THE SYNTAX OF KUNG FU

syntax (noun) /ˈsinˌtaks/
1) the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses)
2) a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements

Because I am traveling abroad, I've recently had the chance to speak about Kung Fu training with several different masters in several different languages. I've had to switch back and forth between Cantonese, English and Greek and make translations to have these individuals understand the theories that I was talking about. I found that I had to stop and change my mental process in order to adapt to the syntax of each language and to make the necessary translations to help each individual understand, because one language's syntax and mental process didn't necessarily match with the others. This made me pause and think about the syntax of Kung Fu and what it truly means as well as the difficulties that individuals have in learning and understanding their chosen system of martial arts. Like each spoken language, the syntax of each martial art system is different and needs a different thought process. Many individuals only use pure physical imitation to play their martial art. These individuals miss the true understanding they could gain by learning the language and syntax of their system.

When learning another language, everyone has to try to grasp the understanding and concepts behind the syntax of that language. To understand the syntax of a particular language, one needs to delve into the thought process of how that language is put together and utilized. When you speak English, you have to use English syntax, but when you speak a different language, you must be able to sync up with the syntax of that other language. This is no different than learning any martial art. Each martial art system may be comprised of similar movements, but the syntax — that is to say, the way it's put together — is different. Even though some martial arts systems may originate from the same source, the founders of those systems thought in a particular way and had a particular reason for structuring the syntax of that martial art.

The syntax of your system is the way it uses the body and its particular physical language, and how to properly put together all the movements to get the job done effectively and efficiently. You need to develop an understanding of the syntax of your chosen system. All of us have the same four limbs, torso, waist, head, eyes and physical parts; we all have a mentality; we all have a spirit. Every system uses these same attributes that each of us has, but each system puts them together in a different way. In other words, they may come to the same conclusion but arrive in a different manner. Each system has a different way of approaching and expressing the movement and getting to that final conclusion of making the movement work. This is what I mean by the syntax of your particular system. Delving deeper into it, any martial art – Karate, Judo, boxing, Kung Fu and so on – will each have a different syntax. This will require the individual to be able to change gears and be able to think and speak in that physical language differently.

In the beginning, when one starts to learn Kung Fu or many martial arts, there are basics that are taught. These basics are indispensable for learning the syntax of things to come. In the beginning, our teacher showed us basic stances: horse stance, front stance, tiger stance and so on, reverse punches, swing punches, uppercuts, kicking and all different techniques until we were able to follow along and put them together into a basic routine. The foundation in teachings of any particular system is rooted within the syntax of its basic movements. These must be ingrained in the individual practitioner so they innately understand them without having to think too much about it.

In learning another language, you first have to learn its alphabet system, or in the sense of the Chinese language, you have to learn all the brush strokes and how to put them together to create words. Words then create symbols which have meaning. The study of Kung Fu, since it is a Chinese language, follows that same philosophical idea. When you look at a Chinese character, it's a pictograph. It's a message and an idea, not necessarily just a letter as it would be in some other languages. Similarly, each movement in Kung Fu is the embodiment of an idea through action. The typical movement, the punch or kick, is also coupled with the stance, the body position, the angle and the twist of the body or the leg.

Therefor, when you see one particular movement, you're not looking at one movement, you're actually looking at several meanings combined together. Just because a particular position looks like something doesn't necessarily mean that it is that thing. To use the old Chinese proverb, 一張圖片勝過千言萬語, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is an apropos way of looking at learning Kung Fu, particularly when looking at basic postures and forms. You can decipher many things from looking at one particular stance or position. It could mean a hand strike, a takedown, a sweep, a kick – not just whatever is most obvious to most people. Many of us, when we first start training, are masters of the obvious, but this is not what is hidden within the syntax of Kung Fu training and forms. To understand the true meaning of Chinese martial arts and its syntax, you must understand that a movement is compound. It is not just one movement but could be several movements with several different variations of applications all depending on the understanding of the individual. It will take a long time for a student that is not used to this type of syntax to decipher what is being shown. You may look at a particular movement and see something, then look at it again several years later and see something else. Therefor, you have to have a good grasp of the syntax of that particular language. This is not easy to come by. Fluency and understanding will only come from daily practice of your forms and with your partner, under the guidance of a competent and knowledgeable instructor.

When the basics are ingrained in the individual and digested to the point that they can start stringing simple movements together, this is akin to putting together basic words from the alphabet system that you have learned. From there, you can construct simple sentences. As time passes, and your writing skills become better, i.e., your martial arts skills become better, you are able to "write" and create more movements with complexity and depth. Words lead to sentences; sentences lead to paragraphs; paragraphs lead to pages; pages lead to an entire book. An entire book can be seen as a form; both minor and major forms serve as different types of training vehicles.

You can go through the physical manipulation of whatever techniques are set down in front of you, but without understanding the actual grammatical structure of the system, what it's trying to achieve, and how it's putting together all the different pieces to accomplish one particular action or group of actions, you will never be able to understand the true meaning of what you are practicing, nor will you be able to access the deeper meanings or the nuances of the syntax there within. Learning and understanding the syntax of your given school or system is indispensable because this is going to give you the tools of understanding that will allow you to apply your movements just as fluently as you would speak another language. In order to get this fluency in your martial arts, you need to practice on a daily basis. It is impossible to learn and speak a language fluently if you don't use it regularly. This goes without saying. Exactly the same is true about martial arts training. It has to be done on a daily basis and utilized regularly in order to maintain its sharpness. Otherwise, you end up looking like a Kung Fu tourist with a phrase book in hand, always messing up what you are trying to say. If you're a tourist trying to speak a language you don't really know, this only makes you look foolish in front of a native speaker. But in the sense of martial arts training, you may end up getting hurt. This is why it's so important to have complete command over all your basics, including strikes, blocks, kicks and so on. When true fluency is found through understanding the syntax of the individual practitioner's system, they can begin to utilize and literally speak with their hands and feet and entire body and express the true essence of their system.

The ultimate expression of the individual comes from their understanding and fluency in the syntax of their system. Everyone can express themselves in their own way as long as they master this syntax and understand the nuances within. Then, no one individual is correct or incorrect. We all speak in our own way using the same language to express our understanding. Therefor, Kung Fu is limitless and its expression boundless as long as we understand the syntax of the given system we have chosen to study.

-Sifu Paul Koh

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS... 20 YEARS IN THE MAKING

台上一分鐘 台下十年功
“For one minute on stage, you need ten years work under the stage.”
-Old Chinese Saying

I’m an old guy, so my taste in music is not contemporary. I like old school classic rock, progressive hard rock, that kind of stuff. You think about those bands, and you know their songs; maybe you have their greatest hits album. But you only recognize them for the high point in their career. For example, do you know how long AC/DC has been around? They’re not an overnight success, but the Iron Man movie catapulted them to another level. They’ve actually been around since 1973, but no one knew them back then. They probably had to play dive bars and outdoor festivals and every nasty little gig they could get. They did it because they loved playing rock and roll. It took a good 20 years or more for them to get noticed. You’ve seen this time and time again.

Take the example of a Broadway actor. These guys have been working at their craft since their youth, doing small plays, Shakespeare in the Park if they were lucky, doing every little acting gig that they could, until they broke the ice. Then, all of a sudden, you’re successful, and everybody maligns you and says, “Look at that guy, look at that girl, they’re an overnight success. They must have known someone, paid someone, or slept with someone, to get somewhere.” You’ve been working so hard, but no one took notice of you until you got that one big chance that catapulted you into the spotlight of mainstream society. The people on the other side of the coin think that you just popped up out of nowhere. To them, you’re an “overnight success.” Many of us, myself included, have looked at a singer, an actor, another martial artist, and said, “Where’d this guy come from? All of a sudden they’re all over the place. They must’ve ‘did’ something to get there.” And the truth of the matter is, they did DO something to get there. What did they do? They did their hard work; they sacrificed. They put so much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into their craft for countless years until finally someone took notice. Then we, as the greater public, look at them and go, “Come on, you just crawled out of the woodwork because you have friends in high places.” That’s not really the case. The truth of the matter is, those individuals have probably been working at it for at least a decade or two in order to make it. Very few just make it right off the bat. With that being said, we shouldn’t be quick to judge or dismiss the so-called overnight success because there is no such thing as an overnight success. None of us will become an overnight success, and this is what we need to remember. Just because you don’t see the decades of work someone has put into their craft doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Another good analogy is Chinese cooking. Did you ever wonder why you’re able to go to a Chinese restaurant, be it a sit-down restaurant here in Chinatown or a take-out joint, and literally get your food in five to fifteen minutes? It’s all about the preparation. This really speaks to Kung Fu, because you work, you practice; you practice, you work; you work out, you refine. You do the same movement again and again, and you do the same form for years on end. Many times, you question yourself and ask why? Why am I knocking my brains out to do a repetition of this thing thousands of times? You don’t understand, you get frustrated, until that one moment when you actually need it and you’re able to apply it. Then you understand why it’s so important to be prepared. That goes back to the analogy of your Chinese takeout food. Why can they can crank it out in 10 minutes? All the preparation has been done; everything has been diced and chopped. Everything is ready to go so that when the order comes in, they can put it together and it’s done. It’s not fast food; it’s the nature of how they cook. This is also the nature of your martial arts. You have to be prepared. Prepared for what? Prepared for anything. If you don’t practice like this, when you go to utilize it, it’s not there because you haven’t done the preparation. That’s the same for any actor, singer, dancer or martial artist. Anyone who’s involved in an art that requires a skill needs to put in that time and do the preparation on a regular basis or the skill will not be there when you need it.

There’s an old Chinese saying that says, 台上一分鐘 台下十年功 “For one minute on stage, you need ten years work under the stage.” My teacher, Grandmaster Tak Wah Eng, trained under a famous Kung Fu opera star and master, Lueh Gwok Cheun, and you may not know his name. But he was one of the top martial art coaches for Shaw Brothers Productions during the sixties and seventies, and trained many of your favorite stars, including Cheng Pei Pei, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Chen Koontai and many more. He was very fond of telling my teacher that statement again and again. He travelled the entire world performing Peking Opera and training stars to perform martial arts in countless movies. It’s the gravity of the statement that shocks me. One minute is equal to ten years. So how many years do you need to be able to actually perform, to be able to do to what’s deemed as up to par? You need decades and decades. According to this statement, thirty years is three minutes. Maybe it’s not that extreme, but it’s pretty close. You really have to be dedicated and devoted to your craft in order to attain that height of performance. That just boggles my mind. When someone says you’re just an overnight success, we have to take a step back and think about what this old master is saying through his decades of experience teaching and performing live shows. I think his saying that statement over and over again is just amazing. That sums it up. One minute is equal to ten years worth of work, so we better start working. The clock is ticking.

This comes back to the overnight success. Just because now you’re a so called “overnight success” doesn’t even mean that you’ve really made it. You still have to keep “making it” all the time. That means you still have to keep putting in the work, you still have to keep putting in the time. You’re only as good as the very last thing that you did. Just because people think you’ve made it doesn’t mean you’ve made it, either. You have to go back every day and start preparing again; it’s a continual process. AC/DC still has to go in for a sound check; they still have to rehearse; they still have to practice. The successful Broadway actor still has to go to class. It has to be real every day; otherwise it’s not real at all. Otherwise it’s just a fluke, an “overnight success”. You have to prove yourself on a daily basis. That’s the hard part that everybody has to deal with. Can you make it happen? That’s up to you.

Relating this back to our martial art training, no matter how good a system we pick, no matter how good our teacher is, no matter how amazing we think we are, we need to remember that there’s no such thing as overnight success for any of us. Nothing can replace hard work, dedication and loads of time.

-Sifu Paul Koh

UNSUNG HEROES: "NEVER A HERO IN YOUR OWN HOME"

Please excuse me… I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning and complaining, but truth be told, you’re never really a hero in your own home. What do I mean by this? I’m sure that many of you can relate. You work so hard every day, you provide for everyone that is attached to you unceasingly, and yet, it never seems to be enough or good enough. Yet without you being present and doing what you do every day, all the wheels will grind to a halt. You do, do, do every day. Day in and day out, you give of yourself. You provide mental, physical, financial and spiritual support. You give guidance and compassion, provide words and deeds to uplift everyone, yet in the end, appreciation and gratitude are in short supply. Often, people who are far away offer words of appreciation and thanks more readily than those who are closest to you or who derive the greatest benefit from your efforts. You are viewed through “heroic” glasses by those who are far away yet taken for granted by those whose appreciation you crave most.

There are times when it seems to you that this is incredibly unfair. And it is. You start to ask yourself the question, “What the hell am I doing? No one appreciates me, everyone takes me for granted.” I don’t even receive a simple, “Thank you, I appreciate you for all you do,” or even, “I’m grateful that you’re just part of my life.” Then you walk around all day kicking yourself in the backside saying, “Never again, never again.” I understand this feeling, but don’t cry; it’s ok. 

The truth of the matter is, even though you may not be lauded as a hero or appreciated the way you feel you should be, these other individuals that are connected to you need you because you ARE a true hero. You are the only one that is capable of holding your team, family, corporate entity, or whatever it be, together. You have to understand that “you’re the man,” as they say, and no one else can replace you. 

Everybody has different gifts. Everyone has different attributes and different callings, and if you’ve been called to the service of being a teacher, a mentor, a guide of any sort, to any one individual or a group of individuals, you must always remind yourself that at this moment in time, you will not be looked upon as a hero, and you may not be appreciated until much later. Maybe those individuals will never be able to see and comprehend all the things you do for them. That gap of understanding is what separates the ones that lead from the ones that follow. This goes for parents, teachers, mentors and leaders of any sort. The ones that you help are being helped by you because they need what you have to give. 

You’ve been put here, by the universe, to be a crucible, to direct and focus everyone’s energy. I think we do this, not because we are seeking to be commended or applauded, or looked upon as heroes, but rather because it is innate in our nature. Heroic deeds are done by those individuals because that is what needs to be done at that moment in time, not for the reward. If you’re doing it for the accolades, then it’s not truthful; it’s being done for the wrong reason. The true hero is selfless. The real hero doesn’t know that he’s a hero and doesn’t call himself a hero. He’s just doing his daily job, just doing the thing that he does, without looking for glory. The true hero is content with doing his task day in and day out, because that is his nature. 

You don’t have to have a cape or a secret identity to be a hero. Most heroes are unsung. The mom that takes the little kid to his Kung Fu lesson every Tuesday afternoon is a hero. The dad that works the extra job to make sure that his child can go to school and pay for his college tuition loans is a hero. The teacher that stays up late at night grading papers and reviewing essays to make sure their students get a good education is a hero. Just because you haven’t fought in any battles with aliens doesn’t mean you’re not a hero. The common every day hero abounds, is everywhere, and they’re all unsung and unacknowledged. They all require appreciation, but for the most part they don’t receive it. 

Every day, I see the fruit seller across the street from my school in Chinatown, and because we both work long hours every single day, we get to see each other and say good morning. I appreciate this guy because I see him going in and out, up and down from the storeroom from early in the morning to late at night, moving the fruit back and forth, dealing with irate customers and crazy New Yorkers on the street corner, and this guy never ever complains. You see his face; it’s placid and calm. He’s taking everything in stride. You could say, well, that’s his job; that’s how he makes a living. But he has a choice; he doesn’t have to do that and he doesn’t have to have a good attitude about it. He could go and do something else, yet he perseveres. This is another attribute of a true heroic character. He perseveres, rain, snow or heat, and does his duty every day to support his family and his business. To me, this is heroic and I applaud him. He’s perseverant and extremely humble. He does his task with a wonderful humility, which I admire.

I know an individual whose grandmother helped raise 12 of her own children and all her grandchildren. She’s almost ninety years old. That’s not a hero? If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is. For me, heroes abound. Sometimes, we just don’t know how to see them or appreciate them. Just because you don’t have stripes and medals doesn’t mean you’re not a hero in your own home. You may feel that no one appreciates you, but in essence, no one can do without you. 

Look around, really look around at all the people in your neighborhood and see how many heroes you can find. There are heroes on every street corner. I’m looking at the street in Chinatown right now and I see so many heroes, and most of them will never be recognized for their service. Yet this doesn’t stop them. We should have a national Everyday Unrecognized Hero Day. That would be a holiday worth celebrating. I think all of us should take a moment to sing the praises of those unsung heroes in our daily lives that we owe so much to, because if you didn’t have them, you would be lesser for it. Recognize this, and take a moment to reach out to those people and say, “Thank you.”

-Sifu Paul Koh

KUNG FU: SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

The discussion about Kung Fu is a difficult one and brings up a myriad of possibilities and options, because the word Kung Fu itself doesn’t denote martial arts in general, but rather, acquiring a skill in any art form or endeavor.  Understanding that the literal translation of the word “Kung Fu” means, “a skill acquired through hard work and perseverance,” in this blog I will be strictly talking about Kung Fu as related to learning and practicing Chinese martial arts.

There are many types of Kung Fu.  Not all Kung Fu is created equal, but that doesn’t mean that one type is better than another.  Different kinds of Kung Fu are put together to do different jobs.  Kung Fu is a broad umbrella – covering everything from fighting to health to entertainment.  People all around the world believe that the term “Kung Fu” is exclusive to what they’ve witnessed in movies, social media and magazines. This isn’t so. Kung Fu is an extremely broad term that covers a huge spectrum of the Chinese martial arts. Over the thousands of years of the existence of Chinese martial arts, the nature of Kung Fu has been shaped and changed tremendously due to the needs and desires of the practitioners.

Kung Fu as an art form most likely started in its most practical form, for one individual to protect themselves or their family from harm. We’re talking about prehistoric times, when there was no real record, no system, no technique, just one guy picking up a rock or a stick to defend himself against another guy.  That’s the genesis of real Kung Fu.  But as the centuries passed it divided itself into more specialized types of Kung Fu or skill sets. This hearkens back to the real meaning of Kung Fu – an acquired skill.

The history and development of Kung Fu has been shaped by topography, the weather, the terrain, the social environment of that particular region, the mindset of the individuals, and the economic and social climate of a given area.  When looking at any particular style or system, you have to ask yourself, who was the guy that made it?  What was his purpose?  What was his background?  What was the philosophy and psychological makeup he used to create this particular system of Kung Fu?

If you’re talking about social and economic diversity, Kung Fu that was played by affluent people is going to vary a lot from Kung Fu played by those that were impoverished and downtrodden.  If you were rich and well taken care of, your need to protect yourself would be a much lower priority than it would be for someone who’s coming from a rough and tumble hand-to-mouth existence.  If you’re a farmer, your Kung Fu is going to be different than that of an aristocrat or a courtesan.  Even though these individuals are both practicing Kung Fu, they are practicing different styles with completely different mindsets.  One is going to be more esthetic and pleasing to the eye.  The other is going to be more rough around the edges and about getting the job done.  The philosophies of these two types of Kung Fu are already in stark contrast to one another just based on social economic ways and means.

Another difference would be the actual region where you come from – the weather, the topography. Different regions in China have different weather and different types of land.  In the south where it’s warm and humid, everything was farm land and a rice paddy.  Your Kung Fu is going to be different from a style practiced in the north where the weather is much colder and you have to wear heavier clothes.  Kung Fu is transformed and modified by those who practice and teach it. The art form changes and morphs depending on the needs, wants, desires and capabilities of its practitioners.

For example, the Chinese opera is famous for its acrobats and its martial artists.  The Kung Fu that is used in Chinese opera is theatrical and dramatized.  The same is true with martial arts in many movies today.  That’s entertainment Kung Fu.  It’s very pleasing to the eye, and is an amazing skill which not everyone can do, but it doesn’t necessarily equate itself to a fighting system.  That’s not to say you can’t modify it and use it, or that all the Kung Fu in the movies isn’t real. Many martial artists in the entertainment industry have backgrounds in opera Kung Fu as well as more traditional fighting based arts.  Some have been able to transition back and forth. That’s actually one of the beauties of Kung Fu itself.  Because of its broad spectrum, you can run the gambit from being visually pleasing and entertaining, to being down and dirty and fighting for your life.  I feel this is one of the most amazing things about Kung Fu; it’s not pigeon holed to only be one way.

That being said, if that’s the case, the skill of the practitioner to be able to transcend from one end of the spectrum to the other has to be of a much, much higher level. Just doing one thing right is not easy, let alone being able to display several different understandings of the same art form. All of the aspects of Kung Fu exist simultaneously.  It’s the choice of each individual practitioner what you want to accentuate.  The health, regenerative, energizing and medicinal aspect of Kung Fu exists.  At the very same time, the fighting aspect, techniques and theories exist.  And simultaneously, Kung Fu can be entertaining and pleasing to the eye. None of these aspects can be separated from Kung Fu. It’s just what the practitioner wants to portray and what’s important to him.

Kung Fu is a lot like life.  You can live your life any way you want, and you can play your Kung Fu any way you want.  If you’re not a street fighter, it doesn’t mean your Kung Fu is good or bad.  Because one practitioner may like the entertainment aspect, or another practitioner only practices for the health benefits, doesn’t mean he’s good or bad either.  It depends on what you want, on your purpose and your goals.  It is up to the individual practitioner to choose those goals and choose their focus.  It’s like in college when you choose your major; if you try to major in ten subjects, you won’t be able to master any of them.  If you choose one major subject, you are more likely to achieve some level of success.  The same is true in Kung Fu and all martial art training.

Kung Fu is an amazing art form that everyone can partake in and learn from. This is why Kung Fu has existed for so many thousands of years and has continued to exist regardless of what trends are happening in the martial arts.  The educated individual that understands the broad spectrum of Kung Fu cannot stand by and say there’s nothing there for them.  If you want to fight all day and night, you can.  If you want to break bricks, you can.  If you just want to stretch and move and breathe, you can.  No one is stopping you; it’s all there for you. Chinese Kung Fu is an all encompassing system.  You can enjoy it because of its esthetic, because it gives you a means to defend yourself, or because it’s a physical and mental exercise.  This is why it has been around for so many thousands of years, and those who have the insight to see beneath the surface will understand that it has all of these benefits.  The broadness of the art of Kung Fu means that everyone, regardless of their status, their makeup, their ability, their capabilities, can come away with something by practicing Kung Fu.

CAUTION: “I KNOW” IS A DANGEROUS STATEMENT

知道不知道 只有天知道
“I know that I don't know… Only Heaven knows.”
-Old Chinese Saying

Inevitably when I’m teaching class, someone will say, “I know” to a technique, a movement, a comment or some bit of philosophy.  I feel that statement, “I know,” is extremely dangerous.  Not only is it dangerous, it’s incredibly naïve.  Many people will say, how do you see that?  Well, after almost 40 years of training martial arts and training with and under some of the pioneers and best Kung Fu masters on the east coast, I still question myself.  If I’m still questioning myself after 40 years, then a less experienced practitioner definitely shouldn’t say, “I know.”  It may be a slip of the tongue, but we have to be careful about that. This is not so much because of what other people might think, but what you actually might think when you say, “I know.”

The phrase, “I know,” limits the scope and breadth of the ability of the individual to learn.  Just by making that simple statement, you shut yourself down because you presume that your experience is more than adequate to flesh out the entire issue of what you’re learning.  Now, as I practice, decades into the art, I find myself learning more than I ever did before and actually practicing more and more in depth than I ever did before.  For example, I like to use the Tiger Crane Double Shadow form (虎鹤双形) as a basis for all my up and coming black belts.  Now, after teaching that form for so long, I still am able to glean more from it every time I teach it.  I don’t know how long I’ve known this form.  I don’t remember the first day that I learned it.  But somehow it always has more to give me.  Every time I teach it to a student, even though the student may not grasp what I’m teaching them, I’m able to derive more out of it.  And I think that’s primarily due to the mental state of not saying, “I know.”

Yesterday, I was training with my Sifu, and he was telling me to change things.  I’ve been training the weapon we were working on for at least a few decades, but I still will not say that I am a master of it.  I think that I am not a master of my art.  And many masters much, much higher in stature and ability than me would also say the same thing.  Other people call them a master of their art.  I look at all these weapons, forms and techniques that I’ve learned and I think to myself, “Still not good enough.  It could be so much better.”  This is not coming from a place of negativity, but from trying to critique myself and help myself gain insight and inspiration into becoming better.  There’s always more to learn.  As you go back and play your forms and weapons again, you need to revise everything.

This is the inspiration that I draw from my Sifu, whose experience is vastly larger and deeper than mine. He’s able to take the same old information and transform it, modify it and make it grow each and every time that I train with him.  It’s the same thing, but it’s never the same thing.  He has mastered the art of making it come alive by never pigeon holing himself into one way of perceiving.  Circumstances change, people change, ideas change, and the way you view things must change accordingly.  If you can do this, you can see so much more.  You have a limitless horizon.

Otherwise you will learn ABC, turn around and say, “what’s next”.  When you say this, you put parameters on yourself.  Everyone wants to feel good.  No one wants to feel bad or feel stupid.  No one wants to be perceived as lacking in knowledge or depth, but in order to truly learn something and know more of it, you have to come from a point of openness and, for lack of a better term, deficiency.  If you already know it so well, then you’re done.  Put your ego down and open yourself up to the learning.  Otherwise there’s no point.  This is all to do with the attitude of the individual.

The true knowing is in not knowing.  Your knowledge and experience may be very deep, but I think the source of that knowledge and experience is even deeper than you.  Why stifle yourself by uttering phrases like, “I know,” be they verbally said or mentally said?  It is a dangerous phrase that kills inspiration, knowledge and your ability to move forward.  The fastest way to start learning again is to adopt that attitude of, “I don’t know, and I’m open to the information.” When you take off the trappings of what you perceived before, you’ll be able to see more almost instantaneously.   

At the end of the day, it’s your state of mind that we’re talking about.  It’s putting your mind in the right gear to learn.  “I know” is like driving in reverse on the highway.  It’s dangerous.  Making that change in your mental state and perception will allow the flood gates to open.  Truly knowing anything begins and ends with understanding the self.  True knowledge can only be gained by first opening one’s mind and heart.
 

SIFU - LOST IN TRANSLATION

SIFU - LOST IN TRANSLATION

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. 

Pros and Cons of Group and Solo Training

Pros and Cons of Group and Solo Training

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.  

What Is Perfect, Anyway?

What Is Perfect, Anyway?

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.

Satisfaction "Not" Guaranteed

Satisfaction "Not" Guaranteed

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.

Kung Fu: Find Your Inner Strength

“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; 
mastering yourself is true power.” 
― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

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.

KUNG FU FOR KIDS: A POSITIVE PATH

KUNG FU FOR KIDS: A POSITIVE PATH

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. 

The "True" Kung Fu Hero

The "True" Kung Fu Hero

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.  

KUNG FU FORM AS A MULTI-VITAMIN

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.

Empower Yourself Through 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?

Put in the Time, Reap the Benefits

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.  

Kung Fu Is For Everyone

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. 

The Hidden Benefits of Kung Fu

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.