Over the past decade I’ve been taking a poll.
During my time in China, when I would spend time with an athlete or coach, I would inevitably ask them a specific question.
“What are the 5 wushu basic techniques that have the greatest impact on improving one’s wushu skill?”
I’m a big believer in the Pareto Principal — focusing on the 20% or work that gets you 80% of the results. With wushu I realized that not all basic techniques are equal. Some of them have a bigger impact on your wushu than others. So this questions is a part of my search to find the highest return on your wushu training investment.
Of course, I have to explain what “wushu basic techniques” are, since that will affect the answer. Here are how I define them:
- It is a single technique, not a combination of techniques. In other words, “wu bu quan” (五步拳, or “Five Stance Form”) or Tan Tui (弹腿) doesn’t count because it is a combination of several basic techniques.
- I usually ask about techniques related to Chang Quan (长拳 | “Long Fist”) since (1) most coaches aren’t as familiar with basics from Nan Quan (南拳 | “Southern Fist”), and (2) most athletes start with Chang Quan basics regardless of what style they end up with. (I’ll revisit this with the 5 basics for Nan Quan at another time)
- I don’t include jumping techniques nor Nan Du (难度 | “Difficulty Movements”)
- I don’t include conditioning exercises, such as wind sprints or plyometric jumping. Just wushu techniques.
Coming up with 2 or 3 techniques is pretty easy for most of the people I ask. In fact, most of the first few are pretty widely agreed upon. Its the last few that bring out some pretty good conversation when you’re recharging at a hutong eatery over a plate of lamb sticks and soy beans.
Without further delay, here we go!
#1: MaBu – GongBu – Chong Quan (马步弓步冲拳 | Horse Stance – Bow Stance – Straight Punch)
Without a doubt, this was the universally agreed-upon choice for the top spot. Not a single person I asked didn’t say this one, and most everyone said it first. But what is it about this technique that has it providing such a positive impact on your wushu?
This technique works on several areas that are crucial to proper wushu. Specifically …
- It contains two of the main stances in wushu, the Ma Bu and Gong Bu
- It emphasizes a strong stance transition
- It makes you focus on good body alignment — especially with the hips
- It focuses your attention on how to generate power from the ground, legs, hips, torso and through the arms and fist.
It also helps with both parts of stance work: the passive stance holding for endurance of the muscles, as well as active stance transitions for power generation and execution.
Besides the standing punch, this is probably the first technique most of us learn (and often the bane of our existence as a beginner wushu student). But when someone does this one right, it is just amazing.
Here is a video of members of the 1980’s Beijing Wushu Team performing the technique. It is at 8:45 on this video:
And here are some students in Beijing practicing this technique:
#2: Zheng Ti Tui (正踢腿 | Front Stretch Kick)
A close second is the front stretch kick, which was the second most common answer I received to the question.
Why? Because this kick helps with just about every other kick you do. It also helps you with a few key areas:
- Flexibility: C’mon! It has “stretch” in the name! This kick is great for helping build up leg flexibility.
- Posture: From the tips of your fingers to your shoulders, chest and back — this technique is a killer for helping you build good posture.
- Core Strength: There is a strong emphasis on having a strong mid-section, especially with the lower abs that bring up the leg.
- Relaxation: The more relaxed you are, the faster your kick. It teaches the importance of relaxation for developing speed.
And there are related kicks to this one as well which you could work on, such as the cross stretch kick or the side stretch kick, both of which are also excellent to practice.
Here are members of the Shandong Wushu Team in 2005 performing this technique:
And here is some more classic Beijing Wushu Team versions of this technique:
If you want more details on the Zheng Ti Tui, then I highly recommend checking out this article on the correct ways and means of doing this vital basic technique. Essential reading for the wushu enthusiast!
#3: Pu Bu Chuan Zhang ( 仆步穿掌 | Drop Stance Threading Palm)
The smooth transition from Pu Bu to Gong Bu is one of the trickiest and hardest for beginners to perform. The requirement isn’t just on flexibility to go from a low Pu Bu (hard enough by itself) and into a stable and low Gong Bu (also challenging on its own), but having the leg strength to go along with that flexibility means you’re just adding lemon juice on your wound.
The other benefit of this technique is that the coordination of the upper body with the lower body is challenging for new students. You have to not just coordinate your arms, waist and legs, but you’re also changing rotational direction from the high stance. That throws a lot of people off at first.
Here are some of the areas that you can build up using this technique:
- Flexibility: As I mentioned above, the Pu Bu to Gong Bu requires a good range of motion and hip flexibility
- Leg Strength: Going from High Stance to Pu Bu to Gong Bu is a real thigh burner!
- Extension: Reach forward through the stance transition with your fingers and palm
Here is a video showing old school Beijing Team peeps performing a version of this technique:
And here is a video showing the entire sequence:
This can also be a challenging technique for people with poor ankle flexibility or tight hips, but it’s also a great way to help condition the body to improve those deficiencies. Oh, and this one is also great for loosening up the shoulders and building that rotational power from the waist.
Speaking of which …
#4: Wu Long Pai Di (“Wheeling Arms, Ground Slap”)
Where this technique really excels is the need to coordinate a good hip transition and rotation. It also helps you build up your Pu Bu endurance.
One of the main challenges new wushu athletes have with this form is loosening up your shoulders. Since tight shoulders are a common issue with beginners, this technique is perfect for helping you keep things loose.
Plus, this move looks pretty cool if done right.
For example …
And another example:
#5: Xing Bu (行步 | Traveling Stance)
“What? Xing Bu? What’s that?” Some of you might be wondering.
While not the most popular basic to practice, this stepping technique (sometimes called “Snake Walking”) will force you to work on a part of wushu that often gets ignored — flavor.
This move requires you to really show good expression as well as commitment to the technique. If you do this move with less than 100% intention, it looks like you’re just walking with your hands up while drunk. But when you do it right, you can show martial spirit and awesome technique.
This is also a great way to cover ground on the carpet. Since most people just sort of run across the carpet in a sequence of Dan Pai Jiao (Front Slap Kicks) or Za Quan (Hammer Fists), this can help you stand out. And even many athletes who do a version of Xing Bu, aren’t really doing it right. Running in a circular pattern is not Xing Bu. It requires you to have a heel-toe step with one foot always on the ground and the knees bent. Almost like speed walking, in a way … but cooler.
This technique also helps with posture, leg strength, and core strength. Where most people have a problem is the alignment of their arms and hands with their waist, either doing the push palms too narrow, too wide, or in the wrong direction. I like to think of this like a tangent on a circle. The angles are not so acute, but you want to constantly be riding the edge of the curve of where you are stepping.
Here is a video of the amazing Liu Qing Hua performing a Xing Bu in her 1997 Chang Quan form. It is at 0:49 on this video and you can definitely see the difference in how she does it vs. people who just run in a semi-circle.
Basic Wushu Techniques Honorable Mentions
Of course there are a LOT of great fundamental techniques, and many others have been brought up when I asked this question. Here are a few favorites that are worth sharing:
Zhuan Yao (Waist Turn)
This is great for opening up the hips and waist rotation. There are different versions of this technique (sometimes called a “horizontal body turn”), but here is a video to show you which one I’m talking about (performed by Beijing Wushu Team members):
Dan Pai Jiao (Front Slap Kick – Continuous Version)
Good for developing explosive kicks and good slaps. Here is a walking version of the technique (hard to find the continuous version on youtube for some reason).
Dan Tui Chong Quan (front snap kick straight punch)
Helps with hip flexor strength, explosive power, waist coordination and punching power. Here is the Beijing Wushu Team again performing this technique:
So, what does it all mean?
So, now that you know this information, what does it mean?
For me, it means that I can create a training routine that is short, compact, and has a big impact on my wushu no matter where I am.
Many of us aren’t professional athletes with hours each day to train. If you’re traveling, short on time, have a job, kids, etc., then this means you can still work on your wushu without having to commit hours and hours to a full class.
A Wushu Circuit Training Routine
Take these techniques and create a circuit training routine where you focus on each one. Here is an example of one you can do, but by all means it isn’t set in stone. Experiment and find the training program that works best for you:
1) Warm up (stretching, jumping jacks, sprints, burpies … break a sweat and loosen up your muscles and joints for the workout. If you do this well you can get there in around 10 minutes.
2) Do a rotation of the following circuit: (repetitions numbers are for beginner | intermediate | advanced athletes respectively)
- Zheng Ti Tui: 20 | 40 | 60 in a row, rest 1 minute
- MaBu GongBu transitions: 10 | 20 | 30 in a row, rest 1 minute
- Wu Long Pai Di: 10 | 20 | 30 each side continuous, rest 1 minute
- Pu Bu Chuan Zhang: 10 | 20 | 30 each side, rest rest 1 minute
- Continuous Dan Pai Jiao: 10 | 20 | 30 each side
3) Rest for 2 ~ 3 minutes. Then do it again. If you’re short on time, then one sequence is great. If you have more time, then try to do 3 to 5 circuits. The whole circuit, including rest time, should take you about 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how many reps of each exercise you do.
4) Conditioning: After you finish the circuits, you can also add in some conditioning as follows:
- MaBu GongBu Holding: 10 sets of 5 | 10 | 20 second holds – basically hold mabu for 5 – 20 seconds, then, without getting up, transition to gong bu and hold for 5 – 20 seconds, then back to mabu and then to gong bu on the other side. one set is 4 holds (2 mabu and 2 gong bu each side).
- Xing Bu figure 8 to Dan Pai Jiao: 5 | 10 | 15 figure 8’s – run Xing Bu in a figure 8 pattern and at the end of each figure 8 do a 3 step running dan pai jiao. Then rest for 30 seconds and do another one. This exercise is basically like a wushu wind sprint, and great for training your endurance and leg strength.
- Dan Tui Chong Quan holding: Do a dan Tui Chong Quan and hold your leg out for 10 | 20 | 30 seconds, then do the other leg and hold out for the same time. Go through 10 kicks (or more if you like). Great for hip flexor strength.
5) Rest 1 minute. Then do it again. Try to do 2 circuits of conditioning if you’re a beginner and 5 if you’re advanced. It will take you around 10 to 20 minutes depending on your level of fitness and how many you do.
6) After you finish, don’t forget to stretch and cool down!
So, there you have it. If your’e short on time, just do one circuit of the basics and conditioning – that should take you around 25 to 30 minutes. If you’re going for it and have more time, this could be an hour workout or longer.
This isn’t meant as a replacement for your normal training, but as a supplement for those days when you don’t have time for a full class or you aren’t able to train with your teacher.
Of course your coach knows best so always confer with them when thinking about supplementing your training outside of the wushu guan.
What Did I Miss?
So, what about you? Do you agree with these 5 techniques? What techniques would you include as well? Have any favorites that should be mentioned? Post them up in the comments below and share! I’d love to get more feedback and learn what other techniques to add to my training.
Before we finish up, I wanted to share with you a great video of the Shanghai Wushu Team in St. Petersburg, Russia from 2011. (It has over 30,000 views, so odds are you’ve seen it by now.) The great thing about this video is that almost all the 5 techniques I mentioned above (with the exception of Xing Bu) are demonstrated on this short, compact video. Plus, it’s just a great video to get you pumped up to train.
So, that’s it for now. As always .. train hard!