|Kung fu fitness|
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Kung fu literally means 'hard work'.
There are many, many different styles of kung fu.
Historically, the Chinese favoured originality, invention, creativity and surprise.
Every martial arts school wanted an 'edge'.
Each teacher sought to develop their own unique approach in the hope that it would prove superior to other fighting styles.
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.
Fit for action
If you watch how Chinese martial artists or sports people workout, there is no laziness to be found.
They train hard, they are thorough and they expect a lot from themselves.
External martial arts
Most styles of kung fu are 'external' and they workout in a manner that is comparable with any other martial art.
The main difference tends to be the inclusion of qigong.
Kung fu schools also tend to favour training methods designed to increase speed through muscle relaxation.
Internal martial arts
The internal martial arts avoid certain external training approaches: locked joints, tensed muscles, aggression and the use of force against force.
These are of no use in neijiaquan.
However, the need for conventional fitness is just the same. Increased flexibility, suppleness, strength, cardiovascular fitness and agility are all necessary.
Kung fu fitness addresses strength training in the standard martial arts manner:
Cardio work (HIIT)
Yoga-type stretches e.g. cobra
Core strengthening exercises
weights, cardio and core strength?
Traditionally it took a kung fu student many years to be fit enough for combat.
By undertaking core strength exercises, cardio work and (selective) weight training - in addition to normal practice - you can literally shave years off the typical timescale by getting stronger sooner.
Weights, core strength and cardio training are not complex.
The routines are short. The results occur quickly.
Programs for fighters should consist mostly of compound exercises. These allow for intense work on a maximum number of muscles in a minimum time.
Kung fu fitness training often uses:
Bao ding balls
Hand power grip exerciser
Hand grip exerciser
Wooden & metal swords
Sticks of various lengths and weights
Heavy bag work
Cardio (high intensity interval training)
In real life combat you cannot afford to lose your breath so cardio work (HIIT) is essential in kung fu.
10,000 steps a day
Invest in a pedometer.
If you're not taking 10,000 steps a day then you are far too sedentary and this will adversely affect your fitness.
A lazy person cannot hope to make progress in kung fu.
Leg stretches, yoga-type stretches, core strengthening exercises and dynamic stretching all serve to strengthen and lengthen the muscles, protect the joints and improve overall physical fitness.
It is quite common for kung fu students to train with weights. But there are many considerations to keep in mind.
Pumping-up, stiffening, tension and shortened muscles are not good for kung fu fitness.
Delavier's Mixed Martial Arts Anatomy is worth reading before undertaking any kind of weight training.
The author advocates a very limited amount of weight training - specifically tailored to complement your given martial art - rather than a typical gym/body building approach.
The philosophy of
between-reps breaks consists of doing everything you can to avoid fatigue
instead of seeking it out as you would in body building. Striving for
failure is more appropriate for those working on muscle mass than for those
wanting to increase strength or power.
Not body building
Kung fu people cannot afford to pump-up, become injured or shorten their muscles.
Lifting weights in order to obtain a certain aesthetic 'look' is pointless in kung fu.
Train for strength and power, not for vanity.
If a student undertakes weight training, they need to do so in an informed manner and they must do everything possible to keep their muscles lengthened.
Invest in a foam roller.
It is a wonderful way to help release tension in the joints and muscles.
Learn how to exercise
Instead of simply relying upon your instructor to make you fit, make an effort yourself.
Take what you learn in kung fu class as a starting point.
Progress from there.
Make a commitment to get continually stronger, faster, more flexible, healthier.
Research exercise methods and be open to any new approach that does not interfere with your kung fu.
A different way
We advocate moderation in all things.
e.g. over-training is as bad as under-training.
If you do not train enough, there will be very little fitness benefit and no martial development.
If you train too much, the body will become tired and there is an increased risk of injury.
Adjust your home exercise routine when necessary to maintain biomechanical advantage.
If your training is making you stronger, then keep doing it.
If you have reached a plateau, then change something.
Just avoid extremes, over-stretching and excess.
must adapt to the fighter's needs, not the other way around.
There is no point in committing to a comprehensive kung fu fitness regime is you're going to eat junk food, smoke and drink alcohol.
Your body needs its nutrients, protein and healthy carbohydrates in order to grow stronger.
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 kung fu (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.
For best results, taijiquan should be practiced alongside more conventional fitness exercises.
Taijiquan offers a unique range of fitness approaches:
- serves to keep the muscles relaxed and the joints flexible
- balance, stamina, endurance, alignment, posture, poise, simplistic coordination, range & reach
- avoid over-stretching, exertion or strain
- whole-body strength
- ensures proper use of strength
- connection, better use of mass, subtle adjustments to increase power
- sophisticated biomechanics
- whole-body movement
- teaches agility and coordination
- nimbleness, balance, memory, timing, listening to the body
- optimal body use, proprioception, mind/body unity, kinaesthetic awareness, ambidextrous use of the limbs, gait
- works tendons, ligaments, fascia and muscles
- loose, fluid and relaxed musculature
- ability to change instantaneously
- whole-body power
- smoothness, control, spontaneity, unpredictability, stealth, circular, flowing
- kinetic energy
- use of 3 dimensions
- no 'telegraphing'
Partner work and martial
- train the nervous system
- sensitivity, biofeedback, leverage, pressure, softness, stickiness, yielding, speed, power
- how to respond without thinking
can use many techniques to gain strength but not all of them are appropriate
18 April 1996
Last updated 5 November 2000