Monday, December 30, 2013

Kung Fu: Fujian White Crane: Montreal, QC

Background: I met Shifu* Lorne Bernard many years ago in Baltimore at the U.S. International Kuoshu Championship. If you asked him he probably couldn’t even reference our first meeting as his mind was preoccupied on getting a fighter ready to compete. Coupled with the fact I was acting like most tournament newbies, hanging quietly off my Sifu’s shoulder clutching the medals I have just won in forms and weapons, I was quite unmemorable. After a brief conversation between teachers, Shifu Bernard congratulated me on placing and walked his fighter to the ring. That year his fighter, Etienne, would finish 3rd in the full contact Lei Tai.

The reason I tell this story is that I met Shifu Bernard’s fighter, Etienne Métayer, a year later while preparing for the Lei Tai in Baltimore once more. Etienne came to the school I was training at in order to learn defenses against wrestlers and takedowns. I had started fighting in full contact tournaments and due to our size Etienne and I became sparring partners, each helping the other prepare for our own fights. From the lessons that he had learned for Shifu Bernard, Etienne brought a unique fighting style that forced me to adapt my strategies.

Etienne would go on to win gold in the Lei Tai and I would win all my matches that year. Before I ever formally learned a lesson from Shifu Bernard I had the lessons of Fujian White Crane transmitted to me through the fists of one of his fighters. The other reason I tell this story is because it demonstrates Shifu Bernard’s commitment to excellence and constant improvement that his students see. This drive to use Traditional Kung Fu coupled  with an impressive record makes Shifu Bernard a top instructor.
Shifu Lorne Bernard and his fighter Etienne after winning the Lei Tai.
Photo credit of Shifu Bernard's Facebook.

What did I learn: There are few instructors that will open a training session with “Do you like your sex life?” Puzzled I admitted it was rather important to me. No sooner then I finished Shifu Bernard’s foot was between my legs. You can believe that when he suggested I switch my stance to protect my groin I agreed and made some adjustments.

If you were to walk into the beginning of Shifu’s Class and didn't know what was going on you would bear witness to a seemingly ridiculous scene. Lines of people with their feet spaced apart, feet turned inward, crouching down and flicking their hands out to each side. When you dive into the movement you understand that the White Crane practitioners are building muscle in their legs while heightening their reflexes and hand speed. They develop wicked hand speed and striking reflexes via these drills. I can attest to this having been on the receiving end of those very fast strikes. 
A very grateful Travelling Ronin with Shifu Lorne Bernard.  

What was similar to my previous training: In order to have a better understanding of Fujian White Crane Shifu had me stand on a line and practice transitioning to one their basic stances. Once I was getting the hang of the movement Shifu explained that I was learning to “eat my opponent’s stance.” The footwork allowed a transition to a sweep that I use all the time. However, I had never thought to transition to the sweep in that manner. Shifu Bernard had me work on a seemingly beginner exercise only give me another entry into much more advanced techniques.

Later that night we worked on push body and push hands along with some striking drills. The White Crane system was coming full circle. The footwork and basic forms I had worked on led to striking. The striking speed was a by-product of the reflex drills we had begun class with. Once you got in close the basics of uprooting and unbalancing an opponent were applied to keep the initiative. The Fujian White Crane system might structure movements slightly differently yet the completeness reminded me much of my Sifu’s training.

Myself and three of Shifu Bernard's senior students. They took time from their training
to help me out. True Martial Artists and gentlemen.

Conclusion: People have asked me if I get bored of learning basics when I visit a school. The answer is no because it opens up new avenues for my advanced techniques. When viewed in isolation people might question the effectiveness of push hands or the reflex drills. After all no fight will ever look like push hands with the fluid rolling of the fighters. When looked at from a holistic view those individual drills are the building blocks of a very powerful system from the initial engagement to the conclusion of the fight.

Shifu Bernard’s emphasis on traditional techniques and his systems heritage is what makes him a great instructor. If you are looking for Chinese Martial Arts that are taught with a traditional focus yet with proven results he is a wealth of knowledge. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

* You will see both Shifu and Sifu in this blog. Both are accepted and I have chosen to keep the spelling consistent to how each teacher writes their title. This leads to both spelling being used interchangeably

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