Jabbing and punching. Lifting the knee and extending the kick. Keeping the shoulders down and relaxed and still generating power with the strike. I didn’t realize it when I first started, but the repetitive nature of practicing kung fu techniques gave me the time and perspective to recalibrate my life. These are a few of the big changes I've made, some more expected than others, from learning and training in Chinese martial arts.

Embrace changes to your mind and body.

In two years I wore through the soles of 10 pairs of practice shoes. There was a relationship between the rubber giving way under my feet and my body developing the muscles needed to do kung fu. There were also times when I felt as beat down as the shoes, but if it were easy I probably wouldn’t be interested. Being self-aware and being overly negative of your abilities are two different things. Sometimes it is important for me to quiet the judging voice inside so that I can celebrate the changes I make every time I train.

If you push yourself to what you perceive as the extent of your potential every time you practice, there is no limit to the improvements you can make.

I started a project in 2010 to get good at kung fu. That was ultimately my plan. I had started training at Goh’s Kung Fu in 2005, so I had been practicing for a while and I felt like it was time for me to be able to look at my form and think to myself, “that was pretty awesome”. The framework for reaching that feeling was that I would make the US traditional team and compete in the 5th World’s Traditional Wushu Championship. What made this increasingly difficult was that I get stage fright in a rather serious way. Even though I wasn’t ready, I entered as many warm up tournaments as possible and with the support of friends, visualization techniques and constant drilling I got ready. Fast forward to HuangShan October 2012. I was going to be judged by internationally certified judges and performed in front of friends and strangers and other athletes far more skilled than myself, and with the flu. Knowing full well it would not be the best form I have ever done, I did it.

Rather than worry, I felt proud that I was there and proud of my progress. I also knew that when I returned home I would train more and continue to improve. These thoughts drove out any nervousness I felt. So while waiting just outside of the arena for my turn to compete I felt excited and happy to be around so many other kung fu practitioners from around the world. Some were like me and trained in the mornings, after work and on the weekends. Some were pro or semi-pro but we were all part of the same martial arts family.

There is give and take in all aspects of life. Balance makes if feel simple and correct.

Now that I am able, I teach in the school where I train. I feel happy helping people with their own journey into kung fu. I believe whole heartedly that it has given me a better understanding of movements and improved my own practice. Give and take.

Outside of the school I was eating a lot of food. I needed over 3500 calories a day to support the energy output of my daily training. This didn’t sit right with me. I felt terrible consuming so much. I became interested in the emerging urban farming movement in Baltimore which focused on growing what you can and supporting sustainable local produce whenever possible. I audited a class with Hugh Pocock and visited local urban farms and felt inspired. I was training from 6am-8am and volunteering at these local farms from 9am-3pm. All the while I planned my tai chi garden. A way for me to cultivate a space appropriate for training and growing all the produce our household would need during the summer. The space continues to develop, but currently has a few fruit trees, a main garden, herb garden, salad garden and additional space for berry bushes that are still getting their roots in place. I also started vermicomposting in the basement. The kitchen scraps feed the worms that feed the plants that feed me. Give and take.

Find your community. Love and support that community any way you can because everyone needs a place where they belong.

Everyone is brought together from different places by a love of Kung Fu, Wushu and Tai Chi and Goh’s Kung fu. In this community I found happiness surrounded by people I may have never encountered otherwise. The people who stick around become like a family.

I even found love. In September 2013 our daughter was born. It’s our hope that she takes to our kung fu centric way of life. Even before she was born she felt the movements of NanQuan and Tai Chi. I wonder if they will be soothing to her when she learns them herself. I attribute continuing my practice while pregnant to her smooth and easy delivery into the world.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about practicing kung fu I got from my then future husband. We were training together and I stopped practicing over and over again to ask questions. Finally he said, “…there is no kung fu manual.” And there isn’t. There is no secret to being good at kung fu. It takes years of focused practice, and there is no end in sight.