Health Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan

  • The gentle movements help the body strengthen bone mass with zero joint damage and are lower impact than brisk walking.
  • Burns nearly as many calories as downhill skiing and has many of the same benefits as low-impact aerobic exercise.
  • Balance and coordination improvements that are nearly twice as effective as the best balance training exercises.
  • Helps in letting go of nervous tension.  This makes everything inside the body work better, which often makes the world around us seem better.
  • Sometimes lowers blood pressure as effectively as medicine
  • The goal is balance, with a mindful of awareness of constant adjustment of posture; increasing grace, flexibility and an elongated form.  As we age, it is tension that shortens our bodies more than gravity.
  • Promotes stroke recovery due to soothing demands on left brain – right brain interaction as well as mind-body connection.
  • Tones the muscles, increases breathing capacity, lowers stress levels, improves organ function, and corrects poor posture.  All these things help the body maximize its self-healing potential.
  • Requires the body to rotate about 95% thereby clearing the joints of calcium deposits and gently massages the internal organs to improve digestion.  Swimming only rotates 65% of the body motions.
  • Stimulates the liquid systems of the body to keep our joints flexible.
  • The muscles seem to begin releasing their tight grip on the bones.  This allows the spine to realign and reduces chronic pain.
  • Slow standing movements massage the bottoms of the feet, stimulating all the acupuncture points through acupressure, thereby treating the whole body.
  • Encourages stillness within so that the nervous system can begin to cleanse the accumulated toxins and clear the lymph glands.  Anxiety creates lactic acid within our body and relaxation allows for tissue cleansing.

Scaling Of Classes

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

All classes at our school are scaled – beginners learn and practice what is appropriate for beginners and more advanced students learn and practice what is appropriate for their rank.  Besides the obvious reason of this is how it was done traditionally, there are a number of reasons for this progression.

First, it certainly does not make sense for students in their first week at the school to do the same level of work as the most senior students who have been training for years.  The new students would become overwhelmed and exhausted – perhaps question why they signed up in the first place.  By the same token, if the more advanced students had the same workload as the new students they wouldn’t be pressed enough to fully develop their bodies and skills.  Thus, students can expect to be pushed more with less rest and more intensity after each rank is attained.

Second, there is another purpose for the lower rank resting (besides catching their breath).  It is important for them to watch class and observe what the higher rank is doing.  They will clearly be able to see the different speeds, powers, balance, etc. between the various ranks and hopefully learn and be inspired to advance themselves..  Movements, forms, and techniques they will soon be learning will be done before them and will help in their learning if they choose to pay attention.

Third, like most things in life, the basics are the foundation that all advanced skills are built on and without a sound foundation of basics the more difficult aspects of kung fu won’t come.  Therefore, new students must put in a good deal of practice in the basics to develop competency.  Once they have demonstrated ability to properly execute what they’ve been taught, then the student can move on and learn other techniques that may seem more awkward and demanding.  Should students learn too much, too fast there is a chance that they can forget details of the movements taught or even the entire movement.  There is even a chance of injury.  This is why there is a natural progression of learning and development at our school.

Always keep in mind that the basics must always be drilled and that more difficult and advanced aspects of kung fu come in time.  Don’t mistake more advanced looking techniques or forms as more advanced kung fu.  Being able to properly execute techniques – be they “beginner” or “advanced” in sparring with relative grace and ease is the ultimate expression of kung fu skill.

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

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?”

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.

Breath Through The Nose

It will be heard many times in class, “Breath through your nose!”  There is good reason for this – both from a western and an eastern standpoint.

Western medicine offers a number of scientific reasons why breathing through the nose is superior to breathing through the mouth.  Nasal breathing provides better air filtration than oral breathing due to its cleansing passage through the nostrils and sinuses.  Additionally, the nasal passage warms the air as well as lubricates it so as to lessen further damage to the throat.  You will notice a big, big difference between breathing through your nose or your mouth when training in the cold or when you have a sore throat or laryngitis.

Eastern medicine and most Chinese martial arts suggest breathing through the nose exclusively – although there are some styles that exhale through the mouth.  There are a number of reasons for breathing through the nose.  It is thought that the regulation of your internal energy (chi) can only be accomplished when your breath has been regulated properly via nasal breathing.  Controlling your breath thru the nose when overly exhausted (such as holding stances for a very long time or doing a thousand kicks) or when excited is necessary to control your energy and avoid stomach cramps that often come from breathing through your mouth.  This is particularly important in sparring or in an actual fight as nasal breathing assists in withstanding attacks to the abdomen.  Should you get kicked in the stomach while breathing through your mouth, you are in for trouble.  Whereas, breathing through your nose (with proper training) provides more protection.

You should still train with a congested nose due to sickness or allergies.  Although it will be difficult, try your best to breath through your nose anyway.  It may require focus and effort, but it is often the case that the congestion is gone by the end of class if you get lost in your training.  If the congestion is too great, bow out of class to blow your nose and hurry back.  Then, try again to focus on breathing through your nose.

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.

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.

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.

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 – #8 Rooster

The eighth of the eight stances is the Rooster:

  • 100% weight on back leg
  • Front leg knee is parallel to ground, at minimum.  Knee is slightly turned inward to cover groin.  Foot hangs loosely.
  • Shoulders at 45 degree angle to target.  Front arm is parallel to ground and extended in punch with slight bend at elbow.
  • Rear arm is bent at elbow and fist is near elbow pocket of front arm.
  • Body is relaxed – almost sinking.
  • Focus on point above fist to maintain balance.

Rooster - FrontRooster - SideRooster - Back

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

The Eight Stances – #6 50-50 Stance

The sixth stance of the eight is the 50-50:

  • Front Leg – 50% – Much like the front leg of the Forward Bow stance (#2)
  • Back Leg – 50% – Much like the back leg of the Horse Stance (#1)
  • Be sure to keep back perpendicular to the ground and head erect
  • Sit in the stance
  • The front fist is face level and palm up.  The rear fist is underneath the elbow of the front arm and palm down.
  • Eyes are in the direction of the front fist

50-50 - Front50-50 - Side50-50 - Back

The Eight Stances – #5 Praying Mantis Stance

The fifth stance of the eight is the Praying Mantis:

  • Weight distribution is 70% back leg and 30% front leg
  • Sit on back leg with foot at 45 degree angle.  Front leg is bent with knee turned inward to protect groin.  Front leg weight rests on ball of foot.
  • Shoulders are at 45 degree angle to target.  Arms are bent at elbow and at “fighting ready”.  Elbows are directly above knees.
  • Mantis hands can be thumb touching pointer finger, thumb touching pointer and middle fingers, or thumb touching all fingers.  Wrist is relaxed and bent.
  • Back is straight and slightly rounded.
  • Eyes look over knuckles of front hand

Tang Lang - FrontTang Lang - SideTang Lang - Back

The Eight Stances – #4 Dragon Stance

The fourth stance of the eight is the Dragon Stance:

  • Twist to the left or right and sink down in this low stance
  • 70% of weight on front leg – 30% on back leg
  • Back knee gets very close to touching achilles tendon of front leg
  • Front arm bent at elbow and palm is facing outward.
  • Rear arm is protecting armpit/ribs area with fingers facing up
  • Eyes are looking underneath front arm
  • Keep back straight, but slightly rounded
  • Rear foot heal is off the ground and weight is on toes

Dragon - FrontDragon - SideDragon - Back

The Eight Stances – #3 Empty Stance

The third of the eight stances is the Empty Stance:

  • Virtually all bodyweight rests on the back leg – rear foot is at 45 degree angle 
  • Front foot is on its heal with toes pointing up and slightly inward
  • Front arm is bent, elbow facing down, hands open and eyesight gazed between thumb and fingers
  • Back arm is bent with hand nearby front arm’s elbow
  • Shoulders are at 45 degree angle to front

Empty Stance - FrontEmpty Stance - SideEmpty Stance - back

The Eight Stances – #2 Forward Bow Stance

The second stance of the eight is the Forward Bow.

  • Front leg is bent and stance is low enough whereby your knee blocks your eyes from seeing the toes.  Front thigh is parallel to ground in low stance.  Back leg is almost straight.
  • Front knee is directly above the heel – not too far forward, nor too far back
  • Front foot is facing forward, but slighting turned in.  Rear foot is at 45 degree angle from direction of punch.
  • Eyes look over the knuckles of the front fists
  • Arms are bent and relaxed – parallel to the ground and punching out with tight fists.
  • Weight is distributed 60% to the front leg and 40% to the back.
  • Head is held gently upright, as if suspended by a string from above.

Forward Bow - FrontForward Bow - SideForward Bow - Back

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…

The Eight Stances – #1 Horse Stance

The first stance of the eight is the Horse Stance.

  • Imagine the position of your lower body when riding a horse and that’s how the lower body should sit in the stance.
  • Toes point forward – almost inward – and the kneecaps spread outward somewhat.
  • Eyes look over knuckles of the front fist
  • Weight is spread evenly between the left and right legs (50-50) and the muscles of both the thighs and rump should be used to hold the stance
  • Back is relaxed, mostly straight, and perpendicular to the ground

Horse Stance - FrontHorse Stance - SideIMG_1515

The Eight Stances – A Brief Summary

Dragon Stance

The 8 Stances are a highly important part of your training – particularly the training of tung lung (praying mantis).  The purpose of stance training is to develop leg strength, rooting, relaxation, and the development of chi.  Additional benefits include attention to natural breathing thru the nose and mental focus.  Of course, their will be times when stances seem incredibly difficult.  This is to be expected and one of the reasons why Chinese martial arts took the name of ‘kung fu’, which means “hard work”.

A few things to consider when training the 8 stances.  First, your upper body must remain as vertical (perpendicular to the ground) as possible.  Leaning either forward or backward creates a few problems including unwanted tightness, incorrect body alignment, and  less than perfect balance.  Practicing the stances at home in front of a mirror can help ensure proper posture.

Second, focus your mind on relaxing your muscles.  The upper body muscles are the easiest to  relax during stance training – although for some, all relaxation is difficult when holding low stances.  There should be no tension.  Relaxing the muscles of the lower body requires much more practice and mental focus.  Shaking legs from exhaustion is a common and expected reaction when holding low stances for extended amounts of time.  This does not mean it’s time to break your stance!

You must overcome the desire to break your stance and rise up or lower your stance to alleviate the pain.  Find a stead point to fix your gaze and control your breathing.  Relax your mind and just focus on what you’re gazing at and try not to recognize the exhaustion of your leg muscles.  Eventually, the “burn” will subside and you will feel a combination of incredible body warmth and blood flow.  Martial arts masters thru the ages believe this to be “chi” or the “life force” to be flowing through your body.  This sensation develops explosive power and speed and will accelerate your progress.

Third, pay strict attention to the proper weighting of each stance.  Some require the weight to be equally distributed between the feet, while some require the weight of the stance to be on only one foot.  This also asks the practitioner to be cognizant of where the weight is to rest on the sole of the foot.  It should be evenly distributed on the entire foot when the entire foot is on the ground.  Feel your toes gripping into the ground.

Fourth, sink your weight and lower your stance as low as possible while keeping correct posture and relaxed muscles.  Low stance training is similar to kicking training.  Most kicks used in sparring are waist level and lower, but when practicing kicks we kick as high and hard as possible.  Most stances used in sparring aren’t super low, but when practicing stances and doing forms we keep as low a stance as possible.

Lastly, the 8 Stances are a part of your training that can easily be done at home or anywhere you find time to train.  Start off with 5 seconds per side for each stance.  Continue doing that daily for a few weeks and then bump it up to 10 second per side for each stance.  Continue this kind of progression until you can do each stance for a minute each side.

Self-Study: Push-ups

Push-ups are an ideal upper body conditioning exercise for martial arts that are frequently incorporated in class.  Besides the obvious chest, arm, and shoulder muscles push-ups develop, they are also a great exercise for the core of your body including the abdominals and obliques.  Fist push-ups also teach students how to make a proper fist to avoid hand/wrist injury when making contact with something.

Push-up Principles:

  • Must have full range of motion… chest and hips touch ground together on flat push-ups.  If inclined or declined, be sure to gently touch chest to surface.  At top of push-up, arms do not completely lock out  – there continues to be a slight bend at the elbow (exactly like a punch).
  • Speed… as fast as you can go while maintaining full range of motion and complete control of body – slowing is natural as muscles start to give.  All push-ups are done with complete safety in mind so stop before you fail.
  • Straight body (except Chinese push-ups)…. even just holding your body straight at the top of the push-up (plank) is a workout
  • Head is gently lifted up and eyes are looking forward

The Student’s Push-up Evolution

Push-ups are  upper body strengthening and conditioning exercise.  Below is a list of push-up variations and modifications.  There are numerous push-up techniques… too numerous in fact to mention here, but the major ones will be shown.  If you can do 3 sets of 20 of #1 Standing push-ups leaning against a wall or table, then you can move onto then next one  – Standard Push-ups (On Knees).  Once those can be done, then Standard Push Ups (Flat) and so on.  The goal is to be able to go down the entire list and comfortably be able to complete all.  If you can do this, you will have attained a high degree of upper body strength – no weight machines necessary.

1.  Standing push-up leaning against a wall or table

Wall Push Up

Wall Push Up

2.  Standard Push-ups (On Knees, Flat, Declined)

Knee Push Up

Knee Push Up

Regular Push Up

Regular Push Up

Decline Push Up

Decline Push Up

3.  Diamonds (On Knees, Flat, Declined)

Diamond Push Up

Diamond Push Up

4.  Fist Push-ups (On Knees, Flat, Declined)

Fist Push Up

Fist Push Up

5.  Clapping Push-ups (On Knees, Flat, Declined)

Clapping Push Up

Clapping Push Up

6.  Finger Push Ups (On Knees, Flat, Declined)

Finger Push Up

Finger Push Up

7.  Chinese Push Ups

Chinese Push Up

Chinese Push Up

8.  One Arm Push-up (Incline, Flat, Declined)

One-arm Push Up

One-arm Push Up