Owl and Snake Soup

Owl And Snake Soup!

I was shocked to return home from an outing on a visit to my relatives in China to find four dead owls lying on the kitchen floor.Once I regained composure, I realized the honor of the specialty dish that was about to be bestowed on me. My ‘endangered species’ consciousness objected to the owls’ deaths, but I also thought that having an owl skull supported the Chinese belief that one takes on the traits of an animal eaten. Markets throughout China are filled with beautiful animals sold as food. My relatives thought well of my wanting the skeleton but my friends have reactions that range from fascination to polite aversion. How does my relatives’ kind gesture relate to kung fu?

Kung fu developed through generations of effort and war strategies.Techniques were refined as people fought and died for their communities and countries. Yet, as the logo of my teacher Adam Hsu’s school states, “The goal of kung fu is to stop the fight.” Among the scope of modernfighting technologies, is the ancient martial art of kung fu effective for defense of the self, community, country?

Kung fu is a complete workout to balance the body, mind and spirit (BMS)and to resolve one’s inner aggressions. Stress or tension from a misunderstanding, reading a newspaper or watching TV can upset the BMS equilibrium. People study kung fu for its athleticism, beauty, traditional culture, self defense and just for the allure of learning to fight.

The owl and snake are natural enemies who prey on each other and other animals. When they encounter each other and fight, we understand the protective instinct. If you observe animals as I enjoy doing, you will see their aggressive interplay. But if we are more evolved than animals, why do we fight? Why do we demonstrate aggression?

The media focuses on negative news and the entertainment industry glamorizes aggression and violence. These types of images contribute to confusion, fear and misconceptions. But the real fight is internal. It is our human challenge to maintain in balance the freedom and grace that our lives are capable of.

Ideally, we are content at home, work or school. But if not, if you find yourself driving or walking aggressively, waking up groggy or ornery, saying regrettable things, drinking and eating excessive amounts of alcohol or sweets, counter these signs of BMS imbalance. Drop your newspaper, turn off your television, stop fighting with yourself and others and try a kungfu workout.

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

Eastern Sun Western Moon

When the student is ready the teacher will appear. This saying could be how I’ve lived for decades. Each appearance of excellent teachers has guided my fortunate path.

After decades of being a student, the transition from being the dutiful apprentice to the truth of my own role as a teacher is challenging and enlightening Life can be de- fined by whom you’re surrounded by. When the teacher is ready the student will appear.

Shifu Adam Hsu is my principle kung fu teacher and the one who encouraged me to teach on my own. He is a traditional martial artist and a professor of classical Chinese literature. Classes were three to four hours long and held in Golden Gate Park and at his home. Training was thorough, challenging, and influenced the basis of how I currently teach. A wonderful teacher and mentor, he continues to advise and support me through my journey.

As a female instructor one of my challenges in teaching is the transition from one who listens to one who is heard. Shifu displays a certain gruffness while teaching, barking out corrections like a military general. When I first started, I tried teaching the way I was taught. I thought how I learned was the only correct way. Shifu was an incredible teacher. The confused response from students not only surprised me, but also further exposed my need to unlock my own style of teaching.

When I first began teaching I thought that as a woman I would attract mainly female students. In fact, m y class in the park is made up of male students. Women can especially excel in our kung fu style because a considerable amount of physical strength is developed from the legs and hips. Given their ability to give birth, their hips are about the strongest part of their bodies; therefore they are likely to have the fortitude to thrive with this training.

Instructing kung fu basics at San Francisco State University has been another avenue for me to explore teaching. The classes are evenly coed and many of the students are totally new to kung fu. Initially the college students are energetic and enthused. A few out of hundreds have stayed with me long term. Interestingly enough, most of them lasted as long as the semester did. Although I saw many students with potential to develop further, I learned that all too often a teacher’s role is to plant seeds and move on.

Most of my opportunities to teach and train with other women have come thanks to organizations such as the Pacific Association of Women Martial Artist, the National Women’s Martial Art Federation, and Feminist International SpecialTraining. They support the need for the self-empowerment of women of all ages and backgrounds and enable them to experience martial arts without intimidation. Many of the pioneer women who have attended these camps broke the barriers of what was once male-dominated genre. Women-owned schools are flourishing and are inspirations and models for me to follow.

Historically it is understood that tradition, through the hard work and experience of those centuries before us, refined the art that we practice today. Lives of skillful predecessors and other ancestors were sacrificed for the traditional kung fu we presently practice. They cultivated kung fu for survival and the consequence of death was a highly motivating factor. Since I am from a Chinese- American background, accepting this traditional aspect is inherent in me.

As a student I was motivated to maintain a four-to six- hour daily training regimen in order to constantly refine the highly sophisticated movements that had been taught to me by a very gifted teacher. As a contemporary teacher I also use a variety of motivating factors and opportunities for students to participate in without fear or judgment. They are encouraged to creatively learn from their peers with different interactions including one-on-one and small and large groups. Teaching is a precious gift. It enables me to express and share attitudes, perceptions and feelings with students and learn the truth of ourselves from one to another.

Eastern Sun Western Moon was published in Canadian Woman Studies Magazine 2002

The Way of Kung Fu

The Sword Polisher’s Record The Way of Kung-fu by Adam Hsu

The Sword Polisher’s Record: The Way of Kung Fu by Adam Hsu, is a very insightful book about the history and art of kung fu. “Kung Fu” actually means time and hard work. Training is thorough and challenging and tests the patience of most students. It is a very beautiful and graceful. It has also survived through thousands of years of sweeping change which proves how enduring kung fu is. I find it amusing how Hsu describes Kung Fu and how beautiful it is and then look at our class and think about all the practice and disciple we need to master this “art”.

Kung fu, to Hsu, is the most difficult excellent form of exercise that can prevent illness, create a better life and longevity. Hsu says that there are two parts to kung fu: Yun and Dong. Dong is movement, action, and mobility. However, you can’t have Dong without Yun. Yun is internal, meaning breathing, circulation, and focus. The standard national Chinese wushu skips the Yun and it is described as Chinese Ballet. You can’t have one without the other. You need the outward and the inward which looks at your body and soul. Yun and Dong work together simultaneously, not against each other.

Yun and Dong share all the same features as Yin and Yang. Most people believe Yin and Yang are hard to fathom, but instead they are an integral part of out daily life. Most people find it really hard to understand Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang is the theory that the universe is full of opposites and that there is a dynamic cycle of creation and destruction. There is always continual process of change, which is represented by the curvy line in the middle of the circle. Not only do Yin and Yang always interact, but Yin
also contains Yang and Yang contains some Yin. The movements in Kung Fu contain aspects of Yin and Yang. The moves start close to the body (the Yin) and move outward (the Yang). The moves are all continues, going back and forth towards and away from the body.

There are many building blocks to Kung Fu. Horse Stance builds a very strong foundation. Empty legs stance is the starting point for all kicks. Kicks do not need the arms for balance and the entire body finishes moving at the same time. Both fists hit the target and the punches come from the spine. You must manage different parts of your body simultaneous and not on a specific area. You most always keep breathing. Breathing is your energy and you should never hold it in. You should always breathe with your nose.

The body is a single moving unit in Kung Fu. The strength of power starts at the ankles, moves up through the leg, into the hips, to the shoulder, and down the arm, to the fist. This is called Chan Si Jin, Reeling Silk Energy. Spiraling movements rather than straight ones.

Forms are a great way of learning the movements of Kung Fu. Forms are a variety of connected movements with challenging transitions. Forms are a complete and necessary element of a complete kung fu education.

This was a really good book that taught me a lot about kung fu and the history and art of it. It was cool to read about all the aspects of kung fu: Yun and Dong, Yin and Yang, the building blocks, and body movement and at the same time perform those things in class.