Seven Experiences of Martial Training

Nowadays, everyone seems to want a practice. But the fact that martial arts practice has a path all its own may result in some disappointment to those seeking a casual gym-style experience. Such deep practice can render unexpected results. The art establishes a special relation to the body, leading to some confused feelings. I thought that it might be a benefit for students to recognize some signposts on the journey. Phases like those below do not follow a given sequence but, with the proper amount of practice, they will come.

art_seven_61.Great Expectations
You may find that in the first few months you make strange mixtures of advancement . For instance, you are quite fast but your left hand seems to have its own brain.

art_seven_32. Bruce Lee Resurrected
More permanent progress will occur when you just wake up one morning and discover that, overnight, you have become 300% better than when you turned in. Was it a magical night? Did you drink ancient Shaolin herbal formulas? Martial progress is rarely a straight march. Skills develop at inexplicable moments. Do not to worry about keeping up to the new standard.

art_seven_73. Skills Don’t Always Help
Martial skills are many and deep. For some Continue reading

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Interview with Grandteacher Adam Hsu (Added parts 4 & 5)

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.38.00 AMAdam Hsu is one of the top Kung Fu teachers in the world. He is also one of the “grandparent” teachers at the Academy, having taught both sifus Linda and Ted.

In this series—the first THREE parts now posted—he begins an in-depth conversation on the meaning of true Kung Fu.

Update: Parts 4 & 5 Now available


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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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Slow Learner

tedrelaxingNext October, I will celebrate my 50th year in the martial arts.

When I started studying, I had no idea or plan to make this a lifetime practice. I joined up for the same reason a lot of 16 year olds do: I was getting bullied at school and I wanted to learn some self-defense. Wait— you mean it took me 50 years to learn to defend myself? Am I just a slow learner, or did I find something else to keep my interest all these years? Honestly, the answer is “both.”

I had learned all the self-defense moves I’d ever need by the time I was voting age (it was 21 back then;) Continue reading

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Martial Basics: Not What You Think

art_basics1Everything starts with basics. And when you are young and/or just beginning a long term study of expertise, whether your taste runs to the piano or the basketball hoop, there is always a sentinel line of basics to be crossed before you get to the “good stuff.”

But the surprise—slow and sometimes disappointingly painful—is that there is no end to the study of basics. When you have learned the most exotic parts of some discipline‑let’s be obvious and say martial arts, for instance—and mastered the strangest weapons, you will put them away, at least for most of the time, and return to basics.

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Wang Zi Ping

Of course, part of martial arts learning resides in traditional choreographed forms. We at the Academy, take this one step further and teach classical forms for two people (partner routines) such as the San Cai Sword.

In the film clip below, long-lived and famous Muslim Kung Fu teacher Wang Zi Ping instructs some young students in traditional combat, then performs the Golden Dragon Double Sword form that he invented. Enjoy this vintage film.

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The Passing of Rod Oka

Rodtg2Rod Oka, long time student here at the Academy, passed away on the third of this month. He had been fighting pancreatic cancer for about a year.

During his time with us he had studied Shaolin and Tai Rodtg1Chi. In both arts he brought a combination of martial spirit and good humored comradeship. He literally raised the spirit of a class just by attending. While training to refine his martial skills, he was a long-time master of puns, funny ideas and questions about how much damage could be done to students Rodtg4other than himself.

Rod was fearless in volunteering his fellows to improve the classes overall knowledge. Many times he would suggest, “Could you show that arm wrench on Harvey (or Robert, or whomever). Being of Japanese ancestry he preferred to be known as “The Craw”, somewhat confusing since Rob spoke perfect English as his first language.RO1

Rod was one of those people who evinces kindness, concern that is as immediate and pure as mountain water. His air of respect for the art, his fellow students and himself was a constant addition to our community.

Speaking for myself, Rod Oka was the kind of student that makes a teacher want to go to class.

I won’t say he will be missed because I think he will be with this school, always.

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Martial Arts and Feng Shui

mafs3Traditional kung fu schools are not known for being pretty. Most martial artists can report a long history of working out night after night in basements, garages, parking lots, and warehouses. I taught my first Tai Chi class 30 years ago in a high school cafeteria. My current Tai Chi sword class meets on the basketball court at the park, which we often share with local kids shooting hoops. None of these places would make it into the coffee table books that highlight model feng shui homes—you know the ones, with their cascading water features, peaceful gardens, meandering paths, and elegant front doors. Continue reading

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What you should know before you start a Tai Chi class

tc3I love teaching Tai Chi, and I especially love introducing this beautiful health promoting martial art to beginners. But many people start out with some ideas that are not only wrong, but prevent them from sticking with the practice long enough to benefit from it. This is not their fault. Unfortunately, bad teaching and popular but misleading ideas abound.

So here’s my attempt to set a few things straight and get people started off on the right foot (sorry for the pun.)

1. Tai Chi is a martial art. Yes I know, that sounds obvious. But many people come to Tai Chi thinking it can be stripped of its original function and turned into a relaxation/recreation exercise routine. The truth is if you’re not willing to work at Tai Chi like the kung fu practice it is, you not only won’t reap its benefits, but you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. It’s not that you’re required to develop it as a self defense practice. This Continue reading

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The Profile of Long Fist

The Core of Long Fist
The types of material we teach here—Tai Chi, Bagua and Long Fist Kung Fu—all belong to a large family of Kung Fu style from middle and northern China. Tested in war and refined in peace, this huge family of Kung Fu styles has many unifying principles. Most of the principles here were rarely spoken in ancient days.
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How to Memorize a Kung Fu Form

Forms are pre-arranged sequences of martial movements. The trouble is that you may not have any experience memorizing sequenced actions. Here are a few tips for making this a pleasant learning experience. Continue reading

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Taiwan Tales #4

subway3The metro that links Taipei’s diverse neighborhoods rolls and wriggles many times a day, stuffed with people. There is an old Chinese saying that, “If I don’t know you, you don’t exist.” This allows a person to maneuver through the hailstorm of strangers, while performing a little dance of interrupted steps and altered angles. The ultimate Daoist truth is here presented in the flesh, everyone finds his own way. Looking down on it from the high step on an escalator, the whole operation seems Darwinian; survival of the fleetest. Continue reading

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Training and Training: Shifu Sweats!

There’s training and then there’s training.

In Kung Fu there is a kind of training that so challenges the way of thinking AND the body that people successfully ignore it for years and even decades.

So begins Shifu’s newest article, printed on our sister site, Click the picture to continue reading.

We are a little moTPW5re than two weeks into our Taiwan trip, and have been very busy eating delicious food, meeting Shifus and publishers and, of course, training.

Shifu Adam Hsu teaches 7 days a week and encourages his students to practice every day, even if not in class (hint, hint.)

He and his students have warmly welcomed Ted to join the classes: Pigua Zhang, Bajiquan, Long Fist, Bagua Zhang. Two hours every night, 85 degree weather and very humid. Ted will bring much training experience back to Santa Cruz, but will leave a puddle of sweat behind, in exchange.

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Taiwan Tales 3


Buddhist monk waiting outside clothing shop for a contribution.

  Taiwan is a country on the precipice of its future, politically and culturally. If nothing else this makes for surprise moments. Our 9th floor room has a balcony; rather than waste space, it is overgrown with plants, Daoist rocks and, oh yes, a carp pond stocked with mature koi, big ones. And around the corner, the remainder of the balcony is assigned to a miniature park.


The famous NIght Market; any kind of fish you would want to taste.

The practice tonight was Pigua, a beautiful Long Arm style that generates huge power from a flexible spine. The moves create power by consciously letting go. This is one of SiGong Hsu’s most persistent points, to let go and relax, to start with relaxation not because it’s a nice idea and you need some after a stressful day, but because there is no other way to your truer discoveries of movement. He sees this relaxation concept echoed in many ways.


When someone says “just relax,” it’s the worst.

Sifu had me go through the first Pigua form with all the students. This was definitely a puzzle since I’d never done it. When one of the teachers talked to me, he said he couldn’t believe I had never done the form I realized that Sifu Hsu had made some point through me, as teachers will, about relaxation and the attitude that you know nothing. Difficult cultivation.

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Taiwan Tales 2

TPW2In Taipei you eat at a lot of restaurants. Rather than “fine dining” we often sit down to meals of local, humble and utterly delicious food.

Where Sifu Hsu, also a confirmed foodie, escorts us you would never find otherwise. The food seems simple: small vegetable dishes, stewed meats, light stock soups; a plate of wine-infused cold chicken; slices of rich fatty pork beneath slightly sweet gravy pressed between small white buns; ubiquitous greens enlivened by slivers of quickly sautéed garlic.

TPW4bEach simple dish was infused with the indescribable taste of prolonged human sharing.

 That night at class I practiced two moves for two hours, with Sifu Hsu constantly adding more layers of meaning. After a while, I felt like I was cooking in my own soup.




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Taiwan Tales 1

We’re here, safe and sound. And already working out. For those of you who we’ve made work hard in class you are vindicated. It’s already very warm here!

TP2The first move of Baji Quan about to explode. It wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fascinating mix that is Taiwan where Japanese, French and Chinese cuisines can be had just by walking down an alley; gingko seeds, tasty eel and stand-up mackerel, all in a block’s radius. Keep practicing, we’re think of you all… warmly.

TP1Here’s Adam Hsu, your SiGong (grandfather instructor) teaching, as brilliant as ever.


Debbie and Ted

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