An Family Martial Arts School

Here is our latest StudyMartialArts.Org Video. In this video you’ll see footage from our visit to An Wushu Family Martial Arts School.

An Wushu International Martial Arts School is a kung fu school steeped in family tradition. Located in Prefactured City of Dezhou within Shandong Province the school is just two hours from the capital Beijing by fast train. Dezhou and the School is therefore easily accessible for those wishing to experience traditional Chinese martial arts training.

The school offers both full-time and part-time classes to both Chinese and international students with the international students primarily being taught by An Jian Qiu.

Teaching at the school takes place in a picturesque setting and there is both indoor and outdoor facilities. This school offers a warm welcome to those who are serious about studying martial arts and learning about Chinese culture. Recent improvements to the school mean that it can cater for long term students providing both accommodation and food.

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Tibetan Sky Burial

by Kerrie Henderson

“Separation of the body and soul”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best VPN’s for China

The Internet & VPNs

Why can’t I access some websites in China?

Google services (e.g. Gmail, Google Maps), Wikipedia, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other social media website are either blocked while many other sites are accessible but they may be censored or their performance compromised in Mainland China by the governments famous “Great Firewall of China”. Normal Internet habits are often more difficult in China, so you may find it more difficult to keep in touch with friends and family in the usual way. Don’t worry though, all’s not lost, a VPN can help you jump over the great fire wall of China.chinawordpressSo what is a VPN anyway? And how can I access these sites? Well, a VPN is a Virtual Private Network.

Many travelers and students purchase these VPN’s in order to circumvent the Great Firewall by making your location and Internet content invisible, thereby allowing you to access blocked websites. Hide_My_Ass_405042Below is a selection of some of the best VPNs for China in terms of price and reliability.

  1. Hide My Ass

Hide my ass is a UK based service, it has a 30 day money back guarantee, lots of server choice, no bandwith restrictions, lots of freebies, and has a great VPN client and website. In terms of the set up this VPN is very easy to instal on your computer and its one of the World’s leading VPN’s.

  1. Astrill

Astrill is fairly reliable and one of the most popular VPN service commonly used in China. It has unlimited download bandwidth and is among one of the cheaper services available hence its popularity. However, their help and support could definitely be better and recently its performance has been patchy.

  1. ExpressVPN

Express VPN is very fast safe and has a money back guarantee. Its dedicated customer service support is excellent and it has unlimited downloads. The only downside is that it’s a bit more expensive than the others, but more on that later.

  1. Hide.me

I’ve included Hide.me as an option here as it offers a free basic service with limited functions. As it’s basic option is free there are a limited amount of servers available and downloads are restricted to 2GB. However, if you’re just looking to check your emails or Facebook every now and again it might just save you some money and would be a much safer option than other free services like Vtunnel or Freegate.

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  1. StrongVPN

A large US based VPN provider, StrongVPN is both high-profile, and popular. However, despite this reviewers have been unimpressed with its overall attitude to privacy, and performance. If the service was a budget offering it wouldn’t be so bad, but StrongVPN is also one of the most expensive providers. Despite this in terms of its performance in China, it does pretty well but when compared to other premium services it doesn’t always feel premium.

  1. IPvanish

IPVanish is a relatively new VPN provider that was created by specialists with more than a decade of experience in network management, IP and content delivery services. The company was founded with the goal of providing excellent customer service and extremely affordable prices. The company has a large staff to help clients as they configure their products, and is widely considered one of the VPNs with the fastest Internet speeds in the US. IPvanish was vote by top10best websites to be the best VPN 2014. This new kid on the block has got potential and serious kick for the price.

So why not just use a free services to access blocked sites?

There are a number of free portals or proxy sites to access blocked websites in China however, they often come with restricted downloads or functions. For example, a proxy such as Vtunnel, can let you access the mobile version of Facebook, but it rarely downloads it all.

Freegate is also an option however, free service have also been known to open your computer up to viruses and hacking. If you must go for a free service, go with the safe option Hide.me above.

So what VPN service do I recommend based on reliability service and price? 

At present for StudyMartialArts.Org purposes we use ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has consistently been the fastest VPN provider with excellent support for all our devices. To date it has also been best-in-class for security features. Therefore ExpressVPN is our top choice. With a speed-optimized server network spanning 78 countries, ExpressVPN is one of the most trusted in the market. Setting up and using this VPN is super easy. Their apps for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS connect you with a single click to any server location you choose. ExpressVPN is ultra-secure and anonymizes your online identity behind powerful encryption and multiple VPN protocols and has 24/7 tech support. Because of this they aren’t the cheapest provider. ExpressVPN includes a 30 day money back guarantee on all purchases.

Here’s my top 3 in no particular order:

Hide My Ass

IPvanish

ExpressVPN

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

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

China-train-tickets

1. Buying Tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRAIN TICKETS

Here are a few ways you can buy train tickets:

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

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

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

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

A few more useful words:

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

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

BUS TICKETS

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

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

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

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

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

2. Using Tickets

Reading High Speed Trains

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Reading Normal Train Tickets

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

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

Reading A Bus Ticket

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Chang Ping Martial Arts Festival.

A little footage taken from the Chang Ping Annual International Martial Arts Competition held every Summer from the 25th to the 28th of July.

‘All are welcome to compete in various forms and combat sports.’

Chang Ping is 45 minutes from the Center of Beijing and is easily reached by public transport. A direct bus will leave every thirty minutes from Jishuitan Subway station, Line 2. Bus 883 leaves from outside the subway station and will take you to the Chang Ping Gymnasium where the competition is held.

Below you can see Master An Jian Qiu’s Bajiquan performance at the competition.

Kung Fu in Thailand: Back to Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much Love and warmth from Thailand!

by David Lertzman

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

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

Things Chinese People Say

Once you arrive in China and meet a few locals it won’t be long before this clip from TMD Shanghai make all too much sense. It’s a light hearted look at some of things I guarantee you who find yourself hearing when you visit the Middle Kingdom. During my 6 years in China I’ve heard and witnessed a lot. Here are some of my favorite questions I’ve been asked during that time. Where are you from?Ài’ěrlán. Ah, Yīngguó! Do you know how to use chopsticks? What’s your favorite color? Do you like Chinese food? How much do they pay you?

“When in China the Chinese inquisition will get you and won’t give up.”

Do you play tai chi? Do you like KTV? Why you not married? Do you like Chinese girl? Whatever you do embrace the inquisitiveness and have fun.

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This is a fun post inspired by TMD Shanghai and onlinethatsmag.com by David Kelly CEO and Director of www.StudyMartialArts.Org – An adventure travel company specializing in Martial Arts.

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.