Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Learn Kung Fu

Thinking about improving your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being?
Come learn kung fu!

Xinyiliuhequan is a traditional type of Chinese kung fu. It is considered an "internal martial art", related to others such as Tai Chi (aka Taiji), and Ba Gua.

One of the things that makes the Xinyiliuhequan style so interesting and accessible is that it is so practical and straightforward to begin learning. Right from learning your first move, you will both know that you are learning a genuine martial art and also feel you are getting a great, holistic workout.

As accessible and approachable as first learning Xinyiliuhequan can be, because it is an "internal" art there is no end to the levels of learning and improvement that one can aspire to with dedicated practice. Once you learn a move or form it becomes like a container - to be continuously filled with other practices from Xinyi and whatever unique strengths and attributes you bring to your training.

Thanks to the diversity of the "10 Animals" (and many variations of their movements and forms),  concepts such as the "Six Harmonies" and the "5 Elements", and training principles such as the "Seven Fists" - there are always way to keep challenging and interconnecting one's developing skills. Also, when studying a traditional art like this it is always important to explore ways one might apply it both to "martial" situations - and to the challenges and stresses of day-to-day life.

What Should You Expect When Attending a Class?

When you come to train with me you should expect to be treated with respect. I always try to teach all of my students the essential fundamentals of Xinyi, but also cater the instruction and emphasis towards each individual student's particular hopes and needs. I am passionate about martial arts and about applying them to wellness and daily life.

An average class would consist of:

Individual/unstructured warm-up time
-a brief time to socialize and touch base since your last class
-a chance to get moving and to ask questions (e.g. about previous lessons or about moves that one is working on at home during the rest of the week)
-getting ready to train

~20 minutes of martial arts warm-ups
-guided practice of various warm-ups, drills, stretches, etc. (from Xinyi and other martial arts traditions)
-emphasis is on getting focused and engaging the mind and body

~20 minutes of Xinyiliuhequan foundational movements
-guided practice of essential movement patterns and forms specific to Xinyiliuhequan upon which all of the other animal movements and forms are built
-this is a fairly steady work-out period and requires full attention to training

~20 minutes of working on a specific move from a specific animal form
-learning specific variations of the ten animals (Bear, Tiger, Horse, Monkey, Dragon and Eagle, Rooster, Swallow, Hawk, Snake.
-slowing things down to learn and analyse the forms
-time for more experienced students to work together and for novice students to get plenty of instruction
-learning to practice the movements on-the-spot, walking a line, in any direction, and with various other types of unique Xinyi footwork

~20 minutes of 2-person drills with time for stretching and questions
-opportunities to integrate the movement and application
-working with fellow training partners
-a chance to stretch, relax, talk, and bring the session to a close

I always enjoy training with my students whenever they can make it out to train. Although I wish everyone could come out and train twice-a-week, I fully understand that, as they say, "life can get in the way"... For that reason, students are welcome to pay by-the-class (if they can only make it once-a-week or less often) or by-the-month (for those who plan to attend most classes in a month). That said, I am dedicated to making this art accessible to good, kind people who want to learn an authentic, serious martial art. I never want people to feel bad if they miss a class.

I also want people to feel accepted and to have fun. I am happy to train with people whenever they can make it out to train and I am always willing to train with people wherever they are at in their discovery and experience of this beautiful art.

Please check out my previous blog postings for more information regarding Xinyiliuhequan and my take on martial arts practice. Of course, if you are interested please contact me via email. Let me know you are interested and then you are welcome to come and try out a session for free, of course!

To learn more about my take on martial arts, please check out the "Home" tab for some suggestions of where to start. I am also always happy to hear from people who are interested in learning more.

All good things to all,


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six Reasons to Try Six Harmony

Fragrant Hills Park, Beijing, 2008
Six Reasons to Practice "Heart and Mind In Six Harmonies Boxing"
(aka Xinyiliuhequan/Xinyi)

Reason #6

Practicing Xinyi can be a great, consistent way to be physically and mentally active

I once had a university classmate ask me a simple question years ago: "You seem to be in good shape. I'm not. What do you think is the best form of exercise?" What I wanted to say was - "Xinyi!!!" However, I answered much more broadly and realistically - based on my readings, my formal education, and my experience - "The best form of 'exercise' is a physical activity that you actually enjoy doing, that you will be motivated to do on a regular basis, and that you will actually diligently carve out time to do."
For me, this has been practicing martial arts for over twenty-five years - and practicing, studying, and teaching Xinyi for the past fifteen. When life is good, I feel energized and practice Xinyi. When my body is achy, I take care of it by practicing Xinyi. When I am stressed, I relax by practicing Xinyi. When some horrible tragedies struck in my life a few years back, I was able to recover my physical, mental, and spiritual balance in part by - surprise (!) - practicing Xinyi!
I sincerely hope that everyone can have practices in their lives that they can regularly turn to for day-to-day wellness - as well as for dealing with the inevitable hard times that will occur (and there are many practices out there (from Yoga to Hockey to Ballroom Dancing...) - so whatever works for someone, I am in favour of!). For me, that has been, and continues to be, Xinyi.

Reason #5

Xinyi is a form of Gong Fu ("Kung Fu"); Knowing Gong Fu serves you well in anything you do

"Gong fu" is literally "skilled work". It is striving for improvement and mastery through repeated, thoughtful, dedicated practice.  It is alluded to in the words of ancient scholars like Lao Tzu's, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
Once while attending a seminar with Xu Guo Ming (aka George Xu), I listened to him describe the process of gong fu as writing out one sheet of paper each day... While it may, at first, look like nothing significant was accomplished - at the end of a month, a year, a decade - each of these sheets has added up to a chapter, a story, a novel...
Gong fu in China does not just refer to martial arts. It refers to any practice which a person has put in the time and effort to improve. There is "gong fu tea" which is serving tea with this approach. There is "gong fu calligraphy" taking years of study and practice. And, there are "gong fu" doctors, teachers, parents, engineers, etc... A person has "gong fu" when they have put in the time and effort to go beyond the basics and the minimal requirements - transforming an ordinary practice into something extraordinary.
Gong fu requires "willpower" - and one develops willpower through practicing something diligently. Dr. Roy Baumeister in his brilliant book, "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength", reviews and discusses some amazing, modern research regarding how to develop and "rediscover" the benefits of willpower. Of course, practitioners of gong fu don't need to "rediscover" this strength - it's what gong fu has always been about! It's how people can strive to be excellent at whatever they choose to do. Learning gong fu (and willpower) in one realm of life can help to develop this strength to apply it to other areas.
Of course, gong fu also teaches humility and relaxation. I have, gradually, learned that I can do, and enjoy, many things in my life without having to be "gong fu" and "gung ho" at them all! Learning balance and moderation and long-term sustainability is as much "gong fu" as is trying to be able to do some things with full intensity.

Reason #4

There are some violent, scary, hurtful people in the world - and it is helpful to know how to deal with them

Now, before anyone jumps on me for claiming that Xinyi is the "best" martial art, or that I think violence to deal with violence is always a good thing, or that an ancient martial art has a chance against modern tools of violence, etc., etc... please hear me out.
Knowing how to deal with violent people does not necessarily mean using Xinyi (or any traditional martial art) to physically defend oneself. Xinyi is a complete martial arts system. That means that it is not just for dealing with someone attacking you, but it means being healthy and making healthy life choices. It is about surviving and thriving. It means, for example, avoiding places, when possible, where violence is likely. It means understanding when, where, and how violence is likely to ensue. It means knowing when to fight and when to run. It means having a "flexible response" to violence - and to any of the challenges of life.
One reason for having ten animals (and multiple movements for each) in the Xinyi repertoire is not just to create lots of interesting, diverse movements for personal expression and exercise (although that is pretty cool...), but more importantly to create options and infinite combinations for infinite potential situations.
These options are not just physical, but psychological. If you are grabbed/seized, then you can use the physical aspects of "snake" to twist free, to grab/wrap back, to strike, etc. Much more common in day-to-day life, however, are opportunities to respond flexibly when you are "seized" by stress (be it physical or psychological). Through training, you have a variety of tools and models as to how to spiral out of the situation, to "advance by going sideways", to change course but then return to your path, etc... This might mean everything from staying safe in traffic to staying cool when work demands increase. The chance that most people who ever learn Xinyi will ever have to use it for violence are very low.
That said, in terms of dealing with the extreme stress of being violently attacked, I feel that everyone has a basic human right to connect with their "animal nature" enough to know how to defend her/himself (i.e. we all have a right to access our inner "momma bear" under the very rare circumstances when this is necessary). Everyone should have the right to know how to physically and psychologically "resist" those who would do traumatic harm to ourselves and our loved ones. Even for the pacifists out there (whom I certainly respect) I would argue strongly - make pacifism a real option for you and your loved ones. If someone tries to hurt you, and you know how to fight back, then you have real options as to whether to use force, or not, (and how much force) to protect yourself or a loved one. I'm not saying everyone has to do martial arts - and I would NEVER blame survivors of violence for being victims. What I am saying, however, is that, ideally, we should have freedom and options. [For more on this topic, I highly recommend the masterful works of Gavin de Becker such as "Protecting the Gift" and "The Gift of Fear".]
Chances are you will never need to use Xinyi in a physical confrontation in the modern world, but it is a foundation of confidence to know that you can access your own inner strength if you needed to protect yourself. All the better that Xinyi practice protects a person every day by strengthening mind, body, and spirit.

Reason #3

There are few things like an ancient martial art to reintegrate and to reconnect

We supposedly live in an interconnected world... so how come so many of us so often end up feeling so disconnected?
I absolutely (and unapologetically) love that I live at a time in history when I can Skype with friends across the world, check a family member's Facebook updates, Google a great recipe, start an intellectual journey through Wikipedia, and call my mom to catch up with her on my cell phone while I am resting after a jaunt up Mt. Finlayson! Not to mention that I appreciate that I can start a blog to try to recruit students to share the traditional martial art of Xinyi... Incredible to have such technology! :)
That said, I also live in a world where some people I have met spend 14-hours-a-day playing video games, feel crushing loneliness despite hundreds of Facebook friends, don't get enough fresh air, have limited connections with the natural world, and rarely get to really connect and engage with other people face-to-face. We live in a culture where we often "live in our heads" and we type with our fingers, but we don't really work with our hands...
Xinyi has been an amazing way for me to connect with others. It has connected me across cultures and continents. It has connected me with people who also became great training partners and great friends. There are few things that connect people quite like the fellowship of practicing a rare martial art - learning and sweating and striving to get a little better at it each time we face each other for practice and drills. As a student of history (my first university degree), I have never felt such a connection with the past as when I feel myself doing a move that has been handed down from teacher to student for centuries...
Of course, Six Harmony Xinyi is, quite literally, about "connecting", combining, and harmonizing. Connecting the heart and the mind. Connecting courage with intentions. Connecting the body and mind through movement. Connecting the breath with the movement. Connecting our thinking, rational mind with our animal, instinctive inheritance. Harmonizing our behaviour in the world by coping with the world as it is and creating the world as we want it to be. Striving for internal and external harmony... And on and on it goes!

Reason #2

There is still no substitute for a foundation in a traditional martial art

If someone's primary motivation is to learn how to be more violent, then I don't recommend martial arts to them (I'd actually recommend - with no negative judgment towards these things - things like therapy and medication...). That said, I do have an appreciation for people who want, or need, to learn how protect themselves and others (e.g. particularly military and police -- but also everyone else, too -- see Reason #4 above).
Right or wrong, I also have a great appreciation for watching modern martial arts in the form of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (or boxing, or kickboxing, or Olympic wrestling, etc.). "Mixed martal arts" (e.g. UFC), in particular (and this modern, transdisciplinary approach to martial arts and competitive fighting) has been, simply put, revolutionary. I have great respect for the amazing martial artists and athletes these competitors have honed themselves into. I am not saying I don't have "mixed feelings" about watching mixed martial arts (and I would never push anyone to watch them). But there is some level of honesty (albeit a form of brutal honesty) when two people have agreed duke it out with rules and weight classes - to try to make it as competitive and fair as possible.
The idea of martial artists from completely different schools, from different countries, all getting together and competing and sharing best practices is almost unprecedented [although some "proto" arrangements like this could be argued to have happened in some senses throughout history - I won't go into those here...]. This mixed approach may be revolutionary, but I am still left wondering,  "Does general 'mixed martial arts' training help forge better people?" Does it even forge the best martial artists?
By and large, the mixed martial art fighters I have most admired are those who acknowledge that their original practice of a traditional martial art changed their lives for the better. It gave them a path, discipline, and tools that could be used inside and outside of the ring/octagon. Then, to be able compete in the UFC (or other organization), which is a mixed martial arts milieu, they broadened their skills and perspectives and cross-trained, so that they were able to bring their "mother art" to bear on the unique and diverse set of problems (which are arguably different than those in self-defence) that "the octagon" presents.
For those of us who have no plans of fighting in a cage in front of a crowd (or those who might not even agree with a such a concept), a traditional martial art provides a foundation for anything difficult we are going to strive to learn. The modern privilege of being able to learn more than one martial art - particularly more than one from completely different backgrounds - is awesome, but it seems inadequate for someone to say, "I study mixed martial arts". What does that mean? What is it that they are deeply rooted in? Do they have "gong fu"? What distinctive martial arts is their "mixed martial arts" a mix of? [that last sentence both a conundrum and a tongue-twister]
In medical rehabilitation school, I watched a professor intellectually eviscerate a student who, when asked what approach she used to treat clients had tried to evade the question by saying simply, "eclectic". The professor then painstakingly drove home the logic that supposedly using a "mixed" or "eclectic" or "multidisciplinary" approach actually requires that someone first be rooted in a few true, deep approaches so that then they can be able to branch out and compare and contrast with others. That is, one can only be multi-disciplinary or transdisciplinary or eclectic or mixed if they have first developed confidence within their own core discipline(s).
[As an aside - I love training with people who are new to martial arts as well as with people who are experienced in other martial arts and/or mixed martial arts. It has been great to start someone on the martial arts path with Xinyi - and it has been great to expand others' repertoires by teaching them Xinyi. All kind, pleasant, open-minded people are always welcome!!]

Reason #1

It is a beautiful art; The appreciation of beauty is limitless

As much as I believe in science, evolution, the potential lessons of history, and learning from real people who have "been there, done that" - I also just find Xinyi deeply aesthetically pleasing.
Students have learned moves and made comments such as, "Oh my God! This move is amazing! Now I realize/see/feel that some of those beautiful moves from wushu cinema actually came from real, functional movements!"
As Xinyi emulates various animal movements, I regularly enjoy referring back to watching how actual animals move. Although I am far less surrounded by animals and nature than martial artists may have been hundreds of years ago, I do have the luxury of being able to almost instantly access footage of animals-in-movement on the internet and also to be able to read behavioural and scientific analysis of how animals behave and live.
I know that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but throughout most of recorded history, most cultures have admired the beauty, grace, and power of animals. Even the most modern of sports teams, military units, and national symbols often reference an animal imagery for inspiration (e.g. the "Chicago Bears", the "Flying Tigers", the "American Eagle", etc.
Again, I could write extended expositions pondering the beauty of animals, what we can learn from animals, the animal aspects of our nature, what makes us uniquely human, etc... There is no end to these sorts of questions and thought experiments - which is great - because one of the most beautiful things about doing an art like Xinyi is that it is endless.
Genuinely practicing art - any genuine art - is to join a conversation that has been going on for as long as humans have been creating art and which will continue on as long as humans keep trying to figure out their place in the universe.
Although the physical development of raw strength inevitably peaks and then gradually falls away, the ongoing development of deeper internal knowledge, mental calm, and aspirations towards the best and most beautiful expressions of art can continue as long as one is still able to live one's practice. Even as the body gradually diminishes, the mind and "spirit" [I am not going down the rabbit-hole of trying to define "spirit" here...] can continue to be both expanded and refined. The art can be shared with others. The art's beauty lives on. It touches us and we do our best to be true to it, while adding our own touches.

So, for all those out there practicing martial arts - or "gong fu" in any of its many, many manifestations - all good things to you in your practice!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Wood Isn't Going To Chop Itself


For the past two years I have had a great gig, where every Saturday morning I go and chop wood for a couple of hours. For a long time, I had wanted to chop wood to supplement my martial arts training.

The "splitting" energy is evident in the form of a variety of Xinyi movements (and internally within them all) and it is clearly derived from exactly this sort of activity. It was a chore that I had not done regularly since periodically feeding my parents' fireplace in the winters in Manitoba. Chopping wood at -40C was likely "good training", then, too, if not only physically, but of the "character building" variety...

More recently, many people older than I am have approached me while I chop wood - and told me that seeing me brings back memories of their younger years growing up on farms or in the country... I even had one intriguing gentleman come and tell me that he used to live in a monastery, in a silent Christian order, and that chopping wood was one of his regular duties. When he showed me the scar above his eye from a piece of wood that once flew up and hit him, I would like to say that I rushed out and bought safety goggles right away... Of course, I only bought safety goggles (and now wear them "religiously"!) after I, myself, had a piece of wood fly up and almost hit me in the eye! As much as I always swear to learn from the words of my elders - sometimes there is no teacher like experience (e.g. the experience of a flying chunk of wood to the head...).

Of course, I chop wood for exercise. I get to do it a few hours a week, for pleasure and fitness. If I had to chop wood every day, all day, I have a feeling I would view it as "work", instead of as "play". I may even dread the drudgery and the exhaustion it might bring. I feel very fortunate to be able to choose this physical activity as a meaningful part of my life. What a privilege!

The same goes for my martial arts training. I "work" hard at it, but it is a choice, and, when I am at my best, it is a high form of "play" indeed. I am not compelled to train out of fear or because I constantly need to "fight". I love that I "have it if I need it", but if violence were my motivation for training I would have stopped trying to keep learning and refining my Xinyi practice long ago. "Martial" is absolutely essential to "martial arts", but in the modern world there are, sadly, much more efficient ways to go about violence. That's not the reason to dedicate one's self and one's time to a centuries old martial art...

And, while chopping wood, a few people have come and told me something similar: "You should get a hydraulic wood-splitter", I was instructed by more than one man. I just smiled and shrugged. Really? I wondered to myself - then what would become of me?? I am the wood-splitter.

So why practice a centuries old martial art like Xinyiliuhequan? For me, it has been about connecting. It has been connecting with great teachers and great training partners. It has been connecting with the past. It has been connecting across the globe, across cultures, across languages, across religions, across generations... It has been about learning history in a very hands-on way. It has been about experiencing evolution - touching what has worked and survived and endured for hundreds of years. And, it continues to be both hard work and fun.

I remember in Shanghai on one of my first visits in 2003, Grandmaster Yu Hua Long watched me do a move I had been working on for years - and his face lit up with joy as he and I both connected -- as we both truly realized -- that a young man from Canada and an old man from China were both so dedicated to this art and doing our best to keep it alive and present and relevant. He grabbed me and hugged me so hard! We hugged while hopping in a little circle, on the little floor space that there was, in his little room. And, we both wore huge smiles - and there was something timeless and all-embracing about it all.

So, for a few hours each week, I chop wood. And, for a few hours each week I keep practicing Xinyi. And, I am trying to find more people to share it with. The wood isn't going to chop itself and the Xinyi isn't going to practice itself. And, maybe neither act would be considered the most "efficient" use of my time. But I am not going to give up on either practice, "old fashioned" as they may be. I am going to keep trying to refine my Xinyi practice and use it to survive and thrive the best I can in the modern world. I am grateful I have had such opportunities. These types of practices continually add meaning to my life.

The end of one of Gary Snyder's masterworks, "Axe Handles", comes to me while I split the wood:

"My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on."

And so I keep trying to line up the wood, swing the axe, and find the balances the best I can - between old and new, effort and relaxation, soft and hard, calm and passion, etc., etc., etc...  On and on...


Back to it!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Training Is For Day-to-Day Life / Day-to-Day Life Is For Training

Training Is For Day-to-Day Life / Day-to-Day Life Is For Training

I recently bought a hybrid bike in order to be able to bike to work and for running errands. I have really been enjoying it! It feels great to be getting some exercise, reducing my carbon footprint, and feeling the wind on my face. It has also been making me think about at least two types of martial arts training:

The first type of martial arts training is simply (and importantly!) that dedicated, sole-purpose (and soul-purpose?) time spent "training". This is very important time for me, but, ultimately, in the modern world in which I live (and I am not a "full-time" martial arts teacher or student) it is but a handful of hours-per-week that I can dedicate and focus entirely on my Xinyi skills and repetitions. I try to focus as fully and deeply as I can on my martial art during that time, but it is (even on the most flexible of days) a limited amount of time. The problem seems to be, then, that the broader definition of "kung fu" is "skilled work" (earned through time and effort) - and as a husband, son, friend, professional, student, etc. there is only so much specific time I can allot towards striving to be the best I can be at each endeavour.

That said, the second type of martial arts training is (and always has been) day-to-day life. It is actually hard to imagine just how tough those ancient martial artists in China (and elsewhere in the world) would have been. If they spent their days doing farm work, hammering at an anvil, or even just living without modern transportation and labour-saving devices -- those people would have had a baseline level of strength and endurance that nowadays we associate with "fitness enthusiasts" or professional athletes. [Not to mention the fact they ate organic food, far less "junk" food, etc., etc...]

As great as dedicated "exercise" time is (be that lifting weights, cycling, swimming, etc.) someone who swings a hammer, or an axe, or a pick, or a hoe... for hours a day is going to be able to hit quite accurately, quickly, and powerfully! Someone who stands in a small boat fishing all day is going to have incredible balance. Someone who engages in the day-to-day work of a subsistence farm is going to be quite fit - and actually lack the energy, the time, or the need to lift weights and do "cardio". In fact, they are going to have to work very hard to find the energy and time to get in their martial arts training at all (which is a similarity we seem to share in modern times...). Now, don't get me wrong, in the modern world we need to get some regular "exercise", if only to try to counteract so much sitting around. But, it is hard to compare forty minutes on the elliptical with hiking sacks of rice to the nearest town.

For someone dedicated to having martial arts be a part of her/his life (then and now), there is no substitute for some regular, dedicated time invested in specifically training martial arts skills -- but there is also no need to feel guilty for not doing specific martial arts training "all the time". Living a full, productive life can also be one in which I can "train" every time I go for a bike ride, wash my car, take the stairs, adjust my posture, or even take a deep breath. The more of these supposedly non-training hours I can make truly mindful and healthy the better. They are actually going to add up a lot faster than the number of hours I can dedicate to specifically doing Xinyi. And being a good husband, son, professional, etc. is why I am so interested in doing Xinyi - and why I am so motivated to try to share it with others.

Of course, the two types of martial arts training go hand-in-hand. Martial arts training helps with living a productive, healthy life - while living a healthy, productive life feeds back into martial arts training. To me, that's the whole purpose of martial arts - not to be my life - to enhance my life and to help me to live it well.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Up and running...

As of September 2013, I have times (Wednesdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm) and a location (3-933 Ellery Street, Esquimalt, BC, V9A 4R9) for teaching Xinyiliuhequan ("Heart and Mind in Six Harmonies Boxing") - a rare and beautiful form of Chinese wushu (often called, more generally, "kung fu" in the West). If you are interested in coming out and giving it a try, just let me know.

The privilege of learning from the late Grandmaster Yu Hua Long in Shanghai, 2003

Saturday, August 17, 2013

This is the future blog for Six Harmony Consulting. Xinyiliuhequan (Heart and Mind in Six Harmonies Boxing) martial arts classes will be beginning in Esquimalt, BC, in September 2013. Class times are Wednesdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm. More info to be posted soon...