Self-Study: The New Form

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Forms Practice

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Forms Practice

As you train, new forms are taught to advance the number of techniques you know and develop your physical abilities.  These forms are an essential part of the art and each movement contains many techniques for fighting.  As mentioned in a prior post, it is not enough to know the form.  You must really know the form.   So much so that there must be no chance to get it wrong.  That is when you truly “own” it and are able to utilize the techniques inherent in it.  This may take hundreds – even thousands – of repetitions and many evolutions of the form for it to become ingrained in your body.

Besides attending class every day, a simple way to develop mastery of your form is to practice your newest form(s) at least once or twice every day.  As there is usually a good space of time between learning new forms, you will have the opportunity to practice this form (or perhaps the last few forms) at least dozens of times.  Maybe it’s when you wake up, before you leave for work/school, after dinner or sometime before bed.  Practice it slowly – on count – at first and then do it again at full speed.  Make a habit of it and your forms and your martial skill will improve faster and you will test for your next rank with much more confidence.  Don’t forget – this does not take the place of attending class regularly!  Take as many classes as you can to maximize your progress in the art!

Bravery

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Bravery

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Bravery

It’s not something you can see, but it has many colors and is incredibly important.

Bravery is one of the key requirements of the beginning student and becomes one of the major attributes of the advanced one.  It is also one of the primary reasons our school is ideal for today’s youth.  Many students who begin at our school do not have any martial arts experience, nor any familiarity with the Chinese language and culture.  Being that we are a traditional school, this can be intimidating and difficult for a westerner to adapt to.  Continuing on this course takes bravery.

Hundreds of kicks, holding stances for minutes on end, struggling to learn and remember movements, grueling sparring sessions with students possessing significantly more skill, training through injury, the pressures of preparing and testing for the next rank…. these are just a few of the many elements of kung fu that require bravery at our school.  It’s a personal decision each student must make to press on.

Students will also exhibit bravery out of school.  It might be as simple as stepping in to help someone in trouble to something more major like defending someone in a violent situation.  The bravery gained through the hard training provides a solid basis for the student to determine right from wrong and the strength and skill to act on it properly.

Using the Mirror

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Using the Mirror

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Using the Mirror

The mirror can be helpful for developing your kung fu ability.

Before or after class, you typically have time to practice anything you like:  kicks, stances, forms, chin na, san shou, etc.  By paying attention in class, you see how higher rank perform certain movements.  Perhaps you had a movement that was taught or corrected in class by Sifu.  The mirror let’s you judge for yourself just how well your movement stacks up.  Is your technique well balanced?  Are your stances low and strong?  Are your kicks and punches fast and sharp?  Is your posture correct or are you leaning, tense or just off?  The mirror and your honest judgment will give you the answers.

During class, the mirror is helpful in a different way.  Like the above, you can measure how high, fast and powerful your kicks are getting, how your stances compare to the rest of the class, etc.  However, during class, the mirror can be used when being taught new movements and greater details of old movements.  You can see multiple angles via the reflection and see things you might not have seen otherwise.  The mirror can also provide you with better peripheral vision to ensure you don’t hit or get hit by others.  It can even help you see others if you get confused or stuck – hopefully that doesn’t happen.

The mirrors can do all of that for you and more – the only thing you need to do is use them properly (i.e. not a great idea to look at yourself in the mirror when sparring and definitely not when you are standing at attention).  And one more thing, clean the sweat off of them after class every now and then.

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.

Invisible Growth

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu - Invisible Growth

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu – Invisible Growth

If one point can’t be drilled into each student enough is the idea of effort and consistency.  In our world of fast food, remote controls, light switches, movies, etc., most people expect results to come on command.   They expect instant gratification.  People start a diet or exercise routine in the morning and expect to see a different body that night when they look at themselves in the mirror or wonder how much weight they lost when they step on the scale.  Some people are ambitious enough to turn the TV off for a night and read a few pages of a book – only to set the book aside because the beginning was too boring.  We expect to see immediate results and constant feedback or else we believe something isn’t right.  However, that is not the way things work… not with kung fu and not with most things in life worth pursuing.

In fact, what is happening every day you train is “invisible growth”.  The development of kung fu skill is the pursuit of perfecting all the details that make up the art.  This perfection is gradual – it’s a process that requires painstaking effort and consistency mentioned time and again in class.  Because there are so many nuances to the movements, you won’t really know what you’re getting better at day in and day out.  By the time you recognize you’ve gotten better at some aspect of training, you’ve practiced the techniques over and over and over again – even many hundreds and thousands of times.  It’s quite likely that it is someone else telling you how much better you’ve gotten because you can’t even tell the difference.  When they ask what you’ve done to get better, your answer will likely be, “I don’t know – I just trained!” because there was probably no aha moment.  Those people probably weren’t around to watch you in class day in and day out.  They had and have the same opportunity as you to get better.

One last concept to help grasp the idea of “Invisible Growth” is that of compound interest – which was dubbed “the 8th wonder of the world.” by Albert Einstein.  “Compounding” has the same benefit to your kung fu skill as it does to money.  When it comes to the compounding of money – saving $20 a day and compounding it at 8%/year will yield $109,767 in 10 years, $353,412 in 20 years, $894,215 in 30 years, and $2,094,604 in 40 years.  No small sum for half a life of saving.  Although more money was saved from day 1 to year 30, there was much more money earned by the compounding effect during years 30-40.  This is the 8th wonder of the world working in your favor.  When it comes to compounding kung fu skill, the same phenomena will occur.  As you put your time in and learn movements and techniques, much will be new and their will be no compounding going on – yet.  As years go by and your body has internalized many of the basics, the compounding effect will kick in.  New movements will take little effort to learn, understand and utilize.  Your skill will flow as your body has memorized how to effortlessly move, react, and adapt to change.

By training an hour everyday you’d hit 10,000 hours of training in about 30 years and become a “kung fu millionaire”.

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.

The Components of Martial Skill – Power, Speed, Endurance, and Technique

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Martial Arts

Power is something that most everyone can develop.  Proper breathing (timely exhaling during the execution of a strike), whole body strength (a firm rooting to the ground, strong and loose muscles, and release of energy), and proper body alignment (posture and structure) create more power than what simple muscles can deliver.  There is far more to power than strong musculature.  Of course, if you attempt to employ power without correct speed or technique, then you have a wasted movement as you will not likely impact your target or if you do it may not have much effect.

Speed is a necessity for many techniques to work.  Without proper speed, your movements will likely be blocked, avoided or countered or, defensively, your blocks and evading techniques won’t be effective.  As with all of the components to fighting ability, speed can be developed with consistent training.  Each time you practice a movement – be it a punch, a kick, a sweep, a throw, a joint lock – you must try to do it faster (while maintaining both proper form and power).  Relaxation is a must to maximize speed as tightness delays movement.

Endurance ensures you have the physical capacity to successfully utilize techniques after a good deal of physical exertion.  You never know when you may be called on to defend yourself and loved ones from one or multiple opponents.  Sparring is typically held towards the end of class for this very reason.  Much of the hard work has already been done and it forces you to gather yourself (read:  “your energy”) and give 100% focus and effort when sparring your opponent.  This hard training is often when “chi” is cultivated and can come into play for more advanced students.  Never forget, you may be strong and fast, but if you’re too gassed to react properly in a physical encounter – you’re history.

Technique conquers all.  Technique is a broad concept that covers the proper execution of defensive and offensive fighting movements – including striking, grappling, throwing, sweeping, timing and distance.  It is the essence of any and all martial arts.  You may have power, speed and endurance (which might make you an incredible athlete), but without technique you will very likely not have the ability to successfully defend yourself against someone who does.

Learning a technique is one thing, but truly possessing a technique in such a way that you can call on it immediately in a fight is another.  This kind of mastery takes many years of practice with your kung fu brothers and sisters.  It’s learning the technique, re-learning it, repeating it over and over in hundreds (even thousands) of different positions and scenarios for the purpose of using it in the few serious physical engagements you may encounter.  Luckily, it doesn’t require a large arsenal of these mastered techniques to successfully defend yourself from untrained and even trained adversaries.  However, mastering technique is unquestionably the most difficult and time consuming of the four components.  It is also one of the most rewarding.

You must develop and maintain power, speed and endurance to make techniques work.  In fact, all four components of martial skill must be present.  If a punch or kick is flying to your face or body, your speed and technique will allow you to create space from the oncoming blow and block it.  Speed, power and technique are still required to successfully counter the attack.  Endurance may be required in certain circumstances, but is a necessity in your training when you are developing your speed, power and technique.  The endurance aspect brings ALL the components of martial skill together when you are exhausted while sparring and have to draw on your highest abilities to bring power, speed and technique to bear against an opponent.

Self Study – Super Slow Kicks

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu Kicking

An excellent way to increase strength and develop proper kicking form is to practice kicking very slowly – the slower you can do it, the harder it is.

One way to develop this, and the best way for newer students, is to put one hand on a wall and practice your slow kick – thus taking much of the balance difficulty out of the equation.  The kick could be a snap kick, heal kick, turn kick, or side kick for starters…. hook kick, cutting kick, or others can also be practiced for more advanced students.  Be sure to begin each kick by bringing up your knee first.  Then, depending on what kick it is, fully extend your leg as slowly as possible and move your torso accordingly.  As slowly as the kick went out, re-bend the knee and bring your torso back to an upright position.  This takes a great deal of body control and strength – both from your leg muscles and core of your body.

To add even more difficulty, take your hand off the wall and do these kicks without supporting yourself.  In addition to developing your ability to balance, this method requires even more strict attention to proper form.  Just as when you’re balancing on the wall, you must initiate each kick by raising your knee first, extend the leg fully, re-bend the knee while bringing torso back to upright position, and step back into start position.

This method of training is relatively difficult for people to do, typically for less limber practitioners who struggle with balance.   Start small by only doing a few kicks and keeping it at a speed that’s manageable.  Remember that proper form is more important than anything else.  Should you feel tightness in your hip or leg muscles, spend time stretching those muscles.  After practicing for a few weeks, add more kicks or simply keep the same number of kicks only do them more slowly.

The ultimate end result of this practice is the ability to properly execute head height kicks and hold them at full extension without losing your balance.  This requires a great deal of strength and flexibility, particularly in your legs and the benefits of this ability will certainly show in your sparring and forms.  However, the ability to execute slow kicks with perfect form will translate into fast, sharp full speed kicks, which will prove quite useful in sparring.

Failing a Rank Test

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu School

When you are told you may test for the next rank, it means that you have learned sufficient forms, techniques, and skills to potentially pass that test.  However, there are two things you need to do to pass.  The first is to prepare yourself in the weeks and months prior to the test by attending class regularly and practicing those things you will be tested on.  The second is to perform well at the test.  Without the former, the latter can be quite difficult.

If you don’t prepare and you don’t do well on your test, you will not pass and get the next rank.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad person.  It simply means you weren’t up to snuff on the day of the test.  The purpose of the test is for the student to perform under a stressful situation that requires exactness, concentration, and execution.  Those three attributes are exactly what are required should you need to defend yourself or others outside of the school.  The higher the rank, the more that is expected of you and the better you must perform to pass.

At some point after the test, you will be told what specifically you did or didn’t do that caused the failure.  Take this constructive criticism with you to your next class and the classes that follow and try to work on the areas of weakness.  It is important to come back to class strong and continue your training.  Remember, this is not a reflection on you as a person, just a reflection on the quality of your movement during the test.  Lastly, and most importantly, kung fu is a way of life that can keep you vital, vibrant, and strong the rest of your days.  Rank tests are only a part of your training.  Consistent, hard training will take you as far as you want to go.

Exercise – Good For The Brain, Too!

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Brea Shaolin Kung Fu

Most students feel absolutely invigorated and refreshed after a vigorous class.  Scientists are finding that physical exercise – like those in done at our school – combats stress, facilitates memory function, delay dementia, and assists brain cell growth and development.  Given kung fu’s physical demands of strength, explosive speed, balance, agility, flexibility, and coordination, kung fu may very well be the perfect exercise for not just physical health, but apparently brain health, too.  Below is an article found on the internet that goes into a little more detail:

Physical Exercise for Brain Health

Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health- it also helps your brain stay sharp.

Your brain is no different than rest of the muscles in your body–you either use it or you lose it. You utilize the gym to stimulate the growth of muscle cells, just as you use a brain fitness program [1] to increase connections in your brain. But you can actually get an additional brain boost by donning your sneakers and hitting the gym. The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioral level.

According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia[2], even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.  Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.

Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA [3] demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain- making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.  From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with “runner’s high” found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study from Stockholm [4] showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

The Golden Duo: Mental and Physical Exercise  

The usage of physical exercise in conjunction with BrainHQ brain training [1] increases your chances of increasing cognitive functions within parameters, including time of exercise and style of exercise. Interestingly, differences between exercise styles, such as opting for cycling over running, is associated with an enhanced brain function during and after working out.  Ballroom dancing, an activity with both physical and mental demands has had a higher impact on cognitive functioning over exercise or mental tasks alone, indicating that the best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy.

Tips for Choosing The Right Physical Exercise

In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.  Aerobic exercise is great for body and brain: not only does it improve brain function, but it also acts as a “first aid kit” on damaged brain cells.  Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases retention of new information, and better reaction to complex situations.  When looking to change up your work out, look for an activity that incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise, such as a dance class. If you like crunching time at the gym alone, opt for circuit work outs, which both quickly spike your heart rate, but also constantly redirect your attention.  Hitting a wall or mentally exhausted? Doing a few jumping jacks might reboot your brain.

© 2013 Posit Science. All Rights Reserved.

Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy (updated 06/06/12)

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

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

———————————————

Second:  Close the fingers

———————————————

Third:  Wrap the thumb

———————————————

Fourth:  Flatten the wrist

———————————————

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!

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?”

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.

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.

Being Corrected

Mastering kung fu is the mastery of the details that make up the system.  Perfection is unobtainable, but the endless pursuit of it is the mantra of most serious martial artists.  With this in place, self-improvement is a way of life.

Throughout your training you will be taught many things.  Shaolin kung fu is a vast art and tung lung (praying mantis) also has a great deal to it (although not as much as shaolin).  Because of this, some of what you’re taught will be grasped somewhat easily at first (at least you think it is), meanwhile, a good deal of it may be difficult to digest and you might find yourself struggling.  At this point, remember that if it was easy anyone could do it and clearly that is not the case.

When you have been taught something new or had something corrected, take the time to practice it after class or when you get home to commit it to memory (both brain and muscle).  Ask a higher rank, preferably the highest rank available, for guidance if needed.  It is important to do your best to learn things properly the first time.  But as it is can sometimes be difficult to get things the first time , it is important to listen and pay attention when you are being corrected.  Do your best to make the correction permanent and not go back to doing it incorrectly again in the next class.  Your instructor can only do so much – the endless pursuit of perfection falls on your shoulders.

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.

 

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

Muscle Memory

One of the most important differences between beginning, intermediate, advanced, and expert martial artists is the level of muscle memory that is acquired.  When a movement is repeated over time, long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.  Examples of muscle memory include riding a bike, typing on a keyboard, even handwriting, walking and talking.

Although the precise mechanism of muscle memory is unknown, what is theorized is that anyone learning a new activity, or practicing an old one has significant brain activity during this time. The walking child is gradually building neural pathways that will give the muscles a sense of muscle memory. In other words, even without thinking, the child is soon able to walk, and the muscles are completely accustomed to this process. The child doesn’t have to tell the body to walk; the body just knows how to do it, largely because neurons communicate with the muscles and say, “walk now.”

Muscle memory thus becomes an unconscious process. The muscles grow accustomed to certain types of movement. This is extremely important in kung fu training and is also why learning to do things right the first time is stressed.  You want your muscle memory to reflect the correct way to do things, not the incorrect way. Your muscle memory can actually play against you if you’ve constantly been practicing something the wrong way.

Teaching kung fu to students who have trained at other martial arts schools is typically more difficult than teaching someone without training.  It’s a lot harder to teach someone who’s learned a different fighting style for a few years because the first step is breaking them of the incorrect or incongruent habits they’ve acquired, which are now part of the muscle memory.  This requires diligence on part of both the teacher and student to focus effort on changing muscle memory.

Most top level athletes and performers in a variety of fields believe that muscle memory is best developed when the same activities are practiced over and over again, with any corrections of form that are needed. Thus, there needs to be a focus on the “quality of the quantity” of training.  This consistent and continual practice is what is required to develop kung fu fluency.

Beginning students are simply learning and internalizing the basic kung fu movements of stances, kicks, punches, etc.  As students improve, they are good enough to apply what they’ve learned in sparring at an intermediate level – although they may appear clumsy and uncoordinated.  At this point, these students typically still lack the muscle memory needed to adequately defend an opponent’s counter to their attack.  After much more practice and development of muscle memory, the student’s abilities become advanced and are then adeptly able to counter their opponent’s counter.  Because muscle memory doesn’t require conscious thought, it is smooth, quick, and powerful.  The final step, to reach an expert level of skill, requires such a massive amount of muscle memory and reflexive skill that very little thought is used when sparring.  The body just does what it has been programmed to do thru repetitive movements and the accumulation of muscle memory.

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