For self-improvement, to the typical city dweller Kung Fu practice may seem too ambitious to embark on. Although it's known as an ideal form of self-improvement giving you well rounded full body exercise as well as exposure to Chinese culture in many areas, it can be challenging to both body and mind, as it is enriching.
That is why planning is so important. When we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Failing wastes our time and many people failing is detrimental to the global Kung Fu community.
Whether you are a systematic and structured person or someone who prefers having no plans and to go with the flow with instincts and circumstances, Kung Fu has always been an organized practice. It has never been the case of a coincidental gain of ability.
A Kung Fu practitioner who aspires to do well can see the benefits of having clear direction. With a plan to guide you, after every workout you know your time is spent on something meaningful. You can also look forward to the next session because you know what's in store for you and that session will bring you one step closer to your goal. Compared to training when you feel like it, doing whatever you feel like doing, you feel you are more in control because your plan serves your best intentions.
Some Kung Fu students find that they need to closely follow the teacher for them to perform their practice sessions well. These students are highly motivated by the Sifu’s presence and the Sifu’s words, however when they are on their own or with other people, they are completely disengaged from their art. While such a practice may be feasible in populations with more settled lifestyles, people living in busy cities such as Singapore often have to reshuffle their schedule and priorities. It won’t be helpful if we are suddenly unable to go for classes in the event our schedules change.
In this case, or any case, practicing Kung Fu counts on organized individual effort, instead of relying on leadership from others. Many men may be compelled to lead their lives with clear direction for it is a manly attribute. A large fraction fails to do so because they do not more discipline than distractions throwing them off track. This does not just apply to men, but women too.
In the good old days when our people were self-sufficient and living costs were low, young people take up discipleship with teachers, calling them ‘Sifu’, or it may be simply accepting a Godfather who teaches you Kung Fu. These young people follow their teachers almost every day, just like their own parents. As the years go by, they could master high levels of proficiency in their art.
In fact some pugilistic institutions like Shaolin Temple take in disciples who are confined in the schools for years until they have completed their course of training and made the grade to leave the school. Imagine going to a university overseas to study, except that you spend the same amount of time training Kung Fu as students in dormitories spend on studying academic subjects.
If you are born in a first world city like Singapore and you are here to stay, it is not possible to have the Kung Fu university lifestyle. That is all the more the reason why you should have a plan and follow it, for you to make the most out of the time you have. You cannot solely rely on teacher’s guidance and motivation for your own training.
The first step of designing a self-development plan is to identify your purpose. Why the purpose? Because it is from there you determine your goals. Is your purpose to become a superior fighter in hand to hand combat? Is it to experience how ancient warriors use classical weapons in battle? Or is it to build up your fitness while at the same time gaining the skills to defend yourself from criminals and aggressive people? The purpose serves as a direction, while goals serves as milestones.
With your purpose of training Kung Fu in mind, you can work on setting goals. It is good to start with a few short term goals if you are unsure. Goals should be clear, specific and they fall in a few categories.
Goals have 3 categories: Process Goals, Performance Goals and Outcome Goals.
Process goals are signs of good technique or tactics that shows more mastery in the art. Examples of process goals are:
1) Straight aligned spinal posture and weighted shoulders and elbows while turning and moving.
2) Kick above the belt without leaning backwards or sideways.
3) Progress from hitting iron palm bags filled with beans to iron palm bags filled with sand.
Performance Goals are performance targets which the individual aims to achieve. They are measurable by time, distance, weight or other units of measurement. Examples are:
1) Do 3 sets of 30 reps with a 15kg Lok Kiu beam.
2) Complete 20 explosive push-ups.
3) Execute the Sup Duk Sao combination with full force within 3 seconds.
Outcome Goals are event achievements which the individual aims to achieve. Examples of outcome goals are:
1) Win 3 rounds of 2 minute full contact sparring with 1 minute rest in between, against 3 different black belt level opponents.
2) Experience performing 2 set routines in set routine events in a Wushu competition.
3) Defeat a certain fighter’s iron shirt defense.
This should make it clear what kind of goals you are looking forward to set. When you are setting a goal, do consider how relevant it is to your overall progress and preference. Indicate the amount of time you intend to take to achieve each goal. Of course, try not to set more than 5 goals at a time, especially when you are only just starting to get your training organized.
Plan How you will Reach your Goals
Now, you will be planning on how you reach your goals from your current standard. Identify the areas of your skillset you will be working on. A model that I like to use to categorize my needs is this:
Physical: Your physical attributes in the form of fitness and physical adaptations that will boost your performance. For example, muscular strength, aerobic endurance, resistance to hits and internal structure.
Technical: Development of your techniques and motor skills that you will use in performing your style. Examples are rear straight punch, counterattacks against Bong Sau and Lap Sau, Tiger Claw maneuvers to snare and subdue kicking opponents. Of course, we know that there are countless techniques, so for beginners it’s recommended that you focus on single blocking or striking techniques before moving into complex maneuvers.
Tactical: In the area of martial arts, this category is very much blurred with the technical category. It generally refer to development of plans or strategies to outwit and overcome the opponent. For example, if the kind of martial artists you frequently face are good at long durations of steady state exertion, you may want to work on a strategy that involves switching between passive defending and intense attacking to disorientate your opponent and overwhelm him when he is not ready. Against martial artists who move around too much, you may want to work on Qin Na tactics that focuses on grabbing and immobilizing your opponents the moment they make contact with you.
Psychological: This refers to your mental and emotional conditions you need to do well against other combatants. For example, the development of mental toughness to cope with pressure from opponent and the ability to use technique when under pressure. Some fighters may be brave and reactive to pressure but they are unable to execute their techniques under tension.
Identify Problems and Obstacles
While bearing in mind the primary benefits which sustained regular practice provides, we also need to weigh these benefits with the costs. There are social costs, financial costs and opportunity costs. It is not beneficial for you to go ahead if you know you will be deeply troubled if you don’t see your grandparents for 20 hours a week; or you have to spend every evening meeting new people to give yourself more social capital; or you cannot fork out the time because you must work part time to make ends meet.
Only go ahead with your plan if the benefits outweigh the costs of participation. Because when you start, you don’t want to have distractions that will get in your way and throw you off track. When that happens and you find it’s too late to realize and manage the distractions, you will realize that you have wasted your time again.
Let’s face it, time is precious and nobody ever has enough time to embark on everything that crosses their path. It is when you decide on what things to do with your time and make sure they are done do you create value with the time you have.
With all the aforementioned sorted out, you embark on the first step of planning the action you will take. You may want to start on designing a training regime for 1 month. And in that one month you will train 9 times. Lay out on a piece of paper all the exercises that you will do to meet your goals. Mark out the duration of each workout and the resources required. Determine if you need to do the workout without ongoing muscle fatigue, or in top mental condition.
For example you want to build a powerful clamping punch that you learnt during lesson and find very effective. You break down that technique into technical execution and physical requirements. This technique can be practiced individually, on a partner, or on a striking dummy. These are the kind of training you do to enhance your technical execution.
Physical requirement of this technique will be a very strong downward press, and the punch will need a strong bent arm raise. Power can be built up by either internal training or strength resistance training. Examples of internal training will be bridge hands exercises with breathing mechanics and stationary poses to achieve connected structure. Examples of strength resistance training with be cable pull down and dumbbell flyes. For someone like me who does Hung Gar Kung Fu, I believe in employing both methods to increase my power.
Single Session Plans
When you have a list of all the exercises needed in your regime, place them into your individual workout sessions. Plan sessions one by one. Fit exercises into these training sessions according to their relevance and importance.
Your individual sessions are a part of a larger plan, with for example a month as one cycle. Let’s say for the cycle of February, you have 8 training sessions, twice a week. If you are a beginner you should keep the exercises in each training session fairly similar so you don’t experience a hard time adapting and changing, while focusing on your fundamentals.
If you are an intermediate level practitioner and at the stage of physical conditioning, you may consider alternating your training content on different weeks or different sessions. This is so you can rest your body’s function adequately for it to recover and become stronger while you refine other areas of your performance.
For the cycle of February if you are at the physical conditioning stage, you might want to set one day (eg. Sunday) for conditioning and (eg. Friday) for power and technique training. This way, you can recover from your conditioning session on the day you work on technique and power, and vice versa. This is especially useful when you train in higher intensities and need more recovery. This also makes training less boring and more dynamic. For the office worker, recovery is very good because it is the time you build muscle and burn your fats, think about it this way.
You do not want to overtrain, because the lingering thought of a session which you went overbroad can be discouraging when you want to return to regular training. That is why it is good to vary the volume and intensity of your training sessions.
For example, in one session you can train for a longer time with higher reps but lesser intensity, in the next session you can train for a shorter time and lower reps with higher intensity and the next you have moderately high volume and intensity.
There are many ways you can work around with these variables. In fact professional athletes use such patterns to enhance their training results. This is called periodization, and various methods are called loading patterns. You may be a civilian Kung Fu lover, but you can still be your own coach.
As we know, the month of February has Chinese New Year, so you will be occupied for 2 weeks; one week of celebrations and the other week to catch up with work. If Chinese New Year falls on the second week, you can plan to train 3 times the first week, 1 time the second week, 1 time the third week and 3 times the last week. If you plan your month, you will not fall short of your training quota.
The same applies for Christmas and any major festive season, or seasons of very heavy work. When you workout more before the festival, feasting becomes more beneficial as it aids in recovery. When you workout more after the festival, it’s a form of compensating for the week of junk food intake.
The medium on where you put down your session and monthly plan is up to your choice. You can choose to put down in a notebook, your smartphone or if you have superhuman memory you can memorize it.
In your session plans and monthly plan layouts, you can set aside sections for post workout review in your season plan, so you can assess how well you receive your plans. From assessment you can determine your ideal training pattern and some things you should stay away from. Assessing your progress frequently also keeps you on the thinking process instead of merely following the path. This way, you train smart instead of just training hard.
My Workplace is Very Organized, My Private Life is Very Disorganized
People always highlight the ongoing trend about how systematic people are at work, when the same people can be much disorganized in their private lives. They noticed that the corporate leaders forged an efficient system for their employees to follow so employees can run their business in their place while they themselves live their private lives to the fullest, probably in the same organized and structured manner.
Instead of complaining about such unfairness, why not learn from your company, learn from your boss? Sustained regular training will benefit your health and boost self-confidence significantly, knowing so all the more you should use an efficient system to whip yourself into shape, similar to how your company makes full use of their employees’ working hours.