I get this a lot. People keep asking me about kung fu and MMA. I have traditional martial arts background, not only kung fu, but also karate. However, kung fu does define me and creates a big part of who I am. I got many messages from kung fu practitioners and also coaches, being very positive about both my wins and losses in MMA, and I am very grateful for them. I also got several comments, mainly from people here in Asia, about how MMA full-contact fighting is opposite of kung fu, too violent, etc. This makes me usually quite angry, not only because kung fu is fighting, but also because MMA is a rules-based sport, as opposite to often mentioned and promoted self-defense by kung fu practitioners, which is in fact much more violent than MMA. But that is a different topic. Transitioning to MMA with kung fu background is specific. I do not hesitate to start from scratch and get lots of beating, because I understand that forms and fighting are not connected naturally, the bridge needs to be built. And that is what I am doing. Kung fu definitely gives me many positive aspects for my MMA training, but today I would like to talk about one single thing, that I believe we do not talk about it enough.
Kung fu does not have levels. What does it mean? Simply said, you are never enough.
Let it sink.
So, we spend our lives, dozens of years or long period of time in the environment, where we are never good enough. More thoughts: In kung fu, we do not have belts. Some schools use their private belt systems (and so do I in my Curriculum), exactly because of this point. Kung fu is not competition-based sport, even though some of us compete. In our Hong Kong school, and as far as I know in other hung kuen schools here as well, there are two colors of buttons on the traditional black uniform: white for students, and black for the sifu. But generally speaking, there are no levels, no steps, no points in the time, where you could tap yourself on the shoulder and say: Good job me! I have improved.
I see it more clearly now because of my experience with combat sports. BJJ has its belt system, where children have several colors in between white and blue, while adults don’t. I think it’s genius. MMA does not have belts, unless the gym has its own system, but you are constantly sparring with other people are probably training for some kind of competition, let it be beginner or pro stage. And you are climbing up that ladder.
The typical comment of my sifu, while coaching me, is: ‘Not enough.“ Or ‘Not good.“ Which simply means, you have not yet arrived to the correct execution. And you do not know how far from that point are you. You just know, it is still not enough.
This has actually shaped my mind into something very specific, that is in fact sometimes useful in MMA, too. In kung fu, I have this learnt reaction, which switches on if I am under pressure, especially both physically and emotionally. I remember clearly when I have noticed this for the first time: It was some 7 years ago, I was in Hong Kong as an exchange student, training not yet with my sifu but another master, and working on a form that was my competition form. That means, I spent crazy amount of time polishing it. They made huge corrections on that, basically changed several techniques. Not only “it wasn’t enough“, but my thousand-times-repeated movements “were wrong“. It is difficult to imagine that kind of frustration, when training, the main thing you have in life, suddenly shattered into pieces. Then, I consciously slid my emotions aside. I stopped feeling, I stopped thinking. I just did what was needed.
They want me to do it that way, I do it that way then. I think later. I cry later. I just keep repeating.
This behavior helped me many times later on too, when I had to proof my place in kung fu schools, as a foreigner woman. I always had the same strategy that worked well: Work harder than the locals. When they did something 10 times, I did it 20 times. When they rested, I didn’t.
Don’t think, don’t feel, just do. Feel later.
First, they thought I am crazy, but eventually it brought me respect, which is a starting point for a foreigner and a woman here to be taken seriously in martial arts.
In MMA, or these days training, it creates some funny situation. Such as coach criticizing me. With being my whole life “not good enough“, I do not have troubles with criticism. I am expert in self-criticism, so
anything he tells me is not worse than what I already think!
But there is a problem, and it is really big. Because this is important.
If my coach tells me I am shit, no big deal. I will do what I need, and I will cry later. But if he tells me that I am good at something, I literally have no idea what to do with that information, and eventually just ignore it.
Having a kung fu training of my body but mainly mind, it taught me that it is never enough. I don’t know how to celebrate small victories. And this is very crucial, if you think of what intensity is MMA training, or what kind of stress you need to deal with. Think positively. I believe I am a very positive person, especially when I look of what kind of environment I could live in, to be able to train here. But in fact, I am not so sunny, I am just good at clenching teeth. Doing stuff now, and thinking later.
This is one of the biggest challenges I had in my training so far, and I see how MMA brings this kind of balance to my life. How to think of the micro-levels you have reached, how to be aware of the progress, how to award it. How to think positively, and forget that you are “not enough“.
As Sylvia wrote here (amazing things she is writing), you are in the perfect state of what you should know and be able to do, right now. It is a totally different concept from kung fu, where you see that never-ending path in front of you. But entering a cage, thinking, you are not there yet (because the kung fu trick, in case you have not realized yet, is that you will never be there!) will cost you pain, mental state and your safety. Instead, going to test your fighting skills with someone who also want to smash you, you need to understand that right now and right here, you are at the best evolution level you could be for now and here, and that you have reached many levels already.
And it is difficult.
But I am on the way, as my coach like to say.
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. I am addicted to hung kuen kung fu and MMA. Further blog posts are sharing of an enthusiast.
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