Are we your cup of tea?

In the world of things to do when you're not busy earning money to spend on things to do... there is a great deal to choose from. From Zumba and zero gravity yoga, to military fitness and aerial dance, plus anything in-between. I would hazard a guess however that you are reading this because you have some degree of fascination or curiosity with the martial arts. Perhaps you have many years of experience... perhaps you have no experience... or perhaps you trained Karate in your teens and you fancy getting back into something.

In the world of martial arts there seems to be just as much choice when it comes to different styles and clubs. The ones at the front of most peoples minds will be styles like Karate, Judo and Jujitsu from Japan, or Muay Thai Kickboxing from Thailand and Taewkondo from Korea, and of course Tai Chi and Kung Fu from China. Not to forget the likes of MMA, Krav Maga and Systema. Each martial art has its own flavour but ultimately it will be at the mercy of the club teaching it and where they want to place their focus. Some clubs are very competition based whilst others are more self-defense based whereas others ignore the martial components altogether.

The important question to ask yourself is...  what do I want to achieve from learning a martial art?

If you are seeking to win competitions, inflate your ego, beat people up, improve your street credibility or attain a black belt in twelve months... we are not the club for you. However if you are seeking to learn self-defense, learn about yourself, learn a traditional art and are in no hurry to do so... we may be able to help.

Our club and White Crane for that matter are not everyone's cup-of-tea and we are under no delusion that it will suit everybody. Learning a martial art is about teaching your body how to make shapes. Some shapes are easy, some shapes are tricky. As a club we like to be quite particular about these shapes because if the shapes are not a certain way then the shapes will not be White Crane. The shapes teach the body the principles of White Crane and how to move in an efficient way for the purposes of self-defence. They also promote lifelong health through strength, flexibility and of course a well aligned posture. These are details that may not seem immediately beneficial but in years to come they could make all the difference. This is why we are particular about shapes, it's a long term plan and one that attracts a particular mind-set. A mind-set for detail.

Progress requires patience and is often frustrating, however the rewards stretch much further beyond winning medals. There are at times more questions than answers and at other times more answers than questions. However facing our frustrations head-on is a valuable and worthwhile endeavour if you have the testicular fortitude to look at yourself in the mirror. Most people do not.

It takes a great amount of effort and repetition to be able to perform White Crane and make it look like White Crane. If you are the type who would rather take a short cut to achieve your goals and bypass hard work and repetition then unfortunately you will really struggle to learn with us.

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I am sure that most people come to a martial arts class with some form of preconceived idea of what to expect. Funky uniforms, ranks dictated by coloured belts and lots of shouting are a far cry from where we are. If you are the type who thrives in an authoritarian environment then you will not enjoy our classes. We treat people as adults and as equals.

We like to give people the space and freedom to learn in their own way through taking responsibility for themselves. We do not dangle the golden carrot of belts and rank before people to encourage development and effort. The rewards from learning White Crane, beyond the obvious health, strength and flexibility gains, are very personal insights that come from within. This will not appeal to you if your idea of reward is redeeming Nectar points or buying an iPhone. We enjoy sharing White Crane as a diverse group and we just get on and have fun through training.

If you are more interested in... yourself, what you have previously learnt, showing off, giving unsolicited advice or generally being a dick then you will not appreciate our environment.

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If you are more interested in... learning, engaging with yourself and others, striving for excellence and sublimating your ego then you will most likely appreciate our environment.

Do your best. That's all we ask. Even if you can only make it along to two classes per year, this is enough to learn. In class we can only teach the movements and shapes. Repetition of those shapes is what teaches the student White Crane. Hence it is up to individuals to teach themselves through repetition. We cannot practice White Crane for you.

We could tell you that White Crane is the one answer to all of your problems, the most effective form of self-defense and something that will definitely make you more attractive to the opposite sex. However we would rather be quite frank with you. We are not 'better' than anyone else, our club is not a one-stop-shop and we are not trying to create a huge global corporation. We teach White Crane to those who get where we're coming from. In the West there is a lot of myth and fantasy surrounding martial arts propagated by the cinema and people trying to make money. It's just a martial art at the end of the day, it's not a movie, a dance, a computer game or a cult and you will not become a levitating bearded guru complete with Ganesh statues and Tibetan prayer wheels by training with us.

If we still sound appealing to you then please either come to a class or drop us a line. There is never any need to book, just come along whenever you like. Our classes are friendly and unintimidating so there will be no need to bring your Shaolin monk robes, Ninja costume or Pumpthrust 500 Ego Inflator©.

 

The Principles of White Crane Kung Fu

Principles are fundamental to everything we do, they allow us to live our lives and perform our daily tasks in a predictable manner. Most principles are taken for granted as they have become so ingrained within our patterns of movement that we do not need to give them second thought. Such as the principles that allow us to walk, brush our teeth or eat food. Learning White Crane Kung Fu or any other martial art for that matter is a journey of learning a new set of principles, and whilst many become entangled in the techniques of a style, it is an understanding of the principles that is the primary important lesson.

Understanding what a principle is and how it differs from a technique is a huge step which can sometimes only be achieved after several years of confusion. I shall do my best to explain how it makes sense in my mind but as with most things, understanding the words is very different to understanding their meaning. Repeating the words of others does not make you wise, it only makes you a parrot. An understanding of their meaning must come from within through repetition, repetition and repetition. Reading all the books in the world about cycling will not make you a great cyclist if you have never thrown a leg over a bike.

 The principles of Kung Fu

One great example that many people can relate to is walking. Those of us lucky enough to have the capability to walk learn to do so at an early age and rarely give it a second thought until something interrupts our movement, such as an injury for example. Walking is a technique that allows us to transport ourselves around, either forwards, backwards or sideways. Look around you and you will notice that everyone employs a different technique for walking as no two people are the same. Some will take long strides whilst others short steps, some use exaggerated body movement whilst others have a very controlled walk, and others employ the pelvic swing or mincing as it's commonly known. You can tell a lot about a person simply by the way they walk.

The point is there are lots of different techniques for walking and everyone adopts their own individual technique. In varying degrees of efficiency they all achieve the same goal of self-transportation, thus making the technique itself irrelevant. What are relevant and most important are the rules which allow these techniques to work, the basic understanding of principles that we learn as infants which once learned seem so obvious that we rarely consider them again.

Lets break these rules down to explain what I mean. To move forwards we need to place each foot in front of the other in a successive sequence, else we will only be walking on the spot and not moving anywhere. Moving forwards also requires a transfer of weight from the rear foot onto the front foot to allow the rest of the body to move forwards as well. If the rear foot leaves the ground before the front foot has landed it is called running, which is a different concept for moving. We also need to be sure that the front foot is firmly planted on the ground before transferring our weight onto it. These are all examples of just a few principles of walking which we employ to make our own individual technique work. I'm sure that most of us at some time have slipped on a wet manhole cover. In such instances one of the basic principles of walking has not been employed and the entire technique falls apart as we find ourselves taking emergency measures to not end up on our arse.

Have a think about the other principles that we employ to make walking work. How we interact and understand gravity, friction and the use of our body's design. These principles are underlying rules that help us to perform the technique of walking. There are however millions of different techniques for walking as we have discussed, but to make them work they all need to adhere to the same set of principles. By learning the principles we can apply them in any way we wish to move ourselves around with complete freedom and in the manner of our choosing. If we look at an infant as it learns how to walk it begins with very limited movement, stumbling forwards as if in a controlled fall. As the infant begins to understand more and more principles so its way of moving becomes more and more complex until it one day develops the complex set of skills that become an integral part of our lives. Expanding on these principles and learning new ones we can progress onto running, skipping and jumping.

 Martial Arts principles

I hope this demonstrates the importance of principles. By understanding such principles we can apply them to any technique we wish. It's the principles that make techniques work which is why a technique is just a technique, understanding the principles behind it are the most important and valuable lessons. A technique is very limiting whereas a principle will open up a world of possibilities and is the formula that will determine the success of many different techniques. Some people focus solely on techniques, collecting them like they are model train sets. Techniques that use different sets of principles do not always fit together in a cohesive way however, in much the same way that model train sets use different gauge tracks. You cannot run a train on a track if the wheels are set too wide for the rails. Taking a Karate kick and adding it to a Muay Thai elbow strike and a boxing punch can offer merely a collection of techniques lacking in efficiency and flow. Taking the time and effort to truly study a traditional martial art can teach the body a set of principles that combine with ease and flow by not contradicting each other. Buying one hundred different jigsaw puzzles will not allow you to create one huge picture, only a confusing and unfinished assortment. To build a huge picture it requires investing in a huge jigsaw puzzle, and that takes the time and dedication that few are prepared to invest. Many martial arts have become so specialised due to sport competition that they have lost many parts of the picture and been reduced to just very small jigsaw puzzles. Nothing wrong with that if sport is your thing and I take my hat off to anyone who pursues excellence in any way, but personally I like a bigger picture to look at.

Having many small jigsaw puzzles will achieve a lot of technical knowledge but it can become confusing for the body as principles begin to conflict with one another. This is why it can be difficult for someone who has spent time learning one style of martial art to then learn a completely different style. Those principles that have been ingrained within the body are now having to be retrained, such as keeping heels flat on the ground, hips facing forwards or not bouncing up and down for each strike. It can be frustrating and difficult to unlearn movement once it has become habit, but it can be done with enough patience and hard work.

The principles of White Crane Kung Fu are designed to achieve martial efficiency and realistic self-defence skills but also help us to generate a healthy life by promoting an upright posture, strong legs and respectful use of the joints as just a few examples. By not being a sport it removes the urgency to achieve any skill and allows us to gradually improve and practice the art over our full lifetime. The principles slowly become assimilated by the body until one day they become second nature and every movement we do is White Crane. Well that's the goal anyway, but be under no illusion that it is an easy process, it takes a lot of time and repetition.

The forms that we learn and practice are the method for developing an understanding of the principles. Whilst there are a limited amount of forms, the principles that they teach are bewildering in their quantity and complexity. Around each corner there is a new principle waiting to be unearthed in White Crane, some practical whilst others profound, but each one a treasure in its own right. It seems as if it is a bottomless well of learning that will continue to surprise until the final breath, and this has to be one of the most exciting prospects about studying a traditional martial art. Rather than collecting more and more knowledge we merely learn how there is an ever increasing amount still to be discovered.

As every journey begins with a single step, the principles of White Crane begin with basic concepts. The three most important principles that distinguish the art can be summarised as having a strong stance, a flexible waist and relaxed arms. The power for any of the strikes must come from the ground up. Without strong legs and a firm structure there can be no power. Imagine trying to punch an object whilst standing on ice, without the root in the foot much of the energy goes into making the feet slide around instead of being transferred into the target. The legs need to be strong to provide a stable structure and provide efficient energy transfer. It amazes me when I look at those huge cranes on construction sites and wonder how they remain strong on such a narrow, single upright beam. The fact is that someone has calculated how to do this by using their understanding of the principles of physics. This is the same for White Crane, by understanding the principles of physics and anatomy, postures have been developed that maximise the human body.

The flexible waist is designed for power generation. The muscles around the midsection and pelvis are far stronger than most peoples arms so it makes sense to employ these muscle groups when striking rather than relying on the arms alone. This way a person can develop significant power for striking without the need to built like a gorilla. The waist must be flexible to allow it to turn freely and quickly. A lot of people rely on a twist of the pelvis and hips to attain a turn of the body, in the false belief that they are flexible. By twisting the pelvis it compromises the structure of the legs, weakening the stance and therefore undermining the first principle discussed here. If we can learn to isolate the pelvis and hips and turn the waist instead, we remain in a strong and rooted position whilst also staying balanced and controlled.

The final of the three is relaxed arms which is counter intuitive for power in many peoples minds. Relaxed arms facilitate fast arms which are obviously crucial for blocking or diverting an incoming strike but also for delivering a strike. Any unnecessary tension in the arm will have the effect of a handbrake on a traveling car. Relaxed and fast hands can also change direction and tactics much more easily. The power is being generated by the waist remember, so big arms are not necessary and in fact greater muscle mass in the arm whilst providing greater momentum will be slower to move and require more energy to do so. The arms and hands do need strength though, especially in the bones. Glass hammers never really caught on did they?

These are three very basic yet fundamental concepts of White Crane and hopefully it has helped you to understand the importance of principles. Whichever art you choose to pursue, be that martial or non-martial, consider the principles that it is teaching you. Look beyond the technique and strive to understand the how and why, it will enrich your journey and lead you to some interesting conclusions. People criticise traditional martial arts for having a rigid structure that enslaves movement, failing to see beyond the forms. They are simply a tool for teaching the principles, in the same way that to learn to dance you must first learn the steps, to drive a car you must first learn to operate the engine and gears and to write a book you must first learn the alphabet and the principles of language. Once the principles have been understood you can dance in anyway you wish, drive a car wherever you like and write a novel of your choice.



Be Here Now - mindfulness and martial arts

It is all too easy to live our lives either in the past or in the future and we are actively encouraged to do so. The past is merely our memory replayed as a shadow of what has been, a mental record which still can only be experienced in the present moment. It has the power to generate such strong emotional responses however and ones which can have a dramatic effect on our lives right now. On the flip side, the future only exists as a potential of what may be in the next moment lived in the present through our imaginations. It too can stimulate strong feelings. The nervousness of expectations or the excitement of anticipation. Thinking about the future and thinking about the past are the two states with which we can find ourselves filling the day, either busying our minds with what has been or with what might be.

Ironically one of the trickiest ways in which to live is being completely and utterly in the present. The present is all we have. The past is just a recollection replayed in the present and the future is pure imagination conjured within the present. We continuously move within the present as the future tempts us with the promise of potential. As soon as we think we have advanced into the future, when we look around us we are still in the present. Here we can see how really the future and the past themselves can only exist as an experience within the present.

Take a moment to ponder this.  What else is there other than being here now? This is all we ever have, just as Fatboy Slim put it ; right here, right now. How often during our day are we truly in the present? We must be here, must be there, do this, or not forget that. As a by-product of the world which we have created we spin in a constant whirlpool of to-do lists. Our minds like to be occupied with the stuff of thinking and in the exact present there really is not too much to think about, it is simply a state of being.

By allowing ourselves to just be in the moment we can help the mind to relax. With a relaxed mind the body begins to relax. A relaxed body is a healthy body and promotes a relaxed mind and all of a sudden, hazzah we find a virtuous circle. Feeling completely in the present voids the necessity for worry and therefore brings a calmness and resolve which has far reaching benefits. Easier said than done I hear you say. The mind leaps from one tree to the next like an attention deficit monkey, jeered on by the galloping hooves of our heart. A thought is just a thought however and it only has meaning when we give it attention, then it becomes thinking. Even during the calmest moments of the mind thoughts will linger like clouds in the sky.

 Kung Fu and Martial Arts classes in Edinburgh

To be in the present moment and to calm the mind completely is like climbing a mountain of false summits. Each time you think you find a space devoid of thought there you are thinking about it. Taking the time to be yourself, inside your head and to nurture stillness gives a sense of self-understanding which we are taught to avoid. A lot of the time it may be ourselves that are the teachers as we may not like what we find there. As someone somewhere once said, "when the water settles, the rocks will appear".

So how do we still the mind to live in the present you ask? I am glad you asked because we can now come back to Kung Fu. There are many, many ways and each person will find the one which works for them. Kung Fu can be a fantastic tool however as the repetition of the forms or even still Qi Gong allows the practitioner to relax the mind and focus entirely on that present moment by focusing the intent on a single task. By focusing on the breathing, the sensations in the body, the feelings of how the weight is distributed and the fluidity of the movements we can absolutely be here now. The repetition of movement can be a fantastic anchor even in the most turbulent oceans. Through repetition we can let go of the past and the future to purely enjoy the moment.

Obviously there is a hill to climb, a time to let go of questioning and move to simply doing and being. This can only come from repetition. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that this is where I am just now, that road stretches for as far as I can see. But we try a little bit every day and it's those tiny glimpses of what could be that are so rewarding. There we go, I'm thinking about the future again. I never said it was easy.

 

Kung Fu ground work is good for you

Bai He Alba Edinburgh is orientated to teaching Kung Fu as a means of self defence, which historically is what traditional martial arts is concerned with. The system of White Crane we have today was conceived and developed solely in the interests of self preservation. As soon as a martial art becomes a sport it enters a world of safety measures and learning to fight within a prescribed boundary of rules to make it safe. When we think of self defence or street martial arts we normally imagine punching, kicking, locks, holds and throws, knife defence and perhaps the good-old-brick-in-the-handbag style, but all of these are only a small part of what is actual self defence.

Self defence is self preservation, which goes far beyond how we perceive physical violence. Our bodies are in a constant state of battle against all manner of attacks. Even whilst you are reading this bacteria are constantly being warded off by your inbuilt defensive measures, and by keeping ourselves healthy, the body does an astounding job without the need for constant sanitation. Kung Fu helps us to remain healthy by promoting good blood circulation, oxygen intake, strength and flexibility plus all of the other physical benefits which come from waving your limbs about in a prescribed manner. I am a firm believer that the health of the body and the mind are intrinsically linked, and by stimulating the mind also through Kung Fu this in itself helps to generate physical health throughout.

This is basic stuff that our bodies do anyway, but obviously if we do not take care of ourselves it makes it harder work for our natural defences to do their thing. One element which is crucial to traditional martial arts is self awareness though. By taking the time to regain control over our body movements and to understand ourselves we begin to feel when things are not right. Through the introspective elements within Kung Fu we begin to reach a level of understanding and connection that highlights malfunctions, illnesses and our general physical state, enabling us to take action in an intuitive way. Qi Gong exercises are fantastic at highlighting both our emotional and physical condition. After Qi Gong practice the experience can be one of total elation and energy or complete exhaustion and fatigue. It is simply the Qi Gong emphasising our natural state and telling us what we should be doing for our body.

The exercises undertaken in Kung Fu take the body through a full range of movement, simultaneously stretching and strengthening. Sometimes during training we realise that we have sustained an injury throughout the day; maybe it was tripping over a curb, carrying a bag awkwardly or even sleeping in a strange position. In normal conditions we may not even be aware of such an injury until we do something strenuous and injure ourselves further and in a more damaging way. By training in Kung Fu these small injuries become apparent before they have a chance to become a big injury. By becoming aware of such things at an early stage we have the opportunity to take good care of them and manage ourselves back to health in a shorter space of time. People can carry an injury throughout their entire lives, blissfully unaware until it worsens or causes a referred issue in another part of the body.

 Bai He Alba White Crane Tai Chi Classes in Edinburgh

This bodily awareness goes one step further by heightening our awareness of other people also. This is one of the most fundamental principles of street self defence. By simply being aware of our surroundings we can remove ourselves from a situation before it has even happened, that way no one has been hurt. The forms that we learn in Kung Fu teach this total awareness and develop a heightened sense of the world around us. This is not in a paranoid or neurotic way but by simply observing situations and potential situations and acting on them before they escalate. There is nothing wrong with crossing the street, bypassing a dimly lit alleyway or leaving the pub prematurely. Often the reason people get in to trouble is because their ego is too big to allow them to walk away. They feel the need to prove their point, argue their case or teach someone a lesson, and all for nothing more than ego. If you are self assured and in touch with who you are then there is nothing you need to prove to anyone.

Hurting another person or being hurt yourself is one and the same. With Kung Fu the only battle is with yourself and by diminishing your ego you are are fighting the toughest battle of all. This could be a battle that will save you or someone else on the streets however. This is the dychotomy of the martial arts. Through putting all of your efforts into learning how to break people into pieces you are also discovering that you wish never to use it. By wishing never to use it you learn how to avoid trouble rather than seek it. The study of White Crane presents us with all of our attributes, good and bad, like an open book. It is then up to the individual to develop the mental fortitude to face themselves and turn the negatives into positives rather run away and bury their head in the sand of consumerism. The best part of the White Crane journey though is that if it all feels to much to behold, the solution is simple; just relax and practice your forms.


Kung Fu or Wushu?

In the West when we hear the word Kung Fu it conjures mental images of martial artists flying through the air like super humans, breaking through innocent pieces of wood and delivering high pitched shrieks. This lovely non-reality based picture is largely based upon our experience of Kung Fu movies popularised by such stars  as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen. The term Kung Fu which more accurately should be pronounced Gung Fu or Gong Fu has a very different meaning behind it however.

Kung Fu Girl

Kung Fu or Gong Fu when translated simply means to achieve merit through hard work and does not specify anything to do with combat whatsoever. It is an important term however as it gives insight into what we are trying to achieve as martial arts students and also how to achieve it. There are no short cuts, cheats or walk-throughs with Kung Fu. No magic diets, secret knowledge or elixirs. Everything attained is only made possible through hard work, dedication and perseverance and this is why it is not for everyone. In our consumerist world everything is solved without delay. If we want something we go on-line and buy it, if we cannot afford it we borrow the money, if we feel discomfort we take a pill. The concept of achieving merit through hard work largely only exists through working the life away chasing the golden carrot of retirement.

The only variables with martial arts are time and effort. It is the simplest method to understand, the more you train the better you get. Developing an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts by sitting on the sofa and watching movies all day will not give you anything more than an idealistic dream. To achieve Kung Fu the road is relentless and enduring but is also one of the most exciting and rewarding paths to tread. Due to it being a merit from hard work, any skill can have Kung Fu; be it art, mountaineering, juggling or flower arranging. Remember the two key components - time and effort.

When speaking of martial arts specifically, the Chinese term is Wushu which literally translates as martial art or military skill. The problem with using the term Wushu is that it is often associated with Modern Wushu, a recently standardised version of Chinese martial arts developed as an acrobatic performance with little or no regard for actual combat. These flowery performances are how the general public perceive Chinese martial arts and feed on the stereotypical images generated by the movies. Although very impressive and requiring great physical achievement it is misleading to put them in the same box as traditional martial arts, which have self-defence skills at the core of the training. To use traditional fighting principles in the movies or for performance often appears unimpressive because they are direct and efficient with the movements. This is why in the West traditional martial arts teachers generally adopt the word Kung Fu over Wushu.

Partly fed by the movies and media and partly fed by general ignorance, the term Kung Fu has a different meaning in the West as it does in China. However, by taking the concept of Kung Fu and applying it to whatever our passion is, we can all achieve great things in our everyday lives. It simply takes hard work, time and what you are prepared to do to achieve your goals.


Take a deep breath - White Crane Chi Kung

Breathing is such a natural process that we can easily take it for granted, and for good reason too. Our respiratory process is part of our autonomic nervous system, allowing it to operate below the radar of consciousness and enabling us to maintain oxygen intake at all times, even in our sleep. On the whole it works relatively well and we can happily go about our day safe in the knowledge that we will not suffocate anytime soon. Through the study of martial arts and in particular Kung Fu, we can develop a deeper understanding of breathing and improve the way in which we breathe to promote health and functionality. Whatever we choose to fill our 24 hours a day with, the way in which we breathe will be an intrinsic element and unfortunately one which is often overlooked.

When we think about the process of taking a deep breath it is easy to focus solely on what is most apparent and in many cases involves an expansion of the chest like a puffed up pigeon combined with a raising of the shoulders. This is the polar opposite of how we breathe in Qi Gong (Chi Kung), a fundamental component of Kung Fu.

 White Crane Chi Kung

Stretching across the bottom of the rib cage and separating the heart and lungs from the abdominal cavity we have a sheet of muscle called the thoracic diaphragm. The 'diaphragm' is concaved upwards protruding into the chest cavity and as it contracts and straightens it effectively pulls downwards, increasing the volume within the chest and therefore drawing air into the lungs. This should be our primary tool for inhalation allowing us to breathe with ease without any need to tense the shoulders at all.

When we inhale in Qi Gong (Chi Kung) and Kung Fu we facilitate the downwards movement of the diaphragm by allowing other muscle groups to relax and expand. Rather than the feeling of breathing into the chest, the focus is on breathing down much deeper into the abdomen giving a sensation of filling the entire abdominal cavity with air. The process begins with relaxing the pelvic floor at the base of the pelvis and then moving up by relaxing and expanding the pair of muscles running up the front of the abdomen known as the rectus abdominis or abs for short. Unfortunately for the Banzai Beach six-pack chasers out there this does require flexible and pliable abs as opposed to the tight and defined lumps being sold to us by the media.

During inhalation a muscle group around our midriff and connecting our back, iliac crest and ribs called the internal obliques also relax. Whilst most other muscles groups are expanding and sinking in the abdomen, the internal obliques to the sides are in fact raising, giving a simultaneous lifting sensation. Whilst the abdominal muscles relax and expand with the breath drawing in, the muscles in the lumbar area of our back also relax and expand. This combination of relaxing both the muscles at the front and and at the back is called double breathing and allows us to maximise the intake of air into the body.

As we gently exhale the opposite occurs with the muscles mentioned above now contracting as the diaphragm relaxes back into its concaved shape. The Abdominal muscles not only contract and pull in but also have a slight upwards movement beneath the rib cage. The air which has been drawn in through the nose to deep inside the lungs is now gently expelled out through the mouth.

This is in fact how we all once breathed as babies, it is a natural process. Over the years and as we mature we begin to rely more and more on the chest and less on the diaphragm, abdominals, pelvic and lumbar muscle groups. Perhaps this is a process related to social stress causing a tightening of these muscles. By breathing deeper and in a relaxed way the air is reaching a higher concentration of blood vessels in the lower part of the lungs, promoting oxygenation and efficiency. Experiments have demonstrated the importance of controlled breathing for oxygenation especially when related to heart failure and reducing blood pressure.

We often use breathing in phrases to describe various occasions: 'a sigh of relief', 'take a deep breath', 'in the very next breath' and 'their last breath'. Breathing plays a crucial role in our bodies beyond how we commonly view it and although we use the aforementioned phrases regularly we do not often relate to the concepts behind them. Through correct, and by that I mean slow and deep breathing the mind begins to become calm and relaxed. The body also begins to relax and in doing so helps the mind to relax. A relaxed mind facilitates a calm body and consequently a calm breath. Here we enter a virtuous circle of relaxation, promoting clear thought and physical health and driven quite simply by the breath. The process of working the abdominal area whilst breathing also helps to naturally massage the internal organs, promoting digestion and blood flow.

This is one reason why in Qi Gong (Chi Kung) and Kung Fu we focus so much on the area of the lower belly which we call the Dan Tien. As we breathe in, the process begins by focusing on the Dan Tien and why learning to relax the related muscle groups is crucial to good health. This is not a form of cosmic magic but common sense, come along to one of our Tai Chi classes in Edinburgh to see for yourself.

 

Jianzi - the Kung Fu game

Jianzi has to be one of the most entertaining games to play and spans over 2000 years of history, the earliest records being from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.). Jianzi translates as little shuttlecock and two official versions of the game exist. The first is simple in which the participants stand in a circle and prevent the shuttlecock from touching the ground by hitting it upwards with any part of the body apart for the hands. Any number can play, from two upwards, but obviously the larger the circle becomes the more difficult it is to control the shuttlecock. The other version is a competitive game of two teams in which the shuttlecock is kicked between the teams over a net, similar to badminton. Jianzi remains extremely popular in the parks of China and its popularity has spread around the globe. Playing the game is an excellent warm-up before class and improves the player's leg dexterity as well as working all of the muscles that are important for kicking.

Jianzi Kung Fu Edinburgh

Jianzi - the Kung Fu game

A Brief History of Chinese Wrestling

Chinese wrestling has a long history within Chinese culture and has spread far beyond its borders to influence many of the fighting systems popular today. It is the most influential combat system within China that was an established and sophisticated art long before most other Asian martial arts had begun. Its origins can be traced back to 3000 BC when warriors of the tribal kingdom of Chi You battled with animal horns fastened to their heads. This early form of wrestling was called Jiaoli which translates as `horn resistance’ and it is said that they used this method to gorge their opponents. 

 

Chinese wrestling has taken on many different names over the years as it developed into an art form. Shijiao, Zhengjiao, Xiangpu and Jiao Di are all names from ancient records that are used to describe various forms of Chinese wrestling. Some would allow locks, holds and grappling whilst for others it was simply to put your opponent on the floor. The modern name given is Shuai Jiao, but this too can be divided into separate sub-categories such as Beijing, Tian Jin, Mongol and Bao Ding. Each has their own particular rules and dress code.

 

The three ancient martial practices in China were wrestling, pugilism and archery. Wrestling was a relatively safe form of combat due to the removal of striking. Although wrestling and pugilism are clearly defined as separate sports there is reference to them being combined and the names sometimes interchanged. In the ancient text Xin Tang Shu, it is stated “when in audience with the Emperor I witnessed Jiao Di competitions in three of the palaces. There were men with their heads split open, broken arms and blood flowing in the centre of the hall”. Wrestling became a popular spectator sport in China and played an important role within the palaces. It is reported that spectators would come from hundreds of miles away to watch a competition.

 

More than simply a sport, wrestling played a huge role within the military systems of China. Soldiers would be taught the technical skills to overcome an opponent without the need for brute force. The practice of wrestling was designed to strengthen the body, improve agility and to develop endurance and perseverance within the soldier. Thus it was a tool to not only condition the body but to train the mind and spirit also. It is said that in battle, after spears, swords, staffs, bullets and cannons have all been used; in the final five minutes it is Chinese wrestling that will decide the victory.

 

Records from the Period of Warring States (475-221 BC) depict wrestlers wearing short shirts and loose fitting pants similar to those worn by Mongolian wrestlers today. By the 18th century wrestlers were trained in special camps called Buku. They would wear a white shirt, strengthened with seven or eight layers of fabric, a belt and long trousers tucked into boots.   

 

Today Chinese wrestling is a popular sport with worldwide appeal. Although many cultures celebrate a long history of wrestling, it is important to note how many systems of combat owe a great deal to the development of Chinese wrestling. It is from its migration over to Japan that we see the development of Ju Jutsu, Judo and Sumo. Remains from The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) depict wrestlers wearing costumes very similar to modern Sumo. It was the base on which China’s rich martial heritage grew and spread to influence the entire world. It is easy to view ‘modern’ styles as being new through unaccustomed eyes, but by looking at the history of the martial arts it can be seen how most systems owe a great debt to the evolution of Chinese wrestling. This is a fact that should be celebrated and not ignored.

The Art of Waving Your Arms About - Kung Fu

Kung Fu shares one primary characteristic with many other physical pursuits such as Western Boxing, Yoga and Flamenco in that they are all essentially creating an art from waving the limbs around in a prescribed fashion. Each one can be a path of self-discovery and improvement through perseverance, dedication and effort. In that respect they can all be Kung Fu as Kung Fu translates as to achieve merit through hard work. Each one utilises a different medium however, be it sport, meditation or dance and if you mentioned any one of the three examples above to your average person then I'm pretty sure they would have a rough idea of what is involved.

 White Crane self defence

When people watch traditional martial art forms in practice it can sometimes be less clear what the goal is however, it's just waving your arms and legs about in thin air. The movements do not fit into peoples preconceived ideas of how fighting should be, the generic punch-punch kick-kick. It is because of this ignorance that people sometimes do not give traditional martial arts the credit they deserve. The moment a martial art becomes a sport the guts are removed from it to prevent serious injury to the competitors, all the parts which make it effective as a form of self-defence. With self-defence there are no rules, weight categories or referee and anything could happen at any time. The forms of traditional martial arts simply teach these principles and develop the accuracy required to make them work.

Far from being a rigid way of fighting, forms practice teaches the principles in a format that is easy to remember and perform. No requirement for a special outfit, gym equipment or a watch. With consistent practice the body begins to assimilate the principles through muscle memory and learns how to make strong and efficient shapes. Once the body understands this, complete freedom of movement can be attained as the principles of movement are so ingrained in the muscular memory. It can be seen as similar to buying a Lego kit. By following the instructions you learn the principles of how Lego works and are able to build the pirate ship as pictured. Now that the principles are understood you can dismantle the pirate ship and build whatever your imagination will allow dependent upon the bricks you have. Each form in traditional martial arts is like owning a separate Lego kit with each one introducing new building bricks which introduce new principles. With time you have enough building bricks to construct something huge and truly creative. So long as the principles are adhered to it will work.

Waving your arms and legs about in traditional martial arts is therefore just a tool to teach the body how to move. Without having to worry about which part of the body you should work on today, simply practice the forms and you will be working your strength, flexibility, control, precision, skill and mental fortitude to mention just a few all at the same time.