In the system of training, Kung-Fu called “Qi Gong” we practice cultivating Qi(Chi) in our bodies to keep it energised and healthy. Qi Gong like most forms of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ works by preventing illness not curing it, the goal is to create a body and mind fit for longevity. It not only works on the level of life force energy but also in a more tangible and physical sense it will gently improve and maintain your flexibility and strength of the spine.
Most forms in authentic Kung Fu will help develop and strengthen muscles, joint and vessels working primarily with the Fascia. For example, one school in Thailand has 5 basic routines all of which develop the fascia and then many more on top of this as you work your way up the grading system. You can train this either as a soft and gentle art or a higher intensity martial art. Take the Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat in Thailand as an example, they have a morning session from 6:00 to 8:00 for just their soft art alone and much much more throughout the day of varying intensities. This isn’t even including the stretching and workout sessions provided in Kung Fu training
This way of training allows our bodies to become more elastic and resilient. This improves the recovery processes in the body and will improve your body’s collective strength. Since stretching in Kung Fu is given particular importance to each and all parts of the body, then it is done equally on the whole body with the same load on each joint, and each muscle group.
Flexibility exercises in kung fu differ from other stretching methods in that they involve more muscle groups in one use than anywhere else. Tasks are performed both static and dynamic. Particular attention is paid to breathing during exercises for flexibility. It should be smooth, calm, and deep with emphasis on the abdomen including the diaphragm. Exhaling is done at the maximum moment of muscle tension, allowing them to relax. Attention is given to the fascia as you not only want to become flexible you want to be able to maintain strength in this newfound range of movements.
Overall Kung Fu will increase the endurance of the body, which improves the functional work of the body as a whole and most importantly enhances immunity. As a general rule, those that exercise well tend to live a happier existence as their body returns to a good balance. This goes hand in hand with the natural chemicals released, such as endorphins and adrenaline, during high-intensity exercises. Often you find a lot of fitness programs focus on the aesthetics of their results and not the practicality of your newfound muscles or waistline. Kung Fu goes to the extent of even strengthening the internal organs(or at least the fascia surrounding them). Fascia surrounds all of our organs in our body and helps maintain their shape, some are completely supported by the fascia. Often, if we are in an accident there is a risk of rupturing these organs, but those that have had theirs strengthened through exercises such as “Vein Tendon Chi Kung” will have a much higher resistance.
All exercises in kung fu are carried out in this engaged stretch of the fascia, with the shoulders lowered, the straight back and a raised crown. This allows you to form the correct posture and prevent injuries of the spine(in the long run you’ll be mobile even in your old age). By maintaining this posture through training you develop muscle tone in all the right places and this will continue to support your body even outside of class.
Kung Fu holds relaxation as a highly important factor in your development. Improving the speed-strength qualities, you can use your body as a whip creating the highest amount of impact possible to your target. Relaxation will seriously improve any martial art but isn’t limited to their, relaxation is something many people strive for regardless of their hobbies or work. Through training, you can find relaxation in any and all places of the body and in varying scenarios. If you can be relaxed whilst sparring you will be able to be relaxed for your big speech, a job interview or even a first date. Counterintuitively the more you learn to relax the more control you will have over your body and the more effortless your movements will seem. You can see this very clearly in Kung Fu master whose ages don’t seem to be reflected in the capacity of their bodies movements.
The formation of proper breathing, which leads to an increase in the general tone of the body, relieves fatigue and improves efficiency. Proper breathing is aimed at collectively enriching each cell of the body with oxygen, giving them the opportunity to perform at their full. Breathing in kung fu comes from the abdomen (diaphragmatic breathing), it allows the more optimal use of the lung capacity. Due to the movement of the diaphragm in the abdominal cavity, not only blood but other fluids in the body begin to move, preventing the body from becoming stagnant.
The development of the muscles surrounding the spine is what helps us with load bearing. For many forms of Kung Fu, particularly Shaolin, there is a practice of traditional Chinese weapons (tantao, staff, spear, tiger fork, twin weapons, flexible weapons …). This allows you to maximize the load of the body and develop strength throughout the body as opposed to isolating and strengthening muscles. The goal is to get to the point where the weapon feels as if it is simply an extension of your own body.
The orientation of lessons for Kung Fu as a system of training is very different from the training of athletes in other competing sports.
In sports, the primary task is to achieve the maximum result in a short period. Usually, sports life only lasts until 25-28 years, “the brightest light burns, the fastest of them all”. The achievement of maximum results is sometimes associated with a risk to health and inevitably leads to injuries and “deterioration” of the body.
In Kung Fu, the training doesn’t start and finish at the body it goes to the lengths of strengthening your will and mental capacity. A strong and healthy mind will help maintain a healthy body. Our minds are powerful things and the seeds we plant there have a massive impact on our lives. The ethos, philosophy, traditions and general school of thought in Kung Fu help you to develop a strong sense of self-discipline and self-love/compassion. Both of which are integral to a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of Kung Fu on the mental state are boundless as the practice is far more than just the martial art, there will be patience, creativity, peace, ego, dealing with fear, analysis of people, and so much more to train.
Some are aimed at stretching the muscle fibre; others are for its maximum reduction. Both hemispheres of the brain develop in sync; the exercises are symmetrical and are performed on both sides in the same way. Other sports such as tennis, fencing, baseball – are aimed at developing only one side of the body -they can be difficult to relearn if you acquire an injury on your dominant side, as you will have to retrain your whole technique again. Kung Fu is about balance and returning your body to this healthy even state. You will see this happening more and more in the sports industries, it is already being implemented in sports such as football. They make sure both sides of the body are being built up symmetrically to avoid injury.