Keys to Kung Fu

Every instructor worth her or his salt teaches in keys. They may have a lot of basic, programmed material that is pretty much like all the other instructors. But beyond all the common basics that a good instructor has amassed over  years of teaching, lie some key moves, some crucial ideas, some surprising shortcuts and some puzzling but intriguing conundrums.

In a world concentrating mostly on convenience, speed and superficiality, such keys might or might not be appreciated. They exist anyway, coming aboard—not in some effort to acquire special knowledge—but because, if you teach long enough, you realize that special hints walk right through the studio every day, and many of them even leave muddy tracks. What might these unique actions be? Their range would span the Grand Canyon —and then some.

What are these keys? What part of training do they address? Surprisingly few of them are simply mechanical since physics is pretty hard to disguise. If they are special techniques it is more likely that they are simple physical principles that, far from being hidden, are exhaustingly obvious to teachers who would like everyone to know them as soon as possible.

Tiger Claw Kung FuKey moves can cover a lot of possibilities. They might be a way to do things that make them much easier. They might be ways to access your own power and/or speed that would never occur to you otherwise. They might be not just the moves concealed in some forms but, far more importantly, the method of extracting all these ideas, to squeeze out the juice.

Some keys are simple movements that are core to a particular style. The rolling hands of Liu He Tang Lang, for instance, is a simple double handed rolling action which will be a subject of practice for a lifetime. The metal movement of Xing Yi is such a key.  So is the Four Hand Exercise of the Penetrating Forest Bagua Style.

Keys can go much deeper than this. Some instructors believe certain visualization exercises can re-create your entire range of skill. Other internal training might be a means to encourage a feeling or experience. Such emotional or internal information can completely change your relation to your art.  This adds a whole dimension that  personalizes the experience. People don’t always understand that the real key to martial arts is to search for the one that fits you, not what you think is popular or powerful right now. Your style, the one that you were destined to study, will be the one with the keys that are most meaningful to you whether it is the Kung Fu of winning schoolyard fights, or of ruling a country. The keys are there, handed down from teacher to teacher waiting for you to come along.

Give this some thought. What are the key movements of your style? Every branch has some and they often reveal fascinating aspects of the style such as the historical conditions at its birth, victories of note and even personalities of certain masters now submerged in the sea of history. 

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