Motivation and experience

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Motivation and experience

Post  Whiteape on Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:33 pm

Okay so here it goes. I'd like to get an idea of everyone's experiences to date as far as what you have trained and what led you to try wushu as well as your motivations and focuses in training. I will start with a bit about myself.

I started training Tae Kwon Do at the age of 11 for about 2 1/2 years. I, like many boys, thought martial arts, kung fu, karate, ninjas, etc... were pretty flippin' cool and also really began to feel the need to get in shape at that age. I was on the cusp of being in between the kids and adult classes so I often trained with either/both. By my second year of training I was full time in the adult classes where I would spar at least twice a week with mostly men and some women usually much bigger and stronger than me (there was one guy that was a racehorse jockey...very small, but still quite strong). I've never been particularly fond of confrontation, but I grew up in a rough area where I couldn't always avoid fights so I had some idea of holding my own before I started training. This combination of factors served me pretty well in high school. Although I stopped my Tae Kwon Do training part way through my freshman year, my chops were periodically tested despite my willingness to walk away most of the time. I found myself not often using the fancy, fast, high kicking techniques emphasized in TKD, but the general fitness and comfort level I gained from training and sparring against stronger people proved quite helpful. The occasional strong low to mid level kick was pretty effective for me and every once in a while a high kick was effectively delivered, but mainly I used punches and throwing techniques somewhat crudely. From 14 through 19 I didn't train in any martial art formally, but got some fighting experience.

Skip ahead to 19 years of age, my life had taken some turns for the worse and I was really looking to get myself together and get my life back in order. I was abusing my body, feeling unhealthy and depressed and began missing that vigorouseness I felt from martial arts. I played sports in a friendly context plenty, but that was not enough to help my overall health with the way I lived and ate. I happened to have a couple friends who had studied taiji, bagua, and xingyi for a couple of years. I was quite impressed with these arts and their training. The way they learned, I could see the practicality, the emphasis of keeping "root" seemed to ring true to me as far as my own fighting experience. This was not taught to me in TKD, but I found it to make sense naturally. Also, internal arts and wushu in general seemed much more graceful, artful and refined to me in the movements. They (my friends) also turned me on to the concepts of qi and qigong. They learned some qigong in their training, but it was not as specific or intensive as what we teach. I liked the idea of training in the internal arts, but also really craved the hard physical workout and the acrobatic skills of the harder styles. By 20 I found a school in Bethesda, MD that was recommended by a friend that taught longfist and yang style taiji. I trained there for a little over a year before moving down to Charlottesville. I also did a small bit of qigong there, but it too was not quite the same as what I do now. When I moved down here one of the first things I did was seek out a new school. Luckily, I found there was a place that taught longfist and taiji, 3 emperors run by John Alton. I was really impressed with John's health and vigor when doing forms and his student teacher Alex had that flare in his forms that was awe inspiring whether doing modern comp. stuff or the more traditional or internal stuff. I was particuarly intrigued by John's focus on qigong and his status and connections as an acknowledged master with the ministry of sports in Beijing. Once I started learning John's qigong, I just knew this was what I was really looking for. While it enhanced the intricacy and refinement of all the forms and fighting aspects of wushu, it was in and of itself the most profound and life changing practice I had ever taken on. After 9 yrs. of practicing John's material, I have gained an intimate understanding of the internal workings of my body and it's interaction with the surrounding environment and a sense of balance and peace of mind that is invaluable. I try to just maintain a healthy discipline, simplify my lifestyle and refine the important elements of my life.

I don't expect everyone to write an essay like I did. A couple sentences will suffice. Be honest, don't just say what you think we want to hear. Saying, "I just think those acrobatic competition forms are really cool and want to learn how to do that.", is okay as far as I'm concerned. I just want to know where people stand. Also, Eryn, you should write something about yourself too. This will be a good little bit of practice for the writing we're doing for John.

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Re: Motivation and experience

Post  Courtney M on Thu Jun 19, 2008 11:26 pm

Alrighty....i dont have alot of experience as far as formal martial arts goes..i took tae kwon do briefly back around the time i was 10. I signed up for it and my cousin and i took classes for a couple of months. I have..since as long as i can remember been infatuated with just about anything remotely martial arts...ESPECIALLY Kung Fu..everything from the slower forms, to the weapons, to the animal forms. About 8 years ago me and friend paid john a visit in hopes of joining his school..though that didnt turn out as well i had im happy to be working under Eryn now. I love the rigorous workout i get from wushu, the discipline, and the peace it gives me, that motivates me to continue and with time get much better.
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Re: Motivation and experience

Post  Dave on Fri Jun 20, 2008 12:05 am

I can remember being a small kid - Maybe 11 or 12 - an wanting to be either a "ninja" or a "black belt." This is how it all started for me.

I was probably inspired by movies at that age, by the skill and mystery of the on screen martial artists. I'm from a very small town, though (about 1800 people), so it was difficult to find a good school. There were a couple to choose from though, so I started with Shotokan at age 16. Being busy with high school and sports I only stayed for about a year and a half. So I didn't formally study martial arts the rest of high school or college, but I always tried to keep in shape and even tried to keep practicing what little I knew.

Even though I tried to exercise, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't in as good of shape as I used to be in high school. But after college I happened to learn from a coworker about someone who taught Bagua and Aikijiujitsu. At that point, I hadn't even heard of Bagua, but I was definitely game. It was a very interesting class in that the teacher - Jack Davis - tried to illustrate the sort of evolution of Bagua into Aikijiujitsu from China to Japan. I learned that Aiki can be >brutal< (we did a fair amount of small joint manipulation and pressure point fighting). It also illustrated that the internal arts can be just as effective, despite looking somewhat tame. This was a pretty intense class, with constant throws and breakfalls and jointlocks, but it was very rewarding in terms of getting into shape and getting the opportunity to learn two styles that I don't see too often elsewhere.

I was sad to leave the class, but I was lucky enough to find Eryn's flyer for 3 Emperors only about three weeks after moving to Charlottesville. I love that this class focuses a lot on health and fitness. I enjoy learning applications and fighting techniques, but I definitely like to learn how to recover from them!

This class is honestly one of the most important parts of my day. It gives me the perfect balance after work, which can be stressful. My motivation for learning wushu is a few things - fitness and the chance to blow off some steam for one thing, but I have also always been interested in learning forms. I like the process of memorization and perfecting the details, as well as focusing my mind on one task. And after learning more about Qigong and the internal aspects, this has become a motivation as well.

I can't lie - I would like to learn everything that you guys know. Sometimes I try to decide which style I like best, but I can't, and I don't really want to. This is something I see as a lifelong process, and I don't feel like I need to be a "black belt" anymore.

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Re: Motivation and experience

Post  Whiteape on Thu Jun 26, 2008 2:27 pm

Great answers guys. Can we got some more participation here from anyone? ....Eryn? I think you guys are missing out by not using this forum to discuss and learn more. I hope to build this a bit more. I think we'll be starting classes out in Crozet soon and will have more people involved. On a tangent here, for those of you who may be learning qigong soon, I'm putting plans on hold because I might just have you train with John directly out in Crozet. There may be other good things for those looking to learn qigong coming out of this, but I will hold my cards until I know more. Back to the forum discussion though, I'm just asking for everyone with internet access to put in there 2 cents just once a week. This is a start with a pretty simple question and you don't need to take more than 5 minutes to do it.

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I enjoyed your guys' stories

Post  toneill12 on Fri Jun 27, 2008 11:38 pm

Hey Guys, this is Ted,
I'll guess I'll give a bit about myself briefly...
At the age of 30 (Im 42 now), I walked into a karate dojo (okinawan shuri-ryu) to check it out. My whole life was a struggle to self motivate long term. Id hit the gym for a month or two, then, inevitably, back on the couch. I kept going back to the dojo simply to work out and
started learning more and more. Like Dave, it was a great release after work. 7 years into it, I got a black belt which I was very proud of. The owner of the school prides himself on his black belts and was very strict. The 2 day test (about 6 hours total) was the toughest experience of my life to date.
I continued karate and began to cross train with an unbelievable phillipino arnice/grappling
(known as buno) instructor. I trained with him (at his house) for 4 years and stopped only because my family and I moved to c-ville (from miami)
Im pleased to have found Eryn and am enjoying the internal practices. Throughout the past 12 years, ive had some injuries that take alot of time to heal. Seperated shoulder, broken knuckles, and nose and a bunch of black eyes. I feel like now is the time for me to begin
concentrating on the healing arts and my wife agrees. She's tired of me complaining!
Thanks for the opportunity Ted

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Re: Motivation and experience

Post  Eryn on Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:50 pm

As a kid I had previously taken classes in Tae Kwon Do and Aikido but didn't take them seriously; I didn't like the way they focused on a particular element of fighting at the sake of the other elements. Aikido was all about using the energy of the opponent against his/herself without striking and Tae Kwon Do was mainly kicking. I had actually decided to pursue Shotokan Karate as it seemed all inclusive of various techniques and levels of fighting. Just prior to that I saw an article in the local paper of John Alton's studio and an expert from China teaching there. Went and saw the demo and decided this was the martial art for me.

Turns out I wasn't going to learn Longfist alone - which is pretty comprehensive in itself - but a deeper, spiritual system of internal arts I had no idea existed. Bruce Lee heavily influenced my idea of what martial art is and I still believe in his chief philosophy of "no style as style". Yet we must start somewhere and Wushu seemed the perfect place to begin the journey.

Beginning at age 17 I became obsessed with getting better at Wushu; I started living like a monk. I'd wake up early in the morning to lift weights and condition, ride my bike to school, come home train a bit more then set off to learn and teach at the studio (then named Health Masters International).

From age 17 to about 23 I kept a rigorous training schedule, at one point training up to 5 hours a day doing intense calisthenics of various kinds. John would sometimes tell me to stop training so hard and become a bit more moderate in my mentality. I had all of this energy bottled up inside and had to let it out somehow so I continued training obsessively. From 23 to current I slacked off the heavy training, now only working out when I see you guys in class. A fractured right elbow has a bit to do with the lack of training, but I'll probably resume a rigorous schedule once again soon; just working up the motivation to do it. Its hard.

I'm 26 now, still young enough to accomplish some physical feats I have mapped out in my head. I actually enjoy training immensely when in "the zone", its great therapy. I don't do well when I'm unfocused and unproductive, qigong helps immensely with that as well as with the obsessional tendencies I have. There's just something about training hard physically, doing some Taijiquan then sitting for 20 minutes. I've always had a hard time with moderation but qigong has really leveled me out; I don't want to know where I'd be without having learned it.

All things considered this is a summary of my path for the past 9 years of my life. I look forward to showing all of you a road which has helped me considerably with life, and will hopefully help you as well.
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Re: Motivation and experience

Post  wuxia_warrior on Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:19 pm

As far back as I can remember, I loved swords and ninja movies and such. Unlike a lot of people, I can't say I was influenced by Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or even the Karate Kid (which is probably the only one of the three I had seen at the time I started in martial arts). I was involved in a lot of activities when I was younger, like soccer, baseball, intramural sports, school clubs, art classes, etc., and I really don't know why it never occurred to me to ask for karate lessons.

Somewhere around my freshman year of college, my then-girlfriend and I wanted to find some bokken to mess around with, and since this was in the days prior to my buying everything off the internet, we drove around to all the martial arts schools we could find in an hour's drive. One of the schools was Harrisburg Kung Fu Center, a place that did sell bokken, but only at a certain time of the year. A little while after this experience I felt I was 'in a rut' so to speak and decided I wanted to do something from my List of Things To Do Before I Die. Since things like sky-diving and visiting other continents is expensive, I decided learning a martial art was something I could actually do at the time. At the time, I had no idea what the difference between karate and kung fu was, and I don't think I had heard of TKD. It seemed to me that every other kid my age had a black belt in karate by the age of five and so I didn't feel it was anything special. I wanted to do something unique, so I went to the Harrisburg Kung Fu Center. I started going with the then-girlfriend, but that didn't last long. The Center was at least a 45 minute drive one way up highways in addition to being $100/month. It was the summer between freshman and sophomore year and I was working FT+ as a security guard in Hershey over the summer. That was the summer the relationship with my girlfriend went to hell and I went through a very bad psychological period. I had some anxiety attacks and such and was generally not too happy, but I stayed with the kung fu and it became a kind of therapy for me. It was the only time at that point I could forget about everything else. From the time I walked into the kwoon to the time I left, I didn't think [much] about the outside world and I basically became addicted at that point. My teacher, Pai, Pono-Li (Michael Rothermel) in the Pai Lum Kung Fu tradition was a no-nonsense sort who believed in teaching how to break bones, not boards, and told us not to attack the concrete walls because they would always win, and despite being fairly small and not beefy, exuded a very martial energy. At the time I didn't realize our kung fu was very Okinawan flavored and that the little bit of foreign terminology we used was actually Japanese rather than Chinese.

I went there for about a year and as I improved mentally and emotionally, my attendance got worse to the point I hadn't been there in about two weeks and decided to just stop going. The distance and cost were quite prohibitive. I had probably been out of the arts for around six months when I began to crave it. I needed some PE courses at my college and they declared the TKD club was going to count for one, so I joined that. It was pretty horrible. It was a good aerobic workout, and that's the best I can say about it. Even doing a simple drill of blocking a punch, we were told to put on arm pads. At the Hbg Kung Fu Center, we did dasaam sing (conditioning) exercises just to toughen up. That had been the start of my martial discipline, as no matter how tired I got, I got that block up before the black belt took my head off. In the TKD club, everyone was coddled and the material was very pre-school compared to what I was used to. I went to just enough classes to get the PE credit, and the instructor didn't want to test me for yellow belt at the end of the semester. I could have pushed and gotten to do it had I wanted to, but I viewed it as useless.

Given that experience, I was hungry for a real martial art again and went back to the Hbg Kung Fu Center. At one point I wanted to spar with at my college who got her black belt through the TKD club and she got a deer in the headlights look as she stammered that she had never sparred before. I believe that puts it in the quality of pathetic even as far as TKD schools go. I did the Pai Lum KF until I had to move to Virginia to pursue graduate school.

I thoroughly searched the phone books and internet, but could find no kung fu schools in Charlottesville. I started going to 7 Tigers TKD and Hapkido up by Wal-Mart, but when I started working in lab I never got out early enough to make the trip up there. I did, however, earn my orange belt in TKD just by showing up twice and having some kung fu experience. I think 7 Tigers is a lot better than my college club was, but TKD still just didn't do it for me. After a year, my roommate spotted an ad for Chris' Laughing Dragon Kung Fu. I e-mailed him, showed up, and have been going ever since. It's nice to be one of the senior students, and I've been helping with the kids' classes for almost a year and a half now, I believe. After my first year there, I decided twice a week wasn't enough for me, so I started looking around for something else. I saw Blake's flyer in the physics building and sent him an e-mail. It was a flyer for tai chi, but said he also did wushu. At the time I had absolutely no interest in the exercise of senior citizens, but thought I'd go see what it was about anyway.

I remember meeting Blake the first time I showed up at Gravity Lounge and thinking he didn't fit the mold of a kung fu teacher that I had become familiar with. Pai, Pono-Li and Sihing Chris are both fairly small but fit and strongly exude a high energy that lets you know they could make you hurt. At the time, I felt I could pretty much judge people on sight as to whether I could take them in a fight, and Blake was the first to make me realize that's a very dangerous mistake with internal arts practitioners. Blake's energy was much more calm and mellow and didn't have the in-your-face quality, though he was obviously in good shape. I've come to realize that good internal practitioners all seem to be "hidden dragons." Blake completely changed my view of the internal arts. People like Blake, Dr. Painter, and Gary Torres don't strike you as the kind of guys that could easily crush you, but I guarantee you any of them could finish me off before I even realize the fight started. Though taiji still doesn't seem exactly my cup of tea, the principles it uses seem to be important for every other martial art. Xingyi and Baji seem to fit my body type and personality better, and I hope to continue learning on those things.

In June of 2007, my interest in the internal arts stoked by Blake, I went to the Zhang San Feng Festival. It was a great three days as I got to experience a variety of topics in internal arts and meet some great people. I learned of Dr. Painter's week-long post-festival Gathering, but couldn't attend due to jury duty. The nearest study group of Dr. Painter's system is in NC, so I started going there when they would host him for seminars. Last month I went to the Festival again, and this time went to the Gathering for an intensive week learning the Heaven Palm of Jiulong Baguazhang. I'm looking forward to the next seven years in which we'll study a different palm every year.

Also around June, my roommates and I went our separate ways and now I'm living alone paying double what my previous rent was. I had to buy a bunch of stuff for my new place, including splurging on an expensive new bed. Rivaled by the price of the bed is the price of going to the Festival and Gathering for 8 days. All of this adds up to the fact that money is kind of tight for me right now, in addition to my graduate school career being increasingly frustrating and in need of more time put into it. I'd love to get back to 3 Emperors and continuing with the Baji and everything else, I just have to make sure I can make my financial situation work first. I hope I'll be seeing you all soon.

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