A Mirror For Me to See My Life

The first couple of years I focused on the Islamic Style Long fist. At that time it was the basic style that Sifu Hsu recommended because its open, expansive movements and strong stances provided a strong foundation for leaning other styles. I spent the first year on tan tui, ten lines of basic kicks and punches in combination. The sequence of movements was easy to learn because I had many years of experience in learning forms. But that experience became a detriment, and my instruction in the first three years of class was ‘to wash away my old habits.’ I had to clean up my movements from my previous style, or I would never capture the pure flavor of the Islamic Style Long Fist. Undertaking the physical and psychological change of style was slow and difficult. I had to drop everything I learned but maintain my self-discipline. It was hard to let go of the style that I had spent so much time and effort learning, and I didn’t always see or understand how my movements were wrong with the new style.

Sifu Hsu’s teaching style was completely different from what I was used to…..He made the analogy that kung fu training was like the difference between a fast food restaurant and a fine French restaurant. I didn’t always understand comparative stories, but the point he always made was that there are no short cuts in kung fu. We had to practice harder and then harder again.

I remember feeling happy to learn pao chuan, the second level of Long fist, having something to bite into. I learned the form quickly and it gave me a sense of accomplishment. Soon I learned that with this attitude, I wouldn’t last long in class. My form at this point as like a roughly chiseled statue in need of details and features. I didn¹t realize I was at the beginning of a long road to refinement. The hard workouts, trying to coordinate my body, arms, and legs to do several things at once, seemed never ending. The depth of the form demands that the movements be done with athletic strength and agility while keeping the subtle details of the traditional usage intact. This element in form training is often missing and replace with movements that are flowery, empty and weak. With a heavy heart, Sifu Hsu would explain, ‘If the direction of kung fu continues with this misunderstanding, traditional martial arts will vanish and may be lost forever.’ As the importance of this concept became clear, the focus of my kung fu practice began to change. I’ve learned to look beyond my self interest and support universal growth of Chinese culture, traditional Chinese kung fu in particular. In other words, I’ve lost my innocent thinking that I could practice kung fu just for the love of it. Sifu Hsu’s continued passion to preserve traditional kung fu compels me to become responsible and take part to do the same.

After learning cha chuan, the third level of Long fist, it was evident that I didn’t have the leg strength to execute the advance Long fist techniques properly. Sifu recommended that I expand my training with Chen Tai Chi because its flavor was compatible with Long fist. My legs experienced boring sensations I never what to repeat. The long form of Chen Tai Chi has seventy-two movements. The first level of training is to hold each posture for three or more deep breaths, and the form takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete. The training process to build the endurance to practice the form this way was long, slow, and excruciating, another intense lesson that there are no short cuts in kung fu.

The slow, careful movements of Tai Chi Chuan ideally act in your body like a coil, able to contract or expand at different speeds in a spiraling motion like a spring. This method of issuing power is called ‘reeling silk.’ Having your mind and intent (yi) fully in the moment of Tai Chi movements develops deep concentration and focus, practical skills necessary in daily life.

We practice a series of eight static postures called the ba shi. As long as I’ve been in class, the ba shi has been the moment of truth. I could always feel the condition of my legs while holding these meditative postures. The eight stances are done on the left and right legs, coming back to and transferring from the 50-50 horse stance with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Deep, slow breaths are counted and focused in the dan tian area below the navel to cultivate and sink one’s chi.

I used to dread the moment when we had to do the eight stances. My attitude was terrible immature and negative. I felt miserable and sorry for myself being forced into doing such a monotonous, boring and painful exercise. Internally my biggest weaknesses of being moody and inconsistent would surface. But as much as I resisted doing the stances in my mind, I always felt better and stronger after I did them. After probably three or four years, I became stronger, was able to feel calm and relaxed, and looked forward to doing the stances as meditation. Now I feel It’s an absolute necessity to do them because it’s the most effective leg training to build muscle and ligament strength and develop the proper body alignment needed for more complex movements in advanced form. Not only has the ba shi helped me physically, but I’ve become less moody and more consistent in life.

Bagua influenced me in a different way than Long fist or Tai Chi. The unusual extreme body twist that’s required felt uncomfortable and awkward at first. I didn¹t really like it because the movements felt so weird. My feet, ankles, and knee felt tangled and my thighs felt getting into each other’s way. . .When I thought I was twisted to the max, Sifu would say, ‘Turn more!’ That was only the beginning standing and square walking stage. When I started walking the circle, my eyes ached because everything kept moving. When I stopped, I’d be dizzy and have a headache. . . Now when I practice bagua, I feel the twisting action massage my organs and lubricate my joints.

Sifu Hsu often talks about having the right kung fu attitude and incorporating it into your lifestyle everyday. He also has a uniquely discrimination eye for details in kung fu movements. His depth of understanding and ability to meticulously interpret movements requires one to relentlessly strive for detail in form and take brutally honest corrections with humility and an egoless mind. . . . . ‘Face the truth,’ is a favorite quote from Sifu Adam Hsu. That’s a hard virture to follow but one that is most rewarding. My practice has become my reflection, a mirror for me to see my life. Sifu is always pushing his students to stretch to find the truth and face a clear and honest picture of themselves.

Exerpt from the anthology Women in the Martial Arts,
Edited by Carol A. Wiley
North Atlantic Books 1992