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Historically, martial arts students would not start their martial arts training with tai chi. Tai chi is an 'advanced' style of fighting. It is not the ideal starting place.
People typically studied an external system for many years before moving onto tai chi.
External kung fu addresses fitness training in the standard martial arts manner:
Yoga-type stretches e.g. cobra
Core strengthening exercises
The student acquires stamina,
fitness, flexibility, strength, agility, coordination, balance,
concentration and willpower.
They get fit. They learn how to move their body. Then they consider learning tai chi as a martial art.
Most tai chi new starters do not have a foundation in an existing martial art. Often they have never done martial arts training before. They are starting from scratch. This is far from ideal.
Strength training must adapt to the fighter's needs, not the other way around.
To get fit for combat a tai chi beginner must commit to different training methods designed to encourage the maximum muscular development for the least amount of time commitment and effort.
Essentially this is the same sort of training that a traditional martial arts student would undertake. Only less harsh.
Suppleness, nimbleness, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness are vital. These may be considered 'external' fitness training considerations.
The drawbacks of exercise
Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.
Ideal form of exercise
According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?
To reach a high level of skill, the tai chi student needs to take a lesson from sport. They must become a lot fitter. The training doesn't get easier. You get stronger. But only if you practice.
Sifu Waller's approach to strength training is to offer modules; each lasting 5-10 minutes approximately. They are intense and focussed. The aim is to avoid complacency and boredom.
These training methods are systematically taught as the student works through our curriculum:
Standing qigong (various)
Moving qigong (4 sets)
Solo drills (various)
Partnered drills (various)
Weapons drills (various)
Balls & grips
Leg stretches (2 sets)
Psoas exercises (4)
It is OK to train a wide range of exercise methods without ruining your tai chi. The key concern is moderation.
Avoid over-doing it: over-stretching, straining or exerting. Be mindful of posture, poise and tension.
I commend you on this
approach. There are too many completely out of shape tai chi "teachers".
Skipping external training?
If you trained qigong (daily), form (daily), weapons drills (daily), partner work, pushing hands and applications you will gain quite a lot of muscle.
However, qigong/tai chi is not 'the perfect exercise'. It often fails to address cardio and neglects certain muscles.
Most martial arts recognise the need to get fit. Consequently, they include a very extensive range of stretching, cardio and strength building exercises in their warm-up.
Tai chi classes usually do not.
Do more qigong?
Doing extra qigong won't help you to build truly versatile combat fitness. More of the same will not lead to growth and versatility. You will max out quite soon.
Qigong, pushing hands and form?
Most tai chi people simply do qigong, pushing hands and form. They balk at a more varied training regime.
Why? Because they are lazy. Giving your body a comprehensive workout takes effort: stretching, core exercises...
Tai chi for health
Faced with a major health crisis in the 1950's, the People's Republic of China turned to the old/classical Yang style tai chi 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.
Ideally, you should end by actually hitting something. When you practice
explosive technique just by doing shadow boxing, your own antagonistic
muscles stop your fist or foot.
The difference between experienced fighters and beginners is the speed of muscle relaxation, which is 8 times faster in champion fighters. For an inexperienced fighter, the speed of muscle relaxation is too slow for the leg or the fist to gain enough speed when striking a blow. Keeping the antagonistic muscles contracted automatically slows down the movement.
Many beginners think that they do not need to warm-up. Skipping a warm-up will automatically result in pain later on, and that will restrict your fighting abilities. A good pre-workout warm-up protects against future aches and pains. Furthermore, it is also an immediate factor in improving performance.
The risk of injury in combat sports is especially high. To prevent injury, do the following: 1) Learn to warm-up well before any exercise, 2) Do everything possible to accelerate recovery between workouts.
Tai chi students must start off with external training. It is all they are physically able to do when they commence classes. They use force, tense up and employ their body in a disconnected manner.
This is to be expected.
Only after coordination, balance, stamina etc has been cultivated can the teacher lead the student towards internal training methods.
To try and be 'internal' from the onset is pointless. The student feels like a 'wet sock' in combat.
Internal strength training
Once the student attains 'martial arts fitness' they can move onto more sophisticated, intricate concerns.
They can now work on lines of force, pressure, leverage, groundpath, centre, peng, jing and whole-body movement. Focussed and patient, the exponent is dedicated and capable.
Their practice moves away from external concerns and they begin to discover the true nature of tai chi. Skills consistently improve through frequent, regular practice using low effort.
18 April 1995
Last updated 29 July 2007