When boiled down to its core relevance, the term “Kung Fu” means “mastery through time and effort.” It doesn’t apply solely to martial arts, fitness or health but could relate to absolutely anything we are able to develop skill in, such as cooking, thinking and writing. It immediately implies that great effort is needed to develop skills beyond the ordinary. Sitting on the couch and thinking we are progressing in anything other than sitting, simply doesn’t work. It also implies there is no magic pill in training where we suddenly wake up tomorrow and have the entire martial arts library in our brains and bodies, accessible and ready for use. So far the Matrix doesn’t exist. Becoming elite in anything takes the effort of repetition and the dedicated passing of time to allow those talents to blossom.
When applying this philosophy to martial arts is it really as simple as punching and kicking over and over again, day after day through-out the years and eventually we become masters of technique? The answer of course is yes, but only a master of a very simple set of ideas and principles. The one thing kung fu truly strives for is the essence of a deeper meaning implied within its literal translation; that of mind-body unity. This is where true mastery happens. When we ask the same question of ourselves about punches and kicks over time with a great deal of repetition do we get the same answer? And of course, this time the answer is no.
What is the training focus then, for us to grow as martial artists, athletes and healthy human beings, to allow our skills to develop to such a high level they are truly a mastery of the connection between the mind and body? How do we begin to develop the correct way so our skills can become legendary in the eyes of the average person? What is the progression of training that will get us there? These are all the right questions and here is the method we use in TKF to help you find the right answers.
In our system we have our exercises, techniques, forms and meditations categorized from the most basic understandings of foundational material to very high level training which little by little, builds mind expansion, multi-tasking and physical demand. One feeds off the other, so as the mind grows stronger the body is able to step up another level of skill and vice-versa. Using these principles they mind and body skills “stair step” off each other and support each others growth. In the middle, holding the two together is what I refer to as “spirit” training, which is a topic for a future article.
To implement this training for every student, TKF material is divided into three categories each of which has three divisions within it for a total of nine very discernible levels of training. Each of the three categories have specific goals which are repeated and built upon throughout all three of their levels. Each category also addresses not only physical skills of conditioning, endurance and strengthening the body but also training and honing the skills of the mind through meditation, memorization, abstract thought and visualization.
Today let’s discuss the first category, the beginner or basic skill builders, and its three levels of training.
In this realm of training all three levels deal with the basic skills for continued training and growth. Strength, flexibility, cardiovascular, reflexes and mental calmness are taught and trained, to name a few. Most movements are symmetrical and the majority of the skills being developed are improvements on natural skills. For example not just standing but teaching the “correct” way to stand, not just punching but teaching the “correct” method. Mentally or internal training is also simple. Meditations and breathing patterns are repetitious and easy to comprehend but taught so one is doing them in a specific way…”not just breathing.” Again, natural skills, just done a specific way to lay the foundation so greater things may be accomplished later. This is easily the most important category. Fundamentals are key. You may be the best chef in the world, having created the best soup recipe ever known to mankind, but if you have the worst ingredients to cook with no one will ever know. Spend the time and work on ingredients so they are the highest quality. The highers levels depend completely on them just as a tower depends on a strong and sturdy foundation to base itself on. If there is any weakness once build the whole thing crumbles to the ground and all the training and building starts again.
Mental or internal training at this level develops correct breathing techniques and simple meditation to help refine the process of “chi cultivation.” Again we already breath and take in energy from the air, we simply train to do it as efficiently as possible at this level. This is done with basic breathing patterns, single posture meditations (seated, standing, etc…) and very simplistic memorization.
Physical training here is often conditioning drills and stances such as “horse and bow” stance training, stretching, squats, sit-ups and push-ups etc… Again often they are symmetrical exercises which promote strength, flexibility, reflexes and coordination we may all ready have but need to improve. Quite often this level may seem boring because it is so simple and repetitious which is why it is frequently neglected but at advanced levels it’s great for warming the body and mind up. If these skills are often revisited and trained as one learns much more advanced techniques, the lower ones show drastic improvements and may be increased to seemingly super human levels, becoming the most incredible ingredients for our soup imaginable!
Each level is essentially a step or jump up of intensity by making things a little more difficult to grasp, perform, memorize and accomplish. Here the internal training develops the skill of “using” chi energy. Again we all ready naturally breath and use that air for many things but we teach methods to focus this energy use and make it more streamlined. An example of this may be visualizing this energy with in our body and “carrying” it from one area of our body to another. This is the most basic form of energy use which we develop a much higher level of later.
Our physical training also leaps forward with more forceful martially focused skills such as punching and kicking drills either into the air, against shields or focus mitts and possibly a suspended heavy bag. Correct technique is focused on to help keep the body healthy and injury free as well as promoting correct structure and alignment so the greatest amount of power is developed. Remember martial basics are the most important to work on and in a real confrontation they are actually the skills which work best no matter how advanced and complex the material one knows. During the chaos and violence of real life on the street, it’s the simplicity of the basics which are the most efficient.
Once the skills of this training level are developed the well practiced beginner may move forward with their training to the Intermediate category and continue their advancement toward mastery. Here the internal training introduces the tool of “color” visualization around specific points while cultivating and using chi. Often times the new skills will stack on top of the old ones and work in unison with them liked chords on a piano. In level one we learned the “C”, two the “E” and now we are playing the “G” simultaneously to complete a chord. Later on as new “notes” or skills are learned we play different chords which compliment the originals we learned and create a chord progression of training.
In addition to color visualization, new areas of the body and specific focal points are introduced during meditation, for example, the “small circle of heaven” which is a pathway up and down the front and back of the body’s center line, dividing our left and right sides symmetrically, and has a lot of importance in many meditations and internal arts and qigong or energy training postures learned here.
Physical training takes advances in large degrees as well in the form of linking the skills previously learned and creating “techniques” which help continue training coordination, understanding of the movements and endurance among other things. We call these techniques fighting combos, chin na, one step reactions etc…
The training is now starting to borderline the intermediate level and has become a little more complex in movement, coordination and memorization and a little less repetitive but remains fairly simple so basic skills are still being utilized. Again all three of these levels work together and skills are easy to mix and match to help develop one another. I hope you take this level seriously and train well here, then you can join my “Basics are the Best” club and share the rewards they give us at the highest levels of our training!
CLICK HERE for the continuation of this article as I list through the next category and its focal points for training towards ultimate mastery of the martial arts.
And as always…Thanks for reading!