Summer Intensive 2014

My name is Stephan Young, and I am somewhat of a prodigal son to the Shaolin Kung Fu Training Center. I was a student here about 9 years ago, and after a long hiatus, upon returning, I learned of the Summer Intensive program. As the name aptly describes, it is an intensified version of the regular classes held, with added forms and exercises. I knew I must join and see how far I could push myself. For as Shifu says, we can always push ourselves harder. 

I must say however, that I had a feeling of ambivalence; apprehensive, yet excited at the same time. Week one was as intense as anticipated. The Saturday portion of the Summer Intensive program was held all inside the school. Sweat was not in short supply as we all attempted to push beyond our potential. It was not just a day of kicks and punches, however. Shifu and Shimu laid out the basic Shaolin precepts that define the essence of the school. 

The Eight Methods of Training:
1. Fists like a shooting star
2. Eyes like lightning
3. Move like a snake
4. Feet must be faster than a drill
5. Spirit must be sharp
6. Your chi must sink
7. Reach the target smoothly
8. Efforts must be pure

It gave us a better understanding of Shifu's inspirational mantras. Personally, these precepts gave me a better understanding of the moving meditation Shifu spoke of before. 

Sunday we met at the park and we started out with some light stretching before moving on to qigong. It is a challenging style, that demands the aforementioned moving meditation. Your stances and breathing must be synchronous, which I can say benefits you in kungfu. After returning, we continued training in forms and weapons . I must say, at the end of the first weekend, I am impressed by what we have accomplished so far. The dedication that each has shown so far has been inspiring, and I look forward to the rest of the program.  Stephan Young

Beginning of week two, and our numbers have grown. The idea we focused on this weekend was improvement. Shifu stressed this, as was evident in our heavy focus on the basics. We practiced qigong exercises meant to improve our alignment and flexibility. Shifu stated that he saw improvement in all of our stances, but said we can always improve. That meant we would practice basics, basics...and more basics. Echoes of, "Go lower!","Go faster!","Sink!","More intensity!","...Sharpness!", and "Focus!", were heard.

I must say that I do appreciate the heavy importance Shifu puts on the basics. While humbling, indeed, you do get a better idea of where you are in your progression. As I have heard from a few of the students I have spoken with, you definitely can't fool yourself when it come to the basics.

On Saturday, in line with the emphasis on the basics, Shifu gave us an interpretation of another poem.

Stance Method (Bu Fa) Poem
1. Your stances must be like a horse, the body relies on the stances.
2. Bow Stance (Gung Bu) is like a nail, and it should strike like thunder; nothing can shake or move it.
3. Posture (Ding Shi)- each posture should be as solid as a foundation of rock, so both hands can push a thunderbolt.
4. Horse Stance (Ma Bu) should be buried in the ground. You should be able to hold it for as long as it takes for 3 sticks of incense to burn.
5. Practice many times daily to be able to hold a mountain, or house.
6. Empty Stance ( Xu Bu) relies on the strength of one leg, and is used for deception.
7. To power forward, use bow stance. Empty Stance is used to retreat quickly.
8. In combat you either attack or retreat, changing stances, your transitions, are your foundation.
Again, from this, it just clarified Shifu's mantras. These lines of poetry define the amount of dedication expected; you wouldn't reach these potentials without any.

Sunday, upon returning to the school after the scheduled break, we learned about the Leg Method (Ti Fu) Poem, and while its too lengthy to reiterate here, Shifu told us it was actually two poems in one that described the different kicks of Shaolin kungfu. They instruct you on how the kicks must be executed and the conditioning needed.

I find the lectures and introduction to these pieces of poetry so enlightening. It really gives you an insight into the thought patterns of the ones who wrote them. It is more than a beautiful collection of metaphors, it is the essence of their ethos. A peek into their minds and a way to understand what Shaolin really is. It can be martial, but as Shifu has told us many times, kung fu means hard work; pure effort. Stephan Young

Week three…Let’s go! It’s already the third week, and our momentum has not slowed one bit. The theme this weekend, as obvious as it may seem, was intensity. As Shifu says, when you have worked hard and gotten stronger, it takes a lot of work to improve just a little. So, we worked even harder this weekend. On Saturday, we started out by practicing the kicks described in the Ti Fa Poem. For me, I must say that the Side-Press kick was extremely challenging because it requires a lot of coordination and concentration. 

After that, we took a short break for Shifu to translate another martial credo:

"The heart and mind are your commander.
The eyes and ears are your front line.
Stances and steps must move like a war horse, [and]
Your hands and feet are like the swords of an army".

If you are capable of keeping an idea such as this in your mind, I don’t see it being hard to generate that intensity Shifu always speaks of. 

We also learned about the different sections of the Bo-Staff. Learning this was particularly interesting because you learn the importance of hand placement when handling the staff. To know that there are distinct parts to the staff, it allows for a clearer understanding of the techniques and how to properly execute the movements.

On Sunday, with no signs of slowing down we trained very hard. It had rained before we came to the park, so the grounds were a little slippery. Shifu smiled and said this would be fine because it would only make us focus more. And so we did. A few of us were forced to change shirts early. 

Upon returning to the school after our break, we continued to train, and replaced the normal post-break lecture for more training. Spectacularly, towards the end of the day, Shifu decided to test our growth with the “Incense Challenge”. You might remember that from the Bu Fa Poem, and if not let’s just say that we all held our stances for 20.2 minutes. Shifu lit the incense, and we all started off in the horse stance, switching between horse stance and bow stance. We could not rest or come up, lest Shifu yell at you to, “Go Lower!”

Definitely, if we were not individually surprised at what we were able to do so far, we should be proud of it. Every week we have tried to surpass the acts of the week before, compounding the challenge, yet making the goal more satisfying. That is intensity. Stephan Young

Week four, feeling a bit sore, we all remained stalwart. Using our hearts and minds as our commanders, the group stayed focused on our goal; improvement through intensity. No time to slow down. Without pause, we continued to challenge ourselves to surpass the previous week's gains.
With one week left, we cannot afford to lose focus. For as Shifu says, when you are tired, that is when you should try harder because that's how you can improve. Stephan

Week five has come; it is the end. However, even though Summer Intensive may be finished, it is not really over. Joe encapsulated the idea best when he said, [it's] another important milestone towards the destination that is really the journey. What I believe he meant is that training in Shaolin Kungfu is never over; it is about the endless possibility of growth. And grow we did, the stiffness was proof of a gain in strength. The ability to sink lower and kick higher, was proof of increased flexibility. Our greatest accomplishment, perseverance.

There were more than a few highlights in the final weekend. On Saturday, Shifu went over the very important idea of the nine sections. And Sunday afternoon, we learned that not only is he a Shifu, but he is a poet as well. He wrote a poem for the Bo-staff combination he taught this year.
At the end of class Sunday, Shifu and Shimu presented us with a "diploma", before having us partake in an intimate ceremony.
After that Joe, Meeka, and their children were kind enough to host a gathering at their home. This is where we all got to meet Benjamin, George, Adam, and the triplets Chip, Pip, and Nip (Sarah's toy hedgehogs).
It was truly a wonderful evening; and an apt end to such a mentally and physically rewarding program.

  Photo by Joe Pickard
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