Author Archives: Holly

Summer Practice Routines

A Message from Mr. George

Summer break is officially here. I hope everyone enjoys the warm weather. Part of our martial arts training is to have a regular practice routine. For example, our Brown Sash student Brandon enjoys his Xbox games first thing in the morning before anything else. So Brandon’s mom gave him a “200 punches and 20 push-ups” practice required before the Xbox can be turned on. Good job Brandon and good job mom!

As a kung fu instructor, I can only influence the kids during the class time here, and hope the “effects” from the class carry over to the young students’ everyday lives. The parents’ part is just as important as the martial arts lesson: Making sure the kids are doing their home practice, keeping their rooms clean and showing good character all the time.

I look forward to see everyone receiving his or her Jr. Black Sash soon! Keep up the hard work!

Leadership Assistants

A Message from Mr. George

This month we’ll be focusing on self-defense and sparring drills for the kids. As the weather warms up, we will also do some training outdoors as well. Of course the kids are getting ready for their summer break coming up! The higher levels of the Leadership students are also getting into their assigned classes to start their instructor training. Many of the current “big brothers and big sisters” are doing wonderful in class assisting newer students. I look forward to work with the newer Leadership students and keep up the training!

Shhh…. It’s a secret!

By Master Eric Sbarge

Deadly poison hand techniques… Tantric shortcuts to enlightenment… Herbal formulas that guarantee longevity…

Go online and, for a price, you’ll be let in on all kinds of secrets.

The truth is, much of this kind of knowledge once really was secret, revealed only to a select few lucky individuals. In traditional Asian cultures, these “inner door” teachings were kept secret out of custom and for practical reasons. An obvious example of a practical reason would be to maintain a combat advantage over your opponent by not letting him learn your most advanced fighting techniques and methods.

In days of old, only the most trusted disciples would be taught these secrets. But today, many if not most of these secrets really are out in the open. Most honest and knowledgeable teachers now willingly share everything they know with most if not all of their serious students, and not just the select few.

Why are these secrets now publicly available? Two reasons.

First, the practical utility of much of this knowledge has diminished. Who cares if you can paralyze a man with dim mak poison-hand techniques when that same man can effortlessly shoot you dead with his concealed-carry-permit handgun? How many people want shortcuts to enlightenment when most people in the developed world are moving away from traditional religions and their esoteric practices? And as for health and longevity, Viagra and a cabinet full of other pharmaceuticals apparently suit busy people better than the use of herbs or other more natural health aids.

Second, teachers are willing to share once-secret practices simply because they realize that most people won’t make the time or effort needed to actually implement the secrets anyway. Having a chart of dim mak techniques is one thing, but memorizing meridians and then spending countless hours, weeks and months of daily practice until your dim mak is passable is quite another. Just because a Himalayan master shows you special meditative techniques for self-awakening doesn’t mean you’ll actually make the time to sit down every day and meditate on them. And most people can’t remember to take one vitamin pill a day, never mind concocting complex herbal recipes.

My students know that I repeatedly say there is only one real secret to success in the arts I teach: Practice. Specifically, practice of basics. You will get the benefits and results you are after if you practice the fundamentals of your art consistently and patiently. Stop searching for some esoteric secret technique passed down by the Wudang gods, and practice what’s right in front of you. While it doesn’t sound sexy or exciting, the fact remains that the highest levels of skill really do come from practicing your basics and fundamentals over and over, and over and over, and over and over.

If you are the rare bird who actually does practice consistently and long enough to master the basics, then you will be ready for the esoteric secrets. And when you’re ready, I’ll give you the URLs to go find them.

Have Fun, Be Happy

By Master Eric Sbarge

I was driving recently when the song Girls Just Want to Have Fun came on my radio. That song was written in the late 1970s and popularized by Cindi Lauper a couple of years later. As I listened to the song I reflected back when I was a teenager in the 70s, and it struck me that back then some girls wanted to have fun, and some didn’t.

But as I gave it more thought I conceded that of course all girls wanted to have fun, it was just that some girls wanted to have fun with someone other than me.

And that’s worth remembering: All girls and all boys, all women and all men, want to have fun. And they want to have fun because having fun contributes to our happiness. As the Dalai Lama says, “The basic thing is that everyone wants happiness, no one wants suffering.”

We all become happy in different ways. Teenaged boys might have one idea of fun and happiness, their grandmothers might have a different idea. But what is true for all of us is that happiness comes not just from our circumstances, but from how our mind perceives these circumstances.

As the Dalai Lama further states, “Happiness comes from our own attitude.” Most of us readily understand this, yet we can still fail to maintain a positive and happy attitude. Why? Because we aren’t in the habit of watching and monitoring our attitude. It takes diligence to continually nourish our positive thoughts and discard the negative. We suffer not so much because of bad circumstances, but because of bad thinking and a bad attitude towards those circumstances.

How can we develop the diligence needed to maintain a positive attitude and happiness? One of the oldest and most proven methods is through meditation. When we learn to meditate we create the habit of looking inward at our thoughts and attitude, rather than outward at the circumstances that might sour our thoughts and attitude. If we don’t like what we see on the inside, we work on changing it.

Ironically, some people try meditation but don’t find it to be fun, and it doesn’t make them happy. Their legs get sore, their mind wanders, the anxiety that they’re hoping to sooth gets worse. They feel as though they’re a failure at meditation. But the problem is usually one of attitude. They want happiness to be instant and forget that that almost all good things take time. They’re not failing at meditation, they’re failing to cultivate the right attitude for meditation.

With the right attitude, meditation will be fun. Maybe not the immediate fun of roller coasters or beaches or Las Vegas, or girls. But a longer lasting kind of fun, that ultimately brings more happiness.

What’s the solution if you aren’t enjoying your meditation? Develop a more positive attitude, a process that can be perfected, paradoxically, through meditation.

Staying Focused and Motivated Training at The Peaceful Dragon

By: Don Kodzai

Growing up I was always playing some kind of sport. I loved competition and loved to win. Soccer was the sport I enjoyed the most. I played for my high school and also in college when I came to America. In team sports, it’s win at all cost. That’s cool when you are young and in shape and can run like the wind. When I got older, I needed different challenges. Things I could do without competing against someone, but things that would improve my physical fitness and take away some of the stress we all have to deal with in life. The Peaceful Dragon sounded like a good place to start my new journey.

Five years ago, I embarked on my journey to improve fitness and overall well-being by studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi. There is no pressure involved with my training and I have noticed a significant improvement in my fitness and state of mind. This new journey is personal and at my own pace. We all have embarked on personal journeys by training at The Peaceful Dragon. Some of us have similar goals, but we will reach them at different times. We are not all the same in our physical fitness. Some of us have physical limitations and ailments that affect the way we train. In other words, don’t get distracted by someone else’s journey; focus on your own and do the best you can. We can draw inspiration from others and get motivation and encouragement from others, but in the end it is up to each one of us to travel their journey. Every day we show up, we are getting closer to the goal we have set for ourselves. I can tell a big difference in my physical condition compared to five years ago. The instructors have helped me stay focused and have helped me to persevere through some of the tough days of training. So as we travel on our journeys, make realistic goals that you can reach at your own pace. Your pace is the right pace, just keep on training. The things that we learn here, we can practice for the rest of our lives. We can always s train as long as we are focused and motivated.

A Cup of Tea

By: Lao Shr Sam Ilardo

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a collection of Zen writing compiled by Paul Reps, is one of my favorite books. I re-read it so often the book’s pages are frayed from my constant use. One of the Zen stories that I continually think of from this book is the following parable called “ A Cup of Tea”:

“Nan-in, a Japanese Master during the Meiji era received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitors cup full and then kept pouring. The professor watched the cup overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” Like this cup Nan-in said, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup”?

It was obvious to the master from the start that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge.

Like the professor, in Tai Chi, we must empty our cup to learn. We have to unlearn many things to learn Tai Chi. We must relearn how to stand, how to breath how to walk and how to move the body as one unit. Prior to studying Tai Chi, I had studied Isshin Ryu Karate for many years. Many principals are the same but there are many subtle differences. For example, in the Isshin Ryu forward bow stance, the back foot is straight rather than a 45-degree angle. When I was first shown the Tai Chi bow stance, my first inclination was to question the use of a 45-degree angle. Isn’t a straight foot more natural? Don’t you walk with a straight back foot? Isn’t Tai Chi all about harmonizing with nature? After a few classes I “emptied my cup” and accepted that this style requires the back foot to be at a 45-degree angle. It took me years to unlearn to angle my rear foot to 45 degrees. Now the 45-degree angle feels natural and more rooted, and a straight foot feels awkward.

More important than the Tai Chi example is do we empty our cup in every-day life. How many of us are biased by our prejudices, opinions and experiences. In my role as a financial consultant, when I ask why someone does something in a certain way, I will inevitably hear, “that is the way we have always done it”. I will tell them the empty your cup story and many times they will be open to another approach.

My farther always told me that you learn more from listening than talking. I would say more importantly, you learn more from listening with an open mind, not one that is already full of your own opinions. It is amazing how much you can learn and grow if you just “empty your cup.”

Practice and Precision

A Message from Mr. George

It seems like some kids are naturally fast, and some kids are just slow. In martial arts we practice “fast” to show power and precision; we also practice “slow” to show balance and control. Those are naturally slower can still practice to increase their speed, but it will take time and patience.

When I first started my kung fu training, I was not fast by all means. Sifu told me to do each movement slow and smooth, before adding power and speed. Of course a new hot headed student liked myself thought, “Yeah, yeah, I can do the slow pretty good. I want to get my speed up, NOW!” Again, Sifu told me to slow down and look for perfection in my movements before power and speed. If I shoot ten arrows down range at the target as fast as I can draw the bow without any of the arrows even hitting the target, am I a good archer? What if I take my time and slowly but accurately put all ten arrows on the bulls-eye, am I a good archer?

To reach to your full potential in speed and power, you must practice each movement smoothly. Smooth movement will increase in speed, and speed equals power! Keep up the training!!

Less is More, Except When it’s Not

By Master Eric Sbarge

Last month I wrote about the tai chi concept of “investing in loss” and discussed the importance of learning how to give up in order to gain. Now I want to address the idea of less being more, especially as it pertains to our martial arts and yoga.

Yes, we do want less effort to give us the greatest results; less tension to allow for more energy cultivation; less worry to allow for more inner peace, and so forth. But sometimes less is not more.

For example, is less practice more beneficial? Usually not. If we graph more practice on one axis and greater results on the other, there will come a time where the line levels off and then eventually reverses itself. At a certain point extra practice offers no noticeable improvement, and at some point beyond that the extra practice can exhaust our energy or create stress injuries or simply cause a counter-productive mental burnout.

But realistically, are you usually at the point where you’ve over-practiced, or are you simply failing to practice consistently and fully and so when you do practice hard it may seem overly stressful or challenging to you? I would argue that for most students it is the latter.

Be that as it may, the extra challenge (or enjoyment) of periodically practicing harder and more deeply than you normally do is really beneficial. When you have the opportunity to train extra hard for a tournament, or immerse yourself in day-long or even week-long intensive workshops or retreats, you almost always end up better for it.

Maybe the answer is to do more of doing less?

Kung Fu is Everything We Do

By: Micheal Heflin

For some people imparting words of wisdom to others comes easy. Those people always seem to have a combination of intelligence, experience, & intellect to be able to take their life experiences & communicate those experiences to others in a way that makes the listeners see the wisdom & beauty in what is being communicated to them, and it provides a level of inspiration to the listener. I am not one of those people so please bear with me.

As I grow older it is easier for me to see the wisdom in ‘those old sayings’ that we all heard growing up. You know, the ones like “waste not, want not”, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” & my all-time favorite “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. That is not really my favorite saying, but I heard it so many times growing up, it just seems that it should be my favorite.

By now you are asking what does this have to do with martial arts? A very good question. As I said before, I am not the wisest of people, so I am about to attempt to take a line from a movie and weave it into some relevance to our martial arts training and how martial arts relates to our everyday lives.

The quote I would like to use is from the movie, The Karate kid. In the movie Jackie Chan’s character, Mr. Han, takes on Jaden Smith’s character, Dre Parker, as a student of Kung Fu after Dre gets beat up by some local kids. At first his training consists solely of putting on his jacket, taking off his jacket, putting it on the floor, picking it up, hanging it on the pole, taking it down, putting it on, taking the jacket off, and so on and so on. Day after day this is all Shou Dre does, and he begins to have doubts about his teacher, and it seems he begins to doubt if he is learning anything at all about Kung Fu. Finally one day he snaps and tells Mr. Han that he does not know Kung Fu, & the other kids can continue to beat him up, & that he is quitting. At this point Mr. Han grabs Shou Dre by the shoulders & tells him that Kung Fu is in everything we do, it is in how we put on a jacket, how we take off the jacket, how we treat people, everything is Kung Fu. At this point the proverbial light bulb comes on & Shou Dre achieves a level of enlightenment, and his interest in learning “real Kung Fu” intensifies. He reapplies himself in his training, and the movie goes on to have a happy ending.

So what is meant by “Kung Fu is in everything we do”? Well here is what it means to me. I hope you find some value in this.

One of the major precepts of Kung Fu, is that to ever become very good at Kung Fu, one has to apply oneself, train every day with purpose and intensity, and hopefully learn something new every day. One must strive to be better today than you were yesterday. This also happens to be a very good recipe for life in general, by the way.

Another precept is focus. Developing one’s ability to focus allows you to live entirely in the moment. And living entirely in the moment maximizes one’s focus. With enough training & focus one will develop an advanced level of competence in Kung Fu.
It is by applying this same level of intensity, focus & being in the moment, to every aspect of our lives that allows us to grow and develop as employees, as parents, as friends, as martial artists and as human beings.

As I understand it, a literal translation of the words Kung Fu, means hard work. As you know, our training here at the Peaceful Dragon qualifies as hard work, but it is the level of hard work one puts into our training, that dictates the level of competence we achieve. In other words, what you get out of your training is directly related to what you put into your training. The harder one works, the more one achieves. This is how Kung Fu is in everything we do. Life in general takes hard work in order to ever achieve any real expertise at it. You get out of life, what you put into life.

In any endeavor we undertake, whether it be training for a new job, or training to run a marathon, our outcomes are directly proportional to how much ‘hard work’ or Kung Fu we put into it.

See, I told you that Kung Fu is in everything we do. Thanks for listening.

Death and Taxes: Letting go of Attachments

Mark Twain famously declared that “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.” He wasn’t original with this quote – apparently it goes back to Benjamin Franklin and possibly much earlier.

So for a long time people have lamented, feared and railed against death and taxes.

But those of us who are dedicated students of Ch’an (Zen) wonder what the big deal is. Death? That’s okay. Taxes? They’re okay. Nothing to worry about or fear here.

A key tenet of Ch’an philosophy is that our suffering and hardship are directly linked to our attachments, and if we can let go of our attachments we can attain peace of mind.

Our biggest attachment, of course, is to life itself. We refuse to confront the fact that we are all just visitors here on earth and it’s a comparatively short visit at that. We disdain death, and go to all lengths to keep it at bay and pretend we are immune to it. But of course for most people, this preoccupation with death is precisely what results in the inability to truly enjoy life.

Our disdain for taxes is only slightly less than that for death. But again, our unhappiness with the tax man is due to our attachments. This time it’s the attachment to wealth and power: That’s my money the government is taking away, and that’s my power that’s being usurped when the government decides where my money goes instead of letting me decide.

The tax argument is politically polarizing in today’s society, but it’s really not a question of Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. It’s a question of whether money and power are as worthy of the attention they are paid in life, and people of all stripes have to determine the answer to that question.

The Ch’an adept answers the question with the principle that simple is superior. When we live a simple life we need few things, and we don’t need lots of power to acquire few things. Leading a simple life does not make us simpletons – a good deal of wisdom is required to fully understand the richness of a simple life.

When you can pay your taxes with a smile, and face impending death with a smile, then indeed you are getting to the point where everything in life is worth smiling about. And that’s the beauty of Ch’an practice: It teaches us how to get to that point.