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.

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!