Martial art style: Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

I love martial arts, I really do, but there are so many styles that it gets confusing and complicated. It becomes difficult to keep them all straight. Some are highly effective, some have become sports and some are very unique. However they all have a basis or history of self-defense. All martial arts are meant to be for self-defense. I’m going to attempt to make understanding each style easier for those who may not have watched kung fu movies as a child or are slightly nerdy when it comes to history. I’m going to go through as many styles as I can, give a brief history, style overview, yada, yada, yada. This is beneficial to me because some styles I don’t know much more about them than their name and reputation. Oh yes, martial art styles get reputations.

Let’s start with one that most people have all heard of: Kung fu!

I love kung fu. I watched bad kung fu movies as a child with my older brothers. Bad refers to plot lines and dialogue. My second oldest brother in particular loved the genre. I remember sitting in his room watching terrible dub jobs in black and white. We also enjoyed the good ones too, like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Even though the movies were silly at times, there was some awesome variety and technique going on. Realistic? Not really. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, anyone? As my Chinese friend told me,”No, Chinese people cannot fly.”

Kung Fu is an all encompassing term for a style of fighting originating in China. (Wushu is also another all encompassing term but in Mandarin.) Kung Fu has many styles or schools of thought. For example, a student can learn Wing Chun, or Hung gar, etc. (there are more than two schools btw) The differences will be found in the philosophy behind the techniques and how the moves are executed. Sometimes even small details can define one school of kung fu from another. Like the movement of a hand or placement of a foot in a particular stance. Wing Chun was developed by a woman and has fast rapid successive movements like a machine gun. In stead of one punch, three would be given. The stances are light on the feet and make for easy movement. It also utilizes lots of open handed techniques. This is an effective style for those who do not have a lot of bulk.  Hung gar is very grounded, it’s the tank of kung fu. Learning how to ground fight or grapple is a core aspect of the style. As are closed-fist techniques. A wide legged and low squat stance known as “horse stance” is huge in hung gar.   

A common theme in kung fu is hard techniques and soft techniques. This refers to the force behind an attack or defense. A soft block is usually open-handed and deflective. Its all about using as little energy as possible. This can include whip-like movements. A hard block is rigid muscles and grounded stances. The muscles are set and hard, hence a hard technique. This stems from the yin-yang philosphy that opposites are complementary and both must be utilized to be effective. Opposites can strengthen each other. 

Another aspect of kung fu is blending attacks and blocks. An attack or a block can be well defined. An upward block would deflect or stop an opponent’s fist from making contact with your head. A forward punch would attack a face or ribs. As training goes on in kung fu, the lines tend to blur, ideally where an upward block would have so much force it would actually hurt an opponent. The forward punch would become a block from an inward strike. Thus your fighting becomes so much more effective. A fight could be ended in one move. That is the goal of self-defense, to end something as fast as possible with as little energy expended as possible.  

Movements are also based off of animals. During my brief stint with kung fu, I learned tiger, crane, snake, and monkey movements. My favorite was tiger. Lots of clawing and biting with your hands. Other animals are also included, like dragon, eagle, cat, goat and even drunken men.

Kung fu was often practiced and perpetuated by nuns and monks in China. Again this comes originally from a need for self defense and later as a form of meditation. The Shaolin style was the first institutionalized form of kung fu. (I’m often surprised at how different monks and nuns are between the East and West. ) Kung fu is strongly based on the fact that humans are spiritual beings. Energy flow and use is a major aspect of learning and practicing kung fu. My instructor had a certain technique that he would not teach you if you were expending energy sexually. Its a delicate balance. Learning about “chi” as they call energy, gives a greater depth to martial arts than just punching and kicking. It combines the mind and the body and the soul. Little idea.

Learning about martial arts cannot be done without learning about Chinese kung fu. It has given rise to many styles, many bad movies and hundreds of styles of martial arts. Most eastern fighting styles have some basis in kung fu. In later posts I’ll explain which ones are strongly based off of kung fu.

Hope you learned something! I know I did.


What’s Your Intention?

A few weeks ago I was at yoga class. And as usual the instructor gave us some ideas to think about before class starts. Her suggestion during meditation was to choose an intention for your workout. Give it meaning and purpose. I thought about this and chose an intention for that day’s class. I wanted to achieve better balance with my poses. As the class wore on she reminded us to think of our intention again and again. For myself I mindfully moved from pose to pose with better balance in mind. This took more time, to correct my stances and slower, more controlled movements to prevent myself from falling over. At the very end she commented on how we can and should apply this to our daily lives. During the ending mediation she encouraged us to choose an intention for the day. I left the class feeling like I had accomplished something and that I yet had more to accomplish.

As I have pondered that day over and over again, I reflected back to my younger years as an athlete. Specifically as a runner. Looking back I wasn’t very fast nor did I want to be. My intention was not in my workout, I simply wanted something to do, an exercise and social outlet. Everyday I would go out and run, sort of, not really thinking about the next meet or my time. I simply wanted to be average. I never had the drive or intention. My body certainly became strong and capable, but not all that I could have been as a runner. I did posses skill as a runner, but I was more interested in how I looked in my uniform than my technique. Needless to say I never got far as a runner. (Ha I’m so punny)  As I’ve grown up I’ve come to desire more from my physical pursuits than just a social venue or way to stay in shape. I’ve subconsciously desired and had intentions for my journey through martial arts. The past few weeks I’ve felt more fulfilled, because I’m not just going through the motions. My intent is clearly defined for most of the time I spend exercising and therefore more valuable to me. And being a mother to three kids I can’t afford to waste my time. I’m trying to make every workout worth my time! I can celebrate the small successes that will eventually lead to a big success.

Let’s look at this a different way. What is the point of showering? Honestly, why would I shower everyday? To get clean, obviously. Sometimes I do it to relax or let off some steam. But if I had no intentions for a shower, wouldn’t it be the same as if I never showered. If I didn’t care about getting clean, would a shower do me much good? My hair would still be greasy and I wouldn’t smell as good as if I was intending to become clean.

Another aspect of intention is goal-setting. This is critical to any kind of training, or living for that matter. Mindless repetitions will lead you no-where! This idea of goal-setting as been reinforced to me time and again, not only by my Sensei, but my religious leaders. My purpose in life is defined by me and me alone. None of us are born with a purpose, we have to define it ourselves!

Don’t wait around for someone else to define your martial arts experience or marathon for you! Take control, define an intention and give yourself a purpose.

And do not be afraid to limit this practice to just one aspect of your life. How much more fulfilling would be your job, your family-life, your relaxation, your learning, if you mindfully set an intention. I don’t think every aspect of your life needs an intention everyday, but feel free to rotate through your concerns. One day focus on treating your spouse well, above and beyond, the next set an intention to work on your cat-stance or horse-stance. (This is fun to do in a waiting line)

The beauty of setting an intention is it does not take lots of time or have to be detailed. It can be simple, like calling your mom just to let her know you love her, or going for a walk to enjoy the breeze or getting your down-dog to flip. But you can also take your intentions as far as you like. The possibilities for us as progressive individuals are endless!

Turn the mundane repetitions into something glorious, and I think you’ll be surprised.

I Love/Hate Running

I’m fairly coordinated, but not really. I can dance, do kata and look graceful. I can run with beautiful technique, even if I do have knock-knees. However, add a ball into the mix and oh, boy, something breaks down in my brain.

That’s why I loved running! It was easy for my body to do (relatively). I ran cross-country and track all through high school and I loved it. I worked hard to run smoothly. It was freeing. I wasn’t particularly fast, but I enjoyed the rush. My favorite was competing in the 800 meter run. Just long enough to be a challenge and short enough to not get bored. And the last 100 meters when you give it your all? Dang, there is nothing like that final push on your body! Exhilarating!

Except all of a sudden I hit college and something changed. I don’t know what happened, maybe it was the high altitude, or my body decided this wasn’t something for me to enjoy anymore. I went running and found myself wheezing, coughing and tasting blood in the back of my throat. It stayed with me the rest of the day. It happened the next day too It soon became the norm, sadly. Especially if I went at the speeds I used to run as a younger athlete. Or the distances I used to run.

I suspect I have exercise-induced asthma but I refused to be seen for it. I had tried albuterol inhalers and there was no change except palpitations after running. I was beginning to hate running. It just meant pain, and not where I expected it to be. My lungs would feel ragged and rough. The coughing and wheezing were just nasty. I had two small children and it seemed as though the jogging stroller just exacerbated and aggravated my wimpy lungs. I decided to put running aside for a while.

Last weekend I decided that after a 2 year break and another baby I should be able to run, right? Maybe a two block run wouldn’t cause the yuckiness. Alas, just a cough for two days. But that is ok, I will prevail! I have hope that I can go running again. It will be a good day when I can go out and run with no complications or fetters on my lungs. I suppose I just need to slow down my pace and cut my distances for a while and slowly build them back up. It isn’t much but it is a plan. The hardest part will be telling myself to slow down.

What do you wish you were able to do again?



We all have dreams, and sometimes our dreams are hard to explain to others. For example, me wanting a black belt. Why does it matter? Isn’t being able to fly enough? Why do I need a belt to tell me or others that I can do martial arts? (note, ninjas can only fly on special occasions)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and my husband and I even had a discussion about why we each want to earn our black belts. This is what I came up with:

To me a black belt signifies my accomplishment and dedication. Sure it would be cool just to tell people that I have a black belt, but if I wanted bragging rights, I could just buy one for 50 bucks online. Its like becoming a minister. There are lots of ways to obtain a minister’s licence but only the individual can tell you if it’s for real or not. Once I earn my belt, I probably won’t show it to many people, in fact I doubt most people outside of my family would even know I had one, simply because I’m not training for anyone else other than myself.

I think I need to explain a little about my personality. I tend to jump from interest to interest. I find something I like and it rarely stays with me for more than a month. Mostly when I feel the challenge is gone is when I let something go. I like to work my brain. Martial arts is still challenging to me, in a good way. It will take me my whole life to master even one art. The repetition can be daunting sometimes, but that is why I enjoy training in 3 art simultaneously. I don’t have time to get bored because I’m too busy trying to remember Saifa and grappling techniques and wrist locks. The world of martial arts is a vast but also closed society. It can truly offer something to everyone.

I’m drawn to this. I’ve found a balance in martial arts. I want the challenge and I want the achievement that comes from hard work. I get my need for diversity and can still work toward a tangible goal. I can be creative and guided in my expression. I learn self-defense and inner peace. Totally like Kung Fu Panda, you have no idea. 🙂

Martial arts is not appealing to everyone, I know that. It’s certainly not what I expected it to be. It is so much better.

It hurts so good

I went to yoga today. Not watched a yoga video, but I actually attended a class, with students and an instructor and everything. Its amazing, the difference. My sweet husband had no work today so he watched the kids while I went.

Why I love a yoga class:

The instructor can tell you what you’re doing wrong. My instructor happens to be awesome, and gives helpful hints how to do a pose perfectly.

Other classmates brings a positive energy to your workout. (yes, I believe in chakras and meridians)

I’m more motivated to workout longer, especially since I’m paying someone.

I’m not being treated as a train tunnel while doing my cat/cow pose. I love my kids to death and I actually think its super cute to have them think I’m a tunnel, but tunnels collapse and the sudden loss of a tunnel is unbearable for them some days.

I learn new poses and more about what I’m physically capable of.

I work my flexibility and balance simultaneously.


What to do when you forget a technique

This morning was a morning wherein I was able to practice, and not just in my bedroom or kitchen. I worked out in the basement while my kids played like the crazies they are. The best is when they join in on the drilling. My oldest especially likes to “practice” with me. Today it was eight sword cuts and Goju drills. I also decided to go over pinan shodan. A Kata or form. This is a choreographed “dance” of techniques. I had one problem. I couldn’t remember how it started.

This happens all the time. I can remember the explosive parts of kata or middle parts or sometimes just the ending, but the beginning is the hardest for me to remember.

Usually I can rehearse what I do remember until my body just does it for me, or I can ask my husband who is my senpai (sort of). He a senior student who outranks me so he usually knows what I’ve forgotten. Today, he wasn’t answering his phone! Why don’t I call Sensei? oh yeah, he’s still in Korea. No problem though. Thanks to YouTube I can find just about anything. Including pinan shodan.

Here is half of the problem with getting information online. You cannot always guarantee authenticity or even find suitable references half the time. The other half is that every school has their own flair and style to most katas. Some times there will be an extra punch or kick. This can be tricky, if you train a kata differently than your instructor teaches, you most certainly fail. It’s like accents. English for example sounds totally different in different parts of the world. Are they all wrong or all right? neither, it depends on where you were raised. Apply this to katas. In my case I have to be mindful of what the video shows that is different from what I’ve been taught.  Again, I can always bounce questions off my husband or sensei, but I just have to wait to get my answers. I’m just impatient sometimes.

By the way, pinan shodan starts to the left with the right foot forward.

Finding time to train

I’m actually very lucky. I get to be a stay-at-home momja. Which means in between soap opera and ding-dongs, no scratch that, those are disgusting, a decadent box of chocolates, I have loads of time to drill and review techniques. Haha! Oh stop, my sides are killing me.

I actually have to find time to work out. Before my third child was born I had the perfect time to practice. 630 am. Sometimes 6am. It was quiet and our basement is secluded enough that I could really go-to-town, drilling without waking anybody up. Once in a while I can pull this off, however, I’m usually too tired to fully wake myself up that early and that is also the time that my youngest (who’s 6 months) wants to eat. Yes, I am a milk-machine-momja. By the time baby is done eating, my two boys are up and wanting silly things, like food or using the bathroom. Killed my exercise time.

So I’ve found that if I want to train, I have to find time throughout the day. I really try to rotate which art I’m reviewing, because it is a dang lot of information. My Sensei is a nice guy, but he’s pretty demanding and a bit of a perfectionist. And when it comes to technique, so am I. I often compare Goju to Ballet. Very precise movements and not much room for interpretation. It’s the easiest to learn but the hardest to master in my humble opinion.

The nice thing about Goju is I can train in whatever room or place I happen to be in. I don’t need a partner and because it’s fairly simple I can drill 5 movements in 15 minutes if I wish. A mirror helps too, to check technique.

So when do I do this? While cooking, duh. Yup, right next to my gas stove top. OK, 5 feet away from it. Cooking is the best time to workout. I’m waiting for chicken to brown or rice to cook or veggies to steam, etc. Plenty of time to drill one movement in ten repetitions. Or better yet, do tricep dips or leg lifts at the kitchen sink. It may sound silly but it works. Plus I get a small workout in without even breaking a sweat! Easy-peasy.

Next post, Bathroom workouts!

You think I’m joking… 😉