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.



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