In many ways, teaching martial arts can sometimes be like riding a roller coaster; you have your ups and downs. The teacher invests time, energy, passion and a bit of familial love into each and every student walking into their doors. Only time can tell how this will turn out.
Students may train consistently outside of class, growing in leaps and bounds and providing the teacher with immense joy and perhaps a bit of pride. Or not.
Rent rates go up and perhaps student retention drops. Class drills might fail miserably.
These and many others are the joys and pains of a martial arts teacher. However above all…
Students come and students go.
Seeing a student leave – for whatever reason – can not only be difficult for the teacher, but also for the rest of the class. More often than not, students have made new good friends among their fellow brothers and sisters.
And having one “leave the family,” so to speak, can be hard.
It’s important to celebrate those good memories, recognizing what was gained from each during the relationship, and to wish each other well upon parting. And hopefully to keep in touch.
Throughout my teaching career, I have personally taught countless students; some for long periods of time and some not so long.
The last class of a student can be sad and slow, the drills and routine just feeling lackluster. Or the teacher might jazz it up a bit; offering a bit of a “send-off” for his soon-departed student.
Today’s class could be likened to an obese Couch Potato worried about losing weight and stepping on to a weight scale…
It carried lots of weight and stayed on our mind!
And for good reason.
Today was the last class for one of our classmates.
Scratch that. Today was the last class for someone in our Kung Fu family, a Martial Art brother.
Our Kung Fu brother had recently passed his Sash Exam and to celebrate, we had a farewell gift for him. A few of us had gotten together to film his new Sash level form, Tan Tui, so that he could watch it and continue to learn.
Like a welcome mat for education, our brother is very inviting towards learning of every kind.
Tan Tui is a very powerful form, common in many styles, and filled with plenty of depth to pick from.
The version we train has twelve roads, or sequences, and can be very challenging training when performed.
Saluting the Martial
Once all of the students had arrived for class, we bowed in with our three salutes:
- First, our standard Kung Fu Salute or 武术抱拳礼 (Wǔ Shù Bào Quán Lǐ / Mou5 Seut6 Bou5 Kyun4 Lai5); a fist and open palm married together in front of our body. We then roll our hands in towards us to close it up.
- The second salute is a more involved act of respect. We step forward in a Unicorn Stance (crossed legs and kneeling close to the ground), then a Cat Stance (front foot barely in contact with the ground), as we present the previous salute, but with a bit more martial content. This is followed by reversing our footwork and pulling our hands back and circling them forward like a spinning wheel to come back to our starting position.
- Last, but not least, is our third salute. We bring our open palms in front of us, layering one hand in front of the other. In a quick burst, we hop off the ground, right foot then left foot. During this leap, we whip our hands
in a circle, landing back in a Cat Stance and presenting our fist/palm salute once more. We close this final salute, by rolling our hands towards us once more.
Formally bowed in, we began the exercise set we call The Windmill. Many of the stretches and exercises in this set are inspired by Lian Bu Quan, another one of the forms we train in the beginner levels of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu.
“The Windmill” seems to be quite an appropriate name for this exercise set. There are numerous limb and body rotations, both big and small, noticed externally and yet felt internally.
This was only the second week of May, meaning that for most of us, The Windmill was still a newer set since we rotate out the sets monthly.
While it’s definitely challenging, especially some of the more physically demanding and technical portions, progress was still made; improvements were noticed, even though it was only the second go-round. 🙂
A little bit of hard work applied toward learning difficult skills goes a long way. That is, after all, a hint of Kung Fu!
Horse (stance) Around
or Story Time
Once we completed The Windmill, we gathered around for “story time,” so to speak. We grabbed a book about the Mandarin Chinese language and circled close together in a Horse Stance (legs spread about double shoulder-width and bent deep). Keeping our stance steady, we took turns reading portions of the book aloud.
Having the book to read helped get our minds off of our stance, allowing us to better sit into our structure and relax. But, that peace only lasted for a few moments before we started to feel the burn.
It took a while but we finally made it to where we needed to in the book. Closing up, both the book and our stance, we all felt the relief of leaving behind the Horse Stance – that painful, yet beneficial, leg-shaking drill.
Five Minutes of Fu
(Kung Fu, that is)
We then moved on to our Five Minutes segment.
We each drew a single 3 x 5 index card from a shoebox and written on it would be a single task, drill, or concept. For the next five minutes, we each worked on our assigned subject, ranging from holding and studying stance drills to reading a book on Taoism.
This Five Minute drill is an excellent reminder of how powerful simply spending a little time can be if done correctly. With focus and intention, a small amount of time can produce big results, especially if practiced consistently. (Sifu is always telling us this! :P)
Monthly Kung Fu
Next came our monthly drill. We’ve recently started training a single drill throughout each month.
It’s become obvious how beneficial it is to train different aspects of a single drill – rather than training different drills in each class.
The drill we started working this month is a walking drill inspired by Lian Bu Quan, slipping and striking, as we move forward.
While some of us were able to seemingly fly across the pavement with the drill, others were just trying to understand the footwork.
Mastery really is a process filled with many steps! (haha, see what I did there?)
We later got the chance to train martial applications from the movements with a partner, training it as a defense against the opponent striking at you.
The realism of having someone actually trying to punch at you is important to have in your training. It gives a sense of improved confidence in what you are practicing and further understanding of the applied movements. And it is martial arts, we’re talking about here anyway, isn’t it?
Solo Martial Practice
Next came the solo work, where we split apart into our level groups and got down to business.
Our departing Martial Art brother got the chance to not only work on his brand new form, but he also got the chance to train it with ankle and wrist weights added.
Just the addition of a little weight changes the dynamic of the movements (and pauses) found in the form.
Holding your punches and kicks on each stage of movement is tough! Add in some extra baggage in the form of weights and it becomes quite the task.
Not impossible, however.
The students working with the weights stayed strong, allowing the added weight to better pull their stances down to earth, building root and the weights even somehow helped to relax into better structure.
Eventually, the training becomes less about strength training and more about embodying the heaviness of the weights in all your movements within the form (even though you don’t actually have the weights on at all).
Monthly Kung Fu:
After some training on our Sash level curriculum, we grouped up again and wrapped up with another round of the Lian Bu Quan Slip and Strike walking drill.
By this point, some of us were starting to visibly fatigue.
There’s nothing wrong with getting tired. It simply means you’re working hard and challenging yourself, pushing towards growth. But of course, there’s also something to be said for pushing past ones’ limits; you may be tired – but there’s still more gas in the tank, as Sifu is fond of saying.
Motivating each other, we toughed it out and finished up the drill. It’s such a great feeling to have a Family behind your back, pushing you towards betterment!
Alas, we were nearing the end of class… And the last Northern Shaolin class (at least at our school) for one of our Kung Fu brothers. 🙁
We finished the Slip and Strike drill and lined back up.
A Time for Farewells
We wrapped up with a discussion, talking about what our takeaway from the exhausting class was, and formally bowing out with our salutes.
Like our Lian Bu walking drill, time slipped by.
The end of class came all too soon, the time for our goodbyes already here.
We said our farewells and drove away, realizing we would not see our brother again… Or so we thought!
But Wait! There’s More!
Between this class and the writing of this article, our brother actually managed to sneak his way back to class once more.
Or, at least he tried…
He ended up coming on the one day during this time that we had canceled class!
And while only Sifu was able to meet with him, it is good to know that family is always family, even if they get separated for a bit.
Though it burns, a goodbye is sometimes simply a “see you later,” not something as permanent as it may seem.
Chinese seems to make sense in this regard. 再見 (Zài Jiàn / Zoi3 Gin3) literally means “Again See” or See you again…
And for us in the Wulin, the martial forest of Kung Fu family – training brothers & sisters – even if we never see each other again, the imprint we leave stays on forever.
Now, that is the mark of family!