Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Physics of Staff/Spear Fighting

Practitioners of Chinese martial arts, Choy Lay Fut in particular are exposed to a vast arsenal of traditional weapons during the course their martial arts education. In today’s society the practical use of such weapons has diminished somewhat. In the September/October 2007 issue of Kung Fu Taichi magazine I wrote an article titled “Choy Lay Fut’s Moi Fah Dao, Modern Function for an Ancient Weapon”. In this article I present the concepts of sword usage and how these ideas can be applied to various implements that are more common in modern life. It’s a fairly lengthy article and I feel it covers that topic in detail. What I would like to cover in this blog entry is the specific mechanics of weapons, the staff in particular, and how to make proper use of the characteristics of that weapon.

Your Weapon is a Tool

Strength training is often one of the benefits attributed to modern weapons training. To some extent weapons training can serve as a way to add resistance to the types of movement you will also use in empty hand fighting. I have a problem with this however. My Sifu always said in the old days the people who were best with weapons were usually the farmers. It is often believed that since farmers use tools daily for long periods of time that they develop massive strength that they use to wield the weapons with deadly purpose. I feel I can add some insight into why farmers and manual laborers are seen to be “strong” with weapons.
I’ve done hard manual labor most of my life. Since the time I could walk my father taught me how to dig with shovels, use sledge hammers and picks and for the last five years I have worked full time as a landscaper. There is little difference between the use of a shovel or sledge hammer and a staff and through constant daily use of these implements my weapons techniques and staff in particular have become more powerful. While the full time use of these implements can increase physical strength in those who haven’t done any type of resistance training, the real key to getting power into the implement lies in basic science.

Scientific Principles for Powerful Staff Techniques


The reason we use tools and simple machines is to make our work easier. If the goal of using a tool or weapon was to increase strength by adding to our workload they would have been discarded long ago. When teaching weapons techniques to my students often I tell them to use less effort, as my father told me when I was young, let your tool do the work. The reason that manual laborers were seen to have strong weapons techniques was because they had countless hours of practice allowing the tool to do the work for them. If it was raw physical strength that made the tool or weapon work then there would be no way that an individual could get through an entire work day using the implement. The same scientific principle behind the proper use of tools for manual labor is what makes a weapon a more effective fighting implement than a bare hand.


"Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth with it" –Archimedes


The fundamental principle behind all Staff/spear techniques is the lever.  A lever is a machine consisting of a beam or rigid rod pivoted at a fixed hinge, or fulcrum. A lever amplifies an input force to provide a greater output force, which is said to provide leverage. The ratio of the output force to the input force is the ideal mechanical advantage of the lever.
A lever is a beam connected to ground by a hinge, or pivot, called a fulcrum. The ideal lever does not dissipate or store energy, which means there is no friction in the hinge or bending in the beam. In this case, the power into the lever equals the power out, and the ratio of output to input force is given by the ratio of the distances from the fulcrum to the points of application of these forces. This is known as the law of the lever.
Levers are classified by the relative positions of the fulcrum and the input and output forces. It is common to call the input force the effort and the output force the load or the resistance. This allows the identification of three classes of levers by the relative locations of the fulcrum, the resistance and the effort.

Class 1: Fulcrum in the middle: the effort is applied on one side of the fulcrum and the resistance on the other side. Most techniques of staff/spear fighting use this principle. Often the lead hand, or as I call it pivot hand, acts as the fulcrum the rear hand applies the effort and the striking end offers the resistance. In swinging techniques with the staff/spear the body acts as the fulcrum.
Class 2: Resistance in the middle: the effort is applied on one side of the resistance and the fulcrum is located on the other side. This principle is applied in pressing or jamming techniques as well as many blocking techniques using the middle of the shaft.
Class 3: Effort in the middle: the resistance is on one side of the effort and the fulcrum is located on the other side. This principle is applied in downward swinging motions and thrusting motions

Applied Science

When I teach weapons techniques even the smallest details are of importance. The reason I usually give my students is simple and colorful. I usually tell them that when fighting with weapons the person who makes the even the smallest mistake can end up dead. This is a truth of fighting with weapons and serves to inspire them to pay attention to the details. However, another important reason to pay attention to the structural details of weapons techniques is to gain the mechanical advantages of the lever principles. In order to get the maximum effect you should know where the resistance is, where the fulcrum is and where to apply the effort. Below is a video of me demonstrating staff/spear techniques, in each technique you can see the principles of one of the three classes of levers applied.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Secret Techniques and Hidden Applications

Since I began posting training compilations and forms videos on my YouTube page a few years ago I have received requests on a regular basis for information in regards to the application of the martial arts techniques presented in the videos. I don’t have a problem sharing information; I’ve actually begun an informational series on my YouTube page to fulfill these requests seen below.

I personally like to share ideas on fighting strategies and concepts we employ for the benefit of the kung fu community as a whole. However, amongst the typical requests for deeper insight into what I am displaying on video often the person making the request seems to believe that once they are armed with the “secret” knowledge of these applications they will have the ability to employ the use of these techniques themselves.

Martial Arts Applications

When many people discuss martial arts applications they often are referring to what many schools would call “step sparring” of “self defense drills” in which they are attacked and the person performing the application would respond with a series of movements while the attacker remains frozen like a statue. Many times these sequences are heavily dependent on specific reactions from the attacker, for example the attacker throws a punch the defender parries the punch and knees the attacker in the midsection then while the attacker bend over the hold his aching midsection the defender follows with an elbow to the back of the head.  Often these types of combinations run into very long sequences of movements in which if the attacker were to resist in any way the defender would not be able to continue this series of application. For some reason, even though it’s generally acknowledged to not work well, this method of training martial arts applications has persisted in many schools and it is this method people often think of when they talk about martial arts application.
In Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu, there are a few concepts that when combined for the entire system. Once the core concepts are understood everything else in the system is built from them and found in them. If a Choy Lay fut practitioner truly understands these core concepts then no application in any Choy lay fut form is “hidden” to them. The fundamental make up of the Choy Lay Fut system as I teach it is based around the following ideas, the ten elements, the 5 kicks, asterisk footwork (invasive/evasive stepping) and the gate theory.
The method of training techniques we use at HSMA is based in the experiences I have had not only in real life self defense encounters but also the experiences I have had in my time as a combat sport competitor and as my time as a trainer. It has been my experience that the more concise a combination or application of a technique is the higher the chance of success will be. This being the case all of the techniques and combinations we practice are usually limited to the smallest possible number.  What is important is to keep the movements simple and develop the intangible qualities needed to perform the techniques under duress. In a past blog entry I detailed our progressive resistance method of training Choy Lay Fut techniques.  The reason the progressive method works well is because it provides a way for the practitioner to develop several qualities needed to in order to make a static technique application work. Three basic qualities that are needed are speed, power and precision. Most of a Choy Lay Fut practitioner’s solo training is geared towards developing these three qualities as seen in the video below.
There are other qualities that can only be developed properly through partner practice such as timing, distancing, positioning and set up.  All of these qualities are needed in order to a martial arts application functional. Without these qualities it wouldn’t matter if I made detailed video on the application of every single movement in the Choy Lay Fut system, the individual that doesn’t possess these qualities would never be able to make the applications work. The only real “secret” in the martial arts is that your success lies in your own willingness to train hard and persevere. It is only through the experience of countless hours of training, that the application of any martial technique will be possible.
With the rise of social networking sites and video sharing like YouTube, the once “hidden” techniques of the martial arts are being exposed. You can search any martial art on YouTube and find not just video demonstrations but instructional videos as well. With the information being shared freely by this generation the important question is not how to obtain the information but rather what to do with it once you acquire it.
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”- Bruce Lee


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kitchen Kung Fu

Obesity in the United States has been increasingly cited as a major health issue in recent decades. There are several factors that contribute to the rise in obesity. Sedentary lifestyles coupled with the consumption of pre packaged processed “convenience” foods seem to be the major contribution factors. If you find that you are obese or would just lie to get leaner these are the two most important factors to consider. I started practicing martial arts in my early teenage years; because of this I have lived an active lifestyle. Yet before I practiced martial arts I was overweight. When I first became involved in martial arts not only did I dive headfirst into training I also began to watch what I ate. Within the 1st 3 months of my training I went from 180lbs to 160lbs. Though I have maintained the same level of activity I did not maintain the same discipline in my diet. During my 20’s I went from a lean 175lbs to at my heaviest 245lbs. The irony is that at my heaviest I was the most active I had ever been. Not only did I train twice a day but I also worked a physical job and taught martial arts at my school. Most people believe that if you are active you can eat whatever you want because you will just “burn it off”, nothing could be further from the truth. Studies have shown that on average with heavy exercise such as jogging, weight lifting or advanced aerobics you burn on average 10 calories per minute. That would mean that in a 1 hour session you burn 600 calories. On average 1 muffin can contain 350 to 550 calories. This would mean if you chose to eat a muffin for breakfast, a food many consider to be healthy, you would need to perform a minimum of 35 minutes of hard exercise to burn it off. So even though I was a disciplined trainer, my lack of discipline in the kitchen caused me to become obese. This is not to argue the lack of importance in exercise, far from being unimportant, exercise should be part of your overall strategy to get in shape.
My NFMA instructors photo. My weight at the time this was taken was arounf 230lbs

Finding a meal plan that works for you
Everyone is different in regards to what meal plan works for them. During 2007, I was preparing for a Sanda (full contact fighting) tournament. Part of preparing for this tournament included attempting to get my weight down so I could enter a lower weight class. At the time I was working closely with a kung fu brother of mine who was reducing his weight by eliminating starches from his diet which by the way was working well for him. When I tried this plan I failed miserably. For that tournament I failed to make weight and was placed in the unlimited weight class and had to fight an opponent much larger than I was and who outweighed me by more than 60lbs. The moral of this tale is that some meal plans work for some people others do not. From experience I found that if it is exceptionally hard to stick to a meal plan you most likely will not. The reason that I failed to succeed using the meal plan that my kung fu brother excelled at was because I found it extremely difficult to stay with the program. I love to eat noodles, which are a starchy food and not allowed under the program. The thought of never being able to eat noodles again and not having a planned cheat meal caused me to go on noodle binges. These binges were large and frequent enough that it destroyed any progress I had made in the program. This is a very common pitfall in fad or extreme diets. The key to successfully finding a meal program that works for you is finding one you can stick to.

On the left at my heavist(245lbs) performing at the NFMA grand opening

After some time trying to exercise my weight off while still eating whatever I wanted, I decided to find a meal program that would help me. It took me years of trying to work off the weight and struggling to maintain a 5lbs weight loss before I found the motivation to research deeper into my eating habits and find a program that actually worked for me. Ironically calorie counting worked for me, most exponents of fad diets will tell you that it is the most difficult method in an effort to sell you on their product. In addition to counting calories I also allowed myself a cheat day in which I could eat whatever I wanted. Allowing myself the cheat day increased my will throughout the week when cravings arose I was able to curb them by telling myself “I can’t now but on Friday…”.  Another important factor when reducing calories is the frequency of your meals. Reducing calories can send your body into starvation mode which will increase the efficiency at which your body stores fat. To combat this I eat low calorie meals about every 2 hours, this raises my metabolism and increases my body’s fat burning while consuming few calories.
photo of me on 9/5/12(on the right) at 190lbs

Something that surprised me before I began calorie counting was a math equation I found to determine how many calories I had to consume daily in order to maintain my weight. At the time I did this equation I was weighing in somewhere between 235lbs to 240lbs. What I found was I needed to consume somewhere around 5,000 calories a day just to maintain that weight. The equation is as follows

Step 1

For men   66 + (6.23xweight in pounds) + (12.7xheight in inches) – (6.8x age in years)

For women 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

 Step 2

Take the number from above and multiply it by the level of exercise below

1.2 Sedentary lifestyle

1.375 Lightly active

1.55 Moderately active

1.7 Very active

1.9 Extremely active

In order to lose weight you need to take this number which is your base caloric needs per day to maintain weight and subtract 500 calories from your meal plan.

Personal Meal Plan
My current plan is roughly 1500 calories planned in 5 small meals throughout the day. Sometimes I increase it to 1800 depending on how I feel. Before I began this program in March of 2012 I weighed in at 235- 240 lbs and I was able to get my weight down to a strong 190lbs (for a total of 50lbs weight loss) as I am writing this. One of the most common asked questions about my meal plan is if I have enough energy. I currently have more energy throughout the day and am able to train harder and longer, than I was able to when I consumed 5,000 calories per day.  Below is what I had to eat yesterday.
Meal 1
Fruit and Yogurt bowl
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
½ cup bran cereal
Total calories 293
Meal 2
Egg sandwich
2 eggs
1 low calorie bun
2 strips turkey bacon
Total calories 307
Meal 3
Grilled Chicken Salad
3oz of grilled chicken breast
3 cups of mixed greens
1 tomato
1 small pear
2 tablespoons of fat free dressing
Total calories 283
Meal 4
1 cup low fat Cottage cheese
1 small apple
Total calories 200
Meal 5
1 power bar
1 apple
Total Calories 350
Health concerns
Weight loss wasn’t the only motivation for me to start this program. For a few years prior to starting this program I frequently experience migraine headaches. These headaches became so severe I often would vomit and become unable to function for the rest of the day. At first I would get one of these headaches about once a month or less but soon I was experiencing these headaches on an almost daily basis. I had thought of a multitude of reasons that this was happening things like cancer, tumors etc. Some people who knew about these headaches thought I was on drugs. After doing some of my own research on the subject it turns out I was on a drug, that drug was caffeine. During the time I was lax in my eating habits I was consuming large quantities of sweetened and caffeinated beverages. I would sometimes drink up to six cans of soda per day. The migraine headaches were caused by caffeine withdrawals. I found a simple method of kicking the caffeine habit which I had to do before I began my meal plan. The first step was to eliminate the caffeine from what was my diet then. When I would start to feel a headache come on I would fix a small cup of tea and drink it. In this way I was able to slowly reduce the amount of caffeine I was taking in until I no longer needed any at all. With my current meal plan in place I have not experienced a single headache. In addition to solving that problem with the reduction in weight I no longer experience back pain from work and have become more functional as a martial artist.
When people ask me what kung fu is for I usually say that kung fu is a skill set designed to incapacitate an opponent. While it is my unwavering belief that this is true, the motivation to improve this skill set can have many benefits in the other aspects of life. If it wasn’t for my desire to “incapacitate and opponent” I would have never had the motivation to increase my fitness level and by extension my overall health.



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Solo Training Regimens

While teaching at the Hung Sing Martial Arts Association I sometimes talk to students individually about their feelings in regards to their training progress. While happy with the class and instruction they receive often student’s comment that they don’t feel they are progressing fast enough. A simple solution to the problem is usually found when looking at both the composition and frequency of their training program. These students usually only attend a 1 hour class 1-2x per week. They also do no supplementary training outside of these class times. Training in Kung Fu is different form a typical western style weight training regimen. While strength training, it is essential to have rest days between workouts and many programs advocate changing workouts frequently to “confuse” the muscle and promote continued gains. In training Choy Lay Fut the main concern is skill acquisition. This is done through daily training of the same movements in order to build familiarity with the movement. Learning Choy Lay Fut is similar to learning to drive a car. At first you may need to think about every action you take but though many hours of countless repetition of the same actions a season driver acts instinctively to whatever situation they may find themselves in. It’s this kind of familiarity we seek to gain through daily training.

Part of a video record of the training at the Hung Sing Martial Arts Association

Year round training with no rest, even during the hottest days of summer and coldest days of winter, hard training and perseverance are the way to learn real kung fu
The key to gaining progress in the practice of Choy Lay Fut is a consistent and well thought out approach to training. With good planning and even the busiest person can make steady gains in their training and learn the entire curriculum we teach. The 1st step is personal training regimen that can be practiced at home on the days you can’t attend your regular class. The school I’ve trained at for over 10 years, The Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association, according to Google maps is 58.4 miles from my home. This has meant that through the years I have only been able to attend 1 class a week on average. Yet despite this distance and low attendance I have been able to become one of the schools top instructors and have kept pace with my training brothers. The way I was able to do this lies in my approach to training. The one day a week I am able to attend class I focus not so much on “getting a workout” as I do learning and absorbing new information. That information I acquired is then trained throughout the week in my own personal daily training regimen.
Beginner’s regimen
When my students express concern that they aren’t making progress I always ask them if they train at home. Usually the answer will be to the effect of “I don’t know what to practice”. Each student has different weak points that need work or different goals. With that in mind realize that no 2 student’s regimen should be the same, also over time a student’s needs change with the progress they make in their training. That said, a good guideline for what you need to practice in our system is by following your place in the curriculum and designing your training regimen based on that place and you personal needs.
Below is a sample base program that can be followed by a new student who is a 1st level yellow sash
Warm up
1.     Joint rotations from head to toe
2.     One Circuit of jumping jacks, pushups, sit ups and squats (number depends on personal best)
3.     Stances 1 min each
Technique Training
1.     10 Elements- 10x each
2.     5 kicks- 10x each
3.     Ng Lun Ma 3x each
Cool Down
1.     Stretching routine
To be followed daily
Following this basic base routine should take roughly 25 minutes and will cover all the basic needs of a student at this level. As a student’s needs change techniques can be added or exercises changed to reflect the current needs of the student.
Current Training Regimen
Below is my current daily training regimen. This regimen is an example of what a workout regimen will look like at the advanced stages of our curriculum. One thing to take note of, though i have been training in this system for more than 10 years, the fundamentals of this system are practiced 2x per day. This is done to underscore the importance of these basic movements in everything else done in this system. No practitioner of Choy Lay Fut no matter how seasoned is above training the fundamentals
Morning Training
Warm up
1.     Cycling 30 min
2.     Joint rotation
Technique Training
1.     10 elements 10x each, for time
2.     5 kicks 10x each, for time
3.     Ng Lun Ma (original long form)
4.     Ng Lun Choi (original long form)
Cool Down
1.     Stance training 1 min each
2.     Stretch routine
Afternoon Training
Warm up
1.     Joint rotation
2.     Jumping jacks
Technique Training
1.     10 elements 10x each with weight
2.     5 kicks 10x each high variations
Wall Bag/ Jong work
1.     Horse stance punch/ Chuen kiu  10x each
2.     Arrow stance punch/ chuen chop 10x each
3.     High low punch/ CLF chut sing 10 x each
4.     Yerng/yum chop combo(on heavy bag)/ Gwa Sau combo (arrow to arrow) 10x each
5.     Bein choi/ pak choi 10x each
Asterisk Footwork Training
1.     Replacement step 10x each direction
2.     Sliding step 10x each direction
Forms Training
Each empty hand form is paired with a weapon from(except #1 which is 3 empty hand forms) and done with no rest. There is a 30 second rest between pairs
1.     Ng Lun Ma- Ng Lun Choi- Siu Ching Kuen
2.     Siu moi fah kuen- ng long bat gwa gwun
3.     Lohan kuen- moi fah dan dao
4.     Siu kau da kuen- moi fah cheung
5.     Lin wan kuen- serng sap jai
6.     Dai kau da kuen- wu dip serng do
7.     Che sin kuen- hung jia pang
8.     Fut jerng- dai dao
9.     Gum pau ping jang kuen- moi fah serng dao
When a performance is coming up I focus this portion of training on 1 form and break it into sections. I train each section 10x then practice the entire form 3x. This is done 2 weeks prior to the performance
Strength training
Forearm routine
1.     Upside down sit ups- 3 sets of 10
2.     Wrist curl- 3 sets of 10
3.     Reverse wrist curl- 3 sets of 10
4.     Reverse curl- 3 sets of 10
5.     Leverage bar- 3 sets of 10
6.     Leverage bar twist- 3 sets of 10
7.     Wrist roller- 3 windings
General Developments Routine
1.     Upside down sit up- 3 sets of 10
2.     Clean and press- 2 sets of 10
3.     Curl- 2 sets of 10
4.     Overhead press- 2 sets of 10
5.     Upright row- 2 sets of 10
6.     Squat- 2 sets of 15
7.     Pull up- 2 sets of 10
8.     Bench press- 2 sets of 10
9.     Hanging row- 2 sets of 10
 Though this program seems like a lot of volume the morning session takes roughly an hour and the afternoon session roughly takes 1 hr 45min to 2hrs. In addition to this program which I follow Monday through Thursday Teach my students a minimum of 2 hrs per day during which I drill and spar with them. Friday is my day of rest, Saturdays I train at NFMA and Sunday I train students for 3 hours.

The Sifu can only lead you to the door, you must enter it yourself

As a martial artist it is important that you assess your goals and take the proper steps to achieve them. With proper planning your can take advantage of whatever time you have available to you and make the most out of it.