Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

Q: What is a martial arts "system" and what does the training program involve?

Most martial arts involve complex training programs which aim to simultaneously develop physical strength, coordination, timing, appreciation for esthetic elements of movement, and kinesthetic awareness. Different "systems" emphasize different elements and each has its own training philosophy and theories about how techniques are used. Most martial arts also place great importance on developing mature, self-controlled students who use their abilities responsibly and demonstrate respect for all people. Training programs involve callisthenic exercises, repetitive drills to develop coordination and timing and breathing exercises to increase relaxation. Students learn choreographed sequences of movements (forms, katas, kuens) which teach timing, esthetics, logic and practical application. Students also learn concentration and self-discipline.

Q: What should I look for in a martial arts program?

First identify your goals and your physical condition. Unlike children whose parents may want them in a martial arts program to channel youthful energy and gain self-discipline, adults who begin a martial arts program want something more than what they may get from a gym. Before committing to a program, visits to several studios are essential in making a comparison. Check out the format of the classes, how students interact and perform, and how the instructors teach. Determine whether the classes are taught by a master in the field, a black belt or equivalent, or perhaps someone with less qualification; judge which qualification meets your goal and determine the value of the program accordingly. If you have an interest in competition, you should visit schools that participate in tournaments. Evidence of participation can be found in the trophies and or medals displayed. Some systems of martial arts emphasize feats of strength through hard execution of movements, and instruction tends to be more regimented. These programs are probably easier to develop proficiency and many schools have a "black belt program" enabling students to earn the coveted rank within a short time. Some systems of martial arts emphasize acrobatics and flexibility and may not focus on martial structure, but more on athletic prowess and showmanship. These fit well into the category of performance art. Traditional systems of martial arts are strictly guided by martial arts theory and have a long history that can be traced easily back to its ancient origins. These systems take longer to develop proficiency because there is usually more material covered. Word-of-mouth is the best method in finding a program, however it is not always reliable or available. If you know of a reputable instructor in the system you wish to learn, consider contacting the individual for a referral. Generally, it is disrespectful to probe directly into the credentials of a martial arts instructor and equally disrespectful for an instructor to boast of ones accomplishments. In the Chinese martial arts circle, reputation is the best source of reference. 

Q: What should I look for in a Tai Chi Program?

Since the advent of modern scientific research into the self-healing aspects of tai chi, many individuals have been in search for any program available. Tai chi’s focus on developing inner strength, rather than external strength, has great appeal and allows anyone to learn. By its full Chinese term - T'ai Chi Ch'uan is translated as the Grand Ultimate Fist. It was developed with sound martial arts theory and cultivated into one of the highest forms of martial art. All traditional tai chi have the same roots from China, therefore the first question you should ask is what style of tai chi is taught. The most prevalent styles are: Yang, Wu, Hao and Sun, all derived from the main Chen style, however there are other systems recognized as long as its lineage can be traced back to the Chen style. Tai chi is not other systems of martial arts executed slowly or a new-age fad. All the postures in the traditional forms have similar names and positioning and the practice is strictly guided by theory. The distinction in tai chi is determined by the instructor; therefore your next question should be to ask whether the instructor is a martial artist with years of teaching experience. Many who learn tai chi for health and recreation are content to learn just the form sequence and learning just the form itself offers many benefits. These programs are the easiest to find, often emphasizing the esoteric nature rather than the physiological nature of the exercise because they are generally not taught by highly trained martial artists. Still others, once exposed to other stages of development, want to gain the full health benefits of mental and physical stimulation through theoretical knowledge and correct alignment. While a routine form can become boring and forgotten, those who have access to the theories are intrigued and more apt to continue practice. They will spend time refining movements and perfecting structure. To go from an exercise to an art form requires a teacher with adequate years of guidance and training in the ancient principles and concepts of t'ai chi ch'uan.

Q: What is Qigong and how is it different from Tai Chi?

At Calvin Chin's Martial Arts Academy qigong is incorporated into the regular curriculum as it has been an integral part of martial arts training for centuries. Qigong dates back to ancient China and was the precursor to martial arts. The practice of qigong and tai chi both work to improve the circulation of qi (chi) through breathing techniques and ultimately to improve well-being through self-cultivation. The attention on qigong is due to health benefits gained by many practitioners. It is a form of managed health care to the millions in China. While the same health benefits can be gained from tai chi, this discipline requires more effort to learn. Qigong is usually done in stationary postures with little or no movement using controlled combinations of breathing techniques. Tai chi requires learning a sequence of slow and continuous movements which naturally promotes deep breathing. While qigong is inherent in all traditional tai chi (as well as other internal martial arts), qigong is not tai chi. Tai chi, however is dynamic qigong, which initiates all movement with intention. The practice of traditional tai chi is guided by martial art theories, therefore it can be taught as a martial art, while qigong is only one element of the art. Qigong is a modern term and what primarily exists today are practices created after the Cultural Revolution. Qigong on the surface, appears to be simple breathing exercises, which can lend itself to deceptive or even harmful practices. Some in search for a qigong program are seriously ailing and in search for alternative therapies. It is even more critical that guidelines are followed in finding the right program to avoid being taken advantage of. 

Q: What is the difference between kung fu, karate, judo, and taekwondo?

Karate is a Japanese term literally translated as Chinese hands. Almost all martial arts can trace their roots to the original fighting arts of Shaolin. Karate is often used incorrectly as a generic term for martial arts because it was the first form of martial arts to be marketed commercially in many parts of the world and it became the catch-phrase for all martial arts. Kung fu is a Chinese term translated as hard work. It is the general term applied to many styles of martial arts originated from China, but the term is used in Chinese to describe great skill in any achievement. Karate and judo originated in Japan, while tae kwon do came from Korea. Most martial arts styles have certain common elements, but differ greatly in stylistic appearance, hardness or softness of movements, and the relative emphasis on kicks, punches, jumping, and throwing the opponent. Some styles prefer to use many high kicks while others use mostly punches. Some involve many jumping and acrobatic movements, while others prefer to stand solidly in low, wide stances. Some styles emphasize close range techniques, while others prefer longer distances. Judo emphasizes the use of throwing or "flipping" the opponent. Japanese styles like karate often emphasize linear motion and "hard" strength. Chinese systems often prefer circular, fluid movements and more relaxed generation of power. These so-called "soft" systems rely on sophisticated biomechanics to develop power. Martial arts styles also differ in the relative emphasis they place on self-defense, performance, competition and fitness.

Q: How is spirituality achieved in martial arts?

Finding spirituality has been a natural progression for many who pursue the arts. We believe that spirituality achieved from martial arts comes from knowing oneself. "To know oneself is to know your opponent" is a well-known tenet in martial arts. Spirituality is achieved when one is able to reach a perspective beyond one's ego. In learning martial arts, one has to overcome many limitations to progress. This requires belief, not only of the transmission, or the art itself, but more importantly, faith in oneself. At each plateau, one has to find the will to continue and not give up. Reaching each threshold is a new discovery of oneself. Many adults who train in martial arts start with the goal of learning self defense. Through the many stages of refinement, this reason is no longer the drive to achieve. Self-cultivation becomes the ultimate goal, successful when the ego is relinquished and attained through the discipline of martial arts. The knowledge gained through martial arts reveals the soul, builds human character and transcends all aspects of life. What is learned through our training process is invaluable. One becomes comfortable in one's own skin and comfortable in one’s environment. This is knowing one's true self in the realm of all things.