Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy Holidays

All the student got this nice message two weeks ago from teacher Mike, we all wish our teacher a happy holidays too. Before the end of year, I manage to squeeze in some time to put this up.

Thank you Laoshi!

Dear Everyone,

Happy and Healthy Holidays to All.... I want to thank everyone for a great year of training and support for the new club...!

The space really feels like a home to everyone and I am proud of that!!! I really want to make 2009 a year for growth for everyone and myself... I really want the club to grow and promote our mentality for training to others around Belgium and Europe...

Many challenges and changes are to come with great results for all of us... Some changes for 2009: A change of club Name, new website, new clothes, club structure for belts, these are just a few I want to 


2009 will also have more seminars here in Antwerp; like; Mantis, San Cai Jian, Miao Dao, Qi Gong, Shuai Jiao and more... I look forward to working with everyone....

I want to especially thank teacher Wang and the Beijing teachers for all the support and help !!!

Reminder: Classes will be on a holiday schedule for the Xmas and New Year holiday weeks as Dieter wrote in and earlier email...

See everyone in class.

Happy Holidays

mike laoshi

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Thoughts exchange: The one detail.

Kung Fu has always been a bit different than any Japanese Martial Arts, the Japanese are experts in applying a skill as many times as possible, until they turn it into art. One of the criteria to master a skill is the complete dedication on one technique by the practitioner.  The positive side of this kind of training is that the practitioner will be able to reach good structure in his training (that is, with the guidance of a good teacher). However, there comes a point, where the practitioner is no longer a beginner and embarks his journey as a fully trained martial artist. The question is, what's next? A good example would be the one where I left Karate school after I realized that the sensei doesn't know how to adjust the training for those who have reached the 1st dan. To those who were beginners in karate, he told them to make their stances as low as possible, to train their leg muscles. Of course it is a good training, but after 4 years or so, Some of them have done the training needed for getting a proper karate basic structure. And yet, they were never allowed to stand higher, so the purpose of the low stances changed from muscle training to actual self defense, which is unrealistic. This is a classic example of one of the problems with rigid thinking as a martial arts practitioner.

Kung Fu instead, is all about individualism. When I saw Mike Laoshi and the other teachers, I can see they all perform the same technique, yet all three of them would do it differently, with their own flavour. Depending on the styles they have done, their bodyweight and structure, their philosophy on life, all this changes that one simple technique into three different interpretations. And yet all three are equally powerful. That notion of individualism, is Kung Fu.

Understanding this, makes it also understandable why Kung Fu is much harder to learn. Kung Fu is about self expression. But how to achieve that if the student doesn't even know how to begin? So the Japanese way, erm... actually the Chinese way of learning in a rigid way, has its place in correct martial arts training. It should not be underestimated for the beginner student in any arts. Unless one can walk, one shouldn't learn how to fly.

It is with this thought I came up with the idea to ask each fellow student at the Belgium Wu Tan club, who has trained for more than a year, the following question: "Which detail, should be trained and improved upon after a year of training, according to you?"

The question is to challenge the fellow students to think clearly for themselves and express it in a way, that could be helpful for others. Thus classic answers like "body alignment", "movement",... will not be good enough. Masters like Mike Laoshi truly understand words like alignment, movement, the notion of the body... But for us, students, the mind needs to be in tune with the body and not ahead of it.

For the following weeks, I will ask several fellow students the question as written above and as exited as I am, I will put the results up for you to see. To other students, I hope we can do some exchange and learn from eachother and to teacher Mike, your correction is much needed!

Name student: Ken
Student Wu Tan for: 3 years
Which detail most important to you: Backfoot in Kon Po (attacking stand)

Name student: Magaly

Student Wu Tan for: 3,5 years

Which detail most important to you: Knee alignment (Kon Po as example)

Stretching and Basic Yue Jia San Shou 10 min vid

A video from teacher Mike himself, on stretching and basic Yue Jia San Shou. Old style wrist locking techniques, rooted in the martial aspect of the arts. Nice to see Rene as well, my Kung Fu brother as Teacher Mike's assistant. Enjoy!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Taichi fan for little girl (太極扇) 2006 Taipei

A little girl show Taichi fan. The Tai Chi Chuan championship in 2006 Taipei City.

Beautifully executed! One of the best Tai Chi fan performance I have seen online.

The progress of Kung Fu students

Yesterday's training with teacher Mike was hard and fun, refining our basics yet putting the details into places. It was as usual, without nonsense. Some thoughts came to me after the training, and perhaps it is good to share this to all. Although each student have their personal growth, the progress of Kung Fu practise is not solely based on mythical predictions. We also have to be realistic to realise that hard training alone does not garantee a correct progress. In Japan, I have met Aikido teachers who trained and taught for more than 15 years, realizing they have been practising the art totally wrong. It was only when they met Hitohiro sensei, whose aikido is top noch, that they understood how much they have wasted their time.

No, correct progress needs correct methods of training. Training hard is an element of correct methods, it starts with going to the class often and listen well to the teacher. But there is more, which I would like to share.

Meeting teacher Mike was in the first place a wake up call of the meaning of true Kung Fu. Suddenly, chi power is no longer a myth, yet it is not something you can pick up just because you can do some fancy moves. So instead of asking: how do I get such power as teacher Mike?, I started to ask: How should a correct progress look like for the student?

Now, every intelligent student would answer this question with: duh! we are all individuals, so we all will progress differently, no need to think.

This is the part were I will risk my head and protest: The problem with being too laid back when confronted with a question is that we get lazy, or blind, or taking a bad habit into the training. Just because we are too focused on individual/natural progress and thus like to avoid rules, doesn't mean we should not think and calculate our own path. A flower will grow naturally and spontaneously, only if the soil is good and the amount of water is right. 
If growing free and peacefully and zenlike (spiritual naivity) is what you want, you shouldn't be doing Kung Fu anyway, as training extremely hard and live an experienced life is necessary for true spiritual growth with Kung Fu. Being with your mind in clouds for the rest of your life is not Kung Fu, nor is it a true path of spiritualism.

Of course I believe and support personal growth, but personal growth is the least we should worry because it will happen naturally. What we should be aware of is the training methods and goals, only through understanding the possibilities we will be able to train correct and thus progress correctly.

So, what I am intending to say about my findings is the following:

1) good body alignment and structure is more important than relaxation, if a student who doesn't focus on structure and alignment puts relaxation at first, he/she will progress as a potato bag. No more.

2) respect the identity of each art: If one is training long fist, then use the right intention and balans of power/relaxation to do long fist. Long fist is not tai chi, nor yoga. It is in the first place a fighting art. Respect its identity, this counts for each discipline taught by teacher Mike.

3) chi power, the holy grail of all martial arts, is achievable when understanding that we have to go through what other master have gone through: hard training, with mistakes, with victory, with correct methods. The bottom!! But understand this: Mike's chi is invisible linked with his structure, yes it means as an opponent, you don't see where his power is coming from. That is too advance for us. So it is important for us to go back to the basics and have good structures, stances, punches, kicks... the mechanics, gentlemen!! Not the chi is our holy grail at the moment, but proper mechanics... this is the only way to get somewhere. After we have trained hard enough to call ourself "ok" in our mechanics, I am sure teacher Mike will open the door and lead us further. But before you understand proper mechanics, you won't get anywhere and you won't even know why.

4) when teacher Mike tells us: "it is all about movement, don't be stuck with the form", he is absolutely right. But first, we need to be able to do a form "ok" before we understand movement. Pretending we are doing movement without understanding the mechanics/alignment/application is ignoring the basics.

5) DON'T: train hard but wrong. DO: train hard and right.

Voila, I have said it. I have been analysing the teachers from China and teacher Mike. They all share some common traids: healthy pride, dedication, hard work, intelligence, openmindedness. But unless we are now accepting the path at the bottom of the mountain and ready to climb, we will never reach the top. 

ps. the question on the order of progress started during the Belgium Camp, where I observed my fellow Kung Fu student Dennis, who gave me the feeling that he could have the biggest chance to experience his first true faji. Because he has gone through the training of  basic body mechanics. His progress is obvious.


Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Great Baji-Pigua! (recommended video by teacher Mike)

Since teacher Mike knows I am looking into Baji and Pigua, he mailed me the link of a great Kung Fu master: Lü Baochun. There is a series of master Lü Baochun's pigua exercises made on youtube. I selected 2:

The first one is from a gathering in Oostmalle, Belgium. I choose this video because you can clearly see the power generation called fa-jin. It is not stiff, muscle power like most other martial arts forms. The power here is soft, agile, relaxed and yet powerful. The power is also generated from his whole body, from feet, knees, waist and whipping out to the arms, elbows, shoulders...

To my friends in other martial arts disciplines who do not understand the concept of chi, this one is a nice example. And yes, in my eyes, teacher Mike has it too and I would dear to say that his chi can be both applied in an "explosive" ways as in a more invisible way. When you touch hands with teacher Mike, you know that even with chi training, it doesn't stop once you achieve some chi power. Instead, chi too has many levels and has room to progress. Basic chi power is a visible power with clear and correct usage of body alignment, whereas the next step would be hidden power. Hidden power means that body alignment becomes less visible to the opponent, and the movement is fast but soft. Thus fooling the opponent. The last known chi power is like the power and the body becomes one, no visible structure (although there still is) and the body is extremely sensitive of the opponent's touch, form and movement is no longer first place. Grandmaster Wang, teacher of Mike Laoshi, has the third type of chi. Now imagine that the video is showing only the first type of chi power (still very very powerful and high level) and you can imagine how many martial artists are just waving their hands and don't have the "soya sauce". To us, students, understanding and accepting the first type of chi (visible structure and power generation) is more than enough as a focus for the training. 

ps. the music in the video might not be everyone's taste, if you turn it down, make sure to turn it up again at the last few sequence of the video were master Lü Baochun demonstrates the power generation (fa jin) through body movement.

Video number 2 is a basic Pigua exercise, one we also practise in our club. The relaxed shoulder when applying the movement is nicely demonstrated and because of that, the power is not blocked but has the chance to sink in:

Baji from Grandmaster Liu Yun Qiao

More Baji, from what I have noticed, Baji Kung Fu is an excellent mid range and close-quarter fighting art. Emphasizing on close-quarter body attack and take downs. The punches are soft (but alive and present), fast yet powerful and penetrating. Baji, Pigua and Tongbei all compliments eachother. So it is useful to first understand the 3 art forms on its own. Here I found a nice classic video from the Grandmaster Liu Yun Qiao himself demonstrating Baji. 

Bagua training with teacher Mike

Yesterday, we had a 2 hours of "dynamic stretching" training. When you embark the journey of martial arts training, one key element is often missing in many clubs: that martial arts techniques only works if the body is strong and agile enough to yield it.
I have trained with many teachers, some better than others. All have good understanding of the techniques, but only few has the structure (car chassis) and the inner power of chi (the engine). Kung Fu would not work if only techniques were trained. So yesterday training with Mike Laoshi reminds us again how useful his lessons are, the exercises called basics are very advance for us. Just because our basics sucks. Yet, I can not find a different club who can give me such intense and worthwhile training.

The dynamic stretching we did is emphasized on the relaxation of the whole body. On the same time strength and agility building of the legs, as it is the legs that make most of the hard work in our daily life.

After the stretching the group was split in two: one group for Hsing Yi training and the second group for bagua. I was at the bagua training so I can't comment on the Hsing Yi training. But when I compare bagua with aikido training, the bagua is at first sight boring because students are expected to do only cicle walking for one or two years before training any locks at all. Whereas with aikido, locks are essential from the start. In the past, I have doubted the bagua training often as living in the contemporary times, one would hardly have any time at all to make circle walking for 2 years as a preparation for jointlocks etc...

How wrong I was! With each lesson, teacher Mike would give us small demos and strip the myth of bagua. Instead, we were shown very powerful ways of applying locks and throws using spiraling movements of the body. Many techniques remind me of aikido, it is that close!! But upon closer inspection, bagua is much richer in its movement and generation of power. It is not a surprise since bagua is an older martial form, and had time to mature by many great masters of the past. Second, although aikido seems to have as much external circular movement as bagua, it lacks the small internal circle that is driven by years of alignment training and proper usage of chi. These internal spiraling of the body takes years to develop but is exactly what makes bagua powerful. I am sure, if aikido (or any other martial arts) would be trained this way, it will make the art complete. 

So next week, we will be happily circle walk again...