Kung Fu in Thailand: Back to Centre

It’s Saturday, my last rest day at Nam Yang this trip as I depart for Chiang Mai on Wednesday for a few days R & R before returning to Canada. Life is good here. I’ve made gains in strength, flexibility and sleeping patterns, learning so many new martial arts principles and practices of Shaolin Kung Fu while generally centring myself. I’d like to devote this entry mainly to the theme of centring, which relates directly to my back injury and overall goal for coming here.

IMG_0868
I had concluded my previous entry with a discussion of how the intensive training, about 8 hours a day, had re-stimulated my back injury. A disc herniation on the right hand side of my lower lumbar spine was exasperated by the large number of flexion activities performed many times a day, often held for periods of a time. I was trying to be positive about it but feeling pretty down. I got up the next day at about 5:30 am and went down for our morning Chi Kung session at 6. I’d not woken up with that much back pain in years. By the time we got into the Chi Kung practice I was in a downward spiral and going through a lot emotions. As we moved into the stepping meditation I began to calm my mind and bring focus to the practice. Master Iain passed by and reminded me to drop my tailbone; this helps root one’s stance and sink the Chi, accompanied by engaging muscles around the lower Dantien. Doing this automatically brings me back to centre, of which a major benefit seemed to be an immediate relieving of pressure on my back.

I practiced this process of dropping the tailbone, grounding the stance and coming back to my centre many times. I did this not just in our Kung Fu practice but continuously throughout the day. Not only was it improving my Kung Fu stance and helping relieve back pain, it brought a general awareness to my posture and state of mind. This process of coming back to my centre has become a mindfulness practice for me and is something I shall carry forward into my life. I used to do a lot of this at one time. In my twenties I became certified as a fitness instructor integrating Yoga and meditation with some Chi Kung into what I called the “Whole Fitness Workout”, which I taught into my thirties. I often used to tuck under my tailbone and pull in my lower Dantien. It developed a keen awareness of my physical movement centre building good muscle tone in my lower abdomen. I pretty much let that go after injuring my back; it was all I could do just to keep standing and walking for a couple years. Going through this back injury re-stimulation and healing process at Nam Yang I’ve become aware of some unhealthy postural habits on which I will have to work. I think I unconsciously started getting more of a curve back in my lumbar spine to protect my back against flexion, which seems to have been accompanied by a loosening of the musculature and loss of tone in my lower abdomen. I had started noticing this recently at the gym (too much mirror gazing?) when checking form and was wondering about it; with my centring mindfulness practice the awareness has come together. It took years to create this situation but hopefully not so long to correct and maintain it. Even sitting here now I must be reminding myself self to lower the tailbone and maintain my centre.

IMG_0887
Me doing a slash and block with my favorite Tan Tao (broadsword) flanked by the two great Nagas (Dragons) in front of Nam Yang’s Buddha House.

Maintaining one’s centre, like many of the principle lessons in our Kung Fu practice has numerous applications for life. Indeed, coming into and maintaining my centre was an overarching goal I had shared with Sifu Iain in my initial contact email inquiring about the possibility of training at Nam Yang. “As a goal at Nam Yang I would love to leave with a set of basic fundamentals to carry forward in my personal practice…(and) am especially interested in cultivating a state of mind conducive to maintaining my centre and living graciously amidst the challenges of this beautiful, troubled world.” It’s amazing how things can come together and somewhat blows my mind just reading this. I think the trick for me will be to keep up with this mindfulness practice even when I’m not in pain. I recall Master Iain’s teaching that with this work you can change your life, “You can change who you are.” The word “Kung Fu” is made up of two characters. I understand that the first character for “Kung” means something like “hard work” or “skillful training”; the second character for “Fu” refers to “time spent”. So “Kung Fu” might be translated as “time spent in hard work or skillful training”. Master Iain often quotes his Sifu, Master Tan. One of his most repeated aphorisms is that the secret to learning Kung Fu involves two things: first start, then don’t stop.

Master Iain mentioned at tea that while many other martial arts teach mechanics and techniques, Shaolin Kung Fu teaches principles. The lesson of maintaining my centre fits very well with this philosophy. Like with any other Kung Fu skill, I know mastering the lesson of maintaining my centre will take time and effort to change my life, but it will be time well spent. I’m already feeling the benefits, both in terms of my Kung Fu and my back. Of course along with maintaining my centre I have been modifying activities that involve flexion; yet I have been able to perform most of the others with vigour. It’s been two days since the flare up of my herniated disc and I’m feeling so much better; in the past that much pain would have taken a lot longer to settle down. Another factor to which I attribute this quick turn around is the strength and flexibility I have built up from the waist down since starting the training. These are also principles and practices that I will take with me.

the other is doing the broadsword salute with Moon behind.
Doing the broadsword salute with Moon behind.

I had checked the weather for Canmore back home and was -30; meanwhile I’ve training here in +35. A 65 degree difference, wow! I got a ride into town on one of the scooters which is the standard means of transport and finally got to amble down “Walking Street” on my own in Pai. Walking Street is a Thai phenomenon and a must see for tourists. Starting around 6 p.m. the street is lit up and packed with a cacophony of street vendors and performers, bars and taverns, discos, restaurants, tea shops and a myriad of nightlife in a carnivalesque atmosphere, replete with red light district in some of the larger cities. This happens pretty much every night, but one of the most famous is the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai. I was there but couldn’t get up the juice to go when I first arrived. The one in Pai is no where near as big, but wonderful, even magical. There are so many brilliant artists and artisans selling their wares it can be a little overwhelming: a genius every block. Moreover, the Thai people are so wonderful, beautiful and patient, it really is very touching, and oh boy can they cook! I must have had fresh banana or banana-coconut shake at every vendor. Another special aspect in Pai is its proximity to the local hill tribes. You see a lot of tribal culture and crafts for different peoples like the Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Hmong, each with a distinct language and culture, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution in the surrounding region. They are agriculturalists and hunters; I was hunting for gifts to bring home and scored big time! I won’t go into the details and spoil a surprise but I did pick up a gorgeous Hmong shoulder bag for 250 Baht, which is about 8 and a half dollars Canadian. It was made from the recycled clothes of a high ranking family, the likes of which are not being made so much anymore.

Anyhow, we train early in the morning and I shall have to try and sleep through the throbbing music echoing off the hills. I have three days of training left and really want to make the most of it! More to say, but for now it’s good night.

Much Love and warmth from Thailand!

by David Lertzman

David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount  Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.

Advertisements

Training At Kunyu Mountain Shaolin Kung Fu School

‘The following is a short diary from a student who studied at Kunyu Mountain Shaolin Kung Fu Academy during the October holidays. In this short blog he breaks down each days training. ‘

At Kunyu Shan you have a choice of doing one of the Shaolin martial arts styles, Wing Chun or Bagua. I chose Shaolin with Shifu Gao.

Kunyu Mountain
Monday:

Tai Chi starting at 6.00am, this is optional but highly recommended. Afterwards you do Qi Gong for 20 minutes followed by breakfast.

Breakfast consists of rice / sweet rice porridge, rice bread, bread, and eggs. You can take your pick of everything. I recommend bringing (or buying once you’ve arrived) some honey / jam / peanut butter to put on the bread. As this bread is served with every meal so you can always eat this.

After breakfast you have about hour to relax, then “Line up”. You meet with your master, then go on the morning run with your group, around 1km at a pretty decent pace. You loop back to the compound and begin training immediately.

You’ll warm up, then start learning shaolin basics for 1.5 hours (kicks, punches, stances, flying elbows, the lot). This is reasonably intense.

30 minutes break.

After the break you’ll go straight into learning “forms” for 1.5 hours. This is reasonably relaxed.

Lunch – this consists of a buffet of 2 vegetable based dishes, and one meat based dish. You can take the amount you want of each. The food isn’t too great, but it’s not too bad either. Some days are better than other, for example one day you get steamed meat dumplings, and another chicken on a stick and potato wedges.

I normally took a nap after lunch until 14.00. Second line up is at 14.30.

Finally, run the same 1km, then straight into Sanda training for 1.5 hours. This generally involves reasonably high intensity drills, basics, and pad work. There is very little practise sparring, so if you’re into competitive fighting, I recommend Muay Thai or somewhere else.

Finally you’ll have dinner, which is extremely similar to the lunch. Again, I recommend bringing something to put on bread for afterwards.

After this you can do what you like, some extra training, table tennis, watch a movie, take a shower, etc. (There is no time to shower in the morning, and hot water is only turned on in the evening for 3-4 hours.)

The structure of the rest of the week is the same, the only difference being what you studying during the three lesson periods of the day.

Tuesday:

Tai Chi

Conditioning – Partner up and get punched in the stomach, pectorals, shoulders, lats, floating ribs, kicks to the inside and outside of the thighs. Then high intensity punch bag work without gloves, which absolutely shredded my knuckles and they’re only just starting to heal now 1.5 weeks later.

Power training – Reasonably standard anaerobic training, sprints, bear crawls, bunny hops, hopping, planking, v-sits, etc.

Wednesday:

Tai Chi

Acrobatics – Jumping kicks, forward rolls, backward rolls, forward break-falls, backward break-falls, side break-falls, etc. Some of the backward break-falls are very difficult at first, and if you mess them up you will end up hitting your head / winding yourself. But once you get them, they’re relatively painless. This whole lesson is conducted on top of large reasonably firm padded matts. (The same matts used in the Sanda ring).

Forms.

Sanda.

Thursday:10599536_1557778751112613_2335631134442809634_n

Tai Chi

Shaolin Basics.

Rest

Power Stretching – some risk of getting injured during this, but it seems that the Shifu’s are starting to understand this now, and they were reasonably nice about it. Apparently they used to push people way too far during power stretching, but I found this to be okay. But I’m also reasonably flexible to start with from years of Tae Kwon Do training. The worst part was holding a specific shoulder stretch for 3 minutes, for two sets, with threats if anyone failed of whole group punishment.

Friday:

Tai Chi

Shaolin Basics

Ring Sparring – During this period everyone gets together to watch people sparring in the Sanda ring. If your Shifu has given you permission you may seek someone to spar against and get into the ring. Generally, with the exception of a couple individuals who have cleared sparred before, the level of sparring was quite poor. I believe this is because as I previously stated, there is a lack of any practise sparring. You learn all the techniques, but this is not enough in my opinion.

Mountain Stair Climb – This involves a leisurely walk up one of the mountains to a temple. You then have to run up and down it as many times as you can in 1.5 hours. Make sure you don’t overdo it on this, running down 300 odd stairs will literally destroy your knees – so at the very least take it very slow on the way down, then power on the way up.

Conclusion

The training was very physically intensive, from what I’ve written it may not sound it, but even lessons like “Shaolin basic’s” is relentless – constant jumping, shouting, powerful techniques, etc. My main advice is that the fitter you are before you come to Kunyu the more you’ll be able to enjoy it!

P.s. The Shifu’s dish out punishment with large 5-6 foot staffs. I didn’t see it happen whilst I was there, but if you break the rules you will get staffed. And they don’t hold back.

by Steve Hoult

Steve Hoult was a StudyMartialArts.Org student who went to Kunyu Shan for a week during October. For a full and more independent reviews of the school visit the StudyMartialArts.Org website. When you book your training do it through the StudyMartialArts.Org for discounts, extra service and a welcome pack full of language learning materials and martial arts information.

Kung Fu in Thailand Days 6-7: Breakdown

Greetings,

Well if my last entry was about breakthrough, this was one would have to be about breakdown, but I’ll come to that later. Yesterday was Saturday, a rest day. I had Thai Massage in the morning, not excruciating for the most part this time, but she did discover an area in my shoulder which was pretty crazy to have worked on. I felt great afterwards and went down to the training area for some solo work, practiced staff form then sword, the Tan Dao, Chinese Sabre or Broadsword. After using the stick I got permission to practice with a real sword. I wound up selecting the real, real sword. Let me explain. They have practice swords which are real swords, but with a blunt steel blade and considerably lighter. The real, real sword has an edge which could cut: it isn’t particularly sharp not having been honed for a while but is a serviceable blade. The main thing is the weight; it’s much heavier than the practice sword I’d previously used. Using the real sword is almost as much difference from the practice sword as is the practice sword from the stick; using it very much ground-truthed the whole experience. This applies not just to the matter of strength conditioning but in being able to perform properly the form.

IMG_0858

On our day-off we go into the town of Pai for supper (amazing Thai food!!) and eat ourselves silly. Before going down I had a chat with Eddie about teaching and learning dynamics. He shared that he gets concerned when a master doesn’t correct him. “A master won’t correct you for two reasons”, he commented. One is because he doesn’t think it’s worthwhile and the other is because you’ve got it so perfect you don’t need it, “and I know that’s not the case”. So when the Master corrects it’s because he cares, and even more importantly, he thinks you care. This means that you’ve taken the corrections and applied them, so it’s worth correcting again and again, going deeper into whatever you’re learning. There is also the matter of attitude. Some people don’t take well to corrections, or shall I say, the act of being corrected. The process of being corrected is something I’ve experienced many times with Native elders. When they are correcting you, they are doing it because they care and it is a sign that they see you as trainable. Another thing Eddie mentioned was quite interesting to me. He said that, from his perspective, when one comes to Nam Yang you don’t pay for the teaching and the training; you pay for the accommodations, the food and services. The training is always there, it’s part of a way life and it is up to the student to enter in and make the most of it for themselves. The the more you try and the harder you train the more will be given to you and the more you will gain. The onus is on you.

Today was a great day; it was the best day yet! In fact, things just keep getting better here every day. I’ve still got 8 days left and already I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about leaving. We worked in the group and I worked alone on sword and staff adding to the sequence of moves in my forms. We worked some very cool activities for strengthening and technique development in partners I can’t wait to bring home for Julian and Sarah. We got into practicing the most intense combat moves yet, so much fun!! I love this stuff and always feel especially honoured when Master Iain picks me to demonstrate the move: block me, lock me, throw me to the floor. I was especially honoured today when he cracked me on the nose. It wasn’t really that hard but it was a good square shot which elicited an audible pop. He felt so badly about. We were demonstrating a move which required me to come in with a grapple; Sifu seemed to want me to come in with some energy so I did. Either I came in too hard or he misjudged the distance or perhaps a bit of both but I think he felt worse than I did. I told him it was easy to misjudge the distance of such a target given my nose is probably a little closer than most others, I mean hey, that’s what makes me handsome in Thailand! Sifu asked several times throughout the session if I was ok. I glowed a little like Rudolph for a while but it doesn’t hurt at all anymore. Whenever we sit down for mid-session tea, Sifu pours the tea and asks, “Now, are there any questions about Kung Fu”. It’s really a special time of day. Today our youngest in the group asked about Nam Yang’s code of conduct, or Ethos. It’s a fantastic document and communicates very effectively the principles of loyalty, respect, equality, responsibility, brother/sisterhood, family, diligence and selflessness which distinguish Nam Yang, its Masters and Instructors. Here’s an excerpt, “Joining Nam Yang Pugilistic Association means becoming part of an ancient tradition dating back to Tat Moh (Bodhidharma), the Shaolin Founder, about 1500 years ago.” This brings me to the breakdown I had mentioned at the outset.

Processed with Rookie

I got up extra early this morning and went to meditate in the Buddha House. It was locked so I set up under the stars between the two Nagas (Dragons) out front (see picture attached). Afterwards I went down to where we begin our day’s activities in the open training area under the stars. We went through all the various Chi Kung exercises and moved into the stepping meditation. Afterwards we entered the Shuan Yang Sun Frost White Crane soft martial art form. I started sinking in to the movements, but of course was making mistakes, and Sifu came to correct me. Each move, of which I believe there are 66 though they all flow together, has a name. To help me understand the move he was correcting Sifu shared its name, “Goddess Pan Gu Opens Heaven: the Beginning of Heaven and Earth”. As I moved into the form it hit me how deep and vast is this tradition; there’s so much here and I’ll never even come close to learning it: 1,500 years of perfecting practice handed down from master to student, layer upon layer upon layer of art and science, technique and form. One must start young to really learn this and practice all your life; here I am almost 53 years old and just beginning with a two week intensive surrounded by these young fellows signed up for weeks and months at a time. What have I been doing with myself all these years? Goddess Pan Gu opened Heaven and I cracked open: I felt like I was falling, being swallowed into an abyss knowledge, wisdom, diligence and subtlety. Under northern Thailand’s pre-dawn light tears streaming down my face, pulling my elbows together, rolling back the shoulders, stretching out my hands until the wrists stabbed with pain, sinking down in the stance, rooting into the earth, drawing up Chi I cracked open, grieved for all the things I’d never know or learn, all the lost opportunity, and opened deeper to the form.

Time for sleep and I wish you all the best,

by David Lertzman

David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount  Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.

 

Kung Fu in Thailand Days 4-5: Breakthrough

Greetings,

Sore all over, did I mention sore all over? Between the fall I took in Chiang Mai, the Kung Fu exercises, incessant stretching and traditonal Thai massage, I’m sore all over…sore in places I can’t even reach, and others I shall not mention. That was how I felt last night, yet in the few short days I’ve been here at Nam Yang I’m already feeling myself so much more flexible and strong, especially from the waist down.

IMG_0866

Today was a day of break throughs: meditation stepping, punching, weapons and stretching. On a student’s first morning, each is given a very simple pattern of three steps, first on one side then the other, as a meditative walking sequence which forms a basis for part of the Shuan Yang Sun Frost White Crane. I should put “simple” in quotes! It’s just three steps to one side and back, then three to the other and back. Sounds pretty easy right? It took me three mornings just to be able to do the stepping sequence, but it felt so good when I got it as then one can start sinking into the meditation focusing on all the little details: turning and placement of the foot, gripping the ground and rooting down, angle of the knee, direction of the hips, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Moving through and starting to naturalize these details takes one into the meditation. The meditative walking and Shuan Yang are part of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu’s gentler or soft martial arts, yet the awareness built in these practices really helped me with the punching. I finally started to understand, meaning to get in my body, the pattern of step, grip the ground with your foot, sink down and punch. The result was immediate and obvious: way more focussed power yet far less effort and force required to throw the punch. Recall we are throwing these punches repeatedly into a hanging sand-filled cloth bag. Sifu had said it’s not about swinging the bag but in making a dent. For me there’s also a certain sound which accompanies a proper punch, it’s a kind of pop thud as you hit squarely the sack sending your Chi into its centre. When you grip the ground with your foot you draw Chi from the earth up through your body and send it out your arm into the target: step, grip, sink, punch; step, grip, sink, punch; step, grip, sink, punch, repeat…in getting this I worked exclusively on my left, my weaker side.

In weapon’s today I had a breakthrough with the staff. The break through was that I started being able to do it! By doing it, I mean that I started being able to move comfortably with the staff in the provided sequence and pick up the new combinations of steps and strikes which build cumulatively in the form. The form is the sequence of all the moves put together. The staff form has a very cool salutation at the beginning where you bow and then salute the staff, raising your Chi and sending it into the stick. The actual sequence then begins with kicking the bottom of the staff up and into your other hand moving into a series of strikes, steps, blocks, lunges and thrusts. The staff is a 6 foot, hard wood stick, rather heavy and quite longer then I’m used to. It is the original weapon for which the Shaolin are famous having defeated armies of both infantry and cavalry with just the staff as their weapon. Staff translates directly into spear and other really cool long bladed weapons like the Horse Cutting Knife, which is like a staff with a long, wide, curved sword on the end. The fluid, swirling sequence with Horse Cutting Knife is quite beautiful. I was also back on the stick for my sword practice having to learn new steps and patterns which would translate back in the next session, if I get them correct, to the real sword. I drilled with series of swirling figure 8 slashes upwards then downwards walking forward and back in very small steps. We doubled the number of moves I have, which can now translate to when I have a real sword back in my hand.

IMG_0865

Along with the weapons the big highlight today was working with Eddie. Eddie is the young man who is Sifu Iain’s top student and instructor at Nam Yang in the Thailand retreat centre. Eddie has a powerful life story. As with too many young people today, he had wound up on the streets using heavy drugs and really down and out. Through a series of events Eddie wound up at the Shaolin Temple in London where the head Master took him in letting him sleep on the floor. It’s now been ten years of intensive Kung Fu training for Eddie, travelling to different countries training with some of the top Sifus in the world. At Nam Yang Eddie has found his place and will be taking over for Sifu Iain when he leaves, a huge nod of confidence and respect. Eddie is a specialist in Chin Na at which he is quite expert having spent 2-3 years of study with a world renowned Chin Na master in California. Chin Na is the art of joint locking. It literally means Chin – to seize or catch, and Na – to hold or control. The old Shaolin Masters spent many, many years developing the art of Chin Na which contains hundreds of moves all based on achieving the perfect angle, pressure and leverage to seize an opponent and control them with joint locks. The session was amazing and a great deal of fun getting seized and put to the ground ground with exquisite and graceful agony! Eddie’s workout was also quite a bit more aggressive on the strength training than that to which we had become accustomed with Master Iain. I’m the oldest student here and I was proud to be able to keep up in good form with all the exercises and repetitions except one where I had to drop out a couple reps before the end. I think my back and wanting to prevent the old disc injury slowed me on that one but it was probably wise counsel. Oh, the other break through: flexibility. Before I injured my back I had done a good bit of Yoga and one of the postures on which I had worked quite a bit was the forward bend. Years ago I used to be able to stand and bend over putting my hands flat on the ground; however, since blowing out my discs I have done very little forward flexion, of which there is a lot going on here. As I learned in Yoga, you can’t just bend over but must keep your legs straight and, most importantly, your back flat to avoid any undue pressure on the lower spine. Yesterday in Eddie’s class I managed to achieve this, and it was glorious. It took me a long time to get there but I believe my Yogini teacher and dear friend Sheri would have approved the form.

IMG_0871Before closing I’d like to share one more breakthrough which I had not counted, yet is likely the most important: a personal development breakthrough somewhat humbling, yet empowering. When I first inquired about training at Nam Yang I was looking to leave closer to the end of January and train for a week to ten days. I was so thrilled when Master Iain replied that he would be here at that time but would have to depart Thailand at the end of the first week of February leaving the school with his capable head student and instructor, Eddie. When the better priced ticket came up I changed my timing to leave earlier and maximize my time with the Sifu. That gave me a few extra days on the other side which I decided to put into Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing for which the country is famous. I located what seemed to be the perfect place just north of Chiang May, another residential martial arts academy called Muay Sangha that blends ancient and modern Muay Thai with some other forms. I got really excited about training there for four days before my respite of several days doing nothing in Chiang Mai – a required component under Sarah’s direct orders – before coming back home to Canada. I was really disappointed when Kru Pedro, the Master of Muay Sangha, told me this was not enough time but graciously invited me for tea and exhibition to his studio. I re-worked and re-worked my schedule to create the minimum one-week required for acceptance at Muay Sangha. Now, after having spent time here at Nam Yang and getting to work with Eddie, who is also my weapons instructor, I have made the decision to stay here the few extra days to deepen and anchor my learning in this mindful, monastic environment. I will be honoured to train with Eddie when Sifu leaves and take up Kru Pedro’s kind offer for tea following up on his suggestion to come for training the next time I am in Thailand…yes, there will be a next time, hopefully with my family, Sarah and Glen.

Peace and Chok Dee (Good Luck in Thai).
by David Lertzman

David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount  Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.

Kung Fu in Thailand Day 3: A Day of Rest

Greetings everyone,

Yesterday, Wednesday, was a rest day, as is Saturday. We bundled up in Sifu’s truck and drove north to Mae Hong Son close to Burma. We visited some hill tribe markets and two principal Temples, one in front of a small lake and another on a hill overlooking the town. The hill tribes women’s hand weaving is exceptional and they sell the most delicious wild honey by the side of road. One of the highlights of the day was when we picked up four Buddhist monks walking up the winding mountain road who piled in the truck with us. Not only is Sifu Iain extremely knowledgeable in Kung Fu and martial arts in general, he has also a deep knowledge and experience of the local area and its peoples. Thus, our journey was one through the historical, cultural and philosophical landscapes of the region. Being so close to Burma there is a very strong influence from the Shan people. Indeed, the whole area has been flooded with various ethnic groups, in particular hill tribes fleeing conflict in Burma. I finally had the current political situation in Thailand explained effectively over lunch by Sifu Iain and the day ended at the Temple on the Hill in Mae Hong Son, Wat Phra That Mae Yen. It is hard to describe how extraordinary are these temples. The view from the mountain top on which the temple sits was spectacular as the jungle stretched out below with its forested hills and mountains, limestone spires and the blazing sun setting behind.
IMG_0868

Today we followed the same training schedule from 6 am to a little after 9 a.m., and 3:30 p.m. to about 6:15 p.m. Along with my extra 2 hours in the middle I also received a real Thai Massage. It was as much ordeal as it was massage but the lady hired for the massage was very good natured. She is a strong and gifted traditional massage therapist. She laughed at the noises I made with her elbows in my back and foot in my leg and told me to say, “Sooo, sooo!”. She tweaked my nose and invited me to the discotheque tonight in Pai but I told her I couldn’t go. I learned later from Sifu that men with big noses are considered extremely handsome in this part of Thailand; I’ve finally found somewhere that values my natural good looks and charm! We did a lot of Chi Kung, stretching and meditation today. We also continued with the Tigre-Crane Sum Chien and another sequence I have not yet described called Shuan Yang, which in English is called Sun Frost White Crane. Shuan Yang is a kind soft or gentle martial art that looks a lot like Tai Chi, but more martial. Indeed, some believe it to be the origins of Tai Chi. We did some great punching drills with the suspended sand filled cloth sacks and had a marvellously vigorous kicking session. Today on weapons I got to take up the actual bladed sabre, the Tan Dao or Chinese Broadsword. Wow, that was a gas training with sword in the open outdoor training ground my traditional black and gold Kung Fu pants billowing wet chest bared to northern Thailand’s blazing afternoon sun.

IMG_0856At tea Sifu spoke of the history of Nam Yang’s Tigre-Crane lineage. His Master’s Master, Master Ang, was the one I mentioned earlier who brought the art out of China and passed it eventually to Master Tan Soh Tin who then passed it to Iain Armstrong, the man I call Sifu. What an amazing history. Master Ang started Kung Fu as a boy and had three different masters. His first master was known as “the secretive old man” who introduced him to Tigre-Crane at 8 years old. His second master was an herbal medicine peddler who specialized in the Shaolin weapons system and Tiger form. The third was a Shaolin monk. I was amazed to learn that Master Ang eventually fought in Sun Yat-Sen’s army with the Koumintang, which was subsequently taken up by Chian Kai-Shek. As the Communists became victorious and began executing the Shaolin Kung Fu martial artists Master Ang emigrated to Singapore and later started Nam Yang in 1957. He ran the club until his death in the mid 1980s and the leadership passed to Master Tan who trained Sifu Iain. Iain now has schools here in Thailand, in the UK, in Russia and another about to open in Italy. It is very special to be a part of this lineage and I hope to bring home some foundational skills I can practice on my own. I’ve taken to playing flute under the stars while the others arrive to the outdoor training area for the morning session. Thus, I must sign off as 5 a.m. comes early!

by David Lertzman

David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount  Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.

Kung Fu in Thailand Day Two: The Training Begins!

Today was an awesome day! I was up about 5:30 a.m. and we started a little before sunrise with Chi Kung and Sam Chien, crescent moon shining with mist hanging off the jungle. We trained with the group this morning from 6-9 am and in the afternoon session from 3:30 until a little after 6 p.m. I did 2 hours of solo instruction focussing on Chi Kung and Sum Chien. Sum Chien is a series of moves that forms a basis for the Southern Shaolin Tigre-Crane form we are learning. I also got to begin weapons training with staff and starting on Chinese Sabre using a stick. I thought staff would come more easily to me than sword but I probably did better with the sword technique. I worked on weapons with the head student who is also an instructor. The hardest part is probably the footwork. All in all I would say we spent about 2.5 hours today in stretching and conditioning, lots of stretching.

IMG_0864

In the evening we focused on special breathing techniques that apply to Chi Kung and Sum Chien, which Sifu said were actually quite advanced. I did well with my prior yoga and Chi Kung training. Then we worked on punching drills into heavy cloth sacks filled with sand hung from the rafters. It makes your knuckles pretty red but is very instructive on technique and really fun!! The idea is not to swing the sack but to be able to dent it by sending your chi into the target. One of my favourite times of day is the break in training when Sifu call us up to the veranda where we sit on teak stools and he pours special tea in all our cups on a table shaped like a dragon. He then delivers teachings about technique principles, tells stories and dispenses wisdom. Like I said, you can tell a lot about Sifu by how his chief students treat him: with utmost respect and admiration, hanging off every word with the rest of us. Sifu spoke about Kung Fu as a way of life; the martial aspect is part of a bigger picture and no one part is more or less than the other. Kung Fu prepares us for meditation and the pathway to enlightenment.

At afternoon tea Sifu spoke about the tendons. I had mentioned that I felt where an injury in my shoulder was really being stretched when being corrected in some technique for practicing one of the slow punch forms early in the morning. At first it hurt but I stayed with it and then it started to open. Sifu said that such body awareness is the first step to Kung Fu. He said one’s tendons have a grain like wood. When you get injured it forms a pattern in the tendon, like a knot. As you develop your awareness you can use the Kung Fu forms to go into the tendon and open it up taking out some of the scar tissue and re-patterning the tendon. He said something else that was very profound which reminded me of Sequoyah. Speaking about training and repetition, for example of a simple movement like a step or the most basic punch over and over again, Sifu said that you could never get board of anything that is done with deep intention and full awareness.

Life here has a rather monastic feeling. We train before sunrise and retire a little after sunset. Two meals a day are wholesome yet simple, rice with vegetables and a clear, tangy vegetable soup, prepared by our cook who is mostly blind and comes from one the tribes originally on the Burmese side. Accommodations are comfortable yet spartan, the bed being a heavy, handcut bamboo cot. It is surprisingly quite chilly in the morning and I really missed my fleece pants for the first couple hours but had to put on a good showing as a Canadian while everyone else was quite bundled up.

There are several people training, all male from young to old: two other Canadians, a Dutch fellow, a Belgian and a Brit. The Belgian and Brit are senior students. One is already a teacher and the other well on his way, very dedicated, lovely young men. Tomorrow we have a rest day and are going to see some remote hill tribes with whom Sifu is connected. I’m pretty sore in many places with a nice, large bruise on my arm from yesterday’s push-hands activity, and very happy.

Love and Blessings
David

David Lertzman Ph.D. is the Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development PI: Energy Indigenous Environment Interface Research Program, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

This blog entry is part of a series of blogs David Lertzman wrote for StudyMartialArts.Org detailing his experiences training at Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat. If you’re interested in visiting this school book your place here and get an exclusive discount  Nam Yang Shaolin Kung Fu Retreat.

Muay Thai in Chiang Mai

On our latest scouting trip to find you the best martial arts schools in Thailand I visited Chiang Mai in north Thailand. Chiang Mai is thee largest city in north Thailand and is a city packed full of culture, beauty and of course temples, but in addition to practicing martial arts and seeing the temples maybe you’d also like to see a Muay Thai fight?

Seeing a Muay Thai fight is usually on the to-do list of everyone who visits Thailand, and Chiang Mai has three very distinct venues on offer. Most tourists will encounter touts and posters pointing them towards the two most convenient locales, where the fights may arguably be less authentic. The third place is an old stadium where local Thais go to see the fights, and it might take a little more work to get there.

First off, the cheapest fights in town can be had at the Loi Kroh Entertainment Complex with its assortment of lady and ladyboy bars surrounding the arena. It’s possible to sit at any of the bars and enjoy the fights, being solicited to tip out some of the fighters occasionally after their matches. Tipping around 20 baht is appropriate, and considerably cheaper than what it costs to see a match at the other two popular venues. Keep in mind that the fights are generally not much more than training sessions between rival schools, and the bouts are not so serious, though some nights you might catch some good action. The Loi Kroh Boxing Arena is the cheapest, most relaxed route to go, but you also get what you pay for.

Another venue that is quite convenient for visitors, but which hosts arguably more ‘real’ fights, is at the Thapae Boxing Stadium right behind Thapae Gate on Moonmuang Road. Because of its central location, fights are often fought before a well-packed crowd of mostly foreign tourists. Look for a tout on the sidewalk to point you in, or let the noise coming from the back guide you as you take the stroll down the narrow alley entrance. Admission is about 500 baht, with a higher price for VIP seats closest to the ring. This is a place where visitors who feel uneasy about the sport, or who don’t wish to go out of their way can sit in relatively familiar comfort surrounded by a good number of fellow tourists. The fights may be Thai on Thai or Thai on Westerner bout, and can be quite exciting. There is plenty of alcohol available as well, as the boxing area also contains a small grouping of bars. The celebratory atmosphere of so many young holidaymakers enjoying the fights over drinks makes this a fun venue and a good night out.

For those that are inclined to find the most ‘realistic’ fighting venue, it’s necessary to hop in a tuk-tuk and go across the river to the old Kawila Boxing Stadium. This place gets less press, is less convenient, and the fighting events are longer. The price is about 500 baht per person, with a chance to pay more for ringside seats, just as at the Thapae arena. Fights in the older and well-worn Kawila Boxing Stadium feel much more authentic than at the two tourist-drag locations. General admission bleacher seats give plenty of visibility, but the people at Kawila are also generally ok with people coming down from the stands to crowd closer to the ring. One small word of advice: As this place is the real thing, in case you do witness any gambling over the fights, it’s advisable to simply look on and not participate. Have fun, enjoy the show, and take a tuk-tuk back to your hotel or guesthouse – the Kawila Stadium is further than you think, and there’s a good chance you’ll get lost otherwise.

Check out full-time martial arts training schools in Thailand here www.StudyMartialArts.Org

The Path of Mindfulness

Image

The oldest evidence for walking on two legs comes from one of the earliest humans known, Sahelanthropus. Walking upright may have helped this species survive in the diverse habitats near where it lived—including forests and grasslands. Today the habitat of the modern humans are urban areas and walking no-longer is matter of life and death but quality of life.

As a low impact exercise over 10,000 steps are recommend each day so its not an exercise that will help you loose pounds like running will. However, the benefits of walking can not simply be measured in weight loss or even fitness gains. Walking is much more than that. Walking is about the maintenance of overall physical and mental health. A evolutionary leap that is one of the most natural parts of our lives.

As a child our first steps are greeted with joy and as an adult our last with sadness. Walking is central to our being whether as a means of movement, a health exercise, a de-stresser, a way to clear your mind, think or connect to your own body or nature. As a result it’s a natural choice for an active meditative exercise that everyone can do.

Here’s a simple set of instructions for one form of walking meditation that focuses on connecting you to your own body and your surroundings.

1. Be aware of your posture, reduce your speed, relax and regulate your breathing with long slow deep breaths .

2. Using your five senses, listen to your surroundings and take a moment to become aware of them. Turn your attention to smells and touch, smile and explore your surroundings with wonder.

3. Become aware of your body, its movements its sway and connect to the sensation of walking. Observe how your body feels during the process of walking and enjoy these sensations for short periods of relaxed mindfulness.

So if you’re in Beijing here are my top three parks in Beijing for mindful walking:

1. The Temple of Heaven

2. Beihai Park

3. The Temple of Earth

Check out this app that is designed to help you integrate mindfulness into your daily routines. https://itunes.apple.com/hk/app/gps-for-the-soul/id586099254?mt=8 or alternatively. Leave your phone behind and get rid of all technological attachments for a mindful walk.

Check out www.StudyMartialArts.Org for martial arts adventure travel and training options in Beijing and World Wide.

A Lesson on Breathing

From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

by Shunryu Suzuki

A path between a bamboo forrest.
A path between a bamboo forrest.

When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world.  When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world.  The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless.  We say “inner world” or “outer world,” but actually there is just one whole world.  In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door.  The air comes in and goes out like a swinging door.  The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door.  If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra.  There is no you to say “I.”  What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.  It just moves; that is all.  When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing:  no “I,” no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door….

Tozan, a famous Zen master, said,

“The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud.  The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain.  All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other.  The white cloud is always the white cloud.  The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.”

This is a pure, clear interpretation of life.  There may be many things like the white cloud and blue mountain:  man and woman, teacher and disciple.  They depend on each other.  But the white cloud should not be bothered by the blue mountain.  The blue mountain should not be bothered by the white cloud.  They are quite independent, but yet dependent.  This is how we live….

When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door, and we are purely independent of, and at the same time, dependent upon everything.  Without air, we cannot breathe.  Each of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds.  We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment.  So we are completely dependent and independent.  If you have this kind of experience, this kind of existence, you have absolute independence; you will not be bothered by anything.

BOOK LINK – http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Mind-Beginners-Informal-Meditation/dp/0834800799

www.StudyMartialArts.Org

The Way Of Nature in Beijing

Capture

Bringing the way of nature into polluted Beijing from the inside out.

Living in Beijing, China’s capital has lots of benefits. In China’s annual 2012 expat survey, Beijing was voted in the top 3 of China’s most attractive cities for expats to live in.
Beijing’s Parks and open spaces are beautiful and full of life no matter what time of day you might visit them. Literally any open space buzzes with life. The old talk, play, stretch, sway, practice qigong or dance while the young chillout, cuddle or keep fit.

For foodies Beijing has an abundance of cheap and delicious eateries. There are traditional and exotic offerings available that are either local or from further afield. All of which can be easily obtained and many of which can be obtained without even leaving the house. Thanks to the numerous delivery services like Jinshisong, sherpa and many more. Yet, of course, food and parks aren’t the only thing on offer: Beijing also has a rich history and culture, as well as a maze of hutongs and hidden gems, all there for you to explore should you wish to leave your house. For many Beijing’s cultural scene is a legitimate draw and, for many, has more substance than Shanghai.

Beijing is a City of parks, restaurants, historic sites and culture, knitted together by an ever expanding subway system that allows its 20 million plus residents easy access around the city for as little as 2 rmb.

Beijing it seems has everything and in abundance. However, this abundance does not come without a cost. Air pollution, traffic and overcrowding are the biggest challenges that the city faces.

However, whether you’re a Chinese citizen or expat the truth is that we can do very little about these three things individually, without sweeping local and national policy changes and the time for them to take place. At present, too many of us continue to enjoy the convenience of cars, whether it’s our own or a cab, and quite frankly, even the most unsociable of us enjoy congregating from time to time. So what can we do individually to improve our environment?
Consider for a second the saying ‘charity starts at home’. Now why not replace the word ‘charity’ with this phrase; ‘Environmental change’. Maybe for the Beijinger, ‘Environmental change can and should start at home also’, rather than wait for local and national policy changes. Its up to us individually to be more proactive, by having more awareness and connection to our surroundings. We can do this very simply and cheaply by improving our own personal environments.  You can create your own personal oasis of peace and quiet away from the air pollution, traffic and overcrowding by introducing the following key elements (because no matter how peaceful, softly lit or less crowded your home is, it is unlikely that it will be untainted by Beijing’s air pollution).

The surprising and unhealthy truth is that almost all of the contaminants present in outdoor pollution can be found in indoor pollution! These pollutants include PAHs, solvents, organics, heavy metals, particulates, benzene, carcinogens and fecal material. As a result classrooms, offices and homes are introducing more and more air purifiers. But does the introduction of another impersonal home or workplace utility make any real difference without a very personal and natural mental shift? Does the introduction of yet another machine send the right message to students, workers or homeowners? What other measure can we take to protect our little oasis’s and improve our personal environments? Well the answer might just be in creating an oasis.

Below you will find my answer for the practical Beijinger who wants to avoid Beijing’s air pollution, traffic and overcrowding. Here is my list of air cleaning plants that you can order from taobao to create your own oasis without even leaving your home:

Bamboo Palm

 Bamboo Palm: Also known as the reed palm, this small palm thrives in shady indoor spaces and often produces flowers and small berries. It tops the list of plants best for filtering out both benzene and trichloroethylene. They’re also a good choice for placing around furniture that could be off-gassing formaldehyde. ://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130414&q=%D7%D8%D6%F1%C5%E8%D4%D4

Snake Plant

Snake plant: (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, this plant is one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissues and personal care products. Put one in your bathroom — it’ll thrive with low light and steamy humid conditions while helping filter out air pollutants. http://s.taobao.com/search?%20initiative_id=staobaoz_20130414&q=%BB%A2%CE%B2%C0%BC%C5%E8%D4%D4&cat=0

Areca Palm

Areca Palm: The top air purifying plant as ranked by NASA’s study is the Areca palm tree. The palm has been dubbed as one of the most efficient humidifiers and can be counted on to keep your home or office moist during dry times and continuously remove chemical toxins from the air. During winter time, it can literally replace the use of electric humidifiers altogether! http://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130414&q=%C9%A2%CE%B2%BF%FB%C5%E8%D4%D4&cat=0

Spider Plant

Spider Plant: A beautiful houseplant with long grassy leaves, the spider plant also grows rapidly. This elegant plant is great at removing poisonous gases as well as other impurities like formaldehyde and xylene. For better effect, it should be kept in the kitchen or near the fireplace, as these are the places where carbon monoxide accumulates a lot.

http://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130414&q=%B5%F5%C0%BC%C5%E8%D4%D4&cat=0

Peace Lily

Peace Lily: One of the best plants you can get that reduces harmful indoor toxins that may cause cancer is the Peace Lily. An easy-to-care-for houseplant, the peace lily is a great pollution fighter and air-purifier. It helps in removing benzene and formaldehyde present in the house. http://s.taobao.com/search?spm=a230r.1.4.1.VT1G0W&q=%C2%ED%CC%E3%C1%AB%C5%E8%D4%D4&rsclick=1

Gerbera Daisy

Gerbera Daisy: This bright, flowering plant is effective at removing trichloroethylene, which you may bring home with your dry cleaning. It’s also good for filtering out the benzene that comes with inks. A great place to have this little plant is either in your laundry room or bedroom provided it can get plenty of light there.  

http://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130414&q=%B7%C7%D6%DE%BE%D5%B3%FB%BE%D5%C5%E8%D4%D4&cat=0

Marginata

Marginata (Dracaena marginata): This plant is stunningly beautiful with glossy thin leaves with red edges. It is a famously slow-growing flowering houseplant with very few growing requirements. It also not only removes formaldehyde and benzene from the air, but is also capable of filtering out other toxins present. However, proper care should be taken while placing the plant inside, as it is poisonous to dogs.

http://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130526&jc=1&q=Marginata+%28Dracaena+marginata%29&stats_click=search_radio_all%3A1

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera: We all know that aloe vera is present in many skin care products. Not only does it help with skin burns but also with filtering various gas emissions from dangerously toxic materials. Claimed to possess tons of medicinal properties, this incredible succulent can also be grown as an ornamental plant and can easily be picked up anywhere there are plants being sold.

http://s.taobao.com/search?initiative_id=staobaoz_20130526&jc=1&q=%C2%AB%DC%F6%D6%B2%CE%EF&stats_click=search_radio_all%3A1

Chrysantheium morifolium

Chrysantheium morifolium:  The colorful flowers of these plants can do a lot more than brighten a home office or living room; the blooms which come in a mixture of different shades and colors also help filter out benzene, which is commonly found in glue, paint, plastics and detergent. This plant loves bright light, and to encourage buds to open, you’ll need to find a spot near an open window with direct sunlight.