A Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu - Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu – Low Ceiling

One very effective way of lowering your root, creating power, and becoming more effective in sparring/fighting is to imagine that the ceiling of the room you train in has been lowered to about a foot or two shorter than your height.  An actual room like that would be hard to come by, so you’ll just have to visualize it when you train.  You would literally have to lower your head and bend your knees just to get in the room.  Imagine it.

When practicing kicks in this room, your stances will have to start low so your head doesn’t hit the ceiling.  When executing the kick, your stances must then stay low – don’t pop up!  This means you must sink your weight throughout the entire kick.  This will help your kick become even more powerful.  It also makes you difficult to sweep to the ground if your kick is caught as your center of balance – your root – makes you very heavy to the opponent and you have much greater balance.

Practicing single-step movements and forms in a room with a low ceiling also requires a great number of changes so as to not bang your head.  Let’s disregard movements that require standing at full height, jumping kicks, etc.  Focus on the majority of the movements that require stepping, turning, twisting, switching stances, punching, kicking, etc.   Like with the kicks, performing these movements with such low stances will create enormous power and stability.

During sparring, San Shou and even when implementing Chin Na, keeping low will provide a new perspective to your training.  Don’t mistake keeping low with being slow.  Your legs will burn for some time by keeping so low and that might seemingly slow your movements down.  Realize, however, that it’s only temporary due to your legs being gassed.  As you continue with this type of training, you will become incredibly stronger, your body looser, and those two things will help you move far quicker than before.

This new way of training will likely have an almost immediate impact on your skill level.  You will become a much more solid and smooth martial artist.  However, this type of training takes a good deal of focus and willingness to suffer – your legs will undoubtedly go through a great deal of growing pains.  But, if you care about progressing in your kung fu, it’s worth the pains.  In class, take a low stance in kicks, single step, forms, etc. and use the mirrors to try to maintain the height of your head through whatever you’re working on.  If you’re not in a position to look at a mirror, simply envision yourself doing what you’re doing and keeping your head on a level plane.  Do not bend your back to make this happen.  There will be times when movements dictate a higher or lower stance, so allow for them when they occur.  Otherwise, try to keep low, stable and supple.

Cleaning Your Uniform

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Uniform

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Uniform

Keeping your training clothes clean and ready for future classes can require more effort than the typical washing.  As you know, most classes command a good deal of sweat from our bodies and that sweat collects bacteria as it reaches the surface of our skin.  That bacteria is often caught in the fibers of our uniforms – often causing them to smell a bit.  Here are a few tips to help keep your clothes fresh and clean:

  • Pre-soak your clothes in baking soda then wash as usual.
  • Plain white vinegar is another relatively inexpensive alternative.  There are three options:
    1. Soak your clothes in a mixture of a cup or two of white vinegar and water.  This should take about an hour or two.
    2. Add a half cup of white vinegar directly into the wash with the detergent.
    3. Fill a spray bottle with a diluted white vinegar mixture (1:1 ratio with water) and spray the areas that need attention and let sit for an hour.

Hopefully this helps you and and the kung fu brothers and sisters you train with.

Training In The Cold

Training in Cold

Training in Cold

As we enter the fall season and the not-to-distant winter, it makes sense to talk about training in cold weather.  Training in the cold is typically not as pleasurable as training in the heat, but then it also doesn’t have the physical problems associated with training in high temperatures and humidities.  Although it may take a little time to warm up and get the blood moving in your body, once it is warm you should be fine to train.  Here are some tips to help make your training better and prevent sickness during the winter.

  1. Dress in layers.  Wear your kung fu jacket and feel free to wear a long sleeve shirt underneath your jacket on days that are particularly cold.  Chances are, however, that once your internal body heat rises after some hard training you will likely feel “overdressed” for class.
  2. Keep warm during class.  Once you have warmed up your body, keep it warm during cold classes.  If you feel your body starting to chill when you’re at rest, sit in a stance.  You don’t want to cool off a body that has heated and even drenched your uniform with sweat.
  3. Do not stretch when your body is cold or has cooled off since training.  Stretching cold muscles can lead to injury.  Be sure to have an elevated heart rate when stretching.
  4. Dry off completely and put on dry, warm clothes after class.  Definitely bring a dry set of clothes to change into after class.  This means an undershirt as well as warm sweatshirt or jacket and pants.  Use a towel to take the sweat off your head, neck and face.
  5. Cover your head and neck after class.  Keeping your head and neck warm after class is essential to keeping warm and preventing sickness.  Putting on a hooded sweatshirt is a good solution.  Wearing a wool cap and putting a dry towel around your neck also works.

We train indoors and don’t have to worry about snow and wind, so working out in a cooler room should be no big deal.  The steam coming off of your body and those of your kung fu brothers and sisters will quite likely heat up the room during class!

Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Training In The Heat

This summer had some particularly hot and humid days.  Training in the heat, like training in the cold, is just another one of the challenges each student needs to accept and, oddly enough, is an important part of the school’s curriculum.  Violence can happen in any season and training in the various extremes of temperature is just another way of being prepared.  Additionally, learning and understanding the capabilities of your mind and body during difficult training conditions is part of the learning process.  That being said, there are a some things to note about training in the heat.

First, classes are typically adjusted somewhat to account for the heat.  Although they aren’t dummied down per se, classes held in extreme heat will focus on things that don’t overly press and fatigue the body.  Before class, Sifu or the instructor will remind the students about the physical symptoms of heat exhaustion (general fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature) and tell them that they can bow out of class to get a drink should they feel the need.  Just a gulp or two is all that is needed once or twice during class.  Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious physical issues that are not taken lightly.  It is better to take things a little easier and train the next day, than to push yourself and be out for a week.

Second, one of the biggest issues during the heat is hydration.  Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before and after class.  Sports drinks with electrolytes can be particularly good for post-workout rehydration.  There is water available for students after class, but when the weather is hot it’s advisable to bring your own bottle of water or other drink to ensure there is plenty to drink.  Having a little ice in the bottle to cool it down helps, although making it too cold with a lot of ice is not typically advisable as it can shock the system.

Third, this one is fairly obvious, but train in the light kung fu t-shirt instead of the kung fu “jacket”.  The t-shirts are both lighter and breath better.  Be sure to bring a towel to dry the sweat off with and light, breathable clothes to change into after class.

Fourth, it is often less hot in the later classes (7-8pm during the week) and the earlier classes (10-11am on Saturday).  There can be a substantial difference in both heat and humidity between the 5-6pm class and the 7-8pm class.  If you have the flexibility, try going to a cooler class.

Lastly, if you are starting to have symptoms of heat exhaustion or to cool off when class is over, take something cool and put it around your neck – this works wonders.

Reflexes

Brea Shaolin Sparring

Brea Shaolin Sparring

If you’ve seen enough martial arts movies, particularly kung fu movies, you will notice that the writers/directors like to show the most skilled characters casually catch a falling cup from a table, snag a flying dart out of the air or quickly catch a punch with their open hand that was flying toward their head.   Many times, the skills displayed are exaggerated, but sometimes what they show are very real.  This skill is generally given the term of “reflex action” or more simply “reflexes” (although not the dictionary’s definition of reflexes).  While catching a falling utencil out of the air is not something we train for at our school, many will find heightened reflexes a nice by-product of kung fu training.

Reflexes, in the martial arts nomenclature, are, among other things, the ability to react very quickly to a stimulus such as fists speeding at your chest, feet flying at your gut, elbows rushing to your head.  That being the case, sparring at the school is the ultimate developer of quick reflexes as your desire to avoid getting hit/swept/thrown outweighs slow thinking and slow action.   It demands awareness of what is going on around you and your surroundings as well as instantaneous reaction to an action.  There is definitely no daydreaming during sparring.  Partner forms such as dui wushu and spear vs. sword and the training of san shou also develop the students reflexes.  Peripheral vision, sense of touch and sound, even a sort of sixth sense all come into play during those exercises and most all of the training, which is why martial artist’s reflexes are at a higher level than most.

Without awareness and concentration of your environment, there is no way to utilize and exhibit martial skill.  However, if you are aware of something that is happening quickly, you must respond quickly and with exactness.  If your opponent feints an attack to your head so that he/she can take out their primary target – your knee, for example – you must both see and feel the attackers intention and react appropriately.  If you’re outside of the school and something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts and be prepared to react quickly to what might come.  Awareness of your surroundings is the first step to developed reflexes.  The more you train, the more heightened your awareness.  The more your train, the faster and more coordinated your reaction to an action will be.

So don’t be surprised when you open the refrigerator and catch that falling container before it spills on the floor… it’s just one more benefit of your kung fu training.  If it falls to the floor, there’s only one answer, clean up the mess and train more.

Live In the Moment

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment.  A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment.  If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719) Author of Hagakure

When you come to the school to train, your focus should be on giving everything you have in that class.  Pay attention and concentrate on what you’re doing and what is going on around you.  Otherwise, you won’t get the most out of your time.  Even worse, you can get hurt or hurt one of your kung fu brothers or sisters.  The same principal applies to the other areas of your life.  When you’re at work or school, focus all your energies on those things alone.  When spending time with your family or friends, do your best to focus on those people.  Carefully determine what you spend your time on and give them your full attention…. then it follows that, “If it’s important, do it every day.  If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.”

Never Too Old For Kung Fu

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Centenarian Hong Dongchu, a lifetime practitioner of Chinese Martial Arts, when asked about his longevity replied, “One of the key reasons I can reach 100 is because I am exercising every day.”