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.