"Make no mistake," my kung fu teacher says, waving his hand, "soft is powerful. Hard is not always more powerful. Soft is more powerful than hard." Sifu demonstrates the first form of Ngo Cho Kun, sam chien, with incredible power and tension. "The young ones do like this."
Again he demonstrates sam chien, this time alternating powerful strikes and relaxed parries and counters. "When you become older, more experienced, you do like this."
He demonstrates sam chien one final time with no force. He begins to add other strikes and blocks. "Like the white crane. When you become senior tis is how you maintain your power. This is very powerful."
"Look for the weak point. Do not punch your opponent in the chest. If he is very strong, he will not feel anything."
"Use this," he makes a phoenix fist, "to the temple. Very painful. He will get dizzy and fall down. Or, to here," he points to where his jaw meets his face. "You cannot body-build this."
"if you are not rooted, he will knock you down. It is very easy."
A classmate and I practice attack, defense, and counter moves. We're polite to each other. I'm the only woman in the class. "Move! You have to move when you attack. No, like this." Sifu, a slight man, takes monstrous steps across the floor. He gently but firmly places his outer blades of his hands on my shoulder joints. He suddenly snaps his hands forward and strides. I step back quickly, following his movement, lest I trip over my feet.
"Add power at the last moment. Very powerful." He says, "You push. Then you throw away. Like a rubber band."