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This site is dedicated to all practitioners of the martial arts who are looking for a single place where they can find resources and camaraderie in their journey along a most challenging but rewarding path.

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Stances

There’s an old legend that’s told in the kung fu world from the “old days.”  This story is probably apocryphal, and you know how it plays out:  some young kid comes to an old master and wants to learn kung fu/karate/<insert your martial art of choice here>.  Said old master, to test the boy’s resolve, tells the kid to stand in a horse stance until the length of an incense stick burns out.  This, depending on the story, can be anywhere from 3 minutes to 3 hours.  The kid struggles, in agonizing pain, and at the end of the incense stick’s burn, having proven his worth by not quitting, the old master nods in acceptance and the kid is taken in as his disciple.

Good story, and I’m sure we’ve all heard some version of this and thought about it while we went through our own agonizing stance training. To be honest, I was never a big fan of stance training.  At least not stance training for the sake of getting good at stances.  I know, I know, it’s a necessary process, it’s good for you, etc, etc.  Still, I always thought that I’d rather be doing 20 more pushups than 20 more seconds of stance training.  It took me a while to appreciate stance training.  But in the meanwhile, I always wondered what stance training was really about.  What are the purpose of stances?  Why are they emphasized so much in traditional martial arts?  Is training in it useful anymore, given what we know now from modern sports science and MMA training?  Is it really to “build up leg strength” and “build character”?

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Benefits of Exercise Before Breakfast

I’ve heard stories that some of the old masters would insist that martial arts training begin at the butt crack of dawn, as soon as you woke up and before you did anything – including eating breakfast. Seemed counterintuitive to me a bit – wouldn’t you want to eat and be well fueled up for a rousing workout? Granted you don’t want to stuff yourself too much and be too loaded down as you did your exercises. But still, I had always imagined that sports science would tell us to be properly fed before starting a tough workout.

Or maybe not.

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Just saw this little bit of scientific news. In the martial arts, we have a lot of exercises and drills that are aimed at developing control over our breath, and our breathing in general. We say that by doing so we are developing our ch’i, or ki, or prana, or life energy. However you define it, what we are doing is learning to control a lot of different bodily functions and parameters using one of the few semi-autonomic systems that we can take control of – the respiratory system. It’s interesting that modern medicine and sports science is yielding studies that support things that the old masters have known and taught for many centuries. In this article, there is news that a study from Indiana University shows that inspiratory muscle training can help train muscles to need less oxygen when performing the same activities some time later. It’s interesting news that seems to indicate that you can train your breathing and thus train your body to work more efficiently. Nothing earth shattering here, but it’s good to see, once again, that modern science and some of our martial traditions are describing the same thing.

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