I have been training Chinese martial arts since 1991, age 14. I have been most fortunate to study under the guidance of some of the best teachers of Hung Ga Kyun and other various styles in Europe, USA, and of course in Hong Kong and China.
During those years, I have learned all lot of stuff – and I mean a lot of. Techniques, sets, weapons, applications, strength and conditioning exercise, you name it. My teaching methodology and of course my own practice has evolved a lot – if I look back, I can’t help smiling to myself what and how we have practiced. Back in the old days, we were training hard, no doubt about that – and basically every day, couple of hours every day. Why not – we had all the time in the world.
If you ask your Sifu, he will certainly tell you that times have changed. Most students today go to the martial arts gym (Mou Gwun) 2 times a week – and if your Sifu is lucky, 3 times a week. Some of them do their homework and practice at home, some do not. Some even don’t get any homework!
I certainly don’t practice harder or more today – actually, my own practice today is about 1/4 of what it took me years ago. I am going to turn 40 this year, and I must say, I have never felt better – I am healthy, strong, confident, and have enough time enjoy my daily cup (or more) of Pu-Erh. I don’t practice harder or more – I practice smarter, less stuff, less time, and so do our PHK students. And yes, we have much better results that any time before.
Before we give you some practical tips, here are some questions, which every martial arts practitioner should answer.
Some of you may have read an excellent book 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferris. The first few chapters of Tim’s book are devoted to universal principles of learning, regardless what discipline – cooking, foreign language, or – in our case – martial arts training. The section below is inspired by Tim’s work, and adapted for our purposes. The message is: If you start with the right questions, you will get right answers.
Deconstruction & Selection
What are the minimum useful “units” of martial arts training? And we are not talking only about techniques, but skills, strength and conditioning methods, and combat strategies. Lots and lots of them.
What 20% of those minimum units will lead to 80% the desired outcome?
Example: We in Hung Kyun all know the importance of stances. But – we have a dozen stances, right? Which of them are the most important?
And how about strikes?
Strength and conditioning methods?
Chinese Masters say: “Learning a thousand techniques can never measure up to thoroughly practicing one!” But – which “one”?
Once you select the most important techniques, you must put them in the right order, which brings us to…
- What’s the most effective order for learning these “units”?
- Where should you start your martial arts training?
- What is important to learn as soon as possible, and what can you leave for later training?
What is even more important, correct sequencing means that you have to learn and practice the most important skills right in the beginning of your training.
Once you plan the work, it is time to work the plan, which means you need to setup…
- How often?
- How long?
Bear in mind that “training is efficient if the result is achieved with minimal expenditure of time and energy”, writes Thomas Kurz in his excellent book Science of Sport Training. More is not necessarily better – just more.
Sad Status Quo
Students are wasting their time painting the ceiling without establishing the firm foundation. Many of them practice either utterly useless, and sometimes even dangerous strength/conditioning exercises their Sifu has seen years ago in some movie. Others wear MMA gloves, strike pads (without understanding the basic concept), and pretend to be fighters, but they are rehearsing unrealistic movie applications, or engage in slap-fu sparring trials and error. They feel tough and “traditional” (or modern, up to date), but they are sick, weak, move poorly, and are often times in pain. And yes, they can’t fight.
“Masters” teach set after set after set, because that is all that they know, and if the students, who came to get stronger and learn some practical self-defense run away, they just complain that today’s students simply don’t deserve their teaching. The techniques the “Masters” teach are of course “too dangerous” to be trained in sparring, because real street self-defense “dirty techniques” can’t be applied in “unrealistic sports” like MMA or kickboxing.
Don’t Worry – There is a Solution!
I am not going to waste much time and lament about the status quo in today’s Chinese martial arts training.
Instead of that, I am going to ask you – how do you or your Sifu answer the questions above and how do you apply them in your martial arts training?
Please scroll down to reply in the comments!
Make sure not to miss Part 2 called Martial Arts Hacks 2: If I Had Only Few of Minutes to Teach You Some Practical Skills, I Would Teach You… We are going to give you few simple, functional and practical exercises in 3 short instructional videos – simple drills to improve your health, strength, and combat efficiency.
Coming soon – be the first one to know!
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Pavel Macek Sifu, Practical Hung Kyun
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PHK Minimum: Reality-Based Self-Protection
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