Okay...I kind of want to do this with subtopics. I have alot of thoughts on this subject, just want to get them all out.
I was taught by my boyfriend who was a black belt. I studied with him for a couple of years. The nice thing was that I got individual attention, and frequent classes. In fact, there were only 3 of us in the class, so it was almost like private instruction. I really feel I should say here that my boyfriend was incredibly talented. Back then I was in awe of his abilities, but now, some 26+ years later I have different perspective and am even more astonished when I remember how talented he was. He had this ability to learn quickly, and to read and learn. His mind constantly analyzed movements and how he could put them in to practice. He was wiry and flexible, but muscular...just the right build. I heard that in later years he went on to study jiu ji tsu and competed nationally and placed in that competition. Pure natural talent.
I studied Shao Lin Kung Fu which is a Chinese art. I really prefer the chinese arts because they are really fluid and work with momentum. Jiu Ji Tsu and Judo do too, but Kung fu is really a beautiful style. The Shao Lin style focuses on the animal forms.
The belt system was not originally used by the chinese. They adapted that system because people have become used to it from the Japanese and Okinawan arts. I myself have never quite been fond of the belt system. It really isn't a good indicator of how good a person is, only an indicator of what material they have learned. Some people feel it is wrong to reveal your belt to others. I never felt my belt really adequately represented my abilities, so never really cared if I told people or not. Case in point: I learned all my material for black belt, but I never really felt I was up to the level that I thought a black belt should be, so never pursued testing to get my black belt. I still feel good about that decision. Even if I were to tell you that I was a brown belt, that still tells you nothing about how good I am. I guess I'm a little stubborn on this point.
Here is another sore spot with me. Many of the arts teach that the dojo is a sacred place. The student should always show reverence there. I however was taught outside for the most part, so never really was indoctrinated in that way of thinking. Also, it is not really a chinese style teaching. After I moved away from my boyfriend, he came to visit me and tried to help me find a place to work out. We visited a Dojo and asked if I could pay to work out there. The master there told me it would be wrong for him to allow someone who didn't study his style to work out in that dojo. It would be disrespectful to the dojo. I'm sorry...never really understood that.
Many arts also teach that the Master should be highly respected, almost worshipped. While I understand the idea of gratitude, I already worship God, and could never quite get in to that teaching either. I respected my boy friend and will be ever grateful to him for what he did for me. But I already have a religion. See...another point I'm stubborn about.
We built up a studio in our garage and accumulated alot of weapons. We had bows, short sticks, tonfas, nunchacku (sorry, I don't know the chinese words for these, so am not sure how to spell them. I speak chinese, so if I knew these words I would write them right. Some day I need to learn.) Long sword, broad sword, three sectional staff, shuriken, double broad swords. I don't feel I really mastered any of these although I was partial to a short stick, and had some talent with tonfas.
I learned quite a bit of Tai chi, but never finished the class. But one of the things I learned is that Tai Chi is actually a fighting art. I was taught that it was developed when masters were imprisoned and were forbidden to practice their martial arts. So they developed an art that appeared to be only exercise. In fact, if you take apart the movements, there are incredible fighting movements in Tai chi. One day I was sitting with the teacher (an older man that we were friends with) while he was meditating. He did no physical work out, but as he sat meditating, he began to break out in a sweat. Very interesting. One other interesting...bordering on weird...thing that happened. At the time I was studying, I also had other interests that I pursued. I played the piano for my church choir, and I translated our church services for a deaf couple. Because of all of that finger work, my hands used to ache quite often. One day my fingers were really aching, so my boyfriend thought he would try to use "chi" to help. He held my hands and meditated and did deep breathing. I felt a sensation that was as clear as any other I have felt. It felt as if something....I assumed it was energy...was being poured in to my hands. It was a very strange experience at the time, and I have thought about it, and wondered about it many times since.
What about Real life?
I have always wondered if I would be able to defend myself in a real life situation. Thankfully I have never had to. My boyfriend used to make me practice on the bag as if I was backed against a wall by an attacker. He wanted me to know what to do if I were ever attacked and backed against a wall. Thank goodness I have never had to find out if I could really defend myself. But I will still always wonder.
Life got in the way
Unfortunately, I lost most of what I was taught because I served as a missionary in Taiwan for 16 months and didn't have time to practice. I know that if I had a refresher course much of it would come back. I'm hoping some day to get that back. I'm hoping it's like riding a bike...