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Posts Tagged ‘Commitment’

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.

Become the Principles: Part I in the series

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The young monk slowly picked himself up off the hard brick floor. He tried to ignore his kung fu brothers’ whispers but Grandmaster’s disapproving stare hit him harder than his opponent’s tiger claw just did. He stifled a groan when he stood straight. Every joint in his body ached, even among his toes. The puffy knot above his left eye throbbed as a hundred of tiny beads of sweat, mixed with rivulets of blood, rolled off his bruised, bald head.

Ashamed, the young monk stared at the floor. “Grandmaster, I’ve studied and memorized the combat principles, yet I can never defeat my brothers.”

From the raised platform, Grandmaster rose from his seat. His traditional orange robe rippled in the afternoon breeze as he walked to the edge of the stage and looked at the wounded young man slumped beneath him. He smiled, stroking his long white beard as he remembered saying those exact words to his grandmaster so long ago. He nodded, agreeing with his thoughts. Time is the answer. He spoke to the monk.

“Memorized the principles, yes, but you have not become them.” The wise master bowed and left training hall.

I remember memorizing the twelve soft principles of 7-Star Mantis years ago. I was so proud of myself. I could speak of the principles as if I were a kung fu scholar. But like the young monk learned, knowledge of something (mental) and becoming something (physical) is two different worlds. I can read and go to school for years to learn how to play the piano—and I bet I could even pass a written test on the subject—but if I never once sat down and played, then I would fail my final recital miserably. Totally the same with kung fu. To learn any art you must first understand the principles that make that art what it is, and then become it.

Sifu Fogg always says, “Believe, conceive, achieve.”

First, believe in your art, believe it WILL work, only then can you move on to the conceive part. Once you begin to understand (conceive) how it works then you can achieve it—in this case, achieving the ability to fight like the most feared predator in the insect community!

So, here is the HOW. (Let’s cover one each visit)

Principle #1: Evade full force. In Fu Slang, Don’t get hit!

Let nothing make contact with your body, a punch, palm, elbow, knee, kick, head-butt, a tackle or takedown, a baseball bat, nothing.

  1. Face-off with your partner. One of you will throw only straight punches (painstakingly slow at first) while the other simply moves away, whether this means to duck, step back, spin, fall, flip, whatever, don’t get hit and DON’T touch your partner. This is all about evading. No contact. Do this for 60 seconds then next person punches. Do 3 sets, increasing speed each time. Then go to avoiding hooks, uppercuts, elbows—make your way down the punch list.
  2. Move on to evading all manner of kicks. Talk with each other; ask “what ifs” as you kick this way or that. Be real. Help each other. Later you can strike with long padded weapons, fast and hard, while the unarmed student evades.
  3. Evade tackles. Have partner charge you and tackle you if you don’t move.

Do these everyday, if able. Maybe pick punches one day, kicks the next. Remember, your goal is to become the, evade full force principle, not just memorize it. This is how you do it.

Begin with these drills. Next time we’ll discuss Redirecting with a dil sao.

Oh, please let me know about your own evasion drills. We all can learn.

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?

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.