Practice: A Suggestion

Practice. How do you do it? Year in and year out. It’s a task and a pleasure and a promise that, though broken now and then, still endures the years and the tears.  Even though friends and lovers come and go there is that stubborn loyalty to something without a name (isn’t the greatest loyalty to something without a name? People say “country”, people say “family” and mean something else that has no name). I’ve seen and heard about a circus of methods and plans. One teacher I know, a top instructor in Mitose Kosho Ryu for years had a little card files with all sorts of work outs. Each day he would just dip into the file and pull out a card telling him which forms, which kicks and what basics to work on. Another friend, now a fine Chen style player, had the names of all her Kenpo techniques recorded, all 200+, just the names recorded and as the voice called each name she would execute it. My favorite response about practicing came from that diminutive fireball, Hawkins Cheung, sifu and old friend of the B. Lee. When he was asked about his practice regime he said, “Routines are for beginners, I practice whatever I feel like.” So what do we know? Foremost, that practice is a very individual thing. Still,  when you are first building your foundation in the art of Kung Fu there are some points that you should make sure your hit.

Foundation training. Start with it in the morning and end with it at night. Foundation training is the calm, solid beginning of the day. Even a little, a few minutes, is like making sure your have a breakfast with real nutrition. For me, I practice the Ba Shi with the Horse, Bow, Cat, etc. You don’t have to go through you whole routine. Take one stance and BREATHE.

Stretches and warm ups. It’s insane to stretch for twenty minutes to work out for twenty minutes. A little stretching and then go. Five minutes. If you want to stretch to actually improve flexibility, make that a separate routine. Be sure to turn your waist and relax your shoulders. Otherwise you may be stretched out but you aren’t warmed up, for Kung Fu at least.

Basics. Start slow. Emphasize form. Yes, you should work up to speed and power but the main idea is to learn something from your basics each and every work out. Again, a good approach is to work through your moves but take some time to concentrate on certain movements. The minute you are doing your basics like a machine you should stop and examine what the next level would look like. More intent? More precision? Don’t train yourself to be a robot.

Fighting training. Dummy. Bag. Partner. Build strength, speed and experience. Sparring goes here, partner practice, self defense techniques. This is the hard and strong heart of the work out. Progress from patterned drills to free motion and then, as long as you aren’t reved too high, to sensitivity drills like Push Hands, Rolling Hands, Sticky Hands. Change and adapt, over and over. Train hard and fast and then recoop. Challenge your best techniques, don’t rely on what you rely on.

Forms. Calm down with forms but heighten your  sense of fluidity, rhythm and technical skills. Weapons practice goes here. Start with your most current form, go back and practice earlier forms then return to the one your are focusing on. Very slowly add the real execution of your skills into the forms but treat that like salt. Don’t put so much in that you can’t get it out again. Every form has a hidden theme, find it.

Return to Stillness. Back to stance work for just a minute. Calm, deep, slow. Stand up and walk around but go back to the meditative only with a different accent. Everything you moved through in the whole practice, you are still moving through only without a visible sign of activity. Stand up  and relax. Work out over.

To do traditional Martial Arts well is a delicate balance of what most people would call exercise and reflection. This interconnected Yin and Yang is more powerful than any single approach could ever be. And, as you advance, you also realize it’s more interesting.

5 Responses to “Practice: A Suggestion”

  1. steve weinbaum says:

    I enjoyed your comments on “PRACTICE.” I have been PRACTICING for nearly 17 years and, perhaps, wasted much time because I was not exposed to a tried and true curriculum. Rather, the emphasis was on forms. Foundational training was not emphasized. Subsequently, through reading, I was convinced to commit to standing practices, silk reeling exercises (Master Chen Xiao Wang), bagua circle walking, peng jin exercises (George Xu; China’s living treasures). There are undoubtedly other practices, liket an toi, that escaped my notice.
    I wonder how many other individuals with similar experience… and more recent devotees with serious intent ….might benefit from a review / listing of basic (and traditional) practices with mention of DVD’s, books, etc., by people who are master teachers as well as master practitioners. I guess Ma Hong (Chen style taiji) is one who satisfies both criteria.

  2. Plum Staff says:

    Thanks, Steve. Anyone out there want to share their own foundational training practices? We would love to hear from you.

  3. Richard A. Walker says:

    Mr. Weinbaum’s path is enough like my own that I have little to add. The order of practice for me is usually (1) stances (2)warmup and ROM exercises, (3) basics, (4) form(s)and (5)stretching. I’ve put together several routines of stance work from different styles, and still occasionally practice some of the forms I learned forty years ago. These days my basics are not so much parries, strikes and kicks as simple movements–open-close, raise-lower, arcs, push-pull–that I perform from a neutral posture (wuji) or whatever way I happen to be standing at the moment, while imagining various attacks; slowly, then a bit faster, and finally with some jing.) There are days when I do nothing but footwork drills. All this talk of basics reminds me of a thought that’s occurred to me more than once, namely, that it would be a great gift to us if Ted would make a DVD of the his favorite foundational practices, those that he’s found most useful over the years. Failing that, a list of those DVDs containing the best presentations of basics in whatever styles. So much to learn!

  4. steve weinbaum says:

    Thanks for your input, Richard. It triggered some thoughts of my own. It might be of value to all of us “subscribers” to this web site if WE shared the following information: 1.) General level of our experience, i.e., novice, intermediate, or advanced and 2.) our principal interest (taiji, bagua, etc., and 3.) names of top books and DVD’s which we feel have advanced our practice.
    Thoughts about this Ted and Debbie?

  5. Plum Staff says:

    We also got this very interesting comment from Robert Figler, talking about his early Wutang training

    “…we always learned 18 single moving praying mantis
    postures with fighting side (from every system and I believe
    this was a training invention of Master Su Yu Zhang but followed the traditional practice of starting with single moving postures). Then we started right into 8 step praying mantis–7 Hand and 7 hand fight, Li Pi, Xiao Fan Si, Da Fan Si, Ba Bu Zhai Yao #2; hen
    Seven Star Beng Bu, Qi Xing Zhao Yao, and some plum flower
    praying mantis–we also finally learned Liu He Duan Chui (6
    Harmony Short Punch). As soon as the summer hit and we were outside, where staff and dao training were taught.

    Of course I hated praying mantis wanting to learn taiji and bagua, the “magical” systems. When we first started on disciples/formal students could learn the Baji/Pigua system of Liu Yun Qiao. Eventually I “went through the door” and was permitted to start baji/pigua training at age 40+. Much to my chagrin it was back to stance training and single moving postures. Now I look back and see all the two person mantis, stance work and kicking we did was quite helpful: An Extremely important foundation even for those “magical internal arts”!

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