Posts tagged kung fu



Kung Fu Body Conditioning

Part of my gym avoidance mentality is due to my martial arts training.

(YMAA Trailer 3) 功夫強身訓練 (by YMAARetreatCenter)

Panther Hops at 1:17 for those who have asked.

I understand,

Watching this was amazed how many moves have similarities to CrossFit training.


So, after failing my forth grading towards the end of last year, which at the time I wasn’t sure whether I would pass, it was time to try again. I did the special pre-grading lesson which is a great last chance to practice combinations and patterns.

Onto the grading; I was the only person on the 4th level, starting off with combinations of techniques being given by my instructor which put me at ease and went well.

After the 4th grading you need to know the names of each pattern in Chinese and English. But for the first time the Chief instructor started asking us at the lower levels. Luckily I had learnt them just in case and got them right.

Part way through the start of one of my patterns a bag fell off the side bench, it was mine, and the Chief Instructor joked “wow was that your Chi?” I managed to keep calm and replied “yes!” before carrying on.

After finishing it is always inspiring to watch other students grading on higher patterns, but you are also waiting to find out if you have passed. I was very pleased to hear that I had, especially with the Chief Instructor saying how much I had improved since failing before. I had kept my breathing under control and it really showed that a lot of martial arts is all in the mind.

So I haven’t blogged about Kung Fu for a while, but I’m still training every week. It has had a big effect on my fitness in general, by pushing me to train harder, and get fitter through more varied activities such as CrossFit and more running. This does have a knock on effect though, and I often wonder whether I devote enough time to actual Kung Fu practice outside of lessons. After failing my last grading, this makes me slightly nervous, as the next one is this weekend! I think that martial arts is within everything and hopefully my increased fitness and the training I have done will pay off.

Last night I had the last lesson before the grading, and the last time to ask questions of my instructor. He seemed happy with what I did and I am ready to pass this time. It felt good to do an hour and a half of solid practice without getting distracted by the new techniques that the rest of the class were learning.  

The grading is meant to be tense and pressured. To try and put you in a similar situation, to if you had to use your skills for real, to give you the felling of adrenalin rushing. There are no spectators allowed and it is purely the students grading and the Chief Instructor and any other Instructors that are there. I know I have learnt what I need to pass, I just have to remember to breathe, and try my hardest, as at the end of the day, that is all you can do.

Another step along the journey…

Writing 30,000 feet up flying to Amman not knowing if I’ll be able to upload this post when I land. As you may have been able to tell from some of my earlier blog posts when I’m not challenging myself I do love to travel. I believe I’m currently somewhere over the Alps or if not then some equally amazing mountain range.

Last weekend I had my fourth Kung Fu grading. I knew I was ready for it as otherwise my instructor would have not let me go for it. But having done a lot of distance walking and mountain climbing I was aware that I had not put in as much practice as I could have done.

There is always a lesson in the morning before the grading and it is ideal to get in the right frame of mind and as it is run by the Chief Instructor you are open to extra insight and information. Running through combinations of moves for the first half and then our patterns I felt reasonably confident, I knew it would come down to nerves at the end of the day whether I would pass.

Lining up in rows we waited to be called forward. There were a number of students on their first gradings and one on his third before it was my turn so there was time for the nerves to rise. When I was called forward I was trying to think that really this is no different to a lesson and I should be able to do everything asked of me.

The first combination involved a front kick and roundhouse without putting the foot down, and straight away I knew that being at a higher level the difficulty was increased more than I imagined. Or the Chief Instructor was in a playful mood. I believe managed to get through the combinations successfully.

Then it was onto the patterns. From the highest to the lowest. I did the fourth pattern fine, and then on the third I messed up. It is similar to the first and I did this halfway through instead. I then did the second with the improvements that I needed to show, but by the time I got to the first I had to remind myself to breathe.

It is amazing how being put on the spot in this grading situation really changes everything. It really is a test of keeping calm under pressure, more than anything. I didn’t pass this time but came away feeling positive. I had learnt a lot and seen one guy do his thirteenth grading was amazing to watch. Involving both broad sword and staff patterns as well.

I had sort of expected to pass, but in a strange way I am glad I didn’t. As the assistant Chief Instructor reassured me that she had failed many times before and said that the best martial artists always fail along the way. It reminded me that it is just another step in the journey of improvement and now I will shortly be following in the footsteps of history as I shortly land in Amman, Jordan and have a break and time to reflect in the desert. Then to train again and come back stronger ready for the upcoming competition!

…and so to return and blog some of my Jordan experiences as well as the challenges of 2013!

After completing the last 100km trek, you would think that a good rest would be the main thing on your mind, but it is strange how quickly the mental and physical pain is forgotten, and the “never agains” turn into “what nexts?”

I’m slowly easing myself back into training with a couple of sessions each week, mostly on upper body work, but also with lots of stretching and it’s great to feel the strength coming back into my legs.

The main focus has been my Kung Fu, as this weekend I have my fourth grading. This will focus on combinations of techniques, but the main aspect is the patterns. I have to show improvement on the first three that I have already graded on as well as showing that I have learnt the fourth. These patterns hold the essence of the White Crane Form and the more patterns I learn it is exciting to see what secrets they hold. I have entered the clubs competition in a month for this fourth pattern as it is my favourite, so watch this space to see how I do. If I pass the grading I will be competing against higher levels too.

As my fitness is greatly increased after all the walking I am starting to run more and hope to run a 5k event towards the end of the year, perhaps working up to a 10k or even half marathon next year! There are so many challenges out there and am starting to look out for the next big one. Will it be another 100k, or will it be further! But in the meantime, next week it’s time for a holiday. Very lucky to have friends in Jordan, so expect photo posts of deserts and other amazing places to come….

A while back I asked my Kung Fu instructor to order me a staff. This is one of the most traditional weapons and the first weapon that we will learn. I wanted to start to get a feel for it, and got a white oak staff. What makes this staff form unique to White Crane, is that the staff is cut to the eyebrow height of the owner to personalise it so everyone’s staff is different. A lot of other martial arts keep it at the standard 6 foot.

My instructor taught me some strength exercises using the staff.
Standing in a horse stance, holding the staff close to one end and rotating the wrist left and right, and back and forwards worked the forearms like nothing else I have ever done.

I also learnt 2 moves. A thrusting attack and and overhead slash. It feels quite strange, but that is good as it means I have lots to learn and develop before I properly learn the first staff pattern, Shaolin Tong Zi Gun (Shaolin staff).

Last night in Kung Fu was the first time I did the full 2 hours lesson since the 3 Peaks, so I was hoping my legs had recovered enough. We started off with Tai Chi and after some Chi Kung to warm up moved onto a stretching routine for about 20 minutes which was just what I needed. It featured some very intense calf and hamstring stretches. We then did some of the White Crane Tai Chi form, which is really relaxing and meditative.

Moving on to Kung Fu we always warm up with about 20 minutes of static and dynamic stretching and today we did more than normal, including frog stretch, which really stretches the hip muscles like nothing else! With around 40 minutes of stretching done, my legs felt so good that I could see that it would be of real benefit to fit in more stretching.

We spent the rest of the lesson in preparation for the grading which is in about 5 weeks. Lots of going over combinations of techniques and the patterns we would grade on. I am on my forth pattern but am still nervous about the second which I have already graded twice. Along with the first it needs to show improvement and I seem to be finding it hard transitioning between stances. Practice, practice, practice! The Competition which was due to be the day before the grading has moved back a month, phew! Might have just been too much to prepare for.

It takes time for changes and improvements to occur and after feeling for sometime that I hadn’t made any progress with my patterns at Kung Fu, I was really pleased to hear my instructor say that I have made great improvement. This was mainly in my first pattern, but this feeds into everything else and I was not sure I would be ready for grading on my fourth pattern, as I would have to show improvement on the previous ones. With around 2 months to go perhaps I will be ok for grading after all. I may even see if I can enter the competition, although this freaks me out a bit as never seen what one is like. 

We learnt some different and interesting  blocks as well. Ones that aren’t in the general curriculum but are part of the higher patterns. Really interesting to see what is in store in future. We finished with half an hour of non-contact sparring. One person attacked, whilst the other practiced different blocks. It was cool to see how practicing the blocks in drills in one way allows you to perfect the move, that in a fight situation you adapt to different angles and directions.

Often with today’s busy lifes, fitting in training is a case of rushing back from work, quickly eating, then rushing out to class. This can be quite stressful and sometimes the last thing you want to do is train hard. My Kung Fu Club has recently extended the lesson by half an hour to include a session of White Crane Tai Chi and Chi Kung. 

Part of this often starts with some basic standing meditation. Standing with your feet at shoulder width and knees slightly bent till you can’t see your feet. Pelvis tucked slightly under and your chin slightly down, or like you have a piece of string pulling up the crown of your head. This has the effect of making your spine straight and relaxed. Then with your arms just hanging at the side totally relaxed, you concentrate on breathing in through the nose, and out slowly through the mouth. Be aware of breathing into your abdomen. After a while this becomes natural as this is how babies breathe. As all you are doing is concentrating on breathing you soon completely unwind. It also warms you internally as the deep controlled abdomen breathing massages your internal organs. Being relaxed in this way also helps to maintain focus and not use up unnecessary energy in being tense.

For the last part of this weeks lesson we spent a lot time practicing our Patterns or Forms. These are a series of predetermined movements combined in such a way as to train you in different techniques whilst also strengthening and improving flexibility. There are 20 core patterns in our syllabus. I have so far graded on the first three over a year and a half. 

My instructor asked me to run through my highest (4th) pattern on which I hope to grade soon. I hadn’t practiced it much but was pleased to remember it reasonably well. I need to show improvement in the previous 3 patterns which is the hardest thing in grading. As I run through the movements it is easy to try and make them martial and fast but this can lead to mistakes, so I try to think back to the meditation at the beginning and slow everything down and concentrate on breathing in the right places at the same time. All that exists in this moment is body, mind and breathe, the sweat drips off me but I feel that just maybe I may be good enough to grade, or even enter my first competition with a pattern or even open hand sparring. The competition is the day before grading! Better get practicing!

Over the last few months my White Crane Kung Fu club has been slowly growing. We used to have an hour lesson and we needed extra numbers for more. We recently had enough for another half hour, and after I recently attended a weekend tai chi camp the Chief Instructor, gave permission for our Instructor to do half hour of White Crane Tai Chi at the beginning which we started tonight and was such a great way to energise, warm up and focus before Kung Fu especially during the Chi Kung session at the very beginning.

In the summer heat it is easier to stretch the muscles so we did lots more dynamic stretching and 2 man stretching which is much more extreme.

The first of these was a butterfly stretch. Sitting on the floor with your soles together, pull your heels in as close to your body. The partner then kneels behind with knees touching to support the lower back and then leans over and presses you knees down further towards the floor. It is up to you to guide them so that you don’t overdo it.

The second was a round house kick stretch. The partner crouched down and you rested your foot on their shoulder in the position of a low round house kick. They slow stood up till you said stop. Then after a while pushed it further. We then did kicks on pads to see if we were getting higher and it was great to see improvement.

Having walked 20 miles over hills at the weekend these stretching exercises really make me feel floaty afterwards, so even if I don’t feel I am getting massively more flexible they are definitely doing me good.

We then practised our patterns and did some sparring which along with the heat has made me tired so will stop writing. Tomorrow evening will feature more Chi Kung and will squeeze in some weights and kettle bells too. But for now one of the most important parts of training. Sleep!

Anyone got any good tips on stretching and increasing flexibility?

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