The term Kung Fu is generally defined as “skill achieved through hard work and practice”. However, all too often theory arguments and the desire to learn “advanced” techniques get in the way.
Rather than talking about theories, we think hard work and practice is a better use of time. Particularly where it comes to developing the fundamentals correctly. Make sure you understand them and then put in the time.
In days gone by this pursuit was relentless. Lives and territories depended on it. Today, few people are able to support their families as full time martial artists. But we can spend the time available on the right things. Here are some practice areas to consider, each with a related story of achievement.
Practice and develop mobility
When we visited Ip Chun he relayed a story from his father, Ip Man. He had complained to the Wing Chun Grandmaster about being left there practicing the Chum Kil pivot for months. Ip man said “I practiced this for 3 years”. This speaks volumes for making mobility a key objective. Being able to roll a strong opponent off and keep your base strong, is not something you can master without putting in the effort.
See also: 4 Levels of Footwork article.
Practice and develop power
Wu Sigung introduced and embedded Lung Ying 龙形 (Dragon Shape) into our kung fu. He told us about his teacher, Grandmaster Lam Yiu Gwai, who was able to move in and shut down opponents in milliseconds. His secret was not in advanced techniques but in rigorous and long-term practice of the basic Na Ma stepping. High in the mountains of China, he trained this stepping alone for four years. This made his leg-strength, therefore power and movement, beyond compare. Na Ma stepping activates and trains the largest muscles in the body (the legs and hips), which aren’t as naturally coordinated as the hands. In addition, this stepping trains the ability to coordinate and transfer that power into soft, fast hands.
See also: Dragon Shape Kung Fu lecture.
Practice footwork and condition the legs
Anne Pang is renowned as one of the most accomplished female martial artists in Australia. An expert practitioner and instructor of Wing Chun and Lung Ying, she has frequently proven her skills by sparring 6+ opponents at a time – happily doing so in public demonstrations. She can also throw incredible kicks with precision, control and power. Her footwork and leg strength comes from putting in the effort. Her stretch classes at training camps are legendary.
See also: Anne Pang Kung fu showcase
Practice the basics relentlessly
Sifu Barry Pang (main picture at top) is one of the founders of Kung fu in Australia, whose drive to succeed in the 1970s saw him develop his trademark lightning hands and devastating power. His brutal training regime in Hong Kong with Wong Shun Leung included prolonged Sil Lum Tao practice, concluded only after chain punching until exhaustion (with kudos going to the last man standing in the group). In his personal training regime that followed later, he included butterfly sword wrist work (with arms outstretched) that would run for hours. His basic punch was developed through intense bag work, which meant that his knuckles were always calloused. In running his own school, some training camps focussed only on gruelling sessions practicing the basic punch.
See also: Less is more in martial arts
So whilst understanding how the techniques are designed to work is important, backing this up with hard work and practice is the key. Theorising about interpretations of advanced techniques like they are some sort of secret sauce or recipe for success is time lost. It is better to practice and pressure-test techniques, focussing on the foundational ones. The final point is to put the hours into practicing these techniques correctly, so that you’re not embedded bad habits.
You can’t build a tower on poor foundations.