traditional kung fu

Want to maximize the impact of your strikes? Check out what praying mantis kung fu instructor Jon Funk has to say about waist power!

An Okinawan karate instructor who once visited my martial arts school impressed me with his knowledge of how to efficiently generate power in hand techniques. It’s rare to see a person who practices a hard style utilize power that’s generated in the legs and then amplified in a torquing manner in the waist to eventually flow up through the body to the hands. Cultural Connection Few karate and taekwondo people have a good grasp of how to use what Chinese stylists call waist power. Instead, most use what I refer to as “hip-rotation momentive power.” If a practitioner is strong and large, HRMP can be effective. However, as age increases, physical ability naturally decreases, and along with it goes the ability to generate HRMP. Not so with the more efficient waist power. When the Okinawans first imported martial arts skills from China, the use of waist power was the preferred approach. Yet this effective method was lost because many students didn’t devote enough time to properly learn how to use waist power before they began teaching karate. Some also have speculated that the Okinawans didn’t want the Japanese to learn karate properly and, therefore, didn’t teach them the waist-power knowledge they’d acquired from the Chinese. Taekwondo stylists, who learned from Japanese karate practitioners, didn’t learn the Chinese waist-power method, either. Likewise, some kung fu teachers have failed to learn it. Different Methods The HRMP method of generating power in techniques is much easier because students require less skill and time to be able to use it. Waist power, on the other hand, is much more difficult to master because all parts of the body must be linked in a coordinated fashion within a supple muscular environment. If this skill is not mastered, techniques produce diminished power. At this point, you may be thinking about a specific type of power because every kung fu system has different names for power-generation methods. Actually, there’s no such thing as internal power or external power; there’s only efficiently delivered kinetic energy. Whether you employ the simpler HRMP or the more sophisticated waist power, both create kinetic energy. For kinetic energy to be effective, it must cause damage to the target. Therefore, the greater the efficiency in creating, delivering and exchanging kinetic energy, the less energy you need to produce a given amount of damage. The fact that it requires less energy and has greater efficiency in delivering power makes learning waist power worthwhile. Step by Step The first step in learning this approach is making sure you are “rooted.” Nearly everyone has heard the term often enough, but it can sound somewhat esoteric. A better description is to assume a stance in which your weight is balanced on the balls of your feet and your center of gravity is lowered. Only with this positioning can the two most important aspects of efficiently generating power be realized: balance and coordination. Combine the supple body state described above with a balanced position, and you can begin. It starts with your legs and is amplified by your waist. Kinetic energy then flows from your body into your hands, and only a supple body will allow this to occur. To better understand the coordination that’s required, consider an example from the world of physics: a row of steel balls suspended in line so they touch one another. When one ball is pulled away and released so it can hit the others, the ball at the opposite end swings away from the rest. This is a classic example of the efficient movement of kinetic energy through an inert body. Kung fu practitioners learn to make their body do the same thing. Waist power travels through the body only when all its parts are linked together properly. Misalignment detracts from the power output, as does stiffness in any part of the body. Learning kung fu’s method of producing power takes time, practice and a qualified teacher. The advantage is that a smaller person can generate a great deal of energy without needing a lot of upper body strength and a larger person can generate power without relying on only his strength. Jon Funk is a seven-star praying mantis kung fu instructor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Continue your martial arts education here! •     Power Training for the Martial Arts, by Leo Fong. Available as a DVD (on sale now!) or an instant video download. •     Beyond Kung Fu: Breaking an Opponent's Power Through Relaxed Tension, by Leo Fong. Available as a book (on sale now!) or an instant PDF download. •     How to Develop Chi Power, a book by William Cheung.

Got the holiday blues? Are you angry, impatient, depressed? In this exclusive interview video, Shaolin monk Wang Bo explains why Shaolin kung fu training may be just what you need to re-frame your hectic life.

In the United States since 2008, Wang Bo is on a mission to promote Shaolin philosophy and physical culture by spreading the practice of traditional kung fu techniques and the discipline that goes along with them. "My goal is to help as many people as I can while [teaching] them how to defend themselves," the Shaolin monk says. "My purpose [in coming] to the U.S. is to promote Shaolin traditional philosophy and culture through this traditional art, discipline and spirituality to help more people know [about] Shaolin Temple and to benefit from this art." Unlike some martial styles, Shaolin kung fu teaches not just physical skills but also methods for building inner strength and spirituality, Wang Bo says. "Beating somebody is not that hard; loving somebody is harder. We say, 'If I beat you today, you may hate me for a long time, but if I help you, you may remember me forever.' "In kung fu, you don't see people beating each other too much. More often you see self-practice — one person doing forms. The techniques are very powerful for fighting, but when you learn kung fu, your teacher doesn't allow you to fight. You can fight 10 people and win now, but eventually you will get old. Eventually you can't fight anymore. It's better to cultivate yourself and help people use this art to improve their lives."

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Do you have 7 minutes to spare? In this exclusive 7-minute video, a genuine Shaolin monk shows you an ancient, no-impact, breath-based movement sequence to strengthen your mind-body connection and fortify your execution of kung fu moves.

Ask anyone who's visited the Shaolin Temple or watched Shaolin monks perform on tour, and he or she will attest to the phenomenal shape these martial artists are in — and to the phenomenal feats they can coax their bodies to do. The type of fitness the Shaolin monks exhibit is not a bodybuilding kind of fitness; it's a functional, practical musculature that's perfectly suited to executing the kung fu moves in which these martial artists specialize. Furthermore, their ongoing practice of kung fu techniques fosters holistic health by building internal strength. For expert guidance in the way of Shaolin kung fu fitness, we brought in a genuine Shaolin monk named Wang Bo. Formerly of the Shaolin Temple, Henan province, China, Wang Bo is now based in Torrance, California, where he teaches Shaolin kung fu techniques as well as meditation, yoga and tai chi.

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In the 1990s, two superstars ruled the Asian martial arts movie market: Jackie Chan and Jet Li. While the former revolutionized the modern action extravaganza with blockbusters like Rumble in the Bronx, the latter scored box-office gold by resurrecting the “ponytail classics” with epics like Once Upon a Time in China. Occasionally, Jet Li snuck in a contemporary movie or two, including the item on our menu this month: The Enforcer, a film that’s mildly enjoyable despite its syrupy script and cartoonlike fight choreography. With this 1995 production getting a DVD re-release by Dragon Dynasty, I’m reminded of why Jet Li stuck to mostly costumed fare: His martial acrobatics appear unrealistic in modern settings. In China, Jet Li became a national champion in wushu, a mix of traditional kung fu and gymnastics. He was a natural at wielding the staff, the chain whip and other ancient weapons in exhibitions. His shift to movies with contemporary settings in the 1990s, however, was not as natural, and it shows in The Enforcer. Jet Li stars as an undercover police officer from mainland China whose assignment to infiltrate a Hong Kong-based gang strains his relationship with his dying wife and martial artist son. This role was a good change for Jet Li, giving him a chance to smoke cigarettes, play a flawed character and develop rapport with a child. No amount of change can hide the fact that Jet Li doesn’t look as comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt as he does in a changshan outfit and queue pigtail—at least on-screen. In The Enforcer, he looks awkward with a gun, holding it like an alien artifact rather than an extension of his arsenal. And even when he picks up a pair of police batons, he doesn’t wield them like tonfa or kali sticks; he swings them around like blunt broadswords. It doesn’t help much that director Corey Yuen (The Transporter) got so caught up in the wushu wire-work fad of the 1990s that he forgot about a thing called gravity. In some scenes, there are so many wire stunts that Jet Li might as well have put on a cape and flown above his enemies. In another example, Jet Li wraps a rope around his son (Tse Mui) and proceeds to whip the boy through the air like a yo-yo to take out an army of thugs. I laughed at the fight’s absurdity, something akin to Peter Griffin’s brawls with the giant chicken in Family Guy. Together, Corey Yuen and Jet Li have made some good movies, such as The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk, but in The Enforcer, their over-the-top fight choreography completely removed me emotionally from the story. Thankfully, there are a handful of bright spots, such as Jet Li’s epic battle against three high-kicking gangsters (including former Hong Kong muay Thai champ Ken Lo). By 1990s standards, The Enforcer was a box-office success. By today’s standards, it’s more of a fun turn-off-your-brain-and-turn-up-the-volume movie. It has noteworthy bonus materials, but there are two glaring omissions (no Jet Li interview or original Cantonese soundtrack). It does include exclusive interviews with Tse Mui, Ken Lo and producer/writer Wong Jing, as well as audio commentary by Asian cinema expert Bey Logan. Ken Lo and Wong Jing’s interviews provide loads of insider information, from tidbits about Jet Li’s personality (he’s a pretty quiet dude) to the fact that The Enforcer wasn’t meant to be a martial arts movie (Wong Jing saw it as a dramatic action piece). In one featurette, Tse Mui remembers how the leading man offered “comments” on his wushu forms. “Maybe I shouldn’t say comments,” Tse Mui says with a smile. “They were more like lectures.” Maybe someone should have lectured Jet Li and Corey Yuen about the law of gravity in action scenes.