Martial Arts for Fitness? Yes!!!

Can martial arts be a good choice for your fitness goals? Yes!!! Regardless of what those goals are. Most martial arts contain exceptional stretching routines, and naturally involve tons of cardio through sparring/technique repetition, etc. They often involve some level of strength training. Even Aikido, which doesn’t rely on strength, increases your physical strength through practice—at least in the early levels when the techniques are performed relatively slowly.

In fact, many athletes find that beginning martial arts works muscles they are unaccustomed to working, so even if they’ve been lifting weights and running for years, they find themselves exceptionally sore the first several weeks after beginning martial arts training. Martial arts can get you fit fast. If you’re goals are fitness, consider studying martial arts, and you can increase your fitness levels as you learn how to defend yourself.

Before commencing your martial arts study, or in the early stages, check out my resources, Essential Tips for Beginning Martial Artists, and its sequel, Essential Tips for Beginning Martial Artists 2. For solo training, in addition to shadow boxing and using the heavy bag, nothing gets your heart pumping and works all your muscles while increasing flexability at the same time, as kung fu forms practice. Check out my Secrets of Kung Fu Mastery for more on kung fu and forms practice. I’ll have more posts on fitness training in the future, so stay tuned.

Martial Arts for Fitness? Yes!!!

Kung Fu’s Traditional HIIT Training

The title of this post is not misspelled. I wasn’t referring to “hit” (as in striking) training, but rather HIIT. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has become the rage, and for a good reason. Ever since the famous study on HIIT by Izumi Tabata, the so-called Tabata Method, athletes have discovered the benefits of such intense workouts done often in record short periods of time–but incredibly high intensity. Tabata’s method, for example, took only 4 minutes…but it’s grueling. If you perform it correctly–and you really have to be in peak shape in order to do this, you feel sick afterwards. This is not for lazy people who want to get in shape fast with little effort. There are some excellent workouts following this and similar methods. One book I recommend is The Tabata Workout Handbook. But there are many others. Some of those found for free on the internet are excellent. I still like the good old standard sprinting at maximum capacity for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of complete rest, repeated 7 more times (for 4 minutes)….absolutely grueling!

In this post, however, I’m not referring to Tabata’s specific method, but rather HIIT in general–that is, high intensity interval training. This is the rage. Well, Kung Fu (and many other forms of traditional martial arts) have such HIIT training traditionally in their curriculum. I’m referring specifically to forms training.

At least in bei pai, the northern styles of kung fu like those I’m familiar with (e.g., traditional forms of Tong Long [praying mantis] or in long fist kung fu), the forms are grueling, with long low stances, combinations of strikes, sweeps, high kicks, changing stances throughout, etc. I typically spend an hour a day 5 days a week just working on my kung fu forms (empty hand and weapons). Performing the forms at a rapid rate (sometimes there are short pauses in the forms, so respecting the rhythm of the forms) with short breaks in between (easiest when performing weapons, because you need a few seconds to grab the next weapon) naturally functions as a form of HIIT.

So those of you who practice forms like this, are doing a form of HIIT. That’s why you are so winded after long bouts of forms training. It’s excellent cardio. Keep it up! You’re heart will thank you for it.

Kung Fu’s Traditional HIIT Training

Kung Fu’s Little Secret: Double Daggers

I’ve written a lot of self-defense, and I’ve written on Aikido, and related martial arts. But the styles with which I’m most familiar (most years training), are styles of Chinese Kung Fu. I’ve even written a highly popular book on the topic, Secrets of Kung Fu Mastery: The Fundamentals, which is available both in electronic format from Kindle, and also in paperback. I’ve also been writing posts on self-defense knives, including my most recent post on what to know about carrying knives for self-defense. In this brief post, I want to combine these themes and discuss the little known Kung Fu weapon, known as the double daggers, or twin daggers, or double ring daggers, or some combination.

Double ring daggers, like those pictured to the left, are a little-known Kung Fu weapon that were ideal for deadly use in life-threatening self-defense situations, or close-quarters combat, where it was essential to have a concealed weapon. The ring at the bottom could be used as a blunt object. These daggers could even be used like kubotans. If you check out my most popular book, Palm Stick Self-Defense Guide, which is available both in electronic format from Kindle, and also in paperback, you’ll discover that many different objects could function like kubotans. The blunt ring end of these knives can function like kubotans for lethal (but not messy) and non-lethal strikes as well as pressure points. Traditionally, the blades were not sharpened (with the exception of the sharp tip)–since these were primarily stabbing knives (like ice picks) and not slashing knives (with some exceptions), and thus they could even be used for chin na grappling techniques, and could be employed like kubotans for joint manipulation and come along techniques.

One benefit of these traditional blades for practice, is that they are non-sharpened, and metal, so you are not likely to cut yourself in solo practice….although I have seen people get cut when stabbed by accident in training sessions…even though unsharpened, the tips are still pretty pointy.

Cold Steel has come out with a variety of self-defense options, which are ideal for law enforcement, military special operators, etc. Less ideal for average citizens, but if your laws permit them to be carried (especially concealed), at this length, and you train regularly with unsharpened ones, then they might be a good option for you.

You can see one of the popular versions of these Cold Steel knives to the left. I highly recommend them. The danger is that these blades are razor sharp, all the way around, so in many of the traditional Kung Fu techniques, you are in serious danger of injuring yourself in very bloodly ways. You must exercise extreme caution. Furthermore, traditional ring daggers are smaller in size, so I’d recommend constructing something yourself to help practice with these, or using a larger practice blade first. Even though it’s not ideal for this (since it’s not the same model), you might want to try Cold Steel’s rubber Black Bear training knife, because of its length, you might be able to modify it and add a ring. Not ideal.

Cold Steel has come out with a number of models of these, but they’re sold individually, so you’ll either want to order two, or just use a single. There’s the Cold Steel Shanghai Shadow Knife with Secure-Ex Sheath for $29.99, which is a steal! This is the model I would get myself. There’s also the Cold Steel Shanghai Warrior Fixed Blade for $29.88. There’s the Cold Steel Shanghai Shadow Knife for $34.28. There’s also the Cold Steel Shanghai Shadow with new guard and S.E. sheath for $43.46. All of these are fine options.

If you enjoyed this, don’t forget to take a look at my two most popular resources, Secrets of Kung Fu Mastery, and Palm Stick Self-Defense Guide! And stay tuned for more martial arts and self-defense posts, as well as knife reviews!

Kung Fu’s Little Secret: Double Daggers

New E-Book on Kung Fu!

Kung Fu 1 coverMy new e-book on Kung Fu, Secrets of Kung Fu Mastery: The Fundamentals, is hot “off the press” from Amazon. This 50-plus page e-book, with numerous photos and images, provides a brief overview of Kung Fu history, the importance of stances, conditioning, kicks, hand and other strikes, forms training, and Kung Fu weapons. Be sure to get your copy soon! And stay tuned for more resources, deals, and specials, in the future!

New E-Book on Kung Fu!

The Foundational Four: The 4 Foundational Weapons of Kung Fu

weaponsKung Fu styles often include a variety of weapons within their martial repertoire. Northern styles, especially, often include an immense panoply of weapons to choose from. This was true of the Shaolin Temple as well. Monks at the Shaolin Temple trained in an incredible number of distinct weapons.

Chinese weapons can often be distinguished by their length (long versus short), by being single or double (like the double broadsword, double straight sword, or double ring daggers), as staff or sword, but also by the category “flexible,” which can include such obscure (to the uninitiated) weapons as metal section whips (like the 9 section steel whip), and the meteor hammer (a rope with a metal ball attached at the end). Some weapons fit in multiple categories, e.g., the 3 section staff, one of my favorites, is a staff and can reach a great length, and yet, it is also considered a flexible weapon. I wouldn’t recommend novices try the 3 section staff. You should probably have gained proficiency in at least long staff (if not also spear), and also at least one flexible weapon (beyond nunchaku) before attempting the 3 section staff.

Some Kung Fu styles, like Wing Chun, only include a very few weapons. Traditionally, Wing Chun only includes their long staff, which is very long (usually over 8 inches), and the butterfly swords. When I studied Wing Chun, we also included some more practical weapons like the knife and the stick or short staff, but the only forms are for the long staff and butterfly swords. My Sifu was including fighting techniques he had learned from Filipino styles (e.g., Kali, Arnis, Escrima) to augment our training.

For most Kung Fu styles, and especially the northern styles, there remain four foundational weapons in which students are expected to gain proficiency–the long staff, spear, broadsword, and straight sword. Often times, but not always, basic proficiency in all four is required prior to the black sash. The weapons add a more complicated element, and more dangerous, to regular empty hand forms training. Each weapon becomes an extension of the body. Weapons training, because of the weight of the weapons, can be a great form of strength training.

long staffThe long staff is perhaps the most difficult of the four to learn, although straight sword forms are often more complicated. Traditionally for northern styles, the ones with which I’m most familiar (despite having studied Wing Chun which is southern, and rather an exception in many ways), the staff should not be too long–eyebrow height, or an inch or less (or a little more) over the head, but not much. Top of the head level is fine. Long staff techniques in general involve complicated twirls, spins, strikes from both ends, that involve the hands changing position frequently throughout the forms. Each style has slightly different traditions of using the staff, and so some involve more hand changing than others. But in comparison with Japanese and Okinawan uses of the staff, in my experience, the Chinese styles are far more complicated, and again, this seems to be the case especially with the northern styles like Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu styles (and there are many different Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu styles), with which I’m more familiar.

spearThe spear, although perhaps fancier, is relatively less complicated than the long staff, so if you have your style’s long staff form down, the spear should not be too difficult to learn. Chinese spear forms sometimes use the butt end for strikes, and there are still spins, but in general, far less than with long staff forms, since the main striking portion of the spear is the sharp spear head. This was a very traditional Kung Fu weapon, but, unlike what we might picture as its use in warfare, traditional Kung Fu forms do not focus on the spear as a javelin to be thrown, but rather as a long weapon (like a long staff) to be retained and used to keep an opponent at a distance (and thus create an opportunity for escape), or to finish them off, and then flee with spear in tow.

broadswordThe broad sword is arguably the easiest and least complicated of these four weapons to learn. It is often taught as the first weapon in Chinese martial arts styles, although this is not always the case. Its use is very different from say the uses of the Japanese sword…although obviously both are used to cut an opponent, and can of course be used to behead, remove limbs, etc. Sorry for the graphic description, but that’s how swords functioned in combat. Japanese swords, which have their own elegance and martial use, are far more subtle than the Chinese broadsword (although less subtle than the Chinese straight sword). The Kung Fu broadsword is more like a battle ax, for hacking away at an opponent. There are exceptions, but in general, if you watch a broadsword form, you should notice that the arms are moving primarily at the shoulder, not at the wrist, nor at the elbow. This is pretty universal across Kung Fu styles, and it has to do with the way the blade is wielded. Broadswords come in a variety of blade flexibilities (from quite flimsy to stiff) and weights (some of which can be quite heavy, and give an incredible workout). I won’t discuss the merits of different types of broadsword specs here, since it all depends upon your purpose and goals. Broadsword forms can be quite eloquent, especially the combination of blocks and strikes. After you master the broadsword, you can even learn the double broadsword, which is a rather difficult weapon to learn (coordinating both arms), but beautiful to watch when performed well.

straight swordsThe final weapon of the four foundational Kung Fu weapons is the straight sword, which is famous in Chinese styles like Tai Chi (although Tai Chi and other internal styles also use a broadsword, long staff, and other weapons). This is an elegant weapon, even more so than the Japanese Ken (sword). It was the weapon of the scholar warrior, and was famous in the martial arts styles that originated in the Wudang Mountains. Unlike the broadsword, there’s no hacking here. This sword is used for slicing and thrusting. Even its blocking techniques are elegant. One of my favorite blocks is a slight parry, that’s almost like an upward slice, followed immediately by an offensive thrust.

There are many more weapons in the Kung Fu arsenal, but these are the basic four, the foundation upon which Kung Fu weapon training is based. If you liked this post, check out my book on Kung Fu.

The Foundational Four: The 4 Foundational Weapons of Kung Fu