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Students' Corner

Graeme McLeod - "The White Sash"

I am not sure I an able to fully describe the importance of the first sash, and perhaps only a Black Belt can fully explain its complexities. I am writing before I even go for my grading, as my outlook may change after the grading. I have been told by Sifu as have others, that I will be grading soon. That was two months ago, so soon could be any time from now to whenever.

I gave myself a timeframe, but alas it has passed so now I have set another goal to achieve my grading. I often do not reach my goals but still find it important to set goals for myself.

The hardest thing is when members of our family approach me thinking I will be grading in a few weeks. I even had to explain to one that it was becoming very annoying and frustrating for me with people who have made their first grade expecting me to be grading in a few weeks. I accept am not ready yet, and am willing to wait for years if that is what it takes to earn my white sash. I am not sure if Sifu is teaching me the attitude that is required to be a better martial artist, or it is just that I have found myself in circumstances that are teaching me to deal with my high expectations.

I am still learning how to improve my forms, and the challenge to perfect them keeps me occupied. I do realise that even after my grading, my forms will still need much more work, for me to be able to perform them as they need. I have found that members of my Dragon Family have given me encouragement and help me reach the standard to be able to grade.

And later: I am finding my forms as refreshing and beneficial as cleaning my teeth as they help me feel relaxed and give me a feeling of accomplishment, as well as keeping me flexible and improving my balance and coordination. I am more critical as I practice my forms and realise how I can improve some movements.

And later: I fell down some stairs recently, twisting my right knee, but at least did not injure myself badly. I believe the stretching exercises in class are the main reason I escaped without more serious injury. I have had to ease off my training for a few weeks, as I was not giving my body time to recover - it is hard not training!

And later still: Sifu made the comment that he will know when I am ready to grade, and will tell me. I like to work towards goals that I can set, but this is more challenging - I have to train, and be ready for when the moment arrives. I am learning an approach to Martial Arts that I never recognised before. Perhaps I should stop and sniff the roses from time to time, and reflect on what I have learned.

And finally: Well, it has passed now, I have my White Sash, and I can reflect back to my grading. I learned that no matter how much I thought I was prepared for my grading, I actually need much more work on my forms basics and self defences. I have learned how much I have learned and how much has still escaped me. I will try to be more receptive and will; enjoy the challenge, and the lessons to help me towards my Yellow Sash!

Matt Bolger - What does Kung Fu mean to me?

Kung Fu is life. It means many things - at times everything, at times what it means is not apparent.

Many believe it is the physical strength, power, skills and techniques of Kung Fu that are most useful. I think this is both true and yet untrue. It is just as relevant that Kung Fu teaches the mental strength, power, skills and techniques needed for life. This leads me to what I believe has been the most important lesson that Sifu Hardy has given me yet: A straight line defeats a circle, but a circle defeats a straight line".

Like many lessons from Sifu Hardy, this lesson can be interpreted on many levels, and this is an aspect of the lesson itself. The most basic and direct application of this advice at the time was to illustrate the point that an opponent attacking in a straight line can be defeated by moving in a circle, while an opponent attacking with a circular movement can be defeated by moving in a straight line. This is one interpretation.

However, there are many other interpretations and applications. For myself, most importantly, I believe this lesson teaches flexibility of body and mind, especially towards everyday problems. Sometimes when faced with a problem in life, the natural approach is to use headstrong and aggressive tactics (moving in a straight line). This may work, but will not work every time. Sidestepping the problem and letting it go for a while (a more circular approach) will also not always be an answer. What is needed is a more flexible approach, that will take account of all possibilities, strengths and weaknesses - to develop the optimal approach for every situation.

This has been my most important lesson to date, and is an illustration of how Kung Fu is not jut a Martial Art, but a way of life.

Dan Graetz - When the mind counts

I'd like to tell people a true story - it happened to a friend of mine recently, in Queanbeyan. My friend had gone to the pub with a group of her friends for a few drinks. They had a couple of rounds and then most of them wanted to keep drinking at another pub. My friend had to work the next day, so she went home by herself in a taxi.

On the way home, she thought another car was following her, but figured it was her friends, trying to get her to come back with them. She got out at her front door, but then was assaulted from behind by two men. The attackers threw her to the ground, and kicked and punched her, but she fought back. Then one of the men tried to take her jeans off, and my friend managed to punch him in the head. She got her keys out of the front door, and got into her car. Her attackers kicked her car, but she drove off, with nothing worse than a few bruises and cuts.

My friend doesn't study any kind of Martial Arts, but in a very serious situation, kept her head, refused to accept that anyone had the right to attack her, and escaped. There are a couple of good lessons for us all here: first, bad situations do happen, and second, if you use your mind well, you can do anything you want.

For those of us who are students of the Martial Arts, we should remember these lessons, and train hard, to make our minds stronger and our bodies more capable!

Graeme McLeod - The Long Journey Home

I have a continued desire to learn about myself to find what I am able to accomplish both mentally and physically. After forty seven years on this long journey I am learning just how much more there is to learn about myself.

I have always been very active and have pushed myself in whatever I have taken on. I have enjoyed running up the surrounding mountains of Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura and the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin and swimming ninety six laps of the pool every day.

The garden has been my gym. A pick and shovel in hand digging compost trenches and collecting the autumn leaves in my street - these simple tasks for example have given strength in my wrists.

Due to my impatience I have preferred to run or walk to Civic than to catch a bus.

When thirty came knocking on my door I realised I had better explore martial arts before my body would not be able to perform what my mind wanted it to do. I began learning Karate and was training six days a week and every day at home for at least two hours a day. I enjoyed doing pushups during the adverts as a little game to amuse myself. I used Karate for exercise for six months when I was unable to swim. I did this for about two years before I was lured away to aerobics where I was taking part in classes nearly every day for a total of three hours, as well as being a accredited coach and a C grade umpire in netball. During this period I learnt just how far I could push my body - I came down with Glandular fever and fatigue syndrome and was off work for five months.

For the last ten years I have been trying to build my strength and stamina and balance as it was before I became ill. For a time I actually had trouble walking.

After eight years recovering I needed another challenge in life and had the desire to explore martial arts again. I felt I'd like to try Kung Fu.

Some martial arts schools have a philosophy of showing you just how unfit you are and just how much you have to learn to become a black belt. There is a class distinction between the different belts and everyone competes with each other. The way you show your success is to show how much better you are from others, and too little care is taken of the safety of students. I have never needed this as I only compete against myself and my aim is always to just to improve and reach the small goals I set myself. Alas many martial arts schools do not explore the power of meditation.

I found that Pailum KungFu had teachings which I was searching for. When training we train and test our improvement against our own performances rather than with others in class. The instructor gives everyone their own goals when learning the forms and we learn out our own pace. The school encourages everyone to be a member of a special family so we do not feel the need to compete with one another.

After twelve months training however, I left as there was some other things in my life requiring attention and also my lack of balance was frustrating me while trying to learn the skills required to obtain a white sash.

But another twelve months on, it was time for me to return, and I have now reached the stage I was before I left. However I am able to perform the forms at a higher lever and have a better understanding of what is required and why, when performing the required forms and blocks. In the last twelve months I have learnt the art of patience - and may one day become a grand master at that! There are some schools where a black belt is obtainable at twelve months but alas the basic skills are never learnt. I would rather spend ten years learning how to block and defend myself well, if that is what it takes, and receive a white sash when successful.

I know I will be at peace with my new family of dragons for many years and will enjoy the friendship and teaching of Pai Lum Kung Fu.

[Editor's comment: It is good to see that Graeme is aware of how he can travel the road to harmony - learning patience with himself!

Francis B. Michaelis - It's never too late to start...

I thought martial arts was for small boys getting dressed up in uniforms and practicing how to fight. How wrong I was. The more I learn the more I realise it is a way of life that involves stretching and strengthening both the mind and the body.

The Kung Fu monks from Shaolin in China came to Canberra last week. When I saw them perform, I learnt how much Buddhism is part of their life. I'm not a vegetarian or a Buddhist but something convinces me that you need to have a calm mind before you can really do Kung Fu. It is more than an aerobics class. Whatever religion or belief you choose to calm the mind is up to you.

I'm the oldest in the class; both my children go regularly. Their school work has improved through concentrating better from the meditation that we do as part of our training. It is also a discipline to attend class regularly.

One of the Chinese monks was still performing at the age of 80 - tall and erect with a supple body, so age is no excuse. I've certainly recovered from chronic fatigue since I started Kung Fu and can even do a few push-ups again. I'd better go do some more stretches!

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