Friday, May 19, 2017

You're a Gong Fu man, huh?

My mother recently told me about a situation that really disturbed her and made her worry about the future.

My parents went for a walk on the Kalama, WA riverfront, it's a beautiful stroll and has lots of great places to relax and enjoy the view.  It was a beautiful spring eventing and as they walked they passed a playground the city spent taxpayers money to build and only saw one family there,  ONE FAMILY!  A beautiful evening and only one family came outside to play.

Later that night, on their way home, they stopped by the new Ilani casino in La Center to see what the fuss was about (They don't gamble but wanted to see what just moved into their town).  It's a reservation casino so there was the usual fanfare and everyone in town has been bombarded with advertising about the grand opening.

What they saw truly disturbed my mother and anyone who knows her understands that it takes A LOT to bother her deeply.  She had a very rough life growing up, served in the military and worst of all, raised my brother and I for 19 years each   Anyone who knows me or my brother knows that she deserves combat pay and some medals for that, maybe even her own holiday.

What they saw was a huge building crammed full of people, all taken in by the spell that casinos strive to cast, a timeless zone filled with lights, colors and sounds all mixed with alcohol specifically designed to keep gamblers going until they are spent.  When I was younger, I worked as a casino guard and even saw players pass out at the Pai Gow table after marathon stints.  They seriously just fell from their chairs and had to get taken by ambulance to get checked out since they were incoherent after such a long time focused on gambling.

My parents saw huge lines of parents waiting for the ATM, then running straight to the tables or slots and sitting there, mesmerized.  These people were so entranced that they even brought their children to check out the new casino.  These children were sitting at restaurant tables or in strollers, plugged into whatever mobile device their parents shoved into their hands so the parents could gamble without those pesky kids getting in the way.

When we were talking about what they saw, we started on a discussion of how the next big issue in society may come from parents choosing which social class their children belong to. The parents who take their children to the park on a spring evening stand a good chance to read with their children and encourage them to study for themselves.  These parents are more likely to emphasize physical health with their children and undoubtedly spend more focused, quality time with their children than the parents that only pacify their kids with entertainment.

I was relaying this to some martial arts friends and I had a realization.  This problem isn't just about kids going to the park or being online, it's VERY evident in a similar manner with people who call themselves 'martial artists'.

Think about it for a second.  Spending some time online or with entertainment these days is normal but how much time are you giving to mindless enjoyment and how much to training?  When do you train?  And please, don't give me the whole "I train all day every day".  Most of the time that is just an excuse for people to get out of the hard parts of training.  They think that picking the coffee pot up with proper shoulder alignment is training instead of just how they should always move.  So how much do you ACTUALLY train each day?  Have you ever actually written down how many circles you walk or how many lines of the elements you do?  How many times do you practice Pi Chuan each day?  And I mean how many times EXACTLY?  Do you keep a training log where you detail your practices and keep track of your progress, the same as any other serious athlete?

That is only one aspect to this.  What do you do when you aren't training?  What do you do when you are watching TV or cooking or cleaning to add to your sets and reps for the day?  I like the term sets and reps, I know a lot of traditional martial artists may not jive with that but before I was a Gong Fu guy, I was a wrestler and lifter and that is how I learned to measure training progress. It just stuck over time.

Some people may think that I am using those questions to set up an "I'm better than you" argument but that couldn't be father from the truth.  I want to ask these questions of everyone to get them to think exactly how they spend their time.  Time management experts have long said that we really don't know how much of our day that we waste with idleness and often, their best advice is to find all the times throughout the day that you aren't truly doing anything but just being idle.  So my question to you all is, what are you doing with all the time you are wasting by accident?  Again, this is not to castigate anyone but to get you to ask YOURSELF, are you truly as dedicated as you would like to be?

This is a question I had to ask myself a year or so ago and I realized I wasn't training nearly enough to really call myself a Gong Fu man.  I was putting in the time teaching and certainly did a good hour or so of training on top of that everyday but I had allowed myself to play to the certainly true but still bitch ass excuse of my injuries acting up.  I let myself slip into the delusion that since I was crippled in the past, that I couldn't push myself to my full limits or I would be too sore to teach my group properly.  I know, it sounds silly when I write it out but I think everyone here has given themselves similar excuses in the past.  So I made some drastic changes that I know most other people might find some use in and wanted to share them here.

When I get up in the morning, I start doing a light practice that is focused on waking me up, getting lots of oxygen going and just waking up my nervous system.  It's usually stretching and some Qigong and a little Taiji. The stretching is focused on getting my body open after 8 hours of sleep, it adds a huge boost to my morning.  This sounds common sense but how many of you actually do it everyday or at least five out of seven days consistently?

When I still worked a day job, I would take my 15 minute breaks and go do some light Tian Gan.  Just enough to make me breath a little heavy and get my blood going but not enough to come back in soaking wet.  Lunch time was taken to start some light circle walking or elements, again I was limited to not being sweaty when I came back in.  I ate at my desk after lunch while I was working to free up that time.  Last break was the same as the first but I pushed myself a little bit harder to really loosen up for practice right after work.

I own a school literally next door to my old job so the first thing I did was clock out and go straight next door.  I got into deeper stretching to work out any stiffness from earlier training and then got down to a solid hour or so until students showed up.  I taught my classes immediately after and then headed home after that to shower and eat with the family.

Again, I don't say this to brag but on an average day, I was up to around 3 hours of training and teaching whereas a lot of people wouldn't have started yet.  It's not because I'm amazing, it's because I searched out every minute I could that was could be used for training.

When I got home though, that was when the creative time management was needed to squeeze in more time.  If you are cooking a meal for your family, what are you doing while water is boiling or things are in the oven?  I had to guard the stove against baby invasions so I started doing post stance in the doorway to the kitchen.  My reasoning is that I take up most of the doorway and if my 3 year old could push past me, it was a sign I needed a better root.  LOL

After dinner, we usually let the babies watch a bit of television before we read to them (I know, I started this by bashing parents for plugging their kids in, the irony isn't lost on me).  Usually not much more than 30 minutes, but guess what can be done in 30 minutes of child free time?  That's right, a bunch of reps of something!

After reading is time for more training, mostly a cool down and completely relaxing workout to just chill out and prep for bed, again, mostly Qigong and breathing or meditation.

Please understand, this wasn't always how it is, this is what my training has morphed into since I came back from China recently and spoke to a couple people about what I felt was lacking in my training.  Since then, I quit my job so I had to re-program some of my days training but I didn't think most people would relate to that, so I left in the part about my day job as something people can relate to.

Again, please don't take this as me boasting, I am sharing what works for me.  I am, however, always interested in what other people do to squeeze more training time in or how you structure your days to maximize the amount of time you are able to train each day.  Please feel free to share your methods, I'm sure many people could learn from your ideas!

If you like this line of thinking but are stuck with how to make these changes in your life, here is a good thought that might help.  I think one of the best ways to fix things if you don't like the answer you give yourself is this.  Find your 'Why'.  Find your reason for training and when you hone in on it, you will find ways to squeeze in more training when you get laser sharp on your reasons for training.  My next blog post will be about how to find that 'Why' and how to become obsessed with making martial arts part of your everyday life!

Jesse Conley is an internal arts instructor in Vancouver, WA with Stone Tiger Martial Arts.  For any questions about classes or training, please feel free to send an email to and one of us will get back to you as quickly as possible.

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.