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Immortal Points The Way – Prana Mudra

For the upcoming sword seminar I am about ready to teach in GG Park, San Francisco; here is more detail on the often used – and very much under estimated “sword fingers” seen in almost every kung fu sword film, form, and fantasy throughout time. I mindlessly trampled through forms for 8 years, before my teacher opened up a much deeper, subtle, difficult, and extremely amazing purpose to this posture. Again, any books/instruction by Scott Meredith are the best resource – so go there! But, here is my take as a practitioner and for my followers.

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The mudra itself is combined specifically with the straight sword. Not the broadsword, da dao, club, or any other specific weapon that can be used with one hand. It is almost totally unique to straight sword practice. But why? Why does this particular mudra withstand thetest of time, and all eon’s of combat, and all evolutions of religious sanctification, to emerge as the one true – king of all hand postures for sword play? This is a question we must always ask, why?

Here are the most common reasons:

  1. Dim Mak: It is a hand posture to be trained and strengthened to strike pressure points on the opponent. Make your own theories here on the usefulness of this, and the actual reasoning of this in realtime combat with weapons or blades.
  2. Daoist visualization: “Immortal Points the Way” – A common catch phrase, which may at one time held much more merit in bliss out qigong arenas. But, in this day; it seems to lead most to an asian fantasy of LARP’ing ancient taoist doctrines, or setting a belief for bliss out visualization time.
  3. Sheath: The idea that it imitates holding of the swords sheath. Enter your own reasoning here.
  4. Stage: Nothing more than choreography, because it seems to imitate a sword and; why not.

My preferred take is: Extreme, amazing, internal training. BUT! Not in the case of bliss out visualization time. It is actually an extremely hard practice that requires your mind to be extremely present. So, hear you go:

Pre Req: Taiji’s “Beautiful Ladies Hands” & “Relax”. If you cannot do this, this exercise will be far to difficult. 

If you can at least somewhat get those two principles, than feel free to try this advanced version:

  1. Make the Prana Mudra posture (image attached).
  2. Make sure, both end fingers are touching the thumb.
  3. Make sure the the hand “shape” is looks PERFECT. It should like perfect enough to take a picture of and place on the back of my book for all to see : )
  4. Now the hardest part – Take ALL tension out of the hand, but maintain that perfect shape. Really try to experience and do this. It should be hard for most! Check the palm heal, web of the hand, fingers… They should all feel like soft tofu; yet the SHAPE should look perfect. It should not become all floppy either!
  5. Maintain this “Shape” without EVER (I mean EVER) adding tension to it or letting it turn into flop. Shape only – No content.
  6. Take your sword in the other hand and run through 1-2 postures of the form. Any form will do, it does not matter the choreography, lineage, etc (boring). The exciting part is what you FEEL! Stay relaxed the entire time, and keep your mind in the prana mudra – careful not to break the shape,  yet careful not to add tension into it.
  7. After a few reps, go to quiet standing (sword in one hand, if your experienced, you know how to hold the sword – as you would hold it before starting a form). Keep the sword in one hand, and prana mudra as the other.
  8. FEEL.

NO GRASSHOPPER. To much tension:

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Now THIS is difficult! 2 postures, let alone an entire form ?! A lifetime of practice is right within this practice alone. I bet most will tense up or drop the hand posture all together.

With good practice, you should feel a sensation of crackling streaming down the fore arm, ulna-line, and clearly cutting to the palm, then blasting to the fingers. The curved – touching fingers will give you a different sensation altogether, which makes this mudra especially fun to play with. The crackling will eventually get stronger, and stronger, and smoother, and intense to where it is not a flimsy crackle; but more of an electric surge and beyond.

If you can feel that, you will be able eventually feel it within the sword holding hand as well, and entire body, but most will be to tense at first. Something about holding the sword can either help draw the mind, or, with most just creates tension. It is a paradox to work with.

Aside from just being a great, fun process to play with – I have noticed an increase in ability and different jing’s for push hands and push swords bouts. But, I always suggest to do these internal art for self discovery first… Have fun with it, it is incredibly interesting once you start feeling things.

Most of all, thank you to my teacher who resurrected this mudra from the dungeons of theatre and bliss bunnies into something workable.

Enjoy!

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Depth of Se Mien Dao Lian

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Se Mien Dao Lian is among the beginner forms, but again, much like the previous post on Fei Hu – It can be trained for years alone on many different levels. Unfortunately, it is usually memorized and discarded, then dead piled into the analogs of kung fu form collecting like so many others. Do not overlook this little gem! These beginner forms are often the most effective and contain all that you may need to become an effective martial artist. Here is the depth, that again, we cannot usually get to within a commercial class setting – and is really only meant for those students who train seriously and want to make use of the form. Otherwise, it is just choreography and LARP’ing, in which you can be like water and simply… Move along. For everyone else reading this that can take something away to deepen the form, enjoy!

After memorizing the basic form, you can do this for years on end and feel like you have only circled once (form pun!) :

Move your feet: This form heavily trains the transition steps from bow to cat stance. Make every bow & cat stance transition seamless with 7-star stepping. Not the simple Muay Thai “split”; I am talking about the full-true 7 Star Step as I present it. “Stances” were never meant to be static as an end-all posture that just plants you to the ground like an anvil. They were actual live steps designed for the battlefield! Footwork is the most important part of fighting and warfare marching! Bring those static stances to life by training the form with 7 star steps. The form will double in cardio, and the archaic idea of stances will become actual real, usable, footwork – totally unique to kung fu.

Cat Stance: The bow stance we have discussed before, the bow stance is designed for entering outside of range, or getting off the line at first. We have yet to discuss cat stance… When added with the seven star step, all of the sudden this otherwise boring, cliche kung fu posture becomes something useful. You will notice the moment of the step places the active foot perfectly for a low-kick, knee-trap, or shin/instep stomp. This particular step is best for hand-to-hand and close range fighting. The step is meant to set up low kicks so the hands can do their work with the blades — Again, battlefield in mind, the assumption is you are always armed with multiple weapons, and the real work is meant to kill with blades – not high power kicks or roundhouses as in sport fighting. You would simply not have the bandwidth to do this with the equipment load and shoulder-to-shoulder rank.

Move your feet training: I know the above sounds simple enough, but if are truly doing the weight shift methods that I present, you will know how specific and hard this truly is to accomplish. Here are two very basic ways to train:

  1. Bow Stance + 7* (entering from long-range): From natural stance, have a partner drop a pad from shoulder height and see if you can reach them from 3-4 paces away before the pad hits the floor. Once you can do that, add another pace or two. If you are clumsy, flat footed, heavy footed, zero focus, not shifting appropriate weights, and not doing the 7* step accurately, this will be extremely hard.
  2. Do #1, but see if you can touch them on the shoulder while they also try to avoid it.
  3. Cat Stance + 7 *: Stand kick length away from partner and have them punch. See if you can close the distance and split on the correct side without warning.
  4. All of this should maintain clean 22.5 degree angles of entry.

Go in a circle and train the angles: This form is designed for the common phrase “4 faces/8 directions”. Meaning, you should do the form one direction, and upon completion of the last move – immediately begin again and go back around the opposite direction. This way, you train both sides of the body.

4 Faces means you attack on the cardinal points. The other 4 will mean you transition and enter on those angles (22.5) — Which is the more important part. Knowing how to enter and leave an attack is extremely important. More important then the attack itself. This form will train bow/cat which can be seen as entering from outside of range and then within kick’s range.

Finally, because of the seven star steps, this form will get busy quick. Don’t gas out… You need to make this smooth with no stops – like sliding on ice almost. Do. Not. Stomp. Jerk around, head bob, or stop movement.

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Add live weapons: This form is paired with daggers. The form starts with regular (yang) grip, and ends in reverse (yin) grip. Through out the form the daggers are constantly changing between grips… See if you can figure it out. It is to complex to detail out here in a blog…or see me, or email, if you need some help here. Like all forms, whatever you are doing with empty hands should be precisely mirrored by a weapon in hand.

Learn to throw daggers: This form introduces flying daggers within the 3rd west set of the form. The daggers would be carried around the waist, withdrawn (this is an art by itself), and thrown. These particular throws are overhand-no-spin throws, due to the type of dagger being used and the method of withdrawal. Practice throwing into some wood, or your apartments wall.

Qin Na: This form is full of qin na applications – see if you can uncover them. Here is the first to get you started: After the bow, from natural stance, kick +7 start step into a front-choke release. This is designed best for situations where your back is up against a wall – give it a try. For fun, add rubber knives, and practice with drawl from natural stance to escape and slice.

All together now! Once you have all the above down, do it all at once (with live blades!). You will see how hard this little form can actually be.

There you have it. Empty hand strikes, open hand strikes, qin na, blades, footwork, angles and entry, and knife throwing. Enough to keep anyone busy for a long time.

Enjoy!

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Depth of Fei Hu (Tiger)

 

tiger in marsh
So many times in Chinese Kung Fu, students are dead-piled with forms to memorize. In some schools, the sheer amount of form memorization requirements absolutely smothers the opportunity get “deep” with anything at all. This is a good thing, but also a bad thing. Before I go any further, it’s important to note that I have consciously made the decision to have a lot (not a ton!) of requirements for the base material (much of the latter stuff are just interesting electives with minor focus shifts).
The best reason for traditional martial artists to have a heavy requirement of material is to compound the idea and experience that ANY movement and ANYTHING can become a weapon or technique – a long tail way to show that forms become formless. Even more important, is that it provides a template to dabble in for a lifetime without boring the student to death by practicing the same 10 techniques for 50 years – it CAN be art for arts sake! It is not some weird punishment to test your unwavering commitment, or a pecking order that people get wrapped up in… It is a life long living art for you to enjoy and play around with! How beautiful is that?

However, the bad happens when the “broad” approach, knocks “depth” to the side entirely. There should always be a base of material in which the student should go “deep”. In my curriculum, that is all of the Lower and Intermediate level + Taiji & Xing Yi. That’s it. And even that is pushing the limits. Everything else is art for arts sake to keep you inspired on a healthy, positive, and interesting path well into old age while still building off the basics in new ways. Swinging a sword is so much better than playing bingo at the old folks home, amiright?

We cannot ignore “depth”, it’s important to pull out the guts and heart of the training beyond the superficial memorization most people get hung up on… But, we cannot also spend 3 years in a commercial setting doing two static postures. The only time this should be allowed is for the internal arts, which are an entirely different practice. These SHOULD be trained posture-by-posture with precision. Otherwise, when it comes to normal fighting and combat lessons, I cannot require you clean my bathroom for 1 year before I show you 1 punch. It is not like the old stories. Why? Because I guarantee students will drop from boredom, rent will not get paid, and then I get dinged with a bad reviews or something. They will just go to the MMA gym down the street, learn to punch on day 1, and assume traditional arts are worthless. Now, I know some readers will say “HEY! I am not like that, I am the one exception wanting the real hardcore shit! Lets spend 5 years doing just 1 form!” Grasshopper. I have heard that from over 1,000+ people. It sounds great, but the process itself will likely weed you out eventually with the lot. Everyone says that, few will do that – with me, or without me. We all have to work, pay the rent, go to school, manage family… Depth in a commercial class setting is not the way. Simply learn the methods, learn the forms & traditions, condition hard, and learn basic fighting in class in class, so you CAN go toe-to-toe with the MMA gym, or knock out the black belt kung fu guy up the street. Otherwise, the real depth that these arts beautifully hide, must be a self-serve process.

Alas, this is where the blog comes in! Instead of me cramming minutia down throats in class and sucking up your paid-for-recreation time with micro-movement snooze fests; readers can learn the form, move on, and if they want to go deep (or not)… Can simply DIY – Do. It. Yourself. That way, the burden of being good, or understanding a form, is where it should always be… On the students shoulders. I can open the door, you must continuously walk through it. Everyone has the same opportunity. (Or just contact me and I will be more than happy to give more : )

Here is DEPTH for Fei Hu (Flying Tiger):

After memorizing the basic form, you can do this for years on end and feel like you are only scratching the surface – (cat pun!):

Move your feet: Make every bow & cat stance transition seamlessly with 7-star stepping. Not the simple Muay Thai “split”, I am talking about the full-true 7 Star Step as I present it. “Stances” were never meant to be static as an end-all posture that just plants you to the ground like an anvil. They were actual live steps designed for the battlefield! Footwork is the most important part of fighting and warfare marching! Bring those static stances to life by training the form with 7 star steps. The form will double in cardio, and the archaic idea of stances will become actual real, usable, footwork – totally unique to kung fu. Tiger should have low, gaping footwork – as if wading deeply in a swamp. Fei Hu is designed to imply footwork through swamp, jungle, or marsh terrain. Your next tiger form will imply the same footwork, but with mountainous, bouldering and rocky, terrain. Also, practice these steps shoulder-to-shoulder with friends to see if you can perform them with range and as if being in rank and file.
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Tiger Hooks

 

Add blades: This form is paired with the Tiger Hook Swords and/or Bagh Nakh. You will notice the hook swords replicate EXACTLY what the empty hand movements do, something only achievable with this particular sword – just on a larger scale since you have reach. The Tiger Hook Swords are for anti-calvary units. To take down people on horse back (think of a tiger taking down an animal – claws reach, sink, hook, pull). The bagh nakh were used for hand-to-hand combat, assassination, and were also used as anti-rape weapons at one point (since they can be concealed and disguised as a simple ring. They can be concealed with blades in, or flipped around and used like bladed-brass-knuckles. Finally, depending on your sword design; you can pair a sword in the same hand as the bagh nakh for double-the-fun. Disclaimer: Use unsharpened to practice. Bagh Nakh are illegal and not made anymore aside as antique collectables.

Got that down? Now, switch hands and learn to use the sword in your left hand.

Evolve: Again, this is not LARP’ing, where we pretend and dance around like we are silly tigers from the latest rendition of “Cats: The Musical”. Every posture in the animal forms can be an opportunity to mediate and BUILD an emotional and mental attribute. Think Buddhist imagery meditation, but super-charged. Pick 1-2 postures from the form and get the PERFECT posture (low stance, gripping hands, etc.), it should be a grueling task to hold this posture for even 1-minute! Once you are in the posture, hold it as long as possible and mentally bring in the attributes of the tiger – courage, stoic, regal, etc. Meditate in that excruciating posture on just those attributes. Mentally visualize, and pull them into your meditation as if you are absorbing these attributes. Think of situations in your life that maybe needed more of this at the time, and burn those attributes into mental association with it… Then do the form. And repeat. The hard-ass work you are doing in that posture hold, as your body screams – that is what will eventually burn these “tiger” attributes into you with a far more intense result than the standard self-help book-seated meditation stuff. Do this regularly, and you will see your confidence, courage, etc. Begin to rise from within! Then, balance it out with Crane in the same type of practice. (This is not a nei gong or energetic focus here… Refer to Taiji/Xing Yi for that)

Weapons work: Work on blade withdrawal and position. It is the most important thing combined with speed and distance – which must be done with a 7 star step. Layer on Misalignment on the 22.5 degree angles and weight distribution to help push the sword through armor or something massive like a horse. A simple arm slash alone would not achieve this. This is incredibly specific, and will take months on end to get micro movements. Spinning or waving the swords in fancy spins is absolutely not the goal here, and has no real combat value – sorry!

Qin Na: As an empty hand form, every move is essentially a Qin Na. I will give a ton of these in classes, but you have to train it. Try every single one on a partner from standing position and on the ground. Figure out how to enter, and then the set up of strikes you will need to use in order to execute it while manipulating the opponent to submission. Practice reflex and fast grabs on drills such as my “thumb-in-eye-socket practice drill”. Find where the muscles can be separated and feel how to dig finger in, such as the obvious bicep/tricep separation and the thigh separation.

Condition: Use sand bags to dive fingers into mung beans for grip strength and finger conditioning. Go bouldering and get some agility. Tiger squats with weight vests. Run in the ocean at knee depth. Pop from kneeling position to bow stance with resistance. Finger tip push ups on the FIRST knuckles (do not let the fingers lock out). Finger tip pull ups. Tiger thrust kicks (teeps), iron palm/body, all other normal conditioning…You get the idea.

Okay, that alone can consume at least 1-2 years of non-stop solid training if you are looking to be honest and get some real results on all the different levels. I love this form! For those not here in SF, this is one of the first forms learned and is also detailed in the manual/book out on Amazon. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

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Five Tips on How to Survive Your First Tai Chi Park Meet-Up

So, you think you’re a tai chi bad ass and you’re ready to test your skill. Well, before you start blasting everyone away with chi whammies, here’s a couple suggestions on taking your tai chi push hands skills outside the classroom.

1. Be courteous.

Hopefully you’re here to trade knowledge and test your skill, but who knows what’s going on with your partner. He might be so blissed out on chi that he’s levitating off the ground, but when you go to push or spar, keep in mind, everyone has their breaking point.

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2. Establish the rules of the game.  

Everyone does their push hands differently,so it’s important to chat with your partner about what game you each want to play. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you end up doing ballroom dance instead of tai chi.

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3. Prepare to eat bitter.

You went in with a friendly attitude and you established the rules you wanted to play by, and then you get clocked in the face out of nowhere. Hey, buddy, invest in loss. You wanna develop skill? You’re potentially going to get either your feelings or your body hurt along the way.

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4. Keep your boundaries.

That being said, there’s no award given to the person who can take the most abuse. It’s all a learning experience, but if you’re getting wailed on by someone, it may be a sign to bow out, say thank you, and find a new partner. Which brings me to another point, you might want to consider going with a friend. After all, strength in numbers. You never know when a friendly push hands match will turn into an all-out brawl session.

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Bring your knives, boys & girls.

5. Play nice.

Above all, play nice. Don’t succumb to ego and use an attack that doesn’t adhere to tai chi principles. You’re here to learn. Don’t be that guy that’s swinging for the fences just to feel the satisfaction of “winning”. And don’t forget to say thank you and maybe shake their hand or give them a hug after you’re done.

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Even if it’s really awkward...

Good luck! And let us know how it goes!

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Kung Fu Hustle reviewed in SF Travel.com!

Check out the review and mention for our Kung Fu  Hustle from SF Travel.com! 

http://sftravel.com/blog/2013/02/26/kung-fu-hustle.html

One day per week, you can enjoy the most vigorous and unique tour to reach San Francisco’s Coit Tower.  San Francisco’s Shaolin Chinese Center offers a weekly opportunity to walk and jog from Chinatown up to the heights of Coit Tower views.  This cardio workout includes stops for Tai Chi, breathing exercises, and meditation and some of the most scenic spots in San Francisco.

You’ll need to be in reasonable physical shape, as the hills and stairways up to Coit Tower can be quite steep.  The hustle portion is just one mile of the 1.5 hour tour priced at $15.  The walk / jog tour includes sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, North Beach, and Chinatown.   Each tour concludes with compliemntary fresh fruit at the center in Chinatown.

Shaolin is San Francisco’s premier kung-fu school and the weekly walk to Coit Tower is a unique event not to be missed.   Learn more on all of the tours across San Francisco with SF Travel.

 

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A personal account of kung fu training!

By Jason Shoffner, a San Francisco brown belt!

The kung fu training is more than just punching and kicking to me.  As the days go on, I have begun to apply the training so it can become a way of life.  The Tai Chi push hands are the most difficult thing for me to understand right now because it demands a development of the mind. There are many things to focus on all at once that require deep concentration. It takes time to develop a process of quieting the mind. I try not to rush push hands since I’ve seen it pays off in the long run. Now, I am starting to feel and read my opponent when we do push hands sparring.

One thing I love so much is the Yin breathing. It gives me a natural high all throughout my body. I can feel my mid-section and core getting stronger the more I practice it on my own.  I start my day with the Hou Tien Chi breathing early in the morning and it sets me on the path for my whole day to go great. Most importantly, it keeps my stress levels down.  Lately, it seems like I hardly ever get stressed about what life brings. I know this is because the Hou Tien Chi breathing is in my arsenal to equip me for hard tasks and to mentally focus.

The external techniques and training has also had a lot of benefit for me. For instance, it brought back the flexibility I had when I was a kid. I also don’t have to run around the block twenty times to keep fit. I might be sore from the amount of conditioning we do, but in the long run it’s helped me out. My main interest is the internal training because I notice it infusing itself into my life more and more. Because of the internal training, particularly the breathing, I still have energy even after class. When I practice, I don’t get nearly as tired as I did when I first began. I’ve also started to make other positive changes in my life. I started eating healthy at work since I started kung fu, and it got me on the path to becoming the best  student I can become and beyond.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment!

           

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Aggression and Anger

February 19, 2012

 

Aggression and Anger

 

For whatever reason, when walking back home the other day, a seemingly normal, seemingly sane couple blocked my path and shouted at me to pass on the right. Confused, I stood watching as the violence quickly escalated. The man and woman yelled at me “What’s your problem? Don’t you understand English? Habla Ingles? Are you dumb? Can’t you speak?”  The man then started walking into me. I tried passing him on the left, and he grabbed my waist and pushed me right, yelling at me a number of other extremely derogatory, obscene and misogynistic insults as he and his wife passed. I sort of laughed to myself as they passed. Ironically, I’d been listening to a lecture by Pema Chondron, reflecting on aggression and anger in preparation for this next article for the 108 blog.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about times when I have been aggressive or angry and acted on it or lashed out. I’ve also been thinking about times when I played a part in people’s tendencies to act on their anger or aggression. About the world, and how we have a tendency to believe that the answer to aggression is with more aggression. And about our training and its approach. Where does it fit in?

 

What I have been reflecting on lately is what it felt like as a beginner to walk into the school and spar for the first time in my life. In the first couple of months, an incredible amount of anger surfaced every time I would spar. It was like clockwork: we bow, we spar, I get angry. It was inevitable. I believed that I was just like this. Nothing would ever change. And also, that the only way to deal with it, was to not deal with. To keep ignoring it. Of course, something needed to happen to change that way of thinking.

 

After a particularly bad round of sparring, where I was hurt physically and emotionally, I got angry. Visibly, tangibly angry. To the point where, I had no idea what to do with it except find a hallway and hide. Literally hiding from my anger and hide from myself because I was ashamed that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Let me tell you, trying to completely shutting myself off to experiencing any kind of emotion did not work. I was more scared of myself than ever before. It was the first time since I had begun training that I deeply doubted whether continuing was a good idea. If it was more of this, I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

 

Sifu came and talked to me afterwards. What he said was that the Shaolin call this “embracing the tiger”. I remember thinking, “what the heck does that mean?” I’m sure I kinda just nodded, and said “okay,” and eventually started to train again, but it did feel like this riddle and I had no clue what he meant. In the last couple of weeks especially, I’ve had some particularly aggressive encounters with others, as have the people around me. It’s got me wondering again, what does it mean to “embrace the tiger”? I started to visualize and breakdown each word and really think about what meant.

 

Tiger, let’s start with that. A tiger is an aggressive, powerful animal. You do not want to get on the bad side of a tiger. Heck, you don’t want to get on the bad side of a house cat. Our family cat, Pee Wee, gave me deep gashes in my right forearm that I STILL have to this day. I don’t even remember what I did to provoke her, but I can almost guarantee I never did that again. You learn very quickly to stay away from the things that cause you pain.

 

Now, embrace. An embrace is to welcome, to hug, to greet, to bring in, etc. I think of embracing my family and friends when I see them. I think of inviting people into my house and welcoming them into my life. Well, I don’t know about you, but I do not think of hugging a tiger when I think about the word “embrace”. That’s pretty much the last thing in the world I want to do. You all remember what happened to that boy at the San Francisco Zoo. No way I’m going near a tiger. The tiger is the anger we feel. Imagine hugging that. Letting that uncontrollable animal roam around your house, lay on your couch, eat all your good food. No.Way.

 

That’s exactly what needs to be done though, when anger and aggression come up. Embracing the tiger, in my mind means allowing yourself to feel fully that emotion, but not being reactive or repressive. It takes a lot of courage to be able to lean into your fears rather than look for escape routes or lash out. It goes against what we want to do. What our instinct might be. And to do that takes a lot of practice.

 

Having even an inkling of understanding of this concept has changed my approach to anger and aggression in myself and others. I used to think that if my partner in sparring or Chin Na was being too aggressive, that I needed to either take it or return it. I don’t necessarily think that way anymore. I’ve started to notice almost instantly when I’m starting to feel even the slightest bit annoyed or irritable (the pre-cursors to full-on anger), and I’m trying to press the pause button at that point. It’s in these moments that I become intensely curious about myself and the situation. The dialogue in my head may go something like this:

Why isn’t this working?! What’s the matter with me?!

                  Oh…I think I’m angry.

                  Why am I angry?

                  Oh, this person is striking at me with a lot more force than I feel comfortable.

                  What should I do?

                  Well, I could  ____________.

 

And so it goes. It reminds me of something I learned in the Advanced Down and Ground Sparring class this past Saturday, where Jay told us that often times when we’re trying to force an application that isn’t working, if we just relax, a lot of options suddenly become apparent. This is true whether practicing Chin Na or sparring, or dealing with a couple on the street who suddenly become aggressive. Suddenly it dawns on us, “Oh! I don’t need to engage with this person anymore!” Or whatever other solution seems most appropriate.

 

Taking a moment to pause and relax is essential for moving through aggression and anger. It’s the embrace part of “embracing the tiger”. It’s being able to recognize and take in the present moment for what it is. It takes a lot of courage to wait out fear and aggression when it has the potential to be dangerous, destructive and even lethal. That is certainly what some situations in training or in our everyday lives feel like or how they present themselves. I’ve found that it’s very easy for me to lash out or hide. It’s very difficult with me to stay with the pain and fear of the moment.

 

The good news is that I’m building up my tolerance little by little. Everyone does, the more it’s practiced. Just like anything that I’ve learned in Shaolin so far, the more you practice it and the more you’re exposed to it, the better you understand it and feel comfortable with it. Think of “embracing the tiger,” or embracing your anger like iron bone training for your emotions! It doesn’t take much for them to become very resilient over time. Until suddenly, one day, perhaps a situation that would have had you ranting and raving, is simply amusing, and you just shrug it off.

 

It’s something to think about the next time a situation arises and your first instinct is to act out of anger or hide from that emotion. Maybe try embracing the tiger. What happens? Post a comment and let us know your own experiences!!

 

Written by Barbara Jwanouskos

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Sparring: Get Back Up!

January 25, 2012

Barbara Jwanouskos

Sparring: Get Back Up!

 

I often end up on the ground. I often end up frustrated or upset. And I sure feel like giving up a lot after a sparring session. But I don’t. I hang in there. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way. Maybe they will help you too!

 

Being a petite, young woman, everyone that I spar with in class (except for one fellow student) is larger than me. I seem to be used for sweeping practice quite frequently, with success usually granted to my partner. That means that over time, I’ve become very good friends with the ground. And it can be easy to become frustrated with this repetitious turn of events over time. The thing I have come to realize however is I’m never going to be able to change my stature or that of my partner’s. I also can’t change my partner’s perhaps initial instincts to try a particular move or the intent behind it.

 

I can change my approach to the situation however. It’s just like Michael Jackson says “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change”. Words of wisdom from the king of pop that are applicable in sparring!

 

Recently I’ve sat out a couple of sessions of sparring and I sure have learned a lot by watching others and evaluating myself. Lately, what I’ve noticed that’s different about my sparring from when I first began is:

1)      I don’t immediately become frustrated or angry when my partner successfully lands a move that hurts either my body or my ego (or both!).

2)      I pay much closer attention to what I’m doing and what my partner is doing.

3)      I’ve learned to take advantage of opportunities and strike a balance between over-thinking my next move and not thinking at all of what I might try next.

 

I think each of these observations come back to lessons repeated by our instructors and the manual, which are to replace emotion with spirit and focus. Checking my ego, in particular has been a difficult task to master, and while I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was, I still have a long journey in this realm. If you take out the competiveness with others to “win” the sparring session and the competitiveness with yourself “to get things right”, you’re left with a lot of energy to devote towards paying attention to what your partner is doing and how to act when those opportunities arise.

 

Sparring is not the only place to practice this kind of discipline. Recently, in an interaction with a co-worker, I used what I had learned in class, and was met with success. When a situation at work came up that pointed out a faulty point in an internal process, my co-worker’s response was to become angry and defensive and push the blame to me. As I realized what was happening, I became hyper-aware of what words I was choosing and how they may be interpreted. While perhaps unprofessional of my co-worker to take her fears and insecurities about the situation on me, I could handle it because I knew and understood where it may be coming from. In turn, I responded with poise and confidence, and was able to get us moving towards a resolution. Had I acted upon the hurt I felt from her words and actions in a vindictive manner, the result would not have been the same. Ultimately, I would have been in the wrong.

 

There is a Buddhist saying that I have tried to live by ever since I’ve heard it: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” This is great advice for the times during sparring or your personal life that you feel frustrated or the need to act out of anger. It’s easy to give up, to lie down. It’s much more difficult to come back to a situation that you know may cause you pain, and try to learn from it.

 

With that in mind, one way you may improve your sparring abilities is to take the Technical Punching and Kicking class this Saturday! It will be my first time seeing this class, and I can’t wait to learn how some of these moves that we’ve been working in class work, but also how they feel if administered correctly. It’s a great chance to feel more confident with your material and find some new ways to apply something that long since seemed mysterious and unwieldy.

 

So, get back up from the floor already and have fun!

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