This is a short primer for students who are new to Chinese Kung Fu, and are unfamiliar with many of the basic courtesies that we all observe when we practice. The discipline of Kung Fu has a long history, full of meaningful rituals that are sometimes lost among modern day practitioners. This is unfortunate, since nothing in Kung Fu exists without reason or applicable function. Failure to observe these simple behaviors not only detracts from the depth of the arts, it can create dangerous situations. Observance of these rituals are not only gestures of respect, but serve to keep ourselves and our classmates out of harm's way, both in this school and outside in the world. Many of these rituals are simply basic manners that serve to help us carry the proper attitude when training, and that will extend to our daily lives. Most of this information is extracted from our Student Manual, volumes I and II. Students who desire more complete information should consult these texts. They are available at our school supply store.
There are many different types of salutes. The standard salute is made with the right hand clenched in a fist. The left hand thumb is bent, and the four fingers are stacked and straight. The palm of the left hand is placed over the fist. Both elbows are bent and the arms form a circle. The feet are together with the knees held straight. The posture is erect and the eyes are focused on the person that is being saluted.
For Hung Gar students, the open hand forms a tiger claw, facing forward. The salute is performed with two steps forward to cat stance, and two steps back to standing.
The salute should be held at chest height, unless you wish to show more or less respect. Many students will bring their hands higher when saluting the altar or Sifu, accompanying it with a small bow. This shows greater respect. Do not salute with your hands lower than chest level, since this signifies that you are superior to the person you are saluting, and could be considered an insult, if you are wrong.
Saluting: When and Why
Salute when entering and exiting the school to honor this space. All of this tradition, its majesty and legacy, depends upon what happens here and now, so we salute to show that we will work to preserve these skills and pass them on to future generations in honor of our martial ancestors, our teacher's teachers and the founders of the style. Salute when greeting Sifu and his instructors to show respect for the hardships they endured to achieve those positions. Everyone starts as a beginner, and the challenges that stand before you now stood before each your instructors at one time before. Salute anyone that you might workout with, especially for blocking exercises and sparring. This signifies that you will work together on these skills, without trying to injure each other. Salute at the beginning and ending of lessons, to signify that this is the lesson time and that your attention will be undivided.
Be first to salute. Do not wait for your senior to salute you. This demonstrates your alertness, quick reflexes and most importantly, your respect. These salutes should be observed at every practice.
There are two different primary Chinese languages, Cantonese and Mandarin. Cantonese is the language of the south, Mandarin is from the north. Sifu Lam was born in Canton and trained in Hong Kong, so this school mainly uses the Cantonese. However, since Shaolin is a northern style, we have reverted back to the Mandarin, since more people who practice Shaolin are familiar with this language.
Both Cantonese and Mandarin are difficult languages for the native English speaker. We do not have letters for many of the sounds in these languages. The term "Kung Fu" is occasionally spelled "Gung Fu" since it starts with a sound in between "G" and "K". Do not get too hung up on how to spell things, it will only frustrate you further. For example, "Wing Tsun" can be spelled "Ving Chun" and the Wade-Giles system of translation will spell Tai Chi Chuan "T'ai Ch'i Chuan", whereas the Pinyin system will spell it "Taijiquan". Try your best to listen and repeat what you hear instead of trying to spell it out.
Why we use Chinese as opposed to English
Kung Fu is a treasured part of Chinese culture. While this might not seem important to non-Chinese, in the international martial arts circles, the Chinese language has become accepted into common usage since it is the only one that contains some of the words that describe the art. "Chi", for example, has no solid translation into English.
The basic uniform consist of black baggy pants, thin-soled shoes, and a school shirt. The hard styles will also wear a belt or sash for additional support of the lower back. The pants are full to allow for high kicks and low stances. The shoes are light, so that you can feel the ground beneath your feet, yet more healthy then bare feet when working out on the earth, cement, or asphalt. The school shirt denotes your affiliation.
Jewelry, rings, watches and any other accouterments must be removed before practice. These objects can cause injuries in sparring and they are expressions of ego, which we leave outside the door of the Kwoon. The main reason for wearing a uniform is to remove the identity. If you want to stand out from the rest of the class, develop outstanding martial skills. Wearing something different does not make you better, and can be considered an act of vanity. Sweatbands, wristbands, and articles that are functional for practice are certainly permitted.
Keep your uniform neat and clean. No one likes to work out with someone in a dirty uniform, and sloppy dress is conducive to sloppy behavior.
Arrive at your lesson promptly, dressed and warmed up, ready to go. When your instructor signifies that it is your lesson time, quickly gather up your classmates and meet together on the floor. Lessons are not the time for idle chatter. Make your questions pertinent and give the lesson your full attention. Do not interrupt others during lesson time.
If you cannot make your scheduled time, inform your instructor. This will allow your instructor to plan his or her lesson schedule for that day ahead of time. If you have an injury that will not allow you to practice with your usual rigor, inform your instructor. The instructors here are very capable of adapting your lessons to your needs.
Some lessons may differ slightly from instructor to instructor. This may be for a variety of reasons. Since many of the techniques have multiple interpretations, different people may have an alternative emphasis. For this reason, do not attempt to teach something to some one else unless you are asked to. You may not have the complete technique quite yet, and it would be a shame to teach someone else your own bad habits. During your lesson, be flexible enough to adapt to any variation, without question. Although some things may seem contradictory at first, with practice, you may well find that it was just two different ways of saying the same thing.
Some lessons may seems shorter that others. This is usually because that particular technique has some subtle movement that you will only achieve after you have practiced it for a while. Be eager to repeat it over and over and over. Do not badger your instructor for more techniques, since what good is a new technique, when you have not comprehended the old ones?
General Kwoon Etiquette
The altar should not be disturbed. Although we call this an altar, it is not necessarily a religious thing. This is a place that we dedicate to all of our martial ancestors. The art of Kung Fu has been passed down for generations for more than a thousand years. Each person who trains in Kung Fu, serves as a link in this long chain of teachers and students. We all pledge to endure the same difficult challenges that our teachers encountered to deliver this tradition to us so we can practice today. Our altar acknowledges the contributions of our predecessors, and reminds us to practice diligently to continue their work and pass it down to the next generation. We should never lean on the altar, or leave anything on it.
Be careful and aware on the floor. Others students may make quick turns or sudden movements, so always give each other a wide berth. Never cut across someone's set path or walk between an instructor and his or her students. When someone is working with the kicking bags, be careful not to be in the way. Do not play with the weapons recklessly or carelessly. Always show concern for your neighbor and fellow student's welfare.
We all help to keep our kwoon clean and orderly. Everything has its place, so when you use something, make sure that you return it to that place. Each weapon must be returned to its appropriate rack. Striking pads and targets must be returned to their proper place. If you use the mats, be sure to replace them. Lion Dance equipment should always be returned to its original position. If you see some thing that needs to be cleaned up, clean it up. Ask for help only if you need it. Alert an instructor if anything is in need of repair.
The kwoon is not a place to sit and socialize. While we are all friends and family here, we all came here with the same intention to improve ourselves and our quality of life through this martial discipline. If you have enough breath to talk, you have enough breath to work out. Often times, unnecessary conversation is just another excuse not to practice. If you are tired, it is best to walk in circles, and keep moving. When you sit down, you will cool down, and it is difficult to get back up from there.
This kwoon is here for practice. Eating (except things like sports energy bars), smoking, alcohol and drug use are inappropriate behavior on the premises. Chewing gum is also not permitted. The use of profanity is not allowed. Traditionally, the kwoon hierarchy is arranged like a big family. The term "Sifu" also connotes "father", and "Si-hing" can mean "elder brother". There are usually children training in the Kwoon and they are the youngest members of our family. It is the responsibility of each of us to act as a good role model for the youth.
The lockers are for day use only. Only the instructors have permanent lockers. You may bring a lock if you desire, however, remove it each night. Use the dressing rooms for changing clothes, not the bathroom.
Since our Kwoon is open to the public, we frequently have visitors are interested in training or who are browsing in our school supply store. If you see someone you do not recognize who looks lost, ask them if they need help and direct them to someone who can serve them. They may not be aware of martial etiquette yet, so help them find what they are looking for, while watching for their safety.
If you decide that you wish to practice beyond your lesson times (and everyone is encouraged to do so), be respectful of the lesson times of the other styles. For example, during the Hung Gar class period, Hung Gar has priority. You may participate in the group exercises of other classes with the leading instructor's permission, but do not be obtrusive or disruptive if they practice something that you are unfamiliar with. Do your best to follow along, and ask for clarification later. Each style has its own intrinsic value, so these variations can be very useful to add some contrast to your repertoire of skills. Never belittle another style, either within this kwoon or outside of it. Their strength may be your weakness. If you wish to practice when there are no classes, it is always best to call first, to be sure that the Kwoon is open and not being used for something else.
Most important is that you enjoy your practice. Sometimes, Kung Fu can be a very humbling experience. Some people make it look so easy. However, behind that look of ease lies practice, practice, practice. If you do not enjoy practicing, you will not spend the time to really get good at it. When you achieve some skill that you set out to learn, therein lies true satisfaction.