I like to know things. Everyone who has interacted with me for any length of time know that I ask questions. A lot of questions. This is why, in no particular order, I can install a security camera, introduce myself to a Ute Native American in their native language, and bend a nail with my bare hands.
Another by-product of this need to know is that I've tried countless fitness regiments. Home workout programs, marathons, Strongman training…if it involves increased heart rate, resistance, and spending a lot of time in environments where the phrases "You got this!!!!!!" bounce off the walls, I've probably tried it at least once.
The ultimate goal of this was to find routines that I could use to help develop my martial arts ability. Over the years of training and experimentation, here are some of my top recommendations for fitness tool which have helped me become a better martial artist.
First, the kettlebell. It great for hip flexibility, shoulder mobility, makes your grip stronger, and gets you used to using your entire body to generate force, and is just a fantastic total body workout.
Next, the steel mace. The average person carries a lot of stress and tightness in their shoulders. The mace is a great tool for loosening up your shoulders, it tests your grip, and works your shoulders across their entire range of motion. And since the system I teach greatly relies on shoulder mobility, using it on a consistent basis is a no-brainer.
Finally, body weight exercises. If you don't have access to weights or a gym, you can still get a great workout in. Body weight exercises an be as simple or complex as you want, and they help you understand how your body moves and where you're tight or loose. To quote my teacher "First learn to move your own body, then worry about moving someone else's."
If you're interested in picking up a quality kettlebell or mace, check out the site below…and no, I'm not on their payroll, I just happen to like their products.
Sparring can be a complicated subject. Depending on what martial art you are practicing, who your teacher is, and who your fellow students are, sparring may not be a training goal.
Different arts (and their instructors) have different training goals, and learning how to fight may not be one of them. In my martial arts travels, here are some of the reasons I've heard regarding why people practice their martial arts (in no particular order):
"I like how it makes me feel."
"My parents are making me."
"I like the people."
"The price is right."
"Because one of the characters in Avatar: The Last Bender used a meteor sword!" (Probably one of my favorite responses)
"'Cause I like it."
Absolutely none of these have anything to do with fighting, practical self-defense, <insert trendy word here about how to punch someone else in the face>. And that's fine. If what you do brings you joy and doesn't break any laws, you don't have to defend it.
Question: So if you personally practice your martial art for one of these many reasons, how do you know you should be sparring?
Answer: If you've ever begun a sentence with "If somebody grabs / punches / kicks / bumps me, then I would use <insert impressive sounding technique here>".
As soon as you say this, you're fundamentally changing how you relate to your given martial art.
It's gone from "that thing I do" to "that thing that is going to keep me alive one day". And if that's what you're expecting your martial art to do one day, you need to start sparring. Now I'm not saying Google the nearest Smoker you can find and sign up. Sparring is not necessarily something you want to throw yourself in the deep end of and learn by doing. For most people with little to no sparring experience, the only thing you'll be learning is that people who spar more frequently than you can punch you in the face. A lot.
So what can you do? Here are a few tips:
So I started 2020 excited for Kung Fu. I was looking forward to growing my tiny school into a less tiny school, find a permanent place to teach out of, and start to fulfill me dream of bringing Kung Fu online. At the time I had these thoughts, I was at my teacher's Chinese New Year Party in Massachusetts so naturally, most of what I was thinking about was Kung Fu-centric.
Then March happened and everything changed and the world shut down.
If COVID taught me anything, it is that in times of extreme pressure and stress, you can either focus on the negative, or watch a lot of Netflix and stoke the faint embers of hope. And so, after finishing a few seasons of Parks and Recreation, I decided to transform my home into teaching studio. I bought everything my students would need, purchased 1300 square feet of mats ('cause who doesn't love hip throws?!?), and upgraded my lighting and camera equipment to a professional level ('cause I didn't want my virtual students to try and figure out what we were working through the haze of a low-resolution web camera).
Over the various shutdowns, re-openings, and additional shutdowns my students and I endured during the year, I was reminded of the oft-used martial arts marketing tag-line of "transferrable skills" (more or less a fancy way of saying that training martial arts helps develop your mind and character to endure any challenge life throws at you).
Kung Fu helped me survive the pandemic. Practicing forms helped balance my mind, and create the best learning environment I could for my students helped me turn my home into something I'd been looking for for years: a permanent place where I could share my passion for Kung Fu with my students.
Looking forward to 2021 and achieving my next goal: bringing my love of Kung Fu online (stay tuned for updates on that one).
Practice hard, be humble, and become your best.
4 years ago, I wanted to learn how to fight. I'd been practicing Traditional Chinese Martial Arts for many years by that point, but had never really gotten into Sanshou. A friend of mine who was a professional MMA fighter was taking on training clients. I reached out to him, discussed my goals, and we got started training for a Leitai competition.
Over the course of that journey, I learned more about myself and martial arts than I ever thought I would. While I learned countless lessons that I value, there four that resonate with me the most.
I love Kung Fu (which is probably not a surprise to anyone since I opened a Kung Fu school). In any conversation that I can even tangentially slip in some reference to it, I will. This inevitably leads to the "Why did you choose Kung Fu?".
I'd like to say that I had always dreamed about Kung Fu, that I grew up watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and said to myself "One day…". The truth is much more pedestrian - I'd started a job teaching Latin at a high school in Massachusetts and literally next to my apartment building was a Kung Fu school and thought "This seems like a fun way to spend most of my part-time teacher salary".
At the time, I didn't know that Kung Fu (roughly translated) means "hard work". But I found out quick. Every class consisted of at least 125 pushups, 125 crunches, tons of stretching, and after that gauntlet, we'd learn some Shaolin Long Fist. For the first few months, that voice in my head saying "quit" would be on repeat. But what kept me going was what keeps a lot of us going through challenging times: the community of the school was supportive, the teacher was inspirational in a way I have not encountered in any other martial arts instructor, and I realized that, despite the voice in my head, I was blasting through barriers I had struggled against for years. I was getting stronger, losing weight, gaining confidence.
But those don't really explain why I chose Kung Fu, just why I love that school. Seriously, that place is amazing - multiple times a year, I will drive the 8 hours from Maryland to Massachusetts to train for 2 hours on a Saturday, and then drive back home on Sunday.
Why I chose Kung Fu is that I liked the person that I was becoming through its practice. I've become more caring, patient, fearless, and devoted because of Kung Fu. Regardless of what style you practice and why, we all share this common thread: we are what our practice of martial arts has made us.
Kung Fu has made me a better human being.
That's why I chose it.