External Martial Arts

External Power

External power or Waijia Quan (external fist) practice is designed to increase natural human responses to incoming stimuli. Movement, speed, and force are the most essential elements that are found in all fighting skills. It is these basics, along with enhancement of reactions that must be improved upon from the beginning of ones training. By firstly developing these rudiments one will also improve power.

Defined As

External power can be defined as energy or force produced from the outside of the bones. By this we mean the production of force by contraction of the muscles only.

The muscles, tendons, and ligaments must play a part in movement, but it is imperative that these movements are coordinated or they will be unbalanced and therefore weak. It is necessary then to also look at how efficiently the body is moved by the various muscle groups.

For a beginner, training in the external elements of Kung-Fu is for the purpose of improving co-ordination. To achieve a high level of movement skill co-ordination is essential.

Just as importantly, other elements include building strength, stamina and in conjunction with these, gaining an understanding of anatomy and physiology.

Beginning on the pat

When a student begins on his/her path to becoming a traditional martial artist a number of things must be systematically built into their training.

In the early stages, nearly all of what they will learn will be from an external approach but with a long term view of those same movements and techniques becoming internal.

A beginner will have no understanding of internal doctrines and they will not usually realise that all the external training being undertaken is aimed at the eventuality of becoming internal.

This external preparation leading to internal is imperative if a student is to reach the higher echelons of skill.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee once famously said “be like water”. He also said “forms were unnecessary”, “that one should be free to move and react without restraint”.

​ These statements hold a great deal of legitimacy but, he was able to say this from the standpoint that he already had the external grounding. When he wrote this he had become so advanced in his art he had transcended to a level where external elements were deemed unnecessary for combat.

​ However, this is not to say that he did not do external training and indeed that he continued to do so, because he understood the importance of both fundamental elements and there place in a complete martial art.

​ He spent years learning forms and developing his musculature in order that his body would become harmonized eventually resulting in fluid movement.

​ Without this type of well balanced, systematic training he would not have been able to reach the exceptional levels for which he was so famous.

The Beginner

When a beginner enters the training hall it is very often the case that they have a poor level of fitness. It is essential that this is worked on from the outset for many reasons.

​ A student will not be proficient in combat unless their fitness is improved upon. Anyone who has been unlucky enough to be in a street fight for example, knows just how quickly the body can tire. Even in the controlled arena of a training hall it can be extremely demanding in a very short space of time.

Promoting Endurance & Power

As an instructor, it is plain to see when students’ fitness levels need improving. So it is then, that external elements begin within a systematic regime to promote endurance and will power. Exercises such as press- ups and squat kicks, to name just two, toughen the body. These exercises and others like them begin to train not only the musculature but also co-ordination. It is also significant that the exercises used are specific to certain areas of the body. From a beginners standpoint this aids in pin-pointing those precise areas and how they will be used within the art.

Generally speaking, the whole body will be incorporated as a matter of course, and as the student trains they can develop an understanding of how various parts of the body work at a basic level.

​ One can expect to have to take blows to the stomach; therefore this area must be toughened in order to receive such punishment and so on throughout the body. This muscular development gives the body a means with which to absorb blows more effectively and in this can be seen the foundations for defence. The up-shot of a well developed exterior is that it also bestows a sense of protection when in combat. Northern Hakka Kuen is known for its tough practitioners who at the top levels seem to deflect powerful strikes without feeling pain; this outcome starts with external training.

As the physical aspects of the body become more harmonised a student’s power will improve. This is easily demonstrated on strike pads or a punch bag.

​ In fact in a relatively short space of time, in some cases thirty minutes or so, a student can be shown how to improve power just by adjusting key points of stance positioning, hip and torso movement. This increase in power will quickly build confidence in a persons own ability.

The Next Stage

The next stage of development derived from external body conditioning and basic core technique training, is to then use this new found force/power and push its limitations further.

​ This can be done in many ways, from my own experience; it was often done in combination with pad work. For example, hitting the pad with punches/ kicks as hard as possible for repetitions of perhaps 100, or for three minute timed sections. As long as it pushes the body to work hard within a technique based exercise.

​ This also helps develop cardio vascular fitness as well as technique. The trainee will find it increasingly difficult to maintain technique and therefore power as the exercise reaches its closing stages. The idea is to eventually reach a point where the power actually increases towards the end of the exercise, for it is this component that is the most important.

​ From a beginners view point, weaknesses will be exposed as their body tires. It will then be clear just how ineffective one becomes when the musculature and respiratory systems begin to fail. Just holding up the arms in a defensive manner can become very tiring, making it increasingly difficult to maintain that protective aspect.

To sustain a decent amount of power becomes impossible, and the effort required in trying to do so just adds tension and depletes energy even faster. This is why external training has so many important facets. It develops the structures for every component of a complete martial art in a way that is structured and easy to learn from the beginning.

This brings me on to another phase of external body conditioning; it is to test a student’s determination and courage. The psychological aspect of martial arts begins here.

The Mind

External training is also the first stage of educating the mind although it can be said that the mind is just a spectator in these early stages. The aim is to push the body to extremes, in order that the mind can begin to develop the means with which to carry the body beyond its previously known limits. For it is the mind that tells the body what it is capable of.

The psychological lessons play a major part in martial arts and they begin from the outset with hard physical, therefore psychological, testing.

​ In order to begin advancement we must first be pushed through tough physical exertion. To be taken to limits of pain and hardship previously unknown. The correlation of body and mind is then highlighted in a more profound manner. As the body tires and pain and discomfort begin to set in, it is the intrinsic link with mind and body that becomes apparent.

​ A continuous battle ensues in the mind, looking for reasons or excuses to stop, and of these there are many. An untrained mind can become very creative when looking for excuses to stop the body when it is tired and in pain. So begins, through external application, the advancement of the mind. During these tough physical exercises the student is also being tested as to how they control their temper. I have seen many people become aggressive when pushed in this way. This must be addressed because it highlights weakness.

Practicing Techniques

Kicking and punching techniques will be developed along-side all other elements. There are several ways, externally based, of improving these crucial points. With regards to pad work, each core training method can be broken down into smaller sections and studied more closely, building the layers of knowledge. Before stepping up to a strike pad it is normal to practice the relative core technique to the air. This enables the practitioner to gain a deeper understanding of the movement and also builds upon control in the execution of a set piece or combinations.

These should be practiced at varying speeds to further develop control of technique and body skills. Consequently, when adapting to the pad or punch bag the student will have a more defined knowledge of the method required. It will then become apparent that there are many differences felt or experienced when striking a static object as opposed to striking just air. This further enhances understanding. It will feel different again when trying to land the same techniques on a moving body, that of an opponent or maybe a swinging punch bag.

Form Work

This then is where the importance of form work becomes clear. Not only do the forms contain variants of the same static techniques already mentioned but also they take into account the importance of footwork within movement. The forms practiced in Northern Long Fist Kung-Fu have movements that are deliberately elongated; these are then shortened for combat application.

​ By elongating these moves for practice purposes, when it comes to using them in a combative situation, thereby condensing them, they will be easier to execute. Train hard fight easy.

​ From an external view-point, this is to continue the body conditioning aspects but also on developing smooth transition through focusing on awkward movement. This highlights the importance of correct placement of the feet, if the feet are incorrectly placed then the rest of the body will be out of position.

​ These forms are many centuries old. They are tried and tested from actual battlefield situations, warriors have developed methods through these forms with which to enhance all aspects of combat. The forms are designed to contain all characteristics of movement, with simultaneous defensive and offensive techniques being observed.

​ The complexity of the forms, from the three beginners’ forms through to the three advanced forms, seemingly increases. However, it can be said, that this is due to the first three being shorter in their number of movements, therefore are learnt more rapidly.

The three so called beginners’ forms are no less relevant than the three advanced forms. They are strategically placed at the beginning of a students training in order that they can learn enough of a skill base with which to reasonably protect themselves, whilst gaining an understanding of the style. Once the first form is learnt it is only a matter of changing the kick to then know all three forms as it is only the kick that differs.

​ From an external view point, they offer the in-experienced practitioner a method of gaining a semblance of skill, with many of the essential elements, within a shorter time frame.

Defence & Offence

It has often been said to me that it is more important to learn defence before offence and vice versa. Comments such as, if you attack first why would you need defence. These are quite vague and inexperienced view points. In my opinion what could be better than using these two elements simultaneously.

On the battlefield a warrior had no time for defence in the strict meaning of the word, his defence had to be integral with his attack or neither would work.

​ In many martial sports styles defence often takes second place, and it is attack and ego that is the main focus. When learning a traditional martial art, the fundamentals of both defence and offence are taught simultaneously. Many lesser styles focus purely on offence and encourage aggression.

​ Within traditional schools it is not the instructors’ job to build a persons ego falsely, rather to develop a quiet inner-self confidence.

I remember my first experiences of sparring, were with a sense of awkwardness. I felt uneasy and exposed, unsure what to do. This was not because I was not used to fighting. With regard to street fighting I had some experience. I am not proud to say this because I have seen some terrible things.

I realised immediately that my unease was due to the lack of aggression. I was not fuelled by alcohol, or the want to destroy my opponent because he had looked at me for too long across a bar. Quite the opposite, I was in a calm frame of mind, tired from a hard body conditioning session, with absolutely no sense of hostility towards my opponent. In this state I failed to see how I could possibly be an effective fighter.

Hostility & Anger

As the sparring sessions progressed I rapidly saw just how ineffective it could be to lose your temper. With hostility and anger came tension, the by-product of this is unbalanced, slow uncoordinated movement and tired muscles, all in a matter of a few seconds. Even during these early stages of my training, external elements were teaching me to grow from a boy to a man, in both body and mind.

With the two elements of defence and attack juxtaposed it is vital to augment a fighter’s tactical requirements also. By this we mean, how many different types of kicks and punches that are available to be utilised in combat.

​ To put these strikes into combinations and apply them with timing and accuracy dependent on what the opponent is doing.

Tactical Advantage

How to gain a tactical advantage with the skills you have whilst embroiled in combat is something a lot of fighters find difficult during the early years of their training is remembering what they can do. It is easy to get stuck in the same routines or combinations, especially when faced with a more advanced student. The tendency is to stay in a comfort zone for fear of making a mistake. With correct repetitive core technique training this comfort zone becomes more expansive. Then the practitioner feels more able to execute the newer movements, even when under pressure.

​ The more one practices, the more ones confidence grows. Then, when in combat those new techniques will become more instinctively used. It has to be said at this point that, simplicity and good basics are always a decent fighter’s stock in trade. It is important to study in depth ones weak areas. If you feel uncomfortable with your left leg forward in an orthodox stance, then you should face that and work at it until you do feel comfortable.

​ This is the method to becoming adaptable to constantly changing scenarios, which is the reality of fighting. With external training, the student can be placed under pressure to highlight weaknesses. Through this they can understand where their limitations are and train them out. Feelings of fear and vulnerability are then slowly driven away and replaced with a quiet confidence in ones own ability.

As one can see, the fundamental grounding for a solid and complete martial art lies in external training, but it must not be limited to this alone.