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.