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Since Shifu Jason’s recent level 11 grading, he has taken on the title Shi Gong which loosely translates to teacher’s teacher. Traditionally, the Shi Gong is the most senior elder and protector and lineage holder of the art. He is responsible for maintaining the purity of the art and the continued transmission from one lineage holder to another.

“Sifu” is a common romanization, although the term and pronunciation are also used in other southern languages. In Mandarin Chinese, it is spelled “shifu” in pinyin. Using non-rhotic British English pronunciation, in Mandarin it would sound something similar to “sure foo”. Many martial arts studios incorrectly pronounce this like “she foo”.
The term Shifu is a combination of the characters “teacher” and “father” (師父) or a combination of the characters “teacher” and “mentor” (師傅). The traditional Chinese martial arts school, or 館, (guǎn) is an extended family headed by the Shifu. The Shifu’s teacher is the “師公 honorable master” or Shi Gong. Similarly the Shifu’s wife is the Shimu “teacher mother” and the grandmaster’s wife is known as: 師姥 Shi Lao.

Confucianism influenced traditional northern Chinese martial arts lineages such as Shaolin, and seniority was decided by a generational system. Here teachers could have a number of students each qualified to teach and pass on the next generation. The most junior member of one generation was senior to the most senior member of the next. In this Confucian philosophy ‘Master’ and Grandmaster were not lofty titles or recognition of seemingly otherworldly abilities, but simply a relational term.

 

 

Shi Gong Grading Part 3

(Part 1 was Hall of Fame Panel in August, Part 2 was my technical grading in front of our Wu Zen Dao instructors, with 10 various demonstrations of advanced Shaolin, Weapons, Grappling and Tai Ji)

 

Grading thoughts

Run

Physically I expected this to be the easiest. Shi Xiong Richard selected a particularly challenging hilly 7km route around Marshall and Nursery Roads at Holland Park.

My goals were simple, keep a slow and steady pace, concentrate on my breathing, and try to do the whole run without stopping. This I accomplished, but I didn’t prepare sufficiently for the wracking heat and humidity of the late morning. I should have run with a water pack or left some water along the route as I was pretty drained by the time I finished. Unexpected were the mind games that plagued me early in the run, heaps of negative thoughts about lack of preparation, injuries, tiredness, heat, etc. etc. Thankfully, I quashed them all with some positive reframing and even used this billboard as inspiration at one point!

By the time I got to the top of Marshall Road (nice long incline thanks Shi Xiong!) I was feeling pretty good and by the time I got to the surprise steep incline at the crematorium I literally lol’d out loud and tackled it head on. “Just 5 more minutes” was my mantra for the remaining km’s.

 

Push Ups and Sit Ups (225 of each)

This went better than I expected. Was really happy with my push-ups as they’ve never been my strongest suit – I’m not even sore in the shoulders and pecs today! Sit-ups and core were certainly pushed to their limit (note to self – do more work on my lower back!).

Stances

By far the most grueling part of the grading was the stances. The first was Horse stance for a time greater than our Glory Board requirements! Then followed that with the other 7 stances. By the time we got to the 4th stance, unicorn, my legs were cramping and seizing up and I was shaking uncontrollably. A few times I had head spins and nearly blacked out once. I was trying to stay as low as possible and not collapse so I’ll be interested in seeing the video record to see for myself the standard I achieved.

 

Sparring

After a short break and lots of rehydration I couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer. 10 rounds of various sparring. 3 were stand up sparring rounds which I was reasonably happy with. I had to stay efficient and use minimal effort to conserve energy but that didn’t stop my opponents (Shi Peter, Shi Xiong Vince and Shi Xiong Richard) from pushing me.

 

2 solo grappling rounds I survived, but both Thomas and Daran proved formidable duifengs (opponents). Thomas evengot a good submission early on, and then I was able to hold on.

The round of knife defence went about how I expected, a few
wonderful takedowns and disarms and a few botched attempts where I received ‘cuts’ and ‘stabs” from Shi Xiong Vince.

One round of vigorous Push hands with Shifu Kevin took me back to early days of training. Shifu Kevin also took it upon himself to massage my legs regularly which I was extremely grateful for!

The grapple against 2 opponents went awry straight from the start as my right calf cramped badly almost immediately taking away my main strategy of tying up Katerina with my legs. As a result I was pinned for most of the time and had to resort to ‘dirty tactics’ such as trying to choke Iryna with her own pony tail. Thanks for participating ladies!

The 2 on one spar and 3 on one spar were (obviously) the hardest. I tried to use individuals as shields and tried attacking the directions I wasn’t looking towards however I was inevitably overwhelmed. But it was never about trying to win, just prevail as best as possible and dig deep to continue when your reserves are spent. So while I was given a bit of a hiding I did at least manage to keep on going. Thanks to the supporters and spectators for coming along. Many thanks to my duifengs for using control and leaving me bruised but not broken. Much respect to you all.

 

Yours in Ming,

(Shi Gong) Jason

Chinese dining may be quite different to what you do at home or at a European restaurant, so here are a few traditional tips you can try out as the Chinese New Year celebrations come to an end with the Lantern Festival on Feb 22.

If you’re invited to a person’s house, then you should consider it an honour. Make sure you turn up on time, bring a small gift for the host/hostess and leave your shoes at the door.
If at a restaurant, Chinese people typically use a round or square table.

Can you spot the "head of the table" position?

Banquet time!

The guest of honour will be given a seat facing the door whilst the youngest or the person of the least importance would take the seat closest to the door.
The host begins eating first and offers the first toast.
In a Chinese meal, an even number of dishes should be ordered. Odd numbers of dishes would be appropriate only for occasions such as the meal after a funeral.
• Don’t dig in the food on a plate to find the best pieces
• Don’t pick one piece then drop it back in the plate and change to another piece
• Don’t let your chopsticks be covered with food juice or residue and don’t lick or suck your chopsticks
• Don’t use chopsticks to beat any utensils or to make any noise
• Don’t wave your chopsticks or use them like forks
• Don’t put chopsticks vertically in rice in a bowl since it resembles the incense sticks for the dead
• Don’t put chopsticks over your bowl because it means it’s an invitation for spirits to eat your dinner. Therefore it’s bad luck.
• Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak. When you’re not using the chopsticks, place them on the chopstick rest or side by side neatly on the plate in front of you.
• Your chopsticks are for your personal use only, transferring food from your bowl or plate to your mouth. Rice can be eaten by holding the bowl close up to your mouth and using a quick shovelling movement with the chopsticks, Chinese style.

Fortune Cookie

Whats your fortune?

  • The best dish should be put in front of the most important person in order to show your respect. Chicken head or duck head on a plate should not point at guests. The big bowl of soup should be placed in the middle.
  • When you eat fish, it would be better if you just take out the skeletons after finishing one side of the meat than to turn the whole fish upside down because it is bad luck (resembles a boat being turned upside down).
  • It could be frowned upon if you add soya sauce to your rice! Rice is meant to taste fresh but bland, as an accompaniment to the stronger flavours of the dishes.
  • When transferring food from the shared dishes to your personal bowl, use the spoon or provided for each dish, or a pair of chopsticks for general use. It’s really frowned upon to suck or lick your own chopsticks, then help yourself to more food from the shared dishes! This is unhygienic and will put fellow diners off their food.
  • If you’re eating food that someone has cooked for you, please don’t ask for soya sauce, chilli sauce or extra seasoning unless your host has mentioned that you might need it and offers it to you.
  • You should also serve yourself from the area of the dish directly in front of you, rather than spooning from any other area.
  • It’s more polite to serve yourself smaller portions, more frequently.
  • Never eat the last piece from the serving tray.
  • You should try everything that is offered to you.
  • Do not pour your own drink. It shows a lack of protocol.
  • Be observant to other peoples’ needs.
  • The most common expression for toasting is Gan bei, meaning “dry cup”, or bottoms up. dinner2

    Some dinner experiences I had while in China.

    Some dinner experiences I had while in China.

  • Finally, if there’s some food left in a shared dish, but not quite enough for two helpings, then do ask if anyone wants it before finishing it off.
  • Eat well to demonstrate that you are enjoying dinner3the food!
  • If you are the guest, remember not to leave too much food behind because it would mean that you don’t like the food.
  • Guests should sample all of the dishes and leave something on the plate at the end of the meal. A clean plate indicates you are still hungry and it is the host’s responsibility to see that you are continually served food and drink.
  • Do not put bones in your bowl. Place them on the table or in a special bowl for that purpose.
  • Do not be offended if a Chinese person makes slurping or belching sounds; it merely indicates that they are enjoying their food.
  • Cover your mouth while you’re using toothpicks.

Many of these are comparable to our “common courtesies” in the West but some are new and have interesting reasons behind them. Next time we have a banquet we’ll have to trial these and see how we go!

Finger Tapping

There is another ritual that has an historic origin. When you see tea-drinkers tapping the table with three fingers of a hand, do not think it is a superstitious gesture. It is a silent expression of gratitude to the member of the party who has refilled their cup. The gesture recreates a tale of Imperial obeisance.

Thank your server by tapping fingers.

Thank your server by tapping fingers.

The story tells of a Qing Dynasty emperor who used to go out and about on his lands in disguise on inspection visits. While visiting South China, he once went into a teahouse with his companions. In order to preserve his anonymity, he took a turn at pouring tea as not to have done so would have revealed his special status. His shocked companions wanted to kowtow to him for the great honour he was doing them. Instead of letting them reveal his identity, the emperor told them to tap three fingers on the table. One finger represented their bowed head and the other two represented their prostrate arms. True or not, this is the basis for the custom of discreetly tapping your acknowledgment of a tea-drinking companion’s consideration.

Most people are familiar at some level with the concept I refer to called muscle memory. It is synonymous with motor learning which is the long term memory associated repetition of a task. What the body does over and over again, it begins to instinctively develop as a default physicality. This can work both in a positive or negative manner. If you consistently train to deliver strikes for example, always maintaining balance, good posture and proper breathing, then it stands to reason that when you compete or use your skills in a real life situation, that you are more likely to retain those important principles. Those principles are important by the way for a number of reasons. Firstly, techniques were created and used historically under real combat conditions and adjusted and passed on only if useful/successful. Or they create part of the developmental process whereby your strength, flexibility or coordination is improved.

Muscle Memory in Martial Arts

Muscle Memory in Martial Arts

It’s not a given unfortunately, the body is fickle and the fight/flight/freeze syndrome may come into play. This is where the body reacts to a stressful situation with a range of physiological actions to immediately prepare for. If you train with realistic scenarios in mind, or with training partners who can put you under controlled pressure, then I would presume the freeze reflex may be reduced and the fight reflex may be easier to activate. I think it’s fair to say that what the body is familiar with through sufficient repetition, it is more likely to recall.
Negative muscle memory however, can occur if you are someone who doesn’t pay attention to fine points or correcting idiosyncrasies. In this case, no matter how many millions of repetitions you do, the optimal technique will not come to you. In fact, you are likely to be ‘pushing’ it further and further away by reinforcing the wrong details. The more you practice without attention to minutiae, the harder it will be to correct those idiosyncrasies. In my experience, unlearning wrong details is far more difficult than taking the time to get it right in the first place.
So what are some reasons for students not learning details? Some observations I’ve made, primarily relate to the student’s ego. Humans naturally enough dislike having faults or criticisms pointed out, and may therefore feel judged, disappointed (in themselves or for the instructor), upset, picked on, stupid, uncoordinated or that they are a failure. So one defense mechanism to feeling these ‘negative’ emotions is ‘closing off’ or failing to register what is being said. Have you ever given feedback but felt like it was not being taken on board? Or they refuse to believe it? Or they justify it in an often pitiful way! “Yeah, but ….”
Another potential reason for failing to study forms in depth, is that the student is overly focussed on the objective and losing awareness of the ‘journey’. In kung fu for example, students traditionally learn through forms (choreographed routines). I have many, many times seen students rush to complete learning their forms, thinking that it signifies the end of that one and therefore the beginning of something new and exciting – the next form! Is this the result of the MTV generation, needing lots and lots of sensory stimulation to stay interested?
Perhaps it is the fault of our disposable spoon feeding society? I have seen this attitude in other education environments too. With adult drama students, where they (generally) are content to aim for a 51% mark which gives them the same qualification as if they had earned 100%. Even if they fail, todays students are given repeated opportunities to pass. Even, when there is some sort of disability involved, then allowances are made, eyes turned, boxes ticked. Of course, people who need help should be given help, I just think not enough validation goes into the efforts invested prior to making allowances. I think the government driven assessment protocols have a lot to answer for. They have created an entire generation of ‘good enough’ which in the real world is RARELY good enough to succeed.
Often there is a subconscious (or even conscious) competitiveness within the student in trying to beat others, or keep up with others instead of focussing on their own progress in their own time. Ironic, considering students who have progressed much slower are regularly seen to end up with a far better product once finished. It would be fantastic to see more of that! In order to learn quickly, they sacrifice detail and understanding and satisfy themselves with the ‘right shapes’.
In fact, ‘completing’ the routine barely scratches the surface of ‘learning’ the form. At least that’s the case if you want to understand the techniques, perfect the techniques, be able to use the techniques, understand the essence of the form, integrate qi (energy) and focus into the form, coordinate breathing and eye contact with the form, and more. If you don’t want these things, then why are you training in martial arts? In days of old, a single form contained the entire fighting system for an individual family/style and they would spend their lifetime dedicated to the understanding and application of it!

Accepting criticism in martial arts

Accepting criticism in martial arts

Sometimes the lack of details is the fault of the instructor. Many schools focus on pushing students through quickly to gradings so as to line their pockets. Or maybe a teacher lacks detailed knowledge themselves (which then goes back further to their instructor!). Often the teacher process may not suit a particular student’s learning style. Studying martial arts is traditionally a very visual process. For centuries, martial arts were passed on generation to generation through observation. Watch and follow the Master. Don’t ask questions, don’t improvise, just perfect and mimic the movements as close as possible to the Master. But in this day and age, a good teacher will recognise that sometimes students will respond quicker or more intuitively when taught in an auditory or kinaesthetic manner.
Something I have observed during my journey from student to teacher, is that in teaching a form to someone else, I was relearning it myself. Large improvements occurred to my forms due to the teaching of it to someone else, breaking it down, analysing the biomechanics, understanding the intricacies, purpose and precision of even the smallest movements.
With the teacher at fault examples, there are strategies that can be utilised that will provide a higher degree of success. More practice at diagnosing the student’s learning styles for example. Simply checking what instructions yield the best results for the class as a whole or for an individual can be enlightening for the instructor. I have found that best results occur when I deliver instructions using multiple methods. A groin kick can be physically demonstrated, verbally described using “lift the knee, extend the foot” commands, analogised by saying “imagine you are flicking water off your foot”. I can even physically lift a student’s leg to the right position, then get them to close their eyes to ‘feel’ the action. Doubtless there are many more possibilities, but I wonder if many teachers just resort to the physical demonstration. Might seem obvious to them, especially if that is how they learnt it, but for a non visual person a description may work better.
If a teacher lacks details themselves then perhaps they need to look more deeply at their work or refer back to their own instructor. And if they are pumping students through the system, then they have greater problems to worry about than financial morals. That’s a topic on ethics for another day entirely!
If criticism is not being accepted by the student, the following strategies could be attempted by the teacher. Be gentle and tactful in your delivery. Bookend your criticism between 2 positive statements. Give them the note/s individually not in front of the whole class. Be affirming and use positive reinforcement wherever possible. Don’t give them too many notes at once – typically, I find 3 at a time is enough to focus on without them being overwhelmed. Be reassuring and patient. Lead by example.

Feedback in Martial arts training

Feedback in Martial arts training

Attitudinal memory, for want of a better term, is just as important. If we automatically focus on the mistakes we make, the wrong choices taken, react negatively to decisions made, then we deny ourselves the opportunity to maximise the new options presented. We waste our focus and attention on what has already happened and are distracted from new possibilities. That’s not to say we shouldn’t learn from our errors or that we should ignore non optimal circumstances, but instead put time aside for reflection and learning rather than immediately focus on the ‘failure’.

A simple combat example is as follows. In evading a committed right straight punch we could move to the left or right. Logic tells us that if we move to our left then that is the preferred option due to the position on the outside of the attacker and their inability to follow up effectively. Now, if we react ‘wrongly’ and move to our right (the attackers inside line), then follow up attacks are more likely to be delivered. We have two choices. We can focus on the ‘wrong’ move, perhaps even try to correct it, but chances are our brain will be distracted, our reflexes too slow, and timing will be almost definitely out leaving us vulnerable. Or, we can recognise our non-optimal choice and make the best of the situation realising that our defensive guard needs to remain and that new and different counter options are available.
The same could be said for focusing on the ‘right’ choice too. If we are so busy patting ourselves on the back for ‘correctly’ evading to the outside, then we may miss the fact that our opponent has spun with a back fist coming our way. Wait for the immediate objective to be resolved before reflecting with congratulations or commiserations.
A practical everyday example might be realising half way through a semester of study that we have selected a particular subject that is boring, irrelevant or just plain unenjoyable. We can focus on that and constantly remind ourselves that we don’t like it, don’t need it, skip those classes, spend more time on other subjects etc. Or, we could say, OK, this is not what I wanted but if I still put the effort in, it will boost my overall GPA. Find the positives for doing the subject, whether it be recognising what it is you truly do like, maybe it’s the skill or experience of the teacher, or a future subject you now have the prerequisite for. This more positive outlook will surely yield better results. At the right time obviously, we can reflect and acknowledge that we need to steer back on course, with future subject selections, be thankful that we now know from trial and error that a certain field is not what we had hoped it to be.

Positive attitude in martial arts

Positive attitude in martial arts

But for the main problem I have raised, I think we have a duty as instructors to gently ‘force’ the student to slow down, learn deeper not broader and find that glimpse of what our martial forefathers knew. Perhaps we need to explain the benefits of learning the traditional way and the detriments of rushing the study. I for one in recent years, have made students apply for gradings, proving their readiness through the demonstration of appropriate skill level. This has always been there in principle but will be more readily instigated by being on paper. Therefore students who have ‘done their time’ will no longer be getting through with moderate grades or probationary levels. I daresay this practice will reduce student numbers, but perhaps in time, the demonstrated quality of the school will bring its own rewards.

Perfect practice makes perfect in martial arts

Perfect practice makes perfect in martial arts

Shifu Kevin, Shi Xiong Richard, Shifu Jason, Shifu Peter, Shi Xiong Vincent, Shifu Richard

Shifu Kevin, Shi Xiong Richard, Shifu Jason, Shifu Peter, Shi Xiong Vincent, Shifu Richard

Traditionally there is a great deal of respect and protocol that goes along with titles amongst the martial arts family. Family is the best term actually, as the hierarchical terms are based on traditional Chinese family structure. One character used for Shifu is in fact, father. Fellow classmates are referred to as younger or older brothers and sisters depending on whether they have trained longer or shorter than yourself. Your Shifu’s classmates are referred to as younger or older aunts and uncles and in return they will use niece and nephew. Likewise your Shifu’s teacher/s become known as Grandmaster and Great Grandmaster. See list below for some of the more commonly used titles and their meaning.

Traditional Kung Fu Family Titles
Founder
Mandarin (Pinyin): Zu Shi

Great Great Grandmaster
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Zu

Great Grandmaster
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Tai Gong

Grandmaster
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Gong

Teacher of Tradition
Mandarin (Pinyin): Zong Shi

Teacher/Master
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Fu

Si Mou – Master’s Wife
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Mu

Senior Kungfu Brother
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Xiong

Senior Kungfu Sister
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Jie

Junior Kungfu Brother
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Di

Junior Kungfu Sister
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Mei

Student
Mandarin (Pinyin): Tu Di
Grandstudent (Male)
Mandarin (Pinyin): Tu Sun

Grandstudent (Female)
Mandarin (Pinyin): Tu Sun Nu

Senior Kungfu Uncle
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Bo

Senior Kungfu Aunt
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Gu Ma

Junior Kungfu Uncle
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Shu

Junior Kungfu Aunt
Mandarin (Pinyin): Shi Gu Jie

Kungfu Nephew
Mandarin (Pinyin): Si Zhi

Kungfu Niece
Mandarin (Pinyin): Si Zhi Nu

As you can see a single person may be referred to by 4, 5 or even more titles depending on who is speaking to them. To simplify matters in BKF we have adopted a simplified approach. Chief Instructor is referred to as Shi Gong, Instructors are referred to as Shifu, advanced students/assistant instructors are referred to as Shi Xiong (or Shi Jie if female) and students simply called by name. This takes care of the bulk of our interactions but as we grow and interact more with our kung fu grandmasters, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. we may adopt more and more titles as needed.

Qi Lin – Oriental Unicorn              (thanks to Wikipedia)

The Qilin is a mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creature known throughout various East Asian cultures, and is said to appear in conjunction with the arrival of a sage. It is a good omen that brings rui (roughly translated as “serenity” or “prosperity”). It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body.

The Qilin of China's subsequent Manchurian dominated Qing dynasty (1644–1911) is a much more fanciful animal.

Manchurian depictions of the Qilin depict a creature with the head of a dragon, the antlers of a deer, the skin and scales of a fish, the hooves of an ox and tail of a lion.

Origins

The earliest references to the Qilin are in the 5th Century BC book Zuo Zhuang. The Qilin made appearances in a variety of subsequent Chinese works of history and fiction. At one point, however, it became identified with the giraffe and even today, the giraffe is called a “qilin” in Korean and Japanese.

The Qilin became a stylised representation of the giraffe in Ming dynasty. It is known that on Zheng He’s voyage to East Africa (landing, among other places, in modern-day Kenya), the fleet brought back two giraffes to Beijing. It is also known that these two giraffes were referred to as “Qilins”. The Emperor proclaimed the giraffes magical creatures, whose capture signalled the greatness of his power.

The identification between the Qilin and the giraffe is supported by some attributes of the Qilin, including its vegetarian and quiet nature. Its reputed ability to “walk on grass without disturbing it” may be related to the giraffe’s long legs. Also the Qilin is described as having antlers like a deer and scales like a dragon or fish; since the giraffe has horn-like “oscines” on its head and a tessellated coat pattern that looks like scales it is easy to draw an analogy between the two creatures.

It is unlikely that giraffes and qilins were regarded as the same creature in pre-modern times however. For example, typical depictions of the qilin have much shorter necks than giraffes. However, the Chinese word 麒 and 麟 both carry Chinese radical 鹿, suggesting that it was originally a type of deer, or perhaps even antelope.

The nature of the beast

Although it looks fearsome, the Qilin only punishes the wicked. It can walk on grass yet not trample the blades and it can also walk on water. Being a peaceful creature, its diet does not include flesh. It takes great care when it walks never to tread on any living thing, and it is said to appear only in areas ruled by a wise and benevolent leader (some say even if this area is only a house). It is normally gentle but can become fierce if a pure person is threatened by a sinner, spouting flames from its mouth and exercising other fearsome powers that vary from story to story.

Some stories state that the Qilin is a sacred pet (or familiar) of the deities. Therefore, in the hierarchy of dances performed by the Chinese (Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, Phoenix dance, etc), the Qilin ranks highly; second only to the Dragon and Phoenix who are the highest.

In the Qilin Dance, movements are characterised by fast, powerful strokes of the head. Qilin Dance is often regarded as the hardest dance to perform due to the weight of the head, stances and the emphasis on “fǎ jìn” (outbursts of strength/power/energy).

Variations

There are variations in the appearance of the qilin, even as seen in a single country such as China owing to cultural differences between dynasties and regions.

Ming dynasty example 

In the Ming dynasty of China (1368–1644) the Qilin is represented as an oxen-hooved animal with a dragon-like head surmounted by a pair of horns and flame-like head ornaments.

A Qilin in the dragon, fish, and ox style of the Ming Dynasty. Note the pair of horns.

In the Ming Dynasty of China (1368–1644) the Qilin is represented as an oxen-hooved animal with a dragon-like head surmounted by a pair of horns and flame-like head ornaments.

 

 

 

 

A qilin of the Qing dynasty in Beijing's Summer Palace

A qilin of the Qing dynasty in Beijing’s Summer Palace

 

 

 

 

Qing dynasty example

The Qilin of China’s subsequent Manchurian dominated Qing dynasty (1644–1911) is a much more fanciful animal. Manchurian depictions of the Qilin depict a creature with the head of a dragon, the antlers of a deer, the skin and scales of a fish, the hooves of an ox and tail of a lion.

 

 

Brisbane Kung Fu Example -Unicorn Stance   

Not the "unicorn" we usually associate with.

A useful stance to move through while delivering a strike to a low target and avoiding a high line attack.

QiLin Bu/Chi Lin Bu (pron. Chee Lin Boo).

Unicorn stance is created with the beam of the foot about 30cm diagonally behind the front foot. The front foot remains flat on the floor while the back foot is propped on its toes. Squat down until the front thigh is parallel to the ground and the knees are closed together. Weight is evenly distributed and the back is kept straight with the butt tucked in.

UFC versus real life

 

While UFC and MMA in general are considered by many to be the epitome of fighting, it is extremely prudent to consider that it is a world away from self defence in a street fight.  Not only for the environment which is an isolated cage free of obstacles and dangers, with a fence separating you from any other person (other than a referee who is ready to stop the fight at a moments notice!).

 

Then there is the fact that there are time limits, weight classes, no weapons, and a limited array of clothing options, all of which would make a difference in  a “real” situation.

 

Were you prepared for multiple assailants, weapons and no holds barred?

How would you fare in this situation?

Are you prepared for boxing, kicking, takedowns, grappling, ground and pound?

How would you fare in this arena?

Lastly, and most interestingly to the traditional martial art technicians out there, here is a sample of some of the fighting rules in an UFC match. These come from an excellent book called “Scaling Force” by violence experts Rory Miller and Lawrence Kane.

 

These moves are outlawed

  • Head-butts
  • Eye gouges
  • Throat strikes
  • Grabbing the trachea
  • Biting
  • Hair pulling
  • Groin strikes
  • Fishhooking
  • Putting finger into any orifice or cut or laceration
  • Small joint manipulation
  • Striking the spine
  • Striking the back of the head
  • Striking downwards with the elbow
  • Clawing, pinching or twisting the opponents flesh
  • Grabbing the clavicle
  • Kicking the head of a downed opponent
  • Kneeing the head of a downed opponent
  • Stomping a grounded opponent
  • Kicking the kidneys with your heel
  • Spiking an opponent head first into the floor
  • Throwing the opponent out of the ring
  • Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent
  • Spitting at an opponent
  • Engaging in an unsportsmanlike conduct that causes injury. ?
  • Holding the ropes or fence
  • Using abusive language
  • Attacking an opponent during a break period
  • Attacking an opponent under care of the referee
  • Attacking the opponent after the bell
  • Disobeying the referees instructions
  • Interference by someone in the competitors corner

 

Not sure about you but most of these are things that I practice (or attempt with some care) within my training environment. It gives me hope then that I could prevail with this extended repertoire of available techniques.

 

How to be a Good Training Partner

A good training partner works at the right balance for his partner. By this I mean he/she doesn’t simply think about himself and ignore his partners needs. That would be an ego driven person. If practising countering techniques for example, there is little benefit if the ‘attacker’ uses no intent or commitment in his attack. I sometimes see students holding their arm out as if it’s a punch or pulling up way short of the target. Not useful!

Similarly, if there is no subsequent resistance to the counter defense it delivers no reality to the practitioner. In real life, an attacker WILL commit, WILL resist and that is what the practitioner should be prepared for. However, if we play the attacker with 100% commitment and resist as much as possible, we stop the practitioner from being able to learn or practice the technique. This is often the ego not wanting to ‘lose’ even within the training environment. I usually advise for the defender to include the softening technique in this case 😉

Ironically, in real life, an attacker often does not have the opportunity to react and resist as they aren’t necessarily expecting the technique being applied. Also, for techniques to fully work, the softening and commitment to the technique is required against a real attacker. When we are lessening or controlling our technique to avoid injuring our training partner, it is hardly fair for that partner to apply inordinate resistance.

Kung Fu takedown

Reinhardt executing a takedown on Shi Xiong Vince at Brisbane Kung Fu fundraiser dinner.

standing arm bar

Here’s a suggestion for finding a balance between accommodating and resisting. Start at a slow speed and with no resistance and gradually build up both as your partner successfully completes the technique. Aim to work up to a point of reasonable speed and resistance where the technique is successfully done approximately two thirds of the time. That is, your partner should ‘fail’ 3 or 4 times out of every ten attempts as a result of your speed or resistance. Once the success rate improves, then incrementally increase the speed, resistance and complexity. Next stage would be to introduce either multiple techniques and/or free sparring and seeing if the techniques or principles hold. Lastly, building up the pressure, ie more contact, multiple attackers, weapons, or simply random unexpected attacks.

 

Only if this last stage is dealt with successfully should a practitioner feel confident to use their skills in ‘real life’. Even then, there is a need to maintain your skills, fitness and awareness to keep on top of your game.

So, what stage are you at in your training? And where would you like to be? And how are you going to get there?

HOW TO REACH 100 PUSH UPS?

 With 2013 having just begun, and the Brisbane Kung Fu Glory Board just having been set up, most of you will be working towards new goals for this new and exciting year. One of them being: the challenging “100 push-ups goal”.

In this article, I will try to give you some kind of idea on how to reach such a goal when it seems to be such an unachievable task. Whether you cannot do a single push-up yet or not, I promise you results!

First and foremost, NEVER SACRIFICE FORM FOR REPETITIONS! Repeat this a thousand times! This is extremely important. Doing 100 push-ups in one go is a difficult exercise, no matter what your level of fitness is. Keeping the proper form required to do your push-ups is therefore crucial if you don’t want to hurt yourself.

 

So what is the form?

Start on your hands and toes, hands a little wider than shoulder width apart and feet together. Your body is flat, like a plank, your shoulders are above your hands. Your abs and glutes are tight.

Proper Form - Side Profile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go down, keeping your back as flat as you can. Your whole body should be aligned (still like a plank). Here, your abs and glutes are even tighter. It is very important to keep all your muscles engaged (especially abs and glutes) while you do a push-up, as it will help maintaining the proper structure for the exercise (like on the photo below).

Proper Form - Halfway Down position

If you go all the way down, where your chest touches the floor, make sure that your body is still flat and hard. If you are floppy or you relax your muscles, you will risk injuring your lower back. As you see in the photo below, my chest touches the floor, my elbows are up, my muscles are engaged and my backside is not sticking up. Notice as well that my head is up and I’m looking straight. Everything is aligned, from feet to crown.

 

Proper Form - Down position

The following photo shows what you should avoid at all times! It is better to stop and rest rather than go in this position. Notice that my backside is sticking up, my head is not straight anymore but pulled back and my lower back is arching. This is everything you DO NOT want to do.

Bad Form

For those of you that cannot do push-ups on your feet yet, a good way to start is to do it on your knees. The position is exactly the same except that your knees are on the floor (From left photo to middle photo). If you cannot do 10 push-ups on your toes respecting the proper form for the full 10 repetitions, I recommend you start on your knees until you can achieve that. If you can achieve 10 push-ups on your feet with the proper form though, do not do the knee push-ups. I know it is easier and you will be able to achieve more repetitions during your series but you will get more out of 6 series of 2 push-ups on your feet rather than 6 series of 10 push-ups on your knees (providing the proper form is respected).

     

 Another way of working your way to proper push-ups on you feet is to do them with your feet on the floor and your hands on a chair or a box (like in exercise P2 further in this article). Then you lower the height of the support week by week until your hands are on the ground. Form is the same, make sure you respect it!

Finally, I recommend training in front of a mirror if you are a beginner or if you are not sure about where your body is in space. This will help you make sure that you are in the correct position while you learn to feel where your body is when doing the exercise. Eventually, you won’t need the mirror anymore and you will be able to tell as soon as you start arching or you relax your muscles (they usually come together: arching = muscles relaxed).

Remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong about training in front of a mirror or asking a friend or family member to correct your position (provided they know the correct way to do it). It is not a shame to admit you are unsure about your position. Checking yourself out so you don’t hurt yourself is in fact very smart.

 If you train with a mirror:

–          Try to work facing the mirror or diagonally facing it so you can use your peripheral vision to see where your body is. If you work from the side, you will have to turn your head and it will break your structure, which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

–          Work slowly so you can see and feel what you are doing.

 Now, how do you get to a hundred push-ups?

 Well first thing: remember that when doing push-ups for this goal, you only need to stop at 90º (forearm and upper arm forming a right angle). You don’t need to go all the way down, until your chest touches the floor. Now, what does this imply? You’ve guessed it you clever cookie! Train going all the way down! It is indeed harder but it will feel a lot easier when it comes to doing the assessment for the Glory Board.

What follows is only an example of how you can get there. There are many other ways you can achieve this but this is a way that worked for me and I thought I would share it with you.

Oh! One more thing before we get into it: BREATHE!!

Always think about breathing deeply while you train. Do not block/restrict your breathing. By inhaling deeply you will have more strength and will help you during the exercises.

Inhale deeply while going down and exhale as much as you can while coming up (hard part of the exercise).

When the exercise becomes really hard, you can start breathing differently: inhale deeply while you go down, block your breathing during the hardest part of the effort and exhale. Blocking your breathing should be as short as you can and only in case of struggle during the last reps of your series. Otherwise, keep breathing normally: inhale while you go down, exhale while you come back up.

 

THE PROGRAM

I will take a week starting on Mondays for my program example but your week can start whenever you want depending on how much you work, when you train etc. Respect the resting days in between sessions though.

TEST DAY

 

1)     Warm up correctly (if you are attempting this goal, I assume you should know how to do this)

  1. Get the blood pumping (running, skipping rope, star jumps…)
  2. Stretch
  3. Warm up the muscles: do a few push-ups (stop just before you are tired –even if this means doing 1 push-up)

2)     Rest for 3 minutes

3)     Do as many push-ups as you can (all the way down at a normal pace)

4)     Stretch

If you can do 30 push-ups or more in one go, go straight to PART 2 of the program. If you can’t or you feel like 30 push-ups was extremely hard, go to PART 1.

Remember that before every session, you need to warm up correctly. If you are unsure about how to warm up, ask a Sifu or an advanced student about how to warm up properly.

PART 1 – GETTING YOUR BODY USED TO THE EXERCISE AND LEARNING THE PROPER FORM.

For this program, push-ups need to be done at a slow to normal pace, insisting on the form of your body. Go all the way down!

Frequency of training:

 

1st week:

 

Every day except on the week end:

 

Do 2 series of as many push-ups as you can. 1 minute rest between each series.

From the 2nd week onwards:

 

Monday, Wednesday and Friday:

 

Do 2 series of as many push-ups as you can. 1 minute rest between each series.

Once you reach 30 push-ups in one go easily, go to PART 2 of the program.

PART 2 – LET’S GET INTO IT!

The goal in this program is to increase each series by one push-up every session. So if you do 6 series of 5 repetitions on one day, try doing 6 series on 6 repetitions the next time you train.

 

Frequency of training:

 

1st week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

 

From the 2nd week onwards: Monday, Wednesday and Friday:

Program:

P1: This is the basic push-up exercise described at the beginning of this article. Hands are a little wider than shoulder width apart, feet together.

6 series of 3 push-ups with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Stop at 90º. Go as fast as you can (BUT KEEP THE FORM!)

2 minutes rest

P2: For this exercise, you will be needing two chairs. Put your hands on the chairs. Shoulders right above your hands (photo on the left). Go down, keeping your elbow against your body. Keep your back flat. Feet can be wide apart (middle photo) or toghether (photo on the right), it’s up to you. I tend to prefer to have my feet together so I can tense my abs and glutes easily, which helps me keep the proper form. Whichever way you decide to go with, there will be a point of inflection in your body between your bum and your back – this is normal, don’t panic, just make sure that your muscles are tight and your back is flat. Keep your bum as low as you can to help with that.

6 series of 3 push-ups with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Stop at 90º. Go as fast as you can (BUT KEEP THE FORM!)

 

2 minutes rest

 

 

P3: Going back to the basic push-up exercise. This time, your hands are twice to three times your shoulder width apart (depending on how comfortable you feel). Same position as the basic push-up exercise except that the hands are wider. Make sure you respect the form.

6 series of 3 push-ups with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Stop at 90º. Go as fast as you can (BUT KEEP THE FORM!)

2 minutes rest

P4: Same position as the basic push-up exercise except that the hands are together. Make sure you respect the form.

 

6 series of 1 push-up with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Stop at 90º. Go as fast as you can (BUT KEEP THE FORM!)

 

The general objective of this program is to reach 8-10 repetitions on each series. Once you reach that, go to PART 3 of the program.

 

If you feel like you reached 10 repetitions easily, do not hesitate to spend more time in this part of the program and go up to 15 or 20 reps.

PART 3 – TOWARDS THE HUNDRED MARK!

This part is exactly the same as PART 2 except that you are going to do only half of the movement.

This means you go down a little bit under 90º (photo on the right) and push-up just a little bit over 90º (photo on the left) – so you arms are never completely extended or completely collapsed. Movements should be small and fast.

You should feel like your muscles are “swelling”. This is normal – and good. It is because the muscle is never in full extension and thus contracted the whole time of the exercise. It is important that you respect the resting time.

 The general objective of this program is to reach 8-10 repetitions on each series. Once you reach that, go to PART 4 of the program.

 If you feel like you reached 10 repetitions easily, do not hesitate to spend more time in this part of the program and go up to 15 or 20 reps.

PART 4 – YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!

In this part, the movement will be full. This means you start with your arms extended, go all the way down, until your chest touches the floor and get back up. Normal pace should be used.

Follow the program from PART 2 with only a change in amplitude (full movement).

The general objective of this program is to reach 8-10 repetitions on each series. Once you reach that, go to PART 5 of the program.

If you feel like you reached 10 repetitions easily, do not hesitate to spend more time in this part of the program and go up to 15 or 20 reps.

PART 5 – FINAL ROUND!

We are now going to change the exercises a little bit.

Frequency of training:

 

1st week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

 

From the 2nd week onwards: Monday, Wednesday and Friday:

Program:

P5: This is the same exercise as P1 except that your feet are on a table hands on a chair, about twice your shoulder width apart. Make sure that the distance between the chairs and the tables permit your body to stay straight and flat during the exercise. More than ever during this exercise, keep your body strong (abs and glutes tight and back flat). NEVER ARCH YOUR BACK, even when the exercise becomes difficult. If you need, come down, rest and start the next series. Go as low as you can and come back up until your arms are completely straight.

6 series of 3 push-ups with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Full movement at normal pace.

25 seconds rest

P6: This is the same exercise as P2, except that you are on the floor. There should no longer be a point of inflection between your bum and your back. Your whole body should be completely flat. Go all the way down (until your chest touches your hands) and come back all the way up (until your arms are completely straight).

6 series of 3 push-ups with 25 seconds rest in between each series.

Full movement at normal pace.

2 minutes rest

Dips: Hold your weight above the ground, hands on two chairs or parallel bars if you can access some (photo on the left). The distance between the chairs should be roughly one arm plus one hand as shown on the middle photo. Make sure this is comfortable and adjust it if needed. Do not go too much narrower than this though. Go down half way/to 90º (photo on the right) and come back up until your arms are completely straight.

6 series of 1 dip.

Go as fast as you can.

 

This is a very difficult exercise and should you decide to give it a go, you might not be able to even do one. THIS IS NORMAL! Don’t panic, persist!

This exercise can feel a little bit awkward and hurt your elbows and your chest if you don’t do it properly.

Therefore, I highly recommend that before attempting this exercise, you come and see me so I can show you how it’s done and I can correct your form.

Just for your information, one of my mates started this training and he could not do 1 dip! After a year or so, he tested himself and he could do 31 dips in one go!

The general objective of this program is to reach 8-10 repetitions on each series. Once you reach that, well done!

 

If you feel like you reached 10 repetitions easily, do not hesitate to spend more time in this part of the program and go up to 15 or 20 reps.

 

If you want to keep going with some fitness exercises, please see a Sifu or an advanced student for help and guidance.

A FEW NOTES

  • Make sure that you test yourself every two weeks by doing what is described in the TEST DAY. This will permit you to keep track of your progress.
  • It is also a good idea to keep a notebook with the days of your sessions and how many reps per exercises you have been doing and how many reps you did on your last test day. This will also help you see how much progress you have made and keep you motivated in continuing the workout. There is nothing worse than feeling that the fitness you are doing has got no results on you. Well this notebook will prove you wrong!

It should look something like this:

  • Every month, you need to try and do as many push-ups as you can, as if you were to do them under Sifu’s supervision for the Glory Board. This doesn’t mean that you can skip you test day. Say you do your test day on one of your day off (like Saturday for example) then you can do the Glory Board trial on the Sunday.
  • Say on one day you did 6 series as follow:

8 8 8 8 8 6 or 8 8 8 8 7 3 or … you get the idea

On the following session, still try and do 6 series of 9 repetitions. Most of the times, you will notice that the overall number of repetitions on one exercise will go up.

However, if you just did:

7 7 7 7 7 7 and on your next session you do 8 8 5 3 2 1

Stay on 6 series of 8 repetitions on your next session.

  • People sometimes get discouraged because they are training alone. So feel free to get someone that has the same objective as you do and do it together. It doesn’t matter if one is doing series of 8 repetitions and the other one is doing series of only 3 repetitions. Just knowing that someone is making it hard for himself with you should make you smile and motivate you. And trust me, it is always very funny to see someone struggling doing an exercise…well until it’s your turn of course! Now, training with a friend doesn’t mean doing an exercise, then chat for a bit, then do another exercise etc. You need to be focused! You’ll chat after. Make sure that you respect the resting times and that you remember the number one rule: FORM OVER REPETITIONS!
  • If you can’t train with someone else or you want to train by yourself (people like me prefer it because I can focus more on the exercises), put some music on or make sure you reward yourself with a hot chocolate or something afterwards. This will help you stay motivated.
  • If you are Unsure about anything: ASK!
  • Finally, if you want more exercises or a different program, come and see me. I adapted this from a French fitness book especially for the 100 push-ups goal but it can be done as a simple fitness exercise, to lose weight, become stronger, put on muscle or simply stay in shape.

REFERENCES

Lafay, O. Méthode de musculation: 110 exercises sans materiel (2004).

Partying with Mei Ian Gong Di and Wu

Partying with Mei Ian Gong Di and Wu

Back in 1990, I was studying my BSc. at Griffith University and living on Nathan campus. Included in my 8 bedroom flat were 3 mainland Chinese guys we called Gong, Wu and Di. After some time living together, I was introduced to a Taiwanese friend of theirs Lee Yi-Yen, who was studying English at the Mt Gravatt Campus.

My martial arts background at that stage consisted of primarily 3 years of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu under Sensei John Nalder. Unfortunately due to the classes ending and my moving to Brisbane for uni, I was unable to continue with this inspiring teacher. In addition to the Ninjutsu training, I had a few months experience each of Judo, Karate, Jujitsu and Tai Ji.

My Chinese flatmates invited me to playfully spar with their friend Yi-Yen who proceeded in a matter of seconds had me wrapped up like a pretzel with my neck ready to be snapped! Being a ‘playful’ session negated a lot of my techniques as they weren’t applicable to a sparring environment. I was nonetheless very impressed and surprised to discover what he had used was Tai Ji. My exposure to Tai Ji at that point had been purely artistic and health oriented as is much the case with most Tai Ji available in the West. Anyhow, the encounter sparked my interest enough to begin attending Ian’s classes which had just started up on the campus grounds.

Early days training - Charlie, Ian, Richard, Master Ian, Mei, Jason, Kevin and Hong

Early days training – Charlie, Ian, Richard, Master Ian, Mei, Jason, Kevin and Hong

Master Ian Lee had taken over the Tai Ji training for David Yuen at his Hung Gar classes and was teaching alongside Chief Instructor Peter Schofield. I took my friend Kevin along and we met a couple of other guys who had recently transferred to learning under Master Ian. These two guys, Richard and another Ian, joined Kevin and I in becoming the core of his classes and along with Mark a year or so later were the only ones to reach Sifu Level in those early years.

Within a short time, Master Lee was teaching Shaolin as well. Around this point, I was invited by him to become a disciple of his which would involve training with him on a daily basis. He suggested that I choose someone else to join as well and I chose my uni mate Kevin. Kevin went on to focus more on the internal styles whereas I figured I should do the external styles while I was still young enough to endure the training.

Master Lee in front of altar

Master Lee in front of altar

Thus started a year of 6.30am training sessions which inevitably started with a 2 km run to Salisbury carrying “Yellow Pages” in our finger tips. These also doubled as a striking surface for Iron palm training. The basics (Ba Da and Ba Twe {Kicks and punches}) were absolutely drilled, serving not only as a warm up but concreting the foundation movements. That year was a tremendous boost to our training giving us what would probably have taken 5-10 years to learn otherwise. Although Master Lee’s English was not yet fluent, Kevin was often able to translate using Mandarin or the Hakanese dialect. We relied heavily on physical mimicry with Master Lee requiring critical details to be perfected. 12 months saw our fitness, flexibility and conditioning pushed to the limits. As well as the daily training, we were continuing the twice weekly classes as well in both Shaolin and Tai Ji taking on the role of assistants to the newer students.

To formalise the disciple arrangement, a Bai Shi ceremony was held at Master Lee’s house. A small number of his friends attended as well as Gong Wu and Di and after the ceremony we enjoyed a Chinese feast and a party.

Gong translating for Master Ian

Gong translating for Master Ian

The ceremony itself was mostly done in Chinese so I had to resort to doing and following whatever Kevin did. It involved incense, kowtowing, reciting and was all quite solemn and serious. I considered myself to be following in the steps of Daniel San from “Karate Kid”!

22 years on and I am now far more aware of what the ceremony entailed and

Kevin and Jason about to kowtow with Master Ian

Kevin and Jason about to kowtow with Master Ian

represented. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the experiences I had. Kevin and I also travelled to Taiwan with Master Lee for his wedding, and spent 2 months there holidaying, working, and training. We even got to meet some of Master Lee’s own Masters! The responsibility associated with being the next generation of the style took some time

Kevin and Jason following Master Ian and Mei's lead

Kevin and Jason following Master Ian and Mei’s lead

to accept as in those early years I was insecure about my young age and lack of experience. But in time I grew to take it on board and am proud to have maintained and grown the school to what it is today.

I have now reached a stage where I would like to offer a similar opportunity to one or more of my students. This would involve the detailed one-on-one tuition and full disclosure of the system over a period of time. In return, the student would provide some menial tasks, advanced exploration of training material and general assistance with school matters. The training involve with be intensely detailed, focussing on helping the student reach their maximum potential in all areas. Ideally this student (or students) will be the next generation able to continue the legacy in the case of my being unable to continue. (I will be avoiding getting hit by a bus though!).

At this point I would like to invite interested participants to submit an application for consideration by Sifu Jason. The submission should include their understanding of what is entailed by being a disciple, why they want to do it, and why they think they should be considered. Applications should be received by Feb 10 (Chinese New Year).

Successful applicants will receive more details from Sifu Jason explaining further what is involved in the ceremony and when it will take place. Also a detailed open discussion will be held about the training and responsibilities.