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.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Signature fist of Choy Lay Fut

Some of the techniques of the Choy Lay Fut system are based in these five animal concepts that were passed down from the southern Shaolin temple. Among the five animal techniques, the Choy Lay Fut practitioner is known for one animal technique in particular, the Chop Choi or panther fist. Unlike the tiger which relies on its strength, the panther relies on its speed and accuracy. Utilizing the Chop Choi first requires a firm understanding of the structure, fighting concepts and training methods that all serve to make this technique one of the most devastating strikes in the Choy Lay Fut arsenal
Panther Fist
The panther is a fast agile animal; in the martial arts the panther represents speed. The Chop Choi is a quick darting punch, similar to the jab from western boxing. The Chop Choi is aimed at specific points such as the ribs, solar plexus, throat and temple. The Choy Lay Fut practitioner makes up for the Chop Choi’s lack of blunt force by quickly and ferociously attacking these weak points on the human anatomy.

The Chop Choi is made by curling the fingers at the second knuckle and placing the thumb against the index finger for support. Correct placement of the thumb is crucial to the formation of the Chop Choi. Correctly done the thumb serves to unify the rest of the digits on the hand into one striking surface. Incorrect formation of the Chop Choi will reduce the amount of force the fore knuckles can support and will not only weaken the strike but can also result in broken fingers. Awkward and unnatural at first, once properly learned the Chop Choi has an advantage over the conventional fist. Using the fore knuckles as the striking surface the Choy lay Fut practitioner reduces the area of impact and concentrates the force of this piercing strike into a smaller target area. In essence, using the fist is used like a spear as opposed to a battering ram. By using the fore knuckles the Choy Lay Fut practitioner will also gain a few inches of extra reach which may seem insignificant, but can make an enormous difference in real life and death combat.

Here I am demonstraiting the a Chop Choi at the front gate of the Original Shaolin Temple in Henan, China

There are many variations of the technique but the most commonly used are Yerng (yang) chop and Yum (yin) chop. The Yerng chop travels at an upward diagonal direction from the waist into the opponent’s torso. Yum chop travels downward from the ear using a twisting motion to further drill the fist into the target. These techniques are usually used in combination to attack the same target area or “gate“. The Gate theory is the division of the body into sections for offense or defense. In Choy lay Fut the body is divided into 12 gates consisting of left/right gates, upper/middle/lower gates, and interior/exterior gates. Opening a gate refers to drawing the opponent’s attention to a certain gate and then attacking it’s opposite gate. Destroying a gate refers to continuously attacking (Lin Wan Kuen) a specific gate until the opponent can no longer defend it. Continuous attack (Lin Wan Kuen) with the Chop Choi is often employed to destroy a gate but can also be used to open it. The slight angle of each the yerng/yum Chop Choi combination can be used to precisely attack around the opponents guard opening the gate.
Students at NFMA practicing the Yerng Chop/Yum chop combination
Both of these techniques are commonly used from the Horse stance (Mabu) position. The horse stance is used by the Choy lay Fut practitioner in combat from a sideways position. From the front the horse stance has limited strength and exposes many vital targets. However using the side horse stance limits the amount of exposure to attack. Using the correct structure from the side horse stance directs the force of the entire body pushing from the ground directly into the strike while simultaneously transferring the rebounding force of the strike through the body directly into the ground. There is a simple test used by the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to test the structure of both the stance and Chop Choi. Assuming the horse stance position execute a yerng chop and allow a partner to push your fist. The key to this structure is maintaining a straight line from your fist to the rear shoulder, keeping the back straight and the stance sunken. When correctly done the Choy Lay Fut practitioner should only feel the force in the rear leg.
Conditioning the Hand
In order to properly use the Chop Choi at full power the Choy lay Fut practitioner needs to undergo special training. There are several training methods traditionally used to gradually reinforce, strengthen and condition the Chop Choi. Until the Chop Choi has been sufficiently conditioned the beginning student can substitute a regular fist while using the fighting concepts previously mentioned.

The first step to attaining a properly conditioned Chop Choi is to reinforce the fist by training the stabilizing muscles in the wrist and hand. Since the striking surface is smaller when using the fore knuckles extra attention should be paid to the stabilizing muscles. This is done by performing pushups while maintaining the Chop Choi fist formation. Most beginners begin this exercise on a thin pad since the hard floor can be painful. In addition if the beginner cannot perform pushups in this position they can also hold the position at varying heights to begin strengthening the fist before performing full pushups.

There are several different methods of training the striking surface of the chop Choi. The two most common are the wall bag and the “iron palm” bag. These bags are can be filled with a variety of substances. In the early stages of training the bags can be filled with rice or dried beans. In the later stages they can be filled with sand, gravel or even steel shot. The iron palm bag is used by sitting in a horse stance and continuously striking the bag with increasing force. This can be done for either a certain number of repetitions or for a predetermined length of time. The wall bag is used by first standing in a natural position and lightly striking the bag. After a sufficient amount of strength has been built, the bag can be struck at full force with the yerng/yum chop combination. Similar to the
iron palm bag the wall bag can be struck for a certain number of repetitions or a predetermined amount of time.

In addition to these strengthening methods, other methods of finger and hand strengthening should be used. Examples include fingertip pushups, grip training, weight training including finger lifts, wrist curls and the wrist roller.
Example of "iron palm" training in Choy Lay Fut