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!


  1. Nice shpeel haha however that's spelled... but omg the kids were so cute in the video!! haha i can't get over that. they were also pretty talented too. thank you for your input! this is why i like to come to wushu every day, so i can get more practice in :) thanks for being a great instructor!

    - Joyce Zhan (yes sorry the last name w my google account is not right.. lol sorry i may explain this some other time if you really want to know)

    1. awk nvm i guess my gmail has now updated from that old account.. LOL igonre me..