Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Force Training- Conditioning Exercises

"Hard" styles of martial arts like Karate and Muay Thai are known to condition the body's weapons by striking wooden poles, punching bags and the "makiwara"(a striking post with a thick rope, straw mat or cushion stuffed with sand attached to it). These methods are effective in conditioning the palms, fists and feet. These exercises harden the bones of the impact area.

The muscles of the torso can also be toughened by repeated punching and striking. I just want to state that patience is necessary and that the object is to see how hard you can be hit without injury. Simply injuring yourself from the start serves no purpose. The object is rather to use your mind to strengthen your body.

A simple experiment will illustrate the principle that applies here:

When you are able to channel your qi, summon your qi to flow through your entire body. Feel your stomach's muscles become hard like steel. Now- maintaining this feeling of power- punch yourself in the stomach. This principle is used in breaking boards, bricks and tiles as well. It is also the same mental process that enables a person to walk over a bed of burning coals.

Wen Hsiu Quan's conditioning exercises are based on the above principle.

In this post I offer two very effective toughening exercises. Other exercises mey be derived from these two.

a) For powerful kicking: Stomping the ground.

Stand in a horseriding stance. Now, shifting your weight onto one leg straighten the supporting leg while enhaling rising into a crane stance. The raised leg's knee is raised with the calf hanging loose.
Exhaling and sinking the chi into the raised foot's heel, shoot the heel into the ground as you drop into the horse stance once again. Repeat with the other leg. This exercise does not only toughen the heel, but also the bones of the leg.

b) Developing Tiger Claws: Carrying Urns.

Okinawan Karateka have the benefit of "mi-ichi" or "strength stones" which are gripped with the fingertips to develop this type of strength. The closest substitute I have been able to find here in South Africa is the large 2 to 5 litre jars used to store USN's nutritional supplements. USN's products are intended to help bodybuilders gain the nutrients necessary to build muscle. I would like to personally thank them for providing martial artists with the containers, though. When filled with sand, these jars can be picked up and carried by the mouths thereof to develop a strong grip and strong fingertips. Using the wrists to swing the containers in circles also strengthen the wrists.

Wen Hsiu Quan's guiding principle in conditioning exercises is that a calm and fearless mind be maintained throughout exercises that cause the body pain or discomfort. As soon as the amount of pain or discomfort is too high for one to maintain a calm mind the amount of pain and discomfort should be reduced and increased again over time as one's toughness increases.

Next post will deal with tests of force and signs of good force.    


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Force- Basic force training exercises.

If you have practiced karate in a registered dojo you will most probably have spent hours on repetitive basic technique (Japanese: kihon) practice. The techniques performed during these sessions often appear different from how they would look in a real fight. This is especially true of the traditional schools.

Chinese Kung Fu is no different. An excellent example is the taolu (forms- or as they are called in Japanese: kata). The techniques performed herein are too slow, long, obvious and/ or unguarded to be used in a real fight. Bruce Lee himself did not deem it a good idea to waste one's time on them.* So what purpose do they serve?

Truth is- preparation for combat is merely one of the functions of taolu practice. One of the main purposes, though, is force training. In Wen Hsiu Quan there is a differentiation between combat forms and force training forms. One of the keys to understanding the reason for this differentiation lies in the exercises outlined below:

1. Horse Stance: Although it is possible for a master to use the Horse Stance (Mandarin Chinese: Ma Bu) as a fighting stance by turning it sideways, and shorter or higher variations can be used by lower level fighters, the Horse Stance is actually one of the most basic force training exercises in Chinese Kung Fu. Utilised in Taijiquan, Wing Chun Quan, Shaolin Kung Fu, and Karate to name a few known examples, the Horse Stance is one of the fundamental training techniques in Asian martial arts. The reason therefor is simple:

One of the basic principles in Qigong hold that qi gets generated within the dantian or abdominal cavity. From there it is channeled via the heart and circulatory system throughout the body. Excess- or reserve qi gets stored in the legs. Strong legs provide a strong reserve. The benefits derived from standing and sometimes meditating in the Horse Stance include the ability to walk long distances without tiring and powerful kicks.

When exhaling during the exercise the qi must be felt sinking to the abdomen. The shoulders and arms should be relaxed and will most likely begin to feel tingly and hard like iron as the qi sinks. As explained earlier, the abdominal muscles will contract and harden during exhalation. Perfect execution of this technique will render the body immovable and impossible to topple.

Once again: posture is very imposrtant. The knees push outward, the feet face forward. Upper body- straight, but relaxed.



2. Bow Stance and Back Stance


Since kicking and striking makes up a large part of our techniques the muscles have to be able to contract and relax very rapidly. The best way to ensure that the legs will be able to do that is by stretching. Stretched muscle is charged with potential energy that is channeled into kicks or blows in explosive bursts. The Bow Stance (known to Karate students as the "Front" or "Forward" Stance) stretches the calf muscle. Although fighting stances may rest on the balls of the feet the heels should never leave the ground during these exercises- not even during the transition between stances.

The back stance stretches the inner leg and groin muscles. It also prepares the body for the performance of ducking roundhouse kicks and spinning leg sweeps.

Splits and other stretching exercises are also a god idea.


3.  Crane Stance

Sinking your qi on one leg, stiffening the buttock of that supporting leg and keeping the rest of the body relaxed and properly aligned while the other leg is lifted with its foot clear off the ground gives us the Crane Stance. The leg that is lifted should be relaxed and charged with energy for sharp kicks. The raised leg can also be expected to harden when used to block kicks.

In this exercise, however, the raised leg is extended slowly and kept straight to the front. This posture is kept for at least ten seconds. Then the leg is brought back and slowly extended in a slow side kick. The leg is now kept straightened in this position for at least ten seconds. The same is then done with a slow back kick. What has been done with the one leg is repeated with the other, of course.





3.   Dragon Palm, Two Finger Zen, Tiger Claw, Punching and Drawing the Taiji Symbol:

With the legs taken care of we can charge up the hands.

Relax the whole body as you inhale. While exhaling feel the arm straightening, pushing the palm forward. At the end of the movement, when the arm is straightened and while exhaling the abdominal muscles flatten and harden while the wrist and palm also stoffen and harden. When inhaling the abdomen relaxes and expands while the arm and hand relaxes. For those who do not know- a Dragon Palm is formed by slightly curling the ring and little finger while the index and middle finger are straightened, but not locked.

At the end of the dragon palm exercise shoot your qi to the tips of the index and middle finger and shoot it forward with a shap sword finger attack. Once again start out relaxed and finish off by sharply stiffening the fingers. This is Two Finger Shooting Zen.

When circling the palms and drawing the Taiji Symbol (The "Yin/Yang" symbol) the hand and arm is kept light and floating without any tension.

The punches I'll deal with later. Suffice it to say that posture is to be kept correct, the shoulders do not stiffen and the fists are not clenced at the beginning of the punch, but sharply clenched at the end of the blow while sharply exhaling and contracting the abdominal muscles.


At the end of the exercises, while getting up the body rises, becoming light as it fills up with air, only to once again become heavy and hard as it expels the air.

The above exercises constitute very basic force training techniques. Usually they will be incorporated into forms, but can be performed on their own.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and that it was helpful. Next post will deal with strengthening and conditioning exercises.




  



  

Friday, 22 April 2011

Chapter 1: Force- Chi Gong training


To begin my discussion on force I'll state that the Chinese principle holds that qi- or energy- is converted into force during the execution of martial arts techniques. Characteristics of good force include the ability to hit hard, the ability to withstand blows, stamina and physical strength.

I'll deal with all the exercises in my force training programme in due course. For now I'll start with my Qigong exercises and gathering Qi.

The first video shows the first two exercises. While performing the exercises the mind is calm and following the breathing. Inhale raising the hands and exhale lowering the hands. As shown- I repeat it ten times.

The second exercise is very helpful in teaching you to feel your own Qi. Inhaling, feel your hands rise by themselves- very much like Helium balloons. When exhaling feel the pulling force between the palms and the earth. Feel gravity pulling the whole body down.

Posture is very important. The basic principle is that the upper body parts are resting on the lower parts so that, in a relaxed state, gravity will hold it all together instead of toppling the entire structure. Feet are parallel facing forward. Knees are never locked, but pushing outward. Shoulders are relaxed- not forced down or shrugged up, but relaxed. The back is kept straight. The sacrum (tailbone) is always pointing straight down- no angle. This means that the hips have to push slightly forward when standing up straight and that one does not crouch too low when crouching into the horseriding stance.

The pictures show the next two exercises. The horseriding posture with the hands lowered is first. Maintaining the correct posture as explained above inhale drawing breath into the abdomen, causing the abdomen, instead of the chest to expand. Exhale keeping the correct posture. If the posture is correct the abdominal muscles will contract and flatten while exhaling. Repeat ten times. Good abdominal workout. The index fingers are kept curled up underneath the thumbs.

Next exercise requires the hands to be raised and held forward, palms facing toward you while the arms are held in the embracing posture shown. Shoulder should be relaxed. If the shoulders and neck are relaxed you will feel the invisible force pulling your hands together and toward you. Exhaling will cause the force to expand and push the hands away from the body. Repeat ten times.

The last video shows the fifth exercise. Inhaling, circle the arms upward as shown, standing on tiptoe as the lungs fill up and the hands reach the highest point. Exhaling, sink into a horseriding stance bringing the palms in front of the body. If the arms, shoulders and neck are relaxed the hands can be felt repelling each other.

Lastly, meditation- whether done in a standing or sitting position also require the back to be straight and the arms, shoulders and neck to be relaxed. The mind is to be kept quiet, not focussing on anything. If you have trouble with controlling thoughts you can keep your mind focussed on your breathing. Some people like to visualise themselves inhaling positive healthy energy and exhaling stress and negativity. If following breath does not help the best way to start with is counting breath. Exhalations are counted up to 10. When 10 is reached you have to start at 1 again and repeat. If you lose count or get distracted you start at 1 again. Whichever method is used posture and relaxation are the important elements. Chi will be felt coursing through the arms and hands as a tingling sensation.

Well- that about introduces Chi-kung. I usually use these exercises during warm-up before I start physical training. Usually I start with my legs before I get to these exercises. The leg and torso exercises I'll deal with later on.

Next post will show some force channeling exercises.  

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Introduction

If you have stumbled across this blog I would hope that you are interested in Chinese Martial Arts as much as I am. The Chinese Martial Arts have always been, and still are evolving and adapting. New styles develop without us knowing. You may not realise this, but all the martial arts styles on earth rely on the same universal principles, but are different from each other due to the approach taken.

Wen Hsiu Quan (Wen Hsiu Fist) is actually my approach to the Chinese Martial Arts- or, if you would, my style of Kung Fu.

It was developed after a study of Shotokan and Shukokai Karate followed by research into the Chinese roots of Karate. This study took an interesting turn to the Shaolin style Chinese Boxing and Taijiquan.


The actual techniques that I will demonstrate over time herein were derived from Shaolin Kung Fu, Taijiquan (Tai Chi), Baguazhang (Eight Trigrams Palm) and Hsing I Quan (Form of Mind Boxing).
Kicking techniques are mainly Shukokai Karate, Wing Chun Quan and Shaolin.

All martial arts are comprised of three essential elements. These are:

1)    Force

2)    Technique

3)     Tactics

This is one of the universal principles that hold true with all martial arts. Different martial arts have different methods of developing these three elements. Still- they are necessary.

I hope that this blog will assist other martial artists in supplementing their training in their current discipline. It may actually provide a deeper understanding of your current art.

My next post will focus on the first element- Force.