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White Sash

Several years ago, I started training in Wu Tai Yen kung fu. It was the only martial arts training I had ever gotten involved in. The positions and movements were completely alien to me, with few exceptions, and I only went a couple of weeks, then I stopped going. Perhaps a year or two later, I started going again, maybe for just a few months, before I ran out of money, transportation, and time. Some years layer, I started going again, and stayed with it for four more months. In that time I earned my gold sash. The following is just a general chronicle of some of the difficulties I’ve faced and rewards I’ve gained by studying.

At first, everything is awkward, and exhaustion sets in quickly. It’s frustrating because after each session you don’t feel any different. It feels like you’re throwing your money away, and accumulating bruises and other minor wounds for no reason. On my most recent commitment to the styles, I had already learned some things and integrated some technique into my muscle memory, so I had forgotten about some exercises that new students would practice, and resumed from where I had left off. This further aggravated the experience of not getting anywhere, as I was under the impression that I was starting from the very beginning again. However, I was starting from a more advanced point of progress, and was gaining experience faster than I had realized.

In these months, I have been stretching, doing forms (family forms derived from Wing Chun, the first 1/9th or so of the 108 wooden dummy techniques, and long fist), participating in chi sao and challenge/response drills, and moderate sparring. I have also dabbled just a little in Qin Na.

Now, I can stand in goat-squeezing stance long enough to practice the siu nim tao several times, as well as bend, flow, and move in ways I could not before. Now, I don’t get tired at work. I don’t get sore like I used to, and what soreness I do have is much more easily dismissed. I can read the motion of others much more completely and accurately. Everything I do is better in ways that is hard to explain. I have body confidence and my social anxiety is gone (though kung fu isn’t the sole reason for that).

Not long ago, I went and got myself a set of kung fu clothes (shoes, pants, lapel), as well as a white sash, so I would look the part and display my dedication to the art.

Then one day I heard through the grapevine that Sifu was going to test me for my gold sash, and within three weeks, that’s exactly what happened. The forms were rough, but passable, and I got 100% on the written part. So now I have the gold sash and we have brought in two new students. As I was exercising and drilling with the new students, I was shocked at now new and unpracticed they were. Two things are at play to create this impression. One is that I was the new guy until that day. There were three other students, all at various points beyond me and this gave me the sensation that I was “just no good at this.” The other is that I was expecting them to come in with the skill that I had when I had returned for the most recent commitment (I had forgotten and discounted the skill I had gained during my prior spans).

My experience has been difficult, as I have not done foundational work for this kind of discipline, though some of the gains expected from that foundational work has come simply from doing the curriculum. Now that I have a gold sash, I think it’s time to make sure that my foundation (flexibility, strength, endurance, willpower, wisdom) is in place for the course ahead.

The gains, however, have been priceless. Certain kinds of pain, weakness, and lethargy have been all but expunged from my life. I am happier, stronger, and tougher. I am more graceful, more confident (in all things), and attract people to me. And should, God forbid, I have to apply force to someone, there’s a much, much better chance it will go my way.

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