I recently had a chance to review the DVD "Kung Fu Body Conditioning (2)" by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, and would like to tell you about some of my findings.
Most martial artists starting out have a rather romantic vision of what traditional training should look like. Especially in the realm of Kung Fu, the imagination conjures up images of clandestine monks meditating on rocks, leaping through trees, and balancing deftly on top of slender objects. Most of us settle into more modern environments for our training, but the students at the YMAA retreat keep some of the old spirit alive, and this DVD lets us in on the fun.
I was particularly interested in this video because it relates closely to the Okinawan concepts of kiko and hojo undo. Kiko is a term that refers to the Okinawan methods of energy movement throughout the body. It is a combination of breath, meridian opening/closing, posture, muscular coordination, and mindset. Kiko practice often shows up in kata like Sanchin and Tensho, where the form is executed slowly and deliberately. Hojo Undo is a term referring to basic practice methods that often involve body developing implements like chi ishi, nigiri game, makiwara, and more.
When put together, kiko and hojo undo form the basis for body conditioning in karate. When done properly, karate strikes can become exponentially more effective and the body far more resistant to taking blows. Concepts such as iron palm, iron shirt, and kyusho jutsu are all related to these methods of training.
Interestingly, these aspects of karate which blend internal and external have a close relationship with Chinese arts. As is well known, karate's forebearer tode (or just "ti") was heavily influenced by Chinese sources. Whether it was Okinawans traveling to the Chinese coast to study White Crane or Chinese sapposhi visiting the islands and staying in Kumemura, the spread of chuanfa (kung fu) was subtle but deliberate.
Viewing the Kung Fu Body Conditioning DVD was an excellent chance to "compare and contrast", as well as learn new things about the intricacies of internal development.
What's On the DVD?
In short – a lot. Normally when you purchase a martial arts DVD you can expect somewhere between 1-2 hours of content. Some are even stingier. This DVD provided FOUR HOURS of content, and it wasn't fluffed out with unneccesary repetitions of drills.
That being said, here is a quick run down of the major sections of the video:
- Basic Qigong – Grand circulation, hard/soft white crane movement, taiji ball, candle staring. This section is a nice mixture of groundwork ideas that seem simple but are difficult to execute proficiently. For hard stylists it's full of useful drills to ponder, soft stylists may find it remedial.
- Arm and Leg Conditioning- candle punching, use of weighted body gear, bag punching, brick rooting, jumping technique. Normally when you hear the terms "arm or leg conditioning" you think of beating your body with various implements to toughen them. That's not really the focus here. Instead the body is conditioned to behave properly to transmit power and move energy effectively.
- Kicks and Stances – Useful for individuals looking to integrate more kung fu into their repertoire, although not critical for understanding the other concepts in the video.
- Partner Drills – reaction speed, reaction time games, bridge hands, distance drills, arm conditioning. A series of useful activities that two or more students can use to develop enhanced ability. Included is body toughening exercises.
- Outdoor Training – post punching, weighted exercise, cinderblock flipping, monkey running, tumbling and trampoline. Ideas for integrating nature into development activities. Low tech body conditioning solutions.
- Philosophical Discussions – Dr. Yang pontificates on some of the finer aspects of preserving kung fu, the deeper meaning of training, and focusing on character development.
For the visually inclined, check out this short video filled with clips from the DVD:
How Good Was the DVD?
There's no question, this video is a welcome addition to my collection. From a sheer value perspective, YMAA has done an excellent job of giving customers the most for their money. Many companies would have broken this information up into four DVDs, one hour a piece and charged $30-$40 each. This DVD is one disc, $39.95, and they didn't cut corners on production value. While you wouldn't mistake this for a Hollywood movie, the quality of filming and clarity of information is well above average. Interestingly, this particular video is the second in a 2-part series, yet it doesn't feel as if the first is needed to understand the content. Both parts appear to be separately functional.
The format begins and ends with discussion from Dr. Yang. He guides the viewer through qigong exercises and philosophical discussions. The bulk of the actual physical training is done by his retreat students. They perform aptly, and while their presentation is a bit more stiff than the veteran Yang, each exercise is thoroughly understandable.
I approached this video looking for ways to enhance my kiko and hojo undo training, and I got just that. The internal qigong aspects emphasized throughout the tape are very interesting and clearly applicable to classical training. Individuals who don't care for discussions on chi or energy may find some of the drills too esoteric for their taste, but that's ok. With so much content, the viewer can easily pick and choose which pieces they want to incorporate into their own regiment. I, for example, have no real use for tumbling or parkour-esque monkey running. I won't be utilizing those drills, but I did appreciate the skill it took to do them.
Any Gripes, Complaints, Curmudgeonly Mumblings?
I have one complaint. Throughout the video we see the young students executing various body/technique development exercises. But what about Dr. Yang? Sure, tossing cinderblocks helps build good core and grip muscles when you're young, but at what time do you stop doing that? What kind of body development training does Dr. Yang do at his age and skill level?
I would have loved to see a "mature" version of each exercise. As the young students wailed away, Dr. Yang could have shown how a 40-50 year old might do it. After all, many martial artists are middle aged or older; they can't be jumping around from railing to railing all day.
One of the great pleasures I get from studying under good senior Sensei is watching them execute techniques and training at a higher level. This video missed a chance to show off Dr. Yang and the subtleties of his expertise.
If you're interested in low tech training and want to gather new ideas for combining the internal and external aspects of your art, this DVD is a fine choice. I found a few drills I can put to immediate use, and others that may take time for me to understand.
Every now and then I add a review on the blog to inform readers of interesting books, movies, and products that I have found useful. Today is a little different.
The word "review" may not be correct for this article; "thank" is a bit more appropriate. Over the past decade or so I've gotten to know Carla Molinaro, owner and operator of a traditional Goju Ryu dojo in Eastern Pennslyvania. She studies kobudo under my primary instructor Bruce Heilman, and as such we often get a chance to cross train. Carla comes from a very strong line of Goju practitioners, training primarily under Ron Martin and receiving additional training under Chuck Merriman and Morio Higaonna.
I never really understood the potency of Goju Ryu until I began interacting with Carla and her students. Goju is a dynamic style of karate that boasts strong roots in Fujian, China. Much of the original Chinese aspects have been left intact, including an emphasis on circular movements and stability derived from the hara.
My appreciation and understanding of hojo undo (rudimentary Okinawan body and strength development) has been greatly enhanced by my exposure to Goju. I have also come to appreciate the value of kakie, a close in drill that incorporates tighter skills utilized in karate including tuite, muchimi, and tegumi.
Carla herself is an admirable role model in the traditional martial arts community. She always places a high currency on character development, even in a modern era where quick rewards are expected and honor is often misunderstood or forgotten entirely. Carla has also cleverly augmented her dojo space with other personal businesses so as to keep her dojo rates exceptionally low, allowing the focus to stay on quality instead of profit. Her Mumei Dojo website can be found here.
I'd like to thank traditional Goju practitioners all over for keeping Miyagi Sensei's dream alive, and to Carla specifically for sharing some of it with me over the years!
What if you could improve your health and vitality simply through the control of breath and energy? Qigong aims to accomplish that formidable task naturally and noninvasively.
The following DVD was sent to me for review and analysis from a martial perspective. I may technically be a "hard stylist" as a karateka, but I am frequently amazed at how much internal energy and technique is required to achieve higher levels of karate effectiveness. The history of karate itself is laden with Chinese influence. That's why I came to this video happily, looking forward to any insight it might be able to provide both in terms of healing and to the instrinsic aspects of training.
What is Qigong For Healing?
Qigong (chee-gung) is a Chinese healing art that focuses on the energy and breath circulations within the body. Much like Kyusho of Okinawa, Qigong operates using the Meridian Theory and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).
This video, hosted by Lisa B. O'Shea, guides the viewer through some of the fundamental concepts and forms used in Qigong practice. O'Shea is a direct student of renowned Gongfu and Taijiquan practitioner Yang Jwing Ming.
What's In The Video?
This DVD provides a significant amount of content, and is broken up in the following manner:
- Introduction to Qigong and the idea of energy
- Sensing qi (chi, aka energy) in the body
- Utilizing breathing and visualization to promote healthy energy storage and flow
- Assessing qi blockage and removing flow interference
- Dantian meditation (siphoning energy into the core)
- Rising lotus meditative forms
- Self Healing practices
- Partner healing practices
With over three hours of instruction, the viewer gets a thorough explanation and demonstration of each concept. O'Shea gears her discussions toward the lay person, not becoming too wrapped up in the idea of meridian points and cycle details. She utilizes common metaphors and examples to explain what the body should be feeling as healing is promoted.
How Did The Video Stack Up?
All in all, I enjoyed the in-depth discussion of how energy can be used to heal the body. In the martial arts we spend a significant amount of time looking at the destruction of the body and can neglect building it back up. The result is often injury and early retirement.
That being said, there are a few caveats that you should be aware of before launching into this kind of video. First, the host takes her time with explanations. This is especially true in the introduction. If you are pumped to get to the meat of the matter, you'll find the pace a little slow. Of course, that's probably valuable since the introspective body analysis of Qigong requires quiet and patience.
Furthermore, you'll want to assess your level of comfort with the idea of "chi". I tend to frame my own martial study in the context of psychology and physics. When talking about energy transmission I generally refer to the kind of energy the body can produce and transmit into a target via mass and acceleration. However, O'Shea discusses a more universal kind of energy; the kind you can pull in from the air around you and sink into your tanden. She discusses ways you can use your hands, posture, and mind to move energy around the body, and even extract bad energy when it is stagnant.
To some of you, this will be old hat. To others, it may be the kind of Eastern thinking you're interested in. Yet others will be turned off by the esoterica. That's all fine; assess your likely compatibility with Qigong accordingly.
Qigong for Healing is something I'm pleased to have in my library. It's a friendly and pleasant approach to the internal side of training. I think practitioners of all skill levels can approach this DVD and get value out of it. If you think it might be right for you, check it out here.