Your Sifu (師父)is your direct teacher, the one you started under, the one that opened the door and let you enter into the world and life of the Chinese martial arts. This is opposed to a Sifu (師傅), meaning “master” or “qualified worker,” someone who has attained a high level of skill in a particular craft. You may address this master as “Sifu” 師傅 to show him respect, but this doesn’t mean he’s your personal Sifu 師父. Even though both words are pronounced the same, their meanings are different. Without your father, be it your Sifu or your biological father, you will not have life. In that sense, you look at your martial art teacher as a father figure bringing you into the martial arts.
You need to be somebody who’s able to work with a team but still able to work individually. If you’re able to do this, what corporate entity would not want to hire you to be part of their management or part of their overall team? See how this concept applies to daily life? You’re a part of a family unit, yet you still maintain your individual qualities and traits. This resonates through everything you do. It’s a skill set to transition from team to individual, from group to solo.
In any pursuit that requires Kung Fu, you’re constantly striving to perfect your concept, your technique and your skill level. Even if you’ve attained a certain level of proficiency that you perceive to be perfection, there’s still more to learn. Perfection is an internal struggle. It’s not you against the world, it’s you against you.
You pay for your training by honoring the knowledge that is passed down to you and working on it, then passing it on to others. The satisfaction that you will derive is the satisfaction you will get from your relationship with your teacher and from your own hard work. This satisfaction is not “guaranteed,” but requires constant “payment” of time and effort. If you consistently do this work, your training will “pay you back” for the rest of your life.
At some point in our lives, all of us face challenges and frustrations that feel insurmountable, that we feel powerless to deal with. We encounter situations that knock us down and test our mettle. They test our resolve and our powers to keep ourselves together, from challenges at work to family crises. Life presents us with obstacles time and time again, and we are continually tested as every decade goes by.
There are only a few major events in life – being born, having children, and death. These are huge, life-altering events. How do we deal with them? In these times, where do we draw our strength from? Some draw strength from friends and family, others from their religious convictions. These are all good roads and methods, but sometimes they are not enough. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that these external reservoirs of strength are not always as solid or permanent as I believed. I’ve learned that you have to find some kind of inner strength. Ultimately, in order to overcome obstacles, you need to rely on yourself.
You have to have a way, a mechanism. The way that I’ve found to learn to rely on myself is through my martial art training. There are many mechanisms in life, but martial art training is the one that I have experienced that is fully balanced and well-rounded, because it challenges you in mind, body and spirit. When you are challenged in mind, body and spirit, you will have your training to fall back on. Training gives you a way to refocus your mind in difficult times, so you’re not totally consumed by what’s happening. You build up strength so that you can deal with any situation.
You may say, “Well, it’s just a punch and a kick. You’re just jumping up and down. It’s just exercise, right?” And I have to say, “No. It’s far more than that.” Those who are not active participants in the martial arts may not understand this. Only through active participation can you see what martial arts training is really about. It’s really about enriching yourself, fortifying yourself, making yourself strong enough, resilient enough and pliable enough to withstand the storm that we call life. That’s what training in Kung Fu is all about.
From the very first day that you step on the training floor, your inner strength will be tested. Your body and mind will scream, “Get me out of here!” because the rigorous training is not pleasurable. I’m not having a drink or going out for an ice cream cone. I’m doing knuckle push-ups on a concrete floor, sitting in rigorous stances for minutes at a time, being asked to throw hundreds of kicks and punches. My willpower and resolve are being tested. No one likes this at first, until you do enough and you overcome yourself. Then you start to gain that pool of inner strength. You find an energy that you’ve never had before.
Challenging yourself through training in Kung Fu actually provides you with a basis for the inner strength to face the challenges of daily life. When you’re challenging yourself, you’re making yourself grow. You may perceive it as self-torture but it’s not; it’s self-preservation. Kung Fu training becomes your survival mechanism, much as it was a survival mechanism for our ancestors. They had to use Kung Fu in a physical fight for survival, but now it has become a spiritual tool for us to learn how to survive.
Everybody has stress, regardless of their age, regardless of their socio-economic background, regardless of their education. Everyone needs a way to deal with this stress and work through it. One of these ways is through Kung Fu, because you’re challenged physically, mentally and spiritually. The practice gives you a valve to release the pressure. It makes you happy from the inside out.
The student may not understand why they feel happy after training, but they do, because Kung Fu touches your soul in a way that nothing else can. Through the practice, we turn inward to help ourselves grow, training ourselves to become stronger and better than we ever were in the past. This is the true gift that we give ourselves by participating in and practicing this art that has been passed down to us from our teachers. As time passes, and you continue to strive and put in hard work, you will see even greater gains. Even through times of challenge, you will be able to surmount all that is put in front of you and rise up to a higher plateau. You will be able to see far beyond whatever you had imagined before. The challenges and adversities in front of you are actually helping you to move forward and higher than anyone else can see. That’s the real gift that Kung Fu can give to you, and that you give to yourself through your training.
Even if they don’t stick with martial arts forever, hopefully kids will look back on their training with fondness and be able to access physical and mental tools that they can use to make their own lives better. So if you want your kids to be strong, well behaved, and grow up with the right moral values and steadfast confidence, Kung Fu training is one of the ways to do this.
Kung Fu is an awesome vehicle of learning to help you become the person that you’re supposed to be. It is a path and way of enlightenment, and that’s what I saw in those Kung Fu heroes when I was a kid. I thought it was their skill and all the external things, but what actually attracted me was their enlightenment, and that’s the real issue of Kung Fu.
Form is a “multi-vitamin,” constructed by ancient masters who had immense amounts of experience with fighting, both in actual one-on-one combat and on the battlefield. Imagine the mindset of refugee generals, commanders and soldiers reflecting back upon their battlefield experience. At that time, fighting wasn’t from a distance; it was one-on-one, up close and personal. These were battle hardened veterans recounting what they had learned, trying to distill it into a vitamin pill that someone can take and learn from. This was their nuclear weapon; they weren’t just going to give it away. They hoped the practitioner would be intelligent enough to be able to decipher the form and take off the encryption. This is the origin of form that many people do not understand.
Forms provide multifaceted levels of training. Like peeling the skin off an onion, learning form has many layers. Form allows the practitioner to train basic postures, stances, and methods of attack and defense. Another layer is training through breathing exercises (Chi Gung) that allow you to access your power through the breath. In addition, form forces you to do movements in a range of motion that you may not normally do. Most people are not astute enough to be able to separate the different types, or layers, of training involved in form. What is used for physical conditioning, for internal training, and what is the actual martial component? To discover these different layers, the practitioner must spend a lot of time studying the form and be under the direction of a competent teacher.
Most practitioners that want to learn Asian martial arts can’t understand because they are trying to understand an eastern art with a western mentality. You have to be able to change your mind or you will only learn the esthetics without being able to grasp concepts. Many look at form like a dance movement. They lack the mental imagery that’s required to be able to see the physical martial language behind every movement. In a movie, the director has to see every character’s role clearly. You must do the same in your study of the form. The characters are the various techniques, body positions, angles, types of force (hard or soft, linear or circular) and how they interplay with each other. The interplay determines how you’re going to use your technique. The form is an extension of the practitioner’s mindset.
A form is like a song. As the art of Kung Fu is incredibly broad in spectrum and technique, it’s difficult to practice each movement separately; there aren’t enough hours in the day. Therefor, the ancient masters put many movements together into a form that was easy to remember. It is easily carried forward, practiced and passed on, like a song that gets stuck in your head. This allows the practitioner to remember, study and practice many techniques, all rolled up into one convenient package. As you continually practice your form, it gets internalized, and hopefully over time it becomes instinctive and reactive.
Form is a multi-vitamin from the ancient masters. But a multi-vitamin cannot replace all your meals. In addition to training form, the practitioner must work on all aspects of Kung Fu, from two-man training to sparring to striking sand bags, etc.. As one aspect of a multi-faceted art, training form is a method to study and deepen your understanding of Kung Fu.
For centuries, the Chinese culture has used Kung Fu to train people in mind, body and spirit, yet many of today’s martial arts schools overlook the mental and spiritual aspects of training. They sell only the “look” and the “kick-ass” part of martial arts but ignore the philosophical and disciplinary component. Because of this lack of education, and saturation by the media with other forms of martial arts, people today don’t understand what Kung Fu is.
Many teachers and students get caught up with the physical and forget that Kung Fu is a pathway to self-empowerment. The physical aspect of the art is actually a very small part of Kung Fu. It’s an art of the mind, of the body, and of the soul. When you play Kung Fu, you touch your soul.
Kung Fu has many philosophical and spiritual benefits that other physical exercises don’t have. Some of these benefits include increased focus, self-awareness, self-confidence, self-respect and self-discipline. So many of these benefits include the word “self” – why? Because your Kung Fu practice forces you to come face to face with your “self.” This is not always easy, but it is always worth it. The self-knowledge that you gain through your practice allows you to become a better version of yourself.
Kung Fu pushes you, challenges you and focuses you so that you can empower yourself. While everything else in our modern society tries to deflate you and bring you down, Kung Fu practice elevates you to where you’re supposed to be, where you deserve to be, so you can enact your true potential. Find the best version of you, through the practice of Kung Fu. What are you waiting for?
It’s a gorgeous, sunny day. Don’t forget opportunity cost. You might say, “What? What is that?”
With every action that you take there is another corresponding reaction. This happens in every aspect of the universe, as well as your own life. Each decision that you make, and the endeavors that you choose to embark on, have a direct impact on the outcome of everything that you do.
For example, today is the first gorgeous, warm, sunny day in many months. And many individuals will think, “Hey! Wait a minute, let me take the day off and go to the park, or go to the beach, or go for a drive, or sit in an outdoor cafe and enjoy my latte.” And that’s great, and you should. But keep in mind the opportunity cost.
And you might say, “What do you mean? It doesn’t cost me anything to go to the park, and I am free to do whatever I want.” And so you are. But be careful the choices that you make. Nothing in this life is truly free. In the end, you have to pay. You pay with your time, your effort, your energy and your mental focus. This is what is meant by “opportunity cost.”
What am I doing right now? I’m sitting on top of the rooftop of my school, enjoying the sun, and I’m preparing my lesson plan for this evening. I could easily call out. I could easily cancel my privates and ask my top instructor to cover my classes, but I’m not going to do that, because I know that by teaching my classes, I’m going to benefit and my students are going to benefit. We will learn from each other. There will be many more sunny days when I can take off, but right now I make the choice to stay focused and stay with my training.
When talking about training in martial arts, it’s a continual process. You can’t take a 6 month crash course. There’s no special technique that you can learn in a seminar that’s going to make you an unstoppable fighting machine or a grand master. It’s a matter of consistently putting in the time. If you choose to take that day off from your training, that’s already taking you one step back. If on the other hand, even though it’s a “beautiful day” you choose to continue and maintain your training, not only will you benefit directly at that moment in time, but, you are also accumulating knowledge and skill that will be paid back to you at a later point in time. And, you still have plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful day. No one trains for 24 hours straight. Just spend an hour or two on your training every day, regardless of rain, snow or sunshine, and over time, you, too, will understand the concept of opportunity cost.
In every endeavor, including martial arts training, the concept of opportunity cost comes into play. That means there’s a trade-off; you get what you pay for. You put in the time, and you’re going to reap the benefits.
The reason why Kung Fu is so amazing is because everyone can do it. When I say everyone, I mean everyone – from little kids to soccer moms to business people to captains of industry. Kung Fu is not restricted by age, gender, background or physical or mental capabilities. It’s open to everyone. It’s so broad in its spectrum that anyone who practices it can come away with something that’s good for them. When you practice Kung Fu, you feel like, “I did it, and I feel good about myself.”
I can’t promise that you’re going to become a Kung Fu master in 90 days, but if you train only two or three times a week, after a few months you will feel happier, healthier, more aware and more focused than you ever have. You will become more toned and fit. You will become stronger in both mind and body. You will be challenged and feel happy with what you’re doing. The Kung Fu practice is a vehicle for you to better yourself.
Whoever you are, Kung Fu is for you.
In today’s martial art industry – and I call it an industry because it has become a huge business – many people are concerned with learning everything under the sun including “the kitchen sink.” They are asking what the latest craze is in martial arts today and are merely floating from trend to trend. Unfortunately, people have basically passed over Kung Fu because it’s not commercial enough for the general public to latch onto. In stark contrast, another ancient exercise form, yoga, has become very mainstream because someone found a way to market it. Kung Fu also has many benefits for the mind, body and spirit, but no one has found a way to market it commercially. Kung Fu is the best kept secret in the martial arts industry.
It’s not only because of its lack of commercial appeal that Kung Fu has been kept a secret; many of the Chinese immigrants that came to this country didn’t want to teach it to outsiders for fear that it would be used against them. An ancient culture kept this art form secret for many centuries, and not because it wasn’t good enough, but rather because it was so good that they didn’t want to give it away freely to just anyone. You had to earn it, honor it and respect it. There are reasons why it was kept secret and why monastic orders and scholarly warriors have practiced the art of Kung Fu for centuries. The art of Kung Fu goes far beyond a system of fighting, but rather is a method and pathway to self-growth and empowerment.
Training in our Kung Fu takes you to a whole new level of yourself. If you get involved with us and practice Kung Fu with us, it’s impossible for you not to become better as a person overall. The training touches every aspect of your life. You become more productive at work, you develop better relationships with family and loved ones, you gain focus and energy and feel less stress throughout the day. It doesn’t matter how strong or how fast you are, or how well you punch and kick. All you have to do is come and partake and you’re going to grow. This is the hidden secret of Kung Fu.