I had a beginning student in Karate a couple of years ago that really wanted to do heavy Kumite (Karate's word for sparring). Coming from a wrestling background, he was used to different types of defensive postures. While they were good for defending against grabs and take downs, they left him exposed to certain kicks, especially round houses to the ribs. Part of this was because of the nature of his open position kept his elbows away from his center line, losing the natural cover they provide around the torso.
He kept getting kicked there, either by the round house, or by a double punch-side kick combo. Almost every time, he got the the wind knocked out of him. No matter how many tips or drills I gave him, or how many times his seniors told him to keep his elbows in (especially during flurries), he would fail to parry his opponent's attacks and lose the match.
He was already participating in our Wing Chun class, so I decided to intensify his curriculum onto the road of free chi sao. Chi sao or, "Sticking Hands" is the hallmark training method of Wing Chun, and several other styles. It is a method specifically designed to make a trainee very sensitive and adaptable. Two students are always in contact with each others' hands and forearms, constantly employing snap punches, slapping parries, blocks, grabs, sweeps, and low kicks to the shins and knees. This teaches how these basic techniques can be used under a wide variety of scenarios, over and over again, developing extremely fast reflexes. He wasn't at that level yet, but I knew that once he had just a few days of doing free chi sao, it would give him the ability to instinctively protect his center line and waist in a way that fixed drills could not.
Within a week of him completing the basic Wing Chun curriculum for free chi sao and actively participating in it, the next Karate class began. From the moment Luke stepped into the ring, there was an apparent difference. He kept his elbows down and in, and most importantly, after an exchange to where he attacked, he was able to cover his center line without any trouble, and could nullify his opponent's counter attacks. No more painful round houses to the ribs, and an ability to instantaneously interpret and respond to multiple rapid attacks in a way he could not even do a short two weeks before. I saw him leave the Dojo that night with a distinct feeling of accomplishment. This made me very happy as a teacher. I remember my early days of always being pitted against superior opponents, and I was constantly having to learn from my mistakes. This kind milestone was definitely one that he will remember.
Moving beyond fixed drills
What chi sao ultimately does is free us from fixed drills that lack an aliveness aspect. While fixed drills are great, and provide much needed foundational work for students, they can pose a problem at times. Too many fixed drills sometimes can lead to the undesired effect of where the practitioner becomes too mechanical and rigid in an offhand situation, leaving them unable to adapt to a different position. Chi sao fills the gaps in between fixed drills, providing the necessary fluidity, and spontaneous adaptability needed to change in real time. The practitioner learns to flow effortlessly from one situation to the next, without a break in movement principles or technique.
Chi sao has had very strong influence on my training methods, and changed the way I teach fighting drills altogether. What I do these days is give rather simplistic fighting application drills to my students that they can remember and apply under pressure. As I give these out drills, it relieves me of the need to create all kinds of elaborate alternate escapes and counter scenarios. Because of the sensitivity gained from their chi sao training, they are able to adapt if they make a mistake, or they can continue to another method if their partner attempts to thwart their technique. It allows the student to grow and fill in the blanks according to their experience, and no longer enslaves them to fixed mechanical responses that have very little recourse beyond their specialty.
Although Wing Chun is probably the style best known for using chi sao extensively, many other styles use it to the same effect as well. Southern Preying Mantis uses it, Bagua Zhang has Rou Shou, Taiji Quan uses Tui Shou, etc. I encourage all martial artists of any style to explore the idea of chi sao, and tailor it as needed to their system. It has the potential to bring new life to your existing drills, and gives a certain ability to interpret seemly mysterious parts of classical martial arts forms into practical and sensible fighting applications. It truly is a jewel as a training method, one that I hope all Martial Artists can benefit from.
The benefits from training martial
arts are often too numerous to list in one article. Many people categorize the martial arts as a sport, and assume you receive the same benefits as you would in any other sport. While this is true to a degree, what you receive from training the Martial Way is much, much more than this.
Virtually no other method has a way of making the weak and sickly become powerful the way years of training can do. You learn how to overcome difficulty in ways that school or conventional workouts simply cannot do, as you must bring everything you are, your mind, your body, spirit and internal energy into total focus and release it in a singular point of power. It is difficult enough to do this even once, yet the martial arts demand that we perform this repeatedly throughout our forms and daily training regimen. Often times we fail at this, and must continually work at it in order to achieve it. Gradually over time, we learn to cope with constant challenge, and learn the value of being spiritually tested under fire, learning not to fall into traps of emotional extremes.
Slowly the meditative process seeps into our methods, calming us, and allowing us to see things as they are happening in real time, unadulterated by social conditioning, preconceptions, or distraction. Not only does this effect of training allow you to become clear in your mind, your body also become healthy as a result. This New Year, give yourself the gift of more training. Set out to follow the path of self improvement, and endeavor to become an Artist of Life.
As a martial artist, one of the most important aspects of our lives is how to balance our training properly. Getting the most from our regimens, maintaining our health, getting sufficient rest, and injury avoidance and recovery is paramount. Understanding how to train in a balanced way has to do with a proper attitude, and sound underlying principals of how the body works. After a lot of research, trial and error, I have found in my years of training and teaching, some
basic guidelines that have served me
Training for Martial Power:
There are countless methods for developing power in the Martial Arts. Whatever method you choose, I strongly encourage you to seek out a regimen that emphasizes full body power. They produce results much more quickly than conventional resistance/isolation type exercises. The methods I prefer for this are simple, and require no special equipment. More to the point, what I mean is that you should avoid any kind of exercise that isolates muscle groups, or dynamic tension. The body works as an interconnected whole. Using methods such as weights that focuses on one muscle group over another leads to excesses and deficiencies all over the body. Isolation strength exercises also lead to excessive muscle tension, which should be avoided. If you still feel weight training is beneficial (it can be when done properly), seek out an expert that understands the principal of full body power. Weighted vests that allow you use your whole body while training, or the Russian Kettle Bell are good examples of this.
Training under the 75% rule:
When training, it is best to keep your enthusiasm in check. Proper moderation helps mitigate the possibility of getting injured, therefore it is wise to keep your efforts at 75% of your maximum capacity. This ensures a safe and productive training regimen, without excessive strain on the body. Once you get used to your 75% and it starts feeling like 65%, increase your efforts to what feels like 75% again. Steady progress is accomplished in this manner. If you want to push yourself to maximum performance for a tournament, or just because you want to be at your best, 90% effort is fine. You must first work your way up in strength and endurance, then give it all your effort. You must keep in mind however, that with increased activity that you will need more rest and recovery time. If proper measures are taken, training at 90% for extended periods of time can be quite beneficial.
Qi Gong/ Nei Gong:
Lastly, it is always a good idea to adopt a time proven nei gong system to round out your training. Methods such as the Eight Brocades of Silk, the Tendon Changing Classics, or the Fives Elements work very well. The meditative process they use are particularly beneficial to cool down at the end of a hard training session. They balance out the internal with the external, and enhance the overall relaxation of your body and mind.