|Are you strong enough?|
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New starters seldom consider the fact that martial arts training is actually pretty hard work. They expect to just join in and do well. Typically, new starters are unfit, undisciplined and lazy.
They may have enthusiasm, but they never possess the required level of fitness.
There are 3 areas of fitness:
In order to exercise the body
properly, you need to gain aptitude in all 3 areas.
Many people can lift heavy weights but they are not flexible/breathing hard
after mild cardio.
This is not good enough for martial arts training.
The ability to lift heavy weights, run, swim or workout in the gym may well improve your overall fitness level. But this kind of fitness only helps to a certain degree in neijiaquan training.
A student must learn how to use their body in a very different way. The body needs to become agile, flexible, adaptive, sensitive and strong. Engorged biceps are not going to help.
All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Taijiquan students train: core strength, massage, leg stretches, cardio work, yoga, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.
Tai chi for health
Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to Yang style taijiquan for a solution. They wanted a form of exercise that could be performed by students of all ages.
The simplest way to achieve this was to remove the more demanding fitness component and the combat. Most modern tai chi classes are teaching an art that an old person could cope with...
By definition this cannot conceivably be a martial art.
Taijiquan fighting method
We are not interested in pitting strength against strength. Our aim is to evade strength, re-direct power and destabilise the attacker. Instead of force against force, we circumvent.
We break the root. We lead into emptiness. You do not need to be immensely strong in the upper body. The power will be coming from the ground, so stronger legs are more important.
Qigong exercises should be repeated 5-10 times per side. This encourages the body to relax more and the root to grow.
The weakest part of any new starter is the mind. Modern minds are lazy, distracted, eager for gratification and entertainment.
The calm, detached, logical, disciplined mind of a martial artist is very different to that of a 'consumer'. We recognise that there is more to life than shopping, celebrity, fleeting fads and fancies.
Patience, tenacity, endurance... these develop a quiet strength.
Because simplicity seems
easy we believe it is easy to achieve.
When it is not easy to achieve we give up too quickly.
(Edward De Bono)
Most people quit within a lesson or so, others within a year. The hype surrounding modern taijiquan leads new starters to have high ambitions and low commitment.
For some inexplicable reason new starters forget that using the body for hours at a time requires strength. Combat necessitates concentration and stamina.
It is common to see beginners gasping for breath minutes after a melee exercise commences. Their minds are reeling in confusion. They are not breathing properly. They are incredibly unfit.
Unprepared. And yet these same people wonder why they are not being shown advanced-level skills...
A martial athlete?
Combat is not easy and there is a risk of injury if the student is unfit. This is true of any martial art. To reach a high level of skill, the student needs to take a lesson from sport.
They must become a lot fitter, but not necessarily a martial athlete.
The key to getting stronger is to master the fundamentals. Spend a lot of time just doing standing qigong. 30 minutes once a week is great. 10-20 minutes a day is a must.
Hard work alone is not enough, though. Simply working hard will not necessarily lead to progress.
It needs to be deliberate, focused improvement designed to improve your practice by developing key skills outlined by your instructor.
The student must implement corrections, study the recommended books, undertake assignments and challenge their comfort zone.
Moving qigong in its various forms will supplement standing, training the body to move in the correct way. Form accomplishes the same. Partner drills build up awareness and sensitivity.
The ability to affect another person. A striking post or wallbag ensures that your strikes possess power, rather than just being empty.
Internal body use challenges conventional wisdom and the conventional application of strength. The body must be strong. The application of that strength is unorthodox.
The aim is to unite the entire body in application. Every action is a complete action. Every part of you does every movement.
This may sound strenuous but it is not. Instead of delegating the workload to your arms and shoulders, every part of the body is involved.
Instead of forcing your will upon the entire attacker, you limit your attention to a small part of their body and use everything you have on that target. The strategy comes from The Art of War.
Mainstream tai chi
Most tai chi classes are not teaching a martial art. Consequently, the students are not encouraged to become fit. They are more interested in coordinated movement, relaxation and feeling good.
Taijiquan requires more of the student.
There is no shortcut
Building up your strength takes time, practice, commitment and patience. In truth, you may not even realise it is happening. Internal arts training is not strenuous or stressful.
You undertake regular training and let the mild exercise build up layers of strength.
Little & often
Rather than train for a lengthy period of time, aim to practice little & often. 20-30 minute increments, with rest breaks in-between is ideal.
Instead of pushing your body hard and putting it under duress, just do a little exercise. Resting will keep your concentration sharp and offset fatigue.
An hour of training every day mounts up over time. Pretty soon you have a level of strength you never expected. This is not the strength required to lift a massive weight.
It is the strength to deliver a penetrating strike, snap a limb or flip an opponent without trying.
18 April 1995
Last updated 26 January 2020