Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
For many Martial Artist, we celebrate two New Years. The first is on the traditional calendar date, January 1st. The second is often based on the New Years of our respective discipline’s culture. For me, that's normally the Chinese New Years.
Chinese New Year has dual meaning for me because of my cultural background. Even before I began Martial Arts, I was celebrating New Years with my family each year. For us, New Years wasn’t just a day, it was a philosophy of respecting our ancestors and family, reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what lied ahead. There just is too much to contain in just a single day of the year. Traditional Chinese New Years celebrations reflected this in that they weren’t just a single day but rather 15-days of celebration, extending all the way to the Lantern Festival that marked the beginning of spring preparations.
For my Martial Arts, I've always used this period of time to share a piece of the culture with my students and fellow Martial Artist that goes beyond just the training floor. If you’d like to do something similar, here are some ideas you can try out:
Food. Anyone who is familiar with Chinese New Years knows that a big part of the celebration is around food. Sharing in and trying out new foods is always a fun thing for people and great to do for this holiday. If you can cook traditional Chinese food, then great! But if not, just try to get a group together and have a local Chinese place cater or go out for a nice dinner. It won’t be authentic but that isn't the point of it all. The point is to celebrate, experience, and enjoy those around you.
Dumpling Making. If you have a group of enthusiastic moms (or dads) who might enjoy cooking, you can hold a dumpling making session. Dumplings are a big part of Chinese New Years as they represent prosperity. When I was little, we would have 10 or so the moms would all sit around a table, chatting away and churning out these dumplings. Because of how diverse we've become, most local supermarkets now carry all the necessary supplies (premade wraps, ground meats, spices and chopped veggies). If you don't know how to make dumplings, you can watch a few of these videos to get some ideas. It's easy, fun and tasty at the end.
Craft making for kids. Kids love crafts and Chinese New Years is a great time to expose them to fun crafts. For Chinese, the arts is very linked to the Martial Arts. Many great Martial Artists were also expert Chinese painters and calligraphers. The strokes and movements used between the two, especially in regards to sword play, are very similar. In addition, doing crafts help the children learn to visual, anticipate, focus, and execute… all basic components of training.
Tea ceremonies. If you have a small group of adults, having a tea ceremony might be a nice, relaxing way to reflect on the New Year and celebrate. Tea is a big component of many Asian cultures. As such, there are more "traditional" ways to serve and drink the teas. In addition, there are many different types of teas that most people probably haven’t experienced before. It doesn’t have to be Chinese even. One really nice gift that I got someone this year for Christmas was a "blooming tea". The "leaf" component is a dried flower that not only flavors the tea but also opens into a beautiful bloom.
Enjoying the New Year that is part of the tradition and culture of your Martial Arts is a great way to extend your training beyond the dojo floor. After all, Martial Arts isn’t just a physical activity, it is a way of life and a means to better yourself.
Happy New Year everyone!