Kuen <spelt -q-n> is a series of complex movements and patterns, performed in a particular way and with a specific type of breathing. It can be practiced and performed individually, in pairs or in groups. There is a wide variety of traditional Kuen in Nhat Nam.
Watching someone skilled performing a Kuen resembles a well-choreographed dance performance. Kuen can be slow or fast, relaxed or tense, silent or roaring loud, soft or hard, focused inwardly or outwardly, with a traditionally used Nhat Nam weapon like long staff or empty-handed etc.
Kuen can express and reflect many things about the person performing it – how well the movements are polished and the essence of that particular Kuen he or she is demonstrating.
Kuen consists of different Txik, which are short movement sequences, fragments or sections. In various breathing Kuen certain movements follow inhalation and other movements follow exhalation. No breathing means no movement. The type of breathing also varies. For instance, in slow relaxed type of Kuen breathing is relaxed and silent. However, in active and intense breathing Kuen ”tiger” breathing or roar like breathing is applied.
A skilled Nhat Nam master, who understands Nhat Nam martial art principles and has got great knowledge of the human body is able to create his own Kuen, find the suitable existing one or even teach a fragment of a specific Kuen to an individual or a group of students, depending what is the desired result, that is, to treat someone’s health condition or injury, help students develop certain physical or mental qualities etc. Certain Kuen like the Moving Mountain Kuen, for instance, truly resembles the movement of a vast shifting rock mountain. When performing it one tries to reach a specific mindset by imagining himself as a moving mountain with a very steady base. Amongst other benefits, learning various Kuen gives a good sense of balance, body awareness and versatility.
Certain Kuen can be combined and made up of different Txik forms, for example, Tiger- fist, snake – elbows hand forms etc. Also Kuen can be practiced in pairs and with traditional Nhat Nam weapons like long staff, short sticks, broad swords or axes, half-moons etc. Weapons help to develop a better space awareness.
As for breathing Kuen the focus is on breathing process, muscle tension or relaxation. It can also be very tense like Tiger Breathing Kuen, but the focus here is more on breathing and less on the movements. When performing this type of Kuen one is completely focused on inner processes, observing one-self. Both combat Kuen and breathing Kuen require being in the moment. And in essence Kuen could be considered a type of dynamic meditation. One who practices Kuen not only masters precision of movement, but also learns to control his or her thought process. So the body moves the way the mind tells it!
Someone once told me that any concentration is meditation. Whilst meditating we need to be aware of our body position and keep the focus on our object of meditation. Any Kuen requires to be aware and control one’s breathing, body position and the object of the focus, which can be movements, techniques or breathing. The difference with practicing Kuen is that the focus point there is constantly shifting. However, it is shifting consciously- at will. So a person, who is practicing Kuen, first re-creates a detailed visual image of the movement they are about to do and perform it straight after the image is clear or almost simultaneously. And as soon as the movement is executed, the mind is focused on the next image and so on. In the end both processes require full mental focus.
Practicing both meditation and Kuen requires being in the now. A difference between Kuen and static meditation is that seated meditation is physically static. However, mentally it is also dynamic. It’s either visualizing something, which slightly changes from moment to moment as the concentration fluctuates, or focusing on breathing. Breathing as an object of concentration is also dynamic as one switches their mind from inhaling and exhaling with the slight pause in the middle.
All Kuen are usually first practiced slowly and in a relaxed way in order to memorize the movements and the sequences and to learn the micro moves. Learning Kuen is like editing a film or a video- each frame is reviewed and unwanted fragments are removed or replaced until it looks and feels right. Later on, once one remembers the movements he or she starts to add speed, power and rhythm. The great thing about practicing various Kuen is that it doesn’t matter what’s the motivation – having even a single goal includes many positive side effects!
Be one with the Kuen, my friend!