Saturday, 6 December 2008

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.



Kaspar said...

Hi. My name is Kaspar, and I live in Japan, Iwama where I practice Aikido. That's where I first met Inan - so in short, Inan is my aikido friend.
I know I don't practice Kung Fu, but when I read this article I just found that it gones for any martial art (I guess).
In Iwama, where I practice under Hitohiro Sensei (Inan has talked about him on this blog), I often see people, even though they have been practicing for 20 years and are big teachers in there own contries, not being very good at all, or there level is just of normal.
I also think it's because they don't know the correct progress for both them self and there students! I think Inan is right when he says: machanics first!
If you don't know how to stand properly, how to line up your body, always keeping the correct balance, how to throw a punch etc. you will never reach a higher level!
We need a form - we need a basic, and it needs to be practiced again and again! And every day you go back to that basic to check your form. Only then you can develop to a higher level.

I don't know if I am right or not, but my experince so far shows me that it is...

Enjoy your practice.

From Japan,

Andrew.Wan said...

Wonderful expression "potato bag". It is often difficult in this day and age for the general public to discern between the flash aesthetic and the subtleness required for good alignment. Sometimes even with sincere intention we concentrate too much on alignment and we become static instead of strong or vice-versa we think "flow" yet we remain ungrounded. Easy to say, difficult to achieve.
However i do feel that for normal people like me :) even running, jumping, lifting and throwing etc is better than trying to be too academic in martial study.

Wu tan Belgium said...

Nice to see you both here, my friends! Kasper, I often miss training with you. A genuine martial artist and good friend. The progress you went through was different than the one from Andrew (Hapkido/teakwondo/escrima) but it is special for me as I saw you both training with equal passion, yet total different settings (Japan and the UK).

It is absolutely true that the text can count for all martial arts, as it is all about the training of the body. Body alignment, body strentgh, mind intention,... understanding and practising core principles counts for everything. Thus also for running, jumping, and as well as other things in life: calligraphy, music, art, work...

Kaspar, are you planning to visit Belgium? You can email Mike sifu, he is a great guy and very approachable.

superbouncy (aka inan)