One ancillary benefit to developing your martial abilities via kung fu is the high level of physical fitness that comes with it. Should you never use your kung fu in an altercation, the fitness aspect of the training may in fact be its greatest benefit. Arduous kicks, punches, stances, push ups, sit ups, forms, sparring, shuai jiao, san shou, and even chin na work your body into a heavy sweat by the end of class and provides a deep sleep at night. Doing this four or more hours a week with a balanced diet of nutritionally dense foods (vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, etc.) and eight hours of heavy slumber at night will likely transform your body into a “kung fu body” and keep you healthy, energetic, and strong long after your friends weaken and wilt. The kung fu body is powerful, yet supple and loose with both explosive quickness and endurance. Much like the tiger in the picture.
When you begin kung fu training, your body is typically not prepared for what it has in store for it – even if you work out at the local globo-gym or are training for the next 10k or marathon. Our American culture places an emphasis on upper body strength when judging physical fitness and even ones fighting ability. Martial cultures in Asia have a different opinion. Leg strength is considered obligatory in Asian martial arts as strong kicks, explosive movements, and a low, stable center of gravity are essential to their art’s techniques. For this reason, stance training is paramount in our kung fu and is often the most physically demanding training for new students.
Bodies change gradually as months of hard training go by. Leg muscles are consistently sore, but getting stronger. Your joints and muscles occasionally tighten as you learn what they can and can not do, but loosen in time. Endurance improves – although you may not notice as you’re constantly pressed to learn and do do more in class. As you continue to push your body and the boundaries of what it can do, you begin to feel more powerful and in control of your body than ever. However, this feeling can quickly dissipate should you miss training for an extended period of time. Keep pushing and stay consistent!
As months and years go by, you begin to notice a number of things about your body assuming you have given 100% of yourself in class, consistently slept 7-8 hours a night, and maintained a diet full of nutritionally dense food. First, your body has found an ideal level of fat and muscle as your muscles become fat burning engines that require high quality fuel to maintain high levels of performance. These muscles also become “body armor” to be used both in and out of the school. Take to heart the term, “Your body is your temple” and feed it high quality calories consisting of meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts – and avoid most other nutritionally poor foods. It will help both your energy in class and your recovery after class.
Second, classes or individual movements that were once very difficult are now quite do-able. Joints have not only loosened, but have also gotten stronger, particularly for and from chin na. You are able to comfortably hold positions that were once impossible. You can kick higher and with more speed, balance, and fluidity than before. Movements have ceased to use only a few muscles and joints and are now properly utilizing your entire body
Third, and almost most importantly, your endurance has increased dramatically. High intensity classes are no longer something to fear or scale down – they are something to focus yourself on and charge through. Your ‘”chi” will bring your energy up to whatever is required of the class, which is usually when your best concentration and skill come out. As long as you consistently push yourself year-in and year-out you will find very few people can match your level of health, vitality, and fitness.
Remember, there are few sports or other physical activities that can rival the all-around level of physical fitness offered through kung fu. The various elements of class require muscle and joint flexibility, fluidity, explosive speed, endurance, and strength. Those elements are requisite in your sparring, which is the underlying purpose of all the other training in your kung fu classes. Ten or twenty minutes of continuous sparring will quickly show who has been consistently training and who has not. The ability to demonstrate your skill through techniques after long bouts of sparring demonstrates both your internal and external strength. As expected, the student who takes classes as often and as long as possible will maximize both their physical health and martial skill.