A Manifesto on Practicing Slowly and Safely.
As a veteran instructor of martial arts there is absolutely nothing more important to me than practicing slowly and safely in a safe, kind, encouraging environment.
More on that shortly.
If you want to practice martial arts realistically, go to a bar and pick fights. It is ridiculous, dangerous, and criminal. There is no realistic way to practice martial arts. Respect the cross trained mixed martial artist, but cage fighters are professional athletes. They train night and day. We should all be so lucky as to have free time and energy to engage in martial arts.
Professional athetics are high impact. Pro fighters suffer painful and lasting injuries. Everyone who studied a day of martial arts has heard “there is always someone better.” and UFC and other leagues make the point clear. There is high turnover in the championshiop position. Like runners shaving hundredths of a second off a race to win, someone a hundredth of a second quicker is queued up to fight the old champ.
It does not matter the style, it is the person. There is a person out there sitting on a barstool who drinks all day, chain smokes cigarettes, and has never exercised a day in his drunken life who is a natural killer with genetically inherited super strength and whose jaw does not break. And furthermore, even a 12 year old can wield a pistol.
So what is the point? Fighting is dangerous. Someone gets hurt. An eye gets poked, a finger broken, a pretty face scarred. So unless you are training for competition or combat, think long term strategy. You don’t have to be a master builder or fine finish carpenter to have some tools about the house and do some basic home repairs. In order to to defend yourself, you don’t have to win, you just have to survive.
Any martial art and many contact sports will provide valuable self defense tools. Kungfu is an art form, much the same as salsa dancing, acting, water coloring. There are scientific components, such as the science of combining colors, the mechanics of the brush strokes. There are many scientific components of martial arts such as the geomtery of the human anatomy and physiology that creates the physics that generate the force for a kick, strike, or throw. Beyond the science is the artistic compenent of the martial arts. It is an art form like any other. It is personal, and there is plenty of room for artistic expression and personal interpretation.
Great claims have been made about the healt benefits of martial arts, in particular the softer styles (tai chi, aikido etc). Whether or not the specific claims of any particular style are supported by the evidence or not, one thing we do know medically is that more movement equals better health. That movement can be walking up stairs, riding the eliptical exercise bike, or salsa dancing. Continuous accumulated movement is important.
When choosing an exercise lifestyle, one must consider inspiration. For me, peronally, I do not care for the gym and its many trinkets and toys. There is no love for me in it. Kungfu inspires me to continue, and teaching obligates me to show up and perform, rather than lay about watching TV and eating bon bons. Kungfu is full body, low impact, requires minimal to no equipment, little space, can be practiced solo, or in a group. The artistic “blank canvas” of kungfu offers activities that are limited largely to one’s imagination. One can practice forms (choreographed routines), shadow boxing, drills, breathing, stretching, or spar with a partner etc. Kungfu can be practiced hard and fast with explosive energy or softly and slowly for balance and technique depending on one’s physical and mental state. The words “kung fu” from the Chinese “gongfu” means “skill” and could mean you have great skill as a lawyer or athlete, but everyone knows gongfu means martial arts.
Implicit in the term is a long term strategy of continuous progress. The word for “exercise” in Chinese is “duan lian shenti” which means “to forge the body”. In my years of studying and teaching martial arts I have managed to avoid violence. And violence is to be avoided if at all possible. You are LEGALLY obligated to try and escape. So since I am not training for competition, nor for a revolution I think long term. The years fly by. Continuous practice, with small “digestion periods” adds up to expertise very quickly. Before you know it, a year has past and people who couldn’t touch their toes when they started are now kicking over their heads, without ever having to fight for survival.