by Adam Hsu
Longfist's Secret Weapon
There's another reason why I like to promote long fist, and why it is especially good for children. Long fist training is set up, from the very beginning, to challenge and expand the student's mind.
There are many types of fitness exercises and sports floating around the world today --not only western exercise but also other kung fu styles. We have hundreds of choices. But the element of mental development is missing from many of them. After all, when barbarians suddenly invade the neighboring provinces, you don't have the luxury of in-depth training for your troops. In this case, speedy, selective training --physical conditioning and a few workable techniques-- are the main items on the menu.
Long fist is much, much more than a physical activity. But its beautifully integrated mental training is not obvious to the eye nor, at first, to the mind. In fact, unless pointed out by their teachers, students rarely recognize and appreciate it until they are advanced enough to face and understand the challenges of high level practice.
Mental training is found everywhere and its scope is wide. To illustrate, let's take a look at one important aspect of the mind: focus.
Uni-directional focus is virtually universal among students. They channel all their attention towards what goes on in front of them, especially when delivering an arm or leg attack, with very little awareness of the environment to their sides and backs. This tendency is evident even at more advanced levels when, for instance, students lose awareness of everything but their partner in two-person practice.
A very common long fist antidote is already placed within the first movement of the tan tui: the student is asked to step out and punch while sending the second fist in line to the back of the body. Already, things are not so comfortable. Moreover, when students advance in skill, they will be required to place the rear fist precisely at ear level, forcing them not only to pay some attention to what's behind them but also to achieve accuracy in opposite directions at the same time. No, this is not some exotic usage, whereby students learn how to knock out two opponents, a shorter one in front and a taller one in back, at the same time. This is mental training, and it can be found in movements throughout all the long fist forms.
"Tunnel vision" is a variant of uni-directional focus, too exclusive and condensed. Attention is narrowed to a specific area, such as an opponent's advancing fist or the student's own leg as it's preparing to kick. When we kick in long fist, we must still place our arms front and back and in the exact position. In tan tui's line four, after kicking, students are required to deliver a forward strike while stepping into a back-weighted 60/40 stance. These requirements make the movements more difficult physically and cause mental distraction. This distraction is a tool to open up doors in the mind and enlarge the mental ability of adults and youth alike.
Long fist is filled with movements that require both arms and legs to perform a variety of things at the same time. Moreover, they are usually large, expansive movements, so inconvenient because they must keep their size even when performed quickly. And each limb has a different distance to travel before reaching end-point. Students are thus guided to command a wider amount of space and learn to deliver multiple techniques at the same time.
As students progress into intermediate and advanced levels, they also learn to shift their attention to unusual areas of the body. When punching, beginning students automatically put their attention on the arm and fist what pathway it will take, speed, wrist alignment, the target, etc. As higher level students start to make friends with integrated, whole-body movement, they must learn to shift their focus to the torso, spine, pelvis, and rooted leg. Long fist's large, complicated movements, which must be performed with precision, sharpen this challenge.
Jumping ahead to the highest levels, mental training guides practitioners along a path leading to multi-dimensional awareness. This affects one's sense of both space and time. Can the practitioner keenly focus on the opponent and simultaneously maintain a powerful expanded awareness that gives command of the three-dimensional space surrounding him? When the opponent attacks, is the practitioner's response part of a longer-term strategy that can shift immediately to another according to the opponent's next moves?
Applications for life
It would be untrue to say that a narrowed, intense focus is never OK. For a martial artist, it can be a fatal error but for researchers, accountants, technicians, and in many other professions, no problem! How, then, can long fist's mental training be of special benefit to people in their daily lives and, by extension, society?
Colleagues and friends of mine in the field of education have all noticed a general shift in students over the last twenty years or so. Among other things, attention spans have shrunk alarmingly. Youngsters are too easily distracted. Many, adults included, have difficulty handling more than one thing at a time. They become discouraged too soon --if they can't learn something quickly and easily, they get "bored" or simply quit and take up a different activity.
To keep their students' attention on the subject, teachers are finding that they need to entertain and amuse them, to make things "fun." Short-term gratification and short-term thinking are hallmarks of the modern mindset.
Thankfully, there always are exceptions and true, we should also keep in mind that ageless historical cliché of older generations who are so dissatisfied, even horrified, with the way the younger generations decide to live their lives. However, after working with students from many cultures all over the world, I've noticed the same trends.
Adults have been affected too, though perhaps for different reasons. Most adults are very overworked and under extreme pressures in many areas of their lives. They often come to class distracted and mentally exhausted. Our era is one of unprecedented, lightning-fast technological advances. It's only natural that our culture and its individuals reflect the dark, as well as light, side of our technological revolution. And this is where long fist can help our society so powerfully.
Long fist gives people valuable grounding and enhances all mental capabilities. From the very be-ginning, students are encouraged to relax their minds and bodies. The training, in a step-by-step manner, both intensifies and widens focus, and lengthens the attention span. Movements are set up gradually to split one's attention to two, and then more areas at once. Mind and body are trained in a way that students can learn to issue one, two, and then multiple techniques at once; and juggle one, two, and multiple strategies, shifting instantaneously as the need arises. To do this, practitioners must have awareness and command both of themselves and their environment as it is in the moment. And can they remain calm even in the face of pressure and pain from an overwhelming attack by a powerful opponent?
Real kung fu flows seamlessly and thrives in the midst of contradiction. The training embedded in the highest long fist forms pushes and pulls at us, reforming our minds and bodies to live and function at this level.
Developing leadership abilities is one of the more potent marketing tools used by martial arts schools. And rightly so. As youngsters gain more skills, advance to levels where they learn to lead practice groups and call out the moves, feel pride in their achievements, and become role models for newer students, a much needed confidence can replace shyness and fear. (By the way, a school with excellent coaching can also teach overly cocky or aggressive children the value of teamwork and pride in the accomplishments of their peers.)
Long fist's training goes giant steps beyond this. Ultimately it has the means to build minds with the capacity and special abilities required at the highest level of leadership: generals, CEO's, and heads of state.
These leaders, generals for instance, must have a working understanding of the entire operation of their forces and the enemy's --understanding to the degree that allows them effectively to evaluate the data given them by their officers and intelligence sources, assess the status quo, and set a course of action. They must process and absorb an enormous amount of data. Their decisions are based on a wide range of factors, as diverse as budgets, religion, weather projections, and the quirks of their senior officers. Yet they must be able to rise above detail, using all the data and the many variables as a platform that informs and supports their grasp of the "big picture," in order to create an overall winning plan (backup plans not excluded) and the short-term means to reach the goal.
This is long fist territory: the detached overview that commands, simultaneously, both the specifics and larger issues of a situation. This is the viewpoint from which long-term strategy and complex, high-level techniques can be implemented-- in combat and in life.
Long fist is like water. Compared to wine or cafe lattes, it is tasteless. Yet, though we can survive without our fine wines, we cannot live without water. Water can be found everywhere; it's a part of almost everything --even our bodies. We might say that water is not of itself specialized. It's formless, taking the shape of its containers-- the banks of a river, the glass in your hand. But it is not weak: the awesome Grand Canyon was carved into the ground by water, and no one will argue with the power contained within our oceans.
Long fist has all the versatility and power of water. Let's treasure this art through our own hard practice and insure its preservation by sharing it with the next generation as fully and accurately as we can.
end of pt 2