BJJ - Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
The history of martial arts is often richly layered and deep, with many different forms coming from the same original set of teachings. We’ve covered some of these in the past, and even in the modern age, many of these forms come into being as variations of more traditional forms. Today we’re going to be talking about one that is very popular in modern sports: Brazilian jiu-jitsu, also known as Gracie jiu-jitsu.
The Origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
This discipline of martial arts is descended from one you’ve probably heard of, judo, which was originally called jujutsu – translated as “the art of softness” or “the yielding way”. This early form was developed in Japan hundreds of years ago, as a way for fighters to overcome the armed and armoured samurai, even if they had small weapons, or none at all. Knowing that striking a samurai’s armour would not work, these combatants began to create ways to redirect offensive strikes and energy into pins, joint locks, throws, and other disarming or immobilizing moves. In essence, the art is about using your opponent’s energy against them, rather than fast offensive moves or strikes.
Kung Fu Studio Rules
In order to keep a safe and educational environment, at Kung Fu For Life we promote a healthy respect for others, ourselves, and our facility. To make sure everyone is treated fairly, we have a set of rules for our space, broadly split up into several different areas. These are quite standard across martial arts studios, and help protect our students, teachers, and equipment as we all take part in this journey together.
Rules for Decorum & Respect
The first rules in our facility are all about respect. Learning to view all others as equals and worthy opponents is they key to true learning and success, and it is foremost among our teachings here.
Respect for each other when working together should be high, and aggression or discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated. In fact, consistently rude remarks or gestures may result in dismissal. We believe that all students are responsible for their own actions, and liable for the consequences of what they do within these halls.
This respect translates into action with proper decorum as well. We do not allow excessive laughter or horseplay, as it is unbecoming of serious students of a difficult discipline, and neither do we allow swearing, profanity, or crude language. We even insist on a bow, with the left hand crossed over right (not the other way around, which is a challenging gesture), whenever entering or leaving the training hall.
Rules for Personal Dress & Hygiene
Having respect for yourself means good hygiene and clean clothes, too. All training uniforms, along with socks or mat shoes, should be clean, odor-free, and ready for use. Fingernails must be kept short as well, to reduce the risk of accidental scratches.
Rules Regarding Practice
Practice is required of the student, and plenty of it is necessary to permit sub-conscious recall in a defensive situation. In addition, all calisthenics and exercises are the responsibility of the student, and it is each student’s responsibility and prerogative to stop any exercise if it appears to be too strenuous. It is important to remember not to overdo any exercise while practicing and executing techniques. It should be tiring, but not too much – your good health is in our mutual best interests.
General Studio Rules
As a general rule, we do not allow training at other schools while you are currently training with us. As a student of Kung Fu For Life, we expect that you will not train in any other martial art because undivided attention is required to learn and understand our style.
We do not allow soliciting on the premises, either, as the studio is designed exclusively for the training and development of our members.
We ask that you do not show or teach this martial art to anyone without express permission from the school, especially regarding any advanced level training or teachings. Most of all, this is for the safety of you and those around you. Beyond that, all students are required to find a peaceful solution to any confrontation or conflict, if possible, before resorting to physical combat. Even if a defensive situation should arise, all students are required to avoid excessive force whenever possible.
Rules for General Sparring
Sparring safely is one of the most important skills and practices to follow. So, the rules that we have in place for sparring matches are also among the most important in preventing injury.
We do not allow sparring of any sort unless there is an instructor present, and we believe that excessive force is unnecessary for proper learning – therefore, it is not allowed inside the studio. All students inside the studio are expected to exercise excellent control while practicing techniques with other people.
When it comes to weapons, training is only permissible once your instructor and a representative group of your peers have decided that you are ready. It is usually reserved for advanced students who have proven themselves capable.
There are also specific rules for sparring to ensure fairness and a reduced risk of injury. In every sparring match, these guidelines are to be followed:
There are some unwritten rules for sparring, too, which all students must follow to avoid injury and progress with their studies.
It may seem like there are a lot of rules, but most of them are simply common sense, and in place to protect students and masters alike. Once you are comfortable in your kung fu studies, you will hardly even have to think about them – and that’s when the true education begins!
The Martial Art Of Tai Chi
The words “martial arts” conjure up all kinds of imagery – and it’s usually Hollywood-style, over-the-top fight scenes that just barely jive with the laws of physics. But the truth is, the disciplines of different martial arts cover a wide range of activities and goals, and many of them are not focused on fighting. In fact, some of them have historically prioritized form, meditation, focus, balance, and other “inner” qualities. Tai chi quan, meaning “supreme ultimate boxing” and simply known as tai chi in most of pop culture, is one of them.
Meditation To Fight Anxiety
If you’re feeling a bit anxious these days, the first thing to know is that you’re definitely not alone! The world is going through a very stressful time, and it’s okay to feel uneasy about it. With that said, it’s probably best for your own wellbeing if you’re not constantly racked with anxiety for the next few months, while the COVID-19 pandemic plays itself out. So what can you do to help with that?
We’ve noticed a big boost of interest in meditation lately, and we think that’s a great first step towards keeping yourself centred and making things a little more manageable. This is a topic we love to talk about – almost as much as we love practicing it! – so here’s some easy information for the beginners, who may have no experience with meditating at all.
The first thing to remember is that meditating doesn’t require perfect stillness, complete silence, or hours and hours of time – forget the Hollywood version that you’ve seen in movies. It’s not about reaching some grand realization, or having a life-changing revelation. It’s simply a way to re-centre yourself, stay aligned with your situation and your goals, and be mindful of what your body is telling you. There are no expectations, so don’t feel pressured!
You’ve probably got a couple of questions about the act itself. Do I have to sit perfectly still? How long do I have to do it? What if I can’t “clear my mind”? Those are some of the most common ones we hear, over and over again.
Firstly, there’s no “right” way to meditate, as there are dozens and dozens of techniques you can use. The intention and the commitment are half of the process, so by just choosing to sit and do it every day, you’re already well on your way to the positive impact. It’s more about focusing and mindfulness than it is about perfection.
You don’t have to sit perfectly still, if that’s difficult. You don’t even have to sit at all – some people prefer lying down, as the “upright monk” posture can get distractingly uncomfortable. Find a position that you don’t have to think about holding too hard.
As for the length of time, that’s up to you. Many beginners start with just 5-10 minutes a day, which is great for coping with everyday stress. 15 minutes is a common benchmark as well. If you’re feeling the flow, go ahead and extend a little longer! A good recommendation is one minute for every year of your age, once you’ve got a bit of practice.
And if you can’t clear your thoughts, don’t panic. Just let them come! Meditation allows you to embrace and work around your conscious thoughts, which are very difficult to stop entirely, so as long as you’re not having an internal argument or thinking about everything else you need to be doing, you’re just fine.
A good time to meditate is right before bed, so it can clear your mind and prep you for a nice, restful sleep. Alternately, some people find it useful to get up early and spend a bit of time each morning preparing for their day.
Our most crucial piece of advice for new meditators? Be consistent with it, every day, and keep your mind open. Use it to relax your mind, and don’t go in with expectations. After all, meditation is a release, not a chore. Let yourself be immersed, and enjoy the benefits that come your way!
The Martial Art of Kendo
We’ve spent a lot of the last few months talking about different martial arts – karate, tae kwon do, kickboxing, and so on – but for the most part, those have all focused on disciplines that prioritize body movement over weapons. While some, like ninjustsu, allow for the use of weapons like staffs, the majority of the training is on how to strike, block, and counter with your own body. Today let’s talk about a martial art that goes the other way: the Japanese school of kendo.
Kendo came together over the last few centuries, descended from kenjutsu – the expert swordsmanship and techniques of samurai and other fighters in feudal Japan. It emphasizes the quick motion and strikes of swordfighting, while also teaching how to effectively block your opponent from hitting you in return. It takes many years of practice to master, and requires intense training to reach the physical fitness necessary to wield and move the weapons properly, while maintaining the correct footwork for the style.
Historically, kendoka (practitioners of the sport) used real swords, but beginning as far back as the 1700s, that has changed in favour of using bamboo or wooden swords, called shinai or bokuto, respectively. And similar to modern fencing, its participants have special protective gear to protect their heads, body, and arms, a tradition that has been in place since the 17th century. This includes a head, shoulder and throat covering, made of leather and fabric, with a metal grille over the face; a hard leather breastplate to protect the torso; three thick fabric flaps for the groin and waist; and finally, a pair of long, thick cotton gloves for the hands and forearms. Based off the traditional outfits of samurai fighters, this equipment became a key part of the kendo style.
In competitions, the only way to score points is to hit your opponent in one of those areas – the head or throat, the wrists, or the body. Any hit on an unarmoured area does not count. Thus, learning how to properly manoeuvre with the sword for strikes and counterstrikes is the foundation for every kendo student – techniques known as kata.
Getting used to the sword movements and reactions, and being adept enough to predict what to do next, takes years of practice – and the grading system reflects that, with more than ten skill levels noted. At age 13, a kendoka can be admitted to the first true grade, 1-dan (before that they are considered as kyu, which itself has 6 levels). To reach the next dan after that, increasing years of practice are needed, and no student can get to the highest level if they are younger than 46 years old. At minimum, 31 years of practice are needed to ascend to the level of 8-dan!
If you have always admired the effortless swordwork of Japanese masters, and you want to become exceptional at hand-eye coordination, anticipation of strikes, and counter-attacks with a weapon, kendo could be a lifelong journey of constant growth for you. As with any martial art, it has its benefits and advantages, and it keeps its learners active, disciplined, and focused in their lives. Whether you’re doing kung fu, kendo, or karate, that is the first step towards a meaningful and well-lived life!
The Martial Art of Ninjutsu
Of all the different fields of martial arts that we have already looked at, or will look at more closely in the future, perhaps the most misunderstood one is that of ninjutsu – the art and techniques of the nearly-mythical hidden attackers known as ninjas. From its ancient roots to its explosion in popularity during the last few decades, mostly thanks to pop culture phenomena like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the idea of what ninjutsu is and what its practitioners do has always walked the line between legend and reality.
The methods of the ninjas began centuries ago, in feudal Japan, but due to their secretive nature it is impossible to tell exactly when the discipline was truly established. However, the first ninjas – or as they were originally known, the shinobi – were not the black-clad masters that we would imagine today. Rather, they were simply poor people from the countryside and farms who became very good at infiltration and spying, and taught the same methods to their children over generations. They become renowned for their ability to blend in, do their task (whether that was assassination, information collection, sabotage, or something else), and then disappear without raising the alarm. Their guiding principles became the ideas of stealth and adaptation to any situation.
So what does that mean? The biggest thing that differentiates ninjutsu from other martial arts is that ninjas are not just focused on how to fight well. They may incorporate techniques from other arts, like karate or kung fu, but it is only a small part of true ninja training, which begins from a young age and runs through a student’s entire life. This training involves stealth practices, increasing your resourcefulness, long-distance walking or long periods of standing still, planning proper diets, knowledge of poisons and cures, using commonly-found objects as weapons, and a variety of ingenuous techniques for how to incapacitate, blind, harm, or silently kill targets.
Ninjutsu is known for its use of simple farm tools as weapons, like scythes, flails, or sickles, which not only could be used to great effect, but allowed anyone wielding such a tool to claim they were only a farmer, not a fighter. They also used hidden objects like hollowed-out eggs filled with broken glass and pepper, sharp metal throwing stars, and blades on chains to attack from a distance and catch their targets by surprise.
Though the idea of dressing in all black is a great Hollywood trope, it is more likely that they dressed in disguises that would allow them passage to their targets – monks, priests, farmers, and so on. They became so good at blending in that legends told of them being invisible, and the reputation progressed to the point that sites fearful of being infiltrated had all kinds of traps, alarms, and failsafes to prevent anyone from getting past the guards.
So where does that leave the idea of ninjas today? Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a school that teaches ninjutsu, you are likely to be out of luck – not only because it was a hereditary concept to begin with, but also because there is no such thing as a single, overarching discipline of ninjutsu. It is a mix of trainings and practices from all parts of life, and deals with a lot of ideas and methods that are obsolete in the modern world.
But it’s still interesting to look back and see how a group of poor Japanese peasants turned into some of the most feared and respected martial artists in history, by constantly practicing and using only what was available to them!
The Martial Art of Wing Chun
A lot of people will ask about martial arts as if it’s a competition – which one is the best, which one is better for winning fights, and so on. But one of the best things about all martial arts in general is that they are all different expressions of the same underlying philosophy: that through training, discipline, meditation, and practice, anyone can become more in tune with themselves and their environment, and live a better life. And when we’re talking about styles as different as kung fu and wing chun, that distinction makes a big difference.
Wing chun (which you may know as the style practiced by stars like Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva, and even Robert Downey, Jr.) is a martial arts discipline that is characterized by lightning-fast arm strikes and blocks, strong leg support, and a prioritization of hits and defense along the vertical centre of the body. The main stance is high and narrow, allowing the arms to easily block hits and counter-attack in return.
One of the most important concepts highlighted by Wing Chun is the idea of “softness” – not at all in the sense of weakness, but in the flexibility and adaptation of a fighter’s movements. This core idea means that when defending, there is the ability to manoeuvre around incoming hits, but all the strength of training is ready to be used at all times when the opportunity arises. Teachers of the art liken it to a shoot of bamboo: steady and firmly rooted, but able to easily sway in the wind.
Wing Chun is also more simple with its forms than many other martial arts, especially ones like karate or tae kwon do. Organized by accessories – “empty hand”, “weapon”, and “wooden dummy” – almost all lessons in the discipline take place within just six forms. These all have derivatives as well, but the majority of concepts can be expressed using this methodology.
There are three empty hand forms, emphasizing different techniques and skills. The basic form, Siu Nim Tau, is the basis of all the others across the whole martial art, and teaches fundamentals of balance and body structure. The next, Chum Kiu, highlights movement, initial strike and recovery techniques, and ways to “bridge the gap” between one fighter and another. The third, Biu Ji, is more advanced, teaching short- and long-range techniques like kicks, sweeps, counter-attacks, and emergency techniques when the main ones are no longer possible.
Traditional weapons in Wing Chun include dual short butterfly swords of 11-15 inches as well as wooden poles ranging from 8-13 feet long. Requiring advanced footwork, power, strength, and training in strike ability, they are a developed skill that many students no longer train on, focusing instead on the breathing, flow, and movement of the empty hand forms.
Lastly, the wooden dummy (seen in the image at the top of this blog) form is an intermediate style that helps train students on strikes against another person. There are many different versions of this, and it is only a guide meant to instill confidence and expectations as a Wing Chun fighter moves up in their ability to execute strikes.
Another interesting idea of Wing Chun is the practice of “sticking hands”, Chi Sau. These drills are meant to develop automatic reflexes and to feel – and eventually, anticipate – how opponents move before striking. In training, students maintain forearm contact with each other while practicing, learning to sense pressure, momentum, muscular mechanics, and so on, with the idea of getting to the point where they can precisely predict and respond to attacks based on sight alone.
So with all that said, what is the same about Wing Chun? At its root, it does the same thing that kung fu does: it teaches patience, mindfulness, oneness, and confidence. It makes students more balanced, both physically and emotionally. It creates wellness and peace where there were often scattered thoughts. Overall, they are both martial arts here to make students healthier, happier, and more aware of all that they are capable of!
Why Kung Fu Loses Against MMA
If you go to any bar on a Saturday night, you might encounter a room full of people glued to the TV, watching Pay-Per-View coverage of the latest big-name title fight. From humble origins, mixed-martial arts (MMA) fights have come up to be hugely popular, often getting tons of attention from people around the world – and more often than not, drawing parallels with the more traditional martial arts from which MMA is descended.
What’s more, on the rare occasions when a modern MMA fighter goes up against a student of kung fu, it can appear extremely lopsided! While being totally different styles, they are both rooted in attacks and defense, and thus it is tempting to think that they are roughly equally matched. So, when faced with the fact that kung fu fighters often lose when pitted against MMA – how can we explain that? Is one discipline better than the other? Is kung fu useless in a real, ruthless fight situation?
Well, not exactly. It’s not nearly as simple as that, and here’s why.
Simply put, MMA fighters win more often in the ring because that is exactly – and only – what they train to do, whereas kung fu is much more broad in its focus and its moves. Kung fu was not developed to “win in a ring”, after all. It was developed out of principles of meditation, balance, mental discipline, and the necessity of self-defence in situations where the fight likely would not be fair.
What does that mean? Well, it means that we teach kicks, punches, and other hits that are effective in an emergency situation, when they need to be – but would never be allowed in an MMA fight. Downward elbow hits, reverse roundhouse kicks, open-hand strikes, and glove-free blocks are good examples of this – they are all very common in kung fu, but not used anywhere near an MMA ring. In a street situation where you need to end a conflict fast, fighting “according to the rules” is not going to help, so we train our students to do what is most effective, with the least amount of harm inflicted. MMA, on the other hand, is about beating up another person until they are completely subdued and usually unconscious – as long as they stay within the rules. It may be more entertaining to watch, and more brutal in its execution, but it lacks the real versatility and adaptability of a true self-defence discipline; it can’t accommodate unexpected weapons, or illegal kicks and punches, or the ability to stay calm and focused for hours at a time instead of short three-minute bursts. It is a sport – one that requires a lot of time and talent and passion, yes, but a sport nonetheless – whereas kung fu is a philosophy, an art, and a way of life.
Another way to say it? MMA fighters train to get into fights and give 110% toward conquering their opponent. Kung fu fighters train to stay out of fights, unless there is literally no other way out – but if it’s all on the line, they are equipped to approach any escalation with a clear head and a quick response. So don’t be so quick to judge if a kung fu martial artist has lost in the ring – real fights don’t have referees or rules, and it would look much different in a street situation!
The Martial Art Of Taekwondo
In prior months we have covered some other common forms of martial arts like karate and kickboxing. Today we’d like to talk about another one, which you’ve no doubt heard about in many movies, TV shows, and probably even within your personal friend group: taekwondo.
What Is Taekwondo?
Like many similar martial arts, taekwondo was developed in Asia, though its history does not go back as far as the more traditional styles like karate. Starting in Korea after the Second World War, the name roughly translates to “The Way of the Trampling Fist”, and was brought into being as many separates styles in different schools across Korea. In 1952 the South Korean president saw a demonstration of the style, and saw in it a way for Koreans to remember their own ancient discipline, taekkyeon; within a few years, the schools had begun to unify their teachings and combine old and new techniques very effectively, eventually settling on the name taekwondo.
While slow to gain popularity, soon enough the military was using the discipline as their standard for hand-to-hand combat, and by the 1960s, new associations and federations were established and spreading around the world – including the International Taekwondo Federation (Also known as ITF and is pictured performing above along with World Taekwondo) in Toronto. In 2000, it was added to the Olympic Summer Games as one of only two martial arts, alongside judo, and today it is popular in many countries with many offshoot styles.
Martial Arts With A Kick
While some martial arts are all about redirection of momentum, stance ability, blocks, and so on, taekwondo is well known for its emphasis on kicks of all kinds. Fighters can jump and spin, landing kicks with plenty of force to all parts of the body, including the head – in fact, World Taekwondo competitions award extra points for strikes of those type. Because of this reliance on fast, manoeuvrable movements, taekwondo is seen as more of an agile, swift martial art.
You might have also heard of their Theory of Power, which is the idea that speed is more important than actual size when it comes to how powerful a strike can be. Taekwondo’s form is recognizable by the amount of rotation and turning its fighters do when striking, in order to counterbalance the striking force and create an even bigger hit. The discipline also believes strongly in considering equilibrium, breath control, concentrated strike areas, reaction force, and mass with every strike. They emphasize the practice of breaking boards or bricks as a test of how accurate, quick, and powerful a fighter’s blows can be.
One particularity of taekwondo is that formally, it is not a weapon-based martial art, and is not part of the curriculum of most programs (though some schools do incorporate staff, knife, or stick training).
The Five Tenets Of Taekwondo
Though there are many different styles and practices of modern taekwondo, the core beliefs of all of them refer back to the Five Tenets of Taekwondo:
These five concepts guide how all students are to act and train as they become more educated, and reflect the idea of an ultimately peaceful society as an overarching goal for taekwondo in the world. In this way, the sport is very much like all martial arts in how it manifests – including our very own kung fu!
If you are looking for martial arts in Calgary you should call us today and we can help guide you in the right direction.
Do Not Feed The Devil
Everyone has heard the saying “mind over matter”, but few people actually take the time to think about what it really means. Far from being an annoying mantra that means you should never feel down about anything, it’s intended as a guiding principle that will help you overcome negativity in a healthy and useful way.
To illustrate this point, let’s change gears for a moment and talk about an old folk tale. In it, a bedridden prince is stuck in bed with a mysterious illness, and nothing seems to help. One day, he and his attendants see, lurking in the corner of the room, a demon that seems to be at the root of all the trouble. Frightened and angry, they scream and they curse, but it does no good – the demon grows, every day, until it takes up most of the room. Soon it will be too late for the prince, unless they can think of a solution.
So out of curiosity – and because they could think of nothing else – the prince and the attendants try being kind to the demon. They reach out to it, they offer food and drink, and they refuse to let its increasing anger faze them. As the demon shrinks down again, it becomes more violent and unpredictable, but the people continue…and before long, the demon is gone, and they have all learned a valuable lesson.
So what does this mean for our students?
When we encounter difficult situations – especially ones over which we feel we have little or no control – our main gut reaction is to get upset. We might lash out, turn negative, or push away the people who care about us. This begins a cycle of anger that reinforces itself and continues the behaviour, which seems increasingly unfair, so we get even more angry….and before long, we have turned a setback (which are always going to happen) into something insurmountable. What this story tells us is that instead, we should step back and consider all the other sides of the problem: who else is affected by our actions? Realistically, will being angry change anything? Is it worth losing patience over this? Often we will find that we can calm ourselves and remain steady if we choose not to give in to those base reactions.
It is nicely summed up in the legendary story of the “Two Wolves”, which are in constant battle inside every person: one made of darkness and despair, and the other light and hope. The winner depends on which one you choose to feed!
Meditative martial arts like kung fu can help you reach a point of tranquility, where your emotions are better balanced and you carefully consider the impacts of your actions. The mind and the body are tied together, and when they improve in tandem, you will find that you are capable of great changes in your life that you may have never thought possible. It’s just one more benefit to studying martial arts!
Kung Fu For Life
Learn something new from us each and every month!