The Components of Martial Skill – Power, Speed, Endurance, and Technique

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Power is something that most everyone can develop.  Proper breathing (timely exhaling during the execution of a strike), whole body strength (a firm rooting to the ground, strong and loose muscles, and release of energy), and proper body alignment (posture and structure) create more power than what simple muscles can deliver.  There is far more to power than strong musculature.  Of course, if you attempt to employ power without correct speed or technique, then you have a wasted movement as you will not likely impact your target or if you do it may not have much effect.

Speed is a necessity for many techniques to work.  Without proper speed, your movements will likely be blocked, avoided or countered or, defensively, your blocks and evading techniques won’t be effective.  As with all of the components to fighting ability, speed can be developed with consistent training.  Each time you practice a movement – be it a punch, a kick, a sweep, a throw, a joint lock – you must try to do it faster (while maintaining both proper form and power).  Relaxation is a must to maximize speed as tightness delays movement.

Endurance ensures you have the physical capacity to successfully utilize techniques after a good deal of physical exertion.  You never know when you may be called on to defend yourself and loved ones from one or multiple opponents.  Sparring is typically held towards the end of class for this very reason.  Much of the hard work has already been done and it forces you to gather yourself (read:  “your energy”) and give 100% focus and effort when sparring your opponent.  This hard training is often when “chi” is cultivated and can come into play for more advanced students.  Never forget, you may be strong and fast, but if you’re too gassed to react properly in a physical encounter – you’re history.

Technique conquers all.  Technique is a broad concept that covers the proper execution of defensive and offensive fighting movements – including striking, grappling, throwing, sweeping, timing and distance.  It is the essence of any and all martial arts.  You may have power, speed and endurance (which might make you an incredible athlete), but without technique you will very likely not have the ability to successfully defend yourself against someone who does.

Learning a technique is one thing, but truly possessing a technique in such a way that you can call on it immediately in a fight is another.  This kind of mastery takes many years of practice with your kung fu brothers and sisters.  It’s learning the technique, re-learning it, repeating it over and over in hundreds (even thousands) of different positions and scenarios for the purpose of using it in the few serious physical engagements you may encounter.  Luckily, it doesn’t require a large arsenal of these mastered techniques to successfully defend yourself from untrained and even trained adversaries.  However, mastering technique is unquestionably the most difficult and time consuming of the four components.  It is also one of the most rewarding.

You must develop and maintain power, speed and endurance to make techniques work.  In fact, all four components of martial skill must be present.  If a punch or kick is flying to your face or body, your speed and technique will allow you to create space from the oncoming blow and block it.  Speed, power and technique are still required to successfully counter the attack.  Endurance may be required in certain circumstances, but is a necessity in your training when you are developing your speed, power and technique.  The endurance aspect brings ALL the components of martial skill together when you are exhausted while sparring and have to draw on your highest abilities to bring power, speed and technique to bear against an opponent.

Training at Home

“A day of missed training can never be recovered.”  This thought has been echoed by Kung Fu masters for generations.

There is no question that the more time you spend intently practicing your art the faster you will advance and the more skill you will acquire.  That said, when you can’t attend class for whatever reason try to spend some time training on your own.  Many have found solitary practice indispensable for overcoming weak areas, practicing new movements and conditioning their body.

There are three kinds of home practice.  The first is focused on creating a class-like workout at home, which would typically include kicking, single-step movements, forms, stances, exercises, etc.  Ideally, this workout is based on a self-examination of your kung fu skills and a focused effort on overcoming your imperfections (e.g. stances, kicks, saltongs, upper body strength, etc.) or further development of movements and techniques that you want to perfect.  If you are lucky enough to have a housemate or family member to train with you can even work on chin na, san shou and potentially sparring, although sparring must be done cautiously (just be careful not to get injured.)  This should be your primary training when not at the kung fu school.  At the very least, practice the latest forms you’ve learned or work on perfecting the eight stances and holding them until your legs begin to shake (and then a little more).

The second kind of training, some call it “cross-training”, can also be of value by way of physical conditioning.  This training seeks to develop speed, strength, and endurance.  Swimming is an excellent exercise that both strengthens and stretches your body while giving your joints a break from gravity.  Jogging, lifting weights, yoga, and playing various sports will all benefit your kung fu training as long as you are careful not to overdo it and avoid injury.  Another good idea is to combine some of the above exercises with traditional kung fu training.  For example, jog a lap around the block, do a few forms, followed by push ups and stances, and repeat.  An excellent work out.

The third kind of training involves resting your body and using your mind.  Simply put, there are times when you must rest like when you are sick, injured, or just plain exhausted to the point where you become irritable and achey.  Resting your body and brain allows it to recharge and regenerate, which is necessary for growth.   Many studies have supported the benefits of getting eight hours of sleep and how it significantly improves both physical and mental performance.  Daytime naps have also been shown to be healthy.

While your body is resting, kung fu training can continue in your mind through self-imagery.  Imagine yourself in various sparring scenarios successfully utilizing counters to your opponents attacks.  Go further and think of your opponents response to your counter and what you would do.  Or, you can think about chin na techniques you know and visualize exactly how they are to be performed.  The same can be said for san shou.  You can even think about your forms and what fighting techniques can be derived from various movements in the form.  This self-imagery training is very valuable and many professional athletes swear by it.  One of the all-time great golfers, Jack Nicklaus said, “I never hit a shot even in practice without having a sharp in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie.  First, I “see” the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I “see” the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behaviour on landing. Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality and only at the end of this short private Hollywood spectacular do I select a club and step up to the ball.”

At times life can get hectic and unfortunately take precedence over coming to the school for class.  However, you can and should find a way to practice on your own – if even for a short time – and you may very well find your skills move to the next level because of it.  Sample home workouts will come in future posts.  Keep training…

Martial Arts – Much More Than Fighting

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

“Most people view martial arts from a very limited standpoint and see martial arts training as a way of fighting only.  Do not be deceived – martial arts is much more than simply training in fighting techniques.  In fact, the physical aspect is the least of the goals.  Those who view martial arts this way are far from enlightenment.”

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), founder of Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship.  The Book of Five Rings Trans. D.E. Tarver

Is Kung Fu Easy?

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

First, carefully consider the question.  We are not selling you a product, but rather giving you an opportunity through good training to develop yourselves mentally and physically in a multitude of ways.  Martial arts training improves:

  • Physical Strength
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body Control
  • Mental Focus
  • Awareness
  • Self-esteem
  • Calm
  • Patience
  • Toughness, and
  • Stress Relief

Each student will come in with his or her own strengths and weaknesses.  The training we offer is focused on making our students’ weaknesses strong and their strengths even stronger.  Nothing is ever attained without effort and a student will surely find his or her training both mentally and physically challenging, but then if you are seriously invested in good training, isn’t this what you are looking for?

Failing a Rank Test

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

When you are told you may test for the next rank, it means that you have learned sufficient forms, techniques, and skills to potentially pass that test.  However, there are two things you need to do to pass.  The first is to prepare yourself in the weeks and months prior to the test by attending class regularly and practicing those things you will be tested on.  The second is to perform well at the test.  Without the former, the latter can be quite difficult.

If you don’t prepare and you don’t do well on your test, you will not pass and get the next rank.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad person.  It simply means you weren’t up to snuff on the day of the test.  The purpose of the test is for the student to perform under a stressful situation that requires exactness, concentration, and execution.  Those three attributes are exactly what are required should you need to defend yourself or others outside of the school.  The higher the rank, the more that is expected of you and the better you must perform to pass.

At some point after the test, you will be told what specifically you did or didn’t do that caused the failure.  Take this constructive criticism with you to your next class and the classes that follow and try to work on the areas of weakness.  It is important to come back to class strong and continue your training.  Remember, this is not a reflection on you as a person, just a reflection on the quality of your movement during the test.  Lastly, and most importantly, kung fu is a way of life that can keep you vital, vibrant, and strong the rest of your days.  Rank tests are only a part of your training.  Consistent, hard training will take you as far as you want to go.

Exercise – Good For The Brain, Too!

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Most students feel absolutely invigorated and refreshed after a vigorous class.  Scientists are finding that physical exercise – like those in done at our school – combats stress, facilitates memory function, delay dementia, and assists brain cell growth and development.  Given kung fu’s physical demands of strength, explosive speed, balance, agility, flexibility, and coordination, kung fu may very well be the perfect exercise for not just physical health, but apparently brain health, too.  Below is an article found on the internet that goes into a little more detail:

Physical Exercise for Brain Health

Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health- it also helps your brain stay sharp.

Your brain is no different than rest of the muscles in your body–you either use it or you lose it. You utilize the gym to stimulate the growth of muscle cells, just as you use a brain fitness program [1] to increase connections in your brain. But you can actually get an additional brain boost by donning your sneakers and hitting the gym. The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level.

According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia[2], even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.  Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.

Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA [3] demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain- making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.  From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with “runner’s high” found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study from Stockholm [4] showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

The Golden Duo: Mental and Physical Exercise  

The usage of physical exercise in conjunction with BrainHQ brain training [1] increases your chances of increasing cognitive functions within parameters, including time of exercise and style of exercise. Interestingly, differences between exercise styles, such as opting for cycling over running, is associated with an enhanced brain function during and after working out.  Ballroom dancing, an activity with both physical and mental demands has had a higher impact on cognitive functioning over exercise or mental tasks alone, indicating that the best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy.

Tips for Choosing The Right Physical Exercise

In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.  Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain cells.  Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases retention of new information, and better reaction to complex situations.  When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class. If you like crunching time at the gym alone, opt for circuit work outs, which both quickly spike your heart rate, but also constantly redirect your attention.  Hitting a wall or mentally exhausted? Doing a few jumping jacks might reboot your brain.

© 2013 Posit Science. All Rights Reserved.

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Source URL: http://www.positscience.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise

Links:

[1] https://brainhq.positscience.com/pscweb-link/start

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12595152

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15159540

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15769301

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.

Low Stances

One phrase you will likely hear over and over again is, “Stances Down!”  There is good reason for this.  Very low stances may not be needed in an encounter, but practicing very low while training will give you the ability to maintain low stances (read:  low center of gravity) while continuing to stay loose, smooth, and agile.  This is because your legs will be extremely strong from training very low stances and holding low stances won’t be a problem.

Pushing yourself to lower stances while holding proper postures is something to focus on in each class.  Practicing stances at home is also a very important self-study exercise.  See how low you can go before you start bending your back, lose balance, tighten up, or break form.  Utilize mirrors both at home and at the school to ensure your back is perpendicular to the ground and all looks correct.  And most of all…. sink.  Practically perfect stances won’t come overnight – as always, progress is fought for with daily practice for months and years.  You should be low enough to feel that the the brunt of the weight shifted from your thigh muscles to a balance between your thighs and the muscles of your rump.  Those muscles should be actively engaged when stances are held low, in fact, they should eventually shake from exhaustion before switching stances.

Sticky Hands

qinna-old02One very important concept in kung fu, particularly chin na is something called, “sticky hands”.  The idea is that as soon as someone makes the mistake of grabbing onto you, they’re stuck to you like a fly on a spiderweb typically by your hand(s) pressing their hand to your body.  Even if they try to escape – it will be too late.  Applying a chin na technique quickly follows “sticky hands” and your aggressor at this point is probably wishing he could get away.  By the time the chin na movement is completed he is wincing in pain and likely begging you to let go.

The key to “sticky hands” is to smoothly press your opponent’s hand onto your body (wherever you’re being grabbed) and continue to “smoothly” execute your chin na technique.  Successfully applying a chin na technique requires a good deal of time and practice to learn the technique and master the joint locking, footwork, power, weight, etc. that goes along with it.  However, chin na is a very practical aspect of your martial art and the first step to making it work is understanding the concept of “sticky hands”.

Developing Martial Fluency… Like Learning To Play A Musical Instrument

Piano-Practice

There are many reasons to train, but for most, the ability to defend oneself with a high degree of skill is the most compelling.  Our school teaches fighting arts that were created by martial geniuses hundreds of years ago – before the advent of firearms.  Back then, being able to defend oneself with your bare hands or weapons could mean the difference between life or death.  Martial fluency can only be attained through a serious attitude and consistent, hard work and proper instruction.  Coincidentally, the original meaning of “kung fu” actually refers to any skill achieved through hard work and practice – not necessarily martial arts.

Learning to play a musical instrument is quite similar to learning our school’s kung fu.  In the beginning, you will likely feel awkward with the instrument and there will be growing pains as you take direction from your teacher.  You may even have second thoughts as to continuing.  You familiarize yourself with the basic notes and a few simple chords and begin learning to read music.  This is painstaking and can take weeks and month of daily practice.  As you progress, basic songs and musical pieces are learned and practiced and more advanced chords are learned.  Years go by, you continue to practice the basics and your instructor continues to push your abilities by teaching new techniques and musical pieces.  You begin to feel pretty confident about your playing and happily perform the songs you know for friends and family.  Many more years of diligent practice pass and you feel quite comfortable with your instrument and enjoy playing and practice more than ever.  It truly gives you joy.  You advance with even more difficult and challenging music, can play with your eyes closed, and can even replay music simply from hearing it.  You have become better than you ever thought you would and feel as fluent playing music as you do talking.  That is musical “kung fu” and an incredibly similar path is followed at our school to attaining martial fluency.  With no question, both musical and fighting ability become more fun – more addictive – the better you get.

Both musical and martial fluency are available to those willing to dedicate themselves consistently for years – there are no short cuts.  The only difference is that martial kung fu requires more sweat!

Minor Injuries – A Blessing In Disguise

In the course of your training, it is highly possible that at some point you will come to class with some kind of pain from a minor injury.  Maybe you slammed your knee on a coffee table or jammed your fingers playing basketball.  Maybe in the last sparring class you banged your shin pretty hard.  No matter how careful you are, how well you sleep, how nutritiously you eat, there will be times when you will have to train when in pain.  Before taking class be sure to tell whoever is instructing about your injury.  In fact, use common sense to decide whether you should even go to class.  Realize, however, that it usually makes sense t0 train with minor injuries as you will likely be removed from part of class that might aggravate your injury and given something else to do that furthers your training.  Training with a minor injury (although painful) is often a blessing in disguise.

Training while injured can be a blessing in two ways.  The first revolves around what you did (or didn’t do) to get injured in the first place, especially if it occurred in class.  Many times the pain was caused by doing something incorrectly.  Perhaps you didn’t defend property or you executed a poor offensive technique or counter technique.   Maybe you fell wrong or weren’t listening to your body. Analyze the injury’s cause and learn to not do it again.

In the real world, there is no guarantee that you will have all of your weapons available to you in the event of a contest.  The second blessing is learning how to spar and apply techniques without the use of one or more hands and/or feet.  Students can sometimes become stagnant with their training and focus too much on their dominant side’s hands or feet techniques.  Damaging one of the dominant weapons forces you to learn and utilize techniques with the other hand or side of body.  This also forces you to utilize your entire body differently as all our techniques require the whole body to move in synchronization.  In san shou or sparring, put your damaged hand behind your back to protect it and do what it takes to defend yourself one-handed.  Be prepared to defend yourself with what you have – understanding you only have one hand, utilize your feet and leg for defensive movements.

If you have a damaged leg or foot, you need to decide if you want the damaged one to be your rear, weight-baring foot or your forward, non-weight baring foot.  Whatever you do, take care not to haphazardly use the damaged leg in some kind of technique that will injure it.  Proper footwork is key to move out of harms way and counter when you are damaged.  Should you train like this until your appendage is healed, these new techniques will likely stay with you as a part of your “arsenal” and you will agree that the damaged body part actually made you a better martial artist.

Sore Muscles

If you are consistently not getting sore muscles after your workouts, there is a good chance you are not pushing yourself as you should.  Powerful punches, fast kicks, low stances, explosive movements will push you to the brink if you are giving 100%.  Sore muscles are the result of your effort in class and the sign you’re muscles are growing and getting stronger.  This does face the student with an issue that may be unknown to them – how to quickly recover those muscles to train again at full energy?

Here are a number of things to minimize muscle soreness and general exhaustion from hard workouts:

  1. High Quality Sleep – A good 7-8 hours of consistent sleep is incredibly important to repairing muscle fibers
  2. Replace Fluids – Drink water, sports drinks, or even chocolate milk immediately after class to replace fluids and provide muscles with some energy (in the case of sports drinks and chocolate milk) to begin muscle recovery.  Most students sweat a great deal in class and those lost fluids need to restored.
  3. Eat Properly – Although theories differ on how to maximize muscle recovery via nutrition, a common idea is to eat high-quality proteins and carbohydrates within an hour or so post-exercise (as well as re-hydrate to replace fluids lost – see #2).  Ideally, a tasty variety of meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables along with plenty of water.  Post-workout meals are ideally the largest meal of the day.
  4. Take It Easy – When having overly sore muscles, a lighter workout (as opposed to taking a day off) is often very helpful towards recovery as it breaks up the lactic acid in those muscles.  Having another intense workout can be detrimental as the muscles can become exhausted and joints can be exposed to dangerous stress.  Additionally, becoming totally exhausted and wasted can require a good deal of downtime to fully recover from and subjects your body to potential sickness.
  5. Stretching – After class, gently stretch your body.  It doesn’t have to be intense, but it should certainly include the muscles that were worked the hardest.
  6. Massage – Whether self-massaging or having a professional masseuse work on loosening sore muscles, it is good to relax thru massage.  This manual circulation of lactic acid and blood helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body.  Using a foam roller is an inexpensive way to self-massage yourself consistently.
  7. Ice Baths and Hot Baths –   This is probably more important for professional athletes (getting a high-quality eight hours of sleep is far more important), but can be something you do when getting sore or bruised through training.  The theory is that the extreme temperatures stimulate blood flow in the body and helps flush out waste products from the body.

Train hard and get sore muscles as it’s the sign your trying pushing yourself and getting stronger.  However, spend some time and energy to recover properly so you can train with all your energy the next day!

Hard Training – Not for the Faint of Heart

Kung Fu training is hard.  Whether it’s your first class or 5,000th class, there is no way to get around it (at least at our school).  Intense and consistent physical conditioning is a pre-requisite to develop the “kung fu body” that can successfully employ martial techniques against one or many non-cooperative, determined opponents.

Hard training comes in many forms.  First, your muscles will consistently get sore from the numerous exercises and drills that have trained kung fu fighters for centuries.  More than anything, your legs and core will be pushed and pushed to get stronger and looser at the same time – no easy feat.  Kicks, stances, forms, sparring, and exercises will test your will to overcome exhaustion and pain.  For those simply wanting to get in shape, this will take care of you.  Second, you will undoubtedly receive bumps and bruises as you learn how to employ your newly learned martial techniques against both cooperative and uncooperative opponents in san shou and sparring.  These bumps and bruises will heal and sharpen your skills.  A simple way to think about it is that you must be willing to accept bumps and bruises from friends in a controlled environment in order to successfully defend yourself from those meaning to hurt or kill you in an uncontrolled environment.  It’s a small sacrifice.

There is more to having heart and courage than to simply withstand the physical struggles of training.  Having the heart to consistently attend class, maybe two or three classes a day, even when you are not feeling up to it shows heart.  Perhaps you have a minor injury and still train while taking care not to aggravate the injury .  Some might feel they’ve reached a plateau that can’t be improved upon and lose confidence.  By accepting that training is “the way” and a part of their life, these students will will have the courage to push onward  instead of giving up.  They will reflect honestly on their relative weaknesses and continue on their path knowing that effort and time are the overwhelming factors in breaking through plateaus and improving both their character and martial skill.

This is why traditional martial arts is so particularly valuable and important for children.  Kids facing their fears, weaknesses, struggles, and pains develops strength of character, which is so difficult to acquire.  This strength of character, physical fitness, and self-defense skill will prove invaluable to them as adults as it creates massive self-confidence.

Correct Blocking

One of the primary traits of shaolin’s fighting philosophy is to not get hit.  It is often taught in sparring that there is a no “exchange program” in fighting basically saying you do not accept any type of damage in order to get in on your opponent.  To avoid being hit, there are a number of things that need to happen including maintaining a proper distance from your opponent, moving your body away from an oncoming blow, and, of course, blocking.

In the beginning, blocking is simplistic.  Students are introduced to basic blocking skills:  proper distancing, blocking mechanics, and timing/reflexes.  At this stage, successful blocking means not getting hit… the intricacies of blocking come later.  Given all the different forms of attack from punches, elbows, kicks, etc. and all the various types of blocks against such attacks, it can take some time to learn and develop basic blocking skills.  At this stage, getting hit can often be the best training as it alerts the student to the inadequacies of their defense, but it’s a start to being able to defending yourself.

As blocking skill develops, less strength and movement is needed to make blocks effective.  Blocks are now more often glancing deflections than they are “bone on bone”, substantial blocks.  In fact, you learn to block just enough to avoid getting hit.   The circles in blocking are there, but are  becoming smaller and smaller – almost to the point of being imperceivable.  At this point, you might realize that certain attacks can be blocked in a way that can be to your advantage.  You deflect in order to lead the attacker into a vulnerable position for counter attack.  Blocking can also go the other way in that you can employ the “breaking weapons” theory and literally attack the opponent’s extremity that is attacking you.

After years of consistent training, as skills progress, blocking and avoiding attacks becomes second nature and doesn’t require a great deal of thought as you have done it time and again in san shou and sparring.  What becomes more important now is the ability to sense your opponents energy, balance, ability, and intentions through touching their attacks.  There is a great deal to this that won’t be explained here, but one example of a more advanced blocking technique is nullifying your opponent’s attack and sticking with it during its retreat or secondary movement.  By doing this, you are able to “keep tabs” on him and learn what his next movement would be before you would have if you weren’t touching him.  This “sticking” ability is one of tai chi chuan’s major fighting skills.

Again, it is crucial to avoid getting damaged.  Timing, reflexes, distancing, technique are all necessary to preventing getting hit and preparing you for whatever counter fits the situation.  Make efforts to stay loose and soft when blocking attacks (all the while being sure the attack doesn’t get thru) so counter attacks can be sharp and crisp.  If you are diligent to avoid being hit in the training hall, you have a great chance of not getting hit outside of it when it can mean a black eye, a broken tooth, or even the difference between life and death.

Visualizing An Imaginary Opponent

As mentioned before there is “no fat” in your kung fu training.  Everything has a purpose and the primary purpose is to develop your martial skills to the highest level possible given the amount of time and effort you devote to training.  Something that can really benefit your training from very early on to higher levels is visualizing an imaginary opponent or “shadowboxing”.  It can and should be something you do in every training session.

A wide variety of kicks are performed in each class – tens, hundreds, even a thousand-plus kicks can be counted out.  At times these kicks can become “lifeless” if you’re not trying hard or having an off day.  To avoid this waste of time, make the mental effort to imagine a potential threat in front of you and use that to motivate yourself to block an imaginary attack or arm out of the way and kick this imaginary opponent with as much speed, power and height as possible.  This mental imagery will not only bring “life” back into your kicks, but will also help you develop better kicking ability for forms, san shou and, most importantly, sparring.

The same mental exercise should be used for single step movements.  As you are stepping to do a forward bow punch, imagine you are blocking an imaginary attack or arm out of the way with the retreating hand and strike the imaginary opponent with as much speed and force as you can muster.  You will realize that you move smoother and can execute the technique with more power against your imaginary opponent with low stances.  Again, your san shou and sparring will greatly benefit from this visualization practice.

Lastly, visualization can really come alive when it comes to forms.  In the beginning, it may be difficult to understand what techniques the forms are teaching and how an opponent would attack.  However, you will be taught the purpose of many of the form’s movements (there are usually a number of uses for each individual movement in a form) and you need to think and ingrain how the technique would work against your imaginary sparring partner.  This is especially helpful when doing the form on count as movements are broken down into pieces (although visualization can and should also be done with forms at full speed eventually).  Practicing forms at home while visualizing an imaginary opponent is an excellent self-study practice.

Humility

Humility is a key attribute to attaining both a high degree of martial skill and a high degree of martial morality.  It is also a very shaolin trait.

Our school doesn’t focus on punching (such as western boxing).  It doesn’t focus on kicking (such as some tae kwon do).  It doesn’t focus on chin na/grappling (such as aikido and jiujitsu).  It doesn’t focus on shuia jiao/wrestling (such as western wrestling and judo).  It requires training and development in all of those skills and then some.  Because of this, our school’s kung fu is very comprehensive, complex and demanding of the student.  It also requires a student to remain humble as they learn and develop… excellence in all of these disciplines undoubtedly takes time.

Because of the comprehensiveness of our art, students will find certain parts of training more difficult than others.  This is mostly due to natural abilities and athleticism that were brought to the school on the first day of training.  Some will find kicks particularly difficult because they’ve never kicked anything in there life and may be relatively inflexible or unbalanced.  Some will find shuai jiao to be quite hard as they’ve never had to wrestle anyone before.  Whatever it is, EVERYONE has strengths and weaknesses.   Humility allows your ego to accept that others are better than you at certain things at various points in your training.  Kung fu is all about the process… the training.  Where you are at the moment is what matters – not where you think you should be.

In addition to individual strengths and weaknesses, everyone has good days and bad days.  Perhaps you didn’t have a good night sleep, had an exhausting day at work or school, or skipped lunch and breakfast.  Maybe you were just having a “bad day”.  Your humility will accept that you are not perfect and that your training effort (read:  consistency) is more important than your performance on any given day.  It will allow you to accept “off” days as they are and get you back in class the next day.

Humility is equally important outside of the school.  Understanding your own weaknesses and need for improvement is reason to never take anyone for granted should an altercation occur with someone.  There are always going to be others out there who have trained hard in their respective martial disciplines or maybe you’ll encounter someone with friends lurking nearby.  In such an event, you need to lose your arrogance, sink your chi, and calm yourself for what you’ll need to do.  Remember, avoiding a fight shows superior technique when the only thing on the line is your “ego” – for someone who trains hard to defend him or herself, walking away from a fight shows great humility.

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.

10,000 Hours of Practice

There have been a number of studies and books written about groups and individuals who have mastered various disciplines such as singing, musical instruments, chess, various sports, martial arts, sculpture, painting, even mathematics and science.  They addressed the question, “Is world-class skill or “mastery” the result of innate talent or effort?”  The bulk of the studies conclude that natural “talent” matters very little in the long run when evaluating what it takes to master any given discipline.  Another conclusion is that roughly 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice is what’s necessary to acquire world class ability – otherwise known as “mastery”.

This theory of 10,000 hours of focused, hard training dedicated to consistent improvement certainly applies to developing mastery in kung fu.  Proper stances, punches, kicks, blocking and countering techniques are new and fun to learn at first and progress in martial arts typically comes quickly in the beginning.  This is when you are introduced to the various fundamental elements of training.  However, plateaus occur as you progress and  begin working on mastering what can be thought of as “small” details of the basics.  After learning what might be considered more advanced techniques, often times these fundamental elements of “basic” training often seem less interesting.  Unfortunately, this is sometimes when students become less enchanted with their training and look for something new to stimulate them.

Not enough can be said regarding the importance of truly mastering the fundamentals of kung fu.  The basics are the building blocks to advanced techniques as much as simple addition and subtraction are the building blocks to algebra.  When you learn new movements, place special attention on the fundamentals that are the basis of the movement.  As an example, a good side kick is required to develop a good hook kick or spinning side kick (both of which can be thought of as more advanced.)  Without a good side kick, it is impossible to develop the other two to a high degree.

As you continue your training, be cognizant of the skills and areas you are weak in – remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Improvement requires extra focus and attention on those skills that you are struggling with and/or are new to you.  Spend time before class starts or after class ends developing those weak portions of your practice.  Even better, spend time training on your own – outside of the school – working on what needs improvement.  Often it’s as simple as lowering your stances or having faster kicks with better form, but sometimes it can be as advanced as envisioning sparring scenarios and “what if’s” that might occur and shadow boxing to those scenarios.  Working on weaknesses can be difficult as our ego want quick fixes to our inadequacies.   However, this struggle for improvement is what breaks us through the inevitable plateaus.  This training is a very important part of the 10,000 hours.

For those wanting to master this art, training 3 hours/day, 6 days/week, for 10 years can roughly get you to mastery at 10,000 hours.  Training 2.5 hours/day, 5 days/week will take roughly 15 years to hit the 10,000 hours.  Training 2 hours/day, 5 days/week will get you to 10,000 hours in around 20 years.  This may sound like an awfully long period of time, but consider two things.  One, you are developing a world class skill and physical ability that can benefit you in a number of ways.  Two, you are hopefully enjoying your training.  Like most disciplines, more fun is had as your skills develop and become more advanced.

Not everyone needs to become a master, but consistent and diligent practice with an excellent instructor over a long period of time can make true mastery in kung fu a possibility for those willing to put in the time and effort.

Stretching

Stretching is an important part of Kung Fu training regardless of style.  Proper stretching will enable greater flexibility of movement and also help prevent damage to the body during hard training.  Contrary to popular believe, the best time to stretch is not at the beginning of a workout, but rather at the end, when the body is warmed up and a lot more pliable.  This is the time to focus on stretching areas of the body that retain tension and tightness.  On top of adding flexibility and reducing muscle soreness, this kind of stretching will make you feel great and likely help your sleep.

Please remember that stretching by itself is not a cure-all for problems in training.  Contrary to hype in modern martial arts, doing the splits and being extremely flexible doesn’t necessarily increase your martial skill.  In face, if stretching is done incorrectly, it can actually harm the body parts it was intended to help.  However, when stretching is done correctly – with care and consistency – it will greatly benefit a student’s training.

 

Internal Training

Internal training occurs solely through the practice of the empty hand and weapons forms and moves through three stages.  In the beginning, diligent and thorough practice of the forms with the correct postures and details of the techniques is required.  The second stage progresses beyond technique, as the forms are performed with swift coordination, precise timing, fluid rhythm, flowing momentum, and maximum focus.  Combining these qualities with an understanding of the techniques allows one to practice the forms as if one were encountering an opponent.  The final stage reaches the state of chuan, no chuan (technique, no technique), yi, no yi, (mind, no mind).  The Chinese maxim reads “from no yi shoots out true yi,” meaning that from thoughtlessness comes true meaning.  The internal practice follows the tradition of Zen rather than Taoist methods of consciously or willfully guiding the chi through special routes.  All one needs is a total commitment to the form without any mistakes or artificial feelings for the true unification of mind, body, and action to occur.

The Eight Stances – #7 Reverse Bow

The seventh of the eight stance is Reverse Bow:

  • Legs and feet are like that of the forward bow stance (#2)
  • Waist and head turn to look in the direction of the back leg
  • Front arm is extended up in a blocking position.  Elbow is mostly pointed down and palm is facing out.
  • Rear arm is guarding arm pit/ribs area and palm is also pointing out
  • Back is perpendicular to ground
  • Front thigh is parallel to ground in low stance

Reverse Bow - FrontReverse Bow - SideReverse Bow - Back

Chinese Kung Fu Virtues

Use Kung Fu ethics to balance personal judgment

Use Kung Fu technique to become fully rooted

Use Kung Fu practice to assist those in need

Kung Fu must not be used for evil purposes

A hero adopts a hero’s ways

Virtuous warriors have their duties

The Shaolin Way

How To Prepare For A Test

Class

The first step for a student and his or her family is to realize that it is very important to ask to be tested.  In the same vein, do not ask for the results of a test that was taken – you will be told in time.  When a student is seen to be ready to attempt the challenge of a test, he or she will be informed of the opportunity and then must decide whether or not to participate.

Should the student decide to take on this physical and mental challenge, he/she must focus and try hard to polish their movements with extra practice.  The higher the rank testing for, the more that is expected of the participating student.  Not only should the movements be done correctly, but more important to advancement, stances must be low, strikes must have proper power and relaxed balance is crucial.

On the mental side, one should be very focused on what is needed for the test and be aware of any distractions that might take away from performing at the highest level.  If on or near the date of an exam there are extra pressures with school or work of conflicting social schedules, the student might consider possibly putting off the test until he/she can confidently bring both physical and mental abilities to bear on the task at hand.  Testing is not designed only to test a student’s physical abilities, but also how he would act under stressful conditions.

Failure is not designed merely by the outcome of an exam, but rather by the individual’s understanding that he must always try to improve and always be willing to learn from his/her mistakes.  In martial training, as in everyone’s life, challenges never end and failure is decided by the person and not by the challenge.  Little is learned through easy victory, but much can be learned through temporary defeat.

Keep training…