The Legendary Iron Palm

by Phillip Starr

The legendary “iron palm” (called “tieh-shou” in Chinese, which literally means “iron hand”) is often very different from what many people think it is. Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Kyokushin style of Japanese karate, had very heavily calloused hands with which he would split 25 lb. stones, paving bricks (the old kind that were used to “pave some old streets and they’re as hard as iron), and other such objects, had “conditioned hands” and feet, but not the ancient “iron palm.” The same thing holds true for Master Higashionna of Goju-ryu karate in Okinawa. He has heavily conditioned many of the striking surfaces of his hands and feet but this is a far cry from the Chinese iron palm.

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The iron palm has little to do with developing heavy callouses or breaking coconuts. It is a special technique that enables the practitioner to transmit most of the force of his blow to an area beneath (or quite a distance from) the target that he strikes. For instance, a blow to the abdomen would leave no external evidence of a blow but the strike or punch could rupture internal organs without leaving any bruising on the surface of the flesh…or a blow to the arm may result in a ruptured liver (the target is a considerable distance from the point of impact) and again, no bruising is caused on the arm!

There is a famous photo of iron palm and Shao-lin Master Gu Yu Cheong, who practiced a form of northern Shao-lin gong-fu. The photo depicts him breaking a very large stack of bricks. You’ll notice that he’s no heavily-muscled hulk, nor were his hands calloused. When I was in China back in 1982, I walked past a construction site on a Sunday (no workers were present) and noticed a pile of bricks. I decided to break one so that I could determine if they were much different from bricks made in the U.S. I was shocked when I picked one up and it was light as a feather! I struck one and it virtually exploded…and I realized that the bricks were simple baked clay; U.S. And European bricks have a lot of filler in them, making them very strong and hard. Not so in China at that time. Although the experience didn’t do much for my sense of security as we visited many brick buildings, I understood that there was a considerable difference in the quality of bricks made in the West and those in China (this has now changed; in 2013 I did the same thing and found that the current bricks produced in China are now properly mixed with fillers and very strong).

What many people don’t know about Master Gu is that HE COULD SELECTIVELY BREAK ANY BRICK IN THE STACK while leaving the others intact. If you asked him to split the 5th brick from the bottom, he could do just that… and THAT is a true “iron palm.”

At that time (the early 1900’s), China traded with numerous nations, including Russia. Now, several European boxers had had matches with local gong-fu adepts and oftentimes, beat them soundly. Gu stepped up to the plate and trounced several foreign boxers. On one occasion, Russian sailors were teasing him because they wanted another match.

Gu knew that the Russians often brought some fine race-horses with them and they would race them against Chinese steeds. Not wishing to waste any more time crossing fists with the foreigners, he asked them to bring out their finest horse.

A confused ship’s captain complied and had his men bring out a large Russian race-horse. Gu said he would provide a good example of gong-fu for them and he placed one hand on the horse’s back. He suddenly slapped the horse’s back (some say that he simply pressed on it) and the animal immediately collapsed, dead on the spot. The captain ordered an autopsy and it was found that most of the horse’s viscera had been severely ruptured! Gu wasn’t challenged to any more boxing bouts.

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Iron palm training is tedious and often painful. Contrary to what many gong-fu enthusiasts may think, it involves much more than repeatedly slapping a small cloth sack full of beans or iron shot (the old-timers never used iron pellets because it was too expensive and some said it might adversely affect one’s health). There’s much, much more to it and training must be done at least six days a week (a training session might last for more than 90 minutes). Special form(s) of qigong are also practiced and special medicine(s) is applied to the hands after each session. Many, if not most, of the current commercially made “iron palm” medicines available today are actually watered-down forms of what is known as “bruise linament.” However, there are some herbalists who still produce the traditional brew (one of them is my good friend, Miles Coleman, who owns Black Belt Herbs, and I understand that Mr. Dale Dugas also produces a high-quality iron-palm medicine…they’re both on Facebook).

There are training exercises that are intended to strengthen the legs and hips, build power in the grip, and several of them are directed at teaching the practitioner to transmit energy far beneath the surface of the blow (although the exercises don’t appear to foster such skill, they do so without the students necessarily being consciously aware of it). To develop this rare skill requires courage, determination, and the tutelage of a good teacher who has walked the same path.

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An Wushu – School Review

From soft-arts beginner

I previously trained for 1 year full-time with Shifu An Jian Qiu, where I learned the family basic sets (stances, stretching, bone hardening etc.) and then progressed on to Bajji Quan and San Da. After returning to live in Dezhou for 2 years and unable to train full-time, I’m very grateful that An Shifu allowed me to continue my studies with part-time training. It was great being able to join in training sessions with other full-time students and see how quickly they improved, and An Shifu truly made me feel part of the family despite my limited time, even inviting me along to the incredible International Baji Quan demonstration hosted in Dezhou and QingYun this summer (2018). He allowed my training to fit seamlessly into my busy schedule, and it remained the highlight of my week throughout my time back in Dezhou. As I’m still dealing with a neck injury sustained while practicing wrestling back in Europe, I asked Shifu if he could start to teach me the internal arts to compliment and aid in my recovery.

To my first complete Bagua form

As a total beginner to internal arts, I’m very grateful for the many long conversations we had about internal training methods and goals, as well as the details and differences of the 3 styles Xing Yi, Bagua, and Tai Chi. I feel that under his instruction I have gained a useful understanding of what I am actually aiming to achieve when practicing internal kung fu, and the images he uses to describe his internal sensations help me to imagine the feeling I will one day achieve. Stood in San Ti Shi posture for 20 minutes, I imagine my arms as leaves gently floating along a stream.

In total, I learned the basic stances and fists of Xing Yi, then a first basic Bagua series before learning Bao Zhen Bagua Zhang. I wouldn’t have imagined I would be able to learn so many complex movements in this time, but my year of full-time training in the past provided me with good enough basics to learn quickly. It was very hard work, following the detailed corrections of An Shifu week after week, and I feel it will still be years before I can be truly soft in all these movements. However, I am very confident now to take what I have been taught and gradually develop my internal kung fu through daily practice. Sadly leaving Dezhou once again, I am already looking forward to coming back to deepen my knowledge of the An family system further, and hopefully next time I will arrive injury free!

Rising Dragon Martial Arts School Review

Here is the latest Student Review for Rising Dragon Martial Arts School in Yunnan. The Review was written by Daniel Wright who stayed at the school for 1 month during the summer of 2018.

What an incredible life changing experience. For anyone thinking about doing this or something similar, just do it. It really pushes you and changes your perspective on life. The school itself was fantastically located, inside a Buddhist Temple and well into the mountains of China, about as picturesque as you could ask for. With a small town down the mountain you still have access to a bit of ‘normal’ life if you need anything. Food is great and healthy, however not too much meat so can be lacking in protein, so you may require supplements if you are staying there for a while.

Training was very tough, be prepared to work hard. If you honestly aren’t there to work your butt off pick a different school because everyone there is putting in the effort, and you will be required to train as hard as you can to the best of your ability. It really doesn’t matter where you start, whether you are very unfit and have no experience or the complete opposite. All that matters is that you are doing your best. My fitness and flexibility went through the roof in the short time I was there, and I was able to learn multiple forms of Shaolin Kung Fu, but injuries can be common place due to the nature of training and pushing your body so be careful and look after yourself/be smart.

Learn-Kung-fun-in-China-with-Rising-Dragon-martial-arts-training-camp

Unfortunately there was no Calligraphy or Mandarin lessons as advertised, as the monks are responsible for that and it depends on them. There was also only 1 trainer while I was there, so for multiple different training styles it could be difficult. But the 1 trainer (Meng), was the most amazing trainer and mentor. So kind, so lethal, and honestly cared about your progress and was great at adapting to everyone’s experience level. Another huge upside was the Accommodation. Max 2 to a room, all with en-suites with western bathrooms (no squat toilets). So that was very nice to come back to after a huge day of training.Overall an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone.

Dave from StudyMartialArts.Org was insanely helpful, and honestly I don’t think he gets enough credit or commission for his work. Helped me narrow down my choice out of so many schools, answered all my questions regarding the school, travelling there, visas, etc. He was absolutely invaluable and I don’t think I would have been able to choose a school little own figure out all the logistics of going. So thank you so much Dave!

SMABloggers – The Liebster Award

This week SMAbloggers was nominated for the! The Liebster award is an award for bloggers, nominated by other bloggers. A kind of chain letter if you will that highlights new blogs and the great stories these bloggers they are sharing.

For this nomination a big thank you goes to Will at monkeystealspeach.com. Will, as you may know has in the past contributed some excellent blog posts here at SMAbloggers. As well as this Will also has his own excellent blog full martial arts stories, interviews, travel tips and tea culture.

So here’s how the award works.

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their site.
  2. Display an image of the award and write a post about your nomination on your blog.
  3. Answer the 10 questions your nominee has asked in their blog post.
  4. Nominate 5-10 other deserving new bloggers for the award and ask them 10 questions of your choice.
  5. List the rules of the award in your blog post.

Will’s 10 Questionsimg_2484

1.Tell us a bit about yourself

In the summer of 2007 while on a break from my urban planning job back in Belfast I made the decision to travel to China and study traditional kung fu. I craved adventure and a change from the daily grind. Most of my friends had gone travelling between school and university or between university and work. I’d created a window of opportunity and felt this was the right time to use the money I’d saved. My martial arts experience at that time was limited to my regularly Jeet Kune Do classes. Despite my lack of sashes or belts I wasn’t worried. What I lacked in experience I knew I had in determination to work hard and learn as much as I could. Like most of you reading this I’ve an interest and passion for martial arts as well as a growing interest in learning more about the spiritual and healing arts of China. As a teen I used to day dream about what it would be like to visit a land where a monkey could become a king.

China here I come…

Immediately I set to the task of researching kung fu schools in China. I craved being taught in a traditional way without distractions. I wanted to learn how to deal with confrontation effortlessly and improve every aspect of my life.

So I took action and found a school, got my visa and boarded a plane. 13 hours later I arrived in Beijing totally unprepared. I stayed the night in a hotel near the airport and the next day I boarded my internal flight to my end destination with high hopes. I was as green as the grass I’d left back in Ireland. From that moment until now it’s been one hell of an adventure.

Over the last few years I’ve visited a lot of kung fu schools and met a number of students studying at these schools. Some have come for martial arts, some adventure, some for health and fitness and some simply to create space for changing past bad habits. Your reasons for seeking this type of experience are your own. But what they should have in common is a desire to improve. Focus should be on the training and the experiences and other benefits will follow.

2. What was your first trip and how did it change you?

The first really great trip that I undertook was a month long visit to Krakow and Poland. via Prague. At the time I was madly in love and was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Pirsig, Robert M. (2006) . Discovering places new with a person you love took the trip to a whole new level. It was a time I will never forget and inspired in me a desire for further growth.

3. What’s the biggest thing you’ve gained from travel?

Lasting friendships life lessons, and new learnings.

4. What kind of a traveler are you (backpacker/luxury/solo/group etc)?

I’m not much of a solo traveller. I have always gained more from being able to share my experiences with others. Maybe my next journey will be one of solo travel.

5. What’s your favourite destination so far?

This questions is very difficult. Rather than a physical place I think I will say that my favourite destination has been a state of mind. This can be reached through meditation, and mindfulness. I found myself there most when I was constantly practicing baji quan zhang zhuang. Hours of practice creates the space for certain changes take place not only in the body but the mind. You become more grounded, charged, calm and blissful.

6. What’s your most memorable experience?

In 2007 when myself and my buddy Rhyn Nasser first decided to travel around China visiting martial arts schools and masters to include on the http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org website. What an amazing journey this was. It was packed with adventure, discoveries and meetings with so many amazing martial artists.

7. What’s your worst/most disappointing experience?

When I was a young child and first realised how stupid and selfish grown ups where.

8. Where do you plan to go next?

This I don’t yet know. For the past ten years I’ve been happily living in China. Last year I completed my postgraduate in Education so there could be a new challenge on the horizon. For now though my plan is to focus on BJJ and my general physical and spiritual health.

9. How did you get into blogging?

Honestly, I got into blogging through necessity. I wanted to do two things. Drive traffic to my website and help others passionate about travel and martial arts. I guess it was a logical progression.

10. What are your plans for your blog this year?

At the moment I’m running two blogs essentially, http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org/blog and http://www.SMAbloggers.com. For both blogs I’m the main contributor.  So what I’d like is to be able to produce more unique content for them. Whether that is written by me or another passionate writer I don’t really mind. What I don’t want is to compromise on quality. With this and better automation and planning I want to see both blogs achieve, move views, visitors and ultimately more people experiencing martial arts travel and training through www.StudyMartialArts.Org.

I Nominate The Following Bloggers For the Liebster Award:

chinesemartialstudies.com

Hownottogethit.com

primalmove.com

skirtonthemat.wordpress.com

monkeystealspeach.com

Enrich the body and soul by learning kung fu in China

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by Nathan Williams

An experience to enrich the body and soul. The Academy is a great place to live and to learn; the masters are very supportive and the students are like family to me – it feels like a community of like minded people all pulling in the same direction. The location: the Shengjing Shan mountain is breathtakingly beautiful – the many temples and trails and walkways are very serene and tranquil. The surrounding towns can be difficult to navigate around so best to learn from fellow students but you’ll soon find your way around.

Learning a moderate amount of Chinese would be preferably before coming to China because hardly anyone speaks English. There aren’t any Chinese classes at the Academy but it shouldn’t stop you from learning – you’re in China! With language books and language apps you will be able to learn, it just takes time and discipline (luckily you’ll find both here at the academy). Don’t expect to learn in a classroom environment.

I found the accommodation satisfactory and as expected in rural china – you’re staying in a kung fu school, not a hostel. The food is good and again, you’re staying in a kung fu school, not dining out at a restaurant each night. Although there are some authentic Chinese restaurants nearby for special occasions.

Tips: bring cash with you and make sure you can draw money out of your debit/credit card as it can be tricky in China. If you have a problem, it will be difficult to go to a bank and find someone who speaks English. Download a VPN for your phone/laptop so you can access western sites and social media apps, if not, you may find speaking with family and friends back home to be quite difficult. It’s also good to have a hobby outside of training, some learn Chinese, some are working on their own books, some cook, some learn instruments, some just chill and watch movies, some do all of the above. It’s had a profoundly positive affect on me mentally and physically and I am mentally much stronger and more resilient.

“Nathan visited Shengjing Shan Kung Fu Academy for his experience. Others may go else where. Wherever you go whatever you choose to learn. For the majority that decide to learn kung fu in China it is life changing and a positive experience they never forget. For my part I feel blessed not only in helping people find the right school but get the most out of the experience. For the schools it is always my pleasure to send them quality students.” – David Kelly – StudyMartialArts.Org

Understanding the Basic Concepts of Anticipation and Application for BJJ White Belts

Every one of us started from the bottom. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a basketball or a football team, or we practice wrestling or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we all go through the similar white belt phase. This is the frustrating part where we learn the ropes, so to speak, and absorb the basic concepts and fundamental movement patterns of our chosen sport. In a way, it can also be said that this is where we paint a somewhat indistinct picture on a blank canvas. Our objective, of course, is to establish a solid foundation for all the things we’ll learn in the future, and everything starts with our mental toughness.

Former UFC veteran and BJJ black belt Vagner Rocha shares that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly entails supreme mental concentration, especially when foreseeing your opponent’s next move and devising your own game plan. Rocha adds how this natural focus helps us not just on the mats, but also in other facets of life. So for us to take things a step further in terms of improving our white belt game, it’s imperative to understand BJJ’s core principles of anticipation and what they actually mean.

In their article on the outline of permutations and combinations, Pocketfruity points out the value of knowing when and how to quickly measure the different outcomes we should be concerned with. According to the piece, as much as our instincts play a huge role in this scenario, we still have to process and assess the number of options for every situation. Applying this idea to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu means it’s like facing a math problem in an orderly fashion, in which the solution leads to a submission or an escape. This notion doesn’t necessarily require us to become a math wiz, but rather it simply suggests the significant role of proper and logical judgment.

The white belt is basically the cognitive stage of our BJJ learning curve, based on a blog post by Infighting. This point is also where we exert most of our attention and energy on the execution of techniques. It still doesn’t come natural, as every movement is linked with our thoughts and each sequence is articulated by our limited grappling knowledge. To put things further in perspective, this phase is where we are like sponges and absorb as much information as we can from everyone and apply it on the mats.

Essentially, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and all the other forms of martial arts, involves assessment, logic, and application. There should always be definitive reasons for every movement, whether we’re shrimping or bridging, or applying or escaping a submission. Throughout this whole process of learning and practicing these basics, we’ll comprehend the importance of effort. Moreover, by knowing how to deal with different scenarios and measure possible outcomes, we’ll slowly but surely feel a more natural sense of flow and sweep our way into the next level.

An Introduction to Wuji Quan

Wujiquan (Chinese (無極拳): Pinyin: Wujiquan; Wade-Giles: Wu Chi Chuan): ‘Ultimate Void Boxing’: Is a rare and Secret Ultimate Void Boxing Skill, and is said to be the Mother Art of Taijiquan; from Wuji comes Tai-ji. The Wujiquan System is composed of 36 ‘Characters’: 18 kinds of natural climatic phenomena, and 18 of Qi applications.

One of the rarest of traditional Shaolin Boxing systems, Wujiquan is also one of the purest of traditional Chinese soft-internal boxing systems(Neijia): being taught to very few in its entirety and only after years of rigorous training and testing for aptitude; it never became widely known, which meant that unlike the better known, Taijiquan, there was no opportunity for the system to undergo the experimentation and mixing with other systems and arts which during recent centuries led to the variety of styles which characterize Taijiquan.

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Wu Ji boxing comes from the “Yi Jing” or ”Book of Changes”. Taiji is born from the state of Wu Ji (complete nothingness, or complete harmony with the universe). Yin Yang, or a single continuous line running from one point across to another, is born from the state of Taiji (Taiji gives rise to Yin Yang). A single line stretching between 2 points gives rise to a surface area or square (Yin Yang gives rise to 4 directions or surface area). A surface area or square gives rise to 8 trigrams or a 3 dimensional cube (4 directions give rise to 8 trigrams or 8 directions).

“Wuji quan” is the martial applications and techniques handed down from Wu’s ancestors.

The Wuji quan curriculum

After students are trained in the elementary level of Wu Ji, two disciplines become the focus, one of which is called Hun Yuan and the other is called Ba Gua Zhang.

The training system incorporates: 

Wu Ji Health Exercise System.

Wu Ji Standing Postures

Wu Ji 12 single movement training

Wu Ji leg and root training

Hun Yuan Discipline ↙       ↓      ↘ Ba Gua Discipline

      Wu Ji’s 18 rules

Hun Yuan Palm (1)    Wu Ji internal strength secret  Ba Gua Palm’s Upper body work/ upper body energy

     ↓

Hun Yuan Palm (2)    Wu Ji medical knowledge skills   Ba Gua Palm’s Root and leg work/ root and leg energy

     ↓

Hun Yuan Palm (3)   Wu Ji Dim Mak or acupoint striking Ba Gua Palm’s 9 cross- pattern footwork

     ↓

Hun Yuan Palm (4)    Ba Gua Palm’s Spirit and energy training

Wu Ji’s methods of diet and nutrition

  ↘          ↓        ↙

      Soft silk palm technique

   Cloud hands palm

   Silk pulling palm technique

   Explosive palm technique

Wu Ji elementary level

The middle-aged and the elderly can also practice the Wu Ji’s Health Exercise System and Wu Ji’s 6 essential guiding principles.

Wu Ji’s five-animal boxing forms (Wu Qin Xi) including:

Head rotations, Crane drinking, Wolf observes all directions, Hen sleeps and Ape reflexes.

Wu Ji’s 32 body building boxing: in addition to the 5 aforementioned animal forms, it also includes: Opening the trunk energy and internal splitting energy.

Wu Ji Standing Postures (for juveniles)

Leg and root training and energy/power training (for juveniles)

Wu Ji intermediate levelwuji-becomes-taiji

According to one’s body condition, there are two disciplines. The Ba Gua discipline is for those who don’t have high blood pressure, and includes:

Upper body work/ upper body energy work

Root and leg work/ root and leg energy work, 9 cross-pattern footwork and Spirit and energy training (more information can be found in the form treatise).

The Hun Yuan discipline’s foundations are based on internal energy. The first set of Hun Yuan Palm, the second set, the third and the fourth can be found in the form treatise.

Internal applications and techniques

  1. Internal secrets: internal elementary training methods.
  2. Dim Mak or acupoint striking (please refer to the Form treatise).
  3. Medical knowledge skills:

Martial artists should be aware of proper diet and nutrition and watch what they eat and what their meals are composed of. Internal applications and techniques are practiced by both schools – Hun Yuan and Ba Gua.

  1. Wu Ji’s 18 rules are the main applications and techniques of Wu Ji’s internal skills. Internal skills can also improve the practitioners’ external skills.

In the beginning, people can work on their internal power by means of external exercises. When they get to a certain stage with their internal energy work, they should then focus on working on their internal skills and energy to improve their external skills.

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无极拳简介

无极拳来源于易经,(无极生太极,太极生两仪,两仪生四象,四象生八卦),它是吴家的祖传拳法。祖先吴岐仙所传,到我这辈已有6代。我爷爷不会拳法,是我太爷传给我父亲的。再往上推称吴岐仙是谁传的无法考证。

无极拳分为初级阶段拳法、中级阶段拳法和高级阶段拳法,还有共同学习的内路拳法。

无极拳的图解

无极拳初级练完后,可分为两大派,一派是浑混元派,另一派是八卦派。

无极健身拳

无极架子拳

无极十二单式

无极腿工

              混元派↙       ↓      ↘八卦派

                无极十八则

 

            混元掌(一)    无极内功秘诀  天门八卦掌

              

            混元掌(二)    无极医道术    地门八卦掌

               

            混元掌(三)    无极点穴术    九宫八卦掌

               

            混元掌(四)    无极武德学说  神门八卦掌

                           

                 无极善饮术

              ↘        ↓       ↙

               棉丝掌

云盘掌

丝旋掌

幻影掌

1      无极初级拳

1     中老年人可学习无极健身拳

1         无极健身六崇诀

2         无极小五禽戏:匀首、鹤饮、狼顾、雉睡、猿伸

3         无极三十二健身术:以上五种外、干疏、内搓等(见健身篇)。

2  无极架子拳  适合青少年

3  腿法、功法  适合青少年

2      无极中级拳

根据个人的身体情况,分为两大派系。走八卦派的,适合没有高血压的人。天门、地门、九宫、神门详见拳谱。

混元派是在内功基础上进行的。第一套混元掌,第二套、第三套、第四套详见拳谱。

3      内路拳法

1、内功秘诀:内功初级练法,内功层次划分,九言真经之一、之二、之三,最后为九阳真经。

2、点穴术(见拳谱)

3、医道术:摔打受伤的拿法、药法

4、善饮术:练功人吃什么、配餐等

内路拳法是两大派共同学习的。

5、无极十八则是无极内功拳术的主要拳法,用内带外。练拳人开始都以外功代内功。放拳练到一定阶段,内功大增,就要以内功代外功。

The Shaolin Mountain Run

The infamous Shaolin mountain run is fundamental part of Shaolin Kung Fu training. Whether you’re studying at one of the many kung fu schools in and around the Songshan Shaolin Temple or somewhere else, the run normally begins each morning before breakfast, or at minimum takes place once a week. This type of mid-distance hill climb not only pushes the body but the will power of students as they charge up and down the mountain, often descending steep steps on all fours.  This type of traditional training places emphasis on strength and stamina. It separates the weak from the chaff.

In order to properly prepare yourself before you arrive in China as well as improve your strength, stamina and potential running times I’ve put together these three core running workouts that you can do throughout the week.

cen-21. Aerobic Workouts and Preparation:

The mountain run is all about running at a consistent and comfortable speed with the right cadence to reduce effort and build fat-burning exnzymes, cardiovascular endurance, and time on your feet.  Alternating between long runs and short sprint training is a good tactic as a training method. As is making sure you start your hill climb in the knowledge that a power hike on the upward climb might be more efficient than running until you’ve built up your endurance and stamina. Power hiking is something that can also be trained for and is an excellent way to keep your heart rate in check. Another highly recommended tip is to swap your kung fu shoes for running shoes. Kung Fu shoes are super cool and excellent for form practice, but for the sake of injury prevention do the mountain run in your running shoes. You’ll thank me later.

2. Threshold Workouts:

The threshold is where your body begins to use more glycogen for energy and less fat, and when you train at and slightly above it, you can “raise the roof,” so to speak, so you can run faster at easier efforts (pretty cool). There are several workouts that you can fit in this slot, below are three.

How to find “threshold effort”: You know you’re at this effort when things start to feel uncomfortable, and it’s hard to talk. If you can get out one word responses, you’re there. If you can tell me what you did last night, you need to pick things up. If you’re gasping for air, slow it down. Because this is a physiologically based run, it works best when running by your effort rather than a pace; as you gain fitness, your pace will improve or you may slow down when the elements are challenging (heat and humidity). At the kung fu school its relatively easy to bond with other students. Finding a running partner is not going to be difficult. Doing the mountain run together and talking to each other supporting and driving each other you are able to find your threshold effort. With your partner you can select a combination of the three workouts or choose the most appropriate one that fits with your training schedule.

Five-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat four to five times: Run five minutes at or slightly above your threshold. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

2 or 3 x 10-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat two to three times: Run 10 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Start with two repeats and build to three over time (maybe even next season). Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

20-30 Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Run 20-30 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Cool down running 10 minutes at an easy effort and walking 3 minutes slowly.

Mountain Run

3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Workouts):

These workouts may be the hardest effort-wise, but they also make the most dramatic changes in aerobic fitness, speed, metabolism and caloric burn, and overall fitness. My favourite HIIT Workout is:

1-2-3 Intervals:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeats two to three times: Run one minute at a hard but controlled effort in the red zone. Recover with one minute easy walk or jog. Run two minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and one minute jogging easy to catch your breath and recover. Run three minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and two minutes jogging easy to catch your breath and recover.

Another option for your third workout is to alternate HIIT speed intervals one week with hill repeats the next. In both cases, you are working at a high intensity–in one, focusing on speed; in the other, building strength.

Workouts 4-5: Training on three running days is an effective strategy, but it also works well when you fill in the gaps with strength training and a low-impact cardio activity like deep stance training or static holds. Since your three running days all lie on the harder end of the effort scale, keep the stance training and strength workouts to an easy to moderate effort. That way, you won’t miss recovery along the way and get into a chronically fatigued state by training too hard.

As you put these workouts together, it will look a little something like this (this is a sample training plan):

Monday: Easy-effort stance and strength training
Tuesday: Interval workout (1-2-3s)
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 14 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, light moving qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Mountain run (repeats or hilly road)
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, stance training, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 16 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

The Mountain run schedule might look something like this:
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountian Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; 4x race effort

This is a fun, effective way to improve your mountain run times with less overall impact on your body; however, it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s not a beginner’s plan–so ease yourself into it.

Taichi and MMA

by Nick Osipczak

After my last fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) in 2010, I didn’t know whether I was going to fight again, so I was afforded the luxury of easing off the punishing training regimen that having an upcoming fight forces you to endure, and instead I could focus on training purely for the love of it once again. I found myself drawn to Tai Chi and immediately began noticing all the imbalances in my body, and it took about two years to undo most of the significant damage I had caused to myself from years of sparring and pushing myself to the limits in training.

The beauty and depth of the internal arts

Once I’d realized the efficiency, beauty and depth of the internal martial arts, I was 100% committed to its mastery. Having a somewhat obsessive-compulsive personality when it comes to doing what I love, I immediately devoured all the texts and videos on the subject matter and began my travels to learn from various masters around the world. I took three years off from sparring, and instead focused on moving as slowly and smoothly as possible. It was both a beautiful and humbling experience to feel like a complete beginner again, and this helped me realize that, more than anything, it is the learning that I enjoy. I love a challenge, and when I read claims that Tai Chi Ch’uan takes 10 to 20 years to master, my imagination was instantly captured and I knew what my future had in store for me. I had to completely “empty my cup”, detaching from my previous training methods, which is no easy task! As my brain was attempting to rewire itself to learn this new language, most of my old habits were actually in direct contrast to what I needed to be doing in order to evolve further in this new direction. The concept of doing less to achieve more is certainly a tricky one for Westerners to wrap their heads around!

taichi in Watlington

Changing beliefs

And now today, when I try to pass on what I have learned to my friends in the MMA community, I encounter two common scenarios. The first is the confused look as I try to explain a concept which is too alien to their current way of thinking, one that does not harmonize with – indeed, even threatens – their limiting beliefs, or the way they see the “sport” of martial arts. The other is simply an inability or unwillingness to “start over,” to throw away the old to make way for the new, even if they can see the value. People too often feel that they have invested so much energy for so many years that they would be doing themselves a disservice by starting anew. As I see it, our attachments can become our downfalls, and adaptation is the key to longevity and harmony.

After years of study on everything from nutrition to philosophy, anatomy to alternative health systems, as well as the classic texts on war and peace, every aspect of my training has shifted dramatically from what it once was. A significant moment came when I felt I was no longer just following what everyone else was doing, or what my coaches were telling me to do. I was coming from a place where I could draw on my own experience and research – and, more importantly, I was following my intuition.

Over the last three years, my main training partner has been my son Shen, who is now three. Becoming a father forces you to adapt in so many ways, and in order to fit the daily amount of training hours in, one is required to make changes both to lifestyle as well as the type of training. Motivations change too. Now I am inspired to lead by example and I have to be more consistent and thoughtful with my approach. Shen is of the age now where he can spot anomalies and he loves nothing more than to ask, “Why, Dad….?”

Four ounces to move a thousand

Tai Chi Ch’uan talks of using four ounces to move a thousand pounds, so when I wrestle my son, it’s not a case of the strong and experienced versus the weak and unaware. Instead, I make it so I literally use as little effort as I can, and would have to say that he becomes the stronger of the two of us. I constantly play around with his balance, trying to affect it so subtly that he is unable to grasp what is the cause of his instability.

Jumping knee

Taichi principles in training and life

From my many years studying ground fighting, I am well-versed in the best offensive and defensive techniques; but I have yet to teach any to Shen. Instead, I just put some weight on him, pinning him to the ground or against something upright, and ask him if he can get out. Then I let him try and wiggle and squirm his way free using movement and the principle of finding space. Sometimes he says he is stuck and I give him a pointer on which part of the body he should move to free himself up. He has become blocked, limiting his own movement through lack of awareness. We all do it, becoming attached to one way of thinking; and when that doesn’t serve us, if our vision has become too narrowed, then we are unable to come up with any new, creative ideas because we are drawing from memory instead of feeling in the present.

A Karate friend of mine recently asked Shen to punch his hand and was surprised that I hadn’t taught him “correct technique” yet. But that will come later, and it will come easily and quickly once he knows how to move correctly and has cultivated a mind which stays open to assimilating new information. Besides, I don’t really want my three year old knowing how to punch just yet!

Shen’s favorite film is The Jungle Book, and there’s nothing more he likes doing than climbing on me. Even my 10-month-old has started joining in, crawling as fast as he can across the room to get in on the action. We mimic animal movement, moving primally across the floor like gorillas, monkeys, snakes, bears…

Aside from our training together, just observing how a baby navigates this world is enlightening for those of us obsessed with movement. From the first few months when you can feel the strength of their grip and how all limb movements originate from the dantien, to when they begin to perform deep squats and exhibit perfect posture. Getting to feel true softness, noticing how their pliant muscles can move freely around the bone, and realizing what is actual full-joint mobility.

It can be an awakening experience knowing that we all once moved like that, and somewhere along the line we picked up some bad habits, and are continually paying the price for it as we age and strive to unlearn, simplify, return to our youthful ways.

When I was a boy, my friends and I would regularly dare each other on, challenging one another, pushing our boundaries in the quest for new experiences and overcoming fears. I find myself continuing that tradition with my son. When we come across some cold water and I ask Shen if he wants to go in, I’m really asking myself if I want to go in. Without him there, I may not always verbalize the idea, which brings it one step closer to reality. Like all good training partners, you find ways of fitting more training into the day and bond through the shared experiences.

I am a believer in the saying, “Do one thing a day that you are scared of.” It is an excellent way to prevent the mind from calcifying. When the mind begins to set, this is a sure way of letting fear creep in, and it only needs one foot in the door. The mind is like a parachute – only useful when open!

When carrying Shen on my shoulders, it forces me to adopt more and more efficient posture. With him constantly growing a little heavier, it reminds me of the old story of Qing-Gong training when one jumps out of a hole every day and each day the hole gets made 1cm deeper.

When he climbs on my arms as I am sitting, my structure is tested and I strive to apply all the principles that Zhan Zhuang practice cultivates – keeping the shoulders down, elbows heavy and spine tall.

SELECTS.00_31_25_15.Still067

Practicing patience

But most of all my son helps me develop PATIENCE! An integral component to successfully training internal martial arts, it is something we could all have more of – the ability to not get frustrated and to continually adapt to our ever-changing circumstances. Having kids has forced me to reassess how I spend my time each day, and trim off the unnecessary. Time is more precious, and sleep, food and even breathing has to be respected even more due to their significant contributions to my energy levels. When you start your day with breathing exercises in the morning, it forces you to become more aware of your environment, more in the present, and has the ability to make you consider how you will spend the rest of the day a little more carefully. As the saying goes, “The yi leads the qi.”

The chances of the average MMA student today incorporating standing practice into their daily routine? Slim to none, and Slim just left town! The current MMA fighter wants quick results, and there is the prevailing dogma that if they haven’t finished the day exhausted and beat up, then they haven’t trained properly. There is also the irony of being partly motivated to rush through the stages of training in order to hit the “big time” in their twenties, believing that they will be “past it” by their mid-thirties, not realizing that it is this very mindset that will cause the damage to their bodies (and brains) that unfortunately force so many of them into early retirement. With often irreparable knee, spine, and shoulder injuries to name a few, it is a sad situation when professional athletes cannot even nurture their health into their forties.

Maintaining a neutral state

Nowadays, it is a rarity when I feel sore, and I enjoy the process of returning my body to a balanced, neutral state as soon as possible afterwards. This enjoyable process of putting a little wear and tear into the body before healing ourselves can be likened to the tempering of steel, where thousands of oscillations between hard and soft alchemically transcend us to a new way of being. There are no shortcuts for the sword that is destined to become great; it must be willing to endure and persist. It must also love its journey, and believe in its destiny.

Another lesson MMA fighters would do well to learn is to tone down their competitive natures for partner drills, and increase their sensitivity. They are like a fighter-plane locked onto a target with one objective: seek and destroy. This extremely yang approach doesn’t lend itself well to being aware of what the opponent is intending, limiting the amount of information one can garner through touch and even sight. A simple grounding drill where one applies pressure slowly and steadily to their partner becomes a great challenge for the MMA adept, as they are not used to toning down their force and learning to vary it in such small increments.

Future goals

One of my goals is to help spread the internal martial arts into MMA, not just because I believe the current standard of fighting on display is well below where it will be a few years down the line (the sport is still relatively young – the first UFC was in 1993), but I am also highly motivated to spread the health benefits to my fighting brothers and sisters. For this to be achieved, I am regularly reminded of just how much I will need to continue learning from Shifu Shen’s main lesson – the art of patience!

About Nick Osipczak:

Nick Osipczak began Hung Kuen at age 18 and six years later was competing for the world’s largest fighting organization – the UFC. No opponent could finish Nick in any of his 18 career fights. For 5 years he ran a martial arts club in London where at one stage his students amassed a 22–0 record in professional MMA bouts. Now specializing in Tai Chi Ch’uan, Nick passes on his knowledge and experience through seminars and intensive workshops.

Is Practicing Forms Important for Real Fighting?

by An Jian Qiu

In all martial arts, many students will one day ask themselves:

“Is practicing forms important for real fighting? Should I just be performing drills, or sparring?”

The answer to this is not a simple yes or no because it depends on how you practice your forms:

  • Do you let your mind wander, or are you incredibly focused?
  • Do you ‘take it easy’ and treat it as a warm-up, or are you challenging yourself each time with deep stances and powerful movements?
  • Are you just ‘following the motions’, or do you have a specific goal in mind?

At An Wushu, we believe form training done correctly is incredibly important for developing your kung fu:

  • Forms develop what we call your ‘kung fu body’. Strength and endurance are a very important part of kung fu, but can be developed by many activities; the specific attributes you need for perfecting your kung fu, however – such as flexibility, timing & chi skills – can be best developed through forms
  • Forms teach movements in a logical sequence (e.g., “Strike… if they block, then you do this”) and create useful muscle memory*
  • If you practice your forms the way you fight – with spirit, power, and accuracy – then you’ll fight the way you practice your forms

*Many students are also curious about the applicability of ‘grander’ movements, such as flips, spins, kicks and so on. There are a few schools of thought on this:

  1. In years past, it was not uncommon for future masters to be taught incredibly slowly, often learning a single form over five years! If you have practiced a movement 100,000 times or more, you will definitely be able to use it in combat – even if it is perhaps not as efficient as it could be
  2. Many movements are taken to their extreme to better develop the body: e.g., if you train with your horse stance at parallel, spending minutes then hours in this position each day for many years, your legs will become incredibly strong. If you only stand at ‘fighting height’ for these years of training, you will miss out on this strength.
  3. In some styles, there are moves that are simply not meant to be used in combat, e.g., backflips, and are simply there to develop the body of the practitioner. Similar to Point 2, if you spend years training backflips, you will have much more explosive muscles and better co-ordination than if you didn’t. (Note: There are no movements like this in An Wushu, however, as part of a complete training system this is a great way to train.)
  4. Much of the power generated in kung fu is difficult to do in a small way until you can do it in a big way: e.g., even a beginner can sharply twist their body, push off their heel and throw a strong ‘cross’ punch (albeit at the probable cost of their balance). But if they limit their twist to only 1-inch, can they generate power? The answer is no. By starting with an over-exaggerated movement, a beginner is able to gain the internal feeling needed for any movement and gradually refine the movement to its usable form.

So, is practicing forms important for real fighting? As with anything in kung fu and in life, you only get out what you put in.

To learn more about An Wushu or how to study with Master An full-time in China visit www.StudyMartialArts.Org we work exclusively to help dedicated students connect to quality martial arts schools. This includes visa assistance and independent information all at no additional cost to you. Check us out with no obligation.