Self Study: Sit-Ups

Sit-ups are somewhat synonymous of abdominal exercise development.  While the muscles surrounding your abdomen get an amazing workout from kung fu training (particularly kicks), there are many exercises that focus on developing strength and endurance in those muscles (rectus abdominis and obliques).  Many of these exercises are performed in class from time to time, but are always great to add to your post-class routine in conjunction with push-ups and some stretching.  They are also a great exercise to perform at home as a self-study.

Quarters

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Quarters

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Quarters

This exercise works the upper abdominal muscles.  Lay down on your back with a straight body (or with slightly bent knees) and cross your arms over your body and have your hands on the opposite shoulder.  The movement is quick and simple – just lift your head and look at your toes.   When you see them, let your head back down to the ground.  A very basic exercise for those just starting to work their abdominal muscles.   For those of you who have no problem doing these, try doing them as quickly as possible up to 100.  If that didn’t test your muscles, then try doing 200.  Then move on to the next exercise.

Bicycles

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Bicycles

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Bicycles

This works the sides of your rectus abdominis, as well as the obliques.  Lay on your back, put your hands behind your head, and lift your legs off the ground.  Twist your body to touch your right elbow to your left knee, then immediately release and touch the left elbow to the right knee.  If you do these quick enough, it looks like your riding a bike, hence the name, bicycles (or bicycle crunches).

Leg Raises

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Leg Raises

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Leg Raises

This works the lower abdomen.  Lay on your back with your arms at your sides pressing down and your head raised off the ground.  Bring your knees up to your chest and shoot your feet straight up above your head.  Reverse the motion to complete one repetition.  This exercise is also good for the spine.

These are only a few of the multitude of exercises that work the mid-section.  As mentioned, the muscles of your abdomen are used a lot during training (think of turn kicks) and it is for this reason that various types of sit-ups are helpful for building strength and endurance.  Try them when you wake up in the morning, during commercials, after class, etc. – you will notice the benefits within a week or two.

A Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu - Low Ceiling

Brea Shao Lin Kung Fu – Low Ceiling

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

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

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

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

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

Training In The Cold

Training in Cold

Training in Cold

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

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

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

Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Training In The Heat

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Training In The Heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Too Old For Kung Fu

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

Kung Fu For Longevity

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

Crescent Kick

The Crescent Kick (or Outside Crescent Kick) is a specialty kick that is limited to attacking an opponents head and arms/hands.  For this reason, it must be practiced as high as possible to ensure speed, power and balance.

Crescent Kick

  • From a forward bow stance, move your weight forward onto your front foot and turn the hip of the back foot across the body.
  • Pick up the back foot and with a generally straight leg, bring it up towards it’s opposite shoulder.  As it approaches the top of the shoulder bring it across the body and back down.
  • The non-kicking foot naturally turns and grinds into the ground – mostly on the ball of the foot.
  • Both hands should be hit at about head level to prevent potential injury to the lower back.
  • Contact is made with the outside of the foot.
  • Always try to deliver 100% of power and speed to each kick during practice, as well as kick as high as possible.
  • Power, speed and balance are generated from proper form, strong “core” and leg muscles, and a relaxed body.  Those characteristics are attained by practicing the kick thousands and thousands of times.

Side Kick

The Side Kick is one of the most powerful kicks in our arsenal.  Due to its form and power, this kick is difficult to block and is best avoided by moving out of range or to the side of the kick.   The Side Kick’s targets can be as low as the foot and as high as the head.

The Side Kick:

  • From a horse stance, move your back foot forward behind and in front of the forward foot.
  • Place it down with the heel pointing toward the target.  As you are shifting weight forward onto that leg, pick up the knee of the forward leg.
  • Kick out the foot of the forward leg and counterbalance by gradually moving your torso backwards.  At full extension, the body should be a straight line towards the target.
  • The higher the knee is lifted, the higher the kick can go.
  • Contact is made with the heel of the foot and at full extension of the Side Kick – the heel is higher than the toes.
    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 Sick Kick is 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 thousands and thousands of them with purpose and a pursuit of perfection.