It’s been a mild Winter, but now it gives way to Spring. Time for a change in training. But why?
It’s a reasonable question. Most sports traditionally have an on-season and an off-season. Martial Arts don’t fit into that category. For a start Martial Arts are not sports*. And in the Good Old Days there wasn’t a league table for attackers and defenders, with a champion at the end of the season. In parts of the world which became impenetrable by snow and ice there may have been respite from attack, unless the hordes were already inside the gates. Further South there were the annual floods to keep invaders at bay (or trapped). There was never a reason to stop training.There still isn’t.
Given that Classical Chinese Martial Arts are trained all year round why do we change our training according to the seasons?
It’s about harmony
Our Club is primarily based in Northern Europe, where the seasons are strongly marked by changes in light and weather. Our human bodies cannot help but respond. Traditional Chinese Medicine places a strong emphasis on the state of the body being in harmony, which includes with its surroundings. We might think we have a monopoly here in Britain on talking about the weather, but we are wrong. Over the years we have met many traditional Chinese Martial Artists, and one of the first things they always talk about if we are going to do any demonstrating or training is what the weather is like and how that is going to affect us. And it’s not just Masters, listen to any group of Chinese grandparents with their grandchildren across the globe and they will be talking about the effect of the season and the weather on their treasures, and how to mitigate any ill-effects with soup, drinks, and other foods. The principles of the Yinshan Zhengyao prosper to this day.
So what does this mean for Spring Training?
In the Spring we are surrounded by things that are trying to go from dormant to growth, and finally on to reproduction (bet you can’t wait
for the Summer training article now). We are in the same cycle, and so our Spring Kung Fu training emphasises increasing range of motion, loosening any stiffness that has accrued with the strength training we do in the Winter. Light jumping, squats, more rapid exercises and combinations feature in the Kung Fu lessons at this time of year. Patterns are worked all year but Spring is a great time to add more elasticity in your movement. For Tai Chi, dynamic, fluid movement is what we are working towards all the time, but the Spring training focuses more on rising and falling, using the Winter leg strength with the more mobile Spring joints.
Don’t fight the weather – there are good days
Spring weather is notoriously unpredictable – warm one day, freezing the next. Revel in the great days and try to get outside, if possible in some open space with a bit of nature where you can have a look at the energy that is bursting out of the ground. The human eye is particularly sensitive to the colour green (apparently women more than men) and can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour. There are no doubt evolutionary reasons for this, and Spring time provides the freshest, vibrant yellow-greens that are sometimes so intense they are almost painful to look at. But there they are to wake you up – so use the power of our evolved state to bring up your energy. If you come to a weekend training camp on a day like this you will experience some of the best training weather of the year – energising and joyful.
-and bad days
Some days are going to be grey and gloomy, but there is still more natural light around. This should help if you are one of those people who find it hard to motivate yourself to go from work to training. As in Wintertime, keep exposing your eyes to natural light during the day, even if that means taking a “smoking break”. Look up at the grey sky – it is still brighter than indoors. Take a hint from the plants – they may be a bit slower to get going if the weather is cold and grey but the buds still come out. Make yourself aware of the changing of the season, as the prospect of Summer tends to lift our feelings of optimism.
Leverage the changing of the seasons for your learning
We are not the same person all year round. As the weather and light change our minds and bodies respond. Kung Fu and Tai Chi training require mental as well as physical input. At this time of year you have the prospect ahead of you of the more aerobic and endurance type training that comes with the Summer, but to get the most out of it you want to be prepared. Make sure that you actively notice the change in the seasons, and use your increasing energy levels to boost your concentration on technique as well as fitness. This is an especially good time of year to challenge yourself with grading up to the next level of your training as you will have the coming warmth and brightness of Summer to practise. If you are at a stage of learning weapons patterns, then all the better as training outdoors will give you the height and space that is sometimes missing indoors.
It wouldn’t be Kung Fu without the food
We all hear about “New Year, New You”, but the real time for change is here now rather than in the depths of Winter. Don’t worry about any New Year Resolutions you broke in the first couple of weeks, there is a new opportunity for challenging yourself using the energy of Spring, and the increasing fitness challenges of our Spring training. So what to eat? As the demands of keeping warm lessen we can turn to a less hearty diet. The slow cooker is still your friend, giving you the best type of ready meal at the end of the evening without having to cook from scratch after work and training. And if you are a meat-eater this is an excellent cooking method for making collagen available to you – very useful for your joints which are taking the extra strain of Spring training. Your Instructors have endless supplies of recipes – and if you have a particular want or need they will come up with an answer.
Recently started training?
Be mindful of how strong you are. Our Winter training emphasises building strength rather than stamina – so the people who have done that may be stronger than you are at this point. It is always important to be honest with yourself how much you can take and build up your body giving it time to recover. In case you missed it there is more information here on this aspect of your training.
Don’t get carried away by all that rising sap!
It is tempting to throw off the shackles of Winter and bound into Spring like a lamb in a meadow. But the last thing you want is to hurt yourself as you head into the Summer with all its training opportunities. So pace yourself and build up your fitness and stamina. Avoiding injury is a key aspect of our approach to training. So test your limits, eat well, sleep well, and let’s all see how far we can go this season.
*This may be a contentious issue for the Olympians in Tae Kwon Do and Judo. Fujian White Crane Kung Fu is not a sport – it is a Martial Art. A sport is an exercise usually based on a genuine working practice (such as horse riding) which has developed into a competitive endeavour for points (such as dressage). On the days when we hold competitions, maybe on those particular days only, (and only maybe) the planets realign and Fujian White Crane Kung Fu becomes a sport. Maybe. But it is still a Martial Art at the same time and at all other times. Hope that is clear.