Chinese kung-fu training is famous for the extreme measures students go to to develop and condition their bodies to help improve their art.
Kung-fu fighters perform relentless hardening and conditioning exercises to toughen bones and joints and to deaden nerve endings to allow them to take strikes without feeling pain. Many styles refer to this form of training simply as “conditioning”.
Kung-fu performers, such as those that have made the Peking Opera House famous, spend hours every day performing exercises to make themselves incredibly strong and yet flexible. High kicks and acrobatic leaps and somersaults require a great deal of agility, power and suppleness which requires years of training. Please note that this is really quite different to the way Bruce Lee trained his martial arts. His emphasis was on more functional training for fighting and not acrobatic training for show.
The actors which have made kung-fu so famous today, namely Jackie Chan and Jet Li, came from these two different schools of training. Jet Li trained first as a Wushu fighter under the tutelage of Wu Bin while Jackie Chan was essentially adopted into the Peking Opera School to learn kung-fu in a punishing regime under the guidance of Master Yu Jim-yuen. If you wish to learn more about the Peking Opera school watch the 1988 film Qi xiao fu (Painted Faces).
Today Jackie Chan jokes a little about the style of teaching he endured, but what he does not say speaks volumes. The pain, agony and ruthlessness of some of the lessons leave only bad memories of an incredibly strict regime which would make a convent school look like day care.
The kung-fu Workout
The kung-fu workout shown in the video clip below is certainly not for the beginner. This form of training is still very popular in China, and is similar to the training which both Jackie Chan and Jet Li trained during their youth as Wushu and Peking Opera students. It involves a series or torturous bodyweight exercises, including
- Finger tip and thumb press ups
- Back bends
- Deep knee squats
- One legged squats
- Some Acrobatic Leaps
At the end, a man stands on his stomach while he performs a back-bend. Hardcore Kung-fu training, that would even make Jackie Chan’s eyes water!
Song info: It’s from the cd “Tai Chi Too” by Oliver Chanti And Friends and the track is “Sangha’s Lover For Amitabha”
Train like a Kung-fu Master
If you really want to train like a Kung-fu master then the only safe and successful way to do it is by finding a good kung-fu school. When searching for a kung-fu school or club look for ones which focus on kung-fu alone, or at least have several classes each week dedicated to the art.
Other indicators of a good school are ones that describe themselves as “traditional” and also those that teach weapons as weapons training requires a higher level of skill from the teacher and this means that his (or her) teacher will be more experience.
If you wish to focus on the more acrobatic elements of kung-fu then find a style which is classed as a “Northern Style” as these are generally the “long” styles, meaning low and long stances and high kicks. Southern styles of kung-fu have a more upright posture and deal with a shorter fighting distance with more close in fighting techniques and grappling.
Kung-fu training is hard but also very enjoyable. To learn more about martial arts training see our Bruce Lee section.