Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekly Wushu Talk: Kicks

Hello Everyone! Due to last week's retreat, I didn't get around to writing here. Not that many people read this blog, but if you were looking forward for another post and didn't get one last week, I apologize (and you're awesome, whoever you are, for reading this blog weekly).

This week I'd like to talk about kicking techniques.

Wushu kicks are one of the very first things people learn if they are new to Wushu. While I'm not entirely sure why, I do have my own thoughts.

Kicking techniques are perhaps one of the hardest techniques to get familiar with. Not only does it take time and lots of stretching to kick up to a reasonable height, there is a lot of body mechanics involved that require one a long time to get used to (mainly controlling your muscles, as talked about in the previous post). I know that for a lot of people, me included, kicking with your non-dominate leg (left leg for most people) is really awkward and completely sloppy. I know when I do outside and inside slap kicks with my left leg, my body wobbles, I can't put out power, and just overall embarrassingly sloppy. But the interesting thing is, once you can kick with power and accuracy and control your body well enough for both legs, you know that you have achieved a high level of technique.

This is perhaps why they teach kicks first, due to its high difficulty, but I believe there's more than that. Because kicks are the hardest to control, it means that if you can control your kicks and place power to the right places, you can control essentially every single other movement. If you can focus your kick and create a loud slap, you can focus your punch and create a very powerful, sharp punch, and create a firm hammer fist etc.

Also, kicks are a good way to gauge how flexible you are. Since flexibility is the fundamentals of the fundamentals, being able to see how high you kick is a nice way to see how you are progressing in your stretches. Furthermore, learning to kick powerfully eliminates a practitioner from over-focusing on the flexibility, and not concentrating on the power at all. If you are flexible you can definitely kick high, but you won't necessarily kick powerfully.

Anyways, below are some tips on kicking techniques:

First: The Golden Rule of Kicks
I actually learned this detail 6 years into learning Wushu. By then, I had already built a strong foundation, however an incorrect one. I had to re-stretch my muscles, and rebuild my foundations. This is very, VERY important:

Golden Rule: Your hips must be square at all times.

With the exception of side kicks.

What I mean by "hips must be square" is that your hips should not extend sideways. Try this: practice a few front stretch kicks with your thumbs on your hip bones and your hands directly pointing sideways (essentially making an L with your thumb and hand and having your thumb parallel to your hips and your palm parallel to the ground). If your hands move forward or backwards, you will notice that it is because your hips extended outwards. You do not want to do this. If you throw your hips forward when you kick, you will lose all the control of your leg and will be unable to produce any power. Another test is to do a front stretch kick as high as you can. If your toe's trajectory is going to hit your forehead, it means that you're good. However if it's going above your head, then it means that you're extending your hips.

To fix this, well, of course be more aware when you kick, but also start stretching with your hips square. It will hurt a lot to change and stretch a muscle you've never stretch before (it was hell for me), but in the end it's worth it.

So, keeping the golden rule in mind:

Front stretch kick:

Most important thing is to do the golden rule, especially for this kick. If you don't it will appear very obviously in your kick that your hips are not square. Another very important is that you have to kick downwards after you kick up. A lot of people think that kicks are simple kicking upwards and thus let their leg fall naturally downwards. This is wrong. The downward motion of the kick is just as important, if not more important that the upward motion. The downward motion creates the maximum dynamics in your movement, and if you can kick downward with power and have your foot return to neutral position, it displays a high level of control. Speaking of which, your foot should always return to your other foot's side without making any noise. You can accomplish this by either gently letting your foot contact the ground, or have your foot hover just very slightly above the ground so it's not touching the ground at all. The latter is of course a lot harder, and require a lot of balance an control, but looks a lot better.

Outside / inside slap :

If you weren't here when the founder, Chi To, was here, you missed a really good analogy. With the outside (and inside) slap kick, you should be drawing a snow cone with your foot (like an ice cream cone with the ice cream). This is exactly what you should do (though I doubt the Chinese coaches use this analogy, it will just sound comical I think: 用你的腳畫個冰淇凌甜筒!Yep, it sounds silly). Here's the reason why: the snow cone's shape perfectly splits the kick into its essential elements. When your foot is drawing the cone part (the triangle), you should be simply raising and lowering your leg (though when you lower your leg, you should apply a bit of power to pull your leg back). During the ice cream part (the half circle) is where you should apply all your power for the slap. The half circle should be a very, very fast and powerful movement, and thus creating the slap. Applying power at the ice cream part also follows the concept of using power at the last second (最後用力). Only by doing so are you able to create the loud and powerful slap

Front Slap:

The most important aspect is the coordination of your arms and steps. If you're not coordinated, it just looks like your tripping over your foot. Make sure that when you take your last slap is when your hands come together above your head. The kick should be, again, having your hips tucked in. If you feel that you're having trouble making a loud slap for the front slap kick, it is probably because your hips are extended and therefore you are unable to bring out the power needed.

Side Extension:

Make sure that you do split the movement into its two distinct elements: The raising of the leg, and then the kick. Do not try to kick while you raise your leg, otherwise it will become a stretch kick instead of a extension kick. Also, focus on the edge of your foot and the edge of your opposite hand. Imagine having a rope tied onto your kicking leg and opposite hand and the rope pulling your foot and hand in opposite directions. You should feel this outward force in your movement.
Look towards where you are kicking.

Well, that's it for the major kicking techniques. If you want me to cover any other kicking techniques (side stretch, front extension etc), leave a comment and I'll add on to it.

Until next time, 加油 and fight on!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Weekly Wushu Talk: Learning Control

Hello everyone! I hope all has been going well. For this week, first watch this really awesome video:

I bet you weren't expecting a tennis video were you?

So, I'd like to talk about learning control from Wushu. Since many of you are not quite familiar with Wushu and its movements, I thought I'd make an example with something we are more familiar with: Tennis.

As you can see from the video, Federer was so confident in his handling of the ball that he is able to serve the tennis ball with unbelievable accuracy. How did he achieve that? Well the answer is not that elusive, quite obvious actually. Federer was fascinated by tennis at the age of 4, and by the age of 6 he had been already training three times a week. The video was uploaded in 2010, so it means that he had been practicing tennis for approximately 25 years to achieve that level of skill. By 25 years of practice, a tennis racket and a ball would be second nature, if not then even perhaps first nature, to Federer.

This is not only in tennis. Go on youtube and search up sports accuracy videos. Like soccer or basketball or lacrosse. With extensive practice, you can be able to achieve great control over all the aspects in the sport.

You can see where I am going with this right? Control through extensive practice.

Let me bring in some ideologies from Wushu. When practicing with instruments (weapons, I call them instruments so... that's what I'm going to call them. Actually, I think I'll explain why right now than in a later post

Weapon implies the object intending to injure or harm someone. However in Wushu, when we use swords or spears or anything, we are not using them to cause any harm. When I hold a spear in Wushu, I do not have the intention of using it as a weapon, but as an instrument: an object to further express myself when I practice Wushu, to enrich my performance by using an instrument.

Think about it this way. If a tourist goes to China and buys a sword to bring back to the States and puts it on his wall for display, the swords is merely a decoration object, for that is what its owner's intention is. If I was walking down the street on Figueroa with my spear and I bump into muggers and they are trying to mug me (I sure hope that won't happen), I will use my spear to protect myself in which in the process I will most likely harm them. In that case the spear is a weapon of protection. However in Wushu, we are using the swords, spears, fans etc. as a method to better express ourselves. Therefore calling them "weapons" is technically incorrect.

A sword is to a Wushu practitioner as a brush is to a painter, or a violin is to a violinist. They are instruments, not weapons.)

Ok now I lost track of where I was.. Let's see..

Ah yes, when practicing instruments, it is important to think of the instrument as an extension of your body. A sword serves to extend the reach of your arm, to provide a sharper focus point for your movements. An instrument is not just an object in Wushu, it is a part of your body.

Which I believe is the same mindset Federer uses. I don't think it's quite possible for Federer to knock a bottle off someone's head if he treats his tennis racket and ball as simply objects for him to use. Instead, he treats them as an extension of his body. Knocking off the bottle with a tennis ball would be the same as Federer walking over and hitting the bottle over with his arm. The ball is simply a means of proxy for his body. However to do so is not just to change your mindset. You can't just say "Oh I the tennis racket is an extension of my arm" and start knocking bottles of people's heads. Otherwise William Tell would not have a statue of himself and be so famous.

In addition to having the right mindset, you also need great control over you body. In Federer's case, 25 years of practicing tennis has allowed him to develop such great control over his arm (and a bit of his body as he uses his body to follow through the swing) that he can hit the ball to anywhere with great accuracy. Control over his arm, control over the muscles he uses as he serves / hits the ball. Control is the key.

In the case of Wushu, the same concept applies. As you practice more, you will learn how to control you muscles. However here is the one point that differs Wushu from other sports: rather than just a specific muscle group (like the arms in tennis, or the legs in soccer), Wushu requires you to control your entire body. Not just the arms, not just the legs, but essentially every single muscle in your body. Your shoulders, abdominals, back, hips, legs, and the entirety of your body working together. That is what makes Wushu so exceptionally difficult to master.

If you just started out practicing Wushu, you will notice that it is hard for you to do the movements. Getting into a drop stance is difficult, and doing the hammer fist requires a lot of concentration and effort. Stretch kicks tire you out easily, and overall, you simply feel tense and clumsy when you do the movements. This is absolutely natural. Your body is still in the process of learning how to do the movements. You are still in the process of learning how to control your body. When you do the hammer fist, you still have yet to figure out which muscles you don't have to use, which muscles you can relax; and so you are using more muscles than necessary, making your movements stiffer, slower, and more clumsy.

I'll go off on a little tangent. I do card tricks. I've been learning magic for a good 5 years now. In hard handling, there is a technique called the pinky count. It is where you can hold a deck of cards and peel down the bottom right corner of the deck (assuming you are holding the cards with your left hand) with your pinky and count off any desirable number of cards. This technique requires you to use your pinky to apply tension diagonally across the cards, something that requires an extraordinary amount of power from you fingers. When I started practicing this technique, I couldn't get it at all. Counting individual cards was impossible, and the muscles in my forearms were so tense that I would repeatedly get cramps and muscle pain. This continued for a good two weeks or three weeks, until one day, I was able to do the pinky count without much effort. My arms relaxed a lot more, and it looked more natural. I had learned which muscles I need to use, and which muscles I do not need to use for the pinky count.

The same applies for Wushu. When you first learn the hammer fist, you have no idea where you have to use power. So you end up using more energy than necessary, but eventually, you will realize that you don't need to use a significant amount of energy to do the movement, and find the minimal amount of muscles to use and minimal amount of energy to carry out the movement. This is one part of control: learning to relax, and only using energy and power where necessary.

The second part of control is the literal idea of "control". Learning to control your muscles, learning to use muscles you have never used before. This is one of the very unique attributes of Wushu.

When I was 11 and back in my school's Wushu team, we had a really fun tradition. When we need to use mats for practicing splits or anything else, we would hold the mats over our heads, and slam the mats onto the ground such that it would make a really annoying, loud slamming sound. It was quite fun actually, except the fact that when I was 11 I didn't have enough strength to hold the mat above my head (it was a big mat). By the end of the school year, I was 12, but I was able to join in on the tradition, picking up the mats above my head and slamming it. The strange thing was, I didn't work out over the year, building my muscle or training to pick up heavy things. I just somehow managed to muster the strength I never had before. Now I realize that the strength did not come from nowhere: over the course of that year when I was with the Wushu team, I had learned how to use muscles I never had previously used before: I had learned how to control my muscles, bringing out the innate power I was not able to bring out before.

In Wushu, you do not build muscles for power. Power does not equal to muscles (will talk about this extensively in a much later post). In Wushu, you learn how to use muscles that have been dormant before, bringing forth power you never had before.  You learn how to control these muscles, giving you great accuracy and focus in your movements. That is one of the many benefits of Wushu.

Here's an analogy I like to make. Your body is like a giant switchboard. As of right now you have a lot of those switches, that leads to different muscles, switched on. As you practice Wushu, you will start turning on more and more switches, and eventually you will gain greater control over your body than you had previously before. The more switches you have turned on, the more muscles you know how to use in your body.

Many of you have asked me what are the benefits of Wushu. This is one of them. In Wushu, rather than learning specific skills like hitting a ball or kicking a ball, you learn how to control the entirety of your body, which makes Wushu a lot harder to practice than other sports, but in return the physical and health benefits being a lot greater.

Until next time, keep practicing, keep working hard. Please do leave comments or if you want me to talk about anything, do let me know.

Fight on and 加油!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Weekly Wushu Talk: Technique = Fundamentals x Time

Disclaimer: That is not a real equation

But the idea is correct.

I think this is quite a fitting topic for my first post. Seeing how a new semester started and there are new members who just started practicing Wushu, I believe that I should talk about how to improve one's technique.

To some of you fundamentals might feel a bit overrated. I once have certainly felt that way. With all the martial arts movies out there on how the masters train their disciples by having them stay in the horse stance for hours or make them run up and down a mountain hundreds of times and screaming "基本功!" or "馬步!" and whatnot, it just felt like... it was too much. Too much about basics, too much about horse stances... If I can do the horse stance and bow stance and all the other fundamentals quite decently, I should be learning more advanced techniques. I want to learn how to do those awesome techniques that mesmerised me originally.

But here's the truth: in order to learn more advanced techniques, you need the fundamentals, and time. You might be wondering: "Stephen, that's obvious! Of course you need fundamentals in order to learn advanced techniques". Honestly I'm kind of thinking that myself. I think I just stated something very obvious. But for now, watch this video:

If that feels crazy for you, you haven't seen all of it. I've been to a famous Wushu show in Beijing called "The Legend of Kungfu" a couple of times, and the kids in the show are absolutely crazy. They can do all the techniques with great power and precision.

But that is not the full picture.

Back in my freshman year in high school, I once asked my coach why is that the little 6 and 7 year old boys in the show can do crazy flips, butterfly 360s, and all the advanced techniques so easily while I have such a hard time doing so? My coach smiled and told me "come back and ask me the question after you graduate".

So I kept that question in my mind, and I did ask him again after my high school graduation. My coach asked me a question; but for now a little backstory: the wushu team in my high school started a wushu team at a foster home for children ages 7 to 12-ish. We teach them from the very basics, and I worked with them first-hand. So, the question my coach asked me was what I thought about the kids we taught at the foster home. Immediately I realized the answer.

Children ages 6 to 12, even until the age of 15, are not suppose to have this type of flexibility, coordination, and power. The foster children I worked with had immense trouble even learning the basic fundamental techniques. Kicks are terribly hard for them, and movements such as the hammer fist / back punch, wheeling arms, and even stances pose an impossible task for them to master. The kids at the Shaolin temple, the kids who can do advanced techniques, are, in most cases, unnatural. They have been forced to practice, the techniques drilled into them in unimaginable ways. Doing a head-flip and a butterfly 360 at the age of 8 is simply against the nature of human growth.

My coach told me: those kids you see at the shows, on TV, they never continue to practice Wushu after they grow up. They will eventually develop serious joint injuries and other chronic injuries.

So, why did I digress and talk about Shaolin kids? Well, they certainly have the technique and the fundamentals, but where did the time go in the equation? The absence of time in the equation is the reason why they develop joint injuries. You can force out techniques without the proper time needed, but at the cost of your health.

Here is my point: In order to develop advanced techniques, you need to train your fundamentals, and you need to give your body the proper amount of time to develop those techniques. One of the main outcomes in practicing Wushu is learning to control your body. As your practice Wushu more and more, you will begin to discover and learn how to use muscles you have never used before, and bring out the hidden potential of your body. However, this comes with time. Your body needs the time to learn how to coordinate, to develop your proprioception (will be talked about in another post), to develop techniques. You can't force out techniques without damaging your body.

So, since this is the beginning of the semester, I would like to stress on fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. As the school year progresses, as you practice more, your body will build the necessary power and develop the proper ability for you to proceed to more advanced techniques.

Just this spring of this year, I went to Berkeley to attend the annual Chinese Martial Arts Tournament (CMAT). There I met my coach's coach, master Fong (Sifu Fong). I had a nice chat with him for about an hour, and one of the things he mentioned is: If you train someone's fundamentals well. Train their horse stance, train their leg strength, train their flexibility, there is no need to teach them the advanced techniques. They will naturally develop it themselves. Sifu Fong told me about one of his students that one day suddenly did the inside jump kick (tornado kick) without having been able to do it at all previously. He just one day went and jumped, kicked, and did a spectacular jump kick. Sifu Fong said that it is because he had the proper fundamentals, so it was only a matter of time before he can do the inside jump kick, naturally.

So, to all the new members. I understand that you may feel pressured when you watch the more experienced members do crazy techniques and jumps. I understand, I really do. I have once sat in the corner of the gym for an hour while I watched my seniors continue with their practice of more advanced techniques. I felt left out, I felt like I can never catch up. But I let time do its job. And one day, when I was in 8th grade, I suddenly did the inside jump kick, and butterfly kick, and the outside jump kick. Time played it's role in my life, and I urge you to let time do the same for you. But for now, while you wait for time to do it's role in the equation to develop your technique, focus on what you have control over: fundamentals. Stretch everyday (I should too, but you can do better than me right?), train your stances, make sure your fundamentals are correct. Point your toes in the right direction, keep your back straight, don't move your arms when you do kicks. Master the fundamentals, and let time do its job, and you will be able to do the advanced techniques when your body and your mind is ready.

For the more experienced members, I urge you to do the same. While time may have already done its job for you, there is always more fundamentals for you to train. I have certainly once felt bored with basics practice, doing the hammer fist / back punch every single practice, doing stretch kicks every singe practice, doing the same movements over and over and over again and not learning anything new. But I'll tell you this fact: you have barely begin to really master the fundamentals. If your toes are not pointed forwards in the horse stance, you have not finished your fundamentals training. If you do point your toes the right way, then aim to do the horse stance for 1 minute, for 2 minutes, for 3 minutes. The hammer fist may seem a simple movement that you have done to death, but there is more than the swing of the arms, the smashing of the fist and the stomping of the feet. There is more to the hammer fist than you can imagine. Keep training your fundamentals, there is always more to master. If you want to study deeper into the fundamental techniques, I'll be more than happy to share with you what I know. Keep training your basics, keep practicing, keep working.

So, my main point is: Train your fundamentals. Develop your basics well, and be patient as time do its job. Eventually, you will be able to do the advanced techniques well. Of course you will need to practice them, but for now: Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. That is the best way for you to practice the more advanced techniques.

Anyways, that's it for now. Feel free to comment or to contact us if you have any questions.
Until next time, 加油 and fight on!

Hello Everyone!

How's it going everyone? School has started for about three weeks now, and I have to say it's great to be back at USC with Wushu Nation.

For those who are new, or missed the first practice of the year when we had introduction, or those who are visiting this blog, my name is Stephen. I am honored to have been elected the vice president for the team this year, and I am really looking forward to a fantastic year of action and awesomeness.

So this blog was originally started by Rachel, the former president of Wushu Nation. She posted a lot of motivational (literally and not) interesting posts, so I really encourage you to read them. While I am not so poetic, nor spirited in my writing, I have quite a few things I'd like to write about and for you all to read.

Perhaps a little bit about who I am first. I started Wushu when I was about 7 years old. I lived in Beijing, and I studied under the same coach for the next ten years. After graduating from high school and coming to SC, I met Wushu Nation at the involvement fair. At the first general practice, I remember the captain of the team telling me "your movements are very traditional": exactly why I am writing this blog. My coach's method of teaching is considerably more traditional than the ways in America. Thus I tend to know more theories, concepts, and history about Wushu. While I don't want to bore people with dry, theoretical talk during practice, I still want to share my traditional knowledge with the team and anyone who is interested.

So, starting from this week, I'll be posting / blogging entries about techniques, theories, concepts, histories, and other Wushu related content for you to read. Feel free to contact me through the team email to let me know how I am doing or if there is anything you would like me to talk about.

Anyways, the first post will be up soon.

Until next time, 加油 and fight on!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Motivational Monday: Kick

Nineteen days until CMAT. Nine of those days are considered spring break. One of those days is a traveling day. Of the remaining nine days, we only have practice on seven of them (if you include tonight's practice), so in terms of organized practices, you have one week until CMAT.

Of course, the hope is that you continue to practice over the break and really, every day outside of organized practice, but still--seven practices until CMAT!

Not to frighten you or suggest anything negative, but is that enough? What do you still need to do in order to feel confident going to competition? There is still some time, but how do you proceed?

In terms of timing, the placement of spring break couldn't be better if you intend to train hard over your days off. Spend this week really working on the details and the basics. Condition and run your forms intensely over break. Then, after pushing really hard the first part of the following week, do light practices the couple of days before competition. Then, BOOM! CMAT! Kick butt. And done!

But it all starts now! CMAT will be here before you know it! GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Motivational Monday: Get PUMPED!

CMAT is less than a month away! Now is the time to get excited. What better way to get motivated than seeing what craziness people less than half your age are capable of? You too can be a crazy Wushu child!

Jia you! Train hard! Happy Monday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Motivational Monday: Unbreakable

I am not a large person, but I am still here.
I am not the smartest, but I can still think.
I am not the prettiest, but I can still smile.
I am not the strongest, but I can still do.

I may not have the answers, but I will find out.
I may not know the future, but I can see far.
I may not always be right, but I will do right.
I may not live forever, but I will live strong.

I may not be a beacon, but I contain fire.
I may not be a bird, but I can still soar.
I may not be a tree, but my roots run deep.
I may not be a bank, but I hold such wealth.

I am not a large person, but
My dreams are huge
My plans are sound
My will is strong
My spirit unbreakable

I am