1- What is kung fu and what are kung fu styles?
The term kung fu is used to refer to any and all martial arts originating from China. It is a slang expression. Chinese martial arts are more properly referred to as Wushu (martial art), Chuan shu (fist art) or Guo shu (national art). China’s long and tumultuous history has led to the development of sophisticated skill in hand to hand combat and feudal weaponry. Many of the skills and techniques were either developed by or became the property of groups or clans. Furthermore, techniques became very specialized and quite different from region to region due local factors, isolation, secrecy, etc. These factors gave rise to the kung fu styles that continue to exist in the modern era. Most people agree that there are several hundred authentic Chinese kung fu styles.
It is important to note that under the communist government in mainland China, Wushu has been completely changed, codified and modified. Therefore, it would be most proper to distinguish between modern Wushu (hsiandai Wushu) and traditional Wushu (chuantong Wushu). Modern Wushu is a performance oriented art based loosely on the traditional styles and methods whereas traditional Wushu is more of a self defence system elaborated over generations. It usually encompasses hand to hand fighting, traditional weapons, internal energy cultivation, knowledge of Chinese medicine, and more. In today’s world there are traditional kung fu schools, modern Wushu schools and schools that practice a bit of both.
2- What is the difference between kung fu and karate?
Most karate systems come from Okinawa and since that island nation is close to China most karate systems have some links to certain styles of kung fu. For example Goju Ryu has close links to Fujian white crane. Differences in methodologies and theories separate styles but it is safe to say that Karate is of Okinawan and/or Japanese origin whereas kung fu is Chinese. Many people will say some kung fu styles are softer or more complex or have more weapons but these are generalisations. It is best to compare one specific style with another.
3- What is special about the white crane style and AWCKF academies?
This style has a long and well documented history.
We have learned directly form the inheritors of the art which means that we are of an authentic and verifiable lineage.
We are one of Quebec’s oldest Kung fu schools.
We know how to teach, love doing so.
And finally, this system is pure unadulterated traditional kung fu. That means you learn real self-defence skills rather than a watered down “fast food” version of Chinese kung fu. We believe that many people really do want to learn “old school martial arts” and we are devoted to ensuring that they can do so in a serious and friendly atmosphere.
4- What makes white crane practical in self-defence?
Systems are practical when they are anchored in experience. Students make them practical when they truly understand the nature of combat and train hard. The flying crane branch (the type of white crane we teach) was developed over a few hundred years by a martial arts family whose sole business were martial arts and Chinese medicine (the two traditionally go together). In the flying crane system, main targets for attack are eyes, throat and groin. Hands and feet techniques are very sophisticated and aimed solely at pressure points. This approach coupled with weapons training, makes the flying crane system a great self-defence system. This does not mean that we train to hurt people. Rather it means that in the very rare circumstance that you may need to, you would be able to defend yourself and your loved ones.
5- What about sport?
The flying crane system is definitely not a sport but like most martial arts it can be adapted for sport competition. If students would like to compete in martial arts tournaments they are welcome to do so. We have competed in several full-contact kung fu tournaments as well as in forms and weapons forms competitions and have always done very well. Shifu Bernard is very happy to train full contact fighters as he believes this sport version of the art will help promote it. However full contact is not for everyone as the training is extremely demanding. If you are interested in full contact kung fu please let the school headmaster know and he will be happy to help you realize your goals.
6- Can anyone start learning this art?
Yes of course, you simply have to decide to train regularly and with a positive attitude. If you make a concerted effort, your long term goal of becoming skilled in real kung fu can be achieved. Plus you will get in great shape! You must also accept your own limitations and realize that learning kung fu also means taking care of your body so that you may be able to practice regularly.
7- Do I need to get in shape before joining?
No. You need to make the first step and join. We will get you in shape. That is part of what we do. If you need extra help you can request a specialized training program from one of our instructors (several instructors are certified fitness coaches). The most important thing is to join, train regularly and to train smart. That means don’t try to emulate the superb athlete next to you. Train according to your capabilities so as to avoid injury and you will improve greatly. We have had students loose 40 pounds after only 1 year!
8- How often should I come to class and how often can I do so?
We recommend coming as often as possible, three times per week being quite good. If you can’t attend that many classes because of scheduling problems we recommend training at home and/or scheduling private lessons. Regular practice will definitely ensure that you progress at a good pace. All students are allowed to attend as many classes as they like in both academies.
9- When do classes start?
We accept students all year round. There is no start up date or sessions. Basically when you join, you will receive private instruction for the first two classes to ensure you know the basic positions and concepts. Thereafter you will learn at your own pace.
10- Do I need a uniform?
Yes you do. The uniform consist of loose fitting black Chinese style kung fu pants, a t-shirt with the school emblem and a sash (kung fu belt). We have uniforms in school and you must purchase it immediately before your first class. The uniform is $ 41.91 before taxes. Students can train either bare feet or in white martial arts shoes. These are also available at both academies.
11- What does a typical class consist of?
We strive to find a good balance between consistently training basics and integrating some variety in our training. Therefore classes will vary depending upon students’ levels, aptitudes, etc. A typical class would start with a 20-30 minute warm-up. This warm-up would integrate many kung fu movements such as footwork drills, specialized hand techniques, and so on. Callisthenics and stretching exercises are also a part of the warm-up so you can expect to get in shape and increase your flexibility! After the warm-up period students would practice their basic moves and forms. Two-person sets would probably follow next. Equipments training (focus pad striking, punching bags, lifting of jars, training with wooden dummies, etc) would likely follow. Generally, class will finish with combat drills, free style pushing hands or sparring. Weapons are most often taught after class on a one on one basis although they may be taught in class also. Learning weapons is free of charge. It is part of the curriculum. Finally, classes will also on occasion focus on breathing exercises, specialized joint locks, and have a certain amount of theoretical lectures on martial arts theories and concepts.
12- What type of equipment will I train with?
In order to develop real skill in martial arts you must do more than strike in the air at empty targets. We have a great variety of complementary equipment that are used on a daily basis. Amongst these are: various models of punching bags, wooden dummies, jars used to train eagle and crane claws, wall bags to train fists, “iron palm” bags used to train the hands, etc. We also train with focus mitts and kicking shields. All our schools are fully equipped. For those students who are interested in traditional conditioning exercises, they are taught openly and without prejudice. Herbal liniments (commonly called iron palm medicine) will be used to ensure health and safety in training.
13- What type of atmosphere can I expect in a typical white crane kung fu class?
You can expect a warm welcome, smiling faces and serious training. Everybody is welcome.
14- Is this art suitable for women?
Not only is it suitable for women, the founder of the art is a woman! Most of our movements involve using softness to overwhelm strength and shall we say “a woman’s cunning”, drawing on the Yin or feminine aspect of the human intellect. For example a distraction and a groin strike is considered very good kung fu!
15- Do you have classes for children and are they same as the adult classes?
Both academies offer children’s classes. Naturally, the curriculum is slightly different for the children’s programs. Children aged form 6 to 12 are learning the traditional art but a few martial games and exercises may be added for fun. Furthermore, the applications of some truly dangerous techniques will not be explained in too much detail until the children are mature enough to appreciate the consequences of said actions. Please consult the schedules and fees sections for more information on our very popular children’s programs.
16- Do you use colour belts?
The use of colour belts is relatively new to martial arts. It was first used by the founder of Judo to systemize his art. The use of colour belts was quickly adopted by most Karate, Tae kwon do, Jiu jit-su and Kempo schools. It is however, a foreign concept to traditional kung fu. The idea of using a classification system to identify one’s supposed skill is a very western concept. Belt exams can be a positive thing as they can motivate people to train hard. Unfortunately they can also be used as a devious way for schools to charge hidden fees. When they become considerable sources of income for unscrupulous business-men turned school owners, students may pass tests whether they are ready or not. In the end it is up to each organization to run things as they see fit and adopt and promote a system they are comfortable with.
In our white crane kung fu academies we have decided to systemize our art and motivate students while maintaining the traditional Chinese martial traditions. Rather than using the Japanese inspired coloured belt system, all students wear the same colour sashes. Instructors are distinguished by tying the knot in the middle rather than on the side. Although we have no coloured belts, we do have tests. They are regularly held but these are used to motivate students and check their progression. We charge small fees for testing, but for each individual, tests are few and far between. For example, a student having trained twenty years in our academies would most likely have completed only 5 tests.
17- Is the instructor Asian?
Just because someone is Asian does not mean they are skilled kung fu masters! In fact most Chinese people know very little about traditional kung fu. It is much better to judge a person by their skill and actions than by the color of their skin. Kung fu came from China so at some point the originators are obviously Chinese but just like many art forms some of the best modern students are often not of the same race as the originators. Deciding to want an Oriental instructor is not only racist but stupid. In fact, people who decide this are most often the victims of their own prejudices, falling prey to unscrupulous oriental instructors of poor quality who take advantage of the stereotypes and prejudices despite their lack of proficiency. Kung fu comes from China but emigrated a long time ago to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Great Britain, the United States and Canada. The truth is that there are many excellent instructors of all races just as there are many sub-standard instructors of all racial backgrounds. Our headmaster has devoted his life to studying real kung fu and is the official representative of the Flying Crane system in North-America.
18- How can the public know if a school is good or not?
That is a very good question. It is indeed difficult to know who the leaders are in any given field. The best advice is to take your time and look around. Another great piece of advice is “buyer beware!” If you take martial arts seriously don’t make the classic mistake of joining somewhere simply because it is close to your home or work. Better travel a bit and get superior instruction. Generally, it is a good idea to make sure the instructors have a clear and verifiable lineage in a well established art. Beware of belt rankings awarded to instructors by themselves and/or their students (no we are not joking). Seeing the instructor’s top students in actual practice should give you a good idea of the skill level in the school. In traditional kung fu, older students should have strong stances and quick foot work. They should also hit very hard! Don’t ask the instructor to demo as that is rude. Do ask many questions as that is perfectly normal and any good instructor should be happy to answer. Remember that those who act tough often do so to intimidate or to mask their inadequacies. Either way, they make poor instructors. Finally ask around, search the name of the school and that of the instructor online to get some feedback from other people.