu download that Neo got in Matrix.

I remember before a tournament, I often trained 3-7 hours per day. John Cheng did more than that!

So, at what lengths will we go to achieve our goals? Here is a (very) few of the successful people I studied.

  • Eight-time U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists Michael Phelps swims a minimum of 5 hours per day 6 days per week.
  • Vladimir Horowitz, an acclaimed Russian-American concert pianist practices from 4-8 hours per day. Closer to home, my kung fu student, Shawn Bradley, when practicing for his final concert to graduate, played his piano up to 10 hours per day!
  • John Grisham wrote every day in the predawn hours before he went to work.
  • Stephen King writes a minimum of 3 hours per day 7 days a week. He says doesn’t even take Christmas off.
  • Walt Disney worked tirelessly on achieving his dream of creating the first full-length animated feature, despite all of Hollywood, and even Walt’s family, saying he couldn’t do it.
  • Sylvester Stallone loaded up on caffeine and wrote the Rocky screenplay in just three days.

After studying these people, I did discover their one common secret: persistence.

Psychologists tell us that to develop a habit, you must practice something one hour per day for 40 days.

To master something it takes 10,000 hours of practice to know all about that subject.

That’s 20 hours per week for 10 years!

Who’s up for the challenge?

Please comment and share your success stories with me.

The Bonds We Build

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

As most of you know, I have had to do some extensive traveling over the last year or so. It has been very difficult to be away from my family but sometimes we must do something that we are not happy with to better benefit those who depend on us. But in addition to my regular family, I have also missed my Kung Fu Family. Four hours travel each way gives me plenty time to think about Kung Fu, and I have come to some personal Kung Fu realizations:

#1: I am Kung Fu. It is in my blood, in every cell. There is no separation left. Every step, move, action and reaction is Kung Fu. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

#2: The Kung Fu family is as real as our own family. Those who train with me, sweat, and even bleed with me are my brothers and sisters. It is very much like the bond soldiers build when in combat.

#3: Teaching Kung Fu is one of my favorite things in my life. It helps keep me sane because it takes every bit of my attention and concentration.

I can tell you from experience, that all of the Instructors at Tyler Kung Fu and Fitness feel this way. From the very first time I met Sifu, I knew that was the case with him (and still is), and he has passed that on to us. And because of that we have created these friendships that are extremely strong.

A couple weeks ago, I drove from Port Arthur to Galveston (about 2.5 hours one way) to see two of my Kung Fu brothers, Adam and Kody. We ate and proceeded to play hands on the beach. I made this trip after working for over eight hours and it was well worth it to see my brothers. That same mindset brings back all of our Kung Fu brothers and sisters back to the school every time they come back to Tyler for whatever reason. It’s all in the things that we have shared at this place, that has become sacred to us, and built these bonds that will last a lifetime.