The Zen Koan Workout
The world of Western traditional physical exercise is beginning to catch up with what martial artists have known for thousands of years. Fitness is not just about burning calories and sweating. It’s about being healthy from the inside out and using breath and movement as a way to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. Research is revealing that this mind-body fitness not only keeps us healthy but also greatly helps to banish stress and is aids longevity.
Planting the seed
As martial artists, we trust that our final goal of conquering ourselves will be reached effortlessly. The goal is the seed. Through being in the moment and turning up for our martial art’s training sessions we carefully nurture that seed. When we are ready this seed becomes the goal we planted all of those years ago without us having to tinker with it or turn our thoughts to it. It’s almost like something we put away in a drawer and forgot about.
But training is not possible without some basic level of health. Most of us take health for granted and it’s only when we get a cold or an injury that we are reminded how lucky we are to have the good health to train.
Mind- Body Fitness
Sometimes a person can look strong but this doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Body builders may be inflexible and internally weak. Yoga practioners may be flexible but ask him or her to perform a martial art’s kick and they have no power or speed. This is one of the reasons why there are so many different Shaolin exercises and forms. We work with our whole body and our bodywork has an affect on our mind.
We mix different kinds of training together to make our mind and body connect and work together. We want our stamina and flexibility to work together and our power and speed to work together. At the Shaolin Temple we build up our fitness level from our health not the other way round. Fitness is much more than good stamina.
Sometimes a person may not look strong but they look healthy because of their skin and eyes and when they talk their mind is calm. I have witnessed many Buddhist monks like that. There is something about them, which makes a person feel calm when they are in their presence. Health means that they have a peaceful mind and their internal organs work well.
Fitness from the inside out
The world of Western traditional physical exercise emphasizes the need for cardiovascular and strength training but they are increasingly beginning to realise that for true fitness we also need to practise stretching and Qigong. Health and fitness usually mean two different things but for optimum fitness and true health we need to bring the two together and join them in a union.
Once you have a healthy body this means you have the foundation to be able to get fit. Fitness doesn’t mean you can run ten kilometers or you can lift very heavy weights, fitness means you have good stamina, you are flexible and your reaction time is very swift.
Suggested Training Plan – How To Start
It is not necessary to be a Shaolin martial artist to run through this training plan below but it is suitable for any martial artist.
1) Run for twenty minutes to make your body hot.
2) Raise each knee a hundred times to loosen your muscles.
3) Stretch your legs and hips.
4) Practise the five fundamental Shaolin kicks.
5) Do some push ups to train your upper body.
6) Traditional punches to stretch out the muscles.
Repeat 2) – 6) three times.
Once you have finished this training we can do some traditional forms or if you are a Thai boxer or kick boxer then you can shadow box and kick different combinations to make your mind and body work together. Do a workout from one of my workout or bootcamp DVDs.
If you don’t like training outside and you train in the gym or in your home then at the beginning of your training session you can skip or ride a bicycle instead of going for a run. The important thing is to make your body hot.
After we have gone through this training plan, we finish our training with Qigong. At the Shaolin Temple we never do fitness training alone but always balance it out with the practice Qigong to enhance the power of our external training and balance our Yin and Yang. Qigong helps us to feel peaceful, concentrated, positive and focused.
The Power Of Qi
Many athletes especially long distance runners and cyclists know that it is their mind as much as their body that gets them through the race. Once their mind has given up then they too will give up and they won’t be able to continue and complete or win the race.
But even though they understand the power of their mind, they don’t understand the power of Qi. This is why they end up retiring when they are in their thirties. They don’t look after their internal organs. Shaolin Monks do which is why their training deepens as they get older.
When I look at someone who is truly fit, everything they do looks easy. They are very flexible because when they run they tell their body to keep light and positive. When they punch or kick, they tell themselves to relax and use their body more. When they lift weights, they know exactly which muscle they need to use and which muscle they don’t need to use. When they practise Qigong they know when they need to inhale and when they need to exhale. They focus on what they need to focus on and this gives them confidence and power. They understand that if their mind is strong then their body is strong and if their body is strong then their mind is strong. It’s not possible to separate the two out.
A Zen Koan
Martial artists have always used both; they have always used the breath because it is the link between the mind and body. They have always focused on the present moment because it is the only moment when we can be truly alive. This is why – in the past –Masters sometimes used shock tactics or said Koans in an attempt to awaken their student to what life really is.
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
If we try to understand with our intellect then we’ll never understand and if we try to do martial arts with our intellect we shall also never understand.
Only when we have cultivated strong willpower and let go of our mind can we move to hard training to build up our stamina level and create from out of ourselves a warrior’s mind and body.