A kung fu master takes years to perfect his martial art. But as any master will tell you, there is only one way to improve at kung fu and that is through practice. There is no magical formula for bypassing the basic training. There are different styles of kung fu, and although individual teachers may put a personal stamp on parts of a training routine, essentially all schools follow similar training techniques.
Tai Chi or Qigong
It is not unusual for a kung fu training session to start off with either tai chi or qigong exercises. The reason for this is that both of these gentle, flowing forms of movement form the foundation of kung fu, making them an appropriate starting point in training. You'll learn how to control your breath, especially how to reduce the number of breaths you take per minute. This helps you to increase your aerobic capacity. Tai chi and qigong also teach fundamental methods of drawing in energy --or qi --which is vital for your general health and for improving your performance during the more energetic training in kung fu techniques to follow.
Most kung fu training sessions begin with every student going through a set of conditioning exercises. This routine, which may vary in length form school to school, is all about generally conditioning both the body and mind and specifically working on stamina, strength, focus, coordination and technique. Typically, there is a warm-up session followed by a series of exercises such as stretching, drills, stance practice and aerobic conditioning. The sequence of exercise is set by individual teachers, so if you switch schools, expect to find different routines.
Strikes, Kicks and Blocks
The next training step is to learn the various martial arts techniques. These are called "sets." Some schools may start with teaching the student individual moves, such as strikes, kicks and blocks. Once these are perfected, the student learns how to link these moves together in a variety of ways. You will probably find that if you choose to train in Shaolin kung fu, the sets focus on speed, fluidity of movement, full extension of the limbs and you may do more kick work than with other kung fu styles. These sets are also called "hand" sets because the student doesn't use a weapon.
Learning how to perform movements with a weapon is a fundamental part of kung fu. The four key weapons are a staff, a spear, a broadsword and a straight sword. Fans of kung fu films, such as "House of Flying Daggers," will be familiar with the kung fu's use of weaponry, albeit with a lot of Hollywood pizzazz that you won't find at your local class. Training with a staff, for example, helps with physical coordination and plays a role in kung fu weight training. Each weapon has its own characteristic set of movements associated with it, so it will take time to learn all of them.
- Wing Lam Kung Fu: Introduction to Kung Fu Training
- Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy China: Training Plan
- The Kung Fu Handbook; Peter Warr
- Total Film: 50 Greatest Kung Fu Movies
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.