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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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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)?
- 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?
- 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.
- The heat – it’s been very hot and humid in Toronto.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
The longer I train, the more I come to realize that martial arts are a form of technology. They are sophisticated arts with many nuances and layers.
In the movie Hero, the character Nameless connects the fighting skill of Broken Sword with his abilities as a calligrapher. He says the two abilities are inextricably intertwined. So Nameless endevours to study Broken Sword’s calligraphy to determine how to defeat him.
When studying painting, the beginner looks at colours and images. As mastery increases, they notice brush strokes and greater subtleties. All of these subtleties were developed just as any other technology is refined.
Martial arts have their own subtleties. A beginner may look at a kick and think there are a certain number of kicks and that they’re strictly offensive. As skill grows, the subtleties of kicks emerge – such as striking surface (heel, ball, blade, top of arch, inside of arch, etc), target (head, chest, ribs, foot, even lymphnodes). These all change how a kick is thrown.
Martial arts are a sophisticated technology which developed alongside others like weapons and armour. As the Japanese swordsmiths perfected their craft, their technology, the samurai perfected their skills to use the sword. Ninjas developed their own technology to counter the samurai. Feudal Japan was a technological arms race, with philosophies and codes of honour all a part of it.
I see, in a lot of modern practitioners, a regression in this technology. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m not giving strip-mall Tae Kwon Do and Karate schools their due credit. Mastery over an art requires not teaching, but guidance; not learning, but embracing.
For the longest time when Master Craig said we are training ourselves on a cellular level, I didn’t really understand what he meant. Now I realize that we are aligning every cell of our being towards a goal. Imbuing each organelle with the knowledge necessary to merge our minds and bodies into the most advanced weapon we’ll ever know.
After all, we are the only weapons on the planet that are capable of ending a conflict peacefully, and before it begins – yet we can be as devastating a force as an atomic bomb if needed. We make smart bombs look downright stupid.
Welcome friends, brothers and sisters.
I created this blog over a year ago, mostly to snag the name. I wanted to wait until I was ready to begin posting here. Now I feel my training (towards blogging about my training) is complete. My shaolin training, however, will never be complete.
If you want to know about who I am, and what I train, check out the About page.
The path of the martial artist is an interesting one with many stages. The first step is finding a good teacher. The second is to train. Then reflect. Then train more. Then repeat.
Martial arts training does interesting things to a person. I’m going to write on this subject here often. The physical and psychological effects of training are profound.
For example, when I came to the realization that my training in shaolin martial arts was to become a life-long pursuit it erased all feeling of immediacy from my mind in terms of my ability level. It doesn’t matter. I shifted my focus towards my training – my consistency, intensity, technique and relationships with my shaolin brothers. Ability will develop from this.
When you train with a close, dedicated group, one loses all point of reference for ability level. Even my Master improves at a similar rate as his students. It’s interesting. Sparring with one another gets more intense and more fun, and it inspires a greater level of trust and precision. I’m always impressed by how infrequently injuries happen in my club despite the potential for it to happen. We really wail on each other, but we’re also very disciplined and controlled. It’s a beautiful thing and a testament to our skill and compassion.
I wish everyone I know could have the same experience, because it’s a difficult one to put into words.