Grandmaster Bu Xuekuan (with his students, including a young Master Wu Chaoxiang (武朝相).
If you plan on signing your child up for Chinese martial arts lessons at a traditional school, there are a few things all parents must consider.
“Study as if you have not reached your goal, as if you were afraid of losing what you have.”
Analects 8:17 – Confucius (孔子)
First, and foremost, ask yourself, as a parent, who are you doing this for?
Is it for you or for your child? If your child wants to study martial arts, great, but if YOU always wanted to study it (or used to), don’t force it on them, and don’t expect them to have the same, enthusiasm, experience and journey as you have or had.
Second, be careful with what your concept of “traditional Chinese martial arts” or “Kung Fu” means.
A traditional Chinese martial arts school is not what people read in print or see in movies or on TV, which is simply a choreographed portrait of a romantic idea or image. Traditional schools are not interested in making your child a “superstar”, or give them “superpowers”, they are interested in students that will work hard and respectfully in learning the art as well as being a willing participant in the school’s community and activities. What your child will truly get out of it will be a cultural experience like no other. Depending on the school, your child may get a basic understanding of the culture, from which the art came from, or even a full immersion with many cultural experiences that will open a whole world of opportunities including not only the martial skills, but also language, music, travel and much more.
Third, leave the teaching and coaching to the teachers.
This is not just true for traditional Chinese martial arts schools, but in fact applies to any martial arts school. When you sign your children up, let them learn from the teachers, if you, as a parent, try to coach them during the class, you are not only making it more difficult for them to learn, for a variety of reasons (including making them feel embarrassed) but also make it harder for the teacher to teach. This doesn’t mean that you can’t help your child at home, you should encourage them to practice and offer them any valuable insights, however you should never do it in the classroom, unless asked for by the instructor. You should always try to watch your child’s class and get to know the instructors and understand how they instruct your child.
Fourth, avoid the “Three Don’ts”:
• Don’t compare your child to other children in the class. Only compare them to what they were like when they started, cherish their accomplishments and support them through their struggles. Each child in the class has their own struggles and triumphs in the school, that does not make them any better or worse than other children in that class. In my many years of teaching this is the number one reason for a child to quit, because, over time, they feel that they’ll never meet their parent’s expectations. Support them, don’t contrast them.
• Don’t rush them to the next level and/or sash. Focus on how well they can do the material taught at their level and how much they enjoy practicing. Invest in long term commitment and not short term gains. It doesn’t matter how fast they are learning, what truly matters is how they’re growing.
• Don’t judge your child as either being a prodigy or hopeless in physically learning the arts. A good teacher will always take into consideration much more than just a child’s physical ability. Good character and a positive attitude are much more important in determining the long term success of a student than simple physical ability.
Lastly, belts, sashes, ranks, titles, etc… mean nothing compared to the experience that they have in the school over the many years (yes, many, many YEARS) of study.Remember that when your child achieves a high rank in the art, that is not the same as being an adult with a high rank in the art. Life experience and physical maturity, as well as psychological and emotional stability, are paramount to the mastery of any art. The serious study of Chinese martial arts is much more than exquisite displays of physical skills, it’s about becoming a successful and accomplished human being over a long period of time, it’s about Kung Fu (功夫).
Remember that the study of Chinese martial arts (Kung Fu) is a process, not a product.
ZYKFA Performance Troupe with Chung Wan (忠雲) the Luminescent Dragon at the Grand Opening of A-Mart Asian Groceries - 2/1/14 - Photo by Randall Roden -
This 2014 Chinese New Year season was quite remarkable for the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association. So many great accomplishments were made by so many people, it was truly remarkable. The weather was very cold and snowy at times, typical February weather for Wisconsin, but that did not stop the ZYKFA crew.
Day 1 (Friday 1/31) was already a rush as we performed at Hong Kong Cafe, Lee's Garden and Imperial Garden one after the other. The shows were great, the restaurants were full and the crowd loved it. What marked the first few hours as being so special was that for the first time we presented a Sar Ping (沙坪) style lion dance to the public, we've only been working on this style for about three months, which we (Ben, Nate, Rachel D., and myself) learned from Great Grandmaster Robin Chan Siew Kee and Master Albert Fong Kong Yip, but the ZYKFA crew took the challenge and went for it. The switch was something that was hanging heavily over the heads of many of the performers; they were a bit "scared" of the drastic change from our usual Futsan (佛山) freestyle to the more regimented and precise Hoksan (鶴山) Sar Ping style. The plan was to focus on only a few of the beats (there's a total of 18 patterns in this system) to be performed, namely; Suei Si (睡獅), Sing Si (醒獅), Hang Lai (行禮), Guk Fa Tau (菊花頭), Mat Dim (密點), So Dim (疏點), Taam Bou (探步), Jung Jin (中展) and Dang Saan (登山) besides the usual Leui Gu (雷鼓) which we were accustomed to (quick note, the first four beats mentioned are not considered part of the 18 patterns). This was also the first time we danced our Qilins (麒麟) for the New Year, where they ushered in lots of Rui (瑞) everywhere they went!
At the end of Day 1 we then went back to ZYKFA this time to do the Kai Guang/Hoi Gwong (開光 - Eye Opening) ceremony for our new Dragon named Chung Wan (忠雲) in honor of our beloved "uncle" Joe Leung. His wife Stella and daughter Rani, along with many members of the Leung family, were present and Stella and Rani even did the honors of dotting Chung Wan to bring him to "life". It was a truly awesome experience (very emotional as well, for many of us). Chung Wan then went on to do the traditional Baai Sei Mun (拜四門) and dance around the Guan (館), then came yet another very cool experience, the lights went off and the black lights went on and Chung Wan went on to dance while glowing in the dark! After the wonderful experience we all had a delicious (and enormous) Chinese potluck dinner while talking to friends and family. It will be one of those truly unforgettable nights.
Day 2 (Saturday, 2/1) started out in high gear, with the New Year and Grand Opening celebration for A-Mart Asian Groceries where we performed a Cheng Jan (青陣) named "A Very Auspicious Grand Opening" (開張大吉) performed to the Sar Ping beats which were practiced. After the show, that included a pair of Qilin, we went on to do a Dragon dance, it was tight but it was fun! The music, which keeps getting better and better with every performance, added a lot of "drama" to the dance. Then on to the MFCC (Madison Families with Children from China) / VAIS (Verona Area International School) New Year celebration at Waunakee High School where we performed a Lion Dance for the crowd, which was filled with adorable smiley faces, and we were able to even present our Dragon dance, this time with plenty of space to perform! The dancers were able to do a lot of the patterns at full speed and it was quite exhilarating to watch. Next we went the Dane County Family Acupuncture Clinic, in Monona. We were there for their grand opening a few years ago and the place seems to be thriving! Lions and Qilins ushered in a new year with lots of prosperity and good health for all in attendance. On to our second show and Hong Kong Cafe, another sold out night, with lots of laughter and good times, followed by Lee's Garden where not only there was a great crowd present Madison's city Mayor, Mr. Paul Soglin was there as well. The final stop was for the Taiwanese Students & Families Association New Year party where we had a wonderful time and we were presented with some traditional New Year food gifts. After the day was done we were back to Hong Kong Cafe for the annual Da Pu (大酺) where we had a wonderful specially catered meal cooked by Philip and the staff at the restaurant.
Day 3 (Sunday, 2/2) was our annual big performance at UW-Plateville Confucius Institute's New Year Celebration. We performed our opening lion dance with a special Sar Ping style dance performance, halfway through, making it a great performance. Then onto our five-minute kung fu demo where we squeezed 12 performers with handsets, weapons sets and two person sets on the stage to the tune of Jay Chow's (周杰倫) song Huo Yun Jia (霍元甲). We closed the show with a Dragon Dance done both on the floor by the audience and on stage with the black lights on. Then a quick hour drive back to Madison to do our third and final show for the season at Hong Kong Cafe, where once again we had a great time and performed our annual "Geung Gung Goes Fishing"(姜公釣魚)Green Array.
The week went by really quick with an awesome premiere practice for our Performance Troupe on Wednesday night, with a full crew participating in it.
On Day 8 (Friday, 2/7) we did an evening performance at Heritage Senior Living in Middleton where we performed not only an awesome Lion Dance but also a great kung fu demo where the ZYKFA drummers took turns drumming for the different sets being performed.
Day 9 (Saturday, 2/8) the crew got picked up by the Prairie du Chien School System vans (4 of them) to haul our equipment and crew for an evening of performances. The drive was in almost blizzard like conditions but we arrived safely and on time. We started with our Sleeping Lions (睡獅) routine with 5 lions, then after a quick break, we had a 20 minute kung fu demo with our drummers switching in between as well and finishing the show with a bridge crossing routine, all done with Sar Ping style music.
Day 10 (Sunday, 2/9) was the last of the season and we were back to the Watertown Public Library where we danced with 5 lions and a Qilin much to the delight of the audience. The lions threw tangerines out to the crowd and expelled the lettuce spreading wealth and good fortune to all.
Afterwards we went across the street from the library to Mullen's Dairy, where we all enjoyed sandwiches, fries, malts and scoops of ice cream. It was a great way to conclude a Wisconsin Style Chinese New Year!
“Don't be impatient, and don't look for petty gains. If you are impatient, you will not be thorough. If you look for petty gains, you will never accomplish anything great.”
Analects 13:17 – Confucius (孔子)
This passage is Confucius’ answer to Zi Xia (子夏), who was serving as governor of Jufu (莒父), when he asked Confucius, about how to govern. But we can also see it as being about keeping our eyes on the objectives that truly matter and not be distracted by the inconsequential that ultimately will lead us nowhere.
First let’s look at the things that simply should not matter in our choice for a school. As mentioned in the previous blogs, there’s a variety of schools and teachers out there, each serving their specific communities, some small some big but they are all different. Sometimes people feel that the best choice is based on what they believe to be true, but most of the time these “truths” are actually misconceptions that cloud how we perceive the facts. The fact is that we are looking for a school and/or teacher that best fits our needs in order to reach our goals, besides that nothing else should really matter. In our quest for a place to study we must look beyond our first impressions - as the saying goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”.
The following is a list of things that people think are important, when in reality they hold little value:
- · Age – Some people feel that if a teacher is of an advanced age they will be better at teaching. This is solely based on the idea that “older is wiser”. Unfortunately this is not always true, a person can be advanced in age and still be foolish in their ways. The other side would be the young teacher; they may have all the vigor and prowess to perform the techniques taught, but are unable to convey these skills to the students. Just like you should beware of a twenty something “master” or “grandmaster” you should also not take lightly an advanced age teacher that disregards fame and titles.
- · Gender – Some people will feel that martial arts should be taught by men because they feel it is “manly”, others will think that only a woman can teach a women’s self-defense class. This is not always true. Competence in teaching the arts has nothing to do with gender. There are supremely skilled women in the traditional “manly” arts as well as men who are excellent teachers, with incredible insights, on the subject of women’s self-defense, but beware, there’s incompetence on both sides as well.
- · Size/Shape – Just like gender, this has little to do with teaching. Teachers come in all different sizes, tall, short, big, small and everything in between. Some people are “blessed” with genetics that will have them always looking like they are in shape, no matter how much they abuse their bodies, others no matter how hard they work they will never get to that 8% body fat look, this not to mention the teachers that lived through rough times. First impressions never take into account the battles people fought in their lives.
- · Ethnicity – This one, once again, like gender, size and shape has nothing to do with the quality of teaching you will get. This particular bias is downright racist when you think about it, on both sides. I’ve met wonderful and insightful teachers in several martial arts that were not of the same ethnicity as that of the people that created the art taught. I’ve also met several “teachers” that completely took advantage of their students based solely on their ethnicity, be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian or other. These students did not realize that their teacher’s understanding of what they taught was based on a passing hobby they had and inspired literature.
- · Belief System – A martial art does not need to be taught with a belief system (religion), in other words you do not need to convert to a religion just to study martial arts. This is not to say that you will not gain insights into the art by learning about the belief systems that surround the art learned. If you want to learn a martial art that is taught with a belief system alongside it (e.g. Zen Archery), make sure you are going in primarily for the belief system and secondarily for the martial art, and if that’s the case make sure that the teacher has learned this belief system from a qualified teacher and that it is not just be a “hobby belief” of the teacher. Just like in our search for a qualified martial arts teacher, if we are looking for instruction in a belief system, we should find a qualified guide as well.
Now, here are things that somewhat matter:
- · Awards/Rank – There is no across the board standard for awards in the martial arts, some awards are truly based on incredible achievements and dedication others are politically or monetarily motivated, just like ranks. What one school holds as a high rank may not hold true at another, not to talk about teachers that shun ranking systems. Again, this is an issue that is all over the place, and only matters within the organization they’re in - look for awards and certificates that are related to what is taught (e.g. if they teach Chinese martial arts they should be awards from Chinese martial arts organizations) . So one teacher may have 30 ranks and be considered a “Great” or “Supreme” in some important sounding organization but is unable to teach or even improve the skill of their student through teaching while another holds a simple rank (if any) and not only is able to teach the student but also transforms them not only into skillful martial artist but also a great human being.
- · Lineage – This can matter to a certain extent, we just need to, once again, stay focused on the objectives and not let it become a principal focus on our choice. Lineage will matter to the extent of knowing where the style/system came from and who taught your teacher. Lineages should be respected; however they do not guarantee that you will receive quality instruction. It should not matter if it is a famous lineage or not, what should matter is that you enjoy what you study, the teacher is forthright with his teaching (and where it comes from) and that you reach your objectives.
- · Ability - Ability in performing, like lineage, is not a guarantee of superior instruction. There are people who have supreme abilities in performing as a fighter and/or execution of forms that are completely unable to pass along the most basic skills. On the other side there are people who are average at their performance ability but are supreme teachers in their arts. Of course it’s great when we can find a combination of both; however as we are looking for a teacher to teach us skills, and not an idol, we would do best on focusing solely on their teaching abilities. Another thing to consider is if the teacher has had some health issue that prevents or hinders them from executing techniques. My own teacher, as an example, suffered a stroke and after that he was unable to execute techniques the way he used to, but he was still able to teach and pass on the knowledge of what he learned to his students. The teacher(s) must have the abilities to communicate, motivate and inspire, these three things truly matter.
- · Advanced Students – This point might actually matter more than the previous ones. Observing advanced students, how they practice, move and interact will give you an idea of what to look for after years of training in a school. However, we should be aware of two things – The first is that you might view a class where you only see some of these students and perhaps it wasn’t their best day, performance or otherwise. The second would be that you might see perhaps the only student with any skill in the school, and that skill may be natural for them (physical intelligence), of course this would not be a good indicator of what we may potentially learn at this particular place.
So with all of these things considered what is the Bottom Line?
The only skill that matters, in a teacher, is the teaching skill. The only place to study, that matters, is where you’re comfortable. And the only person, that matters, in making the decision of where to study is you.
“People have this common saying: "The kingdom, the State, the family." The root of the kingdom is in the State. The root of the State is in the family. The root of the family is in the person of its Head.”
Mencius (孟子) Book 4, Part 1, Chapter 5
We are the foundation of the study that we wish to embark on. The martial art, regardless of style or system, will not make us great; it’s our efforts over time in the study that will make us great. The teacher can guide us to greatness, but only if we are willing to put in hard work and dedication in the study. The proper environment will support us, but only by being a positive part of it.
Our study must begin, and continue, with the concept of positive self-cultivation in mind. This will be the subject of the next blog post.
Zhou Tong (周同) teaches archery to Yue Fei (岳飛)
What to look for in a martial arts school (Part 3)
"Mencius's mother, moved three times"
Popular Chinese idiom
This saying refers to the legend that Mencius's mother moved the family around before finding a location that she felt was suitable for his upbringing. The legend goes that after her husband’s death, as Mencius was a child, the family lived close to a cemetery, Mencius would play by imitating the rituals and practices of the mourners, this worried his mother so they moved to a busy city, where there were street hawkers and merchants, once again Mencius would imitate the actions of the sellers in his play, this also worried his mother (merchants were considered a lower class and despised in ancient times) so once again they moved, this last time was next to a school, where Mencius took an interest in learning and began his lifelong studies. As an expression, it refers to the importance of finding the proper environment for raising and educating someone. The environment is not just a physical aspect to be considered, it is also a psychological and emotional one as well.
Let’s talk first about the Physical Environment – Where does the teacher conduct their classes? Places like a garage or basement provide an intimate setting but are constricted by space and sometimes height (this is an issue only if long weapon work is taught). Local parks have plenty of space, height and fresh air but are open to the public and with that can be interrupted frequently as well as being subject to weather conditions. Classes at gyms or dance studios can have really good space, be convenient and have proper shelter but will usually have an atmosphere that not only can be disrupted by music and other “workout” related sounds but also by people getting ready for the next, completely unrelated, class such as dance or step aerobics. The advantages of a full time martial arts school, regardless of size, is that there’s a space and setting conducive to the study, specific equipment and people with a similar interest as ours. However the costs of keeping a full time dedicated school is much higher than renting space at a gym or teaching in the home/park (which has no cost to the teacher). Each has its advantages and disadvantages and reflects the commitment of the teacher to what they teach. Once again, the best choice is going to be made based on our objectives and commitment level, and each choice must also fit our expectations, of course.
At this point pricing should be mentioned. Places with low to no overhead costs (garages, parks, renting by the hour, etc…) should have lower pricing than full time dedicated spaces, which will have higher costs due to maintenance. Once again, this is a matter of commitment, it’s easier for a teacher to walk away from teaching (move, life change, getting “bored”, etc…) when they have little to lose, it is much harder when they are totally invested in their teaching because that is their career, not just a hobby. Keep in mind that when there’s no investment, there’s no commitment (this applies to both student and the teacher).
Next will be the Community – What type of community has been developed by the teacher and their students, is it a group or several individuals studying under one teacher? This is a factor to consider especially if we are looking at long term commitment to study, because if the community is healthy and supportive we will stay much longer and enjoy our study much more than if we’re in an “every one for themselves” type of group. Some groups are very socially active doing get-togethers, movie nights and celebratory dinners, not to mention involvement with society at large promoting volunteerism and community work. Others may be small focused groups that do little to interact with others outside of their training settings. This, once again, will depend on our preferences for what we are looking for. If we are comfortable in the company of our fellow students we are much more likely to stay longer in our training and reach our ultimate goals.
Another point to consider here is the average age of the community. Some schools specialize in youth programs with, sometimes, over 80% of the student population being under the age of 16. Others do the inverse, focusing almost exclusively on adults, most of these types of schools are dedicated to combat and weapon training. There are also the types of schools that try to strike a balance to serve a larger part of their community, offering separate youth and adult classes and curriculums, as well as family classes where parents and their children can learn together. So we should look for the community type we are most comfortable with, and that fits our goals and expectations. Remember too that one is not better than the other; they are just serving different communities.
Last here would be Learning Culture – What type of culture has the school created? There are schools that work on “learning” an enormous amount material but you have little practical experience with it. Other schools focus on getting a “Black Belt”, or equivalent, in which the objective is to pass several rank tests so you can reach that goal, unfortunately, many times, there is little to learn in some of these places after reaching that goal. Some schools focus almost exclusively on obtaining titles and trophies at tournaments for sparring, fighting or forms competitions and have little to no interest in cultivating other aspects of study and/or the casual student. There are, of course, schools that do a little of everything and focus on long term well-rounded students (forms, fighting, tournaments, weapons, culture, history, personal development, etc…), keep in mind that this type of place (and teacher) takes many years to develop a student into its full potential, so if this is what you want make sure you are willing to commit. We must think and focus on our objectives and commitment levels to find a place that will have what we want and will be able to help us reach our goals.
Another aspect to consider here is how students and teachers interact. Sometimes certain teachers impose respect on their students instead of or earning their respect. Something to watch out for in this area is the teacher’s ego; it will come through pretty quickly as you observe a class and interactions within the study setting. Teachers should be respected for the work they do and the results they produce and not simply for the title(s) that they hold.
The next part in this series (Part 4) we will talk about Does It Matter or Not?
Scene from the 2012 TV series "Loyalty of Yue Fei" (精忠岳飞)
What to look for in a martial arts school (Part 2)
Now that we know what our objectives, commitment level and expectations for our study are (see Part 1); the next section will be about the teacher.
“The evil of men is that they like to be teachers of others.”
Mencius (孟子) Book 4, Part 1, Chapter 23
This quote may sound strange coming from a teacher, but unfortunately it is true. What Mencius warns against are people that want to enjoy the privilege of being called a teacher/master (in their own eschewed view of what it means) but don’t want to deal with the responsibilities of being a teacher/master.
In traditional Chinese martial arts the term Shitu (師徒) refers to the relationship between the teacher/master (師 – “Shi” as in “Shifu” - 師父) and the student/disciple (徒 – “Tu” as in “Tudi” - 徒弟). This is a relationship based on mutual respect and each has responsibilities to the other. This relationship develops over time as both the teacher and student get to know and understand each other on several different levels, including their sense of courtesy (禮), justice (義), honesty (廉) and ethics (恥). As you can imagine in traditional martial studies it is very important for you to find a teacher that you can have a positive Shitu with.
So what do we need to look at when searching for the teacher that best suits our needs?
One of the first things we want to find out is the teacher’s Qualifications – Are they true/valid qualifications or are they just ego boosters? Valid qualifications are certificates and/or diplomas of completion of a time and/or rank of study within a certain style/system. These are awarded by their direct teachers to whom they developed a strong relationship with over the years. Other indicators can be pictures of them training with said teacher and fellow students as well as awards in their field of teaching and/or study (e.g. if they teach Chinese martial arts they should have awards in Chinese martial arts). Be careful though, some awards and certificates seem impressive but they’re nothing more than paid for advertisements (for a fee teachers can receive a title or some type of recognition from a person or group that has, sometimes, never even met them), this unfortunately is an issue that plagues the world of martial arts. A qualified teacher will have spent considerable amounts of time studying a specific style/system and not just having contact with some art or someone over a weekend seminar or course.
The next point would be to find out the Teacher’s Commitment. How committed to the style/system, school and students is this teacher? When looking for a place to study, if our commitment is deep (long term study) and our objectives are high (become a teacher/master), we will inevitably want to look for a teacher that is fully committed to what they are teaching. This type of teacher usually runs a full time school, with a clear and descriptive curriculum as well as strong ties to national and/or international groups and/or organizations (related to what they teach). This is also the type of teacher that has long term continuous students with several years of study, and an established positive reputation within its community. These teachers tend to stick to a specific area of study (and have a deep knowledge of it) showing that they are strongly committed to what they learned and therefore want to pass it on accordingly. If our commitment is low and we are looking into studying more for fun and fitness we can certainly enjoy teachers that offer limited time courses or the occasional class at a gym, however you should not expect to have a strong or deep knowledge of what you learn in those classes, only a passing understanding of the basics.
Last, but not least, on this list would be the Teaching Style – This will depend entirely on our preferences as students. Some like a very firm and strict style of teaching where students are disciplined into discipline, others a more laid back and relaxed environment where the discipline is developed out of interest in the study. Both of these styles are fine so long as we are aware of certain things, “strict and firm” does not mean “abusive” and “laid back and relaxed” does not mean “lazy”. In this area there’s really no “right” or “wrong” there’s only what’s right for you. If your learning style does not match the teacher’s teaching style there is no reason to force it, you will both be wasting each other’s time on the long run.
Whatever teacher we choose to study from, we must be able to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with. The teacher should have the qualifications, commitment level and teaching style we are looking for in our study. And always remember that what is right for us might not be right for others and vice-versa.
The next part in this series (Part 3) will deal with something that the teacher(s) creates for their students, the Learning Environment.
What to look for in a martial arts school (Part 1)
There are many articles and blogs written on this subject by a variety of people. Most have valid points but unfortunately the vast majority miss the key issue that is fundamental in this decision making process, you.
“He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others has physical strength; He who conquers himself is strong.”
Analects 12.21 – Confucius (孔子)
The first point to consider is your goal. What do you want out of the study, what are your objectives, in other words, where do you wish to be after a year, or two, or ten, as you continue studying? Is your goal just to get a workout or to fight in full contact matches? Do you want to improve your health, flexibility and coordination or just learn how to defend yourself? Do you wish to have a strong basic foundation of what you study or become a teacher in the art? Keep in mind that the answers to these questions are not mutually exclusive, it all depends on how, for how long and where you approach your training.
Once you have decided on your goal, the next step is your commitment. What level of commitment are you willing to make, and stick to, in order to reach your objectives? This is fundamental in order for you to be successful in your study (and life itself). If your commitment is low you cannot expect high returns, regardless of how long you study. If your commitment is high you will be able to see results quickly and after time you will see great returns in your efforts.
The third, and last one today is, your expectations. This is a tricky one because your expectations may be based on fantasies and myths that you may have inadvertently thought were facts. This gets even more complicated when a martial arts school and/or teacher understand this and plays it up in order to capture prospective students. An example of this would be that you want to learn fighting skills yet the school does not offer classes to teach this, instead they say that they teach applications to all the moves and say it’s the same, it is not.
Your expectations must be realistic and in line with that of the school you ultimately choose. You can’t expect to learn and be skilled in something the school does not teach. What you should expect at a quality martial arts school, regardless of it being X, Y or Z that you study, is basically to be respected, receive proper instruction and get appropriate answers to your reasonable questions. Beyond that is the subject that we will talk about in Part 2 of this text.
Make sure your expectations are reasonable and attainable just like your goals and commitment.
People are always wondering what’s most important in the study of Chinese martial arts, also known as “Kung Fu”. Some will talk about a strong horse stance (馬步 - Mǎ Bù) or correct posture. Others will indicate that strength combined with flexibility is essential in practice, or that the value of the virtues of martial morality (武德 - Wǔ Dé) is fundamental in its training. All of these notions are valuable and are certainly true for furthering an in depth study of Chinese martial arts, however none of them can be accomplished with the most fundamental concept to not only learn but also practice on a daily basis, having good habits.
To quote Vince Lombardi:
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Good habits will make you succeed in anything you do, be it at school, work, family life or in the guǎn (館 – training hall), but they will only lead to success if they are practiced forcefully on a daily basis. As my good friend Shifu Gabriel (TSKF – Brazil) likes to quote “Habits, at first, are like spider webs, but with time become like steel wires”. The longer we practiced a bad habit the longer it will take to free ourselves from it, and the only way to free ourselves is by creating, and cultivating, a good habit to replace it.
This is by no means an easy task to accomplish. Bad habits that are learned and practiced daily, throughout our lives (sometimes we don’t even realize they’re bad habits!), become so ingrained in our life that we sometimes don’t understand why we are unable to overcome even the simplest of obstacles. Identifying these bad habits is the first step to make the changes necessary to eliminate and replace them with good habits.
The most important habits we need to work on are those that seem small and inconsequential but they are the ones that will truly keep us down, most times without even knowing it. Some examples are:
- · Hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock (just five more minutes)
- · Waiting up to the last minute to get ready and/or get going (no need to get there early)
- · Delaying certain actions for no reason (don’t really need to do it right now)
- · Not being attentive at the moment (this is boring, I’ll just tune out)
- · Creating excuses (but…)
All of these previous examples seem inconsequential, and most of us, as we read them, will do the last item almost as a matter of reflex, however they, as simple as they are (I can quit anytime!), all became habits, and bad ones, that end up getting in our way on the long run (and studying Chinese martial arts, as you may know, is a very long run).
So after identifying our bad habits, and they are many for sure but we just need a starting point, the next step would be to work on replacing them with a good habit (e.g. wake up on time and do not hit the snooze button). Pick one or two items that you identify and work on it for two weeks.
Once this is in place we will see the benefits of the good habits we have created, it will take time but we will see it eventually. Here are some examples of what to create and cultivate in practice, and by extension our daily lives.
- · Create and cultivate the habit of Perseverance (忍 – Rěn) – Most people will think of this as a matter of not giving up, and for the most part it is. You must persevere even in the most mundane tasks (horse stance), hardest workouts and longest performances. But it’s also about tolerance, tolerance of the time it takes to get good at your practice, tolerance of the obstacles you must overcome daily and most important, tolerance with yourself when you’re feeling that you’re not good enough.
- · Create and cultivate the habit of Loyalty (忠 – Zhōng) – Loyalty is usually seen as something you have for another person, institution or ideal but we forget another important type of loyalty, loyalty to yourself and your study. If you have as an objective to become skillful in martial arts, an Instructor, or even a master, you must have a loyalty to yourself and your training, on a daily basis.
- · Create and cultivate the habit of Benevolence (仁 – Rén) - Benevolence is the disposition to do good, most will think about doing good for others, like charity, compassion and volunteerism all of which are great and noble things to do, but we need to be benevolent to ourselves also, take good care of our health and nutrition as well as our practice. Do good in our decisions as to what to eat, drink and how and when to practice our arts.
As we can see these three habits that should be cultivated, among many others of course, apply not just to our interactions with others but principally with ourselves. If we can be perseverant, loyal and benevolent to ourselves first then when it comes to others these habits will come out sincerely instead of being forced or contrived.
When your good habits are practiced forcefully, every day, they are sincere and the whole world takes notice. Good habits lead to good practice and good practice leads to good Kung Fu.
To quote Mencius (孟子 – Mèngzǐ)
“Benevolence overcomes cruelty just as water overcomes fire. Those who practice benevolence today are comparable to someone trying to put out a cartload of burning firewood with a cupful of water. When they fail to succeed, they say water cannot overcome fire. For a man to do this is for him to place himself on the side of those who are cruel to the extreme, and in the end, he is sure only to perish.”
Have a 2014 filled with good habits!
2013 was another great year for the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association. We started it strong and ended it even stronger.
Right away we rang in the New Year with a midnight party followed by an awesome sleepover (not many slept though), the year was off to a good start. We also brought back the ZYKFA Movie Nights. We had viewings of Shaw Brothers classics and brand new releases. Some of the most memorable films were:
• Din Tao: Leader of the Parade
• Come Drink With Me
• Detective Dee
• Drunken Master 2
• Chinese Ghost Story
• Mr. Vampire
We got ready for Chinese New Year, which was on February 10th, by getting our equipment in order. Repaired and re-painted some lion heads and the Daai Tau Fat (Big Head Buddha) heads as well. We finished some collar badges so all lions had the school’s name on them. Lion Dance practices (Saturdays 2-3 pm) were in full swing with sometimes over 20 people in the classes.
On to the Chinese New Year, it started with a bang and only got louder. First we did the Overture Center’s International Festival where we presented not only a lion dance with 7 lions but we also performed an awesome demo in the theater as well. Then on to UW-Platteville’s Confucius Institute New Year Party for a great set of performances where we presented (and solved) a “puzzle” lion dance to the audience, kung fu demos and a big closing lion dance as well. The following week we did our rounds of lion dances to the restaurants and local businesses such as, Hong Kong Café, Lee’s Garden, Imperial Gardens, Happy Wok and Asian Midway Market. Some of the neat additions this CNY season were our first official school banner, made with a beautiful custom couplet composed by Yun-ling, we acquired a new youth lion, which we named Zhuge Liang at the Eye Dotting Ceremony and a set of electronic firecrackers which we could set off with a remote control.
We also had the honor and privilege to perform a traditional house blessing for the Blake’s new home and the annual MFCC Chinese New Year Party where we presented a big group lion dance as well as a kung fu demo. We were honored to be invited to perform a lion dance and kung fu demo (flash mob style) at Purdue University (Indiana) for the Chinese Student Association as well, a memorable trip which we took by bus (5 hours each way). We also performed at Shorewood Elementary for all the kids to learn about Chinese traditional customs and culture.
As spring began we had the first of our quarterly tests, all of which this year were successful, and we also hosted a 3 day Spring Break Youth Program which was a lot of fun with projects, lion dancing and field trips. We performed a lion dance at the UW-Parkside’s Award for Excellence Banquet. Attended and competed very successfully at the Sothern Wisconsin Open Martial Arts Tournament in Verona, WI. Performed a lion dance at Gary and Molly’s wedding right here in town. We received a donation of another beautiful youth lion, green and gold nicknamed “Kermit”, this time donated by Sue and Hope Marshall. And we also received, from Giulia Ferreira, the additional matching flags to complete our beautiful banner set.
As summer began we were in full swing! We had our first week of the annual Youth Summer Program, where we covered lion dance basics, had the Eye Dotting Ceremony for the Guan Yu lion (black and red w/ red shaggy fur) which was sponsored by our longtime supporters Hong Kong Café and this lion had its eyes dotted by none other than the Mayor of Madison himself, Mr. Paul Soglin! We lion danced and demoed our kung fu skills in the streets at the City of Crystal Lake (Illinois) 4th of July Parade along with our friends from Action Kung Fu and their leader Shifu Richard Gamboa, then went over to his home for a wonderful poolside BBQ.
In July we also had the opportunity to attend, and once again successfully compete, at the 25th International Kuoshu Championship Tournament held in Hunt Valley, MD. The tournament was a lot of fun and a great experience for all, especially the after party. We also had the return of a big team to the event, we took 11 competitors and when you add in the parents and friends that came along we had a solid 20 people total. It’s been a while but we are finally getting back up at this prestigious tournament. August was the busiest month of the year for us, we began four weeks of the Youth Summer Program, with the weeks covering topics such as “Lion Dance”, “Myths, Legends & Lore” and “Culture Sights & Sounds”, we had wonderful Chinese foods and the last day we even enjoyed a traditional Dim Sum lunch catered to us by Happy Wok - East, thank you George!. We were also scouted to be a location for filming a movie called “Bingo Night” (coming out in 2014) where many of the students were used as extras and one of the students (Kate) was even filmed doing one of the traditional Northern Shaolin sets (Kai Men) and they might use it in the movie!
As if this wasn’t enough we were invited to perform at the Healthy Living International Festival & Trade Fair in Neenah, WI in August. They wanted us to do a big show showcasing Chinese martial and cultural arts, this marked the beginning of our training in Song Jiang Battle Array (a 30 plus performer endeavor), Qilin Dance (different and more demanding than lion dance) and the return of the Drum Array, training intensified for lion dance as well as the new disciplines and we got our new glow-in-the-dark performance team t-shits to complete a sharp looking team. We performed the Eye Dotting Ceremony for the Qilin, with 10 lions present, performed the Battle Array with 34 people, a five drum and 2 cymbals Drum Array performance and closed it all with a magnificent lion dance. The performances lasted all day, but this trip was unforgettable with a packed bus full of friends (47 passengers) and we even had the pleasure of having Stella Leung come along to witness it all.
This August also had us return to Bayview’s Triangle Ethnic Festival here in Madison, it was a great day and the audience loved the show, we even made it on the news (WISC – ch 3). We also made a wonderful trip to visit Chicago’s Chinatown, again a packed bus but this time it was a 56 passenger motor coach, tons of cool stuff was bought and great food was had.
As September began we started out wishing Jaia a great trip and good time to be had in her year abroad in Brazil (see you in June… I think) and also Emma that went off to college, these two “kids” (and their parents) were a big part of our school over the years, we hope all goes well and that we will see them soon. On festive notes we did a traditional martial lion dance for the grand opening of the Iron Pagoda Gym, where Shifu David Welther teaches, where ZYKFA Instructor Wesley split a watermelon open with his iron palm skill. We stayed around and enjoyed demos as well as participated in them. We also had another addition to our lion pride, this time being donated by the Fernandez family, a beautiful FuHok Blue Lion, called "Papa Smurf". Thankfully the rest of September was calm and we were able to re-gather our energies, but not without mentioning that we were part of the Willy Street Fair and the experience was AWESOME! Thank you Paul Jasenki! This all not to mention a couple of local tournaments in Lodi and Verona where the team had stellar performances.
October marks our anniversary month and this year we completed 18 years! Before celebrating the anniversary we had another lion dance to do, this time Promega Corporation was doing the Grand Opening of their awesome state-of-the-art building facility. The performance was very well received and we had another great time. The rest of October had another Lion Dance for the Grand Opening of Gillian Blake’s new business “Why Knot?” while I was away, Shimu took care of it all along with Ben and I’ve only heard great things about how it all went.
The rest of the month of October I was in Brazil teaching seminars at Shifu Gabriel’s wonderful TSKF schools in both Sao Paulo, SP and Belo Horizonte, MG. The seminars were all sold out, with almost 300 total attendees, the topics covered were “Lion Dance: Customs, Etiquette and Culture”, “Kung Fu Etiquette and Customs” and two forms taught “Chuan Xin” and “Duan Da”. Not only was I able to work with wonderful people I was also able to spend time with good friends such as Shifu Gabriel and Shimu Ana (in their wonderful home), as well as Instructor Danillo, Crissy and Joao Lourenco among many, many others. I truly feel blessed to know these people and be able to work with them. While there I was also able to visit Shifu Edilson, Shifu Otavio and Shifu Renato and their respective schools, while having a great time with their students (especially Lucas, Jean and Kelly).
Coming back from Brazil in November I spent only one day in Madison and then went on to Seattle, WA to meet with Rachel D., Nate and Ben so we can attend the 1st Sar Ping Lion Dance Seminar in the US, held at the Co Lam Pagoda with the great host Cash Vo. This was an experience of a lifetime for us as we were able to learn this wonderful and complex style of lion dance directly from Great Grandmaster Chan Siew Kee and his disciple Master Albert Fong Kong Yip. We made many friends, including Nick Lee, Sam Mah and Mark Vuong as well as getting invited to go to Singapore and Malaysia to train directly with these great masters. From this weekend forward the ZYKFA is now following the Sar Ping style of lion dance and we look forward to learn more and grow within this wonderful art.
While we were out in Seattle Shimu and Charles got to organize and get the performances done for the Lor Clan Hmong New Year in Sun Prairie. Once again, I’ve only heard great things about the event and we are honored to have been invited to perform not just the lion dance but also a kung fu demo. A couple of weeks later we were honored with a visit from Shifu Gabriel and his Instructor Garcia as well as another development, we were invited to perform at the Grand Opening of the Confucius Institute’s Han Ban Classroom at St. Mary’s High School in Neenah, WI, where we did not did an awesome lion dance but we also did an Eye Dotting Ceremony for ANOTHER Qilin, this second one being donated by TCCES. Two Qilins in one year, both born in Neenah, the only two in Wisconsin and they’re with us at ZYKFA!
As December rolled in, things once again calmed down a bit, it allowed us for some reflection over the year and to think about all that we accomplished, but there was one more surprise before the end of the year… we are getting a Adult Size Dragon in a couple of weeks.
Looking forward to 2014!
We had a wonderful few weeks of celebrating the latest Chinese New Year (2013 - Year of the Snake) right here in Madison, Wisconsin... and actually even beyond!
The "Lion Dance Season" began, right here in Madison, with an impressive display at the Overture Center for the Arts during their International Festival (Sunday, January 27th). The Team displayed, besides the new awesome Zhong Yi banner, a very entertaining lion dance with a total of 8 lions and a well instrumented musical display. Afterwards the Youth Kung Fu Demo Team put on a great show for the audience displaying so,e newly acquired skills and weapons.
Next was one of our favorite stops at UW-Platteville's Confucius Institute (Sunday, February 3rd) where, once again, the Lion Dance Team did an awesome dance (8 lions) with a "green puzzle" (青陣 - Qīng Zhèn) that was a crowd pleaser, followed by another great demo and finished with our traditional lion dance, which was a great way to close their festival.
Then came the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year Weekend (Friday, 2/8 - Saturday, 2/9 and Sunday 2/10). These were all here in Madison and started out with a bang with our annual Lee's Garden Lion Dance where the dinners were entertained by our lions blessing the restaurant and playing with the crowd, later that same night we headed over to Van Hise Elementary School to celebrate the Lunar New Year where we gave a Lion Dance performance and stayed around to talk to students, parents and teachers about lion dancing and take plenty of pictures. Saturday we began with our Lion Dance and Kung Fu demo for the MFCC and the Chinese Language school programs of Dane County, the big treat here was during the demo section where Wesley and Jaia premiered (to the public) the Broadsword vs. Spear set from our system, it was a huge crowd pleaser among many other demos that day, afterwards we headed to Lee's Garden, again, for not only our second performance but also a Dà Pú (大酺) or "celebrating with the Lion Dance Team" dinner (the first of many). On Sunday we began with an "Eye Opening Ceremony" (開光 - Kāi Guāng) for our latest lion named Zhuge Liang -which is a Youth size Yellow and Black lion (it's not every year that we can have one of these on the exact New Year Day!), we then proceeded to another yearly mandatory stop at Asian Midway Foods, where, since it was raining, we had to begin and end the lion dance inside the market, it was a lot of fun and caught many customers by surprise (even our friends from Madison Wing Chun!), the crew had a blast blessing the establishment and playing with the customers. Next our first (of three) Lion Dances at our greatest patrons, Hong Kong Cafe, this one is always fun and the customers have a blast. Funny thing is that it was raining until 5 minutes before the beginning of the dance, then somehow the rain stopped antil the dance was over and the lions were packed! After Hong Kong Cafe the next stop was a new restaurant for our lion dance crew, Happy Wok, it was quite a bit of fun and the owner and staff loved it. The last stop that night was our own Chinese New Year party at the guan (ZYKFA), it was a wonderful potluck with tons of food, movies, music and great talk about the wonderful full weekend.
The following weekend was just as crazy, but oh so satisfying! We started the weekend an Friday (2/15) with a performance at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) for the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association where we did a flash mob, followed by a kung fu demo, followed by a lion dance and followed by... another lion dance, this was quite an awesome road trip, we had a full size bus pick us up and drop us off and we were also treated to some traditional Chinese food after the performances. Now what was really interesting was that the performances were outdoors and it was 32F, with a bit of wind and occasional snow... but it was still awesome! Then on Saturday (2/16) we had a house blessing with a total of seven lions where Crosby got to do the main blessings for her mom's (and her's) house. After that, Hong Kong Cafe part 2, where there was a packed full house and we were invited back to have our annual Dà Pú (大酺). Sunday was followed with the third and final Lion Dance at Hong Kong Cafe and we celebrated like it was the first day all over!
On Wednesday (2/20), we had a Lion dance and Cultural Talk at Shorewood Elementary where George and Samara rocked a packed house with their Lion Dance skills.
Then came the last Lion Dance of the season on Saturday (2/23) we had the season closer at Imperial Garden Restaurant (a new stop for us this year), where we did another "green puzzle" (青陣 - Qīng Zhèn) called "Guardian Snake" which was very well received by the crowd and staff, we also were able to use for the first time our electronic firecrackers (big hit and much safer than real ones) and had several generous gift by the restaurant manager Tim Lee. We finished it off with one more Dà Pú (大酺) at Imperial Garden this time, where the crew was able to reminisce about the past four weeks with fond memories.
We Lion Danced around Madison, and our Lion Dances took us not just to other parts of Wisconsin but even beyond state borders, all the way to Indiana! This year the ZYKFA Lion Dance & Demo Teams outdid themselves!
The greatest thing about being a Lion Dancer is that you get to celebrate Chinese New Year, not just for one day or a few days, being a Lion Dancer (especially this year) you're celebrating for FOUR weeks! Dancing, playing music, eating, laughing and overall just celebrating friends, family and LIFE!
Chinese New Year, I LOVE THIS SEASON!!!
As you all may know Chinese New Year is coming up this year (2013 - Year of the Snake) on February 10th. During this time of celebrations families will gather and enjoy foods and drinks and the company of their loved ones. To some this may only be on the first day, others extend it for many days during the CNY period (from the 1st day of the Lunar calendar to the 15th day, which is known as Lantern Festival). This occurs not just in Asia but all over the world where Chinese culture exists.
One cultural tradition that the members of the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association Lion Dance Troupe have been able to enjoy (to some it's their favorite time of the year!) for the past 15 plus years is great food, beverages, games and general fun times with other members, families and friends at our school or at one of a few select restaurants/venues we perform for during the CNY period, and sometimes throughout the year as well.
This is where the term Dà Pú (大酺) comes in...
Dà Pú (大酺) literally means "Great Drinking in Company" it does have a connotation of alcohol consumption, however it's true meaning is more like "To party in the company of many". Traditionally the patrons of the lion dance will invite the crew to stay (or come back later) for a group meal at their establishment. This invitation has two purposes, one it's a great way to say "thank you" for a job well done, however, it also gives great "face" to the patron because he has an establishment full with not just people, but more importantly, LUCKY and HAPPY people that ushered in happiness, prosperity and well wishes for the future of their establishment. To lion dancers it is quite an honor to be invited for a meal on top of being given the Hóngbāo (紅包 - Red Packet) with a donation to the troupe.
This is one of the greatest perks of being a lion dancer (besides having firecrackers thrown at you), not only do you have the satisfaction of having done a great blessing/performance for a business/family/group/institution you are also able to hang out with your friends and enjoy their company with a great meal and usually lots of laughter and smiles.
It's important to remember that not all Da Pu, that we are invited to, are extravagant and exquisite banquets of delicious Chinese culinary creations, sometimes these Da Pu can be as laid back as a pizza party, as healthy as homemade organic foods and teas or as simple as power bars and some ice cold water on a hot summer day.
The important part is the people you are with, your partners, your schoolmates, your friends and family... without them there would be no company to share with, and without that there's no Da Pu.Wishing you all a wonderful Year of the Snake and work hard so we can have a wonderful time at our next Da Pu!