I was asked a while back by an online magazine to write a brief article on how to train Chinese Martial Arts effectively. The magazine folded before anything was posted but here’s a little of what I came up with, based on my experience and the training of my teacher, Master Tang Laiwei –
1st step – Warm up. Sounds simple but I like to make my warm up part of the training. What I mean is that it should be skill specific to the style you are practicing. A light jog might warm you up but perhaps not the right joints and you learn nothing from it. I choose exercises from within the system that warm the body and stretch. Most often I use a style specific Qigong routine, practiced a little faster and with a greater range of movement. I always like to combine some form of ‘Standing Post’ meditation posture also, to focus breathing.
2nd step – Basic Training. Obvious but true, foundation stances, arm techniques and leg techniques or even short drills repeated many many times. Again, specific to the style being practiced and nothing too easy or it gets dull and has little benefit.
3rd step – Applications. They should never be forgotten, nor should they completely take over from training forms. Difficult without a partner but that’s what wooden men, grappling dummies and striking targets were designed for. I find traditional apparatus are also great conditioning tools so this benefit can be gained here also (once again more skill specific than weights or push-ups).
4th step – Forms. I usually restrict myself to regularly training a maximum of three routines in any one style at any given time. Generally, that’s one fist and two different weapons. I avoid training similar routines at the same time, its too easy to get confused and the benefits are not as varied. I prefer repeating sections of routines or shorter routines over longer forms. Too often people training modern Wushu just do forms over and over again, there is little benefit to this (apart from cardio) once you get past 3 repetitions – our minds can only retain so much.
5th step – Teaching. I learn more from teaching others now than I do training by myself. My coach always stressed the importance of this, but I didn’t appreciate it till now. It forces us to understand every layer of the techniques and sometimes draws attention to areas we have neglected. Incidentally the first four steps are how I teach all my classes. My emphasis for teaching is my own training development (sorry students, I don’t just do it for the love, if I truly did it would be free, and if it were for the money I would need to charge more!) and my emphasis in training in fitness, health and perfecting the art. If my emphasis were competition or fighting I am sure my steps would look a little different and be more painful!