Balance

30 01 2010

In Taoist (pronounced Daoist) philosophy the yinyang symbol, represented by a backwards “S”, is centered on the theory that all opposing things are interconnected and interdependent of one another and through this, all things exist in the natural world. Without going into too much detail and to allow for you to do your own research, yinyang represents balance.

Everyday offers up an opportunity to practice this concept. Recently I’ve been on a grueling and most turbulent adventure in my life where I’ve needed to apply balance to damn near every hour of my day. When you lose your balance, you lose yourself. You become forceful and delusional.

Within the theory of yinyang, there is a term used by Taoists, “wu wei”. This is translated as, action through inaction. I find myself saying this in my head to remind me to calm myself and to not be so forceful. By forceful I mean deliberately trying to make change of something that is out of my control. This also is a reminder that we can only control things that we have power over, such as self.

The universe and other people and all things will fall into their rightful place without interference from me, you, or them. This leads to finding faith in balance. Faith that whatever hardship or joyous experience that one encounters will be evenly balanced in its end result. As vague and unexplainable as this concept may  be, the path still exists whether we want to accept it or not. So however you find balance in your daily lives, through God, the sun, a tree, or an animal, or whatever…understand that balance will keep all things moving and changing. If you have a hard day, balance it out with something soft. If your day is full of sadness balance it out by doing something that makes you happy.

-MR





Is it the Shoes?

5 12 2009

Shoes in the martial arts world have, typically, never really been fashionable. As a kid, I remember being able to get  a pair of “kung fu shoes” at Alpha Beta (old school grocery store) for about a $1.99. But never were they something that everyone here in the U.S. was rockin’. I’d see them around every once in a while, especially in less affluent communities.

Back in the day, you could get these and a loaf a bread for $2.50...

These were cool because these simple cotton shoes with a hard plastic sole were the same shoes Bruce Lee would wear in his films. These were also the shoes all the kung fu fighters in the old school Shaw Brothers flicks were sporting. Sometimes you could find these with hard white cotton soles. Even though all of the film stars wore them, these shoes are horrible to train in. The soles have no grip and even less foot support for demanding quick action foot movement. You were lucky if they didn’t fly off executing a kick.

Today’s version of these old school classics are stylish, yet remain as simple as the originals.

Old School Re-Do.

This goes for most other martial arts shoes as the big names like Nike, Puma, and Adidas, have all jumped into the martial arts shoe game with their version of foot support for the practitioner. For the most part, kung fu shoes or martial arts shoes never really made a fashion statement or their mark in pop culture until now…

Here’s my review of these new school kicks…

For Tai Chi

This is a simple white canvas shoe with a  slim rubber sole. The laces add overall support and the padding around the ankle is helpful but could cause some irritation if worn with a low cut sock. These aren’t usually worn by martial artists doing tough training. These are for Tai Chi and moving meditation practitioners. I remember seeing old people in Hong Kong wearing these types of shoes up early doing Tai Chi and playing chess in the park. Perfect for the retirement home…

Sticking with the canvas shoe..this is the Feiyue.

Universal Shoe

Feiyue is probably the most identifiable martial arts shoe out right now. This is a rugged canvas shoe with a medium sized rubber sole. The grip is superb on these kicks. Once they are broken in, they feel like a glove on your foot. This brand is based out of Shanghai, China and is easy to find all over, especially in Northern China. The extended lacing system provides incredible foot support for all intense training exercises.

Hi Tops aren't recommended for training.

The flexibility and comfort that Feiyue provides for martial artists, allow for long training sessions without discomfort. As mentioned, the rubber sole provides exceptional grip for all surfaces. The only downside to these kicks is, over a few months practitioners can expect to see the rubber detach from the canvas as the glue on these tends to fade. Feiyue doesn’t have the best Quality Assurance as they are mass produced. Martial artists can find these usually around $15 U.S, but if you’re in China and know how to say “Tai Gui le” (that’s too expensive!) you can get these for dirt cheap. Two pairs for $40 Kuai. (That’s about $5 U.S. a pair).

Gaining popularity outside of the martial arts community.

Feiyue has stepped outside of their martial arts roots and have been producing a casual shoe for civilians. They have been gaining momentum in France and of course the Asian market, but I have yet to see them in abundance here in the states.

Good looking. Definitely not for training. This is a kick it shoe.

Next up is Rubber Duck.

Same as the Feiyue.

This is the Rubber Duck version of the Feiyue. In fact, it is a Feiyue, but with much higher Quality Assurance. Minus the stripes and a well glued on sole. Here in the states they retail for around $45 U.S. For some odd reason they are heavier than the original Feiyue which is extremely light. Martial artists and civilians can get these in Navy, Army Green, Grey, Black, and White. I believe Rubber Duck is based out of Denmark, but don’t quote me on that. I got these from a friend of mine who is a rep for Rubber Duck. I have yet to give them a proper training session.

Sewn on label instead of stripes. Your choice.

A good light weight summer beach shoe?

Steering away from the canvas, let’s take a look at the leather martial arts shoe. First up, Nike.

Sleek, but any good?

This is a leather martial arts shoe with a thin rubber sole. Medium to heavy in weight. This shoe is more for the mixed martial artist, Greco-Roman wrestler, boxer or kick boxer. High ankle support for quick movement but difficult to perform lower stances. Hi tops generally take away from the flexibilty and range of motion the ankle demands for a lot of traditional martial arts maneuvers. Standard lacing system provides great foot support. Nike may have dropped the ball on this one as far as functionality goes. I wouldn’t recommend these for long training sessions as there is not much air circulating in and out of the shoe. The sole is more for indoor training, so grass and dirt are out of the question. I’d say this shoe is more for the weekend warrior and not the daily practitioner.

More functionality from Nike.

Here’s something with a little more versatility from Nike. A leather shoe with a smooth rubber sole with some grip on the bottom. The laces on the side are short, which is nice for sparring but offers less support for the ball and toe region of the foot. The wrap over flap is useful in sparring and bag training but can pinch at the front of the ankle during low stance work and depending on how tight the shoes are tied, could pinch all the time. Low cut at the ankle for good range of motion. Horrible design though. They may look narrow but once broken in, without that lower lace support, it will feel like you’re wearing a flipper instead of a martial arts shoe. The side lacing system is popular on their soccer shoe, not sure why they imported it into their martial arts shoe.

Adidas…

World Class, but do they work?

Here is a really lightweight leather shoe from Adidas. Nice upside covered lacing system, great for sparring and bag work. Narrow toe design. And a really thin rubber sole. Almost too thin. The sole on this shoe is its downfall. There is simply no grip. During sparring practice it is very easy to lose focus on your opponent because you’re trying not to slip and slide on your planted foot during a kick. Soft cushion around the ankle, low cut for more movement. Simple overall design and good stitching placement at the toe for low stance work. This leather breaks in very nicely and grips the foot. The only problem is the sole…Too thin and too slippery. For indoor use only.

Patent leather, not always a good look.

This is basically the patent leather version of the Adidas shoe above. Although the grip on these is a little better. Still an indoor shoe and for those practitioners who do demonstrations and competitions this would be ideal on a mat. Flash is cash, as they say in the strip clubs. But flash or shine on a martial arts shoe only says one thing about its wearer, looks are more important than usability. The leather is a bit thicker on this model as it is slightly padded. An OK training shoe but not sure it could endure months of hardcore training indoor or outdoor. Pricey as well.

Firepower Shoes.

Um...

The Firepower brand is ususally known for its punching equipment, gear, and bags. I wouldn’t consider them a shoe giant in martial arts by any means. This shoe is basically a cheap knock off of the Adidas. The sole has sharp edges which is not ideal for any martial artists, as most martial artists use all parts of their feet in combat and training. I would make the effort to save a little more money to buy a better quality shoe than settle for these. If you take you’re martial arts for a joke, it’ll come back and haunt you.

Last but not least, Puma.

Puma - Providing International Flavor.

Puma has a nice leather and rubber sole shoe. The overlaying flap is secured by a hook and loop. This makes for an unorthodox style of comfort and support. Padding on the top is good for sparring and bag training. Little comfort around the ankle as the rim is padded slightly. Sleek design, similar to their driving shoe. Different texture grips on the bottom for security on one or two feet. Not necessarily an outdoor shoe, but I don’t have any reason to believe that they wouldn’t hold up. Traction is important, which this shoe has. The tightness of the leather design and extra padding could lessen the room needed for the foot to expand during performance.

Generally, you’re going to want a shoe that is versatile and is comfortable. If you train daily and for longer than average hours, I would go with a canvas shoe. Canvas provides comfort and breath-ability. Canvas is lightweight and durable. Grip is also important, especially on a mat. If you train indoors for a short amount of time, I would go with a leather shoe. The thin rubber soles on the leather kicks works well on gym floors or polished surfaces.

Really study your training regiment and ask yourself what is ideal for what you do. Every shoe offers something unique.

Martial arts shoes have come a long way since the old kung fu movies and are now specialized and highly fashionable. These are just a few I decided to review, there are numerous styles by a number of manufacturers. Do your research as always.

-MR





Straight from the slums of Shaolin

1 12 2009

Back in the summer of 2007, I made a trek deep into China… met with a 33rd Generation Shaolin Warrior Monk who spoke zero English, and my two years of studying Mandarin was survival level at best. Language barrier aside, he proceeded to teach me two forms within the Shaolin Kung Fu catalog. A fist form and a staff form, usually taught to more advanced students. His name is Lu Hai Long. He is my teacher’s teacher.

Monk's Quarters - Inside the Shaolin Temple

The path to my eventual discipleship began back in January of 2006. I had already been practicing a southern style of kung fu known as Choy Li Fut 4 years prior. Until one day, a Shaolin school opened up in Reno, of all places. This is where I met my teacher, Tian Xin – a 34th Generation Shaolin Secular Disciple.

He accepted me as a student and I began my training. Shaolin Kung fu is not like any martial art I have ever encountered. It’s very demanding on the body. Its unforgiving and short cuts lead to injury. This would explain why its the “mother of all martial arts”.

The turn over rate for the school I was at was about a month. Meaning that an average student would come in, try it out for a month and we’d never see them again. There were only a handful of students that came in regularly. This was nice because the classes weren’t full and the training was more like individual lessons. Lots of one-to-one learning opportunities.

I had advanced through the first level curriculum within a 10 month period. It took me 10 months to reach the second level curriculum in what usually takes 2 years generally.

In Shaolin there is no belt system, but first level usually equates to a beginner’s black belt in Tae Kwon Do or Karate. I mean we were doing everything. Punching wood posts, slapping hands over bean bags, pop-ups, falling on our backs, falling on our sides, falling on our arms, the shit was crazy what I was putting my body through. Things you could only imagine or seen in those old kung fu flicks, we were doing.

By this time at the Shaolin Temple in China, they were no longer teaching kung fu by the masses on the monastery grounds. Only to the small group of monks currently living there.

Another quiet day at the temple.

So I trained at a school just down the road from the temple at the Shaolin Shui Ku Xue Xiao – The School at the Shaolin Dam. This was something similar to a military academy for teens, but practicing kung fu all day long. See in China, most adults view kung fu like adults view soccer here in the United States. Something your kids do until they’re about 12 years old and that’s it. You can’t really make a profession out of it and it’s not as popular as ping-pong or basketball.

For them to see me there, an adult foreigner who can speak very little Chinese practicing kung fu was very weird, but they had all the admiration for me because of the love I had for the art form. I think its universal that if you show love and respect for something, especially not of your particular culture and make it your own, you get nothing but love and respect back.

The Chinese are very friendly people and they love the opportunity to practice their English with you or sell you something.

Quick training session.

I was prepared for the training regiment in China because of the way we trained back in the U.S. Everything from holding and throwing around training locks, core and leg training, hours of practice, to cardio exercises and running. Although, I wasn’t prepared for climbing up a rock dam backwards!!! I will never forget the grueling pain I endured for this. When I say I was tested, I really was at a breaking point. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider giving up that morning.

Shaolin River Dam

So I kept on pushing. I definitely didn’t want the word to get out that I was some lazy American just picking and choosing when I felt like training.

I think we all have that moment where we feel it’s just easier to give up on something so we don’t have to feel pain or hurt anymore. I know that there are a lot of things not worth holding on to, which is no big deal. When it comes to dreams and aspirations, things that are attainable over time, we should NEVER give up on.

Since I can remember, I always wanted to learn kung fu. I grew up watching old kung fu movies on the USA Network back in the day. Grew up, lost and found that desire to learn it again and again. If you know anything about old school kung fu movies, the Shaolin Temple was the Mecca and to train there allowed you to say, “I’m official”.

My crew. Don't let their size fool you. They get down!

Today I hold the official title of 35th Generation Shaolin Secular Disciple. My weapon is the staff and my fist form is Da Hong Quan (Big Flooding Fist). My temple name is Shi Heng Lu under the tutelage of Shi Yan Xin and Shi Yong Kan. I still train and I have been granted permission to teach what I have learned.

Shi Yan Xin

Shi Yong Kan

Shaolin Lineage Chart

Map of Shaolin area. Red star denotes the school. Just left up the river is the Shaolin Temple.

Shaolin martial arts is only one aspect of the entire Shaolin culture. A culture that encapsulates philosophy, religion, fashion, martial arts, and overall well-being. It has been popularized by Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema. It should be understood that Shaolin Kung Fu is not for those seeking to attain any kind of material wealth, belts, or prize. The reward for training in Shaolin is self-respect, defense, spirituality, and health. And that’s just scratching the surface. If you are interested in learning traditional martial arts, I suggest doing tons of research to see what it is that you desire. There is something for everyone.

-MR





Meditation

29 11 2009

We’ve all seen it…the image of Buddha sitting legs crossed meditating. We even jokingly emulate this posture in conversation to suggest peace of mind or the notion of Zen. But what are we really witnessing when we see someone in a crossed legged sitting posture? That sitting position is one of the most traditional meditating poses in all of Buddhism and Taoism as passed down by generations of practitioners starting in India way back when.

The day of enlightenment. December 8, 596 BC Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Image shows enlightened Gautama Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree.

The deeper one gets into practicing meditation, more positions are revealed and the practitioner  begins to build a repertoire for meditating. Something to think about while building this list is that, people already have a short list to choose from to meditate. These are things that we do everyday. It could be something as simple as making coffee, mowing the lawn, jogging, listening to music, or riding a bike. There are a number of activities that can put our mind into the initiation process towards meditating. The point of meditating is to think about nothing, clear the mind of all thoughts.

In the world we live in, especially in the Western side of things, its very difficult to eliminate thoughts. So to begin the delete these thoughts, what better way to begin by doing something that requires you to focus on one thing…eventually that one thing becomes so second nature you don’t need to think about doing it.

Through muscle memory we are now just doing. Then the mind is free to erase. 3 thoughts become 2, 2 becomes 1, 1 becomes no thought at all. In time of course.

Here’s a little something from the Buddha himself to help redirect our pre-conceived ideas about meditating…or whatever you can apply it to:

“Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay — (i.e., thinking that thus have we heard it for a long time). Do not accept anything by mere tradition — (i.e., thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations). Do not accept anything on account of mere rumors — (i.e., by believing what others say without any investigation). Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere suppositions. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do not accept anything by merely considering the reasons. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable — (i.e., thinking that as the speaker seems to be a good person his words should be accepted). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (therefore it is right to accept his word).

Big Buddha in Hong Kong

For anyone interested in starting a meditation regiment or just the occasional break from our noisy world, I would definitely suggest learning the basics first. Then apply those basics to your world. For the traditional martial artist, I think its important to understand that traditions are good but not absolute, especially in the world we live in today. Rethink old ways, new ideas.

-MR