Some of you who have been with CMAA a little longer may have had the honor and pleasure of training with Dean Farley. Humble and dedicated to his art, over the past year I watched Dean's wushu improve greatly as he acquired great flexibility and jumping skills.
As Dean prepared to move to Japan this past September, before he left I asked him to please share with The Chinese Martial Arts Academy what he thought helped him with making that progress.
Dean's thoughtful and well articulated response was more than I could have asked for. Please take the time to read this, think about it and apply it to your own practice.
Dean Farley (untitled)
I’ve been training martial arts consistently since I was 13 years old, switching between styles or doing multiple styles at once. However, I feel, as well as Coach Lucas and others that I train with, that I’ve grown the most during my year practicing wushu. Admittedly I was able to pick up wushu very quickly, maybe even faster than some students who have been training traditional kung fu longer. So when I was asked to put into words what I thought I did different in my training I found it was actually hard to do. Not only do I have the habit of trying to be modest, but I also found myself thinking “Just what have I actually done?” It’s not that I’ve been lazy it’s just that I had never really thought about how I train before. After a very long and intensive thought process I think I’ve found what my style of training really is and what I’ve done differently to achieve the results I have. My training method can be broken down into three main sections: explosive power training, proper mind set, and copying. I believe that these three things have helped me become a better martial artist and could benefit everyone else if applied correctly.
So I’ll start with explosive power training, not only because it’s the only physical category I’ve listed, but also because it is the easiest to understand and apply. Any martial artist will tell you that you don’t have to be a big guy/girl in order to have a lot of power. I may be a very good example of this due to my small body size but my ability to exert more strength and power then it appears I should. I will however, in an effort to not take up an extensive amount of space, keep this solely about explosive power related to wushu forms rather than fighting. A very important part of wushu is our leg strength and let me start with saying that while over training is something to be avoided that I feel it is very hard to over train your legs. One easy way to prevent yourself from ever over training your legs, and stay with me for a minute here, do lots of leg exercises! So, how do you do lots of leg exercises without over training? The key is to keep the weight light or just remove it! In fact, two of my favorite leg training routines for building explosive power don’t require any weight at all! Frog jumps and Tabata squats, ask Coach Lucas for instructions on these, are simple and important ways to build explosive power that we all should be doing more of!
Those two exercises aside let’s say we really want to use weights to work our legs. While doing heavy squats is very good and impressive, I feel that there is a lot to be gained by doing light weight squats. When I’m at home I don’t have easy access to a gym as there is no gym in my town or the surrounding ones and as a poor college student I really don’t want to pay for the gas to drive to a gym or for the membership. I do however, posses a small 100lb weight set I got as a gift when I was just getting into martial arts. Currently my squat routine requires only 70lbs. However, even this light amount of weight can still help build explosive power. The trick is to explode when you squat.
What do I mean by this exactly? Well, normally when people do squats they are very careful and squat rather slowly as not to hurt their knees. Which is awesome, I’m never going to tell someone not to keep the safety of a joint in mind. That being said wushu is not a slow sport and once you get proper squatting form down you can move on to wushu worthy squats. Remember that light 70lbs I said I squatted? Well, the reason is I keep the weight light so that I can squat quickly. While keeping proper form I do full ATG (to the floor) squats at a relatively fast pace. This way I can help condition my legs for the fast pace demands of wushu but with the extra resistance that the weight adds. By dropping to the floor in a quick but controlled manner and propelling your body up you will help build wushu strength in your legs while also preventing a huge amount of bulk that may be undesirable. So that trains the quads now what about the hamstrings?
I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any weight trick for those muscles. Dead lifts and hang and cleans work great and I encourage packing on the weight for those. Well sort of anyway. As with the squats I like low-ish weight for one reason, endurance. Remember before when I said to train the legs a lot? Same thing applies here. Make sure that you have done some many dead lifts with one amount of weight that it becomes so easy and boring that you almost don’t want to do this exercise anymore and then up the weight. Why? Two reasons: One is that so you don’t hurt yourself by adding too much weight too quickly, and two is that muscle endurance will help you last thought a particularly hard/long practice or competition. Well enough about training at home more important now is to talk about how to build explosive power during practice.
The best way to build explosive power in practice, and I think this is hard to understand if you’re new to wushu, is to put 100% into everything you do. Did you know that being explosive in wushu doesn’t end with jumps? All your kicks have to be explosive as well as your punches. When doing line basics, such as snap kick punch, you should throw every kick and every punch as hard as you can with correct form. That way every strike is pushing your body to the limit, forcing you to get stronger. The best way to tell that you are doing every kick or punch as hard as you can is to listen to your body. If you throw a punch, and strike only air, as hard as you can you should feel like you punched as hard as you physically can. But that’s not it! You should also feel something else deep in your arm. You should feel like you COULD have punched harder! If you feel this it doesn’t mean you were lazy and you held back, what it means is you are feeling the next level your body can reach. That’s right! Your body tells you what being stronger will feel like and just how much stronger it can become. Jumps work just the same. It isn’t enough to jump just enough to get off the ground or turn just enough to do a 360. NO! Always jump as hard as you can and twist your body as hard as you can. It might be even better to think to do both of those things HARDER then you can. Again you want to force your body to improve. Your goal should always be this: to become stronger the you were the day before!
Let’s move on to proper mind set. Proper mindset applies to every aspect of martial arts weather its forms or flexibility, if your mind is wrong you will never improve! What I mean is NEVER say “I can’t do___.” NEVER! The closest thing I, or you for that matter, should ever hear you say is” I can’t do___ yet.”, followed closely by “But I will be able to soon!”. A negative mindset is kind of like self bullying. Remember those? Bullies. The big kid that always told you that you were stupid while you were in grade school. That guy made you feel worthless right? So why would you do it to yourself? I know some people, especially older people, will say that they are just being realistic but I don’t believe it. How many things have been done that “can’t be done”? If you’ve been training a particular move or jump for months, and you feel you can do it but just quite can’t means one thing and it’s not that you can’t do it. It means that you don’t want it enough.
I know this seems odd or unrealistic. Heck, I might even sound angry, but I feel that if your mind wavers, even just a little, you can fail at even simple tasks. So how do you build the proper mindset? Well it can be quite hard actually. Overconfidence is just as dangerous as a lack of confidence and an inflated ego will only get you hurt. Believe it or not the understanding of what the proper mindset is wasn’t first taught to me be an instructor, or even a martial arts book but by a graphic novel. I know it’s lame and nerdy but I feel that this graphic novel, titled BLEACH if you were wondering, explained things rather well. The main character was being taught how to fight with a sword and the man “teaching” him said this:
“When you evade it’s –‘I’m afraid to be killed!’ When you attack it’s-‘I’m afraid to kill!’ Even when you’re trying to protect someone it’s-‘I’m afraid she’ll die!’ Your sword speaks only of fear. That’s all wrong. Fear won’t bring you victory in battle. Nothing is born of fear. If you evade, it should be-‘He’s not going to kill me!’ If you’re protecting someone it’s-‘I won’t let her be killed!’ If your attacking it’s-‘Kill!’”
All this talk of killing very extreme for the average person but the concept remains. Keeping things to wushu, if you’re trying to balance it’s-“I’m not going to fall!” If you’re trying to jump higher it’s-“I’m going to jump higher!” If you want to stretch farther but not pull a muscle it’s-“ I’m not going to get hurt!” If you remove doubt from your mind, let go of your fear, then suddenly there is room for everything else and suddenly you are in control of your improvement. By telling yourself that you won’t get injured and that you will succeed you prevent injury and increase results. Most importantly, to really let go of your fear, you just have try 100%. Know this, after you tell yourself that you won’t get injured, and if your body is prepared then you are fine, the worst thing that will happen is you fall.
I applied this philosophy when I was learning three-section-staff. Because of this weapon’s design it can be particularly hard to control and I would always end up hitting myself with it which became painful when I switched from a padded practice weapon to a real wooden one. After getting hit a lot I thought about the philosophy I’ve just explained and thought to myself “Why am I allowing this weapon, my weapon, to hit me?” Suddenly it made sense; this three-section-staff was my weapon and it had no right to be hitting me. I was afraid of getting hit by it before and as a result I couldn’t control it! Before the next practice I told myself I wasn’t going to let my own weapon hit me and it didn’t. I didn’t practice any extra, I simply removed my fear and lack of control!
The third and final aspect I want to talk about is copying. While copying is normally frowned upon being skilled at copying moves is very important in martial arts training. Being able to copy moves well has many practical uses and I have a personal connection to the skill. Back in February of 2010 I dislocated my left knee cap. I ended up being in an immobilizing brace for two weeks and on crutches for about six. During the first week of the injury I stayed at home just trying to come to terms with what this injury could mean for my martial arts training and trying to get used to crutches. After that time I returned to kung fu practice. I still couldn’t practice of course but I had to update everyone on my condition and staying away from practice wasn’t something I could do anymore. During that time when bending my knee wasn’t safe I would sit on the side for the entire practice watching Shifu teach taichi and kung fu. I paid very close attention to everything that was said and every move every student made. After I thought I understood it I, still sitting on a chair, would begin moving my arms and torso like everyone else. During the weeks I was “unable to train” by the doctor’s standards I was still able to train the moves at least in my mind and part of my boddy. Once I got the clear to go back, more with a push from Shifu then my doctor, I moved much slower than I ever had but I knew just as much of the forms as everyone else did, even the parts I wasn’t on the floor being taught. While this personal success story is a good example of the usefulness of copying you don’t actually have to be injured to make use of this skill.
Copying solves the problem of not being able to train all the time! Think about it! You’re at home, it’s late, and we don’t have practice but you want to see some wushu so you go to youtube! Great! Now you get your daily fix of watching people better than you! But you leave it at that, watching people better than you. This is where copying comes in handy. If you actively watch the videos you might just see a move you like but have never seen before! It doesn’t look all that hard, but you’ve never been taught it. Why? Well, not everyone knows or does or can do the same moves. So what are you to do? We are always pressed for time in class so asking Coach Lucas might be hard plus you have a new form to learn anyway. So copy it! At home! Watch that section of the video over and over and study every detail. Look at how he/she turned, jumped, landed, what was different about the run in, if the move is a jump, and how his/her hips moved, if your copying a stance shift. How his non striking hands are placed, even down to where the eyes are is important. It may take some time, and a massive amount of clicking of the 0:45 mark on the video, but it will pay off in the end because if you can see yourself in your mind doing a particular form you have a much better chance of pulling it off in practice. Even better yet, just turn the sound down/ off on the video and you can “train” on those nights when you can’t sleep.
Finally copying helps you see what NOT to do. The internet is full of failures and wushu videos on youtube are no exception. But not just youtube, watch the others train in class. Their basics as well as their forms. They may do something you like or better than you or you may see something that you know you don’t like and know you know not to do that! The more you teach yourself to be able to make use of watching the easier time you will have in the future picking up more complex forms.
The most important part of wushu training is to always push yourself. Unless you work hard and devote yourself to your training you will never improve. These three things are the main way that I’ve trained myself throughout my years of martial arts training and I believe that they have aided me the most in my learning of wushu. In the year that I spent training under Lucas I have been able to greatly advance through the techniques and forms and it is not solely due to the fact that I made almost every practice. Without the proper training for wushu it is very hard to improve. Unless you train your muscles to be quick, convince yourself that you can do the forms and that they are not hard, and learn outside of class by copying the best the internet has to offer you will advance at a slow pace.
Dean, thank you. I thought to myself - if just one person reads this article and benefits from it then its "mission accomplished". But then I realized that I read it and benefited from it myself, so you can rest assured knowing that your knowledge has already helped someone else;) Now lets hope it reaches future generations at CMAA! Best of luck in Japan. Hope you keep up your martial arts training and your hard work:) I look forward to your return and letting you share more with all of your kungfu brothers and sisters when you get back.