September is always our busiest time of year for new students starting their Kung Fu journey. It’s the same month I joined the school in 1990. I had no idea at that time the incredible journey I would be embark on. In the 29 years following, I’ve studied under some amazing teachers.
Most recently, I’ve been learning from Shifu Yuan Jing in Toronto. I feel extremely fortunate that this unique opportunity to train privately with a real Shaolin Monk has presented itself!
Following a class, we cycled to have dinner at a restaurant just outside of Kensington Market. We had a wonderful meal filled with enlightening conversation. Shifu (the Mandarin spelling of “Sifu”) was describing his fascinating journey in the martial arts. He began training at a very young age. After much hard work and discipline, he was selected at age 12, alongside his brother, as a very elite handful of students to train at the revered Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. After developing his Kung Fu full time at the Temple for several years, he toured the world with the performing monks. I remember the first time I saw the Shaolin Monks at Maple Leaf Gardens in the 90’s. I was absolutely mind blown with the exploits of strength, courage, agility and resiliency that I witnessed! To be honest, I didn’t know human beings were capable of such feats!
Shifu explained that his development and maturity came from three sources: study, training and travel. He elaborated on these points, which I will share (with some of my own interpretation):
Study is learning. Gaining new physical skill and knowledge from teachers. Kung Fu is such a dynamic undertaking with so many facets. The deeper you get, the more you realize there is to learn. Study also includes the mental and spiritual side and can include reading and meditation. Having good teachers is very important and furthers your growth.
Training may sound like study, but it involves working on what you have learned; mindful repetition and consistent practice. Study is naturally engaging and interesting and a lot of people just choose to stay in this state, avoiding the work that needs to put in to breed real skill. Practice is the whole point of Kung Fu.
Travel gives you perspective. In Shifu’s case, he travelled the world and learned the perspective of the West, allowing him to evaluate and measure what he studied and trained in the East. He feels this greatly helped him mature and understand people and himself, making him a better teacher. In my experience, he is one of the best teachers I have encountered in the martial arts; he merges the deep world class Kung Fu skills and knowledge that the Shaolin monks are renowned for with an understanding of Western culture.