Training Like Long Arm

“Training the limbs is easy. Training the body is difficult.”
Old  Kung Fu saying.

It’s too bad. Kung Fu has a few big problems coming from centuries of “hiding” its own information. One of these difficulties lies in the relation of training the body and the four limbs. And in all of Kung Fu training probably the worst offenders come from the Long Arm style. Many of the movements have just gotten too complex, that’s all, making it hard to see differences between the classical training methods used-for instance-with children and the real activity itself. It’s too bad because Long Arm can be  a treasure trove of techniques and training methods if you know how to make use  of them.

Let’s take a big problem in the training arena: encouraging the body to move in unison with the limbs. The most common approach is to teach both of them and then let the student practice his head off hoping that limb and body will eventually coordinate. The truth is that you have to do it like this, there is no substitute for this type of practice. But you could do other, extremely helpful, things as well….

Let’s look at the Long Arm approach. First we should understand that Long Arm isn’t just a name. It’s full extension approach was developed over centuries. It has many ways of dealing with the body/limb problem. One of its most immediate methods is…

Limbless Kung Fu

The idea is relatively simple. If you’ve got a problem making the arms express what the torso wants, instead of the other way around, all you have to do is eliminate the arms. That’s right cut them off and immediately notice that your Kung Fu gets a lot more lively because your entire body has to take part in each and every motion. (That’s part of what we refer to as “organic”, that term so many of you ask about.) You can do this, and we do, by strapping that arms to the body so they cannot move independently. This is the “shortening” method. Another way, often better, is to extend the arms out in space as though they were 2 X 4’s. This is the “lengthening” method.

Work the bag like this, taking a cue from the famous Bruce Lee short punch. Stand away from the bag or whatever piece of punching equipment you like, with your arm completely extended and the fist falling about two inches short of the target. Make sure you pick an object that will give with the movement. DO NOT pick a frozen, stationary-backed target with no give because  you’ll hurt yourself and also learn bad technique.  A mobile, responsive target will move in the direction of your punch thereby giving you the necessary range for your body rotation.

Then, strike the bag gently solely by rotating your body. Do not flex your arm. This will feel like a push, not a punch but the action will tell you a lot. For instance, have you over-rotated?, that dreaded mistake where the torso actually torques so far that it is going away from the action of the punch. Making sure that the shoulder and the arm arrive at the maximum convergence of  their respective arcs is a life-long study in the arts, any striking art.

Try an entire form with the arms outstretched (though not necessarily rigid). You will feel like the Frankenstein monster but also you will be surprised at the power of some movements and the intense difficulty of others. Are we suggesting you have your arms set in casts for a few weeks to get this idea? No. But you might be surprised, when you start allowing your arms to express themselves again, that you have a new perspective on just what “Long Arm” really means. After all the “long” part is not just outward away from the body but deep and inward, too.

One Response to “Training Like Long Arm”

  1. Joanna Zorya says:

    Thanks for that- great article.

    I remember doing a little drill a couple of years into my training – it was in a very compact style of Escrima, as it happens – Caballes Serada. I noticed while watching the teacher and one of his senior students demonstrating that they were not moving their arms at all – like in the Taiji saying “the arms do not move, they only appear to move”. So the angles of the arm joints were held at a constant and all of the power was being generated by shifting weight and turning hips. When I came to try it out, a coin suddenly dropped – bingo – there was my first feeling of whole-body connection. I knew it was a momentous occasion and trained extra hard that next week – training more than my usual 25 hours – working through EVERY martial movement, drill and form I knew until I got a similar feeling. I’d found my body mechanics and I made it have a domino effect through my training.

    To be honest, there have been times I’ve seen my students have seemingly similar physical revelations, but they have rarely taken on board its significance and have not trained it into themselves, and so they’ve gone back to hit and miss body mechanics and gradual progress. When you feel that connection – grab it immediately – it is precious – it is what you’re training for! That’s what I think anyway 🙂

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