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Archive for July, 2010

Kung Fu is in Everything! (Karate Kid 2010)

Monday, July 26th, 2010

“Kung fu is in everything.”

When Jackie Chan said that in the new Karate Kid, I actually jumped to my feet, shouted, “Yes”, and clapped my hands. My daughters tried to bury themselves under the seat and pleaded with me to stop doing that. I couldn’t help it. That one line nailed the entire essence of kung fu!

See, for the last thirty years, kung fu has been in everything in my life. Other than my parents and my Christian walk, nothing else has been this constant in my life. A few years ago, John Cheng reminded me that for the last twenty-plus years we haven’t gone twenty-four hours without thinking about or doing KF.

I knew that watching the new movie was going to be emotional, but I wasn’t expecting it to move me the way it did on so many levels. It was like watching a time line of my own life on the big screen. That sounds hokey, I know, but seriously. With each scene of the movie came a flood of memories.

I remember meeting Sifu Fogg for the first time. Like Dre with Mr. Han in the movie, I didn’t understand what skills Sifu possessed and that what he would teach me would change my life forever. I had no clue that KF would become so ingrained in my being that there would be no distinct separation of kung fu life with no kung fu life. A kid in high school that wanted to fight me and said that I couldn’t use KF. I said OK and did anyway. I remember, for a second, trying to figure out how I could actually do that. I realized very early, that KF wasn’t something I could turn off and on. And what a revelation for a teenager! To have such a passion for something other than girls at that stage in life is huge. It gave me direction and focus even though the rest of my teen life was spinning in complete chaos. If I wouldn’t have had KF to channel my energy into after numerous girlfriend breakups, man, that would’ve been bad.

In the movie The Incredibles, the daughter had the power to create a protective force shield around her and her family whenever the bad guys blasted them with machine guns. The bullets simply bounced off. That’s how KF was and still is for me. Once I threw the first punch of a form, I entered into that bubble of protection. My life’s worry-bullets simply bounced off.

Mr. Han (Chan) demonstrated this in the scene when he was so devastated by the loss of his family that he was paralyzed with grief. Yet, once he and Dre began to train, his pain and anguish began to slip away. It was like the shackles of a prisoner suddenly breaking apart and falling to the ground.

Kung Fu is way more than a hobby or sport. It is in everything.

For Real

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Last Tuesday I learned real kung fu.

A new student who recently moved to the U.S. approached me after the morning class and asked me to watch him practice with the walking stick (short staff). He swung the staff with such intensity and focus that I remember thinking, Wow, he’s doing this as if his life depends on it.

Well, I found out that it did.

With little income, my student lives in a rough apartment complex inside an even rougher neighborhood. In very broken English, he told me that in just the last three days, he’d had to fight his way into his home, and then had to throw people out of his home. He said fighting is never one-on-one. Always three or four. And they are big, with big hands and big arms. They want my money, my food. They no work for nothing, he said, they only want to take. He also told me he had to use a broom as his weapon and that’s why he needed more practice with the short staff.

I stood there, not only dumbfounded, but totally humbled and even ashamed.

For the last fourteen years, I’ve been teaching martial arts professionally. And though the lethalness of the arts is always in the back of my mind whenever I teach a technique, I admit I’ve taken KF for granted. I mean, thank God we live in a society where kung fu is not a necessary skill to have in order to live from one day to the next. But in that, how many punches and kicks—entire forms filled with hundreds of techniques— have I taught just going through the motions on autopilot with little thought of how the student may really need this in order to survive the evening at home.

Weeks prior, I’d shown him a few techniques with the staff. Good stuff, effective, but I showed him the movements more as an exercise, with little focus on the combat uses. The humbling part is that he told me those moves saved his life. He shook my hand and thanked me for it. I felt an inch tall. See, in my mind, from the get-go, I should’ve taught him those techniques with the seriousness of what they’re really used for, not just exercises.

You guys know the definition of martial arts but it lets reexamine it.

The word martial literally means warfare or combat. Placing the word arts behind it implies pooling all aspects of combat, studying them and then seamlessly imbedding the techniques into your being so that it (combative moves) flows out naturally. People who train in the martial arts are students of both science and art. Think of all the physics and biology you learn just from practicing kung fu. And of course it’s the repetitive practice that forms the art.

Spending thirty years with a Sifu who relied on his KF to survive the dangerous streets of DC and New York, and then the perilous jungles of Viet Nam, I can’t help but intimately understand the combat side of martial arts. I just allowed my focus to become lazy. Not again.