Many Chinese martial artists usually have some great stories about their respective masters. Maybe he’s a martial artist of much renown, or maybe he’s a humble unknown with amaizing technique. Perhaps s/he came from some well known school in China, or hung out with a group of masters who refined their styles and technieqes to an extraodinary level. Maybe they happen to be known as a top notch scholar of the Chinese fighting arts (cough cough *Adam Hsu* cough), someone the students feel really lucky to study under, and highly appreciate.
Well… I’m not lucky enough to be under any of those types. I’m not under any type actually….
Call me one of the “Unguided.”
Life isn’t easy for someone with a major love of the martial arts, but hardly any means to learn it. When you have a lack of funds, and/or a lack of quality teachers and schools to learn from, you tend to grab anything you can get your hands on. You also tend (well, ok, not everyone) to take the art a wee bit more seriously. Even the smallest bit of martial arts knoweldge isn’t to be taken for granted. Like the poor dehydrated guy in the desert who finds every drop of water to be precious, I treasure just about every last scrap of martial arts related info I find.
Of course, this can mean a total mess if one hasn’t even the faintest inkling of the basics of the arts. No matter how much of a natural talent one may be, you still need somebody around to tell you things like, “Hey, you’re not supposed to slouch like that when you punch. Straighten that back kid!”. You still need someone to help you work out the proper form of your movements and stances. And you still need someone to make sure you aren’t cheating when you’re standing in that horse riding stance… at least in those first precious days of training anyway.
Luckly, I had that kind of tutelage. Not that I had a lot of money back then, but I did know some people who knew some people who taught other people how to punch and kick. And I was soon able to hook up with some good students of Chang Chuan who met three times a week at night to work on their training. Those were fun times, and I felt that I was finally getting somewhere.
But things happened, and the school closed. Nuts. And everyone went their sepreate ways. Double nuts.
So there I was, still thirsty for kung fu knowledge, holding an empty cup, and no one around willing to pour some out (for free that is….).
Ever since then, it’s been a weird period of training in the little I know, picking whatever I can, and honing the basic skills I was given. It’s interesting though… sort of like going on a lone quest through unnown lands, sailing uncharted warters. Walking the path of the teacherless martial artist can be full of hazzardous adventure.
One aspect of my martial arts life is practicing whenever I can. This is when some bit of comedy comes into play, because I pretty much have only two places to do this: at home, and at work. The comedy doesn’t pop up so much at home, because… well, it’s my home. I can pretty much do whatever I want there… well, almost anything. There isn’t lot’s of room in my little apartment, so I find myself bumping into walls a lot while trying to complete roads in tan tui. So I guess there is still some comedy to that; at least my wife thinks so.
But some real fun can happen when I practice at work. I happen to work at a doughnut shop. People expect you to make doughnuts when you work in a doughnut shop (well, if that happens to be your position there…). What they don’t expect is to see you in the back storeroom switching from horse riding stance to bow and arrow stance while punching, during your break. Luckily, I don’t get into any trouble over it, and they pretty much leave me alone. Maybe that’s because they might be thinking I’ll probably do something crazy like shove my fists through their chests if they get me angry, but then I can never know for sure. At least one of the women there who used to fence likes talking to me about martial arts and swordplay, as well as the manager that takes Karate.
Still, practicing at work, or in any other place that you can, tends to open up some new takes on training. Sometimes you don’t have to go all out with it. I’ve found that sometimes it can be as simple as working out the body mechanics of the torso twisting as I push open a door. Sometimes as I’m lifting large bags of flour onto a cart, I can move from stance to stance, starting from the horse riding stance, to bow and arrow, while using proper breathing. I also find myself using martial breathing and body mechanics as I work with and move heavy parts of machinery, sinking into lower stances for more power. At times it’s almost like going to a gym, or even like the student in some kung fu flick learning martal arts while his master makes him do mundane tasks for him like sweeping the yard, or doing the cooking.
And since I’m doing this while working, it’s like I’m being paid to practise!
…well ok, I’m actually being paid to make doughnuts. Still, I’m getting some martial benifit….
The main thing that I notice however is the self discipline. When you have a teacher, you at least have someone to hound you if you’re getting lazy and/or slipping up. When you don’t have one, all you have is yourself. And when you have yourself, you can get lazy real quick. The one thing that will keep you going though, is your love for the arts… as well as you wanting to be really good at it. The last thing you want if you desire to be at the very least competent, is to get slow and sloppy. You soon find your mind throwing all kinds of mental chastisments: “Hey! That kick was pathetic… Lift it up!!” Or, “You realize that if you had moved that sword the way you did in a real fight, you’d be dead now. Do over!” It’s weird when you find yourself being pushed around by yourself at times, but it’s worth it, since you’re pretty much all you have. Well that and whatever books, videos, and whatever else you may have.
It’s been said often that one can’t learn from books and videos: a qualified teacher is paramount. I wholehartedly believe this, which is why I think it sucks that I don’t have an instructor yet. But I do think there is some merit to these other sources of martial arts knowledge however, particularly if you already have had some working knowedge of the basics, and keep at them. The manuals of old wouldn’t have been made if they didn’t have some workable value to them, and their real worth comes out because of the one who is willing to take advantage of them fully, and put the work in. The key word here is WORK: martial arts aren’t all fun and games. And there’s definately a great deal of work to be done when one is walking this path alone.
Still, I find my situation interesting. It can be a fun, and even rewarding adventure, besides a hazzardous one, since you find along the way that you learn a lot of new things about yourself that you probably didn’t know was there. And self discovery is a major part of martial arts training anyway.
Marco Sainte Jr. is a 28 year old living in Hammond Indiana with his lovely wife Jitka. He still considers himself to be a fledgling martial artist.