When everyone starts learning Kung Fu, they have images of themselves moving like masters, doing perfect jumps and kicks, battling several opponents, and generally wowing everyone with their Kung Fu awesomeness.
Most people are also aware that there will be a lot of hard work between now and then, and most will never go on to become masters. In Kung Fu, mastery can’t be achieved in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, but rather in your 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.
So your approach to your Kung Fu training should be long-term. Much of mastery comes from the understanding of yourself gained through the years of training. This is why people say that Kung Fu is about the journey and not the destination.
And with this is mind, your approach to training should take account of keeping your body in good working condition – keeping it going so that you can keep your journey going.
And in much the same way that a mechanical device must be designed with its lifetime in mind, with a number of cycles that can be achieved before the device breaks down, your movements must be learned so that your bones and joints will survive for your lifetime.
A combination of strengthening, stretching, and moving correctly means you are doing your best to preserve your body properly, and of course diet and lifestyle are also critical.
One of the most common problems that students may experience during their training is hurting knees. This is largely due to their lifestyle, but it can be overcome, and it’s important to understand how to take care of them.
Pain is always an indicator that something is wrong, and should never be ignored. Knee pain is complex, and could be down to a number of different factors and, of course, if you are in any doubt you should talk to your instructor. They might recommend that you see your doctor who can arrange for appropriate tests as necessary.
It should be kept in mind that many people today spend the vast majority of their day sitting at a desk, sitting on the way somewhere, or sitting down to watch telly after a hard day’s sitting!
Your body just isn’t designed to be used this way. It needs to be on the move. It is natural for you to have lean muscle mass and an athletic body, not a flabby, weak one.
Because the way you’re designed relies on this strength and movement, a sitting lifestyle leads to bad posture, weaker muscles, and consequently your joints receive mechanical loads in a way that they are not designed to take. This leads to “abnormal” wear and tear.
In basic terms, the knee is a very simple joint. It bends and strengthens in only one direction. There is no rotation or other complex movement.
It is this simplicity which leads to many of the problems experienced by athletes.
There are two major factors to take account of in preserving your knee joints:
Much, much stronger. Go for insanely strong.
It should be your muscles taking the stress of your movements. If your muscles aren’t strong enough, then the joint will take the stress.
Lots of strength in the surrounding muscles, particularly the thighs, will give the joint the support it needs. When it is accidentally loaded incorrectly the strength of the muscles allow for a little error.
If you are weak now, your knees will hurt as you go through the strengthening process. But, in time, when your legs get strong enough, the knee pain will stop (I am speaking from my own experience).
Make sure your leg joints are properly aligned in the direction that the leg needs to push.
Your knees and feet should point in the same direction, and this direction should line up with the direction you plan to extend your leg in.
There should be no sideways or twisting forces on the knee joint, or this will lead to damage.
Take care to get this right, in order to avoid long term problems!
And lastly, your diet needs to include the ingredients that your body needs to repair itself. Of course, you need a well-balanced diet, so that you have enough energy to train and live, but the key thing for repairing after training is protein, and this must include collagen to help you rebuild cartilage.
My favourite sources of collagen are chicken feet (you can normally get these in Dim sum) and wing tips, or soup made from chicken bones.
And if you are training as hard as you should be, you may well need this in larger quantities than you expect.