Ray’ll Poems: On Kung Fu

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Sometime's I like to write my thoughts in verse, 
here's one on what Kung Fu means to me and
how we can all apply it to our daily lives.
The image below is mine too btw 🙂

Kung Fu in Everything.

There's Kung Fu in everything,
In everything you do.

There's Kung Fu when you brew a tea,
There's Kung Fu when you swim,
There's Kung Fu when you resolve a fight,
Even more when all sides can win.

You see Kung Fu isn't just about kicking arse,
It's actually about how one "works hard",
to gain a mastery in a skill or knowledge
in something niche that most would disregard.

The Italian equivalent is the word "Virtuoso"
which describes a person who performs, 
create or behaves in a way so effortless and simple,
that they may make a difficult task look rudimental.

There's Kung Fu in everything, 
in everything you do. 

There's Kung Fu when you make your bed, 
There's Kung Fu when you build a shed, 
There's Kung Fu when you learn to fight, 
Even more when you learn that there's more ways
than one to deal a with a problem head on. 

You see Kung Fu isn't just a Chinese phrase
that's been adpated and appropriated to mean 'kicking arse', 
it's a way of ambition, and excelling one's position
and growing a community, like a flower from a seed. 

Kung Fu is a concept of mastery and perfection, 
of passion and dedication, in excelling and ambition.
There's kung fu in everything, 
in everything you do. 
And now that you know this, 
you'll notice that you
are made of
Kung Fu
too. 

~RG2Chan
A collage of my photography, martial arts and me.

Ray’ll Responses: Tai Chi, the yin, the yang and yadder yadder…

As I’m still figuring out how to section and theme my blog, here is another section titled ‘Ray’ll Responses’ where I just expand or respond to questions, threads or comments that I’ve seen on social media groups.

Recently, I have seen a recurring theme in some Taichi discussion groups where people have asked a question like “What is the differences between Nei Gong and Wai Gong?” which on the surface and actuality is a relatively simple question with a simple response. However, there was one person’s response which went on a tangent that has prompted me to write.

The dude’s response was that Nei Gong is internal and Wai Gong is external. (fine so far).

And then that if you look at the Taijitu, aka the image of Taichi which is the half black and white circle, that you find the internal is the yin and the external is the yang. Therefore, Taichi Quan is about balancing the internal and external…

….And this is my problem, partly that the information isn’t correct but I would be cool if this guy was speaking humbly and as a learner sharing information, but his stance is that of an experienced master and of authority. For this I have to rebuke.

Tai Chi Quan as a Martial Art of Unity

So I’m sure we are all familiar with the image below of the Taijitu:

The black represents the Yin and the white represents the Yang, within the Yin there’s a speck of Yang and in the Yang is a speck of Yin. These two aspects fundamentally represent opposing forces and when opposing forces equal each other they cancel out and achieve a balance or equilibrium. That is the core concept that this imagery represents.

That’s why this imagery and concept is so universal, it applies everywhere.

Opposing forces exist in everything. Up vs Down, Happy vs Sad, Awake vs Asleep, Masculinity vs Femininity, Young vs Old, Alive vs Dead, Hot vs Cold.

In terms of martial arts, Tai Chi Quan is only one of many Internal martial arts that focus on the “softer” side of bodily mechanics more than the “harder” side of techniques. For instance, Tai Chi will teach you to focus on your footwork and how to move rather than just raw explosive kicking power. Though it isn’t to say that Tai chi does not value muscle strength and power, you need it as a martial artist in order to fight! It’s just that the primary focus is not on overwhelming an opponent by force, its to subdue an opponent with technique.

To have both physical strength and superb technique is the goal of all martial arts, but how one achieves this goal can come from many different starting points. But I digress…

Yin and Yang doesn’t mean Internal and External, it’s just a concept of binary opposing forces.

In training Tai Chi Quan the practitioner is taught by the martial art to distinguish all the opposing forces within their physical body, mind and spirit.

Most Common Yin Yang concepts for novices

For novices and beginners I recommend first figuring out your yin and yangs of:

  1. Left and Right – body coordination
  2. Arms and Legs – learn that these are connected through the waist, hip and body
  3. Light and Heavy – transfer of weight
  4. Up and Down – figure out your internal and external bodily axis (tip: spine)
  5. Focus and Calm – notice your concentration internally, and then notice your expressions. You may focus hard but don’t show this in your form, eyes, face. Tai chi is about balance, peace and harmony. Don’t give an impression that you are not in control of your weapon/body

So that’s it for this time’s Ray’ll Response. Let me know what you think and any themes or martial artsy question you’ll want me to babble about in the comment section 😀

Ray’ll Talk: Tai Chi and the Numbers problem

Have you ever perused the online forums and communities of Oriental Martial arts, in particularly Tai Chi? Or even a quick google search of “What is Tai Chi?”

Very quickly you’ll be bombarded with a vast variety of numbers associated with the martial art such as 8, 13, 24, 37, 40, 42, 85, 88 and 108… it almost seems like a bingo game eh?

Now, these numbers refer to the number of moves in a form and to my knowledge only Tai Chi Quan designates a specific number to their forms and this can sometimes be problematic…

credit to Mohamad_Hassan at Pixabay

The first problem is when it comes to counting what constitutes a single ‘move’ when it is compiled of multiple movements; this has led to people commonly referring to forms as broadly long or short forms as essentially for Yang, Wu and Sun forms there is only 1 long form and depending on your counting you can get 85, 88, 103 or 108… or more… So the issue is in communication and referring to specific forms with other martial artists…

The second problem is that tai chi practitioners may become focused on the numbers of movements and treat the martial arts as a memory game or a choreography that has no significant martial application to it.

Great teachers of Tai Chi will preach that it is better to understand deeply a few forms or even specifically one form and achieve high expertise in it than to know shallowly a thousand forms and movements but unable to demonstrate a single one in application.

A simple movement with great care, understanding and application can be much more impressive than knowing 100 or 1000 moves. Think of any great virtuoso of their art and you’ll instantly associate them with one or two signature moves, not a million. Michael Jackson- Moonwalk; Bruce Lee- One Inch Punch; Muhammed Ali- the Ali shuffle.

In summary, I guess I just want to remind everyone of that old precious saying:

“Excellence comes when we balance quality with quantity.” – Amit Ray

My first Tai Chi competition in Hong Kong 2018 with the simplified 24 Tai Chi Quan.
Came fourth place, not bad for one year’s training 🙂
follow me at https://www.instagram.com/rwlchan/?hl=en

Ray’ll Talks on: The State of Zen Today

In today’s blog post I would like to lay out some of my thoughts on the common vernacular and concepts that are now mainstream and to remind ourselves of reality vs spirituality。

  1. Misconceptions and perceptions
  2. Achieving Zen
  3. The struggle is real
  4. Appreciate your current circumstances
  5. Its about moving presently forward, not staying in the present past
A potent quote which forever lies in my heart.

There’s a weird association nowadays in the commercialised world with the concept of Zen, Yoga, Meditation, Buddhism and anything remotely oriental or spiritual. All of these, thanks to modern marketing, present a picture of calmness or serenity, of peace, of order and sometimes a “quick-fix” or simple “fix all” solution to modern social problems such as depression, stress and relationship problems.

Many people seem to have a preconception or notion that in doing Yoga or in doing Tai Chi that one will definitely get good health, a better life and become more productive. They associate meditation and spirituality with being “emptiness” and “think of nothing”, “do nothing” – as if having nothing is the cure of having too much.

What can sometimes become a rude awakening to those who venture into spiritual arts is how “un-mystical” they actually are. Go to a Tai Chi class and you won’t find order, synchronicity and flow… you’ll find a lot of wobbling, a lot of hard work and a lot of concentration.

Go to a temple and you may find peace and serenity, sure, but you’ll also see how monks are just normal humans too who embrace technology such as phones and internet too.

Image result for buddhist monk mobile phone
image from Ed Jones via Sputnik news

This old sentiment that Zen, minimalism and spirituality means gentleness, inaction and preserving the ways of the old is a worn-out, tired marketing ploy. If you really want to achieve a state of elevated being, it takes a crap ton of work on first the being that you are right now.

Ambitions and dreams are good for us, being meditative and having a spiritual practice is a tool in helping us adapt and evolve into the best version of us that we can be. It may not mean we become the person we want to be- I may wish to be rich or famous, or even more farfetched, I may wish to have wings to fly with- but in having a spiritual practice that furthers our humanity and our spirit of being a human, we will day by day grow into another version of ourselves.

Our body cells are dying and replaced constantly, every 7 years we are cellularly a different person. Now, what you do with your diet and lifestyle, how you fuel your body will naturally affect those body cells and the shape you become.

Likewise, if we nourish our mind and spirit with good, wholesome practices we can become a better person. This is the true Oriental spirit shared amongst the different cultures and religion. None of this” be gentle all the time”, “be relaxed all the time”, “think of nothingness”, “be with nature it is good for you”; realistically oriental spirituality is about growth and feeding your growth with good resources.

Before the peace, there is the storm. Credit to Grodfoto from Shutterstock

Challenges in the real world test our spirits, our personality and our abilities. The idea of peace can only come after a storm or a war comes to my mind. We must not forget in striving for peace that the strife is integral.

We must remember about intentions, and that in wanting peace and serenity that that is an intention in itself. And that in order to achieve a goal there must be challenges and strife.

Let us not kid ourselves in thinking that Yoga is just for flexibility, and realise that even if our goal is for flexibility, the process of stretching is tedious. We have to realise that even in sitting meditation practice that the process is not as peaceful as we wish it to be. Our mind wanders and it can frustrate us.

Zen for what it is worth, is not peaceful. It’s infuriating and even unattainable. That’s why it’s worth a try at having.

Love this character and quote from the hit show Scrubs

For more Tai Chi and Kung Fu posts visit my Instagram at rwlchan

Ray Rambles On: Classifying Kung Fu + Jargon

Content:

  1. Everybody was Kung Fu fighting… or were they?
  2. Families, Doors and Schools… wait, what?
  3. Internal or External… the eternal debate

In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined

Thomas Szasz
“Everything has Kung Fu in it, but not everything is Kung Fu” – quote me hah

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting…or were they?

Ahhh that classic culturally inappropriate but catchy song, which really should have been renamed “everybody was karate fighting”, since the poses they struck and lyrics was really not about Chinese Kung Fu at all!

I wish I could say that we have come a long way since the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but the recent(ish) 2010 Karate Kid film reboot starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan film went and proved me wrong when they featured not Karate but Chinese Wushu.

So to set the record straight amongst here is a list of the biggest Oriental martial arts popular in the West, and their country of origin (this list is NOT exhaustive):

  • China: Kung Fu, Wushu, Sanda, Shaolin, Wudang, Hung Gar, Pak Mei, Baji, Tongbei, Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, Mantis, Mei Hua, Jeet Kune Dao*
  • Korea: Taekwondo, Tekkyun, Hapkido
  • Japan: Karate, Judo, Aikido, Kendo, Ninjutsu, Kempo

*JKD is not really a martial art, but more of a fighting style or philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. It’s a mixed martial art (but not MMA) in that the martial artist selects and trains in techniques that they find works best for them individually from a range of different sport disciplines and hones in those movements for efficiency. It’s a fighting logic rather than a martial art.

Families, Doors and Schools… wait, what?

Okay, so I figured since we are discussing classification that I might as well defog these commonly used and confusing Chinese terminologies which even gets the common Chinese person confused too.

Photo by Amy Chandra from Pexels

In Chinese Martial Art we use the word 門, as in ‘Door’ to denote a major martial art school/style. In the ancient days, in order to be accepted as a disciple of a major martial art family/school, you would have to go through initiation or ceremony to 拜師 and dedicate yourself to your master- this process being known as ‘entering a door’, 入門, aka being accepted into a school. Actually, there are still some major schools and families that uphold this tradition but usually direct lineage holding families.

The word 家 (Ga/ Jia) is also used to denote subschools or systems within a major martial art school. Usually, a family will be defined as sharing the same principles, precepts, and foundation but having a distinct enough difference in technique, form or application that they only have about 50% resemblance to each other. It does resemble actual families sharing the same blood and variance as a brother and sister would in real life. An example of this is the 5 major Tai Chi families that are Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun and Hao – they are all variations of the core Taichi Quan blood.

Another important jargon is 套路 (taolu). This is the actual word for ‘forms’, its the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese ‘Kata’. A taolu is usually a set of choreography passed down by masters to students that encompass the martial techniques of a school. It is akin to a school syllabus or book or map. If you were to learn a set of choreography made up of a set of movements, each movement would have a martial application for you to study/ train and apply. Each taolu serves the purpose of being a memory map of techniques, as well as a training tool for students to practice movement. Most taolu are given an elaborate and evocative name such as 青龍拳 (Qing Lung Quan), Emerald Dragon Fist of Tongbei Quan*.

*You’ll notice another issue is the repeat use of Quan meaning Fist in different context. Qing Lung Quan is only one of many forms within the Tongbei Quan martial art system. The former uses ‘fist’ to mean ‘style’, whereas the latter uses the word ‘fist’ to mean ‘door/school’

Additionally, the word 式 (sik) for style or move is being used interchangeably with the word for family ‘家’ – which is terribly confusing sometimes! For example, in Chinese, it is perfectly common to say 楊式太極拳 and 42式太極拳, where the word 式 has been used differently in context . The former only tells you that family style will be Yang style, whereas the latter only tells you how many movements there are in the Tai Chi form. The issue with using the word 式 to denote numbers of moves is that there are multiple different styles even within the same family…. for example the numbers 108 are shared between Yang and Wu style, within Yang there are two variations of the 37 form and then there’s the issue of how people even count up the numbers which is a whole other problem. (basically the 85, 88 and 108 are the same form but given different name). One obvious solution is to give the actual forms a name and not a number right? In fact, other styles (doors) of kung fu usually give a name to their forms.

This, of course, can lead to much confusion in discussions in Chinese and English…

There’s also another typically confusing way to classify Chinese arts which I’ll leave to a dedicated post about and its the great debate between “Internal” and “External” Kung Fu.

Ray Rambles On: About Fighting

Content Summary:

  1. What is Martial Arts? 
  2. Is Martial Arts good for fighting?
  3. Which style is best for me?

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. 

Bruce Lee
Royalty Free image from Pexel by Snapwiresnaps

So for my first in the series of “Ray Rambles on” I’ll be blogging up on a topic that is dear to my heart- martial arts, fighting and lifestyle philosophy/ critical thinking. 

The word ‘Martial Arts’ has become, nowadays, a hodgepodge of meanings depending on the context. When martial arts classes are advertised the idea of martial arts is often more “Self defense” or “fighting” between two people, or just a set of exercises to get healthier, this perspective of martial arts is a layman and uninteresting to me. It does not fully encompass what martial arts are about, and why ancient forms of martial arts from different cultures survive the test of time, way past their point of conception.  

For me, Martial Arts is a sophisticated system of protecting what one values most. Now if I asked you right now, “ What do you value the most?” – go on jot down at least 5 things quickly- I guarantee you that one of the things you would have written down is your life, health or your loved one’s health and safety. 

Life! This is for me the point of training martial arts, and for living or doing anything for that matter. Without life then there’s no point in pursuing wealth or fame or anything else in the mortal realm… you wouldn’t be able to experience it. 

Now if we were to make a list of what are the possible threats to our health and lives, you might come up with some elaborate imaginative points but you’ll find that there’s so much more out there that could get you that an attacker. If martial arts was purely for self defense, then we surely have a lot of people out there pigeonholing themselves into preparing for a minor chance of an assailant. Most likely what will get us in this day and age is poor health or poor awareness and decisions- this is where martial arts comes in. By training and preparing your body mindfully you’re better able to first prevent, second get out and third deal with a tricky situation. 

Better to avoid a confrontation than to have a fight and have either one of the involved injured. Martial arts doesn’t just deal with the fight, but also the ethics of a fight, we have to go beyond thinking “I can eye jab him and kick him in the nuts” we need to realise that our actions have consequences. And these points go beyond just learning how to throw a punch or how to evade an attack and send a person flying. It’s these kinds of situations which can apply to our daily lives and other topics which gives martial arts the “Arts”. The science of fighting is its martial aspect, the art of critical thinking and logic is the arts. 

Lovely quote by Master Shifu in Kung Fu panda.

Now that we understand that martial arts are a grander term than just fighting, we also know that martial arts do involve fighting and that maybe some systems are better at fighting than others, right? So then ‘which martial arts style is the best’ is usually a frequently asked carefree question that gets flung around. 

My simple answer is that all martial arts are good and valuable because otherwise they wouldn’t be popularised to this day. 

Secondly, we need to think of martial arts as having a personality and life of its own, after all, its made up of a culture and community. So just as Wing Chun might suit a smaller framed fighter, Tai Chi may fit a more patient thinker and kickboxing a taller, more offensive type fighter, its not one style fights all- it’s about what suits the fighter. 

Just as each individual has a unique personality, some styles fit others better than other styles. It’s like a fashionable hat or a jacket- just because this celebrity wore it well doesn’t mean the next person would wear it just as well (then there are some people who don’t care about fashion and prefer wearing a comfortable piece of clothing then I still argue you may find a onesie cozy but the other person might not. Also here’s a controversial statement I like crocs, I think they’re convenient and comfortable but you may disagree)

Lol big shoes for a small kid, one size fits most not all.

Another way I like to answer the question of ‘which martial arts is best?’ Is what good martial arts do you have access to? A good teacher can shorten your journey to acquiring good knowledge by a hundred, conversely, a bad teacher can make you acquire bad habits and lengthen your martial arts path, even misguide you into thinking you’re capable of more than you can chew… even in the pursuit of learning martial arts you need to think critically. 

So that it for now on this episode of “Ray Rambles on”, let me know what you think of my babbling- still new to blogging and I will flex my muscles to improve my writing style as time goes on. 

Peace and love. 

-Ray

Real Talks with Ray

Happy New Year everybody! So with this new year in full swing, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a blog. Following my little student radio show project whilst at university, I decided to call this the Ray’ll Talks- a pun of course as I’m sure the title of this blog will give away refers to ‘real talks’ with me.

But of course, what will these talks consist of and why should you read them? Excellent questions!

Well, then I figured that for a blog to be successful and for me to have the motivation to keep writing these then the subject matter has got to be something that interests me for sure, right? And you know what I normally do a lot of to myself? Ramble. I ramble A LOT, as an only child with parents who worked full time, I had a LOT of time to entertain myself, and that weird habit continues to this day. Naturally, my topics and interests have matured a bit since then but I do catch myself being very random and odd.

Of my crazy shower monologues and chatter to myself, or my deep thoughts in meditation or during martial arts practice, I find myself delving into and perusing some deep topics such as “why should people care about Tai Chi” or “Is my country of origin and where I’m raised really that important to my sense of identity?” or “can martial arts change the world?”… And often like a dream, these ray-monologues are very fleeting, for whatever worth they may have I think these topics might be interesting to document and discuss.

So expect a lot of waffling, some martial arts chatter, some art and creative thinking chatter, a lot of cross cultural discussion on being British and Chinese, a lot of bad puns, and maybe some poetry/ photography… whatever.

image from @byrawpixel

Remember Ray like Randomness.

Too much order causes chaos,

Illogical logical is still logic,

Unconventional thinking just another person’s way of thought,

Paradoxes are perfect, as there’s no such thing as perfection.

Also feel free to follow my Instagram which I’m linking with this account