Pushing my Limits through the Lockdown is an inspirational read about how Instructor Daniel Shaw-Abulafia has not just kept his training going through the Covid-19 restrictions, but has gone far beyond this, as the photos reveal! If you are interested in training with Daniel, you can find his current class timetable here, or find his contact details here.
MOTIVATION AND DISCIPLINE
I think I can say for everyone that 2020 was a pretty rubbish year. We all had plans for that year that ended up not happening, and for most people most of their days are based at home with a limited amount of time to go places. Although it is the best we can all do right now, it has made many people depressed.
For the first few months of lockdown I completely stayed at home to avoid contact of any kind, unless it was with my family. Before the lockdown was announced I decided to go on leave from my job at the Old Dairy to maintain my safety, my family’s safety and my co-workers’ safety. One of the things I do find alarming is that a lot of people around me when I’m out of the house don’t seem to take the restrictions seriously. Usually when I train on my own I’m in the park that’s closest to my house (which thankfully is usually quite empty). The most important thing in my book is always safety and not just with COVID but in general. If that means I’m going to be extra cautious and even picky about it then so be it.
I do believe that everyone should keep themselves occupied. You can do this any way you like whether it’s doing work at home (or in the office), or an activity like playing a game, decorating your house, talking to your friends and families online, or even… exercising. This is important because when people are stuck at home it’s also very easy to gain more weight as they aren’t moving around so much.
Adjusting to the “New Normal”
As the situation changed for me and I couldn’t train in class physically I had to adjust my training differently for my Kung Fu. I started to think about what I should work on more, what I should keep up and approach differently. It’s always important to think about what you want out of training. I asked myself “What do I want to achieve by the end of the lockdown?” and “What do I need to keep up until everything goes back to normal?” Right away I started trying out some new exercises and over time I’ve evolved them to make it more challenging, pushing my limits further and further, especially now that I’m a Full Instructor I have to keep up my training more, and I have to approach things differently compared to how I have previously over the years.
As an Instructor I advise that you start with an aim which motivates you to go forwards, then as you keep up your training you need to have the discipline to keep going, so that you don’t lose your aim. As an overview you should work on what you are not so great at, as opposed to just training what you’re good at. Obviously you do still have to keep up your strengths but working on your weaknesses will bring you great benefits. It will help you evolve better physically and will help you understand yourself better as a person. Eventually you will turn your weaknesses into your strengths.
If there is something you want to aim for, go for it. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you set your mind to anything you can achieve it. A lot of people don’t have the time to do hours of training outside of class, in which case I recommend you find an approach that works for you. If you only have a short amount of time then use that short amount of time, don’t waste it.
Usually when I practise like this, the amount of time I train depends on what I’m focusing on and if I have class that day. On days when I have class I train for about two to two and a half hours. On Fridays when I don’t train in class I train for six hours. And on Sundays I train for about four or five hours.
Now I’m not recommending you do this exactly the way I do it, as what works for me in my training won’t necessarily work for you. Nonetheless I feel that this way of training has helped me progress so much over time. It’s given me a lot to focus on, and it’s helped me achieve my goals, so in this article I’m going to talk about my lockdown training regime.
During the week and depending on whether there’s a class that evening, I warm up with my Shuang Yang Form. This form is a good way to warm up your joints, and also improves your leg strength, core strength and flexibility. It also includes stretching, breathing and much more. On a day when there’s no class I do a whole hour of warming up. I start with:
This is very good for realigning your back, loosening up your hamstrings and the joints. It’s also very relaxing for your mind. You also have to make sure that you are breathing properly when you do the movements. This is not just loosening up your body, it’s also a really good exercise for stress relief and relaxing tension, which is mainly why I start with this first thing. This can also be practised first thing when you wake up or just before you go to bed.
Damo Qi Gong
Damo Qi Gong Is the first style from the Five Ancestor Shaolin lineage. This is one of the best styles to exercise, especially when you have stress or any kind of illness (physical or mental) this can definitely help you. It can also be used to help you calm down and relax. The main challenge with this is to breathe the movements. It’s definitely achievable, it just takes a long time. I make the breathing my main focus when I’m practising it.
And exercise my “Three Part Power”
By “three part power” I mean loosening up my joints. In Kung Fu you need to train every part of your body and that means training your joints specifically for this style. The placement of your feet, where your hands go, the structure of your stance – all are important. This helps your body to be properly aligned and also frees up your movements.
- I start from the ground up by circling my ankles left and right
- then I circle my knees 30 times left, right and then rock them backwards and forwards.
- Then I work on the hips, this is one of the most important ones to loosen up, especially as you age – you need to maintain your hip mobility. I work three exercises for the hips:
– For the first one, I have my legs a little bit wider than usual, feet pointing out in the same direction as my knees, put my hands on my hips and circle them 30 times left and right.
– In my second exercise I shift side to side with my feet more than three shoulder widths wide, and I do that 100 times.
– For the last hip exercise, I have my feet the same width as the first hip exercise. I shift to the right at knee height, move up from knee height, shift to my left and then shift back down to knee height. I do that cycle about 30 times, and then I repeat it in the other direction.
- After that I work my waist with trunk twisting. I swing my arms backwards and forwards, I then work my elbow joints. Then the last thing I do is loosen my wrists and my neck.
Fitness and Stretching training
I have developed this exercise regime over the year. I never want to do the same exact routine for years on end because I’m always training my body to adapt. With my fitness I’m specifically focusing on the fighting aspect, so I’m going to mention the exercises I’m currently doing. I do two versions of this routine focusing on different parts of my body. On day one, I focus on my core. Day two, I focus more on my legs. On day three, I switch back to the core, and on day four back to the legs, etc. I do a series of exercises that I repeat in a specific order, to work up my fitness level. (Please note as my focus shifts over time this particular routine could change.)
Core Training day
- Ten minutes of pad work
- Three reps of 40 star jumps, run small steps with two feet forward on the running ladder to the end, 30 squats, run small steps with two feet forward on the running ladder back the other end.
- 20 knuckle bounces, run small steps with two feet forward on the running ladder to the end, low horse stance, jump and clap feet together then a press-up and flip back up to low horse stance 10 times. Then run small steps two feet forward on the running ladder back to the other end, then do one minute of iron bridge.
- Three reps of 90 sit-ups (90 regular sit-ups, 90 crunch sit-ups, 90 twisting to my knees back and forth sit-ups with my arms crossed), run small steps with two feet sideways right on the running ladder to the end, three doggy shakes (if you’re in the park practising this wear a mask) then run small steps with two feet sideways lefton the running ladder back to the other end.
- 20 knuckle bounces, run small steps with two feet sideways right on the running ladder to the end, low horse stance, jump and clap feet then a press-up and flip back up to low horse stance 10 times. Then run small steps with two feet sideways left on the running ladder back to the other end, then one minute of iron bridge.
- 10 minutes of pad work
Leg Training Day with stretching
- 10 minutes of pad work
- 3 rep 40 star jumps, Icky shuffle (an Icky Shuffle is shuffling forwards, right, forwards, left etc) on the running ladder to the end, 30 squats, Icky shuffle on the running ladder back to the other end.
- 15 squat jumps, Icky shuffle on the running ladder to the end, 10 burpees then Icky shuffle on the running ladder back to the other end, then one minute of low horse stance.
- Different leg lifts (40 front leg lifts, 20 outer inner spinning inner outer kicks, 20 side leg lifts). Backwards Icky shuffle on the running ladder, 3 doggy shakes then backwards Icky shuffle on the running ladder back, 3 reps.
- 15 squat jumps, backwards Icky shuffle on the running ladder to the end, 10 burpees then backwards Icky shuffle on the running ladder back to the other end, then one minute of low horse stance.
- 10 minutes of pad work
- 2 minutes of front stretch
- 2 minutes of standing side stretch
- 1 minute of cross bent legs twist stretch on both sides.
On the days I work my core I start with two reps of 30 side-on sit-ups on both sides. Then I do two reps of body bridge, reverse body bridge and then iron bride for one minute each with a 30 KG vest.
On my leg training day I start with three reps of 10 squats while holding 10 KG kettlebells up to my shoulders, and three reps of 10 squats while holding 10 KG kettlebells down to the side of my thighs. Then while wearing my 30 KG vest and holding both kettlebells, I do three reps of 10 front lunge split squats on both sides, then three reps of 10 side lunge squats on both sides. I finish with one minute of low horse stance with just my vest, without holding the kettlebells.
Doing exercises in this way with the 30 KG vest gives you so many benefits. You’ll feel stronger, you’ll move and feel lighter after wearing it. The benefit comes from the significant weight increase (it’s a lot!), which increases the pressure while training with it. This is why I ask PLEASE! Do not try this at home without experience or building up to it or talking to your instructor about it. Although it’s very useful for building core strength and leg strength, you can cause serious injury to yourself, specifically your lower back, if you don’t know what you’re doing. When you are using the weight vest, make sure your back is straight, and when you are doing squats make sure you’re not misaligned with your movements – particularly the knee joints. When I work my split squats I specifically keep my back straight and my front shin vertical. My front foot should point in the same direction as my knee.
Since I can’t spar during the pandemic I practise shadow boxing drills to improve my sparring. I also practise with my reflex ball. (I highly recommend you get one as it increases your speed, reflexes, and confidence. It’s so much fun to use as it also tests your reactions.)
On days when I don’t have class I practise with my Bagua/Shuang Yang and patterns (Yong Chun and Tiger Crane). With my Bagua I’ve been focusing on keeping my standing leg stable and making sure it doesn’t wobble.
One exercise I do before going into my Bagua is standing in horse stance blindfolded and shift over to one side, lift my knee, and then shift over to my other side until I’ve done about nine of them, I repeat that for about half an hour. Then I practise my Bagua a couple of times, also blindfolded (this is so I can increase my awareness and feeling of what I’m doing, it also increases confidence as you become more stable).
While practising my Shuang Yang and other patterns I focus on the expression of the movement, making them look and feel authentic to the style so it’s more like how its practised in China. This is very difficult to do. For a long time my expression was based on my emotion (mainly aggression) and I’d move like I was giving it everything I had, but with an edge. Though that did work back then for the level I was at, I’ve realised that it’s not just about that. It’s also about making everything work together as one. To express yourself in the way of the crane is very difficult for a lot of people in the West. The understanding of it is something that’s almost alien to people. To have expression requires confidence, acting out the movements in a way by showing off every little movement, but still with the effectiveness of a fighter.
Over time, you discover there are always new aspects of the style to work on, you add layer upon layer upon layer etc. For many people patterns would look rehearsed, and perhaps that’s why people have told me in the past that Kung Fu isn’t good because to their eyes, there’s no fighting involved. But that’s not the case, you practise these movements so you can use them to fight, and hopefully I never will have to use them.
In short: Have an aim, discipline yourself, keep practising and never give up.