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A Speck of Gold

 

Gold Mountain Kung Fu Chen Taiji

Kung fu. It’s a martial art, a means for self defense. It’s a form of exercise. It is also a way of life. In practicing kung fu, learning never stops, and you must be prepared to face this long journey. But facing this journey, you also learn things about yourself, you learn to recognize and over come your weaknesses. You learn perseverance and that any shortcomings you may encounter are merely temporary, and that with hard work and patience they slowly disappear. This translates into everyday life as well. Anything can become kung fu with the right attitude, and what you once thought were limitations become opportunities for growth.

by DALLAS TAYLOR on JUNE 22, 2014

Settling into my Kung Fu Practice

Beautiful Gold Mountain Kung Fu Morning

Weather and time permitting, I like to walk home through the park after practice. The walks serves as both a physical and mental transition. Space to meditate and reflect on my practice.

I came to kung fu with the expressed intent of building a sustainable practice. With years of martial arts training under my belt – Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Cuong Nhu and Judo – I knew what I needed in a dojo. At this point in my life, kung fu is the right fit for many reasons.

I appreciate that there is no ranking system. It isn’t about earning the next stripe or belt. As students, we are encouraged to work collaboratively and teach one another. Everyone has something to share and contribute to my practice. It is important to me that we have a strong community due to the fact that many of my classmates have been training with Sifu Valarie for over a decade.

Our dojo is Golden Gate Park and we practice our forms in a grove of towering trees. I find myself meditating on the rippling surface of a nearby stream during our endurance training. Discipline and endurance have taken on new shades of meaning as I tend to both my physical and mental health through kung fu. As I grow and change, I am learning how to move and accommodate my practice. In many ways, kung fu has allowed me to become reacquainted with my aging body. I continue to settle into my own skin and bones, accepting the shifting boundaries of time and ability.

Taiwan

Giant Spear 1999, Taiwan
Giant Spear 1999, Taiwan
Beautiful Taiwan Colors

 

Madrid, Spain

Day 6

From our hotel, we walked to the Plaza de Espana and took photos with the statue of Don Quijote’s creator, Cervantes by Lorenso Coullaut-Valera. A mini bus tour took us to the heart of Old Madrid. There we shopped for fans, hats and other souvenirs in the Plaza Major. Our plan was to meet up with Jose and his wife and to our surprised we bumped into them in the Plaza! Jose had arranged a lunch with his Dad. The Spanish are incredible host with a great appreciation for good food and drink. Jose¹s father treated us to a delectable five course feast with a different wine for each savory dish. We walked our full bellies off and had a Spanish siesta. We ended our night at a traditional Flamenco called Restaurant Torres Bermejas. There Flamico we experienced the deep passion and intensity of the Spanish music and dance culture.

Day 7

This morning we walked to the palace for another photo opportunity. Although there were many sights that we wanted to visit, we had a limited amount of time. We chose to see the Plaza De Toros. There were no bull fights, but we did get to tour the museum. We spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with a European martial arts magazine editor. After this brief visit to the Spanish capital, we returned to Barcelona to our hotel along La Rambla.

Day 8

That morning, Shifu was busy with kung fu interviews and other business. Dan Farber my classmate also visiting from San Francisco, and I took advantage of the free time to visit museums. Museu Picasso Barcelona’s most visited museum, occupies three medieval stone mansions. The collection starts on the first floor with sketches and doodles from his earliest years. His developmental stages of mastery goes up throughout the second floor. Finally on the top floor is a series of lithographs done in Picasso’s last years. Next we ventured to the Museu Barbier-Muellerd’Art Pre-colombi. This museum holds one of the most prestigious collections of pre-Columbian art in the world. Lastly the Museu Textil i d’Indumentaria, contained local embroidery and items of clothing from the 16th century to the present. In the afternoon we met up with Shifu and Dr. Su to tour Gaudi’s famous unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, and my favorite, his garden city, Parc Guell. That evening we traveled up to the Marti -Codolar Seminario for our mountain retreat.

After our arrival, we had a general meeting to discuss the schedule and rules and regulations of the cooperative living situation in the monastery. The students also had a chance to ask Shifu about Thunder style taiji. He said that there are two systems. One system has a 1st form where one is preparing oneself, like saving money in a bank. The Cannon Fist form has application, giving the practitioner the ability to fight, like using the money saved to travel to Barcelona. Shifu’s system has one form with ten levels, starting with level 1 linking, level 2 circling, level 3 turning, etc. In closing that night his words were ‘If you think you know something about Kung fu think again. If you think you¹re working hard, sweating and improving your Kung fu, think again. If you¹re getting written about, and winning tournaments, and you think you are improving, think again.’

Day 9

After breakfast at 8, we wandered throughout the beautiful surrounding grounds and enjoyed the fresh mountain air. From 930-130, the pace of the Pao Chui workshop was slow and meticulous. The whole morning was spent on the first five movements of the form. During this session, Shifu taught the Taiji Qi Gong training, focused breathing while holding postures. For instance, we hold the posture jing gong dao chui, (a thousand catties pounds the ground) concentrating at three major points of our body. We focus our first breath on the acupuncture point Bai Hui (one hundred gathering) on the top of the head. Imagine the top of a triangle there with the bottom at your dan tien. Our second breath is on Zhong Men in the middle of the chest between the nipples. his point is the top of a triangle whose base is formed by your feet. The third breath is at the dan tian just below the navel. A triangle from there extends deep into the earth. The idea is to sink downward with each breath using the triangle to also expand outward toward your limbs.

This training nourishes three important fundamental sustances that support our health and well being. One is Jing, translated as essence. This substance is thought to be fluidlike and is the basis of reproduction and developement. Two is Qi, the source of all movement in the body and accompanies all movement. It also protects and warms the body. Shen the third substance, is best translated as spirit. If Jing is the source of life, and Qi the ability to activate and move, then Shen is the vitality behind Jing and Qi.

After lunch we walked around the back gardens where there were more fountains and ponds. After a short rest, Shifu and I worked on Lian Huan Chuan in the back gardens, while Dr. Su taught his lohan kung fu from 4 to 8.

Linking palms(Lian Huan Chang) movements are freer. Movements are all palms, all not regulated but must follow regulation. When we speak of our palms in kung fu, it is both palms connected together across the upper body acting together as one. At this point our long fist practice has matured. Now our writing has a quick and easy style, but like a doctors prescription, it¹s not always easy to read. Without predetermined arrangements of fighting techniques our kung fu movements can take care of an unpredictable opponent.

Dinner was at 830 and we ate quickly. Shifu’s chin na (seizing and grabbing) workshop was from 930-1130! Shifu learned his chin na from his first kung fu teacher Sifu Han Ching Tang. Of the three popular kung fu techniques, kicking and punching, takedowns, and seizing and grabbing, Shifu thinks that the latter is the most difficult to execute. Many books have been written about chin na, highly praising the effectiveness of this technique. Often these books include photos and explanations which clearly define how to properly seize and grab an opponent. A vital element often overlooked in the books is the footwork. One cannot properly transition from one chin na movement to another without good footwork. With this in mind, we carefully practiced both the chin na techniques and our footwork. We all slept soundly after this very long day.



We celebrated the end of our trip with a wonderful feast hosted by Carlos Garcia Garcia. As usual the food and wine were delicious and plentiful. We each toasted our new friends and said our goodbyes. The next day, our Spanish friends escorted us to the airport. I was eager to return home but sad to leave this beautiful country and its warm and hospitable people. Although our cultures and languages were different, we were all able to communicate though our common passion for kung fu.Day 10 – On the morning of our last workshop, Shifu incorporated the taiji gong practice in the Chan Tse (reeling silk) basics and the first five movements. ‘Hu xi’, a full breath is, ‘yi hu yi dong’ one deep exhale and ‘yi xi yi dong’ one deep inhale. Breathing in this manner is the difficult part of training because it requires mental as well as physical discipline. As Shifu showed us more movements of the pao chui form, the tempo changed. The movements were slow, medium, rapid, and in combinations of these speeds at different parts of the form. He emphasized the importance of letting the body lead the arm movements from the spine. By the end of the workshop we had eighteen moves of the pao chui form to work with. The Spaniards were excited to incorporate their new found knowledge and techniques into their existing practice.