Feb 25th 2016  


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Beginners' training

  • Use Evolution to Earn the Right to Train Hard.

Chief Instructor Dennis Ngo has seen many many people start their training and then falter, or take a break and then try to restart.  In this article he explores the mechanisms at work in those first few weeks, and the role of evolution in it all.  It’s a familiar scenario….you are in class – everyone is doing the same drill. The count goes on and on. How did you get here? Tried a class? Tick. Joined up? Tick. Set aside which day(s) for training? Tick. In uniform? Tick. Feel like you are about to die on the spot? Tick. Think that you would be grateful if you did? Hmmm.

“Your body is the current end point of millions of years of evolution plus a few decades of what you’ve done to it.  And of what you haven’t done.  Even of what you think you’ve done.  And now you’re in class because Evolution called out to you; “Those muscles and tendons and bones are there for a reason.  Get out of your head and into your body.”  You answered the call, rang up your local Fujian White Crane Kung Fu Instructor and here you are, wishing that Evolution had just left you alone.  If it’s a really tough class you’re making up sarcastic responses in case Evolution calls again.

Your head says, I want this, I need this, even that I’m enjoying this.  But your body is saying what are you doing?  It takes time for your head to say, “I love this!” and your body to answer  “So do I”.  How do you get to that point?  You earn the right.

What they are saying  what you are hearing

What did you hear when you first started training and your Instructor said, “Don’t push too hard, you’re just beginning.  It’s going to hurt tomorrow.”  The wisdom of experience and an opportunity to slack off? No – your ego muttered, “I am the result of millions of years of evolution and I can do this!”  But you can’t. Not yet.

Condition – new or used?

All shiny and new

We are designed to be conservationists, not wasting energy and maintaining the status quo if possible.  But we are also born survivors.  In modern society we tend not to face many physical challenges in finding food, warding off predators, and moving to new living quarters – we have the Internet.  So we look for challenges in the form of training and sports. Any type of physical training requires time to condition your brain and your body to accept the new levels of effort, exertion, and resistance.  You need to explore how much you can take, and how much you can do.  And when you know that, you start earning.

Not so shiny but preloved

Had to take a break from training? You need to start earning again – you owe it to your body.  This can be really tough mentally as you already know how good you could feel but it doesn’t come straight away.  You haven’t fallen off the evolutionary ladder (yet) but you have to re-condition your mind and your body and kick start the process.

Think you’re fit?  Think again

Training with us is unlikely to be like any other training you have done.  This is really a test of your brain as well as your body so you have to accept it. Don’t fight it or be discouraged, it’s a waste of energy. Embrace the challenge.

What’s happening to me?

In the first few weeks of learning Kung Fu your brain does most of the processing but your body is doing the manufacturing.  This is both uncomfortable and exhilarating.

Your brain is working out how much effort is involved and whether it wants to let you do it – that’s why you might find yourself feeling exhausted and wanting to give up early on in the class.  Your brain needs an opportunity to allow your body to make that effort. As you continue training your brain will readjust how much effort it will allow you to put in, at which point you can spare the new beginners a compassionate thought.

Meanwhile your body is getting on with what we have evolved to do – use exertion to become fitter and stronger, to survive. Muscles break down in order to grow, joints loosen up as they are moved closer to their full range of motion, bones toughen as they take more load, and tendons try to keep everything joined up.  If you really haven’t done much physical training in your life then this new experience may feel quite strange – invigorating but strange.

You are earning the right to train hard.

Look after yourself, you are now an athlete.  You have to be very honest with yourself.  Overdo your training and you could burn out – then it’s harder to evolve.  Underdo your training and Evolution won’t want to play with you any more.  So earn the right, and soon enough you will be training as hard as the rest of the people in your class. This is the beginning of what athletes call “resilience” – the ability to take on increasing workload without excessive fatigue.

Me, an athlete? Really?

Yes, because you are training. That’s what athletes do. Eat, train, sleep. Oh yes – work and study and live your life.  But the eat, train, sleep trio is what will help you to use evolution to your advantage.

Eat like an athlete.

You don’t have to swing between eating like Michael Phelps or Jessica Ennis-Hill.  But you do have to eat correctly.  Your Instructors have plenty of experience on this one and will endlessly nag you to eat, eat, eat.  Eat enough protein, drink enough water, eat your micronutrients, cook properly, breakfast, breakfast, breakfast, what did you have for lunch?

Train like an athlete.

How?  Turn up to class. Want more?  Do another class.  Want more?  Practise in between classes.  Want more?  Do another class.  Want more?  How evolved do you want to be?  Want to be more evolved? Do another class. And recover properly.

Sleep like an athlete.

Do I need to explain?  Ok, this one is maybe harder than it sounds.  Wind down properly after training. Eat for recovery. If you use it, drink your chocolate milk within 20 minutes of the end of training to help with muscle soreness overnight and the next day.

Don’t walk like an athlete.

What? Last night, low horse stance, walking stance, leg lifts, etc etc.  This morning, try walking down the stairs.  How hard can it be? This is a learning point when you realise that it may hurt but you don’t have to let it show.  See those athletes walking onto the pitch, court, tv studio?  Now you know why they walk like that.  But it’s a choice – you don’t have to let the pain show.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about then maybe you took your Instructor’s advice and slacked off a bit in class.  Or maybe you haven’t found your limits yet. Don’t worry, all in good time – when you’ve earned it.


You have made a start but you are not there yet.  Having made the effort to get this far, it’s not the time to falter but to put your developing resilience to good use. Move on from athlete to Martial Artist.  And then evolve into a Fujian White Crane Kung Fu Martial Artist.  Let’s make a new end point – Evolution will thank us.”