How Martial Arts Gives You The Confidence To Honestly Express Yourself 

Legendary actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee, once stated that ‘martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.’ During his short life span, Bruce Lee blessed us with several timeless truths that are applicable not just to martial arts, but to life in general. The practice of martial arts, according to Lee, does not simply entail learning how to fight better; rather it means understanding your being in a more holistic way, and thus being able to express yourself better and more honestly. To express oneself honestly means having the confidence to go against the fear of being judged by others. This confidence is developed through martial arts training in two main ways.

Skills Self-Confidence Leads To Overall Self-confidence

When you begin training for martial arts, you will discover that with time, you become self-confident in the specific martial arts skills that you’re learning. For example, if your primary goal was self-defense, you will become confident in the skills you have learnt to defend yourself. Indeed, self-defense comes from skills and confidence. After martial arts training, you will have confidence in your ability to execute specific martial arts techniques in the correct way and with the correct timing. With time, this skills-confidence will translate into overall self-confidence. When you become self-confident, your possibilities for integrity and autonomy are expanded, meaning that you will be able to express yourself more honestly without fear of being judged. This can mean doing something you have always wanted to do but were held back from through fear or lack of confidence. It could be starting a new personal business, taking a world trip or getting an extreme tattoo, such as the face tattoos which have recently become a common trend amongst rappers. These are all means of honestly expressing yourself without fear of judgement. Undoubtedly, honest self-expression by standing up for yourself and doing things with confidence is critical in a society that is always judging us. Martial arts training greatly aids this cause.

Discover Your Strengths And Weaknesses And Work On Improving Them

Through martial arts, you will be able to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, and will have an opportunity to work on both. At first, this will relate to elements such as physical strength, agility and speed. However, martial arts is different, in that it will give you both freedom and a non-judgemental avenue to work on both your skills and weaknesses, and make improvements in any way that you choose. This is especially true once you find the perfect style of martial arts for you: the one that best fits with your personality, whether that’s karate, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or MMA. You will be able to honestly express yourself, not just on the mats or inside the dojo, but also in life, where after discovering your strengths and weaknesses, you will possess the confidence to improve yourself in an honest way, and then similarly express yourself without fear of judgement.

We live in a significantly judgemental society, and having the confidence to express yourself honestly can go a long way in helping you live a happy and fulfilled life. Training in martial arts is one of the best ways to acquire this confidence.

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My Martial Arts Journey

by Bill Fettes

My martial arts journey began in 1969 at the first classes of the Tomiki aikido style in Melbourne, Australia, under the guidance of (then) Leoni Heap.  I was a drifter at the time, doing unskilled work in order to finance my travels in Australia and overseas.  I was playing several contact sports at the time and Aikido was a fitness adjunct for me.  Eventually, against my better judgement, I was persuaded to attempt my shodan grading.  I had coached junior sports during my youth and suspected that I would be requested to teach when I made shodan, so I had resisted for nearly a decade.

Sure enough when I received my grading and whilst making preparations to travel to South America, I was asked to go to Sydney to fill in for a teacher who was relocating.  Not being particularly stable at the time, I accepted and through that decision was able to meet and learn from the first person to teach Shindo Muso ryu jyodo (way of the stick) in Australia, Paul Maloney sensei.

Shindo Muso ryu Jyojutsu
Shindo Muso ryu Jyojutsu at International school in Tokyo ca 1989

I was ready to depart for South America after a couple of years in Sydney, when the Falklands war broke out and I was advised it was an inopportune time to visit South America.  Step up Paul Maloney, who suggested a trip to Japan instead.  As he had not long returned from Asia himself and was full of praise for the culture and fighting arts, I quickly agreed.

Through Paul and his contacts, I obtained various introductions to Jyodo and Aikido dojos,where I trained under such notables as Kaminoda Tsunemori (SMR jyo), Ohba Hideo (Tomiki aikido), Nitta Suzuo (Toda ha Buko ryu naginata jutsu) and long-time Japan resident Phil Relnick (SMR).   Through the introduction of the principal of my Japanese language school, I commenced my third style of karate and Taijichuan, with Nakano Harumi sensei, a well-known teacher in Japan and China.  I studied with her for the best part of 8 or 9 years and, through her, was introduced to various teachers, including Matsuda Ryuichi who taught me Xingyi chuan, Bagua zhang and Shaolin chuan.  We were also regularly exposed to teachers from the Chen jia gou (Chen village) in their annual visits to Tokyo.

In 1989, I was introduced by friends to Nitta Suzuo shihan of the Toda ha Buko ryu naginata jutsu school, which I have also studied since that time.

When it was time (a regular occurrence for foreigners) to leave the country to renew my visa, Nakano sensei suggested the Chen village for further training.  Most foreigners either went home to renew their visa or went to Korea for a few days, but I wanted something more.

I wanted to continue Xingyi and Bagua as well as Taiji, so we decided on Shanghai, instead of the village and Nakano sensei gave me introductions to her friend Mr. Chu Jin Ming, who was then the vice president of the Shanghai Chin Woo athletic society and 2IC of the Shanghai Olympic Hotel, which at the time was the safest place for foreigners to meet Chinese without the obligatory “spies” getting their knickers in a knot.  Remember, this was 1987, shortly before Tiananmen

Mr. Chu introduced me to He Bing Quan who introduced me to Wang Zhong Dao.  Master He had trained with Chen Zhao Kui when they lived together in Shanghai.  He was a Shaolin master who had trained in several styles of Taijichuan under the old masters.

Wang Zhong Dao/ He Bin Quan
Wang Zhong Dao & He Bin Quan (ca 1990) at Shanghai Olympic Hotel

Master Wang had trained under Master Chu Gui Ting, a student of the famous Li Tsun Yi and taught me his version of Xingyi and Bagua – which differed slightly from Matsuda sensei’s version (which he learnt in Taiw

an).  When Master Wang died, I continued under Master Chen Jian Yun who had studied Shansi style Xingyi as well as learning from Master Chu.  When he died, I was left rudderless, to continue on my own.

Then, in 2018, I was lucky enough to find Mr. David Kelly at studymartialarts.org who provides a wonderful introduction service for practitioners seeking training in Chinese chuan fa.  Whilst scrolling through his pages, I happened to come across a reference to Master Chu Yu Cheng.  Further research showed that he was the grandson of Chu Gui Ting – fancy that, his other students (my teachers) never mentioned he had a grandson!

David quickly arranged for us to get together and I went to Shanghai for the first time in 15 years to resume my true lineage.  I found Master Chu to be extremely knowledgeable and up to date.  Lest I be considered to be a poor follower of my previous teachers, they were getting on in years and had possibly forgotten some of the deeper work.  No such problem with Master Chu – in the space of a month, he was able to upskill me, even after 30 plus years of training in the art under various Masters.

Master Chu Yu Cheng
Master Chu Yu Cheng teaching Xingyi Quan

Unfortunately, it was a test run for me and I had let my Chinese skills lapse, which made it hard for Master Chu, but he never failed to teach from his heart and luckily enough I had enough experience to bumble through.  In order to honour him and his compassionate students, I am frantically trying to rejuvenate my language skills before my next visit.

If there is one theme you will notice through this narrative about Asian combatives it is INTRODUCTIONS – they are essential in Asia (for locals and foreigners) and you won’t find a more generous spirit with the necessary contacts than David Kelly.

If you wish to read more you can find my book “At the Feet of the Masters” on Kindle books.

Best wishes

Bill Fettes

Simplified Taijichuan (Licenced instructor All Japan Taichi Assn.)

Yang style Taijichuan (Fu Zhong Wen lineage)

Chen style Taijichuan (He Bin Quan lineage from Chen Zhao kui)

Xingyi chuan (Chu Guiting lineage)

Bagua zhang (Chu Guiting lineage)

Tomiki aikido (roku dan)

Shindo Muso ryu Jyojutsu (Yodan, Go moku roku)

Isshin ryu kusari gama jutsu

Kasumi shinto ryu kenjutsu

Uchida ryu tanjyo jutsu

Toda ha Buko ryu naginata jutsu (Chuden)

You can find details of Bill’s classes here. at budokaiaustralia.com

Adapting Karate

by Les Bubka

Martial arts are often perceived as being a very athletic activity that is reserved for very fit and fully abled people, mostly men aged between 16 to 30 something.  This seems to be where most clubs are focussing in terms of their potential client base.  Within Karate there tends to be more of an emphasis on children and so the image of Karate has been distorted into being a martial art that is ineffective, but is a great pastime with awesome coordination and discipline building features.  This weak image is far from true and luckily there is a growing movement of pragmatic martial artists who are promoting the practical application of this great art, which I am happy to be a part of.  I am also a strong advocate of the benefits of Karate in improving not only physical health but also mental wellbeing and as such I organise seminars and classes for organisations helping people who suffer with ill mental health.  Being involved in this type of application of Karate has led me to focus on inclusion and developing Karate as an art that is accessible for all students, no matter what their physical ability, age or struggles may be.  Everyone is welcome in my dojo (place of training) and I can see that this approach is increasing in popularity as more and more dojos are incorporating changes to enable all students to participate. terms of their potential client base. reserved for very fit and fullyabled

If we think that there are over 11 million people with a disability in the UK, this is a considerable proportion of the population that could be excluded from enjoying the benefits of Karate.  In my club we have two types of groups:

  • Practical Karate where we train with contact; sparring and throwing is a usual part of a session.
  • Meditation Karate where we focus on a softer approach and enjoy the benefits of Karate forms.
Shinaido Karate

In both of these groups we place an emphasis on adapting the training programme to accommodate all kinds of students.  Most of the exercises within Karate can be appropriately modified.  It just takes some knowledge and imagination.  By doing this we can achieve astonishing results, empowering students and giving them the confidence to take part in activities from which they are usually excluded.  For example, when working with seniors I have modified our kata (forms) to take into consideration the fact that most of my clients experience problems with joint mobility, arthritis, balance and back pain.  My programme is designed to remove stances that are not so kind on joints and includes additional movements that help to improve balance. 

What is important is to focus on an individual’s abilities and make appropriate modifications as we teach.  A good example would be the kata, Naihanchi, where we have a movement that involves crossing our legs to step.  People with poor balance struggle to complete this move and so we have a few options on how to make this easier.  First, we can abandon the step altogether and instead put in place a side shuffle.  A second option is to place a chair in front of the person, which can be used as a support.  In this way we can allow them to keep exercising without being discouraged and in time they can build up their confidence to try the cross step.

Another simple modification is to exclude some parts of a workout or drill.  Just a few weeks ago we had two students who had acquired minor injuries to the ankle and calf.  As we were working on pad drills that involved punches and kicks they were struggling with the kicking element and from the perspective of a coach it was too risky to allow them to kick.  My responsibility as an instructor is to make sure that we can avoid obtaining injuries and do not worsen any existing ones and so the logical answer is to modify the drill to leave out kicks for those individuals.  Having watched many classes at different clubs I had come across the practice that pushes students to train through an injury with the mantra that “it will make you stronger”.  In my experience this does not make you stronger and in fact is more likely to result in you having to take a longer break from training to enable recovery.  At many clubs this mistake can be easily made, where a technique has been excluded for a particular individual, but the other students have not been made aware that the drill has been modified for that person and so the effected individual is pressurised by others to perform the whole drill.

An adaptation that I have found very useful is to modify sparring conditions to appropriately consider individuals.  Some of my students are hard of hearing whilst others have mild autism and so I have changed the way that they are pressure tested.  In consultation with the given student we come up with a plan for their involvement in sparring, from engaging in sparring but with no hitting to the head to doing forms on the side instead.  It is also important that my other students take into consideration their partners’ ability.  For instance, after a few years of training an autistic student decided that he would like to try full sparring with punches and kicks to the head (with protective headgear).  This was not a problem as all of the students were made aware that they need to control themselves and not punch 100%.  In this way everyone can enjoy the same activity whilst remaining safe.

We all associate Karate with strict discipline, lines of students and a loud “Osu!” (acknowledgement).  This is a reflection of Japanese Karate.   Okinawans have a more family oriented approach that is much more relaxed and I was always drawn to this sort of club.  Many instructors have disagreed with my approach whereby students can drink during a session and ask questions freely. However, having stuck to my beliefs and run my club in this relaxed way for a few years I can happily say that it has been beneficial to my students.  They care about the club and each other and the process of learning is much faster, especially for the more age-advanced students.  Put simply, without stress we can enjoy training and as we all know it is much easier to learn a subject if it is enjoyable.

A fundamental element when teaching anything is communication.  If there is no communication then it is very hard to learn anything.  That is why it is very important to establish a sufficient and individual connection with students, in order to communicate clearly.  What do I mean by this?  If we have a group of students with different abilities we have to consider how we can effectively communicate with each of them without losing detailed instructions.  For example, in our club we have a student that is deaf and in order to know what I am saying she has to be able to see my face (for lip reading), so I make sure that she can see my face whenever I explain something.  In addition to ensuring that students can ‘hear’ you, it is also important to appropriately adjust the language that we use to enable us to be understood.  People with learning difficulties or non-native English speakers might struggle to understand certain words or phrases and so we need to adjust our speech so as to be clear.  For instance, people with autism might take our metaphors literally and so misinterpret what has been said leading to misunderstandings and potential injuries.

The examples that I have discussed here represent only a small subset of the adaptations that we can use to make the sharing of Karate with others successful.  We need a personal approach that considers the needs of each student in order to provide the best possible instruction in a safe and friendly environment.  If these changes can be more widely incorporated into teaching methods then we will hopefully see more people from all walks of life taking up and enjoying Karate in the future.  In our dojo we have a saying that “strong and caring people are the pillars of society and Karate helps to cultivate them”.  If people are strong both mentally and physically they are much more willing to support others and so the practice of Karate does not just help the individual that trains, but also the whole community within which that individual is a part of.

“About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing”

The Broken Bow

by Phillip Starr

ZEN-IN-ARCHERY_indso_post“The bow is shattered, arrows are all gone.
At this critical moment, cast aside all doubts.
Shoot, without the slightest delay.”

These lines were penned by Zen master Bukko Kokushi during the Kamakura era (1226-1286) in Japan. Typical of Zen-inspired poetry, it’s a bit puzzling. How do you shoot if your bow is broken and your arrows are all gone? For an answer, we must turn to kyudo…most of you have never practiced it and fewer than that will ever engage in it but the answer it provides can be applied to any martial Way.

Kyudo is the Japanese Way of the archery. It’s one of the less popular martial disciplines, especially outside of Japan (where high-level teachers are pretty much non-existant). Equipment is terribly expensive; a good yumi (the bow, which is handmade with laminations of bamboo and various woods) can cost as much as $4,500.00, although you can get modern ones of considerable less quality for as little as $500. Then, too, the precise dictates of the art seem to have more in common with the tea ceremony than with a bloody fighting art. A kyudo neophyte will spend months learning the intricacies of kyu-ha, the etiquette and rituals of the art.

The details involved are intimidating and all of them must be committed to memory until the practitioner has integrated them on a level that is virtually instinctive. For instance, there are a certain number of steps taken to approach the shooting stand, the angle at which the bow is held when the arrow is nocked must be just right. All of the various facets of the mechanics and movements of drawing and shooting are precisely set into forms that have been formalized for many, many years. And they must all be learned exactly. There is even a set of certain movements used for approaching the target, leaning the bow against it, and removing arrows from the target! Kyudo is a bit long on outer movements, to say the least.

Many of you will think that kyudo focuses an awful lot on seemingly petty details, but consider that a beginning karate or gong-fu student likely thought he could throw a pretty decent punch…until he started training. His chin must be held just so, his shoulders have to be adjusted here, his hips have to move exactly this way, and so on. I’ve been known to spend as much as two hours going over the details of a simple reverse punch and I could easily have gone on for another two or three. I’ve seen novices become so overwhelmed by the details of their art that they actually freeze. Their eyes betray their minds, which are frantically trying to recall all of the details…and they become as statues!

Many uninformed people present considerable criticism about this approach to what is allegedly a “fighting art.” They often make very ignorant commentaries, claiming that the practitioner who trains in this way will be so concerned with ensuring that all of the tiny details are just right that he’d be quickly pounded into dogmeat before he can mount an effective defense. This reasoning is based on the erroneous assumption that this stage of training (known as toteki, is the FINAL goal. Not hardly.

In time, the kyudo student (kyudoka) begins to integrate the details of the art into his performance. He doesn’t have to count his steps as he approaches the stand; they come out naturally. The arrow is corrrectly nocked without conscious effort. This is the beginning of what is called zaiteki; the bow and archer are becoming one. Practitioners of other martial Ways may use other terms to describe the same thing; they often speak of mushin (無心 wuxin in Chinese), which is a term often heard in the practice of Zen. Mu (Wu) means “nothing” or “without”, while shin (xin) refers to the mind or consciousness. Thus, the term is often translated as “without consciousness” (also, “no mind”). Rather than inferring that one is unconscious, this term indicates that the practitioner no longer has to consciously “think” about what to do.

The practitioner moves naturally; he has passed beyond the level of training that required him to concentrate on the details of his technique. His movements are spontaneous and correct. The technique has become “no-technique.” If you can drive a car, play the piano, or even tie your shoes, you already are familiar with this concept. But there was a time when you stared at the piano keys and tried to get your fingers to move to the right spots. With lots of practice, you eventually reached a stage wherein you no longer had to think about it; your fingers “knew” where to go.

If you’re a skilled typist and you’ve been at it a while, you’d likely be stumped now if someone asked you about the layout of the keys/keyboard. Like, which keys are on either side of the letter “J?” You may be able to type 80 words a minute, but that question confounds you. That’s because you’ve achieved a certain mushin in your ability to type. Now, there’s a considerable difference between the “no-technique” of the highly skilled martial artist and the “non-technique” of the novice. Neither the expert nor the beginner can probably tell you what adjoins the “J” key but that doesn’t mean they’re at the same level in terms of their understanding and ability to type. One must strive to achieve the stage of “no-technique” and there’s no short-cut, no way to bypass technique altogether. It’s going to take time. Lots of it.

The bow, the arrows…as the Zen master’s poem reminds us, these are external details. Drive yourself past them through severe, unceasing training and effort and press in to the core of the art. When you art is fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit, the bows and arrows, the details of the punch, kick, or throw are unimportant. At the critical moment, as Bukko advised, you must penetrate the target without the slightest delay.

Morsels

by Phillip Starr

At different times when I was studying under my gong-fu instructor, he’d drop what I call “morsels” for me to chew on. Some seemed rather small and seemed insignificant; I’d discover their real value later on. What was important was whether or not I noticed them, picked them up, and consumed them. He was always watching to see what I’d do. Some of my classmates would ignore these crumbs of information and those who did found fewer and fewer tidbits were dropped for them. They expected full-blown “meals” of a sort but they never got them…

Of course, I asked why such small crumbs were presented at different times; wouldn’t it be more efficient to give me the whole meal? My sifu shook his head and frowned a bit as he replied, “No. I give you small pieces only when you are ready for them.” He went on the explain as best he could in English that to give me a whole meal would be like setting a full Thanksgiving dinner before a toddler whose teeth had not all come in yet. The youngster simply isn’t physically capable of partaking of the sumptuous feast and even if he could, he’s too young to truly appreciate it. He’d stuff his mouth full of everything that would fit – kind of like a hungry squirrel – and he’d fail to savor the various flavors of the different dishes.

The size of the morsels had to be just right (so I could physically “chew” and digest them without too much trouble) and they had to be dropped at the right time (age, in martial arts terms). And in the right sequence.

And so it is with my own students. Occasionally, one will ask, “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” I tell them that they weren’t yet ready to hear it or physically able to do it. Then there are a few who allege, “You CHANGED it!” I calmly tell them that nothing has been changed; they’re just seeing another aspect of what they’ve already learned. Further outbursts will put a quick end to any new morsels…

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo – Karate

by Irina

On a small subtropical island such as Okinawa, it is usually physically impossible to take a road less travelled. However, if you are up to the challenge, you may find a certain small karate dojo in Yomitan to be just that rarely available detour.

When I got to Okinawa, I didn’t know a lot about martial arts, though I knew that Okinawa was considered the birthplace of karate in Japan. And, after having watched the Karate Kid movies, I thought it would be great to learn the way of karate at its source. The only problem was that I wanted to study it for my own personal satisfaction and self-improvement, not to fight in the ring or perform for others to see and judge on the tatami.

There are many places on Okinawa that will teach you the basic moves of karate, on and off the military bases. Luckily, I did not know about them when I saw the UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama Yomitan for the first time. The location, environment, students and, of course, the sensei all made a positive impression on me. My intuition did not let me down since the philosophy, principles, and rules of the Uechi Ryu style have also appealed to my senses.

Surprisingly, the teacher (Seizan Sensei) is an American – trained almost wholly here on Okinawa, licensed and certified a true “Hanshi Kyudan” – a 9th degree black belt holder – and the only foreigner residing in Japan holding that rank level in the UechiRyu system. He began training in UechiRyu in 1974 in the States, but has been training on Okinawa since 1979. He teaches classes 50/50 in Japanese and English, so there was no barrier to learning the finer points and more subtle philosophies of the art.

His Okinawan wife (Sumako) teaches Yoga on Saturday mornings, too, and is a licensed Thai Masseuse. That’s right – all this under one roof!

Most importantly, this dojo offered me an opportunity to train and practice alongside my husband and daughter as opposed to just sitting outside and waiting for the session to be over. An ability to study the principles of karate as a family has been paramount in our quest to embrace this particular way of life. We don’t compete at tournaments in this dojo, so there is no pressure to beat total strangers senseless in front of family members!  The dojo is a place where one can do physically challenging exercise, relax with a green tea and a snack during the break period, or it can be a healthy psychological outlet after a long day when you leave all your problems outside the screen door and just practice karate for a few hours.

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

As time passed, the learning process allowed me to understand that true karate is not simply a martial art, but a life art – a true lifestyle. Personally, I can apply the knowledge gained long after I leave Okinawa.

The Legendary Iron Palm

by Phillip Starr

The legendary “iron palm” (called “tieh-shou” in Chinese, which literally means “iron hand”) is often very different from what many people think it is. Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Kyokushin style of Japanese karate, had very heavily calloused hands with which he would split 25 lb. stones, paving bricks (the old kind that were used to “pave some old streets and they’re as hard as iron), and other such objects, had “conditioned hands” and feet, but not the ancient “iron palm.” The same thing holds true for Master Higashionna of Goju-ryu karate in Okinawa. He has heavily conditioned many of the striking surfaces of his hands and feet but this is a far cry from the Chinese iron palm.

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The iron palm has little to do with developing heavy callouses or breaking coconuts. It is a special technique that enables the practitioner to transmit most of the force of his blow to an area beneath (or quite a distance from) the target that he strikes. For instance, a blow to the abdomen would leave no external evidence of a blow but the strike or punch could rupture internal organs without leaving any bruising on the surface of the flesh…or a blow to the arm may result in a ruptured liver (the target is a considerable distance from the point of impact) and again, no bruising is caused on the arm!

There is a famous photo of iron palm and Shao-lin Master Gu Yu Cheong, who practiced a form of northern Shao-lin gong-fu. The photo depicts him breaking a very large stack of bricks. You’ll notice that he’s no heavily-muscled hulk, nor were his hands calloused. When I was in China back in 1982, I walked past a construction site on a Sunday (no workers were present) and noticed a pile of bricks. I decided to break one so that I could determine if they were much different from bricks made in the U.S. I was shocked when I picked one up and it was light as a feather! I struck one and it virtually exploded…and I realized that the bricks were simple baked clay; U.S. And European bricks have a lot of filler in them, making them very strong and hard. Not so in China at that time. Although the experience didn’t do much for my sense of security as we visited many brick buildings, I understood that there was a considerable difference in the quality of bricks made in the West and those in China (this has now changed; in 2013 I did the same thing and found that the current bricks produced in China are now properly mixed with fillers and very strong).

What many people don’t know about Master Gu is that HE COULD SELECTIVELY BREAK ANY BRICK IN THE STACK while leaving the others intact. If you asked him to split the 5th brick from the bottom, he could do just that… and THAT is a true “iron palm.”

At that time (the early 1900’s), China traded with numerous nations, including Russia. Now, several European boxers had had matches with local gong-fu adepts and oftentimes, beat them soundly. Gu stepped up to the plate and trounced several foreign boxers. On one occasion, Russian sailors were teasing him because they wanted another match.

Gu knew that the Russians often brought some fine race-horses with them and they would race them against Chinese steeds. Not wishing to waste any more time crossing fists with the foreigners, he asked them to bring out their finest horse.

A confused ship’s captain complied and had his men bring out a large Russian race-horse. Gu said he would provide a good example of gong-fu for them and he placed one hand on the horse’s back. He suddenly slapped the horse’s back (some say that he simply pressed on it) and the animal immediately collapsed, dead on the spot. The captain ordered an autopsy and it was found that most of the horse’s viscera had been severely ruptured! Gu wasn’t challenged to any more boxing bouts.

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Iron palm training is tedious and often painful. Contrary to what many gong-fu enthusiasts may think, it involves much more than repeatedly slapping a small cloth sack full of beans or iron shot (the old-timers never used iron pellets because it was too expensive and some said it might adversely affect one’s health). There’s much, much more to it and training must be done at least six days a week (a training session might last for more than 90 minutes). Special form(s) of qigong are also practiced and special medicine(s) is applied to the hands after each session. Many, if not most, of the current commercially made “iron palm” medicines available today are actually watered-down forms of what is known as “bruise linament.” However, there are some herbalists who still produce the traditional brew (one of them is my good friend, Miles Coleman, who owns Black Belt Herbs, and I understand that Mr. Dale Dugas also produces a high-quality iron-palm medicine…they’re both on Facebook).

There are training exercises that are intended to strengthen the legs and hips, build power in the grip, and several of them are directed at teaching the practitioner to transmit energy far beneath the surface of the blow (although the exercises don’t appear to foster such skill, they do so without the students necessarily being consciously aware of it). To develop this rare skill requires courage, determination, and the tutelage of a good teacher who has walked the same path.

An Wushu – School Review

From soft-arts beginner

I previously trained for 1 year full-time with Shifu An Jian Qiu, where I learned the family basic sets (stances, stretching, bone hardening etc.) and then progressed on to Bajji Quan and San Da. After returning to live in Dezhou for 2 years and unable to train full-time, I’m very grateful that An Shifu allowed me to continue my studies with part-time training. It was great being able to join in training sessions with other full-time students and see how quickly they improved, and An Shifu truly made me feel part of the family despite my limited time, even inviting me along to the incredible International Baji Quan demonstration hosted in Dezhou and QingYun this summer (2018). He allowed my training to fit seamlessly into my busy schedule, and it remained the highlight of my week throughout my time back in Dezhou. As I’m still dealing with a neck injury sustained while practicing wrestling back in Europe, I asked Shifu if he could start to teach me the internal arts to compliment and aid in my recovery.

To my first complete Bagua form

As a total beginner to internal arts, I’m very grateful for the many long conversations we had about internal training methods and goals, as well as the details and differences of the 3 styles Xing Yi, Bagua, and Tai Chi. I feel that under his instruction I have gained a useful understanding of what I am actually aiming to achieve when practicing internal kung fu, and the images he uses to describe his internal sensations help me to imagine the feeling I will one day achieve. Stood in San Ti Shi posture for 20 minutes, I imagine my arms as leaves gently floating along a stream.

In total, I learned the basic stances and fists of Xing Yi, then a first basic Bagua series before learning Bao Zhen Bagua Zhang. I wouldn’t have imagined I would be able to learn so many complex movements in this time, but my year of full-time training in the past provided me with good enough basics to learn quickly. It was very hard work, following the detailed corrections of An Shifu week after week, and I feel it will still be years before I can be truly soft in all these movements. However, I am very confident now to take what I have been taught and gradually develop my internal kung fu through daily practice. Sadly leaving Dezhou once again, I am already looking forward to coming back to deepen my knowledge of the An family system further, and hopefully next time I will arrive injury free!

Rising Dragon Martial Arts School Review

Here is the latest Student Review for Rising Dragon Martial Arts School in Yunnan. The Review was written by Daniel Wright who stayed at the school for 1 month during the summer of 2018.

What an incredible life changing experience. For anyone thinking about doing this or something similar, just do it. It really pushes you and changes your perspective on life. The school itself was fantastically located, inside a Buddhist Temple and well into the mountains of China, about as picturesque as you could ask for. With a small town down the mountain you still have access to a bit of ‘normal’ life if you need anything. Food is great and healthy, however not too much meat so can be lacking in protein, so you may require supplements if you are staying there for a while.

Training was very tough, be prepared to work hard. If you honestly aren’t there to work your butt off pick a different school because everyone there is putting in the effort, and you will be required to train as hard as you can to the best of your ability. It really doesn’t matter where you start, whether you are very unfit and have no experience or the complete opposite. All that matters is that you are doing your best. My fitness and flexibility went through the roof in the short time I was there, and I was able to learn multiple forms of Shaolin Kung Fu, but injuries can be common place due to the nature of training and pushing your body so be careful and look after yourself/be smart.

Learn-Kung-fun-in-China-with-Rising-Dragon-martial-arts-training-camp

Unfortunately there was no Calligraphy or Mandarin lessons as advertised, as the monks are responsible for that and it depends on them. There was also only 1 trainer while I was there, so for multiple different training styles it could be difficult. But the 1 trainer (Meng), was the most amazing trainer and mentor. So kind, so lethal, and honestly cared about your progress and was great at adapting to everyone’s experience level. Another huge upside was the Accommodation. Max 2 to a room, all with en-suites with western bathrooms (no squat toilets). So that was very nice to come back to after a huge day of training.Overall an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone.

Dave from StudyMartialArts.Org was insanely helpful, and honestly I don’t think he gets enough credit or commission for his work. Helped me narrow down my choice out of so many schools, answered all my questions regarding the school, travelling there, visas, etc. He was absolutely invaluable and I don’t think I would have been able to choose a school little own figure out all the logistics of going. So thank you so much Dave!

SMABloggers – The Liebster Award

This week SMAbloggers was nominated for the! The Liebster award is an award for bloggers, nominated by other bloggers. A kind of chain letter if you will that highlights new blogs and the great stories these bloggers they are sharing.

For this nomination a big thank you goes to Will at monkeystealspeach.com. Will, as you may know has in the past contributed some excellent blog posts here at SMAbloggers. As well as this Will also has his own excellent blog full martial arts stories, interviews, travel tips and tea culture.

So here’s how the award works.

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their site.
  2. Display an image of the award and write a post about your nomination on your blog.
  3. Answer the 10 questions your nominee has asked in their blog post.
  4. Nominate 5-10 other deserving new bloggers for the award and ask them 10 questions of your choice.
  5. List the rules of the award in your blog post.

Will’s 10 Questionsimg_2484

1.Tell us a bit about yourself

In the summer of 2007 while on a break from my urban planning job back in Belfast I made the decision to travel to China and study traditional kung fu. I craved adventure and a change from the daily grind. Most of my friends had gone travelling between school and university or between university and work. I’d created a window of opportunity and felt this was the right time to use the money I’d saved. My martial arts experience at that time was limited to my regularly Jeet Kune Do classes. Despite my lack of sashes or belts I wasn’t worried. What I lacked in experience I knew I had in determination to work hard and learn as much as I could. Like most of you reading this I’ve an interest and passion for martial arts as well as a growing interest in learning more about the spiritual and healing arts of China. As a teen I used to day dream about what it would be like to visit a land where a monkey could become a king.

China here I come…

Immediately I set to the task of researching kung fu schools in China. I craved being taught in a traditional way without distractions. I wanted to learn how to deal with confrontation effortlessly and improve every aspect of my life.

So I took action and found a school, got my visa and boarded a plane. 13 hours later I arrived in Beijing totally unprepared. I stayed the night in a hotel near the airport and the next day I boarded my internal flight to my end destination with high hopes. I was as green as the grass I’d left back in Ireland. From that moment until now it’s been one hell of an adventure.

Over the last few years I’ve visited a lot of kung fu schools and met a number of students studying at these schools. Some have come for martial arts, some adventure, some for health and fitness and some simply to create space for changing past bad habits. Your reasons for seeking this type of experience are your own. But what they should have in common is a desire to improve. Focus should be on the training and the experiences and other benefits will follow.

2. What was your first trip and how did it change you?

The first really great trip that I undertook was a month long visit to Krakow and Poland. via Prague. At the time I was madly in love and was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Pirsig, Robert M. (2006) . Discovering places new with a person you love took the trip to a whole new level. It was a time I will never forget and inspired in me a desire for further growth.

3. What’s the biggest thing you’ve gained from travel?

Lasting friendships life lessons, and new learnings.

4. What kind of a traveler are you (backpacker/luxury/solo/group etc)?

I’m not much of a solo traveller. I have always gained more from being able to share my experiences with others. Maybe my next journey will be one of solo travel.

5. What’s your favourite destination so far?

This questions is very difficult. Rather than a physical place I think I will say that my favourite destination has been a state of mind. This can be reached through meditation, and mindfulness. I found myself there most when I was constantly practicing baji quan zhang zhuang. Hours of practice creates the space for certain changes take place not only in the body but the mind. You become more grounded, charged, calm and blissful.

6. What’s your most memorable experience?

In 2007 when myself and my buddy Rhyn Nasser first decided to travel around China visiting martial arts schools and masters to include on the http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org website. What an amazing journey this was. It was packed with adventure, discoveries and meetings with so many amazing martial artists.

7. What’s your worst/most disappointing experience?

When I was a young child and first realised how stupid and selfish grown ups where.

8. Where do you plan to go next?

This I don’t yet know. For the past ten years I’ve been happily living in China. Last year I completed my postgraduate in Education so there could be a new challenge on the horizon. For now though my plan is to focus on BJJ and my general physical and spiritual health.

9. How did you get into blogging?

Honestly, I got into blogging through necessity. I wanted to do two things. Drive traffic to my website and help others passionate about travel and martial arts. I guess it was a logical progression.

10. What are your plans for your blog this year?

At the moment I’m running two blogs essentially, http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org/blog and http://www.SMAbloggers.com. For both blogs I’m the main contributor.  So what I’d like is to be able to produce more unique content for them. Whether that is written by me or another passionate writer I don’t really mind. What I don’t want is to compromise on quality. With this and better automation and planning I want to see both blogs achieve, move views, visitors and ultimately more people experiencing martial arts travel and training through www.StudyMartialArts.Org.

I Nominate The Following Bloggers For the Liebster Award:

chinesemartialstudies.com

Hownottogethit.com

primalmove.com

skirtonthemat.wordpress.com

monkeystealspeach.com