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.

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Source URL: http://www.positscience.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise

Links:

[1] https://brainhq.positscience.com/pscweb-link/start

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12595152

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15159540

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15769301

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!

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.