Summer’s dead. Even though you might have a hot spell or two or a slightly humid day that’s trying to disguise itself as summer, the season is changing. It’s inevitable at this time of year when summer changes to fall that everybody ends up getting sick because one day you wake up and it’s cold, then the next day you wake up it’s hot and sticky. You don’t know how to get dressed or take care of yourself. I’ve seen this happen to many students; they catch a sniffle, and then it turns into a full blown cold or worse. Aside from eating well and taking care of yourself and having your gummy bear vitamins and getting enough rest, one of the biggest deterrents to getting ill during the change of the season is being consistent in your training. I’ve seen this time and time again, year in and year out.
No matter how much health food you eat, no matter how much green matter you consume or vitamins you shove down your throat, there’s nothing better than maintaining a healthy physical regimen through consistent training, and in this instance for me it’s Kung Fu. I’m sure this can be done with many other forms of exercise, but for me, this one is extremely interesting and appealing because of its broadness in spectrum. You can do something different every day and keep yourself in top physical condition regardless of your age or ability.
I think your immune system is just like any system within your body. It needs constant maintenance and supervision. When you’re younger, you take this for granted because you bounce back so fast from illness and injury. As you grow older, and your body’s systems grow older, you need more maintenance. The sooner you start doing that maintenance, i.e. training in Kung Fu, the greater and deeper the benefits. Lucille Ball said, “The more things you do, the more you can do.” I firmly believe in that. The more training you do and the more you push your physical and mental limits to maintain your training on a regular basis (every day), your immune system benefits because it creates a brand new benchmark for itself. Your body creates a benchmark wherein it says, this is what I normally do, this is the speed I run at, the metabolic rate I run at. I’m electrifying every cell in the body on a regular basis; I’m training so much I don’t even have time to get sick.
If you think about it, you’re basically just an animal… no offense… and you’re not made to sit at a desk, 8, 10, 12 hours a day playing with a keyboard. You’re made to stretch, move, jump and breathe. You’re an organism that needs movement and breath and water to flush things out. You’re part of everything else that’s alive in the world, and you need to maintain that cycle in order for your immune system to stay healthy. From the start of the industrial revolution when things started to become more and more automated until this time when they’re talking about A.I. taking over a whole series of jobs, people are more sedentary than ever. You’re not working; you’re not moving; you’re not breathing. I think a lot of the ancient masters addressed this through the art of Kung Fu, which is a comprehensive art (unlike many of the trendy martial art themes of the day). I may have said this before, but Kung Fu is an all-encompassing art that is an art of life. It’s there to help you maintain the health of your body and your mind. I see this happen on a nightly basis. I have students that are professional lawyers, doctors, financiers, you name it, who come through the doors at the end of a day beaten down by society and its demands. But in the course of an hour or two of training, hard physical training on whatever item we’re doing at that time, they transform and become themselves again. By the end of that training session they’re tired and sweaty, but they’re happy and reenergized. You know that they’re walking away with healthy benefits.
With this in mind, I want to address the concept of happiness and how this also ties into your immune system. We all have stress, but there’s good stress and there’s bad stress. Kung Fu training is stressful. It stresses the joints, muscles, tendons and bones in your body. It stresses the organs, your respiratory system, and it stresses your brain to make it function in tune with your body. This is all stress but it’s good stress because it’s leading to an awakening, an understanding and actualizing of oneself, therefor making you happier. This strengthens your immune system because, in my limited scope of knowledge and understanding, your brain controls your body. Your left pinky toe doesn’t tell your body what to do. In a very general picture, your state of mind has a direct influence on your health. If you’re miserable and unhappy, you’re more likely to get ill faster and easier than someone who is happier or in a better state of mind. The physical training is helping your immune system galvanize itself and make itself stronger to be able to resist illnesses coming in and infiltrating your system. At the same time the training is also making you happier. There must be some kind of correlation between the happiness of an individual and their health.
In a recent study quoted in Psychology Today, 350 adults volunteered to be exposed to the cold virus. Those with the most positive emotions were less likely to develop the cold than their less happy counterparts. Several other studies mentioned in the article corroborate this theory. A healthy individual is a happy individual; one goes hand in hand with the other, and Kung Fu training helps you tap into that. I’m here in my training hall every day all day from morning until night. That’s my choice; that’s what I do, I teach and train all day. It is inevitable that in a hot, sweaty little room of 20-30 people, somebody at some point is going to walk in with the cold virus. But I rarely, if ever, get sick and I rarely, if ever, take a day off. I see people come in on the verge of getting sick or full blown sick, coughing, sneezing, everything, but the training provides a shield around you. I’m not advocating for you to expose yourself to a sickly individual, but your training is like pennies in the piggy bank. You train every day, on a regular basis, and then you benefit.
Here’s another case in point on the mental side. On Sunday, I had a student send me an urgent text, “Sifu, I’m training. I’m one third into the form and I’m blanking out.” I’m getting ready to go out somewhere and do something when I receive this text and I say, ok, well this guy’s gone through this form with me countless times and all of a sudden he’s forgotten. I know why, because his work and family obligations have taken him off the training floor for at least a good 2-3 weeks. Not only is he going down physically but mentally, he’s not able to remember the remainder of the form and finish training. I return the text; I turn on the microphone of my phone and I walk him through every single movement until the closing of the set. Five minutes later, he responds, “Thank you so much. I know my problem. I’ve been out of touch for too long; that’s why this happened.” We’re talking about a veteran student, not a brand new guy. So, right there I see that training has direct implication not only on the physical but on the mental, in this case, memorization. When you train on a consistent basis, you’re able to retain and memorize and hold onto information much longer and deeper than you were ever able to before. This is a major factor as you age, which we all do on a daily basis. That’s another awesome way that Kung Fu training helps you to boost your immune system, physically and mentally. I mean, who doesn’t want to preserve themselves longer. The only other option is formaldehyde or pickling yourself or a cryo-tube and none of those options appeal to me. Breathing, moving, thinking on a daily basis – and I have to stress a daily basis – and surrounding yourself with good energy and good people helps to maintain and maybe even push your immune system to a higher level than it would have been if you didn’t.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against modern medicine, but I think the human body the way it was created is one of the most amazing systems. It can help to heal itself if it’s given a helping hand from its owner. This is my personal opinion and my personal observation because I see people on a daily basis. This is what I do; I deal with people. I see them when they’re healthy and when they’re not healthy. I’ve seen myself when I’m at the top of my game vs. when I’m on the verge of getting ill, and I know what makes the difference. The difference is exercising every day and keeping a healthy and happy mindset and attitude. Kung Fu is fun, it’s intriguing, it’s enlightening, insightful, educational, cultural and philosophical. There’s so much to gain from doing something like this that another exercise regimen may not be able to give you. You have to move and think. Because you engage your mind and body on a regular basis, you slow the aging process. You gain serenity and peace of mind which also must have an impact on the immune system. You don’t have to do a lot, but you do have to put in the time.
From my personal observation and experience, that means daily training in Kung Fu, because it covers such a broad spectrum of stretching, breathing, moving, and accessing the mind as well as the spirit. It helps to stabilize and raise up your immune system, therefor giving you health benefits that I think are paramount in your daily life. Because you have a healthier mental and physical attitude, you don’t get sick as often. You boost your immunity through Kung Fu, and you can work harder, play harder, enjoy more and be more productive in all aspects of your life.
-Sifu Paul Koh