I’m not encouraging this kind of training – it is a little intense for most of us. But it’s pretty interesting.

Do you have to see something to believe it, or do you revel in the inexplicable?

Qi is the inspiration for the Force in Star Wars. It is the life energy that powers us. Like the concept of Prana in Indian Buddhism and yoga. Which makes sense that the concept is shared, since Shaolin kung fu is rooted in combative yoga.

In the buddhist teachings of the Shaolin temple, it is our qi that powers you. It affects your health, your mood, your outward energy, your inward energy, your physical strength. It explains why a lean, wiry fellow can perform physical feats greater than the burly bodybuilder.

Shaolin kung fu develops mastery over qi like any other part of the body. It does so through certain motions, breathing exercises, and mental training.

Legends have been told of ancient Shaolin monks who performed super human feats and enjoyed extended lives thanks to their mastery over their qi.

Bruce Lee demonstrated the 1-inch punch, which drew on the explosive energy of qi, gathered, channeled and released through the fist.

Hard Qigong is the practice of channeling qi to fragile body tissue to toughen it and resist damage. Practitioners bend spears, point pressed to their throat, by leaning into them. They walk on blades, sharp enough to cut a vegetable, without injuring their feet. It’s a remarkable practice.

I’ve seen shaolin brothers in my club take a strike to the chest during sparring that left a bruise on their back.

Qi is an inexplicable force that you can either believe in or dismiss. But like Luke Skywalker learned by embracing the Force – qi can be a powerful ally if you should ever need it.

Do you believe in qi? Have you ever witnessed or performed an act that you thought impossible that proved or changed your belief in your internal energies?

Included is a Q and A to help you better understand qi, and its effects.

Q: Can I use qi to channel lightning from my fingertips?

A: No, qi is not the Force. It can be used to strengthen your body. Not alter the weather.

Q: Can I use qi to fly?

A: Qi may allow you to jump higher, but it will not let you fly. Do not attempt to leap from impossible heights. Without a parachute that is.

Q: Can I influence other’s minds, like Obi Wan Kenobi did?

A: You can try, but you’ll be using your personal charisma and powers of persuasion. Which may be bolstered somewhat by qi and/or ranks taken in diplomacy.

 

I’m going to start posting some information about forms that we train in our style. Master Scotty and I were discussing this at class on Thursday. He’s been posting info on his Twitter feed for a while now. It looks like code and that’s because it’s not supposed to be easy for you to understand.

But lets start a conversation about it. And maybe in the future I’ll share it in a video.

Here we go – Kempo 1

Begin in neutral position. Toes together, heels slightly apart (to open your hip joints), hands at your side.  Take a bow – the proper way to start any form in our style.

Holding the Sand with your right hand, sweep across your body and back to inside Walking Tiger above your right shoulder.

Closed Crane with left leg, sweep left to downward block (protecting your left knee).

Full step forward to right leading and Push-Pull.

Withdraw to front Cat stance.

Another Holding the Sand and Walking Tiger on the right side.

Closed Crane sweeping right to separation block.

Turn right foot out on heel to 45 degrees right of center. Bring left food forward to meet your right foot, then extend 45 degrees off center to the left into Riding Horse position.

Lean back so more of your weight is on your right leg, Sweeping Palm with your left  hand to a low Tiger Punch.

Turn on left heel to closed crane at 45 degrees left of center. Then step down with right foot forward into late Open X position.

Left hand performs a Sweeping Palm while right hand moves to inverted backhand. Then Walking Tiger (to trap a strike coming from the right side).

Turn on right heel while extending your left foot as you turn to face the what was behind you. Knife Hand block (as opposed to strike) with your right hand. Then Pai-hu Shih rising block with your left arm.

Full step with right foot while “Grooming the Aura” to a high Push-Pull.

Once again, Holding the Sand, to Walking Tiger, while Closed Crane with left foot.

Sweep left with downward block.

Full step forward with right foot and Push-Pull.

And this concludes the first portion of our Kempo form. It probably doesn’t make much sense, as I said. But perhaps, in time, as it makes sense to me, it’ll make sense to you.

More will follow!

Here’s something we all know. Martial Arts are all about self defence. Right?

I’ve been thinking about the self defence part of martial arts lately. More specifically, how the best method of self defence is to avoid putting yourself at risk. But is this the best way to become a better martial artist?

I haven’t been in a fight – I mean a real fist fight – since I was 13 years old. I spar all the time in class. With other skilled fighters, and some protective gear like gloves, shin and foot pads and mouth guards, and I’m pretty good.

If I ever need to defend myself in real situation I have no idea how I’ll react. I’ll probably be alright. I have no doubt that I could take an average dude with little trouble.

What about someone who gets into bar fights ever weekend? What if I (heaven forbid) had to defend myself against a crooked cop? How would my training and sparring help me out?

Risky Training

Maybe exposing yourself to a certain amount of risk is good practice. I’m not saying you should go hang out tonight at the roughest bar you know. Don’t get yourself in over your head and pick a fight with a mobster.

But, learning to diffuse a potential fight verbally at a local dive may not hurt.

Deflecting a punch from a drunkard when he accuses you of checking out his girlfriend may be a growth experience.

Some of the best fighters I know have jobs that place them in some danger. Paramedics, bar security, police officers, etc.

My point is, while running from danger is the best way to stay safe, it may not help you when the day comes that you can’t run.

Incorporating some risk – mitigated risk! – may be a healthy addition to your training.

Just a thought, and I’d love to hear if you think I’m being completely foolish saying this.

I recently had a conversation with my Sifu, Master Scotty, about the merits of testing.

He doesn’t see the merit of traditional testing (complete X endurance tests, demonstrate Y forms, etc) in his clubs because he’s been our teacher for many years and is very familiar with our skill levels.

He prefers tests of character, and being personally familiar with his students.

Reasons to test:

  1. Competition, and hence fitness, are important parts of your art/sport. So fitness tests are important to move up the belt ranks and thus competition classes.
  2. Your school employs apprentices as teachers. If your students are trained by apprentice instructors, the head master would want to test students against some standards.
  3. Your school charges extra for grading, and so it is an important revenue stream. I’m not sure about this one. Most schools charge a healthy amount for classes. I realize it’s difficult to make a decent living as a martial arts instructor. But in my opinion the arts are about charging a fair sum for access to your knowledge, not about squeezing your students for money.

Reasons to consider not using formal testing:

  1. Regular training, not testing, is what will save your life in a self-defence cenario. If your students only train to reach the next belt, will they stick around after they’ve attained their black belt (or equivalent)?
  2. If you are engaged with your club’s students on a regular basis, you should be aware of their skill and fitness levels. Is it necessary to make them jump through hoops to demonstrate it under formal conditions?
  3. If your student fails, it simply means they are not ready to advance. It also means you engaged them in the grading process too soon. Especially if they’re paying extra for the grading. But, if you recognize they’re ready to grade, then what is there to gain from the grading process itself?

Traditionally, gradings in my club have been gruelling sparring sessions, where the student being graded spars the rest of the class continuously for a predetermined period of time. It’s a test of character, more than fitness. The student’s skill is also demonstrated, but no more than they demonstrate on a daily basis while training.

Again, these approaches work for Master Scotty’s club and his art because we are not a competitive style. There is merit for a competitor to be tested against a set of criteria for matching with a certain level of competitors.

What do you think? Is formal grading a necessary component to all martial arts?

I haven’t been focused on my training this past month for a few reasons.

  1. The heat – it’s been very hot and humid in Toronto.
  2. Busy with other events, some of them I’ve been organizing, others just attending. Things seem to get busier in June/July. People want to get together.
  3. Apartment hunting – I’m in a position where I have to move and I was focused on finding a new apartment. Last week I managed to sign a lease on a great place very close to where I’m living now. Thank goodness! :) I move into it on August 1st.
  4. I met a new lady a few months ago and have been enjoying time with her.

I’ll resuming training and posting here next week.

I love Richard Linklater‘s films. All of them.

And love this excerpt from Waking Life.

Now Lady Gregory was Yeats’ patron, this Irish person, and though I’d never seen her image, I was just sure that this was the face of Lady Gregory.

So I’m walking along, and Lady Gregory turns to me and says, “Let me explain to you the nature of the universe. Philip K. Dick is right about time, but he’s wrong that it’s 50 A.D. Actually, there’s only one instant, and it’s right now, and it’s eternity. And it’s an instant in which God is posing a question, and that question is basically, ‘Do you want to be one with eternity? Do you want to be in heaven?’ And we’re all saying, ‘No thank you. Not just yet.’ And so time actually is just this constant saying No to God’s invitation. That’s what time is, and it’s no more 50 A.D. than it’s 2001. There’s just this one instant, and that’s what we’re always in.”

Then she tells me that actually, this is the narrative of everyone’s life. That behind the phenomenal differences, there is but one story, and that’s the story of moving from No to Yes. All of life is like, “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you,” then ultimately it’s, “Yes, I give in, yes, I accept, yes, I embrace.” That’s the journey. Everyone gets to Yes in the end, right?

Apply this idea to whatever you’re doing, whether it’s Kung Fu, your family or your career.

Martial arts are not a complicated idea.

The more I train, the more intricacies that become apparent to me, the more I realize that it’s not a mystical, complicated system.

There are two key components to being a good martial artist.

  • learn to avoid being struck by your attacker
  • learn to strike your attacker

simple.

Here’s where it gets complicated

To get good at these two things you need to practice a lot. Each attack you make needs to be defensive as well. If your right arm is attacking, your left arm needs to be prepared to defend. At the same time, your posture should make you as difficult as possible for your attacker to strike you in any meaningful way.

Why it needs to be simple

Your training needs to commit actions to subconscious thought. You don’t have time to strategize when you’re being attacked, so you need to develop strategy in your training.

Complicated defences won’t work. Train a defence and an attack.

Defend, attack, defend, attack. Always in that order. Martial arts are not designed to attack and then defend because that is not how a true warrior behaves. A true warrior’s offence is his or her principles – by applying them to guidance and diplomacy.

Should this offence fail, the true warrior is equipped to defend their principles with deadly accuracy and force.

Do you experiment with new training methods? Switch things up frequently?

I hear about many martial arts schools that follow the same framework week in and week out. Monday and Wednesdays are forms, Tuesday and Thursday is sparring, etc.

Some classes always begin with strength exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, jogging, stretching. And it’s always the same numbers.

Or do you adjust your training regiment on a regular basis?

In my club we change our focus every month and Master Craig is brilliant when it comes to conceiving and testing new training methods. The results we’re all seeing in our skill development is excellent. I highly recommend this model – focus on a particular form or kata, and change how you train it from the last time you did.

I just watched the Legalize MMA documentary Bobby Razak put together.  Currently, the province of Ontario, here in Canada, has a prohibition on combative sports not sanctioned by the provincial sports authority. The authority has yet to allow MMA competition.

It’s a short doc, only 16 minutes long, and well worth a watch if you’re interested in martial arts, or mixed martial arts.

I support the legalization of MMA even more than I believe in MMA. The points brought forward in the documentary are all good ones. I think if boxing is legal and supported in Ontario, so should it.

My personal position on MMA is a complicated one. I don’t see much art in the sport. It’s fighting and brawling with specific training. Martial Arts are about more than just fighting – they have internal aspects that audiences of MMA don’t often see and appreciate. Fighters like Brock Lesnar demean martial arts, and the discipline and respect that are part of it.

A percentage of MMA fighters, probably a large one, began their fighting careers as thugs who took a few karate or jujitsu classes and saw they could make money competing.

I would consider training to compete in a MMA tournament. Not for money, not for attention, but to test my skill, determination, toughness, and overall ability against another skilled fighter – with the agreement that we would hurt each other, just not seriously.

Thanks to Daniele Rossi for sharing the documentary with me!

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