Do you feel exhausted after a hard day, and just want to flop down and stare at the TV? A routine like this will take a toll on your health and quality of life fast. If you’ve tried to break your lazy habits with the latest motivational fitness app or by jumping on the treadmill, you’re doing it wrong.
We have been dealing with exhaustion, stress and laziness for centuries. The art of kung fu specializes in shattering these bad habits by training your whole being — body, mind and spirit.
The first records of kung fu go back 5,000 years, with its earliest forms based on Chinese wrestling. Over the centuries, health training exercises called Qigong were created, as well as meditation exercises, which are great for lowering stress and gaining self-control.
The dangers of the ancient world called for the addition of kicking and punching as well learning how to use weapons like the sword, spear and even the chain whip. In all, kung fu has more than 18 different types of weapons to learn.
Even if you’re not in it for the weapons training, here are three great reasons to practice kung fu:
Kung fu was first taught at the Shaolin Monastery 1,500 years ago in order to break the sedentary habits of the Shaolin monks. The monks spent hours in seated meditation, causing their strength and energy to suffer. A kung fu training session includes performing high-energy combinations of kicks, punches and jumps to supercharge your stamina, balance and flexibility. The forms have exciting names like “Black Tiger Steals the Heart” and “White Crane Spreads its Wings.”
Qigong — sometimes called “Chinese yoga” — is another important feature of the practice, and greatly helps strengthen both body and mind. Qigong is also referred to as “moving meditation” for its smooth, flowing movements and deep breathing. Popular qigong forms include “The Five Animals Play” and “8-Pieces of Brocade.” These simple exercises and meditation routines have been shown to have a profound effect on stress, health and mental well-being by numerous health studies. Qigong is also a simple way to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
One tranquility-inducing qigong breathing exercise is called the “calming breath.” It’s performed by assuming a comfortable seated position, which for the monks was the pretzel-like lotus position. If, like most people, you are not comfortable and relaxed while in the lotus position, any seated posture will work.
To perform the calming breath, gently inhale through your nose to a count of 4. Next, gently relax as you hold your breath to a count of 7. Finally, gently exhale through your mouth as if you were blowing out a candle, to a count of 8. Slowly repeat for several minutes, and you should feel yourself getting one step closer to nirvana.
Kung fu fighting has four methods: kicking, punching, wrestling and joint locks. These four methods will give you a powerful set of self-defense skills. You can practice your kung fu fighting in sparring sessions called “San Da” while wearing protective gear like boxing gloves, head gear, shin pads and chest protectors. You’ll be able to test your kicking and punching combos while trying to throw your opponent to the ground, or right out of the practice ring!
“Shuai Chiao,” a more specialized form of close-range fighting, is the wrestling aspect of kung fu. Chinese wrestling is great for tripping or throwing your opponent to the ground, and is a must-learn skill for self-defense.
Once you have learned how to kick, punch and wrestle, the final skill is “Chin Na,” which is sometimes called anti-grappling. Chin Na offers an effective defense to wrestling. Chin Na includes many escapes, counter attacks and bone-cracking submission moves. Needless to say Chin Na is a vital self-defense tool.
One of the most famous fighters to master all of these deadly martial arts skills was the kung fu master and movie star Bruce Lee:
Kung fu is famous for its tricky footwork and striking combinations. One proven free-fighting combination is performed by assuming a fighting stance, with the left foot in front. First, quickly switch feet as you jab with the left fist (called a switch jab). Next, quickly step your left foot forward and to the right about six inches. Finally, reach your right hand in the direction of your opponent’s face as you kick the back of their lead ankle to sweep.
Self-discipline is a challenge for everyone. You don’t always feel like exercising or eating healthy. Sometimes you just want to eat your favorite junk food and watch Netflix. The surprising thing about kung fu is that one of the reasons it was practiced by the Shaolin Monks was to help them to achieve self-mastery by disciplining their bodies and minds in the quest for enlightenment.
Kung fu truly is an art form, and can adapt to your changing needs and abilities over time. Many people begin their practice in childhood and continue throughout their lives into their 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
One simple practice favored by octogenarians is called “embracing the moon on the chest.” It is done by holding the arms out at shoulder level as if you were hugging a large tree trunk. This is a type of standing meditation where you try to relax the arms as much as possible without letting them start to fall back down to the sides.
By standing for 3 minutes you build the Qi up in the arms, and when the arms are lowered, the energy will flow throughout the body to help keep the Qi balanced and strong.
Kung fu’s lightning-fast strikes and adrenaline-pumping fight training build speed and power. This offers a great balance to the soft and flowing movements of qigong and meditation, providing proven benefits to all aspiring kung fu players.
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