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A Return to Kung Fu

This post was obviously written months ago, just after Chinese New Year activities. However, the post prior to this, the CNY Tell-All, took so long to write (mainly video editing) that it pushed back the release of this post. Sorry 🙁

Today we have a guest post by returning Northern Shaolin Kung Fu student, Justin Ford. Passionate and determined, Justin is not just a great student, but an outstanding young man all-around. Meet Justin, through this post, and get a feeling of why we love him and the Kung Fu we do. Oh! And check out his previous post, Change.

Thanks, Justin!

Tan Tui Application - Head Wrap
Tan Tui Application - Head Wrap

Kung Fu Class Outline

  • Before class
  • Bow in / Warm up
  • 5 Minutes of…
  • Applications and Forms
  • Line drill
  • Iron Pole
  • Bow out
  • Epilogue

Before Class

It’s good to be back! That is what I think each time I come to class, even if the last time I was in class wasn’t that long ago. Simply going a few days without kung fu seems absurd.

This was the first Sunday class we had held in a bit (we did not hold class the previous two Sundays due to bad weather and having to perform for Chinese New Year) and so before training began, the three of us taking class took a moment to catch up with each other.

We talked about many different things, both about kung fu things and non-kung fu things:

  • How Chinese New Year went for each of us and the performances the school did
  • The brand new broom we recently got to clean with
  • The life of slugs and how many dead slugs littered the training area
  • Hiring birds to get rid of said dead slugs for us
  • Realizing we have a brand new broom to clean the slugs with 🙂

Every chat before class has the casualness and humor of a family just hanging out with each other, today’s chat being no exception. However, it was time to begin training.

Bow in / Warm Up

We started our martial arts class the usual way: with Sifu Craig giving us a standard salute to open with and then passing the three bows off to the senior most student in class. As per usual, the senior student kept the class and led us all through the standard start to most of our warm up routines: rotating each joint, starting at the head and traveling down from there.

While we were getting warmed up, Sifu Craig shared some news with us: One of his early teachers had passed away recently (Henry Poo Yee of Kwongsai Jook Lum Southern Praying Mantis).

In the 武林 Wǔlín (Martial Forest or Kung Fu Community), it is traditional to pay tribute to somebody who has passed away by training some of their style in class. Sifu Craig gave us the heads up that we would be doing just that in an upcoming class sometime soon.

Once we had finished getting our joints ready, we realized something else. We were now in the month of March! We have been cycling what we do each month for warm ups and this month we had the Animal set. We had just entered a brand new month and so the rest of our routine changed.

We finished up our warm ups and switched to our circuit drill. Realizing more space would be beneficial however, we moved our stuff (bags, phones, waters, etc.) to the backyard.

Our circuit drill consisted of:

  • Palm rotations, a method of conditioning your forearm muscles and tendons
  • A stance drill done backwards, shifting from one stance to the next as you retreat
  • Cat pushups, a variation of push ups done diving down from an upright straddle leg position
  • Once more, the stance drill

After completing the cycle of exercises three times, we wrapped up with some Qi Gong, breathing exercises with a WIDE variety of benefits.

The Qi Gong we did in class was called Inhale Three Directions. It was a wonderful way to work in after working out with the circuit drill, a way to control our breath and energy and refocus our minds.

We took a brief break. Some of us sat down and some of us grabbed something to drink. We brewed tea and found humor in seeing our preferences being reflected in the kinds of tea we had left. Very few people had been drinking the “Women’s Energy” tea and so there was an abundance of it left.

We wrapped up our giggles and rest session and settled into a circle. Knees touching, we all dropped into our Ma Bu or Horse Stance and began speaking Mandarin Chinese. Our focus here was more on conversational Chinese words and phrases rather than the typical numbers or basic sounds we usually work on.

你好Nǐ hǎo” We would greet. Hello.

We would follow that with 你好嗎Ni hao ma?How are you?

In return, 我很好謝謝Wǒ hěn hǎo. Xièxiè.I am good. Thanks.

你呢Nǐ ne?” We would tag on. And you?

After a few minutes of Horsing Around as we like to call it, we dropped deeper and focused more on holding a good 馬步 Mǎ Bù Horse stance.

Legs shook.

Sweat dropped.

Nobody gave up.

When time was up, we all slowly stood up with that appreciation that goes with completing a difficult task.

5 Minutes of...

We moved onto our Five Minutes drill. The senior- most student grabbed a box filled with cards. Each card has a task, drill, or concept written on it. Whatever topic you pull, you spend five minutes working on. After fanning the cards like a Las Vegas street magician, we each pulled our card.

推手 Tuī Shǒu (Push Hands). 功力拳 Gōng Lì Quán (Power Generating Fist). Shuāi (throws).

We each went to work on our Five Minutes drill, studying the throws that can be found in various movements and working on the various Animal Push Hand drills that can be found in our curriculum.

Gong Li Quan, one of the forms we train in the beginner levels of our Northern Shaolin Kung Fu curriculum, had to be pushed to the sidelines for the moment. The student who pulled it was asked to help me with Push Hands, seeing how the drill requires two people to work.

Time was called. Our Five Minutes brought to an end, we each moved on to something from our curriculum level. Gong Li Quan was practiced with ankle weight while the rest of us partnered up and worked applications from another one of beginner level forms, 譚腿十二路 Tán Tuǐ Shí Èr Lù or 12 Roads of Tan Tui. 

Applications and Forms

Our main focus during applications practice was Head Wraps from Tan Tui, encompassing the enemy’s head with your arm to rotate and manipulate it. It’s an interesting entry for a head-lock, basically.

On the surface level, it appears to be a simple technique. However, in looking deeper at it we found many small nuances that made it become a very powerful movement, one not powered by muscular strength but rather by good technique and body mechanics.

We trained on it in various ways: wrapping from behind the enemy and in front of the enemy, left foot forward and right foot forward, as well as various small detail tweaks and experiments.

It took a while but progress was found. Definitely not mastery, yet something just as gratifying. The steps towards mastery.  

Time was called and we moved on to our next phase of class. A moving line drill.

Line drill

The class was brought together in a single file line. One person was the Defender, the other two were facing him as Attackers. Once the Defender protected himself, he would step to the back of the Attacker line and become an Attacker while the next up in line turned and became the subsequent Defender.

We repeated this until we ran out of space in the backyard. Once at the edge of the backyard, we would just reverse what we were doing and travel the other way.

The focus of the drill was to get repetitions of a movement in as well as to simply react and defend. It was a good drill to help us get out of our heads from thinking too much, breaking the “paralysis by analysis” mentality we started to creep into during applications.  

Iron Pole

To finish class, we had some forearm conditioning exercises. These are called 大三星 Dà Sān Xīng (Big Three Stars) however we typically call it Iron Pole training. We grabbed a partner and, sitting in a Horse Stance, would clash forearms three times on each arm. Swinging low, then high, and once again low.

After we each got the chance to do it at least once. We added some variations into the mix.

For the second round, we would shift to 鶴步 Hè Bù or Crane Stance (traditionally known as 金雞獨立 Jīn Jī Dú Lì or “Golden Rooster Standing on one Leg”) on every second hit.

Round three added in stepping/footwork. First hit coming from a Horse Stance, the second hit happening from Crane Stance, we would then plant in 麒麟步 Qí Lín Bù or Unicorn Stance across from our partner for the third hit. Then the other arm would start from Unicorn Stance, progress to Crane Stance once more for the second hit, and lastly settle back into a Horse Stance for the final hit.

Round three took some time to get but soon we all had it functioning. But there was still more to add.

Our final variation involved leg conditioning.

We started once more from a Horse Stance. Smack one.

From there we added a 虛步 Xū Bù or Empty (Cat) Stance. Smack two.

After the second impact, we would stay in contact with each other’s arm. Our fingers turned towards each like a snake eyeing its target. Our palms pushed the other’s forearm down as we settled into a deeper stance. Lastly, the same side leg would swing across, both of our calf muscles making impact. Smack Three.

To finish off, we massaged our arms and legs and used a special herbal liniment called 跌打酒 Diē Dǎ Jiǔ, more commonly known by its Cantonese name, Dit Da Jow to help disperse the blood and prevent bruising.

Done training, Sifu Craig asks us what realizations and “take-home” moments we had. We answered one by one. Our answers ranged from focusing on body awareness due to weighted movements to focusing on improve stances and footwork.

There is always something new to learn or old to improve! 

Bow Out

We formed the usual line to wrap up class. Before we bowed out, Sifu Craig asked if we noticed anything different. It took a second for us to realize. We are lined up facing the direction opposite than usual. He explained that the change of direction is but one of the small acts dedicated to the death of his teacher.

He gave us the standard salute and passed it over to the senior student who bowed us out fully.


Another session of skill training and hard work down, we each stuck around a bit to chat. Like our chat before class, we covered many things: 

  • We talked about how perfect the weather was for training.
  • We talked about what we each needed to work on.
  • We practiced and demonstrated some forms.

But alas, time stops for no one. We each have other things we have to go take care of. We all finished talking and headed out, one by one. As I was gathering my stuff and getting ready to go, all I could think was…

I can’t wait to be back! 

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