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The ‘Taste’ Of Kung Fu

Photo on 19-02-2016 at 11.17

The ‘Taste’ Of Kung Fu….

We’re told that people learn auditory (hearing), visually (looking) and physically (doing), we always use all 3 methods but depending on character will lean more towards one method than the others, I’d like to also add a personal one – taste.

Taste? I hear you ask, how can you learn by taste?  Do you have to lick your instructor? Thankfully you don’t, BUT everything has a ‘flavour’ if you can sense it and if you pick up the ‘taste’ of Yang Family Tai Chi, tiger, snake, leopard, dragon, Hung Gar or whatever, you start learning on broadband rather than dial up.

Get the ‘feel’, the flavour, the character of the way that your Sifu/Sensei does the movement, use the other methods, but also ‘listen,’ to the sound and rhythm of the way they move, get the ‘taste’ of kung fu!

I would often look away and use my peripheral vision, listen and copy the ‘jins’ the excitement of a movement. Artistry doesn’t come just from knowledge, not from lists of what and how to do techniques but from the flavour, the taste and the ‘feel’ of how to do it.

This means you love and enjoy your art. it means you ‘feel’ and ‘taste’ it, you experience joy and power in the practice. You’re never weary and bored in training as you immerse yourself in the action.  You are aroused, highly aware, focused, sensitive and intense – that’s how training should be!

This is why kung fu use the animals, so that you learn to be a shaman! Why their names are so poetic and cultural, ‘white snake spits venom’, ‘stork flaps wings’, ‘swallow nips water’, ‘meteor chases the moon’ etc all tell you how to do a technique.

Every training session then becomes a performance as you raise your game with the right kind of intensity.

You can always tell the difference watching a practitioner as to whether they have the ‘taste’ of their art or not by the expression, the immersion, the joy, how they become their art as the acting blends into reality.

Articles, Uncategorized

Why Bowing Is Important..

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Why Bowing Is Important

When you walk into a Dojo or Kwoon, before and after a lesson and before and after any kata, form and pairs work in a traditional system you will bow as a sign of respect.  This simple sign of courtesy is a great reminder and marker of the varying types of mindset we have to engender and train at each stage of training.

Entering the training hall it separates you from the outside world and reminds you to clear all external worries, anxieties and  distractions from your mind so that you can focus on the training ahead.  In most systems you will bow to the shrine to imbue yourself with the spirits displayed or to the teacher as a sign of respect.  On exit you will do the same bow in gratitude and to prepare you for the outside world in better frame of mind.

At the beginning of the lesson it’s in respect to both teacher and fellow students, all on the same path of self improvement and the simple courtesy is a reminder of that respect and that whatever takes place in the training, you will play attacker, defender, helper, student, teacher to best of your ability to enable deep learning and at the end return to the same respectful state.

At the beginning and end of a kata or form it’s a reminder and method of mental re-enforcement, drawing the spirit of the founder and every person that’s practiced the same form for the generations since to reinforce your mental focus and intensity.  When I practice a Yang family form I imagine the entire Yang Family lineage rising to watch, encourage and help me perform. It gives me the responsibility or as Ma Lee Yang said in one of my sessions the ‘burden’ of ensuring that I shoulder that responsibility and do my best.

Then importantly for self defence, at the beginning of any pairs work, the bow delineates the difference between ‘friend’ and ‘attacker’ and ‘defender’, each person playing their part to the best of their ability. The attacker must attack with full meaning and intention as a street bully or mugger would do and the defender must defend with the required venom. From bow to bow the attacker must continue to attack whatever the defender does and the defender must defend whatever the attacker does.  Without the bowing I found that both parties might train hard or enthusiastically but it was often sloppy and they didn’t fully throwing themselves into the part as there was no ‘start’ or ‘stop’ point.

The bowing reminds us to be emotionally intelligent, it contains the necessary respect and courtesy required to keep us civil but also draws that essential beginning and stop point in training where we can play the necessary role fully, understanding that each of us is only playing a part.  I’m sure it can be done in a different way, but in my experience bowing for westerners is different in that it serves as an excellent marker point.

By Steve Rowe

Poems, Uncategorized

A Different Tao

steve hood

I’m on a different path.

I’m a vegetarian Buddhist Taoist martial artist.

I fight for peace, not war.

I don’t have to convince everyone I’m ‘hard’.

Don’t need to threaten them.

I’m not so scared of everyone that I have to snarl like an abused dog sitting in the corner.

Not so needy that I have to behave like a Diva.

Don’t need to make myself look bigger by making others look smaller.

I prefer to support what’s good, not shout about what’s bad.

Don’t need new trendy names or pretty clothes.

A turd rolled in glitter is still a turd.

Traditional values, names and systems are fine with me.

Don’t need awards or certificates, what I think of myself is more important.

What I give is more important than what I take.

My skill is more important than my reputation.

Supporting and improving my family, students and community are all the riches I need.

Meaning and purpose to life are more important than riches and the admiration of others.

Looking inwards is more important than looking outwards.

Sitting still is just as important as moving.

Mindfulness is life, mindlessness is death.

Martial arts training is an alchemy that is life changing.

You either grow up or behave like a needy child throwing tantrums when you don’t get what you want.

Articles, Uncategorized

Yang Tai Chi ‘Head & Feet’

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In the classics it says ‘suspend the head’, what most people don’t get is that it is an ‘active’ requirement, this means that you have to actively do this all of the time. This is an act of mindfulness. It lightens and aligns the body making it weightless and mobile, but the moment it becomes inactive – you become a clumsy zombie!

The classics also say that power ‘comes from the feet, is manipulated by the waist and expressed through the hands’. Whatever we do, we always start from the feet, when I touch a student’s arm they resist in a straight line from the arm and when I press harder they try to find the connection in their feet – too late!  Again it is ‘active’, the mind should always be in the feet and everything should start from there!

Tai Chi is always a mindful state.  There are 168 hours in the week, if you sleep for 50 hours, that leaves 118 hours that you are either alive or a zombie. Alive is mindful. This involves being constantly ‘suspending’ the head starting all movement and resistance from the feet. when touched by another the feet should automatically resist, you should not have to look for them!  Therefore this mindful state always connects the head and hands to the feet, to suspend upwards there has to be a press downwards and a full connection in between. The feet should spiral into the floor, this gives a double helix through the body, opening the hips (kua) allowing the spine to lengthen and open and means that any resistance is never linear and always curved. This means that you don’t ‘lean against’ pressure and fall over when it is taken away, thus you can ‘ward off’ (peng) an opponent instead of pushing against them.

Try this as an exercise.  A line drawn in your mind is 0. Any time that you are not mindful and don’t have your awareness in both your head and your feet is a minus, any time you do is a plus. If at the end of the week you are in the plus, you are on the way to becoming a Tai Chi practitioner if you are in a minus – it’s time to wake up!