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

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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





Enter The Dragon

25 11 2009

…My mission for this blog is to “re” -educate, introduce, focus, evaluate, do, think, the Way of the traditional martial artist. By this I mean, changing the overall attitude and perspective of new students, practitioners, and teachers…Bruce Lee once mentioned, and I paraphrase this loosely, that studying a form or a kata will pose restrictions to the practitioner in concern to physical movement. I believe he was referring to the mind of the practitioner as well.

Of course, this is not to say throw out everything that one has learned or ignore the fact that one must learn the basic building blocks for any martial art. My goal here is to expose as much martial arts knowledge and culture to as many interested people as possible. Because at the end of the day, the overall big picture of traditional martial arts culture – from obscure martial arts, weaponry, clothing, and everything in between, is dying.

The popularity of non-traditional martial arts has grown due to MMA type combat…but culturally speaking this is only one aspect of the arts that is being payed any attention to. This is why There are over 600 martial arts schools in Las Vegas, NV. and only 8-10% of those schools are traditional. The rest are MMA style schools. Whatever your opinion about MMA and other styles of martial arts, know that there is an unbalanced anomaly for what is being passed down to future generations of martial artists.

We’re living in a world now where learning traditional martial arts has dropped to the bottom of the list for “things to do”. With the economy blah blah blah…expendable incomes are vanishing.

And when the money is there… the question is, what does the prospective student want to learn? Here in the U.S. there are a number of attributes that help answer this question.  In a research paper written by Joseph P. McNamara – The Effects of Modern Marketing on Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Arts, he claims,

“Martial arts marketing tends to focus upon the physical aspects of the
practice, reflecting society’s sensationalization of violence. As
a result, the philosophical components of early martial arts disciplines
have been largely forgotten. As Zhang put it, “Everybody wants to
learn to fight. Nobody wants to learn real gongfu3.”
(2006). This is especially true of the multitude of martial arts sites
which focus upon drawing in as many students as possible to sustain a
strong business model.”

Read entire paper here.

Martial Arts is a business… This is where I step into the picture..When has learning an ancient art form passed down from generation to generation ever been a business??

Welcome to my blog. Enter The Dragon.

-MR