by Sifu Laurent Bernardin
I remember from when my children were younger, how it was difficult to envision details of a class when they were being expressed from the perspective of an excited child. As a parent I wanted to engage with my children about their experiences, but it was often a daunting task to figure out exactly what had been taking place in the Kwoon. Current circumstances limiting options for you to see your kids in action are making this even more difficult. So, it might be useful to describe what a typical class experience looks like. A bit of background and vocabulary might help you ask your children the right questions.
A class starts with the students lining up at the back wall, in order of their belt colour, with higher ranked students closer to the entrance gateway. The instructor rings the gong and lets the students know how many rows to form. The students then proceed one by one, starting from the left side, calling out their row number and running to their designated spot. After this process everybody is neatly aligned into a rectangular grid. During Covid times, depending on class size and current rules, we may skip this step and have students go to their spot right after entering the Kwoon.
The instructor will start the class with three bows. The first bow is to our Kung Fu ancestors. The second bow is to the Head Instructor, Sigung Dave. The final bow is a courtesy bow to everyone in the Kwoon. Next, the students sit down cross-legged with their hands at their belly buttons and eyes closed for a period of meditation. The focus is on breathing and clearing of minds, to be ready for the remainder of the class.
The next section is the warm-up, where students go through joint rotations, cardio exercises and stretching. The aim is to get everybody’s body warmed up as well as to work on flexibility. During this section the students will work through their strength requirements. These consist of both pushups as well as abdominal exercises. Details of these requirements can be found in the Student Handbook.
At some point during the warm-up, the students will typically work through their stance sequence. This is a prescribed sequence of different “stances”, i.e. ways to stand. These sequences also differ by rank and will include stances like the “Closed stance”, “Horse stance”, “Forward stance” and “Cat stance”.
The warm-up often takes up the first half of the class and is sometimes led by a member of the Leadership Team (more senior students). It ends with the instructor bowing the class out for a quick drink break. The students run to grab a sip of water from their water bottles and then head straight back to their spot. The instructor will lead the students in a second bow to resume the class.
What follows is the main instructional portion of the class. Students will work on rank and age appropriate elements from the four pillars of our curriculum: Forms, Sparring, Self-Defence and Technique. I’ll reserve details on each of these for a future column.
At the end of the class, the instructor will have the students re-form in the original rectangular grid. They will read out the theme of the month as well as the quote of the week and might ask the students some related questions. There is often a brief discussion of what the quote means to the students as well as in relation to Kung Fu.
The class then performs the final bow followed by a hand clap and they are dismissed. The students remain in a closed stance waiting for the instructor to give them permission to leave the Kwoon.
I should stress that, while the above describes a typical experience, any given class is at the discretion of the instructor and may, at times, look very different. I wish you many engaging Kung Fu conversations with your children.