Couple Interview with Barking Rabbit

As if from a different era, we interviewed Jon and Michelle, two kung fu and Taijiquan disciples and the creators of Barking Rabbit. Jon and Michelle both trained full-time for 10-years and 5-years, respectively, as select pupils under the world-renowned martial arts teacher and author Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. At his secluded YMAA Retreat Center deep in the California mountains, Jon and Michelle practiced Traditional Chinese Martial Arts while also learning how to balance their personal health and relationship.

the healthy lives of professional martial artists

1. Can you give me a quick overview of how you two met?

Michelle: It was a long time ago (in 1998!) and we don’t remember the exact details. We met at YMAA (Yang’s Martial Arts Association) in Andover, MA either in the adult kung fu class or when I joined the Demo Team. I began training at age 15 and joined the Demo Team a few months later.

Jon: I really don’t remember. We must have met when you (Michelle) were 15 and I was 10 or 11. My parents first put me into classes. My best friend at the time was thinking of enrolling and my parents thought, “Oh, that’s a good idea!”

2. Why did you choose to center your life and career around kung fu?

Jon: I’ve been training since I was 5 and I was 13 or so when I began teaching kung fu at my Chinese school in Newton, MA. At some point, I came to the realization that I enjoyed it and wanted to continue doing it.

I went to college with this aim and majored in physical education, thinking it would be similar. But it’s not. Around this time I heard the news of Dr. Yang’s 10-year martial arts training program, so I left school and joined in his first graduating class, training and living at the YMAA Center from 2008-2018.

Michelle: I had only trained for 3-years when I was in high school and stopped when I went to college, not thinking I could come back to it. When I heard Jon was accepted to the 10-year program, that piqued my interest. So, I went back to training but now that I was in my mid-20s, I had a different perspective on what martial arts is.

It wasn’t so much a decision to live strictly according to all the codes of conduct. It was the discovery that I happen to incorporate several of the principles in my daily life and share many of the same values.

The longer I trained, the more I discovered the parallels between the circumstances in and out of class. Part of martial arts training is about learning how to resolve conflicts by understanding yourself and others. Just as martial techniques have multiple applications for different situations, so do the approaches for living life. Martial arts is a way of life.

Initially, the Retreat Center’s full-time program was only open to that first class of 10-year students. When Dr. Yang created the 5-year program, I took the leap of faith, applied for, and was accepted into the program (2013-2018). Jon and I began practicing together shortly after which was about 1 year into our relationship.

On a separate note, we spend most of our lives working and I find it’s important to choose a career that is fulfilling to you on different levels. After realizing how much martial arts has guided me in life, I wanted to share the benefits with others. Observing students learn and grow motivates me to become a better teacher and improve in my own practice.

That’s why we created Barking Rabbit.

3. What was daily life like for a kung fu disciple-in-training?

Michelle: We lived with Dr. Yang at the YMAA Retreat Center in Miranda, CA for 9 months of the year, studying Shaolin Long Fist, Shaolin White Crane, Yang Taijiquan, and White Crane Qigong. We were also involved with teaching, media production projects, and administrative tasks.

At the center, the minutes went by slowly and the weeks passed quickly. The days began with meditation at 6 AM and ended with dinner at 7 PM. We had about 8 hours of training per day, 5 full days a week. We had a half day of training on Saturday mornings, followed by chores in the afternoon. Sundays were the only free days and many of them were spent teaching local classes or catching up on work. The students were paired up for cooking and livestock duties.

Not all the training was physically demanding. There was the fitness side but also training techniques, skill, and the softer styles of martial arts. Much of our learning process included analyzing, understanding, and teaching the material — which can be mentally intense.

Dr. Yang wasn’t overseeing us all of the time. He gave us goals, showed us drills, and it was up to us to practice. They say it’s 10% learning and 90% practice. Without constant guidance, it takes a much longer time to advance in skill. However, the goal was to produce teachers and we would not have developed a deeper understanding if someone was constantly giving us the answers.

When you live with someone, or a community of people, you get to know the different sides and depths of a person. I’ve never met anyone with a drive as strong as Dr. Yang’s. He’s overcome many challenges to become the person he is – one of the leading authorities on martial arts and Qigong. Dr. Yang also has a softer side that not everyone gets to see. We’re fortunate to have built a close relationship with him.

4. What does “being healthy together” mean to you? 

Michelle: Our physical training has often led to injuries, both self-inflicted and from partner drills. It’s important to communicate and ensure we’re in the right state of mind and training at a challenging, but safe pace.

In martial arts, it’s imperative to have training partners who are trustworthy, supportive, and inspiring in order to push you to the next level. Partners are teachers and we’re fortunate to have each other.

Also… we really love food, cooking, and eating! Sometimes we get a little bit carried away with indulging ourselves. So it’s about finding that balance. What I like to do is be healthier during the week and more relaxed over the weekends because you don’t want to deprive yourself either. It’s kind of similar to every other aspect in life where if you have the discipline and a plan then you can allow for flexibility. In the end, it’s about finding a balance between fueling yourself with healthy foods and indulging in moderation.

Jon: Being healthy together encompasses more than just the physical side. We try to focus on supporting each other mentally and emotionally as well. The physical sides benefit when those two sides are strong.

Michelle had mentioned balance which is something that I definitely learned at the center. At the beginning, I tended to have a one track mind to accomplish a goal. In one sense, you’re able to go pretty far but, at the same time not knowing when to stop can be dangerous. You can injure yourself that way so it actually slows down your progress.

Michelle: To add to that, sometimes it’s hard to separate work from regular life. You think of something that you have to do for work and all of a sudden you realize that you were working all day! Part of being healthy is knowing when you need to stop.

5. Were there any bad habits that you had to overcome to reach your goals?

Michelle: Constant training is physically and mentally tiring. It’s easy to confuse laziness with the lack of motivation or when your body is telling you to take it easy. It’s important to give yourself time to recover. As long as you don’t go for too many days without training, it won’t become a habit.

Overworking is another bad habit. We tend to push our limits and end up injured or take a longer time to recover from injuries. The same applies to work related projects. It’s important to draw boundaries and make sure there’s time for training, work, personal time, social time, and of course, couple time.

With most objectives in life, it’s important to start with an end goal and a plan. Plans allow you to break up the processes into smaller, reachable goals. They also allow you the flexibility to adapt to the unexpected. Ultimately, goals can change over time but the skills and experiences developed along the way can be transferred to other goals.

6. What is your typical health routine?

Jon: At this point in time, I don’t really have a typical health routine, or let’s say it’s a work in progress. I train kung fu at least 2-hours a night but I know I’m spending a lot of time in front of the computer. With our martial arts training production company, Barking Rabbit, I’m constantly researching, editing videos, producing media content, and sitting when I probably should’s be.

But we have our dog! He keeps me active.

Michelle: When I wake up, I drink a glass of lemon water and go for a walk to get my nature fix. I also take (and teach!) martial arts classes. Sometimes I’ll supplement the class workouts with a HIIT circuit that doesn’t take up too much time. They’re so short that there’s really no excuse not to do it!

What I’m working on now is carving out time to let my mind relax because I tend to take on more work than I should!

7. Have the benefits of getting healthier together spilled over to other areas of your lives? 

Jon: I don’t think we’re concentrating so much as getting healthier together, it’s more like growing together. This has spilled over to other parts of our lives because when we are together and when we concentrate on ourselves, we definitely have more spells of happiness.

Michelle: Martial arts teaches you to listen to better understand yourself and others. I’ve found that the more I listen and try to be in the present, the better my interactions are. So in a sense, professionally, you also become more aware of being in the moment and trying to listen to the other side and understand differences in common to reach a goal. The lessons that we learn in martial arts which I would categorize as “getting healthier” would be more on the mental and emotional side.

On the physical side, I don’t think I was ever the kind of person to sit on a beach without doing anything. I would have to get up and walk around so anytime we go on a trip, we always get up to explore a lot of areas!

8. What advice do you have for couples who want to get healthy together?

Michelle: First, be specific about your own goals because they may not be the same as your partner’s. It’s important to distinguish the differences so you can support your partner in uncommon goals as well as common ones.

Second, hopefully you find an activity that you both enjoy, otherwise you’re less likely to stick with it.

Third, be open minded and try something new.

Last, use your strengths and work on your weaknesses to build new habits. One partner might be more disciplined in starting the activity despite both feeling unmotivated that day. The other might be more skilled at preparing nutritious meals. Sometimes one has that extra burst of energy that helps both partners reach a bit further. You really need to work as a team to utilize your strengths but also to work on your weaknesses as well.

Jon: That about covers it! Communication is key and you have to support the other, whether physically, mentally, emotionally. That definitely helps and I know from my experience that it helps me.

9. BONUS: Michelle, what was it like filming the Hollywood hit, Assassin’s Creed?

…and here’s some awesome behind-the-scenes footage with Michelle Lin to set the stage!

Michelle: The most incredible part about being a part of the film was working with some of the best people in their professions. Everyone from the cast, director, director of photography, casting director, costume designer, stunt team, makeup artists, and everyone on the crew.

The amount of effort that goes into creating a film of that scale is remarkable. The costumes, sets, weapons, and props had detailed designs that most people won’t notice. As someone who dabbles in photography and video, I really appreciate the cinematography. The source material is rich with fictional and historical events blended together. It’s really cool to be a part of the Assassin’s Creed universe.

About Jon & Michelle, Barking Rabbit

Jon and Michelle are co-founders of Barking Rabbit. They practice and teach Traditional Chinese Martial Arts: Long Fist Kung Fu, White Crane Kung Fu, and Yang Style Taijiquan. Their lessons are available online on their website, YouTube, and Instagram and they also teach live in classrooms, workshops, and seminars.

Michelle was the first female student to be accepted in the 5-year training program at the YMAA Retreat Center in 2013. She trained Shaolin and Taijiquan full-time under renowned martial arts teacher and author, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. In 2016, Michelle appeared in the film, “Assassin’s Creed,” directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. She portrayed a modern day assassin named “Lin.”

Jon began his practice of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts at the age of five and began his teaching career in 2000, instructing at numerous seminars and training camps around the world. In 2018, Jon graduated from the intensive 10-year training program at the YMAA Retreat Center in Miranda, CA under Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming as the only Retreat Center student to earn YMAA Instructor certifications in both Shaolin and Taijiquan curriculums.

Jon and Michelle are both disciples of Dr. Yang.

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