Top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China

You owe it to yourself not to be the drunken foreigner and more importantly the wrong type of drunken foreigner and let yourself down. Remember the purpose of your journey is to Study Martial Arts. Heavy drinking won’t help you reach your aims and objectives and may cause you, your hosts or school and Shifu to loose face (embarrassment).

Drinking in China and smoking is common place. With cheap alcohol and cigarettes everywhere, this is not the best place to run away to if you want to change these bad habits. This must start at home.

Most social drinking in China is primarily associated with eating. Most drinking takes place around the dinner table and meals as a way to cement relationships and do business. As a topic this subject could easily have a series of blog entries but that will be a story for another day.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China in brief.

1. Showing respect when drinking is probably one of the first things someone will explain to you. When drinking tea or when drinking alcohol with a superior clink your cup/glass lower. Its super simple and easy to remember. But its much appreciated by your elders, fellow guests, shifu’s. The rest of the customs and rules need not be learnt straight away and are things you’ll pick up on or learn as you go. As a foreigner you’ll not be expected to know them or everything.

2. When inviting or being invited out for dinner or meals in China. The standard rule of thumb is usually the inviter pays unless stated otherwise.

3. When drinking follow the lead of others at the table in terms of speed quantity and times. Whatever you do avoid mixing baijiu and beer. You should remember drinking in China can start very slowly but once the individual toasting starts it can be rapid and all those small cups will start catching up on you especially if you’ve insisted on drinking out of turn.

4. If you don’t want to drink have an excuse prepared in advance or warn your host of this. Excuses related to health tend to be the best. Having tried many over the years these where best received by hosts and guests. If you’re not going to be drinking much but still want to show respect have tea ready in your cup and don’t empty the cup (ganbie) just drink as you wish (suiyi).

5. Eat, eat and eat. Show appreciation and be a good guest.

If you would like to learn more about how to survive in China why not check out my post on 10 Mistakes Foreign Martial Arts Students Make in China.

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Fascia. What is it and why should I care?

by Luke Sherrell / Director of Operations class

AMN Academy

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What do you think is more important, Strength and Power, or Coordination and Flexibility?

It depends on the goal I hear you cry! Plus, how strong or how flexible are we talking here? There is a big difference between achieving box splits when compared with touching your toes or bench pressing 200kg’s vs nailing a pull up.

These are fair comments so let me put this another way. If you could be naturally gifted with strength and power or coordination and flexibility, which would you choose?

In the absence of specific goals, the way I’d answer this question is to consider which of the movement qualities are the most difficult to acquire? Without wishing to upset vast numbers of strength and conditioning enthusiasts and coaches, having worked with hundreds of clients for many years, I am inclined to say that it is a simpler process to gain strength and power than it is to become more coordinated and flexible!

Note that I said simpler and NOT easier.

The pursuit of high levels of strength is hard work but if you utilise a progressive training system that involves the manipulation of intensity (load) and volume, over time, you will get stronger. If you also practice moving quickly while applying force, you will become more powerful. I would also like to point out that depending on the individual, the constant pursuit of these two qualities exclusively is often to the detriment of overall movement quality.

Flexibility, mobility and coordination are a little more complicated to acquire. Gaining large increases in flexibility for example is such a long and slow road that many trainers simply don’t include it in their programming. If a client came to you and said I want to become more coordinated, it would be understandable if you felt a little out of your depth. You would first need to understand why the individual is poorly coordinated, which systems to stimulate and which sort of movements are appropriate.

In the world of body weight training, people who are coordinated and flexible require less strength. They have the capacity to manipulate their bodies into angles of leverage that are advantageous instead of fighting against their own tensions and having to muscle their way through things.

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Effortless coordination also suggests that someone also has a highly developed motor system. The peripheral nervous system, cerebellum, pre-motor and motor cortices are well educated, they have a large movement vocabulary, or as I like to call it they have a high level of Movement Intelligence.

So are the elusive skills we speak of more important than strength and power? That really is open to debate, a debate that I do not wish to get in to at this stage. Maybe it’s not that coordination and flexibility are vastly harder to achieve, rather most trainers are less comfortable with how to coach these qualities.

In the AMN system, skill work is the expression of all four qualities and I would like to make a case as to why we should start looking at skill movements as viable exercise options for clients.

Stuntman Olympics 

If there was such a thing, I would be there to watch every single year because of all the athletes I’ve worked with, stuntmen are simply the most awesome.

To be a successful stuntman in modern movies you need to be able to perform:

Acrobatics

Martial Arts, Gymnastics, Parkour, Tricking, Diving, Deep sea diving and Swimming and at some point become comfortable with explosions and being set on fire. These guys are the most impressive athletes I’ve ever seen and their movement skills completely eclipse those of traditional sports.

Our skill based movement system is designed to give the novice trainee, that’s the vast majority of personal training clients and with all due respect, most trainers, somewhere to start learning skill based movement. But its not just friend impressing awesomeness that is up for grabs here.

Skill work combines the expression of strength, power, coordination, mobility, flexibility and balance. There are untold benefits to this kind of movement neurologically but in an industry obsessed with mechanics, many will be pleased to hear that its pretty good for the fascial system too.

Fascia is not simply a mechanical system, far from it! In fact there is no part of the human that is simply mechanical.

Fascia

Fascia has had a pretty big push in the manual therapy and Health & Fitness literature over the last 10 years or so, putting it right at the top of the most popular and often talked about tissue in the human body, and quite rightly so, it’s very important and influential stuff.

Fascia is the primary connective tissue of the body and has many recognisable guises such as ligaments, retinacula, tendons, aponeuroses, fascial bands, plura, meninges, perimysium, epimysium and even the pericardial sac. It is the very fabric that makes the body one single unfathomable piece of genius engineering!

There are a several fascial researchers and therapists whom I greatly respect. Luigi Stecco of Fascial Manipulation is one of them;

Fascia, what is it?

“In medicine, it has always been considered to have a mere function, or role, of containment or restraint, a type of packing material. In recent times, this view has changed somewhat. Fascia actually extends within the muscle, via the perimysium and the endomysium. This continuity means that the contraction of each single muscle fibre transmits to the deep fascia, or the outer most layer of muscle compartments. It is now thought that the fascia could be considered as a conductor of an orchestra playing a symphony of movement, where it synchronises the crescendo of some muscles and the diminuendo of others. The result is harmonious motion.”

Interview of Luigi Stecco by Massimo Ilari

Since some very smart surgeons and anatomists realised that fascia may be more than just the white stuff you need to cut away to get to the muscles, research and hypotheses have come out thick and fast. While some of the claims of fascial based manual therapy techniques may still be unsubstantiated, one description of the fascial system seems to hold true.

Slipping and Sliding 

“Musculoskeletal dysfunction is considered to occur when muscular fascia no longer slides, stretches, and adapts correctly and fibrosis localises in the intersecting points of tension, known as cc and cf. Subsequent adaptive fibroses can develop as a consequence of unremitting non-physiological tension in a fascial segment”.

A Pilot Study: Application of Fascial Manipulation(c) technique in chronic shoulder pain – Anatomical basis and clinical implications. By Day JA, Stecco C, Stecco A (JBMT, 2009)

Whilst I would add a few different and influential factors to explain musculoskeletal dysfunction, I accept the fact that the fascial system works optimally when it is mobile.

Form follows function?

Is a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose

We’ve all heard this phrase used within the health and fitness industry to promote a term I hate; ‘functional training’. Well, I don’t really like this statement about form and function either. In an evolutionary sense and with regards to movement, the function of the body was to be capable of interacting effectively with the environment.

Walk, Run, Jump, Hunt, (fight), Climb and Swim : Adaptable Locomotion 

A hypothesis as to why we have such incredibly powerful brains is due to our capacity for complex motion, the variance of the environment and a necessity to be able to predict outcomes of such interactions so as to promote our survival.

These days, the function of the human body is having the freedom and potential to do whatever we want with it. Our form, our design if you will, affords us near limitless movement potential.

Move in a manner that promotes and integrates our form and improved function will follow

Move in a manner that over simplifies our form and function can degrade

Collagen

In response to regular physiological strain, collagen, the basic compound of our connective tissues adapts by altering its architectural properties to meet the imposed demand.

In healthy subjects 50% of collagen fibrils are replaced annually as part of the natural cycle of cellular life. There are hypotheses to suggest that certain movement practices can influence this cycle so as the renewal process promotes improved extensibility, hydration and sliding of fascia which is displayed via increased mobility through open joint angles.

As ever I shall point out that fascia is not alone in this process. In fact it is the proprioceptive sensory system that does the learning, the tissues do the adapting. 

If you’ve ever been amazed, annoyed or both at how incredibly mobile kids are, don’t worry. The example thrown around comparing adult mobility to that of a toddler is plain stupid and in fact, it annoys me! The connective tissue matrix of a child is structurally different to that of an adult. The collagen structure of a child is more undulating, making it naturally much springier. The elderly show fascia that is much flatter and less responsive and there’s even variability in these qualities from person to person.

My 3 year old may have a pretty sweet looking straddle with no training but ask him to jog on the spot as silently as possible and he’ll bash around like a baby rhino.. He may have springy fascia but it’s not all its cracked up to be without motor control!’

Whether it’s been proven in a lab or not, (and apparently it has been) anecdotally we see it all the time. Tissue extensibility improves with the right kind of movement practices. It’s no coincidence that the connective tissue AND nervous systems of Capoeiristas, Gymnasts and Dancers allow them to move with grace and fluidity through full ranges of motion and those of your average weights trainee does quite the opposite.

How we choose to move is important. 

Counter movement and elastic recoil

As if learning to be awesome wasn’t enough! The pursuit of athletic drills and movement skill practice is right on the money to enhance the energy store and release capacity of fascia.

The elastic storage capacity of fascial tissue can be enhanced with correct practice. When performing an athletic warm up we kick shoes off and coach clients to stay on the balls of the feet. We advise that ground contact time should be minimal and they should aim to be as quiet as possible.

Becoming fast and reactive through the lower limbs is a product of training. It strengthens the feet and goes a long way to improving athletic movement in ball sports such as tennis and squash. Some have it naturally while others have to earn it, but it can always be learned and improved.

The energy returning, recoil extensibility of the connective tissue matrix is subconsciously utilised any time we ever jump, throw or kick a ball, it’s also present in just about every one of the dynamic skill movements we provide in the fundamentals.

Flexibility

Flexibility is not gained with a single approach. It is the net result of several complimentary practices of which movement skills like cartwheels, handstands, rolling, athletic drills, bridges and scoots are part of.

With this in mind, let me conclude this article with another question.

“What is more useful and rewarding for you and your clients?”

1. Learning to move in complex patterns that build strength, mobility, coordination, are in tune with our form, improve the brain by engaging in the process of learning and make you look awesome at house parties?

Or 

2. Generic dumbbell rows and chest presses?

I’m a bit biased so I’ll leave you to decide on that one. 

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How to Stream the 2015 Rugby World Cup for FREE with a VPN

Wondering where and how to watch the world cup while in China?

Maybe you’re out in the sticks and there’s no way for you to scrum your way into a crowded bar for some overpriced Guinness to watch your favourite teams beat and bash the living shit out of each other. Maybe you’re in a secluded kung fu school and the closest city just doesn’t cater to showing western sporting events. Despite this, its still possible for the savvy www.StudyMartialArts.Org student to watch your favourite sporting events. You can do access this or footballing events via illegal streaming sites or our preferred method, with the use of a VPN.

Watch all your favorite sports all the time with a VPN!

Here is a link to our list of reviewed VPN providers. Below you’ll find out how we do it using our most reliable VPN provider to date.

Stream the Rugby World Cup directly on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s how:

  1. Sign up for an ExpressVPN account.
  2. Install ExpressVPN on any device you want to watch the Rugby World Cup on.
  3. Connect to a VPN server location in the UK to bypass content regional content blocks.
  4. Stream the games on ITV! (Note: You will need to register with ITV Player in order to access ITV)

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You need a VPN to access georestricted content.

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Rugby World Cup Fixtures

Last updated 24th September 2015, based on information from ITV:
(all times are in British Time)

Thursday, 24th September 2015
20:00 New Zealand v Namibia on ITV

Friday, 25th September 2015
16:45 Argentina v Georgia on ITV4

Saturday, 26th September 2015
14:30 Italy v Canada on ITV
16:45 South Africa v Samoa on ITV
20:00 England v Wales on ITV

Sunday, 27th September 2015
12:00 Australia v Uruguay on ITV
14:30 Scotland v USA on ITV
16:45 Ireland v Romania on ITV

Tuesday 29th September 2015
16:45 Tonga v Namibia on ITV4

Thurs 1st October 2015 ITV4
16:45 Wales v Fiji on ITV
20:00 France v Canada on ITV4

Friday 2nd October 2015
20:00 New Zealand v Georgia on ITV

Saturday 3rd October 2015
14:30 Samoa v Japan on ITV
16:45 South Africa v Scotland on ITV
20:00 England v Australia on ITV

Sunday 4th October 2015
14:30 Argentina v Tonga on ITV
16:45 Ireland vs Italy on ITV

Tuesday 6th October 2015
16:45 Canada v Romania on ITV4
20:00 Fiji v Uruguay on ITV4

Wednesday 7th October 2015
16:45 South Africa v USA on ITV
20:00 Namibia v Georgia on ITV4

Friday 9th October 2015
20:00 New Zealand v Tonga on ITV4

Saturday 10th October 2015
14:30 Samoa v Scotland on ITV
16:45 Australia v Wales on ITV
20:00 England v Uruguay on ITV

Sunday 11th October 2015
12:00 Argentina v Namibia on ITV
14:30 Italy v Romania on ITV
16:45 France v Ireland on ITV
20:00 USA v Japan on ITV4

View our current article on the best VPN’s for China.

Who Will Come Out On Top?

Will New Zealand defend their 2011 win?

COME ON IRELAND!!!

Leave a comment and let us know your top picks and predictions!

Tibetan Sky Burial

by Kerrie Henderson

“Separation of the body and soul”

photo 1(2)This morning, in the hostel in Kangding a Chinese guy asked me whether I’d been to Sida or not. For a lot of young Chinese people it seems to be this years ‘In’ destination… “and did you see the ‘tianzang’ (i guess he didn’t know the right words in English…) ?… I really want to see…” I did, but at Sida I wasn’t that comfortable with it.

I’ve seen one before, 2-3 years ago whilst biking through Gansu province. A body was carried up a hill and a gathering of Tibetan relatives and lamas stood or sat watching. There were a few foreigners there too, but we all knew that our cameras were to be kept inside our bags. We stood watching for around an hour or so… in awe of the birds, their size, their grace and the way they sat on the hill silently, waiting for their turn to pick at the remains….

In Sida its very different. Around 12.00 a handful of drivers stood outside the hilltop hotel yell ‘去天葬吗 ?and Chinese tourists haggle over prices or ask around to find others to fill up their cars. Around 12.30 most of the cars have made their way down to the bottom of the monastery complex and are beeping at each other as they negotiate their way through the muddy bumpy truckstop village at the bottom. The beeping and racing continues as the cars go down the road, turn and go up a smaller narrower mountain road. Its raining but the car park is already half full and its hard to see the end of the line of cars still making their way up the mountain. There are already around a hundred or so tourists, all Chinese stood behind a rope when I arrive. A couple of lamas and nuns (maybe real… maybe tour guides dressed up… I’m really not sure now…) were telling people to stay behind the line and not to take photos of the body or of the people surrounding it. I pointed my camera at the birds, as awesome as I remembered sat waiting patiently on the top of the hillside, looking for the right moment to make their way further down.photo 2(2)

I have no idea when the ceremony started. There was a nun singing ‘o-mani…’ and lots of Chinese people talking. I guess the ceremony wasn’t quite what the Chinese were expecting as most had left within 1/2 an hour or so. I stayed watching the crowd thin, and staring at the line of vultures sat on the hill above me. I couldn’t help wondering why the the vultures were more interested in watching their friends than eating lunch, and then realised I was doing the same thing, not really watching the ceremony and the proceedings but the behaviour of the crowd, and the way the Chinese people reacted to what they were watching. There were a lot of ‘i’m very cold’ and ‘I’m hungry’ ‘s… There were people taking pictures of the birds squabbling over the body (the very thing the monks told them not too…. and, yeah I know I shouldn’t have taken 2 of the pics. here but my iPad doesnt have the same super sized zoom lenses that many of the Chinese photographers cameras do…) A few Tibetan people were gathered around the monument at the bottom, near the pit where the body and vultures were and a few more groups were scattered around the hillside sat quietly. I wondered what they thought about what they were seeing… their relatives death being turned into a macabre tourist attraction, and how westerners would react if a group of Chinese tourists turned up at a church burial wanting to watch when and how the coffin was lowered into the ground and to take pictures of it.  photo 3

I can’t help thinking that death and the ceremonies that surround it are a personal thing, for the families and friends of the person that died. In western culture funerals are usually sad events, but in other cultures (and sometimes in the west, but not often), they are happier occasions, a celebration of the deceased’s life… and that being invited to watch the ceremonies associated with it is a privilege, not something that people should expect to see when they go to a Tibetan tourist place.

photo 4

I wonder whether the monastery is deliberately encouraging the tourist crowds. The sky burial site has a large white monument and construction is underway to make it and the car park alongside it bigger. In Gansu, the ceremony and the place where it took place was simple, the surroundings natural. There was a weird beauty to the proceedings. In Sida there was nothing ‘natural’ about it. 10 minutes or so later when a young boy took my ipad off me to look at my photos I realised that the tour guide/nun had stopped singing and had disappeared. A few minutes later I saw her lead a group of people across the grass, one of the places where were told not to go. The people in her group were pointing their cameras at the vultures and the body below and no one was stopping them. By this time the crowd had thinned out. Horns were beeping as the cars were pushing past each other to make their way out of the car park. The vultures were still picking away or watching and waiting. I stayed a while longer, watching the birds, the snake of cars slowly making its way down the hillside and the small groups of Tibetans sitting in the distance. I couldn’t help wondering who were the vultures. I don’t think the monastery intended to promote this type of tourism, but now that seeing a 49 day old corpse being pulled apart by vultures is one of the latest ‘in’ things for Chinese tourists heading to Sida to see I don’t think it will be easy for them to control.

photo 2(3)

But back to the story… I asked the guy why he wanted to go and see one. ‘because… because everybody talks about it. It sounds good. I really want to see. People say Sida is the best place to see it.’ ‘Maybe you should see it.’ I told him ‘It might make you think…’ but, judging by the group of tourists I watched 4 days ago… I doubt it.

The Tibetan sky-burials appear to have evolved from ancient practices of defleshing corpses as discovered in archeological finds in the region. These practices most likely came out of practical considerations, but they could also be related to more ceremonial practices similar to the suspected sky burial evidence found at Göbekli Tepe (11,500 years before present) and Stonehenge (4,500 years BP).[citation needed] Most of Tibet is above the tree line, and the scarcity of timber makes cremation economically unfeasible. Additionally, subsurface interment is difficult since the active layer is not more than a few centimetres deep, with solid rock or permafrost beneath the surface. (Wikipedia)

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Becoming A Seventh-Generation Disciple of Yang Lu Chan

This is the story of how three men from the US became seventh-generation disciples of Yang Lu Chan, the creator of Imperial Yang style of tai chi.

On the 25th April and until to the 5 of May, Ray Abeyta and Wolf Carter from the Texas School of Tai Chi in El Paso and Michael Paler from Colorado Springs will on the invitation of Dr. John Fung, officially a sixth-generation disciple of Imperial Yang Style will visit Beijing, to spend 10 days learning from his kung fu sister Wei XiLan the daughter of the late GM Wei Shuren. These three men will become the first Americans to be included in this particular linage of tai chi.

The story began when on the request of Ray Abeyta, Dr John Fung a 6th generation lineage holder of Imperial Yang living in Sydney Australia visited El Paso to teach a number of seminars. On seeing the dedication, skills, plus attitudes and personalities of Ray, Wolf and Michael as well as with much reflection Dr Fung decided to ask them if they would like to become disciples and join the Imperial tai chi family.

Dr John Fung’s lineage: 

Wei Shuren – Wang Yongquan – Yang Jianhou – Yang Luchan.

Yang Lu Chan
Yang Lu Chan

This in itself is a huge deal for the tai chi community in the United States as Ray and his fellow tai chi brothers are all keen to return and share their knowledge with those who attend their classes as well as further afield.

Ray said. “There are other Yang family organizations, but this is the only one considered Imperial Yang style. You have to remember originally, Yang Lu Chan was hired by the emperor to teach his guards how to fight. He was the best fighter in the land back then. That continued in Beijing, where he continued to teach people. We are going to become official disciples of this linage. Very few people are picked. I don’t deserve it, but I’ll take it. I’ve going to do my best to honour the art.”

Knowing what I do of Ray I know this to be true as he is already sharing the information he’s learned from Dr. John Fung not only to the people in his existing classes in El Paso, but also to students in Santa Fe where he teaches every three months, and also with some people up in Colorado Springs. Anywhere people want to learn, Ray will share with them.

11052381_10206515924725125_3064919410455893094_n
Wei Xinlan daughter of the late GM Wei Shuren, Dr John Fung, 6th Generation Lineage holder, Sifu Wolf Carter, Sifu Ray Abeyta, Sifu Michael Paler, 7th Generation Lineage holders.

Catching up with the group on my return to Beijing from Cebu I enjoyed listening to their stories and the whole groups enthusiasm for this rare art which is effectively what Bruce Frantzis calls Old Yang Style Taichi. An art that comes directly from Yang Lu Chan who was said to have only taught the emperor’s guard, the aristocracy and a select few disciples to a high level of excellence. The best of these students were his sons Yang Chien Hou, and Yang Pan Hou and Wu Chuan Yu from which Wu Style Taichi originates and which then subsequently led to the development of Sun Style Taichi.

Over some delicious Yunnan food we discussed taichi and martial arts related topics. Listening to John Fung and Ray I was struck by their genuine openness, kindness, knowledge and of course passion to share this fascinating art.

A delicious dinner of Yunnan food with my new friends, the day before the left Beijing.
A delicious dinner of Yunnan food with my new friends, the day before they left Beijing.

If you are ever in Sydney, Australia or Texas, USA and would like to learn more about Imperial Style Taichi. Check out the following links:

Sydney: with Dr John Fung – www.imperialtaichi.com

Texas: Ray Abyeta – Www.TexasSchoolTaiChi.com

Colorado Springs: Michael Paler – www.taichicoloradosprings.com

At http://www.studymartialarts.org we are keen to support those on their various epic martial arts journeys so please let us know if you have anything you would like to share.

The Best Pictures from the 2015 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Every year, in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, the city of Harbin hosts the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, featuring massive ice and snow sculptures. At night, the sculptures are colorfully illuminated and visitors can climb and play on some of the structures. The festival officially opened on January 5 this year, and will ran through until the 5 February. The winter festival draws several million tourists each year, from China and from abroad. All brave -10 degrees celsius  or more freezing temperatures to enjoy the atmosphere and fun.

Here are a selection of the best pictures from this years 2015 festival.

140106_EYE_9.jpg.CROP.original-originalharbin-ice-festiva_2781715k Harbin-Ice-Festival-2015_42015-01-04_HarbinIceCastle_EN-AU8715717168_1920x1080 harbin8_3154125k harbin2015__tcp_large main_1500 RT_harbin_ice_festival_01_jef_150106_3x2_1600

Tickets for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival and the Ice and Snow World in 2015 are sold according to two time periods: a.m. and p.m. Afternoon tickets seem better value for money (if staying over 6 hours), but few stay for the full nine hours in the cold. Children under 1.2 meters go free.

Morning Tickets (9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.)

  • Adults: 150 yuan (25 USD)
  • Children (above 1.2 meters accompanied by an adult): 120 yuan (20 USD)

Afternoon and Evening Tickets (12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)

  • Adults: 300 yuan (49 USD)
  • Children (above 1.2 meters accompanied an adult): 160 yuan (26 USD)

Harbin and the ice festival, definitely offer the opportunity for a winter break with a difference.

 

 

 

10 Mistakes Foreign Martial Arts Students Make in China

China awaits! The Great Wall; steamed dumplings, Shaolin monks and Qingdao beer. Already your mind is racing with wild expectations. However, before you leave home, remember this is a chance to immerse yourself in a strange new culture. This is not just any trip. This is a journey! By Studying Martial Arts you will interact with local communities more deeply than a traveler passing through.

Whether you experience a culture shock or not, there will be moments when you realize you’re doing something “wrong”. It might be small things like explaining you’re learning to sleep (Shuìjiào) instead of Chinese Wrestling (Shuāijiāo) or raising your glass higher than your elders when toasting. Then of course there are the obvious blunders like behaving like an ass on weekends away from your kung fu school or incessantly bitching about the fact things aren’t the same as they are back home.

China is a country made up of 22 provinces and 56 ethnic minority groups many of which have very different cultures, languages, dialects, customs and peoples. It has a population equivalent to the population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and all of Western Europe combined. Its bigger than an entire continent, so its not surprising that its developed differently to other counties you may be more accustomed to.

Each  province and city will have its own speciality that you’ll learn along the way. You’ll make mistakes and discoveries but its all part of learning, but there are some no-no’s that foreigners before you have commonly committed. Learn from their blunders and avoid these common mistakes made by foreign martial arts students who head of to study martial arts in China month after month, year after year.

1. Not making the most of National Holidays and Weekends

In order to make the most of your weekends and time off from training you’ll need to put a plan together. Spending a little time at the local bathing center on the weekend can be a welcome treat allowing the body rest and recuperation. However, there is a distinct difference between the mighty Roman gladiator and spending hours plodding around in the dark like the walking dead.

If you want to sight see or travel, tickets need to be purchased in advance, planning and preparation is the key. As will be your willingness to travel alongside millions of other travelers. Last years golden week saw half a billion Chinese make various trips and journeys. That’s a lot of pot noodles and chicken feet, so don’t underestimate the need to plan ahead. The Travel China Guide has always been very helpful for trip planning and site seeing information. Here you’ll find The Chinese Public Holiday Calendar for 2015-2017.  

 “Last years golden week saw half a billion Chinese make various trips and journeys”

One of the best things about the school consultation offered through Study Martial Arts is the travel advice and support you can get. It will help you get the most out of sight seeing opportunities both near and far. Plus its all good stuff and FREE for SMA members and those who have booked their experience through StudyMartialArts.Org.

2. Assuming You Can’t Get By on the Basics

Does everyone speak English? No. Do a lot? Yes. The number of English language learners in China has risen over the past decade. In tourist areas and capitals, its easier to find English speakers, but you shouldn’t expect it. Being open friendly, smiling, and using gestures as well as interesting ways to get your message across in a friendly way will do wonders for you. When I first arrived in China many of my friends who had much more experience speaking the language than me would be amazed at how well I would do with the most basic of Chinese. The only difference was my playful disposition and imagination. 9 out of 10 times I would not only get what I wanted but often get much more in return. This ranged from free lifts, meals, KTV invites and of course lasting friendships. Treat English like a welcome surprise, if you find it be happy, but if you don’t remember there was no promise it would be given to you anyway. Remember not to make your martial arts adventure in China a duplicate of your life in Europe or the USA etc.

At the sometime don’t assume no one speaks English either. There are approximately 400 million English learners in China so it shouldn’t be used as a language to insult people stealthily. English comprehension is often much higher than speaking ability due to shyness and how the language is taught.

If you want to get a head start on your language learning the SMA Welcome pack offers students who book through StudyMartialArts.Org $400 usd worth of language learning and martial arts materials pre-trip all at no cost!

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3. Drinking the Wrong Way

You owe it to yourself not to be the drunken foreigner and more importantly the wrong type of drunken foreigner and let yourself down. Remember the purpose of your journey. Heavy drinking won’t help you reach your aims and objectives and may cause you, your hosts or school and Shifu to loose face (embarrassment).

Drinking in China and smoking is common place. With cheap alcohol and cigarettes everywhere, this is not the best place to run away to if you want to change these bad habits. This must start at home.

Most social drinking in China is primarily associated with eating. Most drinking takes place around the dinner table and meals as a way to cement relationships and do business. As a topic this subject could easily have its own blog entry but that will be a story for another day.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China in brief.

1. Showing respect when drinking is probably one of the first things someone will explain to you. When drinking tea or when drinking alcohol with a superior clink your cup/glass lower. Its super simple and easy to remember. But its much appreciated by your elders, fellow guests, shifu’s. The rest of the customs and rules need not be learnt straight away and are things you’ll pick up on or learn as you go. As a foreigner you’ll not be expected to know them or everything.

2. When inviting or being invited out for dinner or meals in China. The standard rule of thumb is usually the inviter pays unless stated otherwise.

3. When drinking follow the lead of others at the table in terms of speed quantity and times. Whatever you do avoid mixing baijiu and beer. You should remember drinking in China can start very slowly but once the individual toasting starts it can be rapid and all those small cups will start catching up on you especially if you’ve insisted on drinking out of turn.

4. If you don’t want to drink have an excuse prepared in advance or warn your host of this. Excuses related to health tend to be the best. Having tried many over the years these where best received by hosts and guests. If you’re not going to be drinking much but still want to show respect have tea ready in your cup and don’t empty the cup (ganbie) just drink as you wish (suiyi).

5. Eat, eat and eat. Show appreciation and be a good guest.

4. Failing to Address People Properly 

In China much of how you address or interact with someone will depend on your relationship to that person. Just like the rituals associated with drinking and food, failing to address people properly can be a hinderance to building good relationships, gaining favor or simply getting the information you desire. The physiological fact is that when you start calling people auntie, uncle, brother or sister you should in most cases have the inclination to treating each other better and like family. This is good news if you join a good kung fu family.

Here are the most common ways to address people that are not directly related to blood relationships and can be applied generally.

Auntie (阿姨 a-yi) given to any woman around the age of your own mother.

Uncle  (叔叔 shush) given to any man around the age of your own father.

Big brother ( 大哥 da-ge) given to any male older than you.

Little brother ( 弟弟 di-di) given to any male younger than you.

Big sister (大姐 da-jie) given to any female older than you.

Little sister (小妹 xiao-mei/妹妹mei-mei) given to any female younger than you.

Grandma (老奶奶 lao- nainai/老婆婆lao-popo) given to any female around the age of your own grandmother.

Grandpa (老爷爷lao-yeye/ 老公公lao-gonggong) given to any male around the age of your own grandpa

Teacher

老師 老师 lǎoshī Teacher “Laoshi” may sometimes be used as a polite reference to a more highly educated person, who may not necessarily be a teacher.

Master

師父 师父 shīfù Master See Sifu for further information.
師傅 (skilled worker) 师 傅 shīfù Master See Sifu for further information.

Driver (司机si ji) General term for a taxi or bus driver.

Buddy (哥们儿ge men er) A term used between men when being friendly

Beautiful girl (美女mei nv) Often used when addressing young women who work in the service industry.

Mr (先生xian sheng)

Ms (小姐xiao jie)

Mrs (女士nv shi)

Thankfully the general terms above is likely to more than enough to help you get by day to day. If however, you’d like to learn more you can watch this short video highlighting the staggering amount of different words for family members in China.

5. Not Making the Most out of China’s Vast Bus & Train Network

China has an abundance of travel options for the intrepid martial arts traveller. From low budget airfares to high speed trains, bus services and slow trains.

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Elong and Ctrip are two of the best airline ticketing companies in China. Both companies handle domestic and international flights and their websites are easy to use. Often it’s going to be worth comparing domestic flight prices with high speed train tickets as they are pretty competitive in comparison to the high speed trains. The cheapest way to travel is normally by long distant bus and depending on the journey can often be faster than long distant trains.

“If you want to buy a ticket travel or book into a hotel you’ll need your passport.”

If you do choose to travel by train you can easily pick up tickets from one of the many ticket offices near stations or dotted around cities. Simply search online for information and go prepared with train numbers, dates and useful phrases.

Traveling overnight by train can be both fun and enjoyable. If you’ve got money to spend go for the soft sleeper. Soft sleepers are (4 birth cabins) and idea in a group of 4. If their are non available or you are on a budget then the hard sleeper will do (6 birth cabin).

Seated or standing options for long journeys is something you’ll want to avoid. It will be an experience but it usually doesn’t make for a fun journey. If you’ve no other choice and there are no tickets left you can often ask to be upgraded. So use your relationship building skills with the conductors and service staff to gain favor.

As an alternative when no seats are available the dinning car can offer some welcome rest, however you will be obliged to buy overpriced food and drink throughout the journey if you wish to remain in the seat.

The last option of course is to bring your own stool and tea flask like the seasoned local traveler you are becoming. NOTE: Definitely bring your tea and flask. 

For both trains and buses you should plan to be at the stations 30-40 minutes before they leave. With stations being so big , walking time, confusion and queues mean you’re likely to miss the train if you cut it too fine. Most importantly, if you want to buy a ticket travel or book into a hotel you’ll need your passport.

Here’s a more in-depth article on all you need to know about buying and using train and bus tickets in China.

6. Not Making the Most out of the Cheap Internal Flights 

China has two great, reliable budget air travel companies. These are Ctrip and elong. Both have English website versions and don’t charge foreigner site users more for flight purchases. The only downside is that they no-longer offer their cash and delivery service, purchases must now be made by credit card.

So plan your internal flights ahead of time. Check for deals and book well in advance of Chinese holidays. If you follow these rules it could be that flying will be very competitive in comparison to purchasing train tickets when you consider the potential time you might lose during transit, money spent while traveling and of course the convenience of plane travel.

7. Clinging to Western Comforts and Society as well as Westerners themselves and Not Embracing your New Found Freedom. 

Martial arts students in China have a much wider range of opportunity than tourists. You not only have a real chance to experience another culture. You have a chance to leave any previous cultural trappings and personal baggage behind you and start afresh. Affectively, you can drop out of both western and the modern Chinese rat race and return to a simpler way of life without the negative influences of celebrity, trash tv, news or politics. After all you are paying for the opportunity to live a unique way of life and train. Don’t waste that opportunity by hanging out every rest period online or by spending time with westerners who are a negative influence, simply because they are western and familiar.

Tourists come to China to see the sites, but you are a martial arts student. You have specifically come to learn kung fu in China! You have signed up to experience a way of life that allows you the space and time to train martial arts day in day out. One of the side benefits of this training is that you will be able to find the space and time to breath literally and metaphorically. You can’t do this if you seek every trapping and convenience from the West that you left behind.

Studying martial arts in China offers you a much wider range of opportunity than many other potential activity. You can discover not only the real China but more importantly the real you. Don’t waste this by clinging to familiar crutches.

“StudyMartialArts.Org will even pay their SMA students for articles.”

Whether your reasons for coming to China have been to study martial arts or simply for travel and adventure. The fact you decided to become a martial arts student changed all that. Your focus for the time you are at the school should be mastery and reaching new levels of skill, whatever they maybe. This is the reason you became a student, not making training your priority defeats the purpose and is annoying to the students who are doing just that. Your behavior has the potential to be either positive or negative. Students with a lack of discipline or demonstrating a lack of effort aren’t likely to be warmly welcomed. So if you’re not truly dedicated get ready to get the cold shoulder from the long-term students in your class. Skill level is not as important as attitude.

In short.

1. Focus on your training nothing else matters. It’s your priority now, so train hard and be honest with yourself.

2. Drop negative influences and old crutches.

3. Don’t spend longer than you have to on Facebook or social networks. Keep it to an hour or two max and at the weekend.

4. Leave news, politics, opinions and celebrity to others. Drop all negative influences and only keep what is essential.

5. Pick up a good book, you know the ones you’ve been planning to read and never have. Begin studying and focus on your own mind, body and spirit.

6. If you feel inspired write and journal your progress. This will allow you to keep track of your progress and your discoveries. If what you’re writing is good and you have a story to tell www.StudyMartialArts.Org will even pay their SMA students for articles! 

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 8. Not Practicing Your Foreign Language Skills

Maybe part of the experience for you is learning the language. You’ve spent months in preparation using the free language learning resources from SMA or you’re taking classes for Studying Chinese and preparation to actually use it, but now you hear it everywhere you’re too intimidated to use it. The biggest mistake would be letting all the work go to waste because you’re shy. Another big mistake would be thinking that the Chinese language classes at the kung fu schools will be of any real help. Usually, these classes offer a token introduction and are not structured. The quality is generally low and is interrupted by new arrivals. My advice is to make the most out of the SMA language resources. SMA provides language learning materials for our students that actually work. Some are free and some we will order in advance of your arrival at the school. Which means that when you arrive you will have a HKS (Official Hanban language learning materials). These include a text book, workbook and accompanying audio CD’s. Here is the StudyMartialArts.Org list of Kung fu Schools and Universities in China that actually can provide students a  quality martial arts and Chinese language learning experience. 

If you’re in a country where the language interests you, you are in the most ideal classroom and take full advantage of it. Whether it feels scary or not, take every opportunity to practice. Here are 5 Hacks for Learning a Language Abroad, even eavesdropping on stranger’s conversations is an opportunity to learn something new and test your language skills!

9. Forgetting the RMB has a Value 

Sound strange? Think again. As a previous long term martial arts student and now resident I have to admit I get tired of having to haggle. However, this is unavoidable, therefore it’s important to know the value of your money and what things cost not in comparison to your respective country but in terms of the cost in China. When fresh faced martial arts students arrive at a kung fu school your first job when outside the school will be paying for things and learning the subtleties of a good haggle.  If you’ve got the right attitude your fellow kung fu brothers and sisters at the school will help keep you right.

Foreigners in China getting ripped off or paying over the odds for things is not a new phoneme. Don’t reenforce that through ignorance or lack of care, after all you may have lots of money or might only be there for a short time but others at the school will be there for longer and on budgets. Don’t make that harder for them by allowing yourself to be taken for a ride or paying silly prices for essential items in and around the school.

10. Handing Over Responsibility for Your Own Learning

Ultimately you must be mature enough to take responsibility for your own learning, development and progression. Yes you are paying tuition and you will be taught, however without hard work (kung fu) you will get little in return. The most important aspects of any martial art training is in the development of the foundation. The bitter pill of training, overcoming pain, repetition and boredom through persistence. This is up to you and can’t be put on anyone else.

“The most important aspect of any martial arts training is in the  development of the foundation”.

If you’ve decided to study martial arts in China, you will make a few mistakes. Don’t let this scare you off though. Instead, remember you chose this journey for a reason, and make sure to take full advantage of the opportunities. Immerse yourself in your study and the experience and grow with each mistake.

When you do mess up, you might not know why right away, so ask your martial brothers and sisters, locals or friends and when you look back, you’ll probably laugh when you remember the wrong things you said or did!

It’s not about how many times you fall its about how many times you dust yourself off and pick yourself up!

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All You Need to Know About Buying & Using Train & Bus Tickets in China

This article puts together all you need to know about buying and using bus and train tickets in China.

China-train-tickets

1. Buying Tickets

Whenever you want to buy a train or bus ticket in China write down what you want in Chinese (or take a photo), then show it at the ticket booth, hopefully you won’t get asked any questions.

I’ve had locals try to help me and mess it up. They start talking to the person assume they know best and things get messed up along the way. If you’ve written down what you want, details don’t get messed up.

Buying tickets in advance is another way to ensure things don’t go wrong. This is especially important for long and/or infrequent journeys (infrequent being less than 3 a day). There’s lots of people in China, and a lot of them travel, its best to book ahead!

If you’re a techno geek smart phones are a big help for getting around in China and much more, they make getting around, communication and buying tickets that much easier. China has a number of excellent and cheap smart phones that might be worth buying here due to their cheap price, high specs and overall solid build quality. Xiaomi’s are the best of these that have a limited distribution in Europe and North America and are in many ways outperforming established brands like the Samsung Galaxy and even the iphone in terms of specs and value for money.

All these smart phones will have a number of great apps that you can download that can help with travel, translations, shopping, weather, taking pictures and even dating.

I’ll put together an article specifically covering this topic in the near future.

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These train ticket office are dotted throughout cities and are easy to use. The advantage of these are that those are often less packed (although it’s not rare to see a small queue during busier hours, especially around peak travel seasons around Chinese New Year). The main disadvantage is that, unless you book early, you risk not getting a ticket, as the railway ticket allocation system gives only so many tickets to a particular booking point. Alas, you are also not able to get some high-end seats: it is known that Deluxe Class seats on the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity trains (C trains) are not available through these channels at all. You will always be charged CNY 5 for a ticket — all ticketing here comes with an obligatory surcharge.

TRAIN TICKETS

Here are a few ways you can buy train tickets:

  • train ticket offices (queues vary depending on time of year) – these are convenient to use, you can pay cash and there are lots dotted throughout the towns and cities.
  • automatic ticket machines (at all high speed rail stations; PRC 2nd-generation ID card required)
  • authorized train ticket offices
  • by telephone (voice-guided ticketing system)
  • online (at 12306.cn)
  • on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad (special software needed)

The classic way of getting your ticket — and the way most migrant workers do it — is to wait in line (or maybe not, as it might seem!) at a train ticket counter at the departure station. You, of course, being the martial arts student will, want to get it done quickly, so make sure you have all info (see below) ready in Chinese and English.

At the largest departing stations and transport hubs there will be foreign ticket offices. Don’t expect a lot from these but you are likely to get a person with enough English to get you what you want. The following ticket counters have services in English and/or specially for non-Chinese riders:

  • Beijing Railway Station: Ticket Counter 16
  • Shanghai Railway Station: At ticket office near South Square
  • Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station: Look for “English spoken” ticketing window
  • Hangzhou Railway Station: High speed railway tickets sold at Ticket Counter 3 (outside the ticket hall full of ticket machines)

A few more useful words:

Chinese words you’ll need to buy a train ticket:
Train ticket :火车票 huoche piao
Train number: 车次 che ci
Soft sleeper:软卧 ruan wo
Hard sleeper: 硬卧 ying wo
Soft seat: 软座 ruan zuo
Hard seat: 硬座 ying zuo
First-class seat:一等座 yideng zuo
Second-class seat:二等座 erdeng zuo
Business-class seat:商务座 shangwu zuo
Window seat:靠窗的座位 kaochuang de zuowei
Pathway seat: 靠过道的座位 kao guodao de zuowei

For intermediate language learners who already have a bit of Chinese this video is fairly helpful.

BUS TICKETS

When Buying Bus Tickets there are less options. If you want to buy a bus ticket you should buy them at the relevant bus station. China’s bus stations are organized very simply.

1. Local Bus Stations 本地公交车站 – All local bus services

2. Long Distance Bus Stations 长途公交车站 – All long distance intercity bus services

FOR ALL TRIPS & TO MAKE A PURCHASE, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING FOR BOTH BUS & TRAIN TICKETS :

  • Date and time of departure/return (日期, 时间) (for some journeys single ticket journeys are only allowed to be purchased)
  • Train/Bus number (车次)
  • Departure and arrival (exit) stations (发站, 到站)
  • Class of travel – Soft sleeper, Hard sleeper, Class of seat (席别)
  • Optionally: your seat number (席位)
  • Your passport (动车组实名制 – 护照)

2. Using Tickets

Reading High Speed Trains

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Reading Normal Train Tickets

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A lot of people only have standing tickets for the slow normal speed trains, so if there is a spare seat they will just sit in it. Don’t panic people respect the ticket system. So if  there is someone sitting in your seat, simply show them your ticket and politely ask them to move.

Nín hǎo, zhè shì wǒ de zuòwèi. 您好,这是我的座位

Reading A Bus Ticket

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kung Fu in Thailand Days 8, 9, 10: Bits of Gold

It’s Wednesday, our rest day, and lots has happened: Sum Chien, Shuan Yang and sword. Every day I feel like I making gains, training harder with greater awareness. I’m starting to self-correct on a lot of little but important details. I love the lifestyle here and find myself thriving, waking up early and training all day constantly trying to better oneself. Yesterday I trained for 9 hours! I’m learning so much and it’s just grand! The more I learn the more I realize how little I know and it feels good.
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We had a great sword workshop with Sifu. Watching Master Iain move with the sword is an honour and beautiful to behold. Listening to him speak is enlightening: picking up the bits of gold dropping from his mouth. I’ll share a couple examples related to sword, one which is more about technique and the other more about life. For example, teaching a slash with the Tan Dao broadsword using a stick, Sifu demonstrated the technique for getting power using the whole body. People launched into it using their sticks to practice the technique. After a couple of minutes he stopped us. “Right, ok people love the Nunchakus, why?”. Everybody agreed but did not provide the answer he was looking for. “It’s because you can get lots of power”, he explained, “but it’s hard to control.” He then told the story from years ago of a friend who had practiced with the Nunchakus. Nunchaku is a weapon with two pieces of wood attached by a chain popularized by Bruce Lee in his famous movie, “Fists of Fury”. So his friend had brought his Nunchakus to a party to show off. After having a few he went at the demonstration which involves spinning the Nunchakus rapidly through the air then wrapping them around the body and catching the end of the stick under one’s arm. When people who have not achieved mastery do this they invariably wind up hitting themselves in the back of the head, which is exactly what is friend did almost nocking himself out. “Very hard to control”. Master Iain explained that you can do the same thing using your body; even with a stick one can generate great power but it’s much easier to control. He then demonstrated drawing the stick across his torso using his whole body to slash with the stick in a mighty whiplike fashion. “So imagine that the stick is like the end of the Nunchaku and your joint is the chain, but you can still control it.” Furthermore, you have more than one joint to swing off: wrist, elbow, shoulder. Each joint that you can bring into play generates more power. Sifu then demonstrated further how one can bring into play the lower body for the slash as well, drawing up Chi from the ground through one’s whole body and out the stick, or sword.

We had further sword instruction the next morning. It’s amazing to watch Master Iain move; it’s beautiful and terrifying when he holds the sword and always inspiring. He gave us a combination to practice rolling the sword around the back and drawing it over the shoulder in a whole body slashing motion followed by a step with the right foot coming up on the cat stance with most of the weight on our back foot drawing the sword and front leg close in tight to the body then springing outwards in an explosive lunge. I was doing it over and over losing myself in this awesome series of moves and the full body feeling elicited when he stopped us again. “Right”, he said, “everyone come round.” The he spoke about putting one’s character in the moves. Perhaps he had not quite seen what he wanted to in observing us practice, perhaps he was just taking it to the next level; however, this theme had come up in other sessions and not just from Master Iain. Eddie has often commented that people really needing to their whole being into the move, the punch, the hand position, the step, whatever Kung Fu move one is doing, really put your full force, your Chi into it, DO IT! There is an obvious life lesson here that can be applied to anything in life. Of course, there is a place when learning something like a position for the foot in a certain step or stance, a sequence of moves or transition, a certain placement or position of the hands. When it comes to doing actually doing the move, you really have to put your spirit into it. Master Iain continued with the teaching saying that when you do it this way you can change your life, change who you are. He then demonstrated a half hearted, somewhat awkward version of the short sword sequence we had been given to practice. “This is the movement of a clumsy person”, he stated. You may think of yourself as a clumsy person and behave as a clumsy person. When you really apply yourself to the moves, to learning and practicing them properly putting your character into it with the full force of your spirit, you will no longer be a clumsy person. You can change who you are.

In reflecting on the above teaching it comes to me that one must do this authentically. If you one doesn’t really know the move, then how can you fully infuse the movements with your character? Clearly one has to have something into which to put one’s spirit. Yet, it also seems to me that my ego could come into play. I may want to see myself as a great swordsman, a Kung Fu master. Well, at my age and with all my commitments this is unlikely to happen. So somewhere between authentically aspiring to become something I’m not and my self-deluded ego, there must be some kind of truth. To me, this is where having a master comes into play, having a proper role model. So my next question would be, what do I do? I will have been here for two weeks and have only begun to scratch the surface, yet even still what I know is precious to me. So now I must practice what I have learned, and I must develop and listen to the Inner Master. I raised this new found wisdom with Master Iain who provided supportive affirmation and added, “Right, well of course there the internet.” He has a website and many YouTube videos which run through various sequences. Plus, there is a memory stick made available for free copy to students training at Nam Yang which contains numerous instructional videos and various articles by Masters Iain and Tan along with other supplemental materials. I intend to use these to continue my training back home in Canada.

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Another powerful experience with some deep teachings occurred when Eddie was helping another student who had sustained serious abdominal injuries. Without going into any detail on the circumstances, I will try to convey what I learned. We were discussing bringing awareness to one’s centre. The term often used in Kung Fu is Dantien. There are three major Dantiens: the lower Dantien, about three finger widths below the navel; next is the middle Dantien associated with the thymus gland at the level of the heart; and the upper Dantien located at the brow, the “third eye” associated with the pineal gland. Dantien is “a like sea of energy” and often called an “energy centre”. When people refer to, “the Dantien”, “your Dantien”, or “your centre”, they’re usually referring to the lower Dantien. This is one’s physical centre from where one finds balance and movements occur. We are constantly reminded to be aware of this place, holding our centre, moving from it and bringing down our Chi grounding into it. Eddie shared that one’s “true centre” is actually inside at the very centre of your being. “Your centre is where your first cell originated inside your mother; that point from which you come, this is your centre. It doesn’t matter whether you can feel it or not, or where you move your mind; your centre is your centre.” He added that for a woman who has had a baby it’s easier to go back to that place. This was a profound idea for me and ties into what may be the biggest lesson I will take away from this retreat. This will be the subject for an upcoming post but starts with what I share below.

For the first time in a couple years I have been experiencing sciatic pain down my right leg. I know this well having struggled with disc injuries for years. The first episode was a ruptured disc in my early forties. The radiology report was dramatic, “disc material extruded and mobile” accompanied by some minor stenosis and a bulging disc. With physio, active release chiropractic and lots of core strength it cleared up in about a year. After some years I let go of the core strength, got macho and wound up with a major disc herniation. This episode lasted 3-4 years and never fully went away. The first year and a half was brutal; constant pain, I couldn’t stand up longer than a minute past noon. It started to settle down but I was physically and emotionally vulnerable. Far less active I became depressed and gained about 25 pounds. It seemed never ending. I got back into Chi Kung having practiced it throughout my late 20s and 30’s and combined with meditative walking began a slow crawl of the hole. I showed up to the Kung Fu Retreat with my back in the best shape it’s been in years. Sometimes I get a little bit of sciatic pain if I’ve been up for a long time, like when travelling long distances or teaching my Wilderness Retreat for long hours but it usually goes away when I wake up.

I experienced the sciatic back pain as a major set-back. I told Eddie that I had been doing so well. I was feeling so much stronger and more flexible, I was really getting into the training and starting to make real gains. He stopped me. “No”, he said, “you are stronger and more flexible, and you are making gains. Now you have to figure out how to adapt to this changing situation”. That’s the kind of thing I tell my students. It was masterfully done and had a big impact. Eddie suggested I inform Master Iain who directed me to adjust any of the moves I was doing or simply not do anything I felt would aggravate the symptoms. I thanked him and explained that when I introduce new exercises or physical activities I try to do so one at a time and systematically gage the impact. Here I have introduced so many new activities from stretching to strength training to kicking that it’s hard to say whether it would be due to a specific move or just all of it together. I told him I intended to keep training but that I would monitor it closely and make any major or minor adjustment I felt necessary. I believe the cumulative effect of everything together is impacting my back; however, more specifically I felt it must be related to flexion, of which we do quite a bit, particularly in the stretching and some of the Chi Kung activities. Thus I need to modify all such movements and generally take everything down a notch. One thing I did notice was that applying some of the Kung Fu training directions I had been given from Master Iain, particularly sinking my tailbone and holding my centre, seemed to ease some of the pulling from back down my leg. I practiced this and it seemed to help.

That night we had a special activity. The full moon is considered the height of the moon’s yin phase so at midnight on the full moon the practitioners at Nam Yang go out to the training ground to do the Chi Kung sequence usually done every morning at 6 am followed by the Shuang Yang. It’s not yet ful moon but Master Iain is leaving on Friday for some months so we did the activity together. I only did a mild version of the Chi Kung without flexion. The high point was after most people went to bed. I was privileged to see for the first time Master Iain perform all 66 movements of the Shuang Yang. Recall the Shuang Yang is the Shaolin soft martial art which some believe to be the origin of Tai Chi. It took him abut 15-20 minutes. It was so beautiful; in the sleepy late evening light beneath the stays with the half moon glowing above the Shuang Yang sequence had a remarkably dreamy quality to it. I went to bed with a sore back and bruised ego trying very hard to stay positive and see what I would be able to accomplish the next day. I have more to share on this and how the healing process unfolds, but this will have to be in my next entry.

For now I bid everyone a very wonderful goodnight, or good morning for those on the other side of Mother Earth.

Love and Blessings,

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.