The Shaolin Mountain Run

The infamous Shaolin mountain run is fundamental part of Shaolin Kung Fu training. Whether you’re studying at one of the many kung fu schools in and around the Songshan Shaolin Temple or somewhere else, the run normally begins each morning before breakfast, or at minimum takes place once a week. This type of mid-distance hill climb not only pushes the body but the will power of students as they charge up and down the mountain, often descending steep steps on all fours.  This type of traditional training places emphasis on strength and stamina. It separates the weak from the chaff.

In order to properly prepare yourself before you arrive in China as well as improve your strength, stamina and potential running times I’ve put together these three core running workouts that you can do throughout the week.

cen-21. Aerobic Workouts and Preparation:

The mountain run is all about running at a consistent and comfortable speed with the right cadence to reduce effort and build fat-burning exnzymes, cardiovascular endurance, and time on your feet.  Alternating between long runs and short sprint training is a good tactic as a training method. As is making sure you start your hill climb in the knowledge that a power hike on the upward climb might be more efficient than running until you’ve built up your endurance and stamina. Power hiking is something that can also be trained for and is an excellent way to keep your heart rate in check. Another highly recommended tip is to swap your kung fu shoes for running shoes. Kung Fu shoes are super cool and excellent for form practice, but for the sake of injury prevention do the mountain run in your running shoes. You’ll thank me later.

2. Threshold Workouts:

The threshold is where your body begins to use more glycogen for energy and less fat, and when you train at and slightly above it, you can “raise the roof,” so to speak, so you can run faster at easier efforts (pretty cool). There are several workouts that you can fit in this slot, below are three.

How to find “threshold effort”: You know you’re at this effort when things start to feel uncomfortable, and it’s hard to talk. If you can get out one word responses, you’re there. If you can tell me what you did last night, you need to pick things up. If you’re gasping for air, slow it down. Because this is a physiologically based run, it works best when running by your effort rather than a pace; as you gain fitness, your pace will improve or you may slow down when the elements are challenging (heat and humidity). At the kung fu school its relatively easy to bond with other students. Finding a running partner is not going to be difficult. Doing the mountain run together and talking to each other supporting and driving each other you are able to find your threshold effort. With your partner you can select a combination of the three workouts or choose the most appropriate one that fits with your training schedule.

Five-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat four to five times: Run five minutes at or slightly above your threshold. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

2 or 3 x 10-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat two to three times: Run 10 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Start with two repeats and build to three over time (maybe even next season). Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

20-30 Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Run 20-30 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Cool down running 10 minutes at an easy effort and walking 3 minutes slowly.

Mountain Run

3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Workouts):

These workouts may be the hardest effort-wise, but they also make the most dramatic changes in aerobic fitness, speed, metabolism and caloric burn, and overall fitness. My favourite HIIT Workout is:

1-2-3 Intervals:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeats two to three times: Run one minute at a hard but controlled effort in the red zone. Recover with one minute easy walk or jog. Run two minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and one minute jogging easy to catch your breath and recover. Run three minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and two minutes jogging easy to catch your breath and recover.

Another option for your third workout is to alternate HIIT speed intervals one week with hill repeats the next. In both cases, you are working at a high intensity–in one, focusing on speed; in the other, building strength.

Workouts 4-5: Training on three running days is an effective strategy, but it also works well when you fill in the gaps with strength training and a low-impact cardio activity like deep stance training or static holds. Since your three running days all lie on the harder end of the effort scale, keep the stance training and strength workouts to an easy to moderate effort. That way, you won’t miss recovery along the way and get into a chronically fatigued state by training too hard.

As you put these workouts together, it will look a little something like this (this is a sample training plan):

Monday: Easy-effort stance and strength training
Tuesday: Interval workout (1-2-3s)
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 14 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, light moving qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Mountain run (repeats or hilly road)
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, stance training, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 16 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

The Mountain run schedule might look something like this:
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountian Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; 4x race effort

This is a fun, effective way to improve your mountain run times with less overall impact on your body; however, it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s not a beginner’s plan–so ease yourself into it.

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The Martial and Mandarin: Are you a type A student or a type B student?

In China dedicated martial arts students who plan to make the most of their time generally fall into two categories.

Type A – You’re a martial arts student in China and you’ve reached a level where in order to further develop your understanding and skill as well as make your life easier you’ve got no choice but learn the language.

Type B – You’re a Chinese language student who’s always been interested in martial arts but has yet to take the step into training. But things have finally come to a head and you’ve had enough of conversations about where you’re from, how much you earn and whether you like Chinese food, girls or football.

Chances are a few of you reading this post have had at least contemplated at least for a second combining martial arts with language learning.

You might have considered the following options. A university course with a certain amount of martial arts training, finding an elusive badass master and informally studying the language or by joining one of the many international kung fu schools and taking their free classes.

The benefit of combining martial arts and language learning can be found in the practical skills you learn that not only add to the experience but also your CV. Indeed such a step can take many in completely new directions abound with opportunities for the wily foreigner. Overall these programmes allow participants the opportunity to develop their martial arts and deepen their own understanding of Chinese culture and language.

“It’s a unique way to study with a high level master outside the normal international kung fu school route as that all important Chinese visa can be provided relatively cheaply through a University.”

Find a badass kung fu master  

This video clip above was taken in Yantai, Shandong province.

Yantai is a small second tier Chinese City on the northeast coast of China. It has cheap housing and has a good environment. Yantai is famous for a number of kung fu styles including Taichi Mantis, Tongbei quan, and Baguazhang. Locally with a little care you can find good masters. The city itself is a hot bed of kung fu schools and is well worth a look.

“Yantai is a hot bed of kung fu schools and masters on the east coast of China”

For details of our Traditional Martial Arts and Language Learning programmes in Yantai email info@studymartialarts.org. You can also check out Master Sui’s full biography and training schedule here. Or you can have a look at this school Kunlun International Kung Fu School which has links to Ludong University in Yantai for long term visas and currently has a very good Shaolin Kung Fu and Mantis Kung Fu master that you can study martial arts with.

Two alternatives that may be more suitable for those who are less independent or would prefer an all-inclusive experience are  The Yuntai Mountain International Culture and Martial Arts School founded by Shi Yan Lin, also known as Xie Xu Yong. This school is the only martial arts school currently offering a quality half day martial arts and half day language learning programme. The other option I would recommend is Capital Sport University of Physical Education in Beijing.

shaolin-schule-yuntai

Yuntai half and half programme

Master Shi Yan Lin is a master with over 10 year experience in teaching to both Chinese and International students Shaolin Martial Arts. The school is located in the famous Yuntai geological park, which attracts thousands of tourists every year and is fairly close to the fabled Northern Shaolin Temple. The Martial Arts training at the school will primarily focus on the various Shaolin fists and weapons as well as Sanda and Taichi. The school building formally a hotel has been converted into student accommodation, as a result the rooms are comfortable and comparatively of a high standard. The newly built training area and performance hall is five minute walk from the main accommodation area, so everything you need is close at hand.

The Chinese language course organised as part of the half martial arts, half language learning programme is available in partnership with Jiaozuo University. These courses can be specially tailored and intensive. This, makes the school a very real prospect for serious Chinese language learners. This close relationship between the martial arts school and the university means that long term student visas can be obtained for long term International students of the school.

The down side to the programme primarily relates to the schools relative isolation and the management insistence for compulsory school line ups throughout the day. Sometimes this can make students feel like they’re prisoners rather than students.

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University Programme

Captial University of Physical Education & Sports is one of Beijing’s premier Martial Arts Training Universities providing top-ranking conditions for international and domestic students. The university is supported by Hanban and Confucius Institute offering Chinese Language Learning Programs, Martial Arts University Programs, TCM, Sports & Health Care Programs.

The University offers the following programs; 4 Year Undergraduate Programs, 3 Year Master Programs, 3 Year Ph.D Programs, 1-2 Year Non-degree Programs and Short-term Programs.

The Universities Featured Programs are:

1. Chinese Language Programs
The University employs a special team for teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. This team is specializes in training international students who want to learn Chinese Culture and speak the Chinese Language. Class sizes are smaller than other universities and attention and help given to students is higher than at other Universities.  Thjs helps to ensure that students acquaire the language competences sufficent for their speciality studies in China. Small classes of differnt levels are provided as well as one-to-one teaching to meet students needs.

2. Martial Arts Programs
According to the period of study students can expect to study martial arts from martial arts champions who are experienced in both teaching and competitions for performance and also sport.

3. TCM Sports Health Care Programs
The instructor for this program is Ru Kai an assistant professor of Sports Rehabilitiation Department of Schools of Sports Science and Health. He is also the successor and master of Xisui Neigong, Baduanjin and Yijinjing.

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One of the main benefits from studying Mandarin at Capital Sports University is obviously the facilities, access to top coaches plus relatively small class size for language learning.

If you would like to learn more about studying martial arts and learning Chinese check out these great articles.

9 Mistakes to avoid when learning Chinese at a Kung Fu School in China

The things Chinese People Say

 

Why people choose us

At StudyMartialArts.Org we are passionate about Martial Arts and Travel. We believe that the combination of both provide a powerful catalyst for greater awareness. Our mission is based on connecting you to the right schools, masters or instructors.

Below you will find a testimonial from one of our past students Arvid Velt. Arvid first joined the SMA 1 month intensive martial arts travel and training tour. On this tour we combine historic sites fun and travel with training with a variety of high level masters throughout China. During that time we assisted him and advised him on the next move to bring his training to the next level.

Arvid at the time of the filming through our support and that of his Master studied in China for two years.

For further information contact us at info@StudyMartialArts.Org or visit our website. www.StudyMartialArt.Org Or why not view our other testimonials here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much Love and warmth from Thailand!

by David Lertzman

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

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

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.

Training At Kunyu Mountain Shaolin Kung Fu School

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

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

Kunyu Mountain
Monday:

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

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

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

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

30 minutes break.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday:

Tai Chi

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

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

Wednesday:

Tai Chi

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

Forms.

Sanda.

Thursday:10599536_1557778751112613_2335631134442809634_n

Tai Chi

Shaolin Basics.

Rest

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

Friday:

Tai Chi

Shaolin Basics

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

by Steve Hoult

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

Kung Fu in Thailand Days 4-5: Breakthrough

Greetings,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Origins and Lineage of Shaolin Wugulun Kung fu

Shaolin ChanWuYi and Wugulun Heritage

The origins of Shaolin ChanWuYi and Wugulun Kung Fu date back to the sixth century. When Bodhidharma, who is credited with bringing Buddhism from India to China, settled in Shaolin there was already a Buddhist temple there.

While sitting for nine years in a cave behind the temple, Bodhidharma developed Zen Buddhism which he introduced to China and which later spread to Japan and the rest of the world. Needing some form of exercise to maintain the health of his own and his disciples’ bodies, he developed a series of movements or exercises designed to promote health and fitness – based often on the movements of birds and animals they observed around them — and at the same time to deepen the practice of meditation. Herbs from the mountainside were collected and used for healing.

Master Wu Gulun

Due to China’s turbulent history, the Shaolin Temple, with its highly skilled fighting monks, was sometimes in favour with ruling dynasties, sometimes not. It was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. Around 1870 it was again in disfavour with the rulers of the Qing dynasty and the temple was in imminent danger of being destroyed yet again. The Temple Master instructed one of his foremost monks, Wu Gulun, to leave the temple and carry the traditions of the Shaolin culture with him to preserve them. He had, however, first to fulfill a rule of the Temple: that anyone leaving the temple should fight and vanquish all the monks to prove his strength and suitability to cope with the secular world he was entering. As the top Kung fu student, Wu Gulun easily achieved this feat and disappeared into the mountains to live in an isolated village, Bai Yu Gou, where he continued to practice and preserve the secrets of the Shaolin heritage.

c8df10f3-cf64-4f99-9a69-367091de563e-orgMaster Wu Shanlin

As he needed to be able to pass on this knowledge he married and had a son, Wu Shanlin, to whom he taught all the ancient secrets. Master Wu Shanlin became the second Grandmaster of the Wugulun lineage. Continuing to live in the small village, Wu Shanlin married and had two sons, Wu You De and Wu Tian You. To them and also his nephew, Qiao Hei Bao, and a young orphaned student, Zhang Qing He, he passed on the traditions.

Wu Tian You had a son who sadly died when he was quite young. This son was Master Wu Nanfang’s father. From an early age Wu Nanfang studied with his great grandfather, Wu Shanlin, then with Qiao Hei Bao and Wu You De and later Zhang Qing He. He is thus the direct descendent and inheritor of the Shaolin ChanWuYi and Wugulun tradition.

The 1920’s in China was a period of huge unrest and turmoil. In 1928 a general, Shi You Shan, was looking at the Shaolin temple as a possible source of resistance and danger so he sent one of his underlings there to try to gauge just what kind of a threat the fighting monks posed. The underling asked who the best fighter was as he wanted to fight him and see how strong he was. He was told that actually the best fighter, Wu Shanlin, was not in the Temple but in an isolated village in the mountains. The underling found Wu Shanlin and challenged him to fight with his sword. So powerful was Wu Shanlin’s qi that he paralyzed the man’s sword arm with just a look and a shout, causing the sword to fall uselessly to the ground.

Within two days of Shi You Shan hearing about this incident, he decided the Temple was indeed a threat and destroyed it almost totally.

As Master Wu Gulun’s greatest desire was that the Shaolin tradition should be returned to the Shaolin Temple when the time was right, Wu Shanlin returned to the devastated Temple with his son, Wu Tian You, with the intention of helping to rebuild it and restore the traditions and heritage which he had been preserving. He found to his dismay, however, that the monks were demoralized by the defeat, and most decided to either return to a secular life or join the army. The remaining few were men of poor character and Wu Shanlin felt he could not pass on his knowledge to them as it might be used wrongly, maybe to hurt people rather than to rebuild the Temple. He stayed for three years, teaching a few basic Wugulun kung fu moves, but then returned to his village to wait for a more auspicious time. Many current kung fu teachers claim that they know the original kung fu forms from their teachers who had practiced under Wu Shanlin. In reality they know only a few very basic forms.

Master Zhang Qing He

Zhang Qing He, the third Grandmaster, was an orphan who was rescued and looked after by the monk, Chun Quan, in a small temple on the Luoyang side of Song Mountain. Chun Quan sent him to study with Master Wu Shanlin when he was about twenty years old. Zhang Qing He also qualified as a doctor and was in fact better known for his medical skills than for his kung fu.

In about 1988 Master Zhang Qinghe came to live at the Shaolin Temple to treat his beloved Buddhist Master who was very ill. There he came into contact with a young monk, Dejian, who was studying and teaching at the Temple. Dejian started training in the Wugulun Kung fu style with him. In 1990,Master Zhang Qing He requested Wu Nanfang, who was teaching Wugulun Kung fu nearby to come and introduce Dejian to Wu Nanfang. They are brothers, because they are fellow apprentices of one and the same master.

img_51241Master Wu Nanfang and Master Dejian

This was an historic meeting as it is these two masters, Wu Nanfang and Dejian who, after the death of Master Zhang Qing He in 2004, are currently concerned with the preserving and passing on of the Shaolin Wugulun Kung Fu tradition — Master Dejian from the San Huang Zhai Monastery and Master Wu Nanfang from the Shaolin Wugulun Kung fu Academy.

Information courtesy of the Shaolin Wugulun Kung fu Academy.

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“If you would like to study at the Shaolin Wugulun Kung Fu Academy or would like to find out more information about the kind of training you can expect at the school click the link above. It is my opinion that this school is one of the very few authentic Shaolin Schools left in China and is definitely worth considering if you wish to study authentic Shaolin martial arts. Lately, I’ve been somewhat disillusioned with some of the training and also the managerial practices I’ve witnessed at some of the other more popular Shaolin International Kung Fu Schools in China. Maybe its time for a change a return to the roots of Shaolin with more focus on self discipline and quiet meditation rather than the flash and high flying kicks of the modern perversion we see so often. A perversion that turns poor young ambitions Shaolin masters into business men who scramble over westerners for money with little thought to the detriment they are doing to the name of Shaolin and China as a destination for martial arts.” – David Kelly

Kung Fu in Thailand Day 3: A Day of Rest

Greetings everyone,

Yesterday, Wednesday, was a rest day, as is Saturday. We bundled up in Sifu’s truck and drove north to Mae Hong Son close to Burma. We visited some hill tribe markets and two principal Temples, one in front of a small lake and another on a hill overlooking the town. The hill tribes women’s hand weaving is exceptional and they sell the most delicious wild honey by the side of road. One of the highlights of the day was when we picked up four Buddhist monks walking up the winding mountain road who piled in the truck with us. Not only is Sifu Iain extremely knowledgeable in Kung Fu and martial arts in general, he has also a deep knowledge and experience of the local area and its peoples. Thus, our journey was one through the historical, cultural and philosophical landscapes of the region. Being so close to Burma there is a very strong influence from the Shan people. Indeed, the whole area has been flooded with various ethnic groups, in particular hill tribes fleeing conflict in Burma. I finally had the current political situation in Thailand explained effectively over lunch by Sifu Iain and the day ended at the Temple on the Hill in Mae Hong Son, Wat Phra That Mae Yen. It is hard to describe how extraordinary are these temples. The view from the mountain top on which the temple sits was spectacular as the jungle stretched out below with its forested hills and mountains, limestone spires and the blazing sun setting behind.
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Today we followed the same training schedule from 6 am to a little after 9 a.m., and 3:30 p.m. to about 6:15 p.m. Along with my extra 2 hours in the middle I also received a real Thai Massage. It was as much ordeal as it was massage but the lady hired for the massage was very good natured. She is a strong and gifted traditional massage therapist. She laughed at the noises I made with her elbows in my back and foot in my leg and told me to say, “Sooo, sooo!”. She tweaked my nose and invited me to the discotheque tonight in Pai but I told her I couldn’t go. I learned later from Sifu that men with big noses are considered extremely handsome in this part of Thailand; I’ve finally found somewhere that values my natural good looks and charm! We did a lot of Chi Kung, stretching and meditation today. We also continued with the Tigre-Crane Sum Chien and another sequence I have not yet described called Shuan Yang, which in English is called Sun Frost White Crane. Shuan Yang is a kind soft or gentle martial art that looks a lot like Tai Chi, but more martial. Indeed, some believe it to be the origins of Tai Chi. We did some great punching drills with the suspended sand filled cloth sacks and had a marvellously vigorous kicking session. Today on weapons I got to take up the actual bladed sabre, the Tan Dao or Chinese Broadsword. Wow, that was a gas training with sword in the open outdoor training ground my traditional black and gold Kung Fu pants billowing wet chest bared to northern Thailand’s blazing afternoon sun.

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

by David Lertzman

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

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

Kung Fu in Thailand Day Two: The Training Begins!

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Blessings
David

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

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