Introduction to Kung Fu Training
As the translation of kung fu implies, kung fu training and knowledge is not one that lasts a short time, nor one that leads to a final level, or goal. Kung Fu does not propose that one can learn a few techniques and be called a master. Kung Fu is an art learned over many, many years, an art where one may continually refine their ability and learn new things about the skill, the movements, the body and one's self.
As with any skill or art, Kung Fu training begins with the basics. Without a solid foundation, any structure built will not be stable and could find itself being taken down. At this level, students are introduced to the stances and basic blocking and striking drills appropriate to their style, with additional instruction in stretching and basic conditioning. The first set taught reinforces these basic precepts, and helps students begin to work on linking and fluidity.
Starting a new exercise regimen, especially one as involved as Kung Fu where not only stamina and strength are involved but also coordination and focus, it is perfectly understandable that one may feel a bit overwhelmed. There is so much to learn, the muscles hurt, the balance off, and just why won't my limbs go where I want them to go? Spending time focusing on the basics and attending regularly is key to making the body and self comfortable with Kung Fu. One does not need to be as flexible as a gymnast, as strong as a horse and as enduring as a marathon runner to begin Kung Fu training, for the training will improve all of those areas. Focus and drive will work through the 'limitations' over time.
Kung Fu training never really becomes easy, as we push and refine ourselves. But this is part of what makes Kung Fu so exciting; without a built-in plateau, Kung Fu continues to be new even after decades of training.
How KF is taught at WLKF
Wing Lam Kung Fu teaches classes in the traditional manner, as are taught at the Shaolin temple in China today. Class time is split between two segments, conditioning and group lessons.
Conditioning begins each class, and is an all-class affair. As the name implies, conditioning's prime purpose is to train the body and the mind in a variety of ways, including strength, stamina, coordination, focus, drive and technique. Running from 45-60 minutes in length, conditioning starts with some light warmup exercises, and proceeds through a regimen chosen by the class' instructor. Drills, stance training, aerobic and strength exercises, toughening and stretching can all form part of the conditioning.
After conditioning, the class breaks down into smaller groups, to be taught their sets by an instructor. Set training is the primary method of teaching used at Wing Lam.
A set in Kung Fu is a pre-determined series of martial techniques, such a strikes, kicks and blocks, linked together in a comprehensive way to make a "story". This "story" trains the practitioner not only to learn and develop basic martial art techniques and skills, but also to emphasize different aspects of training. A set can be viewed as a type of shadow boxing, where the practitioner exercises their memory and body, learns coordination and balance, and builds up stamina and flexibility. Each set teaches new techniques to the students, as well as demonstrating new applications and combinations for those and all other techniques. Sets develop, discover and train one's Kung Fu skills and knowledge. They are the prime vehicle for a teacher to hand down their knowledge to their student.
Sets teach skills representative of their style. Hung Gar sets teach strong stance-work, power and ambidexterity. Shaolin sets teach speed, full extension of movements, fluidity and kicking techniques. Tai Chi sets teach flow, gracefulness, linking and the development and direction of chi.
While sets contain linked moves and a set of techniques, they also teach adaptability. The sequence and techniques should not be seen as the end-all, but rather as one way of expressing the techniques contained within the set. Each move may also contain various applications. A student begins learning through individual techniques, then links groups of moves, and finally unifies the set as a whole.
Also called Open- or Empty-Hand Sets, these sets form the core of Kung Fu training. The term "Hand" denotes that there are no weapons used except for one's body; kicks, elbows, forearm strikes, throws, locks and other techniques are not precluded by the literal meaning of hand.
Chinese martial art systems are famous for the amazing myriad of weapons trained. Weapon sets compliment the instruction of the hand sets. While it is unlikely one will need to be proficient, for example, with a staff in modern society, the weapon sets aid in the development of body linking, coordination and energy transference. Additionally, they are the martial-arts form of weight training.
There are four basic Kung Fu weapons: the staff, broadsword, spear, and straight sword. Each has its own characteristics and dynamics which, in turn, are influenced by the different Kung Fu styles. Learning each one in turn trains different aspects of the art. As well, all weapons, from the simple (spear) to the more esoteric (dragon hook swords), can trace many of their basic movements back to these four weapons.
Except in the children's class, the Wing Lam Kung Fu school does not use a ranking system of belts, sashes, or other clothing or insignia. Once a student has learned a set, and demonstrated their understanding through a test review by the instructors, they proceed onto the next set, learning both hand and weapon forms. Earlier sets focus more on basic movements and methods, while later sets teach more complicated and intricate techniques as well as more difficult weapons and practice sparring sets.
While a student may identify their progress through the number of sets they have learned, during class time (especially conditioning) no hierarchy is denoted. Senior students can lend help to the novice student, just as an interpretation from a novice student may open a new avenue of exploration or thought for the senior student. Wing Lam Kung Fu believes in the class working together to elevate their Kung Fu knowledge.