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How to Train for Mastery! (pt. 3)


All right! It’s time to finish our list of progressive training concepts that, if followed, will result in incredible skill, amazing fitness and health and mastery of your fighting style. This is where all of our training leads to and if we have been diligent this is our next step to advance our many talents even further and squeeze every ounce of potential possible from our soul. Are you ready to find out where our juice comes from?

I refer to this new category as “Advanced” and toward the end of learning and training these techniques is when it progresses to “Master” level. The material at this point becomes increasingly complex. To a beginner these moves, combinations and coordination seem impossible. This is the level where unnatural skills are developed, sometimes referred to as supernatural skills. In this category the practitioner gains a very high level of advanced control over their body and mind. Spirit training is pushed to such heights the untrained eye is easily tricked into believing they are seeing someone performing feats “out of this world.” The well-trained eye however gets the pleasure of enjoying a person performing to near perfection, like getting to watch an Olympic athlete show off their craft at the peak of their talent and appreciate it only the way one of the judges could. Here is the conclusion of our list.

 Level Seven

Internally this level mixes advanced meditations which deal with very abstract thought and combine them with the forms. For example, “Spiraling Energy” in Tai Chi or “Fa Jing,” the short-distance explosive power like Bruce Lee’s “one-inch punch.  Many of the forms express their power in these more advanced ways.

External training increases as the forms become more physically demanding, longer and include incredibly difficult coordination and advanced combinations of movements. For example, high level Tai Chi or BaGua or advanced styles of weapons like the rope dart.

 Level Eight

Internal training at level eight included advanced knowledge of pressure point applications, targets, chi flow and timing along with combinations. Qigong at this level is very advanced and the “Spirit” training grows to astonishing heights. Mental limits are pushed as the mind grows consistently more focused and strong.

Physically the forms are still growing in size and complexity. They have little or no symmetry and demand increasingly more athleticism from practitioners.

 Level Nine

Internal training can be simmered down to one word at this level, “Spirit.” Everything introduced at this point of the training is focused completely on honing the spirit and creating new strengths and mental capacity. It is truly an exercise of mind expansion from here on out.

The physical forms continue to join in with the spirit training. Now there is very little or no repetition of combinations, no symmetry and their complexity is staggering. One characteristic that becomes more apparent within this category is that the physical and mental training become more difficult to differentiate. The physical forms exercise the mind and the internal arts work the body. They are very nearly interchangeable. This is very different from the beginning of training where there needed to be specific meditations for the internal and exact exercises for the physical skills.

At this level one truly out classes practitioners who haven’t put in the true time and effort (kung fu) in the same capacity as themselves. These people are the ones who inspire the rest, give the beginners hope to stick with it through the difficult times of training and to persevere. These people are the ones who become legends in their schools, in their arts, in their cities, countries and maybe even worldwide. People like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and someday maybe even you!

As always…Thanks for Reading!!

 

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How to Train for Mastery! (pt. 2)


Welcome back! In part two of this article we will continue to discuss the philosophy, hierarchy and progression of material necessary to achieve mastery in kung fu or other similar fighting arts. In the first installment we discussed learning the basics of physical and mental conditioning with exercises for body strength, flexibility and coordination as well as mental focus with simple meditation techniques. All three of the beginning levels are considered basic and develop skills we all ready have to some extint but for the subject of mastery, need to be honed and well-trained to the point they are starting to feel very natural in order to progress to higher degrees of skill. Once there, we move into the next category of training which we catalog as “Intermediate.” So here we go!

The Intermediate branch of training is dependent and stacked on top of your basic skills foundation like building blocks being set one on top of another. At this new level, instead of working to develop natural skills we are all ready familiar with, we begin to introduce much more complex stances, techniques, exercises, drills and coordination which may never be dealt with in our average day to day lives. Due to our strong ground work honing our basics, these skills remain challenging but with a little practice and diligence they become possible and an entire new repertoire of physicality and mental focus become available to us. Let’s jump right in and start adding to our growing list of training philosophy.

Level Four

 At our first intermediate level we begin to introduce much more complicated breathing patterns, abstract thought, intricate visualizations and continued focus to push the mental or internal training even further. Breathing patterns and complex movement are mixed in styles such as Tai Chi and BaGua. This mixture of mental and physical training focus brings an introduction of a new set of training referred to as Spirit Training.

 Spirit training in the beginning is very similar to acting. For example, in the mental (internal) realm we may imagine ourselves surrounded by attackers. We stir up similar emotions for such a situation and our thoughts focus in on strategies, techniques, relaxation and other things necessary for battle. Physically our movements become quick, precise and fluid, moving with accuracy and maybe even desperation at times as we push our limits. As these two are trained together it “pushes” the spirit beyond that of mere mental stimulation or emotion and physical speed and power. It literally trains the “Heart” or “Will” of the fighter. Spirit training is a big subject I plan to write a much more detailed article on in the near future, so stay tuned. This process especially helps in working to create new skills with the chi “cultivation and use” exercises.

 For physical training much more complex short forms often called Tan Tui are introduced which continue to develop many basics but also build more advanced coordination, cardiovascular training and deal with more complex strategies, theories and concepts such as timing and distance. This is also a level where the smaller sized Long Forms are introduced. These forms are usually symmetrical, much larger than simpler one step reaction drills or short forms and push the limits of memory, cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, coordination and other types of conditioning.

Level Five

 Here we expand the internal training with much more complex concepts such as the “Large Circle of Heaven.” This is applied to Tai Chi and BaGua forms taught here as well as well as other meditation and qigong techniques which train the mental focus to new heights.

Physical training increases in intensity with the introduction of medium length long forms, weapons training and animal styles. These animal styles which have made kung fu legendary push the spirit training to new levels as well. A lot of advancement happens here and a very discernible switch from beginner to an advanced level practitioner becomes more apparent.

Level Six

 Internal arts such as Tai Chi, BaGua and Hsing I gain more complexity with the introduction of Martial Intent. This focus changes them from being average qigong exercises to a martial art and develops incredible spirit as the meditation and physical skills are challenged to new heights.

Physical or external training opens even further as new forms have less symmetry and repetition. Forms also build greater conditioning and new skills as the student advances. Another aspect seen here is forms transform from a tendency to defensive in nature to more offensive. This transition is more difficult for the practitioner since the offensive nature requires a greater awareness and skill with concepts like timing, distance and reaction. Strategy becomes much more important and complex so fighting theory is discussed and practiced effectively.

Once this category has been learned and worked on the student becomes quite advanced and skilled in many varieties of exercises, fighting methods and meditations. There is a very distinct change of ability from intermediate toward an advanced level practitioner. Now it’s time to introduce the rare side of training, the systems which increase one’s skills beyond the imagination of most people and when performed for them, may seem super human, extraordinary and borderline miraculous to the untrained eye. These people become the equivilent of the a world class athlete, like an Olympic gold medalist or an undisputed heavy weight boxing champion.

Click Here!…for the final installment of this article dealing with the “Advanced toward Master” level training!

 

And as always…Thanks for reading!

 

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Increasing Skills, Getting Better and Becoming a Master!


When boiled down to its core relevance, the term “Kung Fu” means “mastery through time and effort.” It doesn’t apply solely to martial arts, fitness or health but could relate to absolutely anything we are able to develop skill in, such as cooking, thinking and writing. It immediately implies that great effort is needed to develop skills beyond the ordinary. Sitting on the couch and thinking we are progressing in anything other than sitting, simply doesn’t work. It also implies there is no magic pill in training where we suddenly wake up tomorrow and have the entire martial arts library in our brains and bodies, accessible and ready for use. So far the Matrix doesn’t exist. Becoming elite in anything takes the effort of repetition and the dedicated passing of time to allow those talents to blossom.

When applying this philosophy to martial arts is it really as simple as punching and kicking over and over again, day after day through-out the years and eventually we become masters of technique? The answer of course is yes, but only a master of a very simple set of ideas and principles. The one thing kung fu truly strives for is the essence of a deeper meaning implied within its literal translation; that of mind-body unity. This is where true mastery happens. When we ask the same question of ourselves about punches and kicks over time with a great deal of repetition do we get the same answer? And of course, this time the answer is no.

What is the training focus then, for us to grow as martial artists, athletes and healthy human beings, to allow our skills to develop to such a high level they are truly a mastery of the connection between the mind and body?  How do we begin to develop the correct way so our skills can become legendary in the eyes of the average person?  What is the progression of training that will get us there?  These are all the right questions and here is the method we use in TKF to help you find the right answers.

In our system we have our exercises, techniques, forms and meditations categorized from the most basic understandings of foundational material to very high level training which little by little, builds mind expansion, multi-tasking and physical demand. One feeds off the other, so as the mind grows stronger the body is able to step up another level of skill and vice-versa. Using these principles they mind and body skills “stair step” off each other and support each others growth. In the middle, holding the two together is what I refer to as “spirit” training, which is a topic for a future article.

To implement this training for every student, TKF material is divided into three categories each of which has three divisions within it for a total of nine very discernible levels of training. Each of the three categories have specific goals which are repeated and built upon throughout all three of their levels. Each category also addresses not only physical skills of conditioning, endurance and strengthening the body but also training and honing the skills of the mind through meditation, memorization, abstract thought and visualization.

Today let’s discuss the first category, the beginner or basic skill builders, and its three levels of training.

In this realm of training all three levels deal with the basic skills for continued training and growth. Strength, flexibility, cardiovascular, reflexes and mental calmness are taught and trained, to name a few. Most movements are symmetrical and the majority of the skills being developed are improvements on natural skills. For example not just standing but teaching the “correct” way to stand, not just punching but teaching the “correct” method. Mentally or internal training is also simple. Meditations and breathing patterns are repetitious and easy to comprehend but taught so one is doing them in a specific way…”not just breathing.” Again, natural skills, just done a specific way to lay the foundation so greater things may be accomplished later. This is easily the most important category. Fundamentals are key. You may be the best chef in the world, having created the best soup recipe ever known to mankind, but if you have the worst ingredients to cook with no one will ever know. Spend the time and work on ingredients so they are the highest quality. The highers levels depend completely on them just as a tower depends on a strong and sturdy foundation to base itself on. If there is any weakness once build the whole thing crumbles to the ground and all the training and building starts again.

Level One

Mental or internal training at this level develops correct breathing techniques and simple meditation to help refine the process of “chi cultivation.”  Again we already breath and take in energy from the air, we simply train to do it as efficiently as possible at this level. This is done with basic breathing patterns, single posture meditations (seated, standing, etc…) and very simplistic memorization.

Physical training here is often conditioning drills and stances such as “horse and bow” stance training, stretching, squats, sit-ups and push-ups etc… Again often they are symmetrical exercises which promote strength, flexibility, reflexes and coordination we may all ready have but need to improve. Quite often this level may seem boring because it is so simple and repetitious which is why it is frequently neglected but at advanced levels it’s great for warming the body and mind up. If these skills are often revisited and trained as one learns much more advanced techniques, the lower ones show drastic improvements and may be increased to seemingly super human levels, becoming the most incredible ingredients for our soup imaginable!

Level Two

 Each level is essentially a step or jump up of intensity by making things a little more difficult to grasp, perform, memorize and accomplish. Here the internal training develops the skill of “using” chi energy. Again we all ready naturally breath and use that air for many things but we teach methods to focus this energy use and make it more streamlined. An example of this may be visualizing this energy with in our body and “carrying” it from one area of our body to another. This is the most basic form of energy use which we develop a much higher level of later.

Our physical training also leaps forward with more forceful martially focused skills such as punching and kicking drills either into the air, against shields or focus mitts and possibly a suspended heavy bag. Correct technique is focused on to help keep the body healthy and injury free as well as promoting correct structure and alignment so the greatest amount of power is developed. Remember martial basics are the most important to work on and in a real confrontation they are actually the skills which work best no matter how advanced and complex the material one knows. During the chaos and violence of real life on the street, it’s the simplicity of the basics which are the most efficient.

Level Three

 Once the skills of this training level are developed the well practiced beginner may move forward with their training to the Intermediate category and continue their advancement toward mastery. Here the internal training introduces the tool of “color” visualization around specific points while cultivating and using chi. Often times the new skills will stack on top of the old ones and work in unison with them liked chords on a piano. In level one we learned the “C”, two the “E” and now we are playing the “G” simultaneously to complete a chord. Later on as new “notes” or skills are learned we play different chords which compliment the originals we learned and create a chord progression of training.

In addition to color visualization, new areas of the body and specific focal points are introduced  during meditation, for example, the “small circle of heaven” which is a pathway up and down the front and back of the body’s center line, dividing our left and right sides symmetrically, and has a lot of importance in many meditations and internal arts and qigong or energy training postures learned here.

Physical training takes advances in large degrees as well in the form of linking the skills previously learned and creating “techniques” which help continue training coordination, understanding of the movements and endurance among other things. We call these techniques fighting combos, chin na, one step reactions etc…

The training is now starting to borderline the intermediate level and has become a little more complex in movement, coordination and memorization and a little less repetitive but remains fairly simple so basic skills are still being utilized. Again all three of these levels work together and skills are easy to mix and match to help develop one another. I hope you take this level seriously and train well here, then you can join my “Basics are the Best” club and share the rewards they give us at the highest levels of our training!

CLICK HERE for the continuation of this article as I list through the next category and its focal points for training towards ultimate mastery of the martial arts.

And as always…Thanks for reading!

 

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Yin and Yang; As Easy As “Black and White?”


Whether you have heard of Yin and Yang or the philosophical concept of duality or not we are all naturally familiar with the idea of things being “black or white” and having “gray” areas. A meditation on Yin and Yang can be exhilarating and stimulating all at once and with a little more effort, may even change our perception of things and the way we judge and react. Well worth looking into.

Before we talk about yin and yang we should mention a phase called Wu Wei. Wu wei precedes the phase of yin and yang. It is the beginning, full, whole and all-inclusive. It contains everything, all that exists, like the universe before the big bang. Then it splits in two and yin and yang are born. Unlike the universe though Wu wei is a concept. There was no moment in time where it physically split and “became” a state of yin and yang. The two phases exist together along with others at the same time.

Picture a baseball. The entire object we see is referred to as the ball and this is Wu wei, but at the same time we can break the ball into parts. Top and bottom, inside and out, skin and stitches, whites and reds. This “breaking-down” of the concept into individual parts begins the process of other phases. The next one which follows Wu wei is the simplest. A phase which talks of opposites, contradictions, and things being in states of “black and white.” This is Yin and Yang, but could there be more to this phase of perception than simply seeing two polar sides of a coin?

Lets look at a classic example of opposite we use all the time, the sun and moon. One representing day, heat, action and an awakened state while the other is dark, cool, and restful. On a very simple pass though their qualities the sun represents growth, light and life while the moon gets stuck with hibernation, darkness and death. This is our own perception drawing lines and making rules for ourselves though. Creating guidelines of sorts to be able to compare and contrast things against. It is possible however, even though these seem to be conflicting opposites, they may also work complimentary toward each other.

For instance if there is no break from the sun everything would dry up, the heat would be unbearable, we would suffer severe burns on our skin. Crops would die, droughts would create deserts everywhere and our image of the life-giving sun would change. Suddenly night would be our salvation, giving us a break from the endless, blinding heat. So even though we owe our lives to the heat, and light of the sun, it is only a portion for without a break we would all perish just as quickly as if we had no sun at all. So even though we initially looked at the sun as the “Yang” side of the spectrum, we can also look solely at the sun and break it into its own yin and yang components.

We can even go further and look at the sun’s qualities and give them individual yin and yang characteristics. If we look at the dangerous side which is so hot it burn us with its incessant heat we can find both yin and yang aspects of characteristics. Sunburns might be a bad aspect of side of the sun’s qualities while evaporating excess water and keeping floods from happening might be a good one.

Then our meditation can continue deeper and deeper erasing one of these and taking the other and splitting it into its two possibilities. Try it sometime! One can get very deeply immersed into some very interesting thought with this process. Thinking about compassion, life, competition, work, love, war etc… There are countless things this meditation can drive a deeper understanding and appreciation of. It is thought-provoking and expanding for the mind to create opportunities in this way.

 Best of luck with your meditations and as always…………Thanks for reading!

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Increase the Success of Your New Year’s Resolutions!


How often do you begin a New Year’s resolution with great intent and focus only to become unmotivated, frustrated and feeling like a complete failure? When the new year rolls around it has that “clean slate” feeling. A time of new beginnings, fresh starts and motivation. Our intentions are always good when we create new resolutions so why do they so often turn to disaster? Maybe we need a fresh perspective on resolutions.

To keep chaos and lack of motivation from taking over and wrecking all our new year plans make sure to look at the resolutions to see if they are something we truly want. All too often we focus on the negative when creating ideas for projects. Don’t focus on the bad, like “I’m fat,” “I’m out of shape,” or “I’m broke.” Instead focus on things we are passionate about that will simultaneously help with the negative side of things. For instance if we feel out of shape instead of reinforcing that by saying so, make a goal to do something about it.

If we are passionate about riding our new bike say “I’m going to ride 80 miles on my bike by May.” This is a great. It gets us passionate about training on our bike and sets a lofty, but reachable goal that will be fun and give us something to boast about and we will no doubt, feel much better when accomplished. We won’t be able to focus on how “out of shape” we are when we are in the middle of this training. Most importantly it will get us in a habit of training and accomplishing a consistent regimen of working out. It is motivating and fun.

Another way to help improve the success of our resolutions is allowing for a little disruption. Don’t expect to have things go all peachy from the get go. Allow for a bit of a rough start but stick to your guns and keep up the work. Remember it isn’t about today, it’s about the progress your training today will give you. Look to the future and aim for that. I see people too often wait for the January 1 deadline and then start off at a sprint in their resolutions only to burn out and fade away. Take action but focus on the long run and pace yourself. Don’t get frustrated and give up early on. Take difficulties into account and understand things will get in your way. Reinforce your passion and motivate yourself to continue on.

Another way I improve my success to accomplish my resolutions is practice! I don’t sit back and do nothing until January first and then explode out of the gates like a bursting dam. I take the week after Christmas once things settle down a bit and I start into my practice early. I get the soreness out-of-the-way. I figure out my routine which works with my lifestyle. Most importantly I’m not to hard on myself because it is just “practice.” I allow for a lazy day and I experiment with what works and doesn’t. I get all the cobwebs cleared and it allows for me to start with a better focus and motivation once the new year arrives. I don’t run into near as many hangups and difficulties because many of them have all ready been worked out. Another great byproduct I have found with this is it motivates family members and roommates around me and they get started early and enjoy the end of the year doing something fun, productive and healthy.

 

Best of luck in the new year…….and as always…..Thanks for reading!  

 

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