The Importance of Leg Training

Liàn quán bù liàn tuǐ, yīshì màoshīguǐ.

Liàn quán bù liàn tuǐ, yīshì màoshīguǐ.

One who practices boxing without training the legs will spend his life rashly.

My first post in this series discussed the fundamental importance of static stance training in Chinese Martial Arts.  Stances are body organization paradigms, and treat the whole frame of the body.  This post is about the importance and categories of training the legs specifically.

Why isn’t a perfectly balanced and rooted stance enough for training in the martial arts?  It’s already a difficult process to develop a root (just think of all the people you’ve crossed hands with that don’t have a root).  And a good root not only helps you maintain your center (see my earlier post on Knowing Your Center), but it also allows you to hit with real power. So what other leg training does a martial artist need beyond stances?

In Chinese martial arts, as in life, we learn to stand before we can walk.  We learn to walk before we can run, jump or kick.  We learn to bring our bodies back into a coherent alignment through standing.  Standing is truly fundamental to our practice.  But standing is (externally) static.  Static positions do not move us through applications, around attacks, or home to safety.  It is the movement of our legs that can do all this with proper training.

For the purposes of this post, I will just look at two other training areas for the legs that are vital to cultivating body movement and self defense capabilities in Chinese Martial Arts: moving stance training and kicking.

While forging the frame of various kung fu stances through standing is a fundamental and yet life-long pursuit, a martial artist also needs to know how to move in and out of each stance.  This is done first with individual movement drills practiced on both sides.  You create an in-depth study of how to settle in a horse stance (for example), or how you project up and out with your strike in a single leg stance, while your supporting leg grounds energy downwards.  This kind of training makes movement into and out of the stances just as important as the “final” position that is trained in standing practice.

Single movement drills also incorporate hitting targets and applying the moves on  a training partner.  In this way the movements, the body structure, and the application knowledge are all tested and developed continuously.  When the practitioner moves on to forms practice, he learns to switch in and out between different stances and angles and applications.  Without the specific leg training outlined here, all stance work and hand drills will suffer in application and your life-long pursuit of training will not prepare you to utilize your art in case of need.

In addition to moving in, out, through and between attacks, legs can (of course) be used as formidable weapons.  We can kick, knee, trap, trip, grind and press with out legs when faced with an opponent.  All these fluid and fast movements have to be explicitly trained.  But the keystone of leg training in this area is kicking.

Kicking requires us to ground ourselves on one leg while the other leg delivers force in a given direction.  The traditional kicking patterns for training allow the whole body to be employed in generating power and balance in the kicks.  Your root and core are further developed.  Your leg muscles loosen and the fast-twitch fibers are trained. A good kicker is good with his knees.  A good kicker can snap quickly into position around an opponent’s attack and launch a counter attack with the legs.  Without long and careful training of the legs through kicking, you will have only a small fraction of a usable art.

In sum, the most basic formula for legs training in Chinese Martial Arts is:

  1. Static Stance Training
  2. Moving Stance Training
  3. Kick Training

There are many exercises related to each of these areas, and all three require ever increased pressure testing against objects and partners and opponents.

Going back to the Kung Fu Saying for this week, do not spend your life training rashly – carve out training time dedicated to at least the three areas of leg training discussed here.  The percentages of time spent on these will vary somewhat on the technical repertoire of your art, but all traditional Chinese Martial Arts have and require these basic training areas.

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