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There’s no easy way around the issue of practicing. Learning an item is only that. You can learn an item without truly understanding or knowing it. You have to be able to chew on it and digest it and hold onto it. This can only be done through daily practice. Daily practice is something that a lot of students that are not “into” the art of Kung Fu can’t really fathom. I had a student last night give me the excuse that he had to leave early in order to pick up his laundry before 9pm. As he made this statement, the entire class laughed at him. Now, I’m not telling you not to have clean laundry; I’m all for that. But, the reward, the transformation, is within the practice. I’ve said this before, but you can’t cook with cold water, and you have to break some eggs to make omelets. Getting hot takes quite a bit of time, but only getting hot will allow you to reveal layers of understanding that can’t happen if you just dabble in it.

Treating your martial art practice as a hobby or a pastime is all fine and well, but in reality, is completely the wrong approach. I understand that life gets in the way, but Kung Fu is a way of life; therefor it should get in your way. It should get in the way of all the other things that distract you. It should get in the way of the things that keep you from investing the amount of time that’s needed to get you hot enough to be able to cook something up. Only then can you pass through those self-set stumbling blocks that every one of us encounters. Only then can you reach another level of understanding. You might say to me, I’ve heard this before, you’ve said this before, my teacher has said this before, I’ve read it in a book. You’re probably 100% correct, but it requires repeating on a regular basis. You can’t get something for nothing. If you give a little, you get a little, and if you give a lot, you’re going to get a lot. This is not an understatement. This is just the plain, cold truth. The time and energy being given by any one individual to their daily practice will be seen by those than can. And in this daily practice, the individual practitioner will start to understand their art and themselves.

This understanding is first rooted in basic training. You must continually train your basics, unceasingly, for decades. Train your stances, drill all your basic hand techniques and kicks until they become so well ingrained in you that they are almost a preoccupation. You’re consumed. When you’re standing there in the middle of the office at work and you start busting out movements, then you know you’ve been bitten by the Kung Fu bug. You’re practicing all the time; it’s become an obsession. You’re a chain smoker of Kung Fu. That’s the way you’re supposed to practice. You’re supposed to practice 24/7; you’re not supposed to practice between 7-9pm on Thursday night. You’re supposed to be so all consumed with the practice that it never leaves the forefront of your mind. You end up having Kung Fu dreams where you’re sitting there in bed making motions in the air with your hands, going through the form at night. That’s the way it’s supposed to be (at least for me). That’s the true practice; it colors every part of your existence. It has to be that obsessive-compulsive desire to constantly perfect your movement and in that way perfect your understanding. Using all your senses to practice – sight, smell, taste, feel, and then you develop the internal understanding. You start to develop a sixth sense, a knowing, an understanding of how things should be. You start to verbalize the language (Refer to my syntax blog) that is Kung Fu in a physical and mental way.

I was saying the other day in class, you practice for the click. You have to click with it, and you have to work hard for the click. Otherwise, it’s a mechanical gesture devoid of spirit, chi and understanding. When you get that click, you cannot explain it to anyone else unless they go through the same process that you went through. How many times have you gone through the process? How many times have you reset yourself back to zero and started again? Another even more intense question is, how many times have you quit, relented and come back? How many times have you thrown it on the ground, cursed it, picked it up, kissed it, said I’m sorry, and started again? This goes for all art forms, vocations and callings. If you haven’t done that at least half a dozen times, you’ve never done it.

You’re going to go through this multiple times. That’s the journey, and there are a lot of bumps and potholes in the road. You have to learn to navigate the training, take in the good, the bad the high and the low. A lot of people think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or that the grass is greener on the other side, but as I’m fond of saying, it’s only Astroturf. Reality sucks and you have to deal with it. That’s why making excuses is the easy way out. The hard way, which many people today don’t really want to deal with, is to go through the process. The process is gut-wrenching and soul searching. It turns you inward and forces you to look at yourself and weigh everything. In a lot of the old Shaw brothers movies, you see a layman who goes to the temple and wants to learn Kung Fu for the sake of revenge. He learns a little but then doesn’t have the fortitude to complete the training and runs away. Sound familiar?

You may ask, Sifu, when does the training end? It doesn’t end. It continues forever. Your practice should last your entire lifetime and carry you through all the different changes, progression and evolution of your life. If it doesn’t, you either picked the wrong thing or you’re doing it the wrong way. From my personal experience, which is all I can speak of, my Kung Fu practice has followed me through different stages of my life and has helped me to progress through them and slowly, hopefully, fulfill the life that is a gift that you’ve been given. Your Kung Fu practice becomes an awesome maintenance tool for body, mind and spirit.

You may wonder why some people are better than others and some are getting it and some just can’t. It has to do with the time and effort the individual has put in and the way you’ve devoted yourself. If you only do a little bit, you may learn something, but you’re never going to permeate the true meaning of the practice, which is the development of the individual. The training becomes a magnification of the individual’s character. The training transforms you from a piece of coal into a glittering diamond. Now, we’re putting the magnification on you. We’re looking for character flaws, for the cracks; we have to cut that out and purify ourselves. Not many people can withstand that because the pressure increases. The heat increases, and it forces you to find those cracks and cut them out. It becomes extremely personal; it’s about perfecting the individual. That’s what you’re doing in your practice. As you practice and try to capture the idea of the movement, in actuality, you’re perfecting yourself. You learn to see your impurities, your character flaws, you take stock of them, you acknowledge them, and then you work to polish them away through the practice. You span the physical to the mental to the spiritual, and flow right back into the physical again. This is no different than any other art, a stroke of the brush, a flick of the wrist to strum the guitar, extending of the hand, extending the mind, the spirit and the body as one. That process is the process that transforms. It is only by spending time with the movement and spending time with your teacher that through the crucible of the practice you come to understand. You have to go within and spend time with yourself on yourself.

When you practice, you are using the vehicle of the form to tap into your energy, which is like lightning in a bottle, the bottle being your physical body. You want to capture that lightning in a bottle and make it work. You are just energy. You’re the lightning in a bottle. How you’re going to use that lightning is your choice. You can squander it, waste it and be foolish, or you can really hone in and make yourself into something. That’s what you’re doing with the practice. The only way to touch it is to practice incessantly. The inside makes the out; the outside never makes the in. You have to work from the inside out. This is what most people are missing. It goes beyond that punch and kick, that deadly technique. Rather, you’re working the energy. Don’t work the move; work the energy. The energy is also a byproduct of your attitude, so while you’re working the movement, you’re working your energy; you’re working the attitude; you’re shining yourself up. That’s what the practice is about.

We’re talking about your attitude, your approach. If you approach it from the right frame of mind, from a happy perspective, being happy to go through the process, happy to be worked over by the art itself, you’re going to glean more than someone who’s being dragged through the mud kicking and screaming. It’s up to you maintain that positive, happy outlook regardless of whether you’re learning a new form and weapon or working on something you’ve been working on for years. It’s that happy, content approach, that overall jovial attitude towards being in it that is going to allow you to harness that lightning in a bottle.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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There’s no easy way around the issue of practicing. Learning an item is only that. You can learn an item without truly understanding or knowing it. You have to be able to chew on it and digest it and hold onto it. This can only be done through daily practice. Daily practice is something that a lot of students that are not “into” the art of Kung Fu can’t reallyfathom. I had a student last night give me the excuse that he had to leave early in order to pick up his laundry before 9pm. As he made this statement, the entire class laughed at him. Now, I’m not telling you not to have clean laundry; I’m all for that. But, the reward, the transformation, is within the practice. I’ve said this before, but you can’t cook with cold water, and you have to break some eggs to make omelets. Getting hot takes quite a bit of time, but only getting hot will allow you to reveal layers of understanding that can’t happen if you just dabble in it. 

Treating your martial art practice as a hobby or a pastime is all fine and well, but in reality, is completely the wrong approach. I understand that life gets in the way, but Kung Fu is a way of life; therefor it should get in your way. It should get in the way of all the other things that distract you. It should get in the way of the things that keep you from investing the amount of time that’s needed to get you hot enough to be able to cook something up. Only then can you pass through those self-set stumbling blocks that every one of us encounters. Only then can you reach another level of understanding. You might say to me, I’ve heard this before, you’ve said this before, my teacher has said this before, I’ve read it in a book. You’re probably 100% correct, but it requires repeating on a regular basis. You can’t get something for nothing. If you give a little, you get a little, and if you give a lot, you’re going to get a lot. This is not an understatement. This is just the plain, cold truth. The time and energy being given by any one individual to their daily practice will be seen by those than can. And in this daily practice, the individual practitioner will start to understand their art and themselves. 

This understanding is first rooted in basic training. You must continually train your basics, unceasingly, for decades. Train your stances, drill all your basic hand techniques and kicks until they become so well ingrained in you that they are almost a preoccupation. You’re consumed. When you’re standing there in the middle of the office at work and you start busting out movements, then you know you’ve been bitten by the Kung Fu bug. You’re practicing all the time; it’s become an obsession. You’re a chain smoker of Kung Fu. That’s the way you’re supposed to practice. You’re supposed to practice 24/7; you’re not supposed to practice between 7-9pm on Thursday night. You’re supposed to be so all consumed with the practice that it never leaves the forefront of your mind. You end up having Kung Fu dreams where you’re sitting there in bed making motions in the air with your hands, going through the form at night. That’s the way it’s supposed to be (at least for me). That’s the true practice; it colors every part of your existence. It has to be that obsessive-compulsive desire to constantly perfect your movement and in that way perfect your understanding. Using all your senses to practice – sight, smell, taste, feel, and then you develop the internal understanding. You start to develop a sixth sense, a knowing, an understanding of how things should be. You start to verbalize the language (Refer to my syntax blog) that is Kung Fu in a physical and mental way. 

I was saying the other day in class, you practice for the click. You have to click with it, and you have to work hard for the click. Otherwise, it’s a mechanical gesture devoid of spirit, chi and understanding. When you get that click, you cannot explain it to anyone else unless they go through the same process that you went through. How many times have you gone through the process? How many times have you reset yourself back to zero and started again? Another even more intense question is, how many times have you quit, relented and come back? How many times have you thrown it on the ground, cursed it, picked it up, kissed it, said I’m sorry, and started again? This goes for all art forms, vocations and callings. If you haven’t done that at least half a dozen times, you’ve never done it. 

You’re going to go through this multiple times. That’s the journey, and there are a lot of bumps and potholes in the road. You have to learn to navigate the training, take in the good, the bad the high and the low. A lot of people think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or that the grass is greener on the other side, but as I’m fond of saying, it’s only Astroturf. Reality sucks and you have to deal with it. That’s why making excuses is the easy way out. The hard way, which many people today don’t really want to deal with, is to go through the process. The process is gut-wrenching and soul searching. It turns you inward and forces you to look at yourself and weigh everything. In a lot of the old Shaw brothers movies, you see a layman who goes to the temple and wants to learn Kung Fu for the sake of revenge. He learns a little but then doesn’t have the fortitude to complete the training and runs away. Sound familiar? 

You may ask, Sifu, when does the training end? It doesn’t end. It continues forever. Your practice should last your entire lifetime and carry you through all the different changes, progression and evolution of your life. If it doesn’t, you either picked the wrong thing or you’re doing it the wrong way. From my personal experience, which is all I can speak of, my Kung Fu practice has followed me through different stages of my life and has helped me to progress through them and slowly, hopefully, fulfill the life that is a gift that you’ve been given. Your Kung Fu practice becomes an awesome maintenance tool for body, mind and spirit.

You may wonder why some people are better than others and some are getting it and some just can’t. It has to do with the time and effort the individual has put in and the way you’ve devoted yourself. If you only do a little bit, you may learn something, but you’re never going to permeate the true meaning of the practice, which is the development of the individual. The training becomes a magnification of the individual’s character. The training transforms you from a piece of coal into a glittering diamond. Now, we’re putting the magnification on you. We’re looking for character flaws, for the cracks; we have to cut that out and purify ourselves. Not many people can withstand that because the pressure increases. The heat increases, and it forces you to find those cracks and cut them out. It becomes extremely personal; it’s about perfecting the individual. That’s what you’re doing in your practice. As you practice and try to capture the idea of the movement, in actuality, you’re perfecting yourself. You learn to see your impurities, your character flaws, you take stock of them, you acknowledge them, and then you work to polish them away through the practice. You span the physical to the mental to the spiritual, and flow right back into the physical again. This is no different than any other art, a stroke of the brush, a flick of the wrist to strum the guitar, extending of the hand, extending the mind, the spirit and the body as one. That process is the process that transforms. It is only by spending time with the movement and spending time with your teacher that through the crucible of the practice you come to understand. You have to go within and spend time with yourself on yourself.

When you practice, you are using the vehicle of the form to tap into your energy, which is like lightning in a bottle, the bottle being your physical body. You want to capture that lightning in a bottle and make it work. You are just energy. You’re the lightning in a bottle. How you’re going to use that lightning is your choice. You can squander it, waste it and be foolish, or you can really hone in and make yourself into something. That’s what you’re doing with the practice. The only way to touch it is to practice incessantly. The inside makes the out; the outside never makes the in. You have to work from the inside out. This is what most people are missing. It goes beyond that punch and kick, that deadly technique. Rather, you’re working the energy. Don’t work the move; work the energy. The energy is also a byproduct of your attitude, so while you’re working the movement, you’re working your energy; you’re working the attitude; you’re shining yourself up. That’s what the practice is about. 

We’re talking about your attitude, your approach. If you approach it from the right frame of mind, from a happy perspective, being happy to go through the process, happy to be worked over by the art itself, you’re going to glean more than someone who’s being dragged through the mud kicking and screaming. It’s up to you maintain that positive, happy outlook regardless of whether you’re learning a new form and weapon or working on something you’ve been working on for years. It’s that happy, content approach, that overall jovial attitude towards being in it that is going to allow you to harness that lightning in a bottle.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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As I’m sitting here in my empty training hall, I, by chance, came across a story that a friend of mine posted in one of the Facebook groups about a horrific home invasion that happened over the weekend. As I read the story, I realized to myself how deeply unaware we are as individuals passing through our daily lives, oblivious to all the evil that surrounds us. We don’t have to look to bygone days for lawlessness, evil and people that commit such heinous crimes as murder, rape and theft. These criminals and evil people surround us daily; we’re just not aware of it. Unfortunately, this evil abounds and surrounds us continually. It’s running rampant in our modern day society.

The awareness that we carry with us on a daily basis is something that we all need to focus on. We get lulled into a false sense of security going through our daily lives in our daily routine. We are oblivious to the fact that these individuals and crimes exist all around us and are happening all the time. We desensitize ourselves and make ourselves unaware, basically falling asleep. We need to concentrate on our own awareness of our surroundings, the people around us and how we perceive and see things. I’m not saying that you need to become paranoid, but at the same time you have to wake up and understand the world is not a beautiful place that is populated by rainbows and unicorns. Rather, it’s a stark landscape mostly populated by individuals that don’t have your best intention at heart. In truth, human beings are just animals, and without some form of civilized social code cannot coexist with one another. Unfortunately, in the convenience of our modern society, our edge has become dulled by everything that is around us. I’m not saying that we should do away with the convenient modern society that we have, only to be aware that there are people out there who have been pushed to a societal level where committing heinous crimes seems plausible and reasonable, turning human beings into less than animals, but really monsters. We see bad things happening every day but yet turn a blind eye and think, well it’s happening somewhere else to someone else, out of sight out of mind. We all need to heighten our sensitivity to protect ourselves and our families and make sure, to the best of our ability, that something like this doesn’t happen to us.

This, first and foremost, can start with training in the martial arts to make ourselves aware primarily of ourselves and our surroundings. The understanding and awareness of the self is paramount to one’s own self-preservation and protection. 
Martial art training is a mirror of how you live your life. If you train in the martial arts and follow the codes and ethics that we adhere to, this should have a profoundly positive impact on your life and the people within your life. The martial art training that we receive should help to heighten our personal awareness as well as the awareness of our surroundings, the people around us and the energy in the area that we’re in. This should all serve to help us understand and feel what’s up. I’m not saying that it’s going to stop everything horrible from happening, but it should raise the level of your understanding of what’s going on around you, rather than just going with the flow as most people do. I see many people just taking things in stride; another sunny, beautiful day in the neighborhood. It may be, but you can’t fall asleep on the A train, watching your Netflix, playing your Candy Crush, and browsing through Instagram. I’m not preaching gloom-and-doom; I’m just saying all of us need to wake up and make sure that we know how to spot something that may be going on.

Awareness is an intangible understanding that one must develop on their own in order for them to understand themselves better. Awareness can be looked upon as both internal and external awareness. These two dual aspects of awareness are what we should strive to derive from our daily training. Many people pick up training in Kung Fu or the martial arts and just simply go through the actions without thinking and feeling from within and without. That is to say, they just go through the martial calisthenics without trying to tap into a deeper understanding of what’s going on around them as well as within them at the same time, what energies are being used and moved and required. One must understand the intention, the attitude and the spatial awareness in order to apply and utilize these movements. All these aspects must be taken into account, and form a special type of awareness that everyday people don’t have. The race car driver understands the confines of his surroundings. As he goes around the track at high speeds, he feels and is aware of the machine that he is within and becomes one with it. He’s aware of the road, the tires, and the pressure within the engine. All these things are the same for Kung Fu.

As one goes through their training regimen in Kung Fu and slowly begins to reawaken themselves through the stretching, breathing, stances, punches, kicks, matching up with their partners, going through their weapon and empty hand sets, one cannot help but build a better respect for oneself, their own mind and body and personal awareness of space and time. Slowly, you also begin to read other individuals. Become a student of human nature and watch people’s reactions, body language, gestures and start picking up on the energy so to speak. As we had stated in the previous blog, learn to discern what is evil or bad energy as opposed to good energy, and put yourself in the proper position to be able to eradicate and deal with such.

I spent some time the other day striking on the sandbag as we normally do, and was striving to become more aware of every fiber of my body being used to make that one strike with one action, one breath, one thought, honing a higher level of awareness. In order to attain this awareness, everything has to slow down. Most people, when they come in, they just want to jump right into it and begin training and ascend to a god-like status in the martial arts. Everyone does this, but it’s a misconception. Hopefully, as you start training, you will see that it requires you to actually slow everything down that you do, including your thought process, in order to become more aware of every little facet of every little motion and action that you’re doing. Coming back to the sandbag, I straightened the sandbag, watching my own stance, the way I initiated the power of the energy, the breath, trying to focus and make everything synchronized and work together, and I took a step back to realize that this is also the training for awareness that can be seen in a larger grander scheme or in a small minute detail.

The awareness developed through training is a heightened sense. In one way, it can be summarized as a sixth sense, giving you understanding of what is around you at that moment in time. Awareness not only gives us understanding of the physical aspects of space, time and speed, but also that of different types of energies. It allows you to know where to put yourself and how to situate yourself. This is an active pursuit that you have to be actively striving towards, to attain that next level of awareness. You’re not going to get it just because you participate in class; you have to be actively seeking the awareness. That comes back down to the individual’s approach. As I was watching my class last night, I could see who was actively thinking, feeling and striving to understand, as opposed to those that were purely doing the exercise aspect and not clicking with themselves.

As I’m looking for images for this blog, I’m searching the Internet and I come upon an image that is eerily what I was telling my class last night. You have to be the captain of your own mind. Many of us don’t understand this, or, at worst case, our captain is asleep at the wheel. Everything must be guided from your own mind. Therefore, your mind must be clear, clean and pristine to the point of almost being empty. The self-awareness that everyone should strive for will first come when we do, as we said, a spring cleaning, a spring cleaning of the mind in order to be able to understand better ourselves and the surroundings that we are in. You have to be ready, willing and able to partake of all aspects of your training in order to gain that awareness. This is where most students fail themselves because they are incapable of understanding that aspect of it. There is no magic that is going to happen unless you fully engage. If you don’t do that you’re missing the point. Training every day raises our level of awareness of ourselves which ultimately raises our awareness of everything that goes on around us, keeping us safer and more secure and allowing us to understand ourselves better.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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邪不能勝正

It’s supposedly springtime. They always say April showers bring May flowers. Well, I’ll tell you, I’m sick and tired of showers, and I’m not seeing any flowers even though May is right around the corner. Sitting hunched over the keyboard the other day trying to work on a project, I guess I inadvertently twisted around and tweaked something in my shoulder. I don’t want to say old age is creeping up on me, so we’ll blame it on the dampness of the weather. Then I thought to myself, how could this be? I practice my Kung Fu on a daily basis, sometimes hours upon hours on any one given day. Oh well. So, it came time to go visit my Sifu and do a little extra training. I mentioned it to him but then started running through our regimen of daily practice. I spent a lot of time and energy on one section over and over again. My Sifu was commenting from the other side of the room that he could see the chi that I was producing heating up the room and starting to escalate, and as he mentioned that I realized that I didn’t feel that stabbing pain in my back as much.

Everybody has chi; it’s your internal energy and power, but not many people know how to tap into it and actually make it work. That’s one of the amazing benefits of learning traditional Kung Fu. When you practice, you run the chi in your body. You can become your own doctor to a certain degree. You can diagnose yourself and understand what the issue is, and in certain respects be able to heal yourself and turn it around. It’s happened to me many times where you injure yourself or inadvertently get a cold or something, but through the practice of the chi gung that’s inside your traditional form, you are able to raise up that energy and have it course through your body and help push out whatever the stagnation or ailment is. And that’s my story, because now I feel fine. If you get a pinched nerve or a frozen shoulder or whatever people get when the seasons change, you’re going to be going to the chiropractor or the acupuncturist, and buying stock in Bengay. I’m not saying that Kung Fu can alleviate all that, but I’ve seen it happen many times through the dedication, faith, practice and belief in what you’re learning and utilizing it regularly. I’m not saying that the casual student is going to be able to do something like this. This comes only after years of dedicated practice and being able to link up the different systems in your body with your mind.

The practice of Kung Fu is a lot about taking those so-called involuntary systems that you take for granted and bringing them back under your control: the blood flow in your body, the flow of the chi, your breathing. These must all tie in with your thinking, unifying the mind and the body to maintain health, balance and well-being in the mental and physical realms. It’s nothing magical; there’s nothing mystical about it. Everybody’s heard the extraordinary examples of people being able to control their body temperature, being able to withstand the freezing cold or being able to control their breath and staying under water for a long time. These are extreme accounts, and I’m not claiming that this can be done through Kung Fu. But, through Kung Fu training, it is possible for you to gain an extraordinary sensitivity towards your body’s functions and their internal systems. You can gain control over yourself above and beyond the average individual that does not partake in this highly specialized type of training.

The average person may say, what kind of training is this, and how can I take part in it? Well, it’s nothing secret. I always tell my students that the secret is, there is no secret. The Kung Fu exercise or the form is there for everyone to learn. Everything is being presented from day one; this is my personal opinion. Being healthy before you start training is always desirable, but not absolutely necessary. The knowledge that one can gain from learning a particular form can produce amazing results if the individual practices guided by the hand of a senior master, but this depends on the amount of time, effort, energy and openness of mind and spirit that the individual can bring to his practice. The form doesn’t cheat you. It’s we who cheat ourselves or don’t allow ourselves to see what is being presented and the possibilities that can be gleaned from this type of training.

Most of the southern systems, especially the one that I train, are combinations of external and internal training, breathing, stretching, focusing the mind, as well as the fighting techniques of the tiger. The prevailing energy and power that is derived from this type of movement with this mentality, using the power and spirit of the tiger, has a special way of overriding all that might ail you. At least this is true for me. I’m not trying to sell you some kind of snake oil, but I’ve had personal experience over time with this practice. As I always say in class, despite how you may feel when you come in, you always leave energized and revitalized after practice. That’s not only because you’ve done a physical exercise, but you’ve gone through the cathartic process of clearing the internal energy that’s built up in you over the course of the day or days that you haven’t practiced. You need that flush and that special training that we do that combines all the different stances, bridge hands, breathing exercises and so on, and gives us that flush and then that rush of fresh brand new hot-out-of-the-oven chi. I’ve gotten comments from many people after they find out my real chronological age, do a double take and go “huh?” The median age people think I am is around 35, but what we should do is actually invert those numbers. It’s the training that sustains you and keeps you moving and growing and keeps you healthy and young.

In the study of Kung Fu/Chi Gung, I don’t like to separate the internal practice from the external practice. That’s breaking up the system, breaking up the yin and yang. I know other people who like to do that, but I feel that internal and external make one combination. It starts from day one where you first learn to stretch and take your first stance (horse stance). Traditionally, in our class, we train our breathing exercise in our horse stance as we train our bridge hand and tiger claw. Right away, if you’re taught properly, you start to create that mental imagery where you breathe in from your fingertips to your toes. Like a tree, you draw in all the power, in through the nose and out through the mouth. It sounds really simple and easy, but few people actually do it. Mentally take over the processes of breathing and draw in the power from the sky, from the ground and from yourself, and actually bring it in and out like a wave. You see the wave rolling up onto the shore and rolling back into the ocean, back and forth, and couple that special breathing sequence with the movements that you do. Do this enough and you can mentally guide the chi through the room.

Another great analogy would be the atmosphere that you’re in. The fish is in his atmosphere, which is the water, and they effortlessly use the water to move themselves about. Hence, they say, “That guy can swim like a fish.” The birds in the sky use the wind and the currents to help them soar, take off and land, so, us too. Our atmosphere is the air around us, which is another way of defining the chi: the air within and without the body. Through the training, we learn to to bring it in and bring it out and actually gain control and move it. And you say, well, how am I going to do this? In one way it’s difficult, but the process itself is rather simple. You can take any one particular movement that you like and slow it down, break it down into its components and slowly start taking all the edges off the move. For example, if you’re going to do a punch, instead of doing that punch with speed and power as you think it should be done, we’re going to slow it down. Start from the beginning of the movement and see it through its entire completion. I want to see the entire spectrum of the motion being done smoothly, cleanly and slowly with the breath. In every action, breathing in with every fiber, every cell of my body, drawing in the power, rooting myself through my stance, breathing in through the foot, through the hand. Taking the breath in through my dan tien, the lower diaphragm, and pushing it out smooth and clean until I’ve done this hundreds of thousands of times to understand what that action is and how to bring in that air and oxygen. I oxygenate my body, oxygenate my brain, rejuvenate every blood cell in my body and then slowly, in my mind, capture the essence of the chi. This is a very simple, brief explanation, but as one practices, over time they will gain an innate understanding of themselves and how to produce this energy. Through this practice, we tap into what we call 精神 jing sun. That’s what Kung Fu is ultimately about. It’s about unifying the mind and the body to derive the spirit. When the spirit is strong, then all the other systems can be strong.

So when I was practicing yesterday, my Sifu was saying as he was watching me, you were able to get that 邪氣 negative energy off of you. This is an amazing benefit that training a traditional Kung Fu system can bring to anyone that is willing to put in the time and effort. I don’t want to get too metaphysical, but every person has an aura around them. When your aura is strong, that 邪氣 negative energy can’t get through. The old Chinese believe that when you get sick or ill, mentally or physically, it’s because you’re not strong enough to withstand those things being sent to you. A good way to get rid of the “evil eye” is to have 正氣 good strong chi from learning good strong Kung Fu. Through the practice, derive better control of your mind, body and spirit. 邪不能勝正 When you have good chi, evil cannot win.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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There are three things that are taboo to talk about, religion, politics and comic books. And I'm not talking about any of them. That's my disclaimer.

Over the last three decades or more, I’ve seen many a martial art master preach the philosophy, the code of conduct, the ethics, the creed, the way that we are all supposed to live by. Unfortunately, a lot of it is the art of “bullshido.” We are supposed to be scholar-warriors, but many, hiding behind the guise of ethical and moral ideals, never live up to them, or, worse, completely disregard them when it comes to their own personal dealings. When you’re young and enamored with the martial arts and the code or the way, you have dreams of becoming a Samurai or a Kung Fu warrior walking in the dessert to go and avenge his father’s death. Righteousness, benevolence, loyalty and other philosophical standards are earmarks of the true martial artist. However, it seems to me that every established organized religion or organization that espouses a code of ethics or morality is a construct made up by those in power. They want to keep you in check while they go off and do whatever they feel like doing. They make you toe the line and control you with ethical values and the guilt that comes when you don’t adhere to them.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have rules, ethics, ways of life, codes and such. As Winston says to John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 2, “Rules… without them we live with the animals.” And I must agree, there need to be rules, norms, standards and codes that we follow not just to elevate ourselves but to elevate humanity because this is what separates us from any other wild beast, be it something that lives in the jungle or something that lives in the jungle of New York City. And isn’t this what the study of martial arts is supposed to be all about? I’m talking about the actual true study of real traditional martial arts. In my opinion, this study is for the purpose of elevating the status of man and his world, no?

Unfortunately, although it’s preached all the time in martial arts, it’s often not lived up to in my humble opinion. Many masters, big and small, have touted how you should be and what you should do and how you should treat others, but few of them actually live by that standard themselves. They don’t do as they say or practice what they preach. This double standard is incredibly hurtful. It is not the rules of any religion, philosophy or martial art system that are inherently wrong or bad. It is the way people twist and use these rules, or ignore them altogether, that creates the issue.

I think what inspired me is the other day I saw the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. When I was much younger, I had read the book by Nikos Kazantzakis. It’s an awesome read as well as a very well-made movie. Kazantzakis looks at Jesus not necessarily as a deity personified in human form, but rather as an ordinary man being asked, by God, to live up to a certain standard and ultimately sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity. Kazantzakis portrays Jesus as a man with wants and desires of his own who isn’t always happy that he’s been chosen to be the Messiah. He has moments where he tries to please God and wants to do what’s right, but he is always being undermined by his humanity. On the cross, he is tempted by an angel with the prospect of an ordinary life. Not knowing that the angel is in fact Satan, Jesus gives in and steps down off the cross, believing that everyone will think that he was crucified even though he can live out the rest of his days as a normal man with a wife and children. On his deathbed, Jesus realizes that he made a mistake and asks for another chance. He goes back to the cross and goes through with the crucifixion. I’m not looking at this movie from a religious point of view or making any kind of comment or judgment about Jesus or Christianity. I’m looking at the movie from a humanistic point of view. I think it’s a great study in human nature and how we all fall victim to our wants and desires. All of us have difficulty living up to this golden standard. We are all tested and tried, but we all have the chance and opportunity to go back and right ourselves, right those things that we did that were wrong and try to live up to that standard.

The problem that I have is when the powers that be set up these standards and expect you to live up to them when they don’t. I think the individual man, the average Joe, probably does a better job than many of these established leaders. I don’t have a problem with somebody that does their best to do good but knows they are human and acknowledges their human frailties and faults. My problem is with people that portray themselves as being pristine but yet are the dirtiest ones of all. These leaders have sway over others and use rules and philosophical tenets as a modicum of control while not living them as they lay them out. For example, I’m sure that Mao Tze Tung did not live a Communistic life. I’m sure that he had opulence that the populace did not have. I’d rather have someone just come out and say, I’m the king and everyone will do as I say, as opposed to someone that hides behind the guise of “the golden rule” and being “right” when they’re so wrong. I think probably the majority of these leaders didn’t start out bad. I think they were corrupted slowly, subversively, through the power. Another example is in the revolution against the Ching by the Ming rebels. The rebels established all these secret societies and organizations that were put together for the unification of their country to get rid of this foreign power that overtook them and murdered their countrymen. Over time, these organizations were slowly subverted and became something else. It’s that slow degradation, that slow decay. How do you stop that? I think that has to be done on an individual basis, but it takes a stronger character to stand up for what is right. It’s one thing to give it lip service ;it’s another thing to live it on a daily basis.

It’s a moral and existential issue in today’s society and I’m sure it existed in days gone by, that you profess and try to uphold one type of thinking but inevitably it can’t hold its shine for too long. People in general have a way of bringing things down to a baser level, and not being able to live up to whatever standard was originally intended. You set up these ideals, but after a while you find yourself waning. If you’re the leader of a group or the leader of a team, be it in a corporate environment, in government or on the battlefield, you’re the person that everyone looks towards. The Greeks have an old saying, “The fish stinks from the head.” I always liked that saying. If the top individuals are wrong in your church, government or even in a martial arts school, you have the top man doing whatever he wants to do but telling everybody else how to be. Then you’re not being exemplary in your actions. I think that the philosophies that have been taught to us and placed in front of us for us to follow should be followed by all, especially from the top down.

I’m not talking about politics. I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about people being phony. I’m not putting down these systems and these norms. I actually am a firm believer in them. Don’t we all find it disappointing when we see individuals and leaders within society professing one ideal but living another? They don’t live up to that standard by any stretch of the imagination but expect you to do so. I think this has been true for thousands of years and it’s just the way it is. This is my observation, but it’s not going to change me.

I’m not going to change what I believe in. I still believe in being good and standing up for what is right, having respect and honor for those that are deserved of it. I guess you can say that I’m naïve and idealistic, but I still want to believe that good guys wear black and in the end they win. I want to believe that the right way truly is the right way, and you should be able to adhere to your standards and not have to compromise your integrity just to get by. I still believe in those moral and ethical ideals. As human beings, we have points of weakness, and that’s okay as long as everybody understands that and you try to right yourself, catch yourself before you go too far. I think that’s the good fight that we try to do every day.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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Discipline (v): to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way

Discipline, discipline, discipline. What can I say? Is it me, the full moon, or is everyone out there? Case in point, I got into the city today, Lower East Side, and went to a very Bohemian style coffee shop that I don’t normally frequent because everybody’s not on the ball. And it was proved to me again, it seems like most people are just trying to get by. I ordered my black coffee and a small biscuit. Not even thirty seconds after I ordered it, the guy had to ask me again what I ordered. Meanwhile, there was no one in line and the place was virtually empty. You might say to me, well, what does this have to do with discipline? Discipline is rooted solely in the mind. It doesn’t come from your left pinky or your elbow. I like to use the phrase, “Discipline your mind and the body will follow,” which a lot of martial arts students, exercise fanatics and general laypeople don’t quite adhere to. There is no magic bullet. The magic bullet is the discipline that you can conjure up and apply, stemming from your willpower and mindset.

I don’t think most people will have a problem with the definition of discipline above. But what I want to investigate is actually the seat of discipline itself. Where does it come from? How do you get it? You can’t buy it at Walmart. You can’t order it from Amazon. I think everyone has had moments when they were highly disciplined and moments when they couldn’t discipline themselves to get out of bed. And if you say that’s not you, I’m going to call you a liar. So how does one first and foremost acquire that understanding, feeling and/or mindset to even prepare oneself to discipline oneself? I have had people tell me I’m a very disciplined individual, especially when it comes to the Kung Fu training, but when I view myself personally, I find myself not as disciplined as I’d like to be. 

The art of Kung Fu requires immense amounts of focus and discipline from the individual. Discipline can be gotten by instruction from someone i.e., your master, Sifu, or teacher, but they cannot discipline you to the point that you acquire the skill. You can be guided, directed, taught, prompted, or even prodded, but you cannot be made to acquire the discipline to learn the art of Kung Fu. That is solely from the individual, from his mind, heart, body and soul. I’ve also seen highly disciplined individuals run off the track and end up out of sorts. I’ve witnessed those that are disciplined to the point that they stifle and stagnate their spirit and character by the sheer rigidity of the habitual practice of whatever they’re doing. Not only do we have to try to understand where the germ of discipline comes from, try to acclimate ourselves to the actual practice of disciplining the character and mind of oneself, but we must not exceed the extreme and become so rigid and unwavering that discipline takes all the joy out of doing something. Where is the point of balance? I know, I’m asking a lot of questions… and I’m not expecting any answers. These questions have to be answered by and for each individual, because what may work for one person may not work for another. 

I think giving oneself structure goes hand in hand with acquiring discipline to accomplish any given task, be it big or small, and the consistency of that structure on a daily basis will slowly lead oneself to be disciplined. Hence I was bent out of shape with my Bohemian black coffee that took the guy several times to get it right. In the study of Kung Fu and life and in raising yourself up to be a competent, mature adult that’s contributing positively to society, you need to give yourself structure. But what is the ultimate root of establishing that structure and giving oneself the discipline? I think it has everything to do with the desire that any one individual has within them. You need to want to structure yourself. You need to want to discipline yourself. You need to want to toe the line. How do you nurture that desire, how do you not let it run over the side of your coffee cup and become something else? It is controlling the heart of the individual (which in Chinese is also comprised of the mind), the seat of the intelligence and the soul of the person, that keeps you on the straight and narrow. 

Discipline, i.e. structure, gives you complete freedom. This is not the kind of “freedom” that means you can do whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it. That just leads to chaos. Individuals who lack the structure to discipline themselves are always a complete mess. We all know individuals that never learned to discipline and structure themselves to gain freedom. What is that freedom? That freedom is in knowing who you are, what you are capable of, what your limitations are, and then creating a structure that will help you to go above and beyond those limitations. You become free because you put that structure there. The building is only as tall as its structure allows; that is the discipline of the architect. If there was no structure, the building would fall down or never be built at all. An architect wishing for a building to be built but lacking the discipline to do the work will result in nothing. Wishing for something never makes it true; rubbing that rabbit’s foot ain’t going to help. You have to get down and dirty and do the work, and, as my mom always used to say, take your hands out of your pockets. My parents came from a highly motivated background that had less; therefor they disciplined themselves, and in the end had more. I think this comes back to my Bohemain coffee cup this morning. A lot of people have just enough to sate their palate, and because they are satisfied with what they have, they are that much more susceptible to falling short of creating self-discipline. In the lack of self-discipline and self-structure, we open ourselves to be controlled by others that can impose their own structure upon you. 

The ancient Asian civilizations and martial arts, specifically the Chinese martial arts, are highly systemized and therefor highly disciplined in terms of doing one said action ten thousand times, as we spoke of in the previous blog. The prevailing attitude of today’s culture is that it’s cool to bounce around and do what you please. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be happy with what you do, but there is something to said about disciplining the mind and the body, giving oneself structure by doing the same action again and again. In this way, you come to understand it in its entire depth and bring it to another level of perfection. In this way, the individual practitioner acquires the freedom that is in the knowledge. The process is not going to be easy or happy. The process is going to be filled with pitfalls and disappointments, and that’s okay. That’s the price that one has to pay in order to derive the discipline that brings the freedom of execution and skill that are required to practice the art of Kung Fu and to live the art of life. The art of discipline is how to live a fruitful, happy, and productive life. Yes? I think so. 

I guess the true answer of where discipline comes from is the individual’s willpower to honestly reflect upon themselves and be painfully true about who and what you are. This is why people don’t like to discipline themselves, because you need to look into the mirror of your own soul, and you probably won’t like what is reflected within. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most messed up one of all? That’s what you’re going to see, and you’re going to have to deal with it. But only when you deal with it can you make steps forward. Yesterday, I was cautioning my class about being too comfortable. There is a certain modicum of discomfort that pushes you to grow. Your muscles only grow when you utilize them to the point that they go above the limit they’ve become accustomed to. You only become more flexible when you stretch your ligaments, tendons and muscles to the point that they exceed the level of comfort that they know. Only death is comfortable because you’re in a prone position. You know you’re still alive when you get out of bed in the morning. So this conversation about the art of discipline, which I feel is actually not dying... it’s an art that the individual must find and nurture within themselves. But it’s not a one-shot deal. That’s why I said there’s no magic bullet. It’s a continual revision and refinement of the self. That’s the practice and the art of Kung Fu, which is truly the art of discipline. You have to confess, not to whatever spirits or god you may believe in, but to yourself. When you confess to yourself, that’s when you talk to God and he slaps you in the face and calls you a b****, and then you have to go back to work.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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Good afternoon everyone. I think a lot of old school martial artists will understand where I’m coming from when I tell this story. I come into the school way before classes start most mornings just to have my coffee and some quiet time to reflect, and I do what I need to do to take care of the school. One of the routines that I try to do on a regular basis is clean the toilet. And some people would say, Wow, the Sifu, the master of the school gets down on his hands and knees to clean the toilet? Yup. And I’m happy to do that. I came in, lit incense and said hello my late great-grandmaster and had a little conversation with him, and then cleaned the toilet. I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee yet. That was my devotion to my training.

So while I was doing that early this morning, I reflected upon a conversation that I had with a longtime student of mine the other day. He was musing to himself about how I do the things that I do in terms of Kung Fu and martial art training. I know many martial arts students will witness their teachers just as I did and still do, and wonder to themselves, how does Sifu do that? How is he able to do this type of technique, movement, with this particular type of energy and power and speed and so on? So, as myself and my student were training and talking at the same time, he began to tell me that he thinking about something I had said many times about time and effort being the essentials for capturing Kung Fu. So, because he is a highly educated individual and is very analytical in his mindset, he tried to sit down and do the math and kind of figure it out.

At first, I didn’t understand what he meant by “the math.” Then he said, “I ran the numbers, I ran the numbers,” and that made me feel like I was a computer program. But I let him proceed to tell me the numbers that he ran. He started telling me well, I’m imagining that in one day you do anywhere from two to three thousand moves. I don’t know exactly what he means by a “move,” but I’m going to take it in the context of a technique or a movement which may contain several techniques. At this point in my life, and I’m sure a lot of my contemporaries would agree, I don’t really sit down and say, I’m going to do XYZ ten times and so on and so on, but rather just live the art that we practice. It’s different when you’re younger. When you’re younger, you make lists and say, I’m going to play the spear five times, then the saber, and so on and so on. But now, it’s just, you do as you please. It’s a calling, it’s a devotion, it’s a dedication, and things speak to you on a day-to-day basis and call out to you, and you practice and then move on.

But back to his accounting (since April 15 is coming very fast and hard upon us)… He made a rough calculation that if I do two to three thousand moves a day times 365 days per year, that equals roughly one million moves per year. So then he proceeded to give me the calculation for my lifetime, and I told him to stop because I don’t plan on going anywhere any time soon so let’s not be presumptuous and put a date on that. Ha ha. If I base the numbers on what he said, and I’m doing two to three thousand movements per day, and each movement contains several techniques (let’s use the base of three,)3,000 x 3 is 9,000, so that’s about 9,000 techniques per day. We can round it up if we want nice round numbers and say it’s 10,000 individual techniques in a day. That’s pretty hefty.

I concluded my conversation with him, and I sat there quietly thinking to myself as I watched him practice. All the numbers make sense. Everything is pretty much cut and dry. Yet despite all this, everyone doesn’t quite understand that Kung Fu, as all other artistic pursuits, is in its heart an “art.” An art, in my humble opinion, cannot be quantified by any number of revolutions of spinning the wheel. If Kung Fu is looked at as an art form that encompasses a myriad amount of talents, sheer repetition of an action is still in and of itself finite, if not almost futile without the understanding, acceptance and openness to the intangible. You may say, intangible? What do you mean? Clean the toilet. Intangible is things you can’t see, things you can’t touch, things you can’t measure and weigh, but yet weigh heavily upon the issue at hand. My Sifu would always say to us and still does to this day, Learn the heart, learn the art of Kung Fu. To learn the art of Kung Fu, you must learn the way of the heart. Basically, the meaning is, if you learn the art of Kung Fu, you have to study the heart. If you want to study the “heart” (your true self), you must study the art of Kung Fu. The art in and of itself is a highly polished mirror, and this analogy has been used time and time again. During ancient times they didn’t have mercury based mirrors, so it was a highly polished piece of bronze or copper that would reflect the individual’s image. So is the case with your Kung Fu. It reflects the image, personality, mentality, disposition, character and overall makeup. These are the intangible aspects of a person, but they are the person, because the shape of your nose and your earlobe and the curve of your chin are not really what you are. We can go and get plastic surgery done and change our appearance but still remain the same. This is the struggle.

I feel that in the culture that we have today, the true understanding of the art of Kung Fu is lost upon the masses because the majority (love to all of them) is usually made of up of individuals that just don’t get it. Just like everyone doesn’t “get” classic Rock and Roll, but they’re more than happy to listen to the modern music and the pop stars we have today, which, to me, all sound the same. I find this disheartening and feel that everything has become homogenized and, to some extent, sterile. We in the Kung Fu community and the traditional martial arts community have become the last bastion of individualism. Distinctive stylistic endeavors are rare, be it in music or martial arts. The intangible aspect of any art is what makes that art unique and the artist that creates the art unique.

Essentially, every classical martial arts system has the same movements. A reverse punch is a reverse punch; a front kick is a front kick; a butterfly palm is a butterfly palm. If you think about it, what’s the difference between Jackson Pollock and Picasso? Paint is paint and canvass is canvass, right? Let’s talk about Bach and Beethoven, two German composers, yet so different in their approach to music. This is also the essence of Kung Fu. It’s up to the individual to perceive it for what it is and to bring out its essence, at the same time elevating it to another level. It’s the organization, the composition, the expression, the feeling and the heart of the individual that brings out the essence of what it is, and it is unique every time. We have to learn how to revel in this uniqueness. Understanding that true Kung Fu and its expression are an extension of the creativity, personality, character and heart of the individual, numbers at a certain point no longer hold the validity that you might originally think they do.

I am by no means saying that you shouldn’t do the same movement ten thousand times. I am an ardent believer that continual practice will bring about better understanding, but understanding is not only found in the physicality, but in the mind of the individual. Mind and body, spirit and action must grow together simultaneously in order for the individual to glean any kind of understanding of the martial art that they practice. The heart of the issue is the heart. Coming back to my student that did the accounting, in the end of this conversation he said, “Sifu, but you said it’s inside you.” And he gestured, pointing to himself as though he was me with his index finger and said, “You said it’s inside you because of all those repetitions.” I agree with this statement but for the absence of the understanding that it’s done from within rather than from without. In the beginning of all of our training, none of us understand this because we can only relate to the tangible, to the physical, to the measurable item that we see with our own eyes. But as I grow more and more into the practice of Kung Fu, I see that it has a lot to do with the faith that the individual places upon what he’s learned. I’m not saying you should have blind faith by any stretch of the imagination. Everything that you do should be tried and tested. But there does come a point where you must have faith in your teacher, what you’ve been taught, and ultimately, yourself. This, coupled with the thousands upon thousands of repetitions with the proper mindset will hopefully in time bring you to a place of understanding.

My student is doing all the accounting and number crunching. Everything is a hundred percent right, but the true understanding is all about acquiring the balance between the mind, body and spirit. In Chinese we would say 身心合一。精神意氣。天地人和. Unify body, mind and spirit. Heaven, earth and man in harmony and balance. When you know yourself, everything is in balance. Understanding how to capture the spirit of Kung Fu is knowing that every day, every hour, every minute, every second is different. You have to become like a bamboo grove. Sometimes the wind will blow from the left, sometimes from the right. The bamboo doesn’t break because by its nature it sways and bends to the winds that blow but then comes back and retains its shape. It’s teaching you how to be. That’s what Kung Fu is trying to do, is teaching you how to be. In that itself, you learn the intangible aspect of you. You have to be able to sway and move with it back and forth, but always return back to your center. This is the hardest aspect because this is intangible – the individual’s capacity to be able to shift and change but yet always come back to center, to come back into balance.

That’s what’s missing from the mathematical equation. The mind and the spirit moves the posture. That’s the balance that you create because you bring heaven, earth and man together. You become part of that link; there is no separation between you and the heavens and earth. You are one. That’s the whole purpose and point of learning Kung Fu, the unification of mind, body and spirit. This is something you cannot see, and it is the most difficult, if not impossible, thing to teach. The individual has to be ready to see the invisible, to touch the intangible, to comprehend what truly is without having to quantify it. This comes back to faith. In the end it’s about all the unseen things that make you up that make the difference. The act of cleaning the toilet may sound like a ridiculous analogy, but that’s the act of devotion. That act itself changes you and contributes to your Kung Fu. You have to do it in order to be able to grow beyond yourself. You have to learn how to be. So now that I’m done, I see that I’ve missed a spot… I need to go back and finish my job.

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to blog. So here we go… The last year has been pretty tumultuous as well as invigorating. I think a lot of you are aware that my team and myself have launched my Instagram and Patreon channel Kung Fu In A Minute. We’ve reached our one-year anniversary, and I just want to extend a giant thank you to all my colleagues, students, friends, family and to my teacher, Grandmaster Tak Wah Eng, for being so supportive of this endeavor. 

I was thinking about it the other day, what it’s all about and what I’m trying to do, and I remembered back many years ago, one of my close disciples had graduated from a prestigious art design school and we were talking about the concept of artwork and how it related to the art of Kung Fu. The idea that we centered around was something that he always called a “happy accident” which was not accidental at all, but rather practiced and planned for over countless repetitions, be it you scribbling on literally hundreds of pieces of loose-leaf paper and ending up chucking them behind you until you got that perfect rendition of what you wanted to display in your artwork, or countless hours of practice of Kung Fu. For that one minute of display of skill and expertise, be it in art or in the art of fighting, one requires endless amounts of hours and dedication just to one technique, let alone the art itself. This was the inspirational genesis for the term I coined, “Kung Fu in a Minute.” We’re displaying one minute of Kung Fu, but you have to understand that beneath that one minute of Kung Fu is decades of work. Even in this one minute of movie that we produce on a weekly basis, you don’t see how much teaching time is put into it. 台上一分钟,台下十年功 !“One minute on stage, ten years of work!”

Unfortunately, a lot of people have the misconception that Kung Fu is unusable in a fighting situation. I don’t know where this misconception came up. I understand that people are bombarded by media with notions of what works and doesn’t work, but I can remember before all the trends, many of the Kung Fu practitioners utilized their movements in competition as well as being tested in the streets. We grew up in an era where Chinatown was basically a war zone and there were encounters and turf wars and gang fights going on continually. I’m not advocating this, but it’s just the plain honest truth. So to say that Kung Fu doesn’t work is an overgeneralization if not a complete myth propagated by those people that want to push their own agenda. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, an elbow is an elbow, and a throw is a throw. I don’t care what martial art discipline you advocate or train in; the bottom line is the human body is the human body. There’s only so many ways to use it, and it’s up to the individual to make it happen. The essence of the actual physical technique of Kung Fu boils down to being able to utilize your movement. Many people have a hard time conceptualizing, understanding and putting their movement into practical application. 

Through Kung Fu in a Minute, I’m trying my best to display this and show the adaptability of Kung Fu form into function. The best term I could come up with was spontaneous combustion. Almost all the time, I come in on the day we’re going to film Kung Fu in a Minute, and my team will say to me, “What technique are going to do today Sifu?” I shrug my shoulders, throw my hands up and say, “I don’t know.” They always look at me, perplexed, and say “You don’t know?” No, I really don’t know; it’s just going to come out. This is what many people don’t seem to understand; it is spontaneous, combustible and flammable. That is the true application of Kung Fu. You practice the said technique countless times, but it is the live interpretation based upon the individual that makes it come alive. 

It’s up to the individual not only to learn and practice the exercises taught in classical form, but to be able to understand the true intention of the movement and then to go several steps further and understand that the technique being portrayed has multiple interpretations, not just the one that’s most obvious. I always caution the students not to be a master of the obvious as most of us are. We can all blatantly see the outer casing or the shell of the movement just by glancing at it. This is not wrong, it’s the most obvious application that everyone can jump to. But there’s still a lot more meat left on the bone. With that understanding, I can remember a rule set down by my teacher that you need to be able to give a minimum of three possible applications for every technique in the forms that you’ve been taught. That’s a minimum. If you look at an average form that has anywhere from fifty or more moves times the minimum requirement that he had, my math isn’t that good but that’s a whole lot of applications. That’s a whole lot of spontaneous combustion. 

That’s a whole lot of variations that you can apply in any one given point in time based upon the situation. Not only does the student have to be astute enough to have a correct interpretation of the intention, he also has to be able to understand all the possible variations on that interpretation and what’s going to trigger them. It boils down to you being able to effectively internalize the understanding of your Kung Fu and having it come out naturally. There’s an action and then a reaction; that’s what Kung Fu is. That’s what many people don’t understand because they get caught up playing a routine for the sake of the routine, rather than for the sake of what the routine is pointing you towards. I was having the same situation just last evening; I was going through a form with my team and they were just going through the motions. A lot of the techniques that we were doing, I had done with my team before and I had actually put a lot of them on film. When we make Kung Fu in a Minute, we don’t do it for the sake of making the one-minute movie, but for the sake of practicing the technique and learning from the experience. Despite what many people think, every week is completely unrehearsed. It’s spontaneous. It is up to the practitioner to connect the dots; to see all the possible variations that you have in any one given technique. 

You have to take time looking over what you’ve learned, deciphering on your own the possibilities that are there within that one given theme and then figure out how to apply it on various opponents of different shapes and sizes and different levels of ability. As carpenters say measure twice cut once – so the measure twice is the practice, the interpretation, the understanding that one has to build through practicing the form, through physical conditioning, through sparring with your partners, through countless errors, misgivings, misstarts, fumbles, pick yourself up and try again, and then you can go and cut once and that becomes the spontaneity. All that work has to be done in order for you to just do it. The art of Kung Fu is the art of instinct. It’s the art of closing the gap without having to think. It’s the art of that combustibility that is sparked by the attack of your opponent. 

The real art of Kung Fu is an art of self-defense. It’s lighting a fuse. Once you’re in engagement it’s like tripping the wire. You’re not looking to defend; you’re actually looking to destroy the other individual; in our art it’s the aggressive nature of the tiger that is the defense. I don’t need to defend because I’m going to destroy. It’s hitting the dominoes and ten thousand dominoes fall succinctly one after the other. It’s a chain link of bombardment, but all the time has been put in by the practitioner of that art. Therefor it comes out fluently. It becomes your language. And if you haven’t spent enough time speaking that language, then it’s not truly yours. That is how Kung Fu has to be applied. That being said, how do you derive that level of skill and sensitivity? Trial and error on a daily basis with copious amounts of hands on experience with your classmates under the guidance of a teacher that has that experience themselves and knows how to guide you. In the end it really boils down to the individual. 

Kung Fu is like turning on a light switch. As soon as you turn on the light switch, the light comes on. The question is, did you pay Coned? Did you put in the time to derive that kind of skill, knowing full well that the other individual is going to retaliate? You must be instinctive, spontaneous and be able to change without having to think, and augment your technique beyond the confines of the display within the form. I don’t know how to express this to you other than you touching the hand of the other guy and feeling the electricity. That’s what I feel every time I let my teacher show me a technique. Many times, it has been my experience where I’ve been shown something by him and then try to counter it and ten different things come out. That onslaught is the spontaneous combustion that we’re talking about. You have to touch hands with your teacher and your classmates to feel that electricity. Once you understand this, then you bring this back into your form. That brings your form to another level so form and function are moving up together at the same time. They feed into each other and each one helps the other to grow in depth and understanding, culminating together, becoming one, then ultimately becoming nothing and then BOOM, spontaneous combustion. A student of mine just came in while I was writing this blog and we decided to experiment, and BOOM, he said to me, “I never saw it coming.”

That’s how Kung Fu is and I tell you, that’s how everything in life is. You don’t see it coming and the reason you didn’t see it coming is because you didn’t do the preparation. Everything comes back down to preparation. Every art that requires Kung Fu is just like our Kung Fu. It only has a handful of techniques. It takes the seemingly limited amount of resources and becomes limitless; it becomes infinite from this finite number of moves. According to what they say, Wong Fei Hong was so good that he could dispatch you with only two or three techniques. If you’re at that level, you shouldn’t have to think about what technique is coming out. If you have to sit there and think about it, then it’s already too late. There isn’t going to be a, ready set go. There’s no one to say, time, go to your corners, illegal technique. You’re not going to know when it’s going to happen; you’re going to walk around the corner and it’s right there. Your instinctive reaction is going to define what happens. That’s what you have to train for. It just comes out, whatever you need. How do you do it? Any way you need it. What do you do? You get the job done. It’s so much in you that you go beyond you and just BOOM spontaneously combust. 
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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心意, 氣, 力

Good evening everyone. I’m a little late today, but I was thinking about this subject a lot and took some inspiration from my teachers. Mental discipline and concentration are paramount in the study of Chinese martial arts. In order to progress in the art of Kung Fu and truly become one with what we practice, the mind needs to be empty of contamination. This being said, it is one of the most difficult things to do, especially in our day and age where we are being constantly bombarded with messages from billboard signs and flashing neon. Not only are we distracted by the external, the worst distraction of all is the chatter in our mind which drowns out the clarity of our mental process which allows us to decipher what is true or false. Keeping the mind clean and empty is an extremely difficult thing to do and maintain. Yet it is what needs to be done to excel. 

A very good example would be training with a student and trying to do a movement with a long-tassle spear where you throw the spear up into the air and catch it, but the student constantly misses. You could say the spear is too heavy or too light, or my hand is sweaty or whatever other feeble excuse you want to conjure up, but in truth, the ability or inability to perform a particular action, technique or maneuver, be it empty handed or weapon, has to do with the mind of the individual and its clarity. Achieving clarity of the mind is a skill that one must develop. One means of developing this calmness, clarity or emptiness of the mind is through meditation. Meditation can take many forms and is not always the one that you envision sitting cross legged in a lotus position. 

In our Kung Fu training, meditation begins from the first day. Unbeknownst to the student, it is from the first stance that they learn, i.e., the horse stance. The horse stance by its nature and structure is testing the will, determination and mindset of the student and gives them a platform wherein they can challenge not only their physical body but their mind to transcend the physical pain that they feel from this rigorous position and be able to redirect their mental focus onto something else. I’m sure many of you have gone through this, but how many have actually tried to utilize this position as a state of meditation? It’s challenging and difficult to keep your mind clear when you’re under such physical duress, but that’s the whole point. That’s meditation in stillness. 

You also have the other side of the coin which is meditation within movement – form training. It’s two sides of the same coin, and you’re introduced to both as a Kung Fu practitioner. In the beginning when people start to learn form, they’re caught up with learning the sequence of the particular piece that they’re working with, making sure the body alignment is correct, all the techniques are properly executed with speed, power and so on. Those attributes are in the physical realm of training, but we have to talk about the other side of training, which is the meditation. 

If we look at the word meditate – what does that mean? It’s not what most people think, that it means to think nothing. The real definition is “to think deeply or carefully about something.” Look at the example of a “premeditated” murder in a court case. That means the individual had the intention to kill; he thought about it beforehand. In our case, we wish to establish the proper intention for the individual technique because every movement has its own structure, meaning and theme. The mind of the individual is extremely powerful. Coming back to the example of the student dropping the spear every time they tried to catch it, it wasn’t a function of the spear or external circumstances, but rather where that individual’s mind was at that point in time. One of the goals and purposes of training is to be able to capture your thought, mold it into something and direct it. Focus is something that many people today have issues with. Martial art training seeks to give that structure to the individual wherein which they can gain control over themselves. When we say themselves, we mean the mind because that’s really what creates you. To the ancient Chinese, the heart and the mind were one. There was no division between the two. Intellect and understanding go hand in hand. The term that they use and I prefer is sum yee 心意. 

So, we’re talking about 心意(mind), and the hei (氣). Grandmaster Paul Eng said, “In Kung Fu, understanding the relationship between intention and internal energy and physical strength is critical to developing the effectiveness in fighting technique.” I really appreciate this wisdom and statement from him. Your mind is able to first acknowledge your internal energy, give a form to it through mental imagery, direct it, guide it, couple it with your physical strength and produce a technique that is effective for fighting. This is an ancient Chinese concept and theory that Kung Fu adheres to. As with any technique, there’s a beginning, middle and end on a physical level. As many of us have seen, it is the mental fortitude and willpower of the individual that sometimes makes a decisive win. The physical movement has limitations, but there are no limitations put onto the mindset of the individual. Therefor, for fighting, which is one aspect of Kung Fu, you need to have the proper mental attitude. If you don’t have that attitude, even though you have the physical capabilities you may not have what you need to see it through.

Not only do you have to have the will to win, you also have to have the proper intention of how you are applying the technique. If you don’t have that clear understanding in your mind, if the GPS of your mind is giving you wrong directions and it’s not giving you the most effective route, you’ve lost the purpose of having that guidance and intention. Haven’t you experienced that, when GPS gives you a convoluted way to get somewhere? Even though you end up at the same destination, you get there late, and you wasted time and energy. The effectiveness of any movement or technique is not necessarily based on the physical attributes of that technique. You have yee, hei and lek (力) – the mind, the internal energy and the physical strength. 
The old saying is, “The intention of the mind manifests the internal energy which in turn becomes physical action. This happens in an instant. It is electric.” That is Kung Fu. 

I don’t care what martial art you’re training, if you don’t have a clear cut intention, none of the techniques are going to work. If you practice properly, thought and movement become instantaneous. So when you’re practicing, we want to question, what is your thought, what is your frame of mind. Hey man, where are you? Are you thinking on all the levels that you’re supposed to? One, you’re thinking about the opponent and what their intention is. Secondly you have to formulate your intention and what you want to do. Thirdly, you have to have contingency set up for whatever else may happen. Therefor the mind is working on several levels at the same time while it seamlessly flows from move to move. 

Most students, including my own, are limited in understanding of what they’re doing. It’s not the fault of the art itself but rather of the individual being incapable of understanding. You can punch; you can kick; you can jump; you can flip; you can turn. That’s all physical. At some point you will max out. You’re going to get old; this is inevitable. You’re going to injure yourself if you continue to push on that realm only. What about the other side? What about the meditation, the mental, the thought? The mind is like a candle. Sifu lights the candle for you, and it’s your job to hold it. That’s what they say in Chinese, 師父開 光 (the Master opens the light). The light is the mind. Outwardly, many movements may appear to be the same, but as you upgrade your intention with insight provided by your teacher, you can make gains. Otherwise, it may appear finite, but it is infinite. When the mind is enlightened, it has intention. 

Every hair on your body should be fueled by the intention of your mind. The mind and internal energy create the movement. From your mental intention, you express your understanding. You direct and harness the chi, and then the chi makes the movement. Most students practice from the outside in rather than from the inside out. Initially, you copy the movements of the form, but at some point, there has to be a shift where the movement is no longer just an external expression but rather the internal movement that is expressed by the physical. Expressing something on a mental level that manifests on a physical level is no different than the expression of an artist. He has his mental intention, so he grabs the brush, and paints the canvass. His mental intentional takes hold of his internal energy and manifests itself into a physical expression. 

Kung Fu is a form of self-mind-control. The mind is a very powerful tool that many people don’t use efficiently and effectively. We’ve been taught not to. Don’t get me started on cell phones… which we all rely on, and I hug mine like it was my baby, but that’s like the direct antithesis of Kung Fu. Your cell phone’s not going to win a fight for you. But going beyond winning a fight, being able to link up your intention and your internal energy, culminating into a physical expression, not only helps you “win the fight” but helps you win yourself. From physical movement to the metaphysical understanding of the mind goes back to your daily life. You need to genuinely practice and put aside misgivings. You’re going to fail many, many times until you’ve done it in earnest enough to try to come to some understanding. That’s the meditation and that’s the learning. Harnessing internal as well as external energy and expressing it -- that’s Kung Fu. 

Everything we’re talking about is dependent on the maturity of the individual, but maturity is something unique to whatever task you’re doing. The maturity level that you have in your normal everyday life doesn’t necessarily spill over to your other pursuits, in this case martial arts training. It does take time and concerted effort to apply the mind to the task. In the beginning, we all start mindlessly following the physical movement until we pass enough levels and reflect. When we reflect, we start to utilize the mind. Then the mind starts to tap into different energies, and then we start to have a different level of improvement.

Our martial art training is the pursuit of the perfection of the self. Perfection cannot be found in the physical only, because the physical has limitations. So how are you going to change? You’re going to change because mentally you understand what you’re doing on a deeper level. So therefor, it becomes more. Stop copying the outside and start learning the inside. If you don’t know the mind within the movement you don’t know the movement. When you move, either you’re in line with what you’re doing or you’re not in line with what you’re doing. Through your practice, you must align your physical energy with your mental state and your internal energy. The greatest achievement of our Kung Fu is to galvanize the self and try to attain a sense of understanding and balance. In the end, Kung Fu goes far beyond the mere confines of winning the encounter but is actually about winning the self. 
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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Bo Law Kung Fu by Gregory Chew - 1M ago

So, “I don’t want to hear it.” I know it’s a snowy, sleety, cold Tuesday afternoon, but I don’t want to hear it. Unfortunately, this is the prevailing attitude of most martial arts students in general. Truth be told, many claim in their minds to be students, but subconsciously they view themselves as customers. We’ve probably spoken about this before, but it’s worth reiterating. There is a big difference between a martial arts customer/student and a true, dedicated student. The difference is, one says, “I don’t want to hear it,” while the other is ready, willing and able to accept what the instructor has to say. 

The customer/student doesn’t want to hear anything from the instructor other than praise, which eventually rots out the student and makes them unteachable. Because they have paid for the instruction, most of the time the customer/student feels that they are entitled to undue false praise, which I don’t really understand because I was never given praise. Two things happened. Either you got yelled at for not doing it right and Sifu walked away and you had to sit there and figure it out, or he said absolutely nothing and walked away, and you had to sit there and figure it out. That’s the way that we learned. Good or bad, it definitely whittled down the riff raff. I think unfortunately, today, because martial arts is a business, the instructor sometimes has to compromise his standards to a certain degree in order to maintain the student body and pay for all the overhead and expenses of running a martial arts school. The customer/student seems to be hyper sensitive in regards to what they perceive as being negative feedback, and the teacher/instructor almost has to kow-tow to the whims of the customer/student. Otherwise, that customer might say, “I don’t want to hear it,” and go home.

Even though in business terms, a martial art school is perceived as being part of the service industry, in my opinion, it’s not. The true teaching has nothing to do with being a service. In actuality, the student is in the service of the master. This is like when little Johnny goes to elementary school, and the teacher grades him according to his performance. The very next morning, you have the parents knocking on the principal’s door complaining about the bad grade he got, but the bad grade he got was given to him because he deserved it. A teacher who cares doesn’t give a bad grade to make a student feel bad, but to give genuine feedback. What you put in is what you get out. That’s the crucible of Kung Fu. The current position in most people’s minds – and I don’t know when this changed but it did change – is that, “I deserve, therefor you must give what I want, AND I don’t want to hear it.” Most of the time when people “don’t want to hear it,” it’s because they’re hearing the truth. By not accepting the truth, you’re reinforcing the incorrect attitude that because it makes me feel good, it is good and it’s good for me, but it’s not. It’s a bad situation when you create the expectation that someone should be rewarded for not putting in full effort with an open mind to feedback about their performance. It’s not personal; it’s the job of the instructor to keep the student on the straight and narrow.

So, let’s talk about the truth. What is the truth? The truth reminds me of what we have in Chinese medicine or Chinese tea, we call leung cha 涼茶. It’s a medicinal, herbal tea that dissipates heat in the body that may create illness. The words of your instructor or your Sifu or master is just like drinking this herbal tea. It’s dark, bitter and has a pungent yet fragrant odor that most people would not be happy with. The one that you buy in the can in the Chinese supermarket is not really the right herbal tea. It has sugar and other things inside that make it palatable. That’s what people have become accustomed to as far as accepting what is true. They want the truth to be softened with corn syrup so it becomes digestible and no longer has the medicinal qualities of the latter. I understand this, but I also feel it’s detrimental to the growth of the student and the martial arts in general. It becomes an undermining factor, and has no value whatsoever. Consuming true leung cha will help dissipate certain ailments in the body, and though it may not taste good going down, the results over time are highly beneficial. You may remember Mary Poppins saying, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I say, “Mary, you b****, give it to them straight.” 

John said in the big book, “The truth will set you free.” This is only true if you accept it and hear it. I’m not a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of guy. I’m an “empty the glass” kind of guy, if that makes any sense. That’s what the truth does. The truth cuts and it cuts deep. This is why no one wants to hear it. But you know, once you hear the truth, accept it and digest it, you consume it, it permeates you, and you begin to grow again. It’s all about that acceptance. This is what we all have to do in all aspects of our lives, but particularly in martial art training. By being incapable of accepting the truth, you only hurt yourself. We’re all guilty of it.

In class, if I make a statement, everybody thinks, he’s not talking about me, he’s talking about somebody else. However, the guy that feels he is the most correct is probably the guy that’s the most incorrect. I think we as adults are not as willing to accept the truth about ourselves. Often times, the little kids and the teenagers learn so much quicker than adults because they are more accepting of direction and guidance than adults. It’s the character of the person that needs to be refined in order for their Kung Fu and everything else that they touch to improve. Even though the truth may sting initially, if we’re open to it, then we are able to grow and change. If not, you throw up the hand or you put your fingers in your ears and go, “La la la, I don’t hear you.” That only impedes if not completely retards growth and learning. Accept the teaching; don’t say, “I don’t want to hear it.” I know the truth is hard sometimes, but wouldn’t you rather know where you stand and be able to make inroads towards becoming better as opposed to just having a momentary satisfaction and living in the clouds? You would think, but that’s often not the case. 

Your local take-out place may sell you something that tastes good and makes you happy but isn’t necessarily good for you. That shouldn’t be done for martial arts. You’re not a restaurant, are you? What’s the difference between a massage parlor and a massage therapist? (You know, and if you don’t I can’t help you.) This is not to say that you can’t obtain a happy or good experience in training Kung Fu and martial arts in general, but there’s going to be a side of it that’s not all fun and games. This is where the maturity level comes in. You may say, what do you mean maturity level? I’m X age, I can drive, I can vote. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mature. Maturity means being able to handle the truth. It doesn’t really have anything to do with our chronological physiology, but our state of mind and character. In the end, Kung Fu is really about that. You can take either road. You can train just for momentary gratification, or for long term personal growth, but one of those roads is a dead end. The other is a mirror into the mind and soul of the individual. It’s a much harder path but ultimately that’s where the growth comes. People go, Wow, I didn’t know I was like that. They don’t like the way they look on the inside. Physical growth, mental growth and spiritual growth can be stimulated externally, but happen internally. You need to have that combination of the internal and external to make yourself grow. The truth being told to you is an external stimuli that if absorbed properly by the right individual can stimulate intellectual and spiritual growth. This can then spill over onto the physical movement. 

So in actually the truth is that leung cha. It’s that vitamin pill, it’s that supplement that you need every once in a while to set you right again. You may have started off right. I always tell the students that their training is a straight line. When you start out, you walk on the line and then you have a deviation, and Sifu says XYZ. Then you try to right it, and then you deviate a little to the left. In the beginning the deviations are great, but then you spend a lot of time with your teacher and the deviations become smaller. This morning my teacher called me and said, it’s snowing; if you have time, why don’t you come over and we’ll train and talk. We had a visit from a Buddhist and fung shui master, and we had a long conversation about this kind of stuff. I’m hearing the same lesson from two different masters of two different ancient Chinese disciplines, both telling me the same thing. I’m hearing the truth in their words and I’m trying my best to take it all in and hold onto it so I can pass it along to my team. 

Through your training, you have to understand how to strike that balance, how to physically, mentally and spiritually lessen the deviations from left to right until you’re walking on the center and you have that balance. That’s something that the individual has to do, but most of the time the student throws up the hand and says, “I don’t want to hear it,” because it’s about turning yourself in on yourself to see yourself and maybe not liking what you see. I may not be super intelligent or the most mature guy in the world, but I’ve learned how to try to accept and try to learn again which is the most difficult thing. Try to learn what? Learning about yourself allows you to learn whatever item you want to learn. Otherwise, you’re so caught up with the knowing that you actually lose the opportunity for learning. You throw up the hand and say, “I don’t want to hear it. You’re popping my bubble.” 

Your state of mind allows you to understand or not understand. That’s what we’re talking about. The state of mind of the individual allows them to accept the truth or not accept the truth. Once you do accept the truth, then you’ll be released and you’ll be able to grow. That’s dictated by the individual. When you put up the hand and say, “I don’t want to hear it,” then all progress grinds to a halt. You have to learn how to be. When the two masters were talking to me about the situations that we were talking about, they were teaching me how to be. This is what we call in Chinese, 式做人sik jo yan. Which literally means, “Be a man.” Know how to conduct yourself, or, in simple terms, grow up! You can’t know how to deal with other people or situations if you don’t know how to deal with yourself. Accepting what your instructor or Sifu has to tell you hopefully will open up different channels in your mind and let you grow so you know how to be as a person, how to treat people and how to treat yourself. So don’t sing the “la la” song. Don’t throw your hands up and stop the learning. Accept what comes to you. We learn and grow every moment of every day.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅

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