Martial Arts – Much More Than Fighting

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

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

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

Is Kung Fu Easy?

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

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

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

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

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.

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.

The Fist

It goes without saying, making a correct, basic fist is pretty important.  It can mean the difference between your broken hand or your opponent’s broken nose.  Happily, making a fist is quite simple to do.

First:  Start with an open hand

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Second:  Close the fingers

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Third:  Wrap the thumb

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Fourth:  Flatten the wrist

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Fifth:  Be sure  NOT to bend the wrist – this can damage or even break it on contact.  It must be flat!   And DO NOT tuck the thumb under the fingers!  That is a recipe for a damaged thumb.  There is no better way to ensure a proper fist than to perform push-ups on your fists.  Those push-ups will also help increase punching power!

DO NOT!

DO NOT!

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.

The Mind Of A Warrior

“It is because a mirror has no commitment to any image that it can clearly and accurately reflect any image before it.  The mind of a warrior is like a mirror in that it has no commitment to any outcome and is free to let form and purpose result on the spot, according to the situation.”

Yagyu Munenori (1571-1646) founder of Yagyu Shinkage-ryu style of swordsmanship. The Way of the Living Sword.  Trans. D.E Tarver

Never a straight arm…

Empty Stance - Front

One basic martial principle is to never fully extend your arm.  It follows that you never let an opponent straighten your arm.  An incredibly strong arm – once straightened – becomes as weak as a twig to someone who knows how to break or lock it in such a way that you become helpless.  In class, be sure to always keep a bend in the elbow when punching… punch with power, but only extend around 90% of the way.

Sticky Hands

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

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

Developing Martial Fluency… Like Learning To Play A Musical Instrument

Piano-Practice

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

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

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

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.

Minor Injuries – A Blessing In Disguise

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

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

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

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

Sore Muscles

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

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

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

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

Hard Training – Not for the Faint of Heart

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

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

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

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

Proper Posture

Posture is important both in training and out of the school.  It is important in class as it develops proper weighting and balance in most movements (kicks, punches, san shou, shuai jiao, forms, chin na, sparring).  Should your posture be off, your technique will be off and your power, speed, fluidity won’t be maximized for optimum results.  Outside of class, your posture says a lot to those around you.  For those who don’t mean to harm you, your posture can indicate confidence or lack of confidence in your workplace or social environment.  For those who do mean to harm you, your posture can tell your assailant a good deal about you as a potential target.  For all these reasons, your kung fu training focuses a good deal on maintaining proper posture at all times and you must be especially cognizant of it in your practice.

Both in and outside of school, proper posture is to have the spine – including your neck – roughly perpendicular to the ground.  That said, you need to maintain the natural curves of a healthy spine,which has a natural curvature.  Keep in mind that there are hundreds of different kung fu styles and some of their principals differ from our school’s, including this principle.  At our school, you are to push your stances as low while maintaining a relaxed, perpendicular spine.  There are other aspects of posture, such as:

  • Shoulders are relaxed and not raised.  Any tension in them is released.
  • Chest has no tension and is not overly extended.  There is no rigidity in the upper torso.
  • Chin is not extended out and head is raised upward.
  • Lower back must be relaxed and not bent forward or back.

Outside of the school, slumping over tells people around you a great deal.  Poor posture is typically a sign of low energy, poor self-esteem, and a general lack of confidence.  Simply put, it displays weakness which is something potential aggressors innately recognize and use when deciding who they should prey upon.  On the other hand, proper posture – indicating strength and confidence – can thwart potential aggression.

Of course, posture is no substitute for fighting skill, which can only be gathered through hundreds and thousands of hours of intense, proper training.  However, it is interesting to think that proper posture is needed to develop fighting skill, yet it is also helpful to prevent fighting in the first place!

Three Basic Powers of Chin-Na

The three basic powers of chin-na, using sticky hand techniques are:

1.  Apply the movement in a sudden, quick way so as to surprise the attacker while also breaking both their balance and mental, physical concentration of their attack.

2.  If the attacker tries to counter or make an adjustment to the movement, then more power is to be applied.  Enough so that the attacker is not only physically disadvantaged, but shouldn’t even be able to fix their eyes on the defender.

3.  Executing the technique in an overpowering and complete way.  This would not only disable the attacker’s counter movement or resistance, but usually damage their body as well.  This includes tearing muscles and/or tendons, as well as severely damaging or breaking joints.

Chin-na techniques are excellent control movements that can be used to deal with any type of attacker.  The first two powers are designed not only to stop an attacker, but also to insure the defender isn’t harmed as well.  The third power can be applied anytime.  But it must be kept in mind that it will most likely result in severe and permanent damage to the attacker.

Correct Blocking

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

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

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

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

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

Visualizing An Imaginary Opponent

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

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

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

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

Chin Na – A Primer

Chin Na is one of the core elements of our art (the others being striking and shuai jiao) that uses joint and muscle/tendon lock techniques to control your opponent.  “Chin” means to grab or seize and “Na” means to lock and break.  Virtually all Chinese Martial Arts styles employ chin na in some fashion – some more than others.  China, as the birthplace of Asian martial arts, was quite literally the mother of many famous chin na-like martial arts from other countries.  It is highly likely that chin na influenced the development of jiu jitsu, judo, and aikido in Japan and Hapkido in Korea.  Chin na is fun to learn and very efffective in self-defense against grabs or in the event you need to control an attacker.

There are many chin na techniques taught at our school.  In the beginning, escape movements are taught for the reason that you need to learn how to break free from a grab before you learn how to conquer it thru chin na.  After being taught the escape techniques and demonstrating some competency in them, students begin learning “attacking” chin na techniques used against adversaries who grab you.  People will typically grab to control through strength or possibly some form of wrestling.  Some grabs to the throat or neck can even be deadly.  Students must be able to react quickly and accurately with the correct technique to prevent harm to themselves and to gain control of your attacker.  In most cases, the attacker is devastated by painful attacks to nerves at various points on his body.

As students continue their training, other chin na techniques are taught to handle the same attack.  Grabs from training partners become stronger and more realistic, which demands a well-executed chin na technique.  Some techniques come naturally, while others may feel awkward or weak… just keep practicing.  Students are taught stunning, distracting strikes that provide an opening to apply chin na techniques.  As skill progresses, students will learn how to utilize chin na techniques from a punch, push or other strike.  Students will learn to apply one technique only to quickly move to a second or third chin na technique.  Proper reactions to missed or ineffective techniques will be trained.  Eventually,students begin to find opportunities to employ chin na techniques in sparring.  To be able to do this requires a good deal of skill, which, can only be gained through many hours of practice.

Chin na is a particularly useful skill to have for self-defense at it allows the defender the ability to show compassion in response to an attack.  Smaller practitioners who know chin na can utilize the techniques against larger and stronger opponents simply by using their body weight against weak areas of their aggressor.  Weak areas include joints, pressure points, or soft areas of the body.  This is why chin na can be particularly valuable for women.  Law enforcement and security workers can especially benefit from the control aspect of chin na techniques.  Chin na has a vast history and repertoire of techniques for those looking to gain control of attackers.

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

Defend Yourself and Protect Others

Bear vs. Tiger

“Defend yourself and protect others” is a protocol martial artists should follow.  There may be times when it is necessary to utilize the martial training taught in class.  This might be to protect yourself and take care of your loved ones.  It might even be to defend people you don’t know if the situation merits protecting others in need.  Whatever the cause, each particular situation requires careful consideration and an appropriate level of force if a verbal resolution or simply walking away can’t be attained.

The more skillful a martial artist becomes, the more he or she is able to finely control their level of violence and tailor it appropriately to the encounter at hand, rather than accidentally using too much or too little force.  Never forget that if you feel it’s become a life or death situation, you need to do whatever it takes to survive and nothing is off the table.  If the situation is not as serious as that, perhaps an intoxicated friend or loved one testing your skill, then do your best to avoid the situation (if you must get physical, defend yourself carefully by not letting the other person in).

The shoalin philosophy towards self-defense is to live and let live.  A high degree of morality is very important and we expect our students to be benevolent, honest, and brave.  Do your very best to avoid conflict and never seek it.  Safely walk away from an unneeded altercation when possible.  However, defend yourself with every ounce of skill you have when required!