From ages 7 to 14, I trained Shotokan Karate. I earned my brown belt when I was 12 and began teaching adult classes at the age of 13. I was told that I couldn’t test for black belt until I was 16. But by that time it was High School, and I was all about sports. So Karate went by the wayside. Besides, chicks didn’t dig Karate dudes.
In University I began studying meditation because I wanted to calm myself. Following graduation, I started traveling and became heavily involved with QiGong in the Czech Republic – long story. After practicing in Japan for a number of years, I decided to move to China to further my studies. I was keen on QiGong as a relaxation technique and I wanted to experience what I read about in Chinese texts firsthand.
Although I continued practicing soft styles of QiGong in China, I was pushed by my teacher, Master Zhang Yu Fei, to become stronger and practice ‘internal martial arts.’ He told me that at my age and fairly healthy state I should be pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. Master Zhang saw that I needed to build something solid enough that would support me in the years to come. He explained it in terms of a continuum – life broke down into a series of stages.
At first I was skeptical. I didn’t want to be violent or go all tough guy and part of me didn’t miss getting smacked around by my old Karate teacher. Organized sport. The idea of another dojo scene. No way. All I was I interested in was becoming more chill. But Zhang somehow got me on the Chinese Kung Fu.
No to be confused with Fight Club or kick-tree-trunks-with-your-shins-to-kill-all-the-nerve-endings like Jean Claude Van Damme. I was training Kung Fu to become healthy and strong in All aspects of my life. For me, the martial training was the key ingredient – the seed from which ‘optimal health’ would one day manifest.
Demanding 4 hours of my day upfront and always pushing me to train more, Master Zhang had me focusing on the bigger picture. He told me that in our youth we need to channel our high levels of energy accordingly. We play hard, we sweat hard. This concept, according to tradition, is meant to be pushed right into our mid-thirties. After that, we move to softer forms but maintain our edge by continuing to build power. In our later years, the body begins to deteriorate and we transition by training more mental/spiritual aspects through stillness. This in a nutshell, is said to be the ‘natural progression.’
For most of us who have become overburdened with everyday responsibilities, the ‘natural progression’ may seem unrealistic and unattractive. Most of us want calm and we want it now. But it doesn’t really work that way. Calm everyday living is the result of a healthy constitution, and most of us need to train and build this foundation. Like yang and yin, health promotes relaxation. Without one, we don’t have the other.
Looking beyond the traditional model, in this day and age, we fit in what we can. This isn’t about trying to embrace Chinese thought or become a Kung Fu Master. It’s about the continuum.
In our youth we train to endure. As we age we smooth it out.