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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTl3U6aSd2w

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!

-Stephen

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