I guess because it’s that time of the season and I feel all Christmas-ey, I feel compelled to write about the things that my training in Shaolin-Do Kung Fu has given me, and what I feel like it can do for you. No wrapped up gift, no stocking stuffer can match the presents that Shaolin-Do gives to you every day, if you let it.
First of all, it has not been easy. There were many things along the way that tripped me up and many times that I got frustrated enough to quit. But I did not. I kept my eyes on the long run and knew that these setbacks were merely temporary, and given enough time and energy I could figure them out. A man who wants to climb a mountain doesn’t quit just because he gets winded. Everything is hard, and progress is slow, but every step up that mountain brings you once step closer to the summit.
Second, it has not been quick. I’ve been a part of this art for 15 years now and I still feel like I’m only part of the way along many of my goals. Anyone who feels like they can master a martial art in a few months of practice is fooling themselves. It takes years, a lifetime even, and even then there are some who will never make it.
But I’m the ambitious sort. Once I set my sights on what I wanted, I kept with it, training through where others would fail. And that’s why I’m still here and still making progress even after all these years. I may not be the best, or ever be the best, but I’ve made a lot more progress than someone who gave up when things got hard. Or maybe never got started at all.
So here are the things I love about Shaolin-Do training, in no particular order:
There’s no better way to work out your daily aggression than hitting the bags. Maybe your work life is frustrating or stressful. Maybe it’s things at home. In class it doesn’t matter. You just pour all your anger and frustration into the bag and along the way you teach yourself such unconscious lessons as: distancing, movement, combinations, power generation, internal power, target tracking, and much more.
Act like an animal. Be the animal. Tiger is pure aggression. Dragon is pure flow. Monkey is curious and quick, acting unpredictably. Crane darts in and out, flies high and fast, then strikes low and hard. Mantis is angular and deceptive, trapping and entering. To fight with the characteristics of the animal is ideal. To fight with the characteristics and movements of all the animals, flowing freely from one to the next as the circumstances require, that is mastery.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of swinging a sword around. Especially once you know what you’re doing. But it doesn’t really matter which weapon. From swords to spears to daggers to nunchaku, it’s all about mastering the hand/eye coordination and feeling the distinct flow of each weapon through the air. If you don’t practice with weapons, you should be. You can say “my hands are my weapons” all you like, but martial arts are all about adaptability and certain circumstances just require you to have something in your hands to defend yourself.
Very few exercise programs can compete with Kung Fu in terms of calories burned per hour and overall strength increases. Granted, you get the best results if you are training more than once a week. But a dedicated student who trains 3 days per week can usually expect to see a couple pounds come off and greater endurance over time. This is due to a combination of high-intensity speed and strength drills, paired with longer-term sustained movement exercises such as katas.
When I started Shaolin-Do, I couldn’t touch my toes. Now on a good day I can put my head between my knees. It didn’t happen overnight, but my flexibility has greatly increased due to Kung Fu. And with greater flexibility comes higher kicks with less effort and that has made my Kung Fu even better! People may think flexibility isn’t that important, but I will tell you that it is the key to adaptability and that a flexible person will have an easier time doing most things. Make your life easier, get bendy!
The ability to calmly focus on whatever I choose has been an indispensable skill taught to me by Kung Fu. The right action always starts with the right choice. And it’s hard to make the right choice in a crowded and confused mind. Start with clarity and see things as they are. Then life becomes much less difficult.
Hua jing (or fa-jing) is the internal power that you generate with your body while striking. It is developed over several years by practicing certain types of Kung Fu and meditation. It is also the reason that a Kung Fu master can hit with more force than a body builder. Muscle mass is not the only criteria for power. Someone who is adept at hua jing can add that internal power to their strikes, creating deadly power.
Slow, calm, peaceful. Quiet and focused. We learn to move slow so that we learn how to move correctly. Tai Chi is filled with such power, and yet looks like nothing. Balance, posture, and sensitivity are what we learn, and a well rounded Tai Chi fighter will be one of the most difficult opponents for anyone to face. He will constantly move his center, take your force, and redirect it to your center, unseating you.
Sparring practice is where you get to try out the techniques you are learning. You may have your favorite tricks that work for you, but if that’s all you use, then you will never progress. You have to invest in loss and try new things. Get beat up for a while as you figure out what works for you, and how it works.
I love learning new things. So that’s why when Grandmaster comes to town teaching something new, I’m there. When my teacher pulls something out of his bag of tricks to teach us, I’m there. Even if it’s something I’ve seen before or taken many times. Kung Fu is about practice and familiarity. Some things stick and some things don’t, but how are you to know what styles and weapons are your favorites until you’ve tried them all?
Many people don’t like tournaments. There’s a name for these people and it’s Scaredy-Cats. As a martial artist, I feel like tournaments are part of the experience. Get out there and get nervous. Drop a weapon on the floor, or forget your kata. Get kicked in the head. Make a few mistakes and get over them. Because overcoming performance anxiety is one of the best ways to boost your confidence and raise your performance level to a new high. We don’t fight with long weapons in the streets anymore, so if you’re not going out to a tournament here and there and pitting your skills against other martial artists, then why not?
It’s not about the winning or losing, it’s about competing. Doing something that scares you and owning it. After that, nothing else in life feels quite so scary.
Michael Sandham is the owner and Head Instructor at Shaolin Martial Arts in Lakeway, TX. He enjoys long walks on the beach and swift kicks to the throat.
You can find him at:
Shaolin Martial Arts, LLC
2009 Ranch Rd. 620 N Ste 740
Austin, TX 78734