Heel Kick

The Heel Kick is often learned in conjunction with the Snap Kick.  Much of the action of both kicks are the same.  There are a few differences surrounding the purpose of the kick.  As the Snap Kick is like a straight punch, the Heel Kick is like a push.

The Heel Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and pick up the knee of the back leg.  As you are shifting weight forward, release the kick and extend completely (avoid cutting the kick short.)
  • The hip of the kicking leg is forward of the hip of the standing leg.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the heel of the foot.

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Heel

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Heel

  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • The Heel Kick is often effectively used at a downward angle to crumble an opponent to the ground.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by doing a whole lot of them in class day in and day out.

Snap Kick

The Snap Kick (or Back-leg Snap Kick) is likely the first “fighting” kick a new student learns.  Although it is one of the less complicated kicks to learn, it is very powerful and effective in a fighting situation.  Like most kicks, it can be delivered to targets as low as the shins and knees and as high as the head.  It is the leg’s equivalent of a straight punch.

The Snap Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and pick up the knee of the back leg.  As you are shifting weight forward, release the kick and extend completely (avoid cutting the kick short.)
  • The hip of the kicking leg is forward of the hip of the standing leg.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the ball of the foot.

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking - Ball of Foot

    Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking – Ball of Foot

  • Always try to deliver 100% of power to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.  If you can kick high with power and balance, then you can certainly kick to the lower and mid-range targets with confidence.
  • The Snap Kick can also be “double” kick, where the first kick is targeted low to the shins or knee and immediately followed up with a higher kick to middle or high targets.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by doing a whole lot of them in class day in and day out.

Stretch Kick

The Stretch Kick is one of the first kicks new students learn.  It is not a fighting kick, however.  The Stretch Kick is intended to, as its name implies, stretch the hamstrings and lower back.  It also serves to warm up the body for the fighting kicks that will follow.  New students may find that it tests their balance as well.

The Stretch Kick:

  • From a forward bow stance, swing your leg straight up as far as it can go.  Don’t over-stretch the kick in the beginning.  As time goes on and you feel more comfortable with the kick, try to get foot as high as it will go with proper form (i.e. with a straight leg) and work toward head (or overhead) height.
  • The hip of the kicking leg should be well forward of the other hip at the top of the kick.
  • As with all kicks, your upper body should be relaxed.  Release any tension in the shoulders, hands, and face.
  • Unlike most fighting kicks, your arms can be held low at the sides of the body for balance.

Re-Starting Your Training After Time Away

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Sparring

Sometimes life has a way of interfering with your kung fu training at the school.  It can arise from a new job, school, injury, relocation, extended vacation, or something else that simply prevents consistent attendance.  Hopefully, it isn’t anything permanent and you can return at some point.  Hopefully, your kung fu meant enough to you to retain much of what you were taught and to come back and re-start your training.

There are a number of things to consider when re-starting.  First, as you probably imagine, you are likely not going to be in “kung fu” shape.  You may have exercised and kept your body strong, but unless you consistently trained on your own there will definitely be some sore muscles after your first class.  In fact, there will likely be some sore muscles for weeks following your first class back depending on how often you train, your rank, and what you remember.

A key to successful re-engagement is to gradually increase your workload over a period of weeks and months (not days) and to stay consistent.  Take one class a day 3-4 days a week.  If you are sore, push yourself to continue to train those 3-4 days (more days a week may likely be too much and less days a week too little.)  Your body is relearning the movements and regaining the strength, endurance, and flexibility needed to make them work correctly.  If you are not sore from 3-4 days a week, you may try to add on an additional class or two, but don’t push yourself too hard in a hurry to get back to where you left off.  You can increase your workload and start training 2 hours at a time or add another day or two to your training.  Pressing too hard and too fast can cause injuries or even burnout.  In time, if gradually done, you can easily be back to 2-3 classes a day, 4-5 days a week in a matter of months and your skill level will climb.

Second, as with any new student, you need to begin with and focus on the basics.  Spend a good deal of time working on basic stances to build leg strength as well as the forms to develop endurance, balance and coordination.  Do not be in a rush to regain every form and technique that was once yours.  All in good time.  Quality of movement is paramount so take it one technique, one form at a time starting from the earliest things you were taught.  Patience, consistency, humility, and effort is everything when getting back (and staying) with your training.

Stances

All Kung Fu styles have their strengths, but one they all share is strength of the lower body, or leg strength.  They all employ low stances so as to be able to root themselves for offensive as well as defensive movements.

The twelve ton tois that we train are actually sets of movements which are designed to work on your stances.  Ton toi means thunderkick in Chinese.  Low stances gives a practitioner a lot of jumping and kicking power as well as excellent cardiovascular training.

So lower your stances!

Fighting Foundation

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Stances are a critical part of technique.  A student must learn proper balance of body both for defensive and offensive ability.  Before any technique can be mastered proper body posture and a mental attitude must be present.  This is a required foundation for ability in technique.  It grows and changes as a student pursues it.

The Key To Tai Chi

Brea Tai Chi Martial Arts

Brea Tai Chi Martial Arts

The Key To Tai Chi

By Jeffrey Reulbach

Everyone is aware that keys unlock and open doors.  Within every martial art there are keys that open doors to the highest level of skill in the style.  The key to unlocking the door to those higher levels of skill in Tai Chi is referred to in Chinese as sung.

Sung is usually translated by the word relax.  The concept of relaxing in Tai Chi does not mean to become limp or to recline.  To be loose or open are more closely related to the idea of sung.  When doing an empty hand form, push hands, sparring, weapons, or chi kung (energy work) the relaxation must be in total.

Of course, reaching a high level of sung doesn’t happen in an instant.  Developing the true relaxation of Tai Chi that enables the artist to be soft and yielding but not limp and weak is progressive.  To gain the real skill of Tai Chi self-defense you have to be relaxed in mind and body.

Relaxing the body means that you must free it of all unnecessary tension.  In other words, you have to use only the amount of muscular exertion needed for any action.  For example, when doing a push or palm strike the arm doesn’t get real tense or stiff, it remains soft but firm enough to get the job done.  To accomplish this means you have to pay very close attention to the movement in order to feel tension.  To get rid of tension in the body, you have to focus on loosening and opening the joints.  The relaxed tendon is an important part of issuing internal force.  Gaining the kind of sung in the body necessary for higher level skills calls for reeling tension in the joints, especially at the shoulder, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.  In addition, excellent physical posture and alignment with gravity aid in the development of physical relaxation.

Mental relaxation is the other side of the coin needed for skill in Tai Chi.  A sung mind is open and yet extremely focused.  Relaxing the mind also means to rid it of unnecessary tension.  The idea of getting rid of tension in the mind means that it only concentrates on the task at hand in the present, which means it is free from the shackles of the past and the anxiety of the future.

To rid the mind of tension, visualization is very important when doing a form.  Tai Chi is often referred to as “swimming on dry land” because of its appearance and the fact that swimming is a relaxing activity.  Applying the image of swimming means that you imagine you are moving through water, feeling the sensation of the water’s pressure on each movement.  The imagined water, over time, produces a buoyant feeling of floating and flowing in movement, and a calmness in mind.  Although there are other excellent visualizations, the “swimming on land” is extremely effective for releasing tension and developing sung.

Turning the key of relaxation in Tai Chi has many positive benefits.  It makes more use of your parasympathetic nervous system producing a calming effect.  The increase in relaxation helps to combat stress-related illness, which is a primary reason why so many turn to Tai Chi in the first place.  As a martial artist, relaxation gives you speed, heightened awareness, and the ability to adjust to an attacker smoothly in a self-defense situation.  The key to Tai Chi will not only benefit internal martial artists, but anyone who is willing to unlock and open the door.

The Health Trinity

Health TrinityTwo of the primary reasons to train in martial arts is to develop martial ability and supreme physical health.  As you can imagine, the development of kung fu skill and personal fitness go hand in hand.  The more you train, the fitter, faster, stronger, more supple and enduring your body becomes.  Although there are many factors that come into play with everyday health and wellness (genetics, stress, environment, etc.), there are three major factors to health and continuing development of kung fu:  Sleep, Nutrition, and Training.

Sleep may seem like an obvious addition to the Health Trinity, but one out of five people in the country get less than six hours of sleep at night.  Most people (not all) need seven to eight hours every night.  It is particularly important when you train in martial arts as your body requires deep sleep to recover from the wear and tear of hard training.  Muscles need to repair themselves.  The occasional sprains and bruises associated with training need to heal.  This is accomplished most rapidly when a consistent 7-8 hours of sleep is had.  Should eight hours not be in the cards or simply not enough to feel rested, take a nap and catch up – it’s absolutely crucial to stay on track for both optimal health and progress in your kung fu skills.  You will learn the hard way by lingering injuries and lackluster performance if you don’t.

Nutrition is also a very important factor for developing optimum health and martial skill.  You might have adequate sleep and train consistently, but if you’re skipping meals routinely or eating meals that are nutritionally barren you will eventually find yourself sick, injured, or exhausted – likely a combination of them.  Think to yourself, “My body is my temple” and feed it appropriately.  Nutritionally dense foods like vegetables, fruit, meat, and nuts/seeds should be the staple of your diet.  Hard training will likely make you more hungry than normal.  Listen to your body and feed it what it needs, but again, try to minimize the foods and beverages that have no or low nutritional value.  You should know what these are, but if you don’t do some research on the internet or pick up a few books.

Training is the third of the Health Trinity.  Kung fu training offers its practitioners a variety of benefits including the development of full body physical strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, release of tension and stress, among others.  With adequate sleep and excellent nutrition, students can make the most out of the time they spend training and eventually increase the number of hours they spend training each week.  The more you train, the better your kung fu will get and the healthier you will become.  After some time training, you will become extremely attune to your body.  Listen to it.  Push as hard as you can for as long as you can.  Train multiple hours a day, if possible.  It’s not meant to be easy.  However, listen to what your body is telling you and take a break when needed to recover.

Lacking any one of the three components of the Health Trinity negatively impacts the other two so do your best to stay on course with proper sleep, nutrition, and training.  Staying on track with each of the three will accelerate both your expanding fitness and martial ability.

Kung Fu Wisdom

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Wisdom

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Wisdom

When you have envisaged a goal and created its attainment on the plane of mind, nothing can stop you from realizing that goal but the creation of your failure on the plane of mind.

There is no such thing as failure unless it is accepted.  There is no such thing as defeat unless it is accepted.  There is no such thing as evil unless it is accepted.

Exercise vs. Training

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

The Difference Between Exercising and Training

Why did/do you you go to school?  Why do you think there are grades and exams and reviews in school? Why not just pick up a few books and start reading randomly? Why do you work at an organization with a structure? Why are the most successful organizations the ones with the best policies and strategies? Why not just walk out into the world and figure out some random way to make a living? Why do you practice the same movements over and over again? Why not just move your limbs the way you want to or draw some random colored lines and hope they make sense?

Success doesn’t work that way. And a transformation from skilled to unskilled, fat to fit, weak to strong, or unhealthy to healthy doesn’t work that way either.

Exercise is as any activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.  It is exercise for today – focused on the short-term.  Training, on the other hand, is way more than that.

Training is the act of learning, practicing, analyzing, monitoring and progressing per a plan that is designed taking into consideration the student’s current position in the relevant space and future goals. It involves careful instruction, self-reflection, structure, testing, commitment, and adherence.  It is exercise with a purpose.

It is important to understand that random acts of physical activity, though better than a carefully planned regimen of sitting around, eating junk, and doing virtually nothing, won’t take you far in acquiring skill. You need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn to understand your body and it’s capacity for strength, agility, and flexibility. You need to practice movements that have a purpose. You need to strive to progress. You need to train.

The Base of a Mountain

Martial Arts Foundation

Martial Arts Foundation

“In this world, if you start at the base of a mountain and travel far enough, you will find yourself on the other side at the base of the mountain again;  you are still at the base of the mountain, but in a completely different place.  This is the same for any path of study.  You start at the beginning and struggle uphill.  You go deeper and deeper into it until you find yourself on the other side with a heart of understanding.  This is the way of all learning, and it is the only path to enlightenment.  

Understanding this, I do not hold back knowledge from my students because they have not trained long enough.  Each person is different and understanding comes differently to each of us, so I try to gauge the student’s level of understanding and teach each one what he is ready for at that time.  I do not like pledges or oaths of secrecy.  There are no secrets.  Knowledge is open to all, but few truly want it.  There is no need to hide things; most people go out of their way to avoid the truth.  

With this in mind, teach the students everything they can handle and hide nothing, because very few of them will ever come to real understanding anyway.  Leave the knowledge in the open and only true warriors will find it.  Give them everything you have and help them past whatever shortcomings they have.  The teacher should help the student come to his own enlightenment.  Only this way will the student truly know strategy.”

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

Wondering If You’re Getting Any Health Benefits From Your Program? So Was I.

Brea Shaolin Kung fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

When I walked into the Shaolin Kung Fu School for the first time, I wasn’t thinking about my health.  My aim was more about self-discovery.  Could I develop some new qualities to even a mediocre level, let alone a higher sash level, when I was starting with no experience and no skill?  Where would any balance, any flexibility, any technique, any mental focus really come from?  These would certainly not spring out from my years of “training” as a black sash in the art of Couch Potato.  The only qualities achieved from that program were my remote control thumb techniques and a well developed spare tire.

Early on, I didn’t figure to achieve any health benefits, because I wasn’t sure I’d be around long.  It seemed to take many weeks just to not fall over on a low stretch kick.  Watching the more experienced students practice sometimes made me feel agonizingly slow and lacking in talent.  The road to yellow sash seemed miles and miles long.  Moving in inches was making for a long journey.  I could tell this was going to be another story of the tortoise and the hare, where I was the tortoise once again.  Like the tortoise, I knew I could be determined and consistent at least.  However, I do believe I was sweating a lot more than a tortoise.

After about ten months at the School, I went to my doctor and had blood drawn for a follow-up to a medical procedure.  By coincidence, I had baseline tests taken shortly before I started kung fu.  I was curious to see how my heart and blood qualities had changed following less than a year of training.  The results showed pretty big changes:

  • Overall Cholesterol at 178, improved 15%.
  • LDL’s (the “bad” cholesterol) at 113, improved 19%.
  • Blood pressure at 104/70, improved by 19%/21%.
  • Pulse rate at 52, down from 77 or 32%.

I was excited, and felt this was nice improvement, especially for a tortoise.  Maybe best of all, it reminded me that studying kung fu is not a competition with others, and certainly not a race.  My first year of diligent effort had paid off nicely, even recognizing my own skill level and slow starting physical condition.  I was competent in many basic techniques, and shown improvement in flexibility and balance.  And surprise, I had achieved much improvement in an unexpected area, my health!

By Jim Reeder, a former Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School student

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…

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.

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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

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.

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.

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.

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!

Self-Study: Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups

Like push-ups, pull-ups (and chin-ups) are an outstanding upper body workout that can really benefit your overall level of fitness and kung fu training.  Unlike push-ups, however, they do require a pull-up bar and they are a bit more difficult to execute.  The reason why they are so difficult is the required strength per pound of body weight to complete even one.  People carrying extra body fat will find pull-ups more difficult than those who don’t because the extra body weight is literally weighing them down.  That said, a simple way to do more pull-ups is to lose body fat (maintain a diet of high quality calories and eliminate calories that don’t provide any nutritional benefit), train hard at least every other day, and practice pull ups daily (or at least every other day.)

Pull-ups are the perfect complementary exercise to push-ups for developing upper body strength.  As the names suggest, one is pushing and the other is pulling.  These different actions work different muscle groups.  Pushing something simultaneously engages triceps, chest, shoulder, and midsection.  Pulling exercises work most of the remaining upper body muscles such as:  biceps, forearms, upper back muscles, and midsection.  Together, push-ups and pull-ups are all anyone really needs to develop upper “body armor”.

In fact, pull-ups are such a barometer of physical fitness that many armed forces around the world use them to determine how fit a member is.  The U.S. Marine Corps uses pull-ups as one of three components in its Physical Fitness Test (the other two being crunches and a three-mile run.)  Most of these groups want to see 15-20 pull-ups done consecutively before feet touch the ground.  That is a good goal to have.  If you can manage to get 3 sets of 20 reps of pull-ups you will truly have high level of fitness.  If you can do that many one arm pull-ups, very few people will have your level of upper body strength.

There are a number of pull-up variations and methods for developing a pull-ups.  We’ll start from the most basic and move up to the more advanced:

1.  Australian Pull-Ups (an upside-down push-up)

Australian Pull-Up

These are a great introduction to pull-ups/chin-ups as they develop many of the same muscles, but aren’t as difficult as your feet are touching ground and supporting the body as much as needed.  Accessibility can be a problem.  Parks with jungle gyms or even putting a broom handle/pole on the seats of two chairs will do the job.  When you can get to 20 straight Australian Pull-Ups, you will be on well on your way to doing regular pull-ups.

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2.  Chin-Ups (Palms facing athlete)

Chin-up

Chin-Ups are slightly easier than Pull-Ups, but work many of the same muscles.  If you can’t do one chin-up, either continue to work on the Australian pull-ups or get a chair and start from the top of the pull-up and resist going down as much as possible.  Even better, hold for 5 seconds at the top, at the midpoint, and at the bottom.  Continue to do that until you can do a chin-up.  Gradually build until you can do 50 chin-ups in a day and then try to string together 3 sets of 20 pull-ups in a row.

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3.  Pull-Ups (palms face away from athlete)

Pull-ups

Pull-ups are what many people confuse with Chin-Ups… pull-ups have palms facing away.  Strict pull-ups are when the arms and back “pull” the body up and down in a linear fashion without much swinging.  “Kipping” pull-ups occur when the body swings (kips) in order to get to the top of the chin-up.  Typically, people revert to kipping when they approach failure during the final strict pull-ups and they do whatever it takes to get their chin above the bar.  The kip works a few different muscle groups from the strict.  Either one is fine to do as long as you do them consistently and to failure.  How wide you grip the bar is a similar story.  Narrow grips on the bar work many of the same muscle groups as wide grips, but they also work other muscles too.  Switching these up is a smart way to increase difficulty and strengthen more areas of the body.

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4.  Muscle-ups

Muscle-Ups

Muscle-ups are something we most commonly see gymnasts do in competition.  Typically, the practitioner does a kipping pull up to get their waste on the bar and then pushes up with their arms until straight.  This exercise can be thought of as combining a pull-up with a dip.  For this reason, it’s level of difficulty is fairly high. Try them if your at a park with a high bar.

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5.  Clapping Pull-Ups

Clap Pull-Up

For those who can do a good number of straight pull-ups, adding a clap at the top of the pull-up can up the ante with explosive speed and power.  Like all pull-ups, you must have a good deal of strength per pound to accomplish clapping pull-ups.  These typically require a kip to get enough momentum to clap and get your hands back on the bar.

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6.  One Arm Chin-Ups

One Arm Chin Up

One Arm Chin-Ups are the most difficult of all the chin-up/pull-up options, with maybe an exception being weighted pull-ups/chin-ups.  As the pictures suggest, you need to grab the wrist of the arm not pulling to maintain a center of balance while performing a one-armed chin-up.  No weight machines or plates are needed for those exceedingly strong people who can perform a number of one-armed chin-ups in a row.

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!