The Fist

It goes without saying, making a correct, basic fist is pretty important.  It can mean the difference between your broken hand or your opponent’s broken nose.  Happily, making a fist is quite simple to do.

First:  Start with an open hand

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Second:  Close the fingers

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Third:  Wrap the thumb

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Fourth:  Flatten the wrist

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Fifth:  Be sure  NOT to bend the wrist – this can damage or even break it on contact.  It must be flat!   And DO NOT tuck the thumb under the fingers!  That is a recipe for a damaged thumb.  There is no better way to ensure a proper fist than to perform push-ups on your fists.  Those push-ups will also help increase punching power!

DO NOT!

DO NOT!

Sparring – High-Low/Low-High Principle

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Whether you find yourself sparring someone with greater or lesser skill, one basic principle to employ is that of high-low and low-high.  It will be difficult for beginners to grasp this as they are learning the basics of attacking and counter-attacking.  However, intermediate and advanced students should be able to utilize the concept as they have basic ownership of punches, kicks and other types of strikes.

One option is to attack, counter-attack or feint high to your opponent’s head or chest, but then to immediately follow it with a low attack to the legs or lower torso.   Most modestly skilled opponents can defend themselves from the first high attack, especially one that is fairly conventional and expected like a straight punch.  However, attacking high with the knowledge that it’s an intentional ruse allows you to focus on your next attack to the opponent’s lower half (or to an expected counter-attack from your opponent).  Although your opponent might be able to step away from or block your initial high attack, defending your low attack will likely be a bit more difficult.  Should they quickly counter your initial high attack, defend against it and counter to their lower body.  This combination will require your opponent to think and react quickly and skillfully to avoid being hit and only a trained fighter can handle powerful attacks to his/her low, medium and high points in rather quick succession.

A simple example of a high-low attack is to use your front hand to jab at your opponent’s head or upper torso or to use your front hand to grab your opponent’s front hand.  This is mostly a distraction for your primary attack (the legs in this instance) and whether the high attack was successful or not, quickly attack the foot, knee or thigh of your adversary.  If they are able to avoid or block the second attack, quickly move to a mid-line attack.  Should all three of your movements be blocked, either you need to work on your technique (speed, choice of movement, telegraphing, etc.) or you are facing a formidable opponent who is feeling you out.  Of course, for sparring purposes with your kung fu classmates, DO NOT attack joints or muscles with enough force to hurt them.  We are training to prevent being damaged in a conflict, not be damaged in the process of learning.

A second option, is to attack or feint low to the feet and legs, but then to immediately attack high to the head or torso.  A simple attack to your opponent’s lower body is to hook or step on their front foot so they can not step away or counter you with a kick.  In doing so, you must also be aware of their hands and how they might try to strike their way out of your low attack.  This is ok – just be prepared for it.  Like the high-low attack, your first attack is typically not more more than a feint to get them thinking about something other than your prime target.  You are mostly concentrating on their upper body and what their hands and arms are doing.  Again, whether or not the second attack lands, quickly attack your opponent’s mid-line.

The concept of high-low or low-high attacks is the same.  Most fighters simply aren’t prepared to defend quick and smooth attacks to parts of the body that aren’t close to each other and require more advanced defenses.  Try putting this to work the next time you spar.  It will likely take some trial and error with various techniques before you find some consistent success with techniques you feel good with.  Keep trying.  Sparring is an excellent teacher because you won’t get seriously hurt trying new techniques within the school, but you will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work because if it doesn’t work, you’ll be on the ground or will know for sure that you have lost the contest.  If it worked, then try it again until it doesn’t and then find another combination to use.

Forgotten Belt

It happens.  The forgotten sash.  Don’t go home and skip class!  Although it’s important to remember your sash, it’s more important to attend class and develop your skills.  Simply follow this protocol.  You are to go to the back of the line and stay at the back of the line for the duration of the class.  If the instructor calls out your rank, then you go up and do as instructed, but you are to remain at the back of the line.

San Shou – Punch to Hit!

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu San Shou

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu San Shou

San Shou is the practice of taking martial techniques embedded in the forms and applying them against attacks from a somewhat cooperative opponent.  Its purpose is to learn how various techniques are employed, practice those techniques over and over again in a relatively controlled environment with various partners, and eventually introduce those techniques into free sparring.  San shou integrates forms and sparring.

In the beginning of san shou, your attacker throws a right forward bow punch to your chest.  Your job is to move your body to block the punch and counter the attack.  Now, when you’re just starting san shou or learning a new technique some leeway is given to the defender and they shouldn’t be afraid of getting hit.  As your experience increases, the attacker’s job is to lightly tap the defender in the chest if they miss the block!  In fact, the attacker is doing the defender a disservice by not attacking at full speed with the intent of softly hitting his/her chest.  The defender needs to know their defense was not good enough and they need to focus on their blocking technique next time.  If the attacker does get through the defenders defenses, then both should stop, and bow in recognition that the defender got hit.  The defender switches to become the attacker and they continue.

As students move up in rank, san shou gets more advanced and attacks can come in any form to any part of the body:  punches, elbows, pushes, kicks, grabs, double-movements, etc.  Again, the attacker must do their best to connect with the defender to ensure he/she is prepared with proper defense and counter.  With the exception of learning or practicing new techniques, the attackers intention’s are to “get in” on their opponent to help them learn their technique, but certainly not to injure your kung fu brothers and sisters.  There is no need to block an attack that doesn’t even come close to connecting.  Clearly, an attacker outside of the school isn’t going to stop his punch a foot away from your body – he’s going to try his best to hit!

One of the benefits to attacking your opponent at full speed, but with only a light, non-penetrating power is the development of distance and sensitivity.  Both require much practice to develop and both are vital to advancing in sparring.  Distancing is crucial for being able to successfully employ techniques with proper contact and power.  Sensitivity is important in that it provides the ability to increase or decrease power as needed while the counter is being employed.   Distance and sensitivity are also benefits to proper counters to san shou attacks.  These features of san shou begin with the attackers intention to lightly hit the defender.

How Often Should I Train?

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu martial arts

Preparing to Kick

The question of “How often should I train?” might not be asked out loud, but has probably been thought by many students thru the years.  In our modern world where a high level of martial arts skill is not a necessity for survival, it might seem like a simple question.  You train when you can fit it in… hopefully no less than 4 hours a week, which is perfectly fine.  But, to those who want more – for those who want to squeeze every ounce of kung fu from their training – the answer is different.  Your training becomes high on your priority list and you train as often as you possibly can – 3+ hours a day with a day or two off a week.  In fact, your goal is to not miss a class.

Only more advanced students comprehend how vast our school’s kung fu is with its multitudes of striking, shuai jiao (wrestling), chin na (joint locking), and weapon techniques.  When they do comprehend it, it’s both mind boggling and intimidating.  In the beginning, most students want to simply learn new things, but as training evolves you want to be able to utilize everything you learn in a fighting situation.  Even mastering a few techniques takes a great deal of commitment and focus.  For those who decide to make this kung fu their own, there are three keys:

  1. Daily (or almost daily) training for multiple hours and multiple years – it’s no longer a “hobby” or way to “stay in shape”
  2. Healthy diet of natural, whole foods – meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts to provide maximum nutrients per calorie ingested
  3. Sleep – 8 hours a night to reenergize your body, rehabilitate sore muscles and damaged body parts, and relax your mind.

Assuming you eat and sleep well daily, you can train as much as your schedule and body allows.  Classes are scaled based on rank, which means lower ranks can expect more down time than higher ranks.  Thus, you can begin upping your training hours whenever possible.  Initially, you will likely notice your body is more fatigued and sore than normal after upping your training hours.  However, your body will adapt and get stronger in time (again, assuming sufficient sleep and nutrients) and you will find your kung fu skills increase remarkably over a few months time.  If your body becomes truly exhausted with aches, pains and a material lack of energy, then it’s time to take a day off to rest and recover – maybe even two days.  Otherwise, push.

Remember , the Chinese term of “kung fu” refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete.  The secret to our kung fu – our martial art –  is not in “secret techniques” or any such nonsense… it’s consistent effort over years with correct instruction and learning.  This is the key.  Thus, the answer to the question of “How much should I train?” is answered by another question, “How much skill do you want to acquire?”

Don’t Rush Your Training

Each student learns at their own pace.  Some have the ability to not only learn quickly, but to seemingly ingrain the movement upon learning it.  It’s possible for this to happen, particularly for more advanced students.  It is thought that these students are talented, which they may be for this moment of their training.  On the other hand, some students struggle while learning new things – be it remembering what was taught to them or simply having the body strength and coordination to do the movement.

It matters not whether you are one of the fast learners or slow learners as people catch on and “get it” at different times in their training.  At the end of the day what matters is the student’s ability to not just practice the movement until he gets it right, but to practice it to such an extent that he can’t get it wrong.  This poses a bigger challenge for most beginning and intermediate students as their is a big difference between getting it right and not being able to do it wrong.  Getting it right might take doing the technique/form tens of times.  Not being able to do it wrong probably takes doing it hundreds, even thousands of times.  This is when kung fu comes alive.

Most student’s see the next form, the next set of more advanced and fancy looking techniques and want to learn them – which is understandable.  Perhaps they think that just by learning something more advanced there abilities will automatically become more advanced.  However, it takes a great deal of practice to get to the point where you can’t do a technique or a form wrong.  This is why “advanced” students still practice the basics and beginning students should try not to rush to learn too much too fast.  In fact, stick to what you’ve been taught in class and be diligent in improving the details of what you’ve been taught the best you can.