“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” The words of a desperate father seeking the help of Jesus to heal his son. (Mark 9:24)

I find myself thinking of this statement and rewording it slightly. “Lord, I am focused; help thou mine lack of focus.”

Also, I remember Jackie Chan in the most recent Karate Kid movie, “Your focus needs more focus”

This last few weeks has been so full of tragedy and distraction that I find myself struggling to focus on the things upon which I must focus. In my effort to reign in my mind, I remember my years under the instruction of my kung fu teacher, Mark Kimzey, and subtle ways he would help us to focus in our training. Even today, I can’t put my finger on his exact methods but I am very much aware that my ability to focus improved in that time frame.

This ability to push things out of my mind that are demanding its attention and zero in on the here and now has helped me time and time again to do what must be done when that task is very difficult to do. When your emotions are shot and you are exhausted and you just want to lay down and rest, but there is still many things to do before rest can be sought.

The unforeseen benefits of training that continue to pay off for years to come.

Thanks Shifu for the gift that truly does keep giving.

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new white sashes

So this last weekend my wife and I went to Arthur, IL, Amish capital of the state and home of my parents and one of my school locations.  I started this school when I was living there and I taught out of my church there.   It was never a big school, but it produced a black sash and a white sash.  The white sash joined the army, and the black sash took over the school when I left.   He now teaches at Arthur Christian Academy.  While I was there, my senior student joined us from St. Louis and the three of us tested his two white sash candidates for their first sash.  They both did very well and I was very pleased.


Congratulations to Matthew Wujick and Jared Yoder.  Keep up the hard work.

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nice article on “internal” vs “external”

Basically, application determines classification not the label it wears.

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Principle vs Technique

This will only be a quick thought.

I was just thinking about the difference between having an understanding of a subject, and simply having a rote memorized knowledge base. In martial arts it is like the difference between “principle in practice” and “technique answering”. Often, I get asked the question, “what would you do if I did…?” and I always answer, that I don’t know, but one thing that I could do is… This is true because I am not trying to pair a specific attack with specific counters. Instead, I am trying to practice specific techniques until I have gained an understanding of the principle/principles at work and then once my mind and body have absorbed that understanding, I let the principle guide my response to each attack. This gives me the freedom to counter an attack a thousand thousand different ways. This is “principle in practice.”

“Technique answering” is simply when you never progress beyond the rote memorization of technique A to counter technique B. This is a mistake of intent. If you are attempting to have a rehearsed answer to every attack, your brain will be so overwhelmed and cluttered that it will never be able to function properly. But the process is not wrong, it is the intent that is in need of correction. What the brain needs is to develop a decision making matrix, or a simple set of parameters to determine what is the best way to decide how to respond to any given stimuli. This is done through lots and lots of repetition of many different kinds of stimuli paired with responses so the brain can then sort the data and establish patterns. Those patterns then become the matrix that decides how you respond to any given stimuli.

What the student should be doing is looking to understand the principles that make something work, their strengths, and weaknesses. When you understand those things on an instinctive level then you can be free of the rehearsed techniques and respond spontaneously, originating new techniques and mixing and matching pieces of rehearsed techniques to perfectly fit the specific situation and its own unique nuances.

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Self Control

The following is a repost from my personal blog.  I thought it also appropriate here.  I wrote it originally on 9-23-07.



I just wanted to put down in writing some thoughts on self-control that have been on my mind.
Proverbs 25: 28 tells us this:

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

now when I read this just reading it and not taking the time to really understand it this is what I get out of it:

having no self-control is bad.

but is that enough? To just read it and glean that info, or is there really more to that verse than what is on the surface.

Let’s take a closer look shall we.

When you get to looking at this verse, you realize that this is an A=B statement. That means that there is a phrase in this verse that can be replaced with the = sign. so then the verse reads like this.

He that hath no rule over his own spirit = a city that is broken down, and without walls.

The first statement, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit…” is the A statement which is equal to/same as the B statement, “… a city that is broken down, and without walls.

Now that is all well and good, but it doesn’t really help me to understand this verse any better…or does it?

It begs the question, how? How is the A statement like the B statement? What is it about a city that is broken down and without walls that is the same as a man without self-control? I don’t get it!

So I begin to ask myself a few questions:

1: what is a city that is broken down like? (desolate)
2: what is a city that is without walls like? (defenseless)

Ahh, now that begins to shine a little light on things for me!

So from that I can glean that a man without self-control is desolate and defenseless. But I see the light only for a brief moment before confusion once again sets in. How is a man without self-control desolate and defenseless?

So I spend some more time thinking about this, and I think about the people I work with, and I see around all the time. I work in the public and I work with a lot of people and I talk with a lot of people and I began to see a pattern emerge.

People who lack self-control are often desolate because they lack the motivation to do what must be done.

How often do we see people complain about not having when the truth is that they don’t have because they didn’t have the motivation to make it happen? There were things that they needed to do that they didn’t do and now they do without. You are either without the “doing” or you are doing without.

The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. Prov. 13:4
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. Prov. 20:4

Always wanting a handout, believing they are entitled to the rewards of others hard work. Their state of affairs is the fault of someone else, never their own. This is the belief of the man who lacks self-control, and thus he is desolate, having nothing.

Scripture proves true, how interesting.

As I look deeper into human nature, I see yet another truth. People who lack self-control are defenseless because they lack the restraint that prevents them from geting into trouble.

In one of the Karate Kid movies, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel “…Best block not to be there…” Here is where the self-control enters into our defenses. Often we find ourselves in situations that we could have avoided if we had only restrained ourselves. Maybe we went to someplace we wanted to go, when we ought not to have been there in the first place. But we wanted to go so we did. Or maybe we said something that we shouldn’t have said. How many times have we heard others say, “I couldn’t help it”. How many times have we heard ourselves say that? How many times did we speak without thinking first?

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Traditional vs Non Traditional Martial Arts

There is a long standing debate between different factions as to which is superior, traditional styles or non-traditional styles, in martial effectiveness. Honestly, I think it is a silly debate. There is no such thing as a traditional “style”.

Traditional is a reference to method not curriculum.  Any martial art can be traditional or non-traditional based solely on the method it is taught.

Let me illustrate this by looking at several systems that bear these labels.  Many people might say that Xing Yi is a traditional style because is “old” and boxing is “new”.  Likewise they would say that Karate, Taekwondo, Aikido and Judo are also traditional, while wrestling is non-traditional.  This is ridiculous because Taekwondo didn’t exist till 1955, Aikido was formed between 1920-1930’s, Karate in the late 1800’s; while boxing was around in the mid 1700’s and wrestling existed even further back than that.  So clearly age isn’t a qualification of “traditional” status.  The correct terms to describe this would be “modern” vs “ancient”

So, then others might want to qualify an art as “traditional” based on its deviation from its original methods and curriculum.  This is also ridiculous because in order for any martial art to retain its effectiveness throughout history it has to change its emphasis in response to the changing methods of attack and defense.  Change is one of the, if not the most, basic concepts of martial art.  My art, which is considered by all to be traditional, has undergone many changes throughout the centuries to become what it is today.  This is how an art is born.  It starts with a single idea, and grows into a robust and comprehensive system as it encounters new stimuli that it has to deal with.  Also, if you look at boxing and wrestling, they haven’t changed all that much since their inception and would still be considered traditional by this standard.  The correct terms to describe this would be “original” vs “developed”.

Still others would classify an art as “traditional” if they wear sashes/belts and fancy uniforms.  Well, lets see… Tai Ji doesn’t wear belts and all styles of kung fu accept their uniform as official, but it is just a mandarin suit — regular street clothing of the day.  Boxing’s uniform is a pair of shorts, has been for a long time.  That doesn’t work either.

So, how do you classify an art as traditional?  Is it the presence of forms?  Nope, because (to my knowledge) Aikido and Judo don’t have them.  Let’s start by defining the term “traditional”

  1. Existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established.
  2. Produced, done, or used in accordance with tradition.

So I propose that a traditional art is any art that is characterized by the adherence and/or respect for traditions past from one generation to another.

I think that if you consider this definition, you realize that it is the method of instruction and attitude of the practitioner that defines an art as traditional and that may change from one art to another.

So, please, let’s dispense with unnecessary labels that distract us from the important things and lets instead keep seeking higher development in whatever art that you happen to love.

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Where do you punch from?

“Boxing punches from the head and shaolin punches from the hip and karate punches from the solar plexus, where does xing yi punch from?”
I was asked this question once, and my answer was that xing yi punches from wherever you are. If your hand is at the hip, then punch from the hip. If it is at the head, punch from the head. If it is at the opponents chest when you start then punch from there. Xing yi focuses on overlapping the defensive and offensive movements so that the cocking motion is eliminated and the whole body powers each strike. This takes away the standard need for a starting point for punches. Hence the answer to the question of does xing yi punch from the head, hip, or solar plexus is “yes”. 😉

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neutrality in posture, pt 1

As I learn more about the human body and what it means to have good posture in both health and martial arts, I have discovered this general theme.  It’s a good theme I think, and I think it has many implications outside of either of these categories.  It is balance, or neutrality.

First, I want to state what I am NOT talking about.  There are many times in life when we need to “clear the center” or take a side, form an opinion, or make a stand as it were.  By talking about the importance of neutrality I am NOT saying that we should LIVE in neutral, but only that we should start there.  Life is a dynamic experience and the only way to live it is dynamically.  We were designed by our Maker to move!  But like in so many other aspects of life, if we start wrong, we generally end wrong.

In Xing Yi we occasionally talk about this concept called Wu Ji which means “no poles” in Chinese. This idea of having no extremes has many connotations but one of them I would like to talk about today is posture.

There are many subtle details about posture and I do not intend to discuss them all, but instead, just a general theme… a rule of thumb if you will.

Any time you build a proper posture you have to start at the ground and build up.  Your feet are your foundation, and the first neutrality I want to talk about is the feet.  More specifically the ankle.  Have you ever seen, or maybe you are one, someone who stands with the feet rolled out, or even in?  It shouldn’t take much convincing to show that this isn’t a strong or even healthy posture for a person to stand in for any length of time.  You have two extremes here, rolled out and rolled in. Either one can lead to muscular imbalance and when the legs are out of balance, the whole body adjusts with it.  You should be balanced, or in neutral, neither one pole or the other.  This neutral position gives you the freedom to move in any way that life demands, and beginning from that posture strengthens the musculature unilaterally to promote a healthy body from the ground up.

You are less likely to sprain your ankle, and you are far more able to root through feet that are not balanced poorly from bad posture.  And we all know, that without a good root you cannot apply power properly.

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is your kung fu real “kung fu”?

The word “kung fu” means a skill attained through hard work and time.

This means that a pianist has kung fu as well as a martial artist, even though this isn’t the way we normally think of it.

I just wanted to remind people, that kung fu isn’t just a body of technique, but at its very foundation is a work ethic.

It isn’t kung fu if you aren’t working hard to learn it.

In this light, there is a lot that we TCMA practitioners can learn from the MMA community. It is very impressive to see how hard these guys work to be good at their arts.

I don’t mean to criticize those hobby martial artists out there, so don’t misunderstand me.

But I do want to encourage us all by this challenge, as much to me as anyone.

If it ain’t hard work, it ain’t really kung fu.

So, my hat is off to you MMA people, your skill is high because your work ethic is good. Keep it up.

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are you stacking skills, or just spreading yourself too thin?

Just a brief word on how to most effectively improve your skills. When I was younger I thought that the best way was to work on everything every day. I have since learned that while working on everything a little every day is good, the only real way to improve is a process called “skill stacking”. This is when I make one thing my intense focus until I see improvement, then I back off and pick something else to focus intensely on. If you want to improve, pick the biggest dog in the pack and take him down. Then look up and ask, “who’s next?”

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