In the late 90s I was a UT student living on my own in East Austin B.G. (before gentrification).  Around this time, my apartment almost got broken into.  I had started working at a bar, and on one of those nights that I was gone until 2 or 3 am, two guys climbed up onto my neighbor’s balcony, trying to get into my apartment.  At this new job I had, late nights and living alone were the least of my worries.  One of my new co-workers (a chick, mind you) threatened to beat me up.  I guess you could call it player hatin’.

Anyway, I started to feel a little unsafe.

A handbill at my apartment complex caught my eye.  It read “Learn Kung Fu” and had a drawing of a preying mantis.  Well, of course I called and signed up for the next available class.  I figured if I could at least learn how to punch, I’d be better off than I was before.  I literally didn’t even know how to hold my hand in a proper punching form.  Let alone throw one.  Let alone have it do something!

Bad-ass facial expression optional.

Bad-ass facial expression optional.

The classes were 2 hours long and grueling.  One of the infamous pinnacles of traditional Kung Fu classes involve the dreaded “horse stance.”  To get your black belt, you had to hold this for 15 minutes.  Try holding it for 20 seconds; you’ll see what I’m talking about.

After one year, not only could I throw an effective punch, but I could swing a broadsword around too!

After 4 years of training, I noticed other benefits.  It was almost like my 6th sense was heightened.  There was a lightness in my step.  My balance was impeccable; my eyesight (according to my optician) was actually improving; and my reflexes were lightning fast.  (doo-doo-doo-de-doo-doo-doo – everybody was kung fu fighting…)

Bullies at work were a thing of the past.  And it wasn’t that I was fighting people off.  In fact, only in the dojo or at tournaments have I tested my skills in sparring.  It was more a sense of confidence.  I was able to avoid the potential confrontations.  I learned that when aggressive energy comes at you, you don’t hold tight, you yield.  

This is not a passive thing, but a connecting with the aggressive incoming energy, measuring it, and yielding or turning your body (or mind) to redirect it. Wax on; wax off.

Long story short, I’ve been studying Preying Mantis Kung Fu for over 16 years!  

Every exercise is of course better than none at all, but I favor martial arts and yoga for a few reasons.

1.  These exercises move your Qi.  It’s much, much more than just walking on a treadmill or throwing some weights around at the gym.  Movements that improve your Qi circulation will benefit you the rest of your life.

2.  These exercises teach about breath control.  You can use your breath to control how your heart beats.  You can use your mind and breath to calm yourself down in any situation.  Getting flustered and trying to hurry actually slows you down.  

3.  With martial arts in particular, you can learn how to have a non-quitting spirit.  I remember my 4th degree black belt test.  I ran 5 miles, went immediately into that 15 minute horse stance I was telling you about, did all my forms back-to-back (about 1 hour of intense movement), and then had to spar for 1 hour with higher-ranking students.  I had 5 more minutes to go in the sparring, and I quit.  I was crying.  I said, “I just can’t do any more.”  I couldn’t bear the thought of getting punched in the face one more time!  My teacher – who is also my husband now – convinced me to pull it together for just a little while longer.  I made it.  Sloppily, but made it nonetheless.

4.  Great place to meet people:  I’ve met so many long-term friends at the martial arts studio, not to mention my husband!  (Ladies – take note – great place to meet guys.)

Now I’m lucky if I get half the time to practice like I used to.  I’ll just blame the kids on that one.  But as soon as the baby’s old enough to let me get on the training floor without screaming at me, I’ll be right back at it!  Can’t wait!  

Also, you may be interested in doing some martial arts training yourself.  My husband’s studio -the Pit – is in south Austin and they teach Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu, and Hawaiian Kempo classes for adults looking to learn traditional martial arts; Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises for the older folks and those not too keen on rough and tumble play; they have kids classes that emphasize safety and bully-proofing your young ones.  If you’re more just looking to get in shape and maybe learn to punch and kick at the same time, there’s also fitness kickboxing.  So a little bit of everything!  I think it’s a great studio, and not just cause my hubby runs it!  Check it out for yourself: