Single Step Movements

Our forms are the dictionary, encyclopedia, and playbook of our martial arts style.  Forms were created and improved upon over hundreds of years and generations upon generations of martial artists who dedicated their lives to learning the best ways to defend themselves and their loved ones from one or more highly skilled attackers.  For this reason, the forms are not to be taken lightly.

Single step movements are a way for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students alike to work on singular movements from forms that need improvement.  Of course, certain single-step movements such as the horse stance punch, forward bow punch, open-hand movement, etc. are the foundations of our training.  These movements are found in most forms and for this reason are some of the first things new students learn at our school and are continually practiced.  Even the kicks practiced in class can be considered a single step movement as they create a foundation to properly execute the movement in sparring.

However, single step movements need not be reserved for beginning students.  Forms have a number of demanding movements that require strength, explosiveness, flexibility and general athleticism.  A great example of a movement that many students struggle with is the first movement in bashu.  It is a fast down movement evading a high attack and following up with a punch to the mid-section.

For those who struggle with this movement (or any movement), simply break it down into a single step movement and practice doing it up and down the mat before or after class.  Sometimes you will do the movement going forward… sometimes it will be done going backward.  Either way, watch yourself in the mirror.  Practice doing it slowly at first.  Is your posture correct?  Are you low enough?  Is your body too tight to make it work properly?  Are your muscles strong enough to do it very slowly?  It may take time to develop the strength, balance, and/or flexibility to get it right.  Learn what you can from this practice and continue until you are satisfied the movement is up to snuff and their is another movement that needs your attention more.

Being Corrected

Mastering kung fu is the mastery of the details that make up the system.  Perfection is unobtainable, but the endless pursuit of it is the mantra of most serious martial artists.  With this in place, self-improvement is a way of life.

Throughout your training you will be taught many things.  Shaolin kung fu is a vast art and tung lung (praying mantis) also has a great deal to it (although not as much as shaolin).  Because of this, some of what you’re taught will be grasped somewhat easily at first (at least you think it is), meanwhile, a good deal of it may be difficult to digest and you might find yourself struggling.  At this point, remember that if it was easy anyone could do it and clearly that is not the case.

When you have been taught something new or had something corrected, take the time to practice it after class or when you get home to commit it to memory (both brain and muscle).  Ask a higher rank, preferably the highest rank available, for guidance if needed.  It is important to do your best to learn things properly the first time.  But as it is can sometimes be difficult to get things the first time , it is important to listen and pay attention when you are being corrected.  Do your best to make the correction permanent and not go back to doing it incorrectly again in the next class.  Your instructor can only do so much – the endless pursuit of perfection falls on your shoulders.

The Kung Fu Body

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.

Training Hall (or Mat) Etiquette

Unlike most Korean and Japanese martial art dojos, the Chinese training hall (or mat space) is not considered sacred.  Rather the area being trained in is looked upon as important for the reason of distance to the teacher and practitioners.  If someone unknown gets too close without being invited, they are not only considered rude, but it could be thought of as a hostile act or challenge.

At this school, we simply use the mat as a designated training area.  You only need to bow to a higher rank for a mutual agreement that you may enter their training space.  If no one is on the mat or if you would be the highest rank on the mat, you may enter the training hall at will.

The main idea behind this isn’t to give higher rank more privilege, but to teach the person coming on the mat caution of approach and good manners.  And it teaches the practitioner on the mat a good sense of his surroundings and alertness even when concentrating on a workout.  You can never be too aware!

Keep training…

Sparring Rules

Sparring Rules (unless otherwise instructed by class instructor)

  1. NO CONTACT above the shoulders or in the groin or knee area.
  2. LIGHT BODY CONTACT ONLY
  3. NO SPARRING WITHOUT STRICT SUPERVISION
  4. Gloves, cup and mouthpiece must be used during sparring

Sparring is the culmination of all your kung fu training put to use in a free-style sanshou format.  Your intent should be to utilize superior technique, speed, power and tactics against your opponent, while following the above rules.  The more effort you put into developing striking speed and power, lowering your stances, learning and mastering countering techniques, and improving the power and speed of your forms, the better you will spar.

The Whip Chain

During the Ching Dynasty in China, the emperor’s private bodyguards had their whip chains with them wherever they went.  When accompanying the emperor, they could easily conceal the weapon around their waists, and could quickly and very effectively bring the weapon into its devastating use.

The whip chain is known as a soft weapon in Chinese martial arts due to its extreme flexibility of use.  It is a metal linked chain usually containing seven or nine links, with a handle on one end and a heavy pointed tip, or dart, on the other.  The weapon is used by rapidly swirling the chain around the body.  The heavy dart on the chain can be thrown using the arms, legs, shoulders and even the head.  When in an attack or throwing mode, the chain can be quickly coiled back and redirected to any direction around the body.

Learning to use the whip chain takes long hours of practice.  At times, a few cuts and bruises can be expected.  Loss of focus, even for an instant, can turn out to be painful.  However, using flags at both the handle and the dart end of the weapon allows the chain’s rate of movement to be decreased, and also allows the ends of the weapon to be easily seen.  The use of a sheath at the dart end of the chain is also very helpful, as it greatly reduces the impact of the dart on the practitioner’s body in case of loss of control.

The whip chain in action is a beautiful and interesting weapon, and its proper use is a long-term challenge to the practitioner.  The practice of the whip chain is fairly rare, especially in the United States.  Through the tutelage of Master Robert, those students learning and mastering the whip chain will continue this weapon’s fascinating history.