Knowledge and Application

What sets a black belt apart?

The first thing people often think of is the area of knowledge, particularly in the area of kung fu. It is true that there is always more knowledge that can be obtained, but a vast amount of the knowledge you need is shared early on in your training careers. The instructors at Silent River are free and giving of this knowledge. They share concepts with white belts that they may have little hope of truly understanding but the seeds are planted for the future. If you listen in class and ask questions, you cannot help but grow in the area of knowledge.

The area where a black belt shines is in the application of this knowledge. They take the information that they have received and they translate it into how they move their bodies. We can all sit there and recite how to do some of the more basic techniques but can we consistently perform that technique over and over no matter the situation. The example used last night was the side heel kick. This kick is one of the most basic building blocks of our art. We all know how a bladed foot should look. We all know what we should look like in this kick and how our body is to be aligned. We all know that the chamber is critical. By the time you reach black belt, the expectation is that this kick will be thrown properly every single time.

Another area of this applied knowledge is in our applications. As we are learning each technique, we will have a few different intents as we move through the sequence. A black belt's intent is to always be in the present moment and is constantly shifting as the moments unfold. The difference is two or three intents versus a thousand intents in one technique. This can only come through repetition, repetition, repetition..... As this is developing, it is common to see that the intents are clearly broken up. Often the intent to finish the technique is so strong that the intent to block the very first attack is missed or not executed well. This first block is vital because if you don't survive the attack, the rest of the technique is unnecessary.

The final area where this is evident is in the harmonies. A black belt has the internal and external harmonies working together and not fighting each other. There is an unbroken relationship within the harmonies that allows chi to work for you. As we grow in this area, we use our growing eye for detail to analyze how movement feels and then look for the relationship (harmony) that is out of balance. A black belt has the eye for detail to be able to self correct. As we walk our journey towards black belt, this sensitivity is to grow but can only do so if we are consciously focusing on it.

There is a huge difference between a white belt and a black belt. This gap is able to be overcome through consistent and intentional practice. The closer you get to stepping over the line of having earned a black belt, improvements will feel incrementally smaller and smaller but this is where the consistent and intentional practice is even more important.

Karen Bergstreiser

Out of the Kwoon

I received some advice from a supervisor that was familiar to me. He spoke of taking the attitude you have on duty, the image you want to show, the attitude you want to have in emergency services, and take it out into the rest of your life. He stated that you can't just stop when your shift ends, you need to live it, make it part of who you are everywhere you go. It won't work if you only do this some of the time, it has to be consistent, it has to be ALL the time. This mindset sounds akin to one we embrace in kung fu. I was delighted to see that this idea is present in other groups and occupations. 

The first time I heard about the concept of "out of the kwoon and into the world" was at the 2015 Alabama Martial Arts Build-Vention. Master Tom Callos made clear the importance of taking what you learn on the mats, in terms of mindset and awareness, and taking it out into your community. You learn patience, humility and empathy when you train. Why not take these principles and make it part of who you are as a person? If you don't, you need to analyze why you are training in the first place. Whether it is to improve yourself for the benefit of those around you as well, or simply for narcissistic reasons. Try your best, stay humble, recognize when you can give a hand.

This whole idea made a significant impact on my approach to training and to life in general, early on in my martial arts journey. It is something I have gratitude for and reflect on every day.

  • Dan Sollinger


Time is a commodity, probably the only pure commodity we have. There are no exchange rates, no returns or refunds, no interest. Once it is used you cannot get it back, all transactions are final.

I have reflected this week on how I utilize my time. It could be better, but I am not entirely wasteful. I have this habit of taking on so much at once that it could be perceived that I don't have enough time, but when I truly apply myself I find I have more than I realized. Again, to use the currency analogy, you would be surprised where you can find lost money. Under the couch, in drawers, in a motorcycle jacket you haven't touched in months. Same idea with time, let's be honest, how much idle time do we spend on our phones? My guess would be more than you think. How much time do you think is wasted when we doddle and are not mindful of what we are doing? Again, could be more than we think.

It is about deciding what is worth doing, what will I benefit from, what will make me a better person, what will help me help those around me. My reflection this week has concluded that I was not using my time to it's fullest. I am not as mindful as I could be in what I am doing, it takes longer than it should to complete some tasks.

On the flip side, I have made some incredible progress, especially these last few months, to squeeze in what I can. Yesterday is a great example, between kung fu training, taking care of my family, yard work and courses for my job, I accomplished a great amount in little time. It is possible! I maintained the right mindset. I just kept going, I did not let my momentum slow, but I also savored the moments as they passed. Weird, trying to get things done while stopping to smell the roses, sounds contradictory doesn't it? But somehow it worked, I will continue reflecting to find out how.

I would guess that most of us could benefit from having a look and recognizing habits that don't constitute to an efficient use of time. The more efficient you are, the more you accomplish, the more successful you are and the better you feel.

Daniel Sollinger

Two Ice Cubes Please

Over the multitude of decades, we have transitioned into an age of instant gratification. The old adages of “good things come to those who wait” or “fine wine isn’t made in a day” and countless others have seemed to have been forgotten.  This I think, is a side effect of our enhanced connectivity to each other by way of our advancing technologies.

Children today will never experience the buildup of anticipation for Saturday morning cartoons like in the sixties and seventies as this has been replaced by the instant access of cartoons twenty four hours a day via a multitude of cartoon networks on TV or the internet.  Gone are the days you wrote a letter to a friend or a distant family member and waited patiently for weeks (sometimes months) for a reply. No longer do we need to wait for the appropriate season to get our favourite fruit or vegetables nor do we have to trek to the store with our film and wait a week or so to have it processed into pictures. With Amazon Prime, I can have almost anything I desire at my door within a day or two. I can only reference the past forty years or so, but if you had this conversation with someone in their seventies or eighties, they could give even more examples. This exciting time of globalization has definitely enhanced our lives but we as a society have, to a degree, lost that ability to invest in the long term. 

Recently, as part of one of my personal requirements, I have been learning to run.  I have never been a runner, nor do I overly enjoy it, however I do understand its benefits and do appreciate the achievements associated with it.  I am working towards a 10K run and my training hasn’t been going too bad, however I found myself rushing it. I am lacking patience.  Although I started training only a few weeks ago, I found that I wasn’t sticking to my program, I kept pushing it to go further and faster.  Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to a degree, but I have found this has actually slowed my progress down.  Too much, too soon creates injuries and takes away from the “enjoyment”.  Patience is a virtue, and although I can’t run 10K today or tomorrow, with slow and steady progress, I will, someday.

Like we have often heard, you can only climb a mountain one step at a time and I know I need to invest time and energy over the long term for long term goals.  I will run 10k, I will savour the wait and the anticipation, however in other areas, I will enjoy instant gratification, and I will continue to get two ice cubes in my coffee because I want to drink it now.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Kohut