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.

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.

Stances

All Kung Fu styles have their strengths, but one they all share is strength of the lower body, or leg strength.  They all employ low stances so as to be able to root themselves for offensive as well as defensive movements.

The twelve ton tois that we train are actually sets of movements which are designed to work on your stances.  Ton toi means thunderkick in Chinese.  Low stances gives a practitioner a lot of jumping and kicking power as well as excellent cardiovascular training.

So lower your stances!

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 Kung Fu Body

One ancillary benefit to developing your martial abilities via kung fu is the high level of physical fitness that comes with it.  Should you never use your kung fu in an altercation, the fitness aspect of the training may in fact be its greatest benefit.  Arduous kicks, punches, stances, push ups, sit ups, forms, sparring, shuai jiao, san shou, and even chin na work your body into a heavy sweat by the end of class and provides a deep sleep at night.  Doing this four or more hours a week with a balanced diet of nutritionally dense foods (vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, etc.) and eight hours of heavy slumber at night will likely transform your body into a “kung fu body” and keep you healthy, energetic, and strong long after your friends weaken and wilt.  The kung fu body is powerful, yet supple and loose with both explosive quickness and endurance.  Much like the tiger in the picture.

When you begin kung fu training, your body is typically not prepared for what it has in store for it – even if you work out at the local globo-gym or are training for the next 10k or marathon.  Our American culture places an emphasis on upper body strength when judging physical fitness and even ones fighting ability.  Martial cultures in Asia have a different opinion.   Leg strength is considered obligatory in Asian martial arts as strong kicks, explosive movements, and a low, stable center of gravity are essential to their art’s techniques.  For this reason, stance training is paramount in our kung fu and is often the most physically demanding training for new students.

Bodies change gradually as months of hard training go by.  Leg muscles are consistently sore, but getting stronger.  Your joints and muscles occasionally tighten as you learn what they can and can not do, but loosen in time.  Endurance improves – although you may not notice as you’re constantly pressed to learn and do do more in class.  As you continue to push your body and the boundaries of what it can do, you begin to feel more powerful and in control of your body than ever.  However, this feeling can quickly dissipate should you miss training for an extended period of time.  Keep pushing and stay consistent!

As months and years go by, you begin to notice a number of things about your body assuming you have given 100% of yourself in class, consistently slept 7-8 hours a night, and maintained a diet full of nutritionally dense food.  First, your body has found an ideal level of fat and muscle as your muscles become fat burning engines that require high quality fuel to maintain high levels of performance.  These muscles also become “body armor” to be used both in and out of the school.  Take to heart the term, “Your body is your temple” and feed it high quality calories consisting of meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts – and avoid most other nutritionally poor foods.  It will help both your energy in class and your recovery after class.

Second, classes or individual movements that were once very difficult are now quite do-able.  Joints have not only loosened, but have also gotten stronger, particularly for and from chin na.  You are able to comfortably hold positions that were once impossible.  You can kick higher and with more speed, balance, and fluidity than before.  Movements have ceased to use only a few muscles and joints and are now properly utilizing your entire body

Third, and almost most importantly, your endurance has increased dramatically.  High intensity classes are no longer something to fear or scale down – they are something to focus yourself on and charge through.  Your ‘”chi” will bring your energy up to whatever is required of the class, which is usually when your best concentration and skill come out.  As long as you  consistently push yourself year-in and year-out you will find very few people can match your level of health, vitality, and fitness.

Remember, there are few sports or other physical activities that can rival the all-around level of physical fitness offered through kung fu.  The various elements of class require muscle and joint flexibility, fluidity, explosive speed, endurance, and strength.  Those elements are requisite in your sparring, which is the underlying purpose of all the other training in your kung fu classes.  Ten or twenty minutes of continuous sparring will quickly show who has been consistently training and who has not.  The ability to demonstrate your skill through techniques after long bouts of  sparring demonstrates both your internal and external strength.  As expected, the student who takes classes as often and as long as possible will maximize both their physical health and martial skill.

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