May 05th 2016  


Instructor Dave Courtney Jones standing in his 30kg weighted vest.

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Training challenges

You may or may not consider this to be good news but according to the British Medical Journal skinny thighs are bad for us¹. People with skinny legs have higher mortality regardless of other factors such as their BMI, whether they smoke, or have high blood pressure. As someone who struggles to find jeans that fit my horse-stance thighs without leaving a gaping space around my whip-power waist I realise that this may mean wearing unfashionable jeans for longer. But, as they say, “Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.” So if you want to know what all that leg-strength can do, here is FWC Instructor Dave Courtney Jones with an update on what he’s been doing with his.

“Further to writing about my secret jumping habit back in January, I have been continuing my work on the Kung Fu Art of Weightlessness since. For you Fujian White Crane Kung Fu students, jumping will become a part of your daily life round about the point you learn fifth pattern (if not before), and is a major factor in developing that elusive weightlessness that every Kung Fu stylist wants to achieve.

This year I have (after two, or is it three, years’ work?) completed learning the Luohan Golden Staff pattern, and jumping features large in it. Realising that my pattern was never going to cut it unless I improved my leg spring power I started working on my jumps with renewed vigour at the beginning of last year. Not just doing the jumps, but actually approaching the art of jumping like an athlete, with specific progressive exercises.

Early progress, but not enough

I worked up to jumping with ankle weights, and this helped me significantly, particularly with regards to lifting my feet during my jumps, and got me to the point that I could comfortably do a standing jump onto a table surface.

But the other important aspect of jumping, the spring, still needs work – I wanted more power and height in my jumps. More time hanging in the air (if you haven’t felt this, you should try it some time – it’s amazing!) And on Instructor Sharon’s advice, I started looking for a weighted vest. Apparently these have been an important part of Kung Fu training for centuries, particularly for those styles where weightless techniques are an important factor, for example Gecko Kung Fu (yes it does exist). And, of course, a White Crane needs to be able to fly.

Technology has made the vests more easily available, and they are now used in a wide range of sports training to increase leg power and spring. So a few weeks ago, my new “Bodyrip Deluxe” 30kg vest arrived, and like every boy with a new toy, I immediately began my training with it!

I can take the pain but I don’t want an injury.Against the background of a white brick wall Instructor Dave Courtney Jones jumping onto chairs wearing a weighted vest

I have done a little research on the internet around safety, as I want to be careful to avoid injuring myself.

Most websites seem to recommend using around 10 percent of your body weight in order to avoid overloading your joints. But 8.5kg would honestly be a bit pathetic, and it wouldn’t make much difference to my jumping skills. So I guess I need to add a “Don’t try this at home” disclaimer. Taking my life in my hands, I’ve gone straight for the full 30kg.

Websites also recommend that the weight is distributed evenly around the vest to avoid loading your back unevenly. Tick.

Aside from this, there doesn’t really seem to be much advice out there, so my own observations:

  • Never mind putting on the vest, you need to be careful just picking it up. A 30kg vest is the equivalent of an average 9-10 year old child, and they can take a bit of effort to lift.
  • Take care not to lift in an awkward position, avoiding leaning or twisting. This is harder than it sounds because the heavy vest isn’t stiff, and lifting it from the floor or another surface over your head can be tough. In fact, because the vest isn’t rigid, it’s a bit like trying to pick up said 9-10 year old child who has gone all floppy (almost impossible, as any parent will tell you). Handle with care!
  • I have found so far that it is best to remove some of the weights to get the vest over my head, and then replace them once I have the vest on. A bit awkward, but safety first.

Stage by stage

I’ve gone for a significant weight gain – 35% of my body weight – and I’m going to be jumping.  There is a potential risk of injury. So, I have been doing the 66 movement Suang Yang form with the vest on to make sure my leg muscles and joints are nicely warmed up. (Ok, they are actually on fire by about half way through, but you get the idea…)

Instructor Dave Courtney Jones jumps onto chairs wearing his weighted vest surrounded by the flowers in his gardenMy jump training has consisted of jumping from standing onto a raised surface, landing on the balls of my feet, and back again. The jump is straight, to avoid lateral or rotational stress to my knees, which will also be 45 years old this year.

Then I have been incrementally increasing my jumping heights during each workout.

Apart from the vest I don’t need any special equipment, as here at FWC Kung Fu we live by the mantra, “We Train Everywhere”. There are some steps in my garden, and I have been using them.  This is a recipe for awesome jumps – take each stage at a time, and when it is readily achievable and feels safe, move on the next stage.

  • Stage 1: Jump onto the first, small step ten times. It’s around 15cm high, and I jump from around 30cm away.
  • Stage 2: Jump onto the next step up ten times (so the jump is higher as well as further forwards). Total height now around 30cm, distance now around 75cm.
  • Stage 3: Jump onto a pair of garden chairs. Currently three sets of ten. I’m jumping onto the front corner of the chair so that when I land my force goes directly down the chair leg, rather than breaking the chair! Chair height is 45cm.

I can currently safely achieve Stage 3 with the full 30kg weight. Now I either need to move house with more steps, or find something else to jump on. The plan is to keep gradually stepping things up before my next stage, which will be jumping with weight vest plus ankle weights!

And after?

Sit down on one of the (unbroken) chairs and drink chocolate milk, of course. I need the combination of sugars and casein in the milk immediately to restore my muscle glycogen and recover quickly!

Have I achieved weightlessness?

So after only a couple of weeks of weighted vest training, any effects on my patterns yet? Actually, yes! Although I think the main effect has been on my confidence, my jumps feel like they are already higher, and I feel like I’m in the air fractionally longer. Not very objective, I know, but in Kung Fu confidence and belief can sometimes be enough!”

¹Want to be reconciled to your solid thighs? – read more by following this link: British Medical Journal.


Photos taken by FWC Instructor Kerry Schulz