Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wing Chun and Weight Training – the BIG DETAIL That Everyone’s Missing


I think there’s a big misconception when it comes to weight training and wing chun. Right now the two common schools of thought out there are that weight training can help wing chun or that weight training can hurt your wing chun:

1)      Some people are looking to get faster, increase their punching power, better their short range power through resistance or weight training…or

2)      Others feel that weight training stiffens you up, reduces your flexibility and makes you bigger and hence, clumsier when it comes to fighting.

I think there’s one huge detail that people are ignoring:

If you want to get good at wing chun, then practice wing chun.

If you want to get stronger or get that superhero body look, then for sure, weight training is the way to go.

Weight training will only help with wing chun to the extent that your wing chun is good. If your skills are crap, then your weight training isn’t going to help you no matter how much you can bench press.

With this in mind, you really have to figure out what your goals are:

1)      Do you want to get stronger?
2)      Do you want to punch harder?
3)      Do you want to gain size and look better?
4)      Do you want a stronger core?
5)      Do you want to get faster?
6)      Do you want better wing chun skills?

Each goal determines a specific path and workout program. But weight training won’t, at the end of the day, be the key element of making your wing chun better. Ultimately, if you want to be good at wing chun, you’re going to have to practice wing chun. There are too many complex neural connections, structural positions and muscle groups used that can’t be developed or stimulated through weight or resistance training whether you use dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands or bodyweight.

This said, however, once your wing chun gets good, then the added core strength and muscles from weight training will help. But it doesn’t go the other way around. You can’t expect that weight training leads to better wing chun. Only better wing chun leads to better wing chun. If your wing chun sucks, then no amount of weight training will ever help your wing chun skills.  On the flip side, if your wing chun is amazing, then weight training won’t ruin that.

The take home message is this:

If you want to incorporate weight training into your workout plan, go for it. Just be sure that you’re working out with the proper goal in mind. If you want to get stronger, be sure to lift to get stronger. If you want to get bigger, then be sure to lift weights to increase size. If you want to burn fat, you’re going to follow a plan to maximize fat burn.  BUT if you plan on working out for the primary purpose of improving your wing chun, you’re wasting your time.  Also I would recommend, if you can, that you train in wing chun first for at least a year or two before going into resistance training.  That way your wing chun skills will be decently developed in which will can actually reap some benefit from resistance training. 

Until then.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Do You Throw Punches or DO YOU HIT?


Over the last few months, I’ve really started to understand and ‘feel’ the difference in my own body between just punching vs. really hitting.

While on the surface, the two could be seen as practically the same thing –I’m finding that physiologically, and psychologically, they are very different.

First of all, let’s clear up what I mean when I say hitting vs. punching.

“ Punching”… “kicking” or “kneeing” – however you want to call it – is just that..the action of throwing a punch or a kick or a knee, etc.  This is what we fighters are training to do and to do it with efficiency, power, and proper technique.  The wing chun practitioner throws 1000 chain punches per second. The karateka punches the makiwara with superior focus. The MMA fighter throws powerful knee strikes into the heavy pads.  It is just that..the act of hitting a target whether it be a bag, post or air, etc.

“Hitting”, on the other hand – is similar in action to the above, but I see it with a twist, albeit, a significant one. That is, performing any of the actions above, but with the intention of hurting, maiming, or knocking the daylights out of the opponent. In addition, what really changes the dynamic, is the awareness of possibly getting hit yourself and being prepared for that as you are trying to hit your opponent.

With this in mind, comes some interesting factors that further compounds their distinctions:
From a psychological perspective, just throwing a punch is less mentally straining than trying to throw a punch with the intention of hitting your opponent to hurt them or knock them out.  The end goals are different, the variables are different and the resulting outcomes are different. 

Just the goal of yourself having to HIT your opponent, not just punch your opponent, induces an automatic response of mental investment that your hit must land ..and land with significance. Your mind must work with your nervous system to ensure this happens. And it will work hard in doing so.

There are no real repercussions when you throw a punch against the wall bag. But there is an urgency, when hitting your opponent, to hit on target and to hit hard enough. There are no repercussions to throw a punch that your body is capable of handling against a heavy bag (eg. absorbing impact, clean and crisp technique), but there are repercussions when you intend to hit your opponent beyond what your own body can handle (eg. you fracture your wrist because the impact was too hard, you bounce back because the impact was too strong, you fall forward because you committed too much).  Your mind has to work hard to ensure you hit fast and hard, yet don’t over commit or hit too lightly. 

When hitting matters, there is a mental pressure or presence that just screws with your body. Think of it this way – making a free throw shot in the 1st quarter of a pre-season game vs. making a free throw shot with 1 second left in double overtime, game 7 of the NBA championship on home court. The pressure toys with your mind, which toys with your body.

Also, your mind also has to work to compensate for counter hits, or to be able to absorb hits as you are hitting.  This doesn’t happen so much when you’re just punching, kneeing or kicking a target.
Really, your brain is working in thousands of directions and all at the same time…just imagine how taxing this is already on your body..just from the mind/neural connection standpoint alone..

Which leads to…

…its effect on the body. Because the mind is processing so many variables at the same time, it triggers a multitude of effects on the body. Adrenaline, blood sugar, muscle tension are all affected.  The end result: your body moves incredibly different when you’re hitting compared to when you’re just punching.   Efficiency is lost, muscles fatigue quickly, technique gets sloppy, muscle groups get tense and stiff.

I’m not even talking about fighting guys. I’m only talking about hitting..as in punching with the intention of hurting someone.

So, the question now, do you train to punch or do you train to hit?

Really think about this for a moment.  When you’re doing the drills, are you trying to hit, or are you just trying to punch or are you just trying to tap your opponent? Are you ready to be hit yourself? Do you have it in you to hit?

Not that this means you have to hit your partner, but I think respecting this differentiation and training with the intention of hitting is VERY different from that of just punching or kicking..or elbowing or whatever the drill calls for.

It’s also one thing to HIT a bag..hard with all you got, vs. hitting a live target..hard with all you got…and where the target can hit you back.  The latter variable really taxes your mind, which taxes your body.
With the proper mindset, of course (you’ll need proper instruction and guidance, and the right partner) you can really put yourself in a state where you’re training to hit and..guess what? You’ll be exhausted very quickly.  You’ll notice your body has to be constantly connected between the upper and lower half, properly rooted at ALL times so that you can hit hard and that you can defend when needed (but not too stiff that you can’t move about), you’ll notice that pretty much every muscle in your body is being used to some significant degree..even though we train to be as relaxed as possible.

 (In terms of relaxation…I personally don’t think it means that you’re relaxed everywhere. It just means that you’re most efficient at using ONLY the muscles necessary that that particular time requires. )

I think this is why many martial artists get incredibly sloppy when they actually have to fight, by the way. 

They haven’t been training to hit all this time. They’ve only trained at punching, kicking, blocking, or performing drill A, B, C, chi sao, etc. Even sparring won’t help you that much if you don’t put your mind and intention into it.

When training in this fashion, I’ve really felt it from a physical standpoint. My entire body is fatigued, especially the sheath of my chest and abs right after the drill is completed…my legs and my upper back are typically sore the next morning.  From a mental standpoint, it’s difficult to keep this type of training up during each class. You’ve really got to let your imagination run wild and also requires a patient and cooperative partner. You have to psyche yourself up into a specific mindset that you’re training to hit your opponent.  

That, in itself, is quite exhausting..especially after a long day at work or an interrupted sleep the night before.

(And for those that aren’t aware, I work out quite regularly - 6 days a week. You can see my workout plan as to what I did over the summer months and you can also see my before and after pics here. Just in case anyone’s thinking I’m some ‘mouse potato’ ;p)

And yet, the drills don’t have to be complex. They don’t have to be fast. They don’t have to painful for the participants.

If you’ve been practicing wing chun or any martial art for a while, and you still aren’t training this way most of the time, you’re pretty much wasting your time. 

It is funny though. This is something my instructor has been trying to instill in us since day one. I’m only starting to appreciate and understand it now…YEARS later.

Until then. 

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