Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Kung Fu's Buried Treasure - Cross Training with the Wooden Dummy

This article was published in the July 2008 issue of Inside Kung Fu magazine. For a pdf version, visit http://shenmartialarts.com/articles.asp

As a martial artist, you are on a never-ending quest. It is an on-going effort to improve, to gain more knowledge, to find new insight and of course, to increase your skill. You endlessly practice the methods and techniques of your chosen style and depending on your makeup, age and level of advancement, make incremental gains in physical ability and combat effectiveness. Should you need to engage in combat, will your style, its approach and its training methods bring you victory?

To answer an unhesitating “yes” is an indication of the vanity and arrogance that plagues the martial arts as a whole. Read any online forum today and you will easily see how well entrenched this mentality is. The reality is that no one can really know, and that is the reason for our on-going training, to continually improve… to better our chances. Confidence is good. The ego to believe you have all the answers is not. False security is fatal.

Cross Training - An age old Practice

For centuries, different martial arts styles and systems have jealously guarded their methods and techniques, keeping them within their specific family, group or lineage. While this may have safeguarded proprietary knowledge, it also resulted in stagnation and stunted further development and growth.

Yet older still is the practice of learning, adopting and sharing knowledge as a way of expanding, diversifying a styles repertoire and improving its effectiveness. Many styles have been born out of joining, adding and melding of different approaches, techniques and methods. In the early 1900’s, forward thinking masters formed the famous Ching Woo Athletic Association for the purpose of strengthening and growing traditional Chinese Martial Arts. Even the very cradle of martial arts, the Shaolin Temple may be the best and most ambitious example of martial arts cross-training, something like a combat think-tank.

In the early 90’s, the UFC demonstrated the fallacy of closed mindedness. Modern competitors learned that adopting methods and techniques from other styles is essential to their success. Ground fighting became compulsory and the “ground and pound” was born. Then learning ended and all went back to their closed camps and to business as usual. But why stop there? The Gracies took traditional Jiu Jitsu and evolved it to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and mixed martial artists adopted ground fighting, added that to their stand up fighting and improved the competitive landscape. Is that all there is? Have we reached the apex of combat technology? Not by a long shot.

Skills Training in Chinese Kung Fu

What makes a good fighter? Technically speaking it is a combination of stamina, endurance, speed, accuracy and strength. These are valued assets regardless of the style you have chosen and to facilitate their attainment, each style has developed its own training methods. Every skilled fighter whether in the mat, the dojo or the octagon will exhibit these traits in good measure.

Still, everyone can point to someone who possesses higher, subtler, intangible abilities, beyond those just mentioned. An old master, perhaps your teacher, a champion boxer, and some of the top competitors in the mixed martial arts will all have that certain something that keeps them ahead of the rest. These unique fighters may have obtained these traits naturally or they may have developed them through some training method.

So it is clear that there are other attributes that can greatly benefit martial artists, but what is not clear is how to go about acquiring them. This is where Chinese kung fu excels and offers a wide variety of training methods. A majority of these methods were developed in secrecy and have been closed to those outside a specific style, system or subgroup. As more and more information is available on various arts and styles, and shared in books, magazines, dvd's, internet forums, websites and video sites such as you tube, skills such as rooting, centering, sticking, sensitivity, flow, relaxed power, jing/explosive power, short power, iron palm and iron body conditioning are now coming to light.

Semantics and martial arts movies have cast a fuzzy veil on Chinese martial arts but it is easily lifted by a bit of investigation. Fa Jing, Chin Na, Dim Mak, and Chi Kung are more examples of the skills and methods that are valued in Chinese Kung Fu and sought after by those training CMA. To cast these ideas off, or scoff and ridicule them due to their flowery names or their mysterious nature, as some do is to shut off a world of possibilities. Granted, some of these concepts seem elusive and can sound esoteric to the unfamiliar, but what are important are the tangible gains that are made by training in them.

For example rooting includes the ability to stay on your feet and to generate power when encountering an opposing force and/or in a restricted space. Chi Kung develops higher lung capacity which enhances stamina, endurance and strength. Sensitivity and stickiness are the skill to anticipate the movements of the opponent and maintain proper distance.

The Wooden Man – An Advanced Training Device

The mook jong or wooden man is typically associated with the wing Chun style of kung fu and is the hallmark of this famous fighting system. However, wooden dummy training was developed in the Shaolin temple and is part of the training of a number of styles derived from and influenced by Shaolin kung fu such as Choy Lay Fut, Ng Ga Kuen, Hung Gar, Fut Gar, and others. This wide spread use and retention over the centuries is a testament to its importance and effectiveness as a training device.

The wooden dummy trains many advanced skills of the Chinese martial arts. However there are 3 primary advanced skills that are of utmost importance to fighters from all styles and disciplines. These are body conditioning, flow and distance.

The strength and ability to withstand strikes is often what makes the difference in a fight and lack of it has ended many prematurely. Wooden dummy training strengthens and conditions the most important blocking and striking surfaces of the body, such as inner and outer forearm, elbows, shins, insteps, feet, fists, palms, backhands, and fingers. Consistent use of the wooden dummy develops amazing resistance and strength in these areas.

While theories and terms vary, wooden dummy training helps to develop what is termed “the 3 distances”, also known as 3 gates in some styles. This refers to long distance, intermediate or transitional distance and inside or close distance. Stand-up fighters prefer the middle distance for example, while ground fighting is obviously a close in fighting style. Mixed-martial arts on the other hand, work the intermediate and inside distances. The objective in Chinese kung fu is to master all 3 ranges. Long distance consists of swinging strikes and of long-range kicks and sweeps which are used to set up and manipulate the opponent and to soften up his defenses. The middle range is where hooks, uppercuts, stop kicks and where parries, redirecting techniques and centerline control are used both to cause damage and to transition into the close distance where grappling, locks, throws, take downs and other finishing moves can be deployed.

Flow refers to smooth, relaxed power, to putting combinations of techniques together, to follow up, and follow through. Flow involves staying with your opponent, using multiple levels and angles, to hit openings. A fighter that has mastered flow is efficient, does not tire as easily, creates openings and shows little wasted effort. Such a fighter is un-rushed, poised, and yet relentless.

Dummy Training for All-Styles

The new Shen cross-training dummy pictured in this article is designed and manufactured by Focus Fitness and distributed exclusively by Shen Martial Arts (
http://www.shenmartialarts.com/). Based on the traditional mook jong, it incorporates key innovations that provide users with additional versatility. The body and limbs of Shen Cross-Training dummy are made to simulate skin, muscle and bone. This allows for strikes, kicks, and thrusts and bumps to be applied to all surfaces of the dummy. This means techniques ranging from head level kicks and thigh kicks to chin na grabs and grappling techniques can be applied. The hard body and arm / leg core provide excellent body strengthening and conditioning equal to or better than its wooden predecessor. Combinations of techniques using all 3 distance ranges can be drilled at full speed and power and can include shoots to the lower body and partial lifts for take downs. Hooking techniques, knees to the body can all be practiced with as resistance equal to the force of the techniques.


Cross training has long been a catalyst for improvement and evolution. Modern martial artists must continue to search for ways to not only better their skills and to maximize their performance, but also to add additional skills that can make them more effective.

It is important for the modern warrior to keep an open, receptive mind as well as to remain humble and unbiased as regardless of your level of advancement, there is much more to learn and develop on this never ending journey. Knowledge may be found in non-combat disciplines, and in non-physical fields, and much insight can be found in the very roots of the modern combat sports, in the traditional martial arts.

Whether you train in Karate, Krav Maga, Thai Boxing, Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo or Mixed Martial Arts, dummy training will help improve your training and with the proper methods can add important skills to your repertoire. New tools such as the Shen Cross Training Dummy allow modern martial artists to train important and necessary skills while exploring and incorporating different methods from both modern combat sports and traditional arts such as Chinese kung fu.

Sifu Mario Figueroa teaches traditional kung fu and chi kung in Oceanside, California. For seminar and workshop information email mariofigueroa@cox.net . For information on the Shen Cross-Training Dummy visit http://www.shenmartialarts.com or email shenmartialarts@cox.net.