So after a couple of weeks, I thought I’d blog a bit about the Wugulun Kung Fu I’ve learned and my thoughts on it. Firstly, though a mandatory disclaimer…

What I write about here represents me communicating my view and understanding as it currently stands from books, videos and the limited tuition at the school. It is not intended to replace teaching and instructions from the people who have practiced and perfected the art.

Firstly, a bit of background of the art and how it originated…

This documentary video from Pankaja, contains an interview with Master Wu Nanfang. Summarising:

“Shaolin kung fu originated in the Shaolin temple which is a Chan Buddhist temple. …. The Shaolin monks had to meditate deeply but sitting in Zen, sometimes they became sleepy, so they tried to find ways to stay physically and mentally alert and also be more healthy. Kung fu was already practised in many parts of China, and as more people came to the Shaolin temple the kung fu, the wushu culture became integrated with the Zen culture and formed the unique Shaolin Kung Fu. When learning Shaolin Kung Fu a person should have great depths of mercy. If he shows any rage or hatred while practising, he will not master kung fu. … If you want to show or teach people fighting, first you have to have a compassionate heart. You have to practice kung fu with this attitude. You have to be calm and peaceful to grasp this method of fighting. Training in kung fu in this quiet and calm way and combining it with the training in Zen meditation means a person gains an understanding of the relationship between his internal organs and meridians, and enables him to integrate heart, body and qi together. Through repeated daily training over years combining all these elements a unique fighting skill is formed. This special form of Shaolin Kung Fu became renowned in China and later the world. So this kung fu is practised firstly to achieve a strong and healthy body and secondly for self defence and fighting. When you use this kung fu to fight with other people, you don’t fight to kill, but you use your skill to dissolve or diffuse the other person’s aggression. And you can control it in a perfect way and not hurt them. With this method the aggressor becomes humble and respectful. It is a way of teaching him to live in a better way…..The real Shaolin Kung Fu is a proper combination of body, mind and qi. This kung fu is different. But the performing, athletic Shaolin wushu functions only from the outside. It is just coordinated movements for performing and competitions. “

 

So what does this mean for the type of training I’ve done so far?

When you ask someone to stand up straight, you’ll often see an arch in the base of the back – where the tail bone exists. Why do we tend to arch our back? Well, if you’ve ever tucked your tail bone in and very slightly compensated (to balance) by sinking into your feet, you’ll noticed it’s a position that requires muscle tension to maintain. In other words, it takes energy and effort to stand like that. By arching your back and sticking your tailbone out, you take the pressure off your waist/hips/legs at the expense of “grounding”. By grounding, I mean connectedness of your body with the ground. Whilst for usual day-to-day activities it’s ok not to be grounded, for someone about to perform something very physical like kung fu, you need to be well grounded to balance, twist and move with speed.

In addition to tucking the tailbone under, straightening the neck is also important. This is for lengthening the spine. With both lengthening the spine and tucking your tailbone in, you perfectly straighten your body from the waist up. The result of this is to allow the Qi energy to flow as efficiently as possible from head to toe. What is Qi? Well, that’s a deep topic, which I won’t go into too much detail on, but simply to say it’s the energy that flows through your body. They say it takes 3 years of daily practice to perfect this and cause it to be more of a natural stance.

For any person, beginner or master, they will practice the standing breathing exercises daily to cultivate Qi and perfect their posture. So, the first thing we’ve being doing every morning is exactly that. Starting in the dark and finishing the hour session at dawn. The exercises regulate your breathing (which over night has probably become more random), expels bad toxins from being indoors and stretches the body to awaken it. They’re supposed to be done in an extremely relaxed state and it’s pretty meditative performing them. Concentrating firstly on your breath then moving your body in time to it helps you concentrate on the now. After each repetition, you gain more and more feeling in each and every joint, muscle and nerve as you attempt to perfect the motion each time by synchronizing each component perfectly whilst completely relaxing others. Being a newbie to the motions, keeping my eyes open means it’s harder to concentrate on the “now” and really get into it, but the times I’ve performed it with Master Wu in a quiet place, it’s a little addictive. Perfecting it that little bit more each time. For us beginners, we actually do these exercises at the start of every session, regardless.

 

Where’s all the hard work then?

Well, that’s where the legs come in. The principle is that after working on the posture to perfect the energy flows throughout the body, you want to carry this posture with the best possible base and use it to generate power. The base being your legs.

The legs are worked far before anything on the upper body, so most of the exercises I’ve been doing as a beginner have been strengthening the legs. The exercises are the stepping variety, changing position from left to right to front to back keeping the tailbone tucked in and rotation at the hips up to the neck. Done extremely slowly, it promotes flexibility (i’ve discovered muscles in my hips I never knew I had in all my sporting and martial arts past practice) and builds power by perfecting the synchronisation of the movements with the muscles.

There’s more in the documentary that discusses the energy flows and why you train from the ground up:

“Qi Gong is training the qi from the dan tian (stomach). Dan tian is the source of qi. So if the dan tian has enough qi it is reflected in your meridians and the health of your internal organs. As a real, traditional Shaolin student training in Zen is very important. The process of training in Zen, regulating the diet, becoming aware of the problems in the heart and mind and thus causing them to disappear will create a harmony in your body and soul. In your daily life walk, sit, lie down with awareness. Constantly try to know yourself and understand yourself. In this state you enter into Zen meditation. You can also say it is a process of Zen training. Shaolin is famous for Zen, not for kung fu. … It is not only about one part of your body it is about all of them together. When you turn, use the qi to turn the body. First the hips, the legs and arms follow. When the hip starts to turn the body rotates. All the parts follow. In this state, you can get the right feeling of kung fu. It is not only striking with the hands. In the traditional kung fu you first protect and then attack. … To defend, you can gather all the energy from every part of your body – especially your legs to give yourself total power. This kind of form stresses consistency, which will turn your whole body into a fist. … The rotations should not be done with the arms alone, but with the entire body. As you are turning there can be many ways of rotating, so that the two hands are two doors of your body. In particular the footwork should be coordinated. If your footwork is coordinated you can use every part of your body to attack. It doesn’t matter if you ware walking, sitting, lying down – Zen should be everywhere. Everything is Zen. Zen is kung fu. Zen is wisdom. So this kind of kung fu is the inside and outside working together. “

Every day, I’ve been doing exercises that involve moving from one stance to stance, slowly and methodically, rotating and recoiling with the legs, waist and shoulders. Whilst doing it slowly, you take great care in noticing the change in your centre of gravity from leg to leg. Holding these postures for long periods of time creates great stamina. It’s the kind of burn you get when you’ve gone up and down a mountain, rather than sprinted for a bus. The inside of my hips feel well used from all the twisting. Similar to that feeling you get after the first day of skiing, just the inside of the hips instead of the outside. It’s definitely building my flexibility and strength. Shifting weight exercises keep the body nimble so when you evolve to fighting techniques, you adapt on the fly depending on your own balance and your opponents.

A lot of the exercises involve changing from upright to crouching like a spring. These exercises are trying to building the speed and power in your legs to regularly change your height (but maintaining stability), so that your head becomes a moving target both horizontally and vertically, i.e. multiple planes of motion. There are some that are done fast and with power.

Here is a demonstration video of the standing exercises done by Master Wu - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYsAFw4zlXw

 

How hard are these power leg exercises?

Well, put it this way… can you throw yourself up from a one legged squat position (heel on ground) and twist 180 degrees and land perfectly? These are some of the tougher ones. I personally can’t do it from one leg yet, but I’m working on it – I need to improve a combination of flexibility and power. Being top-heavy does you no favours (yes, compared to the guys here, i’m a beefcake).

Another one you can try to test your balance – can you slowly squat down to the floor with one leg with your heel on the ground whilst keeping back completely vertical?

With the heel up, it’s easy, but you’ll notice you’ll lose all grounding so if you try to stand back up, your power’s all gone.

 

What about all the kung fu fighting?

None yet, I’m expecting that in weeks 7 and 8 (or so I’m told).

 

Is there any fun in the training?

A funny moment was when Master Wu was trying to get his point across to the group about needing to be springy. He pulled over one kid, put his hand on his head and sprung him up and down like you would bounce a ball. I didn’t understand a word, but I got the point. If he did that with me, I’d probably have no cartilage left though.