Between the cold weather and concern over the novel coronavirus, residents in Beijing, both locals and expats alike, have been under a lot of pressure recently to stay home and avoiding going out as much as possible. But moving every day is important for everyone’s mental and physical health, especially for children.
Short-step kung fu moves give both adults and kids the ability to exercise the whole body in a fun, interesting and challenging way. Read on for more ways you can kick ass outdoors or in, no matter how much space you have available!
When I was younger, access to a variety of exercise was very limited. At school we could choose from cricket and tennis in the summer, or rugby and football in the winter. And that was it. And with those two seasonal options, we would probably only get a maximum of 3 hours a week of exercise, which was either a blessing or an annoyance, depending on who you were (though personally, I hated it!).
Of course, these days, options have greatly expanded. But even with more options, when the air is polluted, the weather is bad (or other issues are forcing you to be as conservative as possible!) and you really don’t want to leave the house, you may feel that you don’t have many ways to get you and your child’s hearts pumping.
Fortunately, on days like those (for those living-room-locked kids looking to burn off some extra calories), martial arts and kids’ kung fu exercises from the Shaolin Temple can come to the rescue. So, want to start your kids journey to becoming a Shaolin Warrior? Then get them started with a kids kung fu workout now! This circuit is good for individuals or several young warriors together, especially when helped by Mum and Dad!
At the Shaolin Temple, young disciples commonly start training from the age of 10. At schools in the areas surrounding the temple, students can be as young as 3 or 4! But no matter your age, you’ll find these kids kung fu exercises safe, energetic and fun for the whole family!
Of course, as with any exercise routine, be sure to take it slow and steady when starting out, never push yourself or your children too hard, fully stretch and warm up before beginning any exercise and make sure to talk to your family doctor or medical practitioner before embarking on any new fitness regime.
1) Horse stance
The traditional horse stance is the most fundamental stance in all of Chinese martial arts, and doing it often, and correctly, can improve every aspect of your health and fitness. Practiced with feet double shoulder width apart, knees bent, and butt sunk as if sitting on a chair, this move is simple to do but tough to master, and will increase physical endurance and mental fortitude as you push yourself to see if you can increase the length of time you hold the posture for.
At Shaolin, we often put items on student’s heads, shoulders and knees, to see if they can keep their stance strong. But when beginning, it’s enough just to try and increase the time you can hold if for a few seconds each day. Have a family competition to see who can hold it the longest!
At Shaolin, one of the warrior monks’ favorite ways of training is through bear crawls down Wuru Peak, one of the peaks of the Song Shan range. On all fours, they hurtle head-first down the stairs that run at almost 90 degrees in places, often in races to see who can make it down first. Bear crawls are great for building muscle in the whole upper body, and working your core at the same time, making them awesome full body exercises.
While you may not have a mountain in your own living room, mum or dad helping out with wheelbarrows can be just as good. With them holding your ankles, how fast can you get from one side of the room to the other? Of course, there’s no need to go super fast straight away, but build it up slowly and safely, until one day you’re ready to take on a real mountain!
3) Animal races
Dragon, tiger, eagle, monkey – animals styles are a very important part of Shaolin kung fu training. According to ancient legend, the Indian monk Damo came to Shaolin to teach the monks there. But when he saw they were too frail to practice meditation, he taught them animal movements to strengthen their bodies. Over time, these movements were changed into fighting styles, and thus we have the Shaolin animal martial arts of today.
One way we warm up with animal styles at the temple is through animal races. Each student chooses their favorite animal, such as monkey, tiger or snake, and then races to the other end of the training hall, being sure to move in the same way as those animals. For example, tigers will move on all fours, snakes will wriggle along and monkeys will jump and skip.
And the same would work in your living room or hallway. Improve your animal style to beat your friends, or just beat your own time. Practicing animal styles are a great way to relax the body and teach it to move more gracefully and naturally. And as each animal has its own strengths and weaknesses, none are really better than the others. Find your animal style isn’t working for you? Simply change to another one!
4) Bubble bashing
Speed and accuracy are essential to any effective martial art. It doesn’t matter how much size and strength you have, if you are slow and keep missing everything you are aiming for! To train speed and accuracy, our teachers at Shaolin use punch pads. At random, they will lift up the punch pads and shout the names of various punches, which students will have to execute on the punch pads as quickly, softly and accurately as possible. If students are too slow, or miss the pads? Another 10 minutes in horse stance!
Of course, punch pads are really not necessary when you are just starting out on your martial path or looking for ways to exercise at home. In fact, why use pads at all, when you can use bubbles? Bubbles are maybe even better for training your speed and accuracy than pads, because they move so randomly, and there can be so many at the same time! With the help of an adult, ask them to blow a group of bubbles into an area where you are ready to stop them in their tracks.
Remember though, speed and accuracy are important here, not strength! Can you get them all before they touch the floor? Who is the fastest in your family?!
Not just at Shaolin, but in any kind of physical activity, a person, like a tree, is only a strong as their root. It doesn’t matter how tall you are, if a single breath of wind can push you over! That’s why when students first start training at the Shaolin Temple, they spend so much time just standing still! Of course, they aren’t really just standing still, but improving their root, or ability to withstand pressure from every side. Warriors at Shaolin use their minds to focus on holding onto the floor, and send their energy down into the earth, to help them stand tall and strong without falling over.
Can you withstand mum and dad’s push? Can they withstand yours? Simply stand up straight, with your feet shoulder width apart and facing forward. Your partner puts their hand on your shoulder, and slowly and gently tries to push you sideways. As they push, imagine yourself sinking into the floor, and resist. They stronger the push, the further down your root goes. Again, this isn’t a strength exercise, but one of gentle resistance, learning to sink your mind and root yourself to the floor. If your partner removes their hand, and you fall over, you’re doing it wrong!
Be sure to take turns gently pushing each other, and discover who has the strongest stance in your family!
As important as any martial exercise or technique is, nothing is ever more important than breathing. Not simply breathing in and out, but mindful breathing; paying attention to exactly how, and when and in what way you breathe. At the Shaolin Temple, that’s just as important as any kick or punch!
It’s so important, that in the same way as you start exercise sessions by stretching, you should also end every exercise session with mindful breathing. Either sit or stand, and start counting your breaths. Feel the breath go in, and feel the breath come out again. Follow your breath, where does it go? How does it feel when it gets there? Start counting each breath in and each breath out, at least 10 times, and if you miss a number, start again. Mindful breathing is great for helping you warm down after exercise, and also helps develop concentration and attentiveness, vital elements for any Shaolin warrior!
While no one can become a Shaolin Master overnight, hopefully these exercises can be a good start! Just remember: even if you only practice for a few minutes each day, as long as you are doing it often, you will already have completed half the journey – while the destination is still for you to decide!
Note: This is the expanded version of a blog post that was originally published on our sister website, CK Martial Hearts, and also in the now-defunct City Weekend magazine. Click below for larger image.
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