Strength Training : building a foundation.

TLDR: I have never focused on the bench press or the curl. I will never suggest that my students train on an elliptical machine or most of the other machines common to the local box store gym. In my field of study, these are time wasting exercises– they do little for your strength or endurance.  Instead, I would suggest you train movement based skills which mirror your goal as a martial artist.  Focus on having specific goals for weight training and refine your definition of strong. Make your day-to-day successful so you can focus on your real work. If you can, make your day job a part of your training, or at the very least, the enabler to it.


Naturally very active, I made the outdoors my playground. I was always in the forest or tromping through the river.  This sounds trivial, but it is a strong base for all of the other activities I will discuss here.  Point is, I kept much of my natural strength and mobility.

Growing up, I did odd jobs on local farms such as rock removal from the  fields, fruit picking, animal stall cleaning, etc.

My first real job was  to carry furniture at the shop my dad worked in. I was at the age of 13 and it was kind of forced on me. But this was how I made my money and how I gained a foot hold in strength training. I had been doing this for less than 2 years when I started training Gung Fu a few short miles from where we worked.  I now wanted to go to work with my dad so in the afternoon I could ride my bike to my sifu’s house and train. It was a 40 minute drive from my home  to where class was, making it much harder to get to if I skipped work! I walked more than once.  This went on until I was a late teen as I had no driver’s license until later.

I got into landscaping as I was in my 20’s. My task was to dig holes and carry big ass trees.  We also had to haul all the excess dirt and sod out. I often found myself working for 12 hours a day digging giant holes in the clay …but then I would go to my martial art class.

I worked general construction as well. I often found myself climbing scaffolding and carrying tools up and down a ladder. We would do roofing work just as often as I was in some old crawlspace. I dug ditches and built things that I had no interest in building….so I could afford to pay for my martial art training.

I later found myself working for a relocation company. This meant that I would spend a large portion of the day carrying all manner of house hold goods from the customer’s old house to the semi-trailer, and then I would drive it an hour or more to the new location. There we would unload the truck. We often ran into…complications. But I went to Gung Fu class–without fail.

In fact, I quit this job when I was consistently being sent farther and farther from home…I loved to travel the country but I was only working so that I could train.

Long ass story cut short, I got the job done so that I could make it to class…which meant I hustled all day long. I was not often a good employee but I was a great worker.  I did this shit for five and sometimes six days a week, often times working 12 hours at a go. I maintained daily training as my priority which meant my day started early and ended late.

I would still have energy and discipline to make it to class almost without fail –despite the very real exhaustion and the long hours that I kept because I enjoyed what I was doing. When I was not working, I would take every opportunity to surround myself with martial arts training. I was often seen at my instructor’s house training after hours. I knew then as I know now : training is the secret ingredient.

You must enjoy something to make it part of you and to enjoy it is to get good at it.

Training Gung Fu is my way of relaxation as well. There is always something that can be practiced…the art of soft and hard power.


Despite long hours of physical work I made a point to train daily,

Thus I earned what I have learned and So can you.

Because of this,  when I hear ________ excuses to justify poor training habits what I hear is you do not want to put in the effort it takes to train. For some bazaar reason, humans do this in-place of simply modifying short term expectations and maintaining goal driven habits. For a true gung fu person, quitting is not an option.

Strength comes from the mind. If you enjoy something you will make time.

If you make the time you will get better.

   How do I exercise? This is the real question, right?
First, FUCK-OFF with the exercise, I train.

There is a difference, and you need to know it.

But to answer this question simply;  I do the same things I did when I had time off work. I just do more of it.

You must make good use of a human partner to facilitate the vast majority of strength and conditioning skills of southern mantis. This is the proper way. In mantis gung fu you can not condition or strengthen properly without a competent training partner–this is the hardest obstacle to navigate.

Spend  30 minutes on one exercise such as the grinding hands or listening hands,  and you will see  the papers tigers fall from traditional training. Strength is redefined and many can not comprehend this.  Hence the laughter of zen.

There are many dozens of partner drills called jongs. Each jong will introduce as well as reinforce  strength and conditioning with martial intent.  These soft partner skills must dominate the training syllabus if you expect martial skill.

However,  this type of conditioning is not the topic here. We are looking more at strength training in the classical sense

A great many supplemental forms and drills are trained for when there is no partner to work with.

Pay attention, and you will realize that there are yoga & chi gung practices ripe within the mantis fist system.

 I teach traditional muscle tendon changing chi gung as expressed in a variety of Chinese Martial Art forms and training routines.

These skills combine structured movement, mindful breathing, and muscle activation to form a connected set. One set may be practiced in a variety of ways.

Each routine will have points of focus from which to maintain, some are obviously martial in nature while others are more developmental and obscure.

In my opinion, the value of traditional form training is many times more than most ever realize or appreciate; although, forms are what everyone wants to know. The value of a form is solely based upon the depth of the intellectual knowledge surrounding the routine. There are many forms in southern mantis to practice, and I suspect more on the way.    I train forms every day as my life choice. This path to strength training takes great mental focus and dedication just as with any other proven way of self cultivation.


yijinjing excerpt

Mantis fist operates within a spiral.

You  continuously revisit and reinforce the most basic skills.

This is a focal point to the long term student of Southern Praying Mantis. You will consistently refine the basic principles of the art.

This is the long sought secret that many fail to appreciate.

 Forms are difficult and hard to master. Practice each movement to develop proper intent

and then

Move beyond the forms.

Prerequisites in training.

You must consider your current state and acknowledge structural dysfunctions as well as strengths when setting expectations in training. Then look at the goals set by your chosen system. These things will all dictate the order of operations between  body weight training and using additional weight for strength training. People often say they want to start lifting weights to get strong in martial art, but if I see that they can not properly move their bodies, I must pause.

I am a firm believer that if you can not properly squat under your own naked body weight (as you are with nothing added) then you have no business doing it with any additional weight.

Don’t fret! There are hundreds of body-weight-only methods to build incredible strength and mobility!

Train strength through mobility above all else!

 Do not underestimate the need to hold and/or move your own body –efficiently. The art of movement should cover all ranges of motion and all gates.  Movement should be dynamic and fun. This is where you really get to reinforce your  structure and endurance. Look close to find the martial application. Here you gain a true power–one  that will follow you into many aspects of your life.


mobility warm up

100 yogi squat challenge


100 jump back challenge


100 advanced press up challenge


100 roll back challenge




Those that are stiff and ridged are below. Those that are soft and supple are above- Lao Tzu



Traditional body weight training will reinforce your mobility and is the foundation to proper martial art. I trained in martial mobility and calisthenics for more then 20 years before I moved into weight training.


Free hand movement


Weight Training

Note: Many of the  skills shown here for strength training in martial art should be considered advanced unless you want to fuck up your back or worse. You should listen to me.  Mastering the progressions  is the intelligent way of doing things. Be mindful in what you attempt and always follow the advice of your instructor! Haste in training is a mistake made by many.  There are no shortcuts. No pills and no powders will develop what we seek. Discipline in training is what enables skill to develop–and that is up to you to manifest.

With that said,

there are  many exercises that you can do with only a few pounds of weight that will challenge your very sense of self– you just need to be creative. You will be amazed at what five or even two pounds can do!

So again, the idea of weight training is redefined to meet our  needs and standards as martial artists.

Digging in deep.

The famous weighted rings posses untold feedback, and I am consistently challenged with their strict nature. Weather you are on 1 pound or 25 lb (or even more) for each arm, go with complete focus. Work on individual hands,  saan sau, or use them in your form training. Be mindful with this tool as there is a method to this madness and you can easily over estimate your ability which could set you back many months. Iron does not lie–nor does it forgive. Follow the progressions for this training very closely if you want to gain benefit rather than injury through poor structure.

18 lohan hands



Bridge rolling is done by using a weighted bar along the double bridge positioning. There are several methods to this practice depending on the skill in which you are focusing on. Just like the iron rings, the bar rolling practice will build muscular endurance, bone conditioning and striking power. The true benefit though is in the structure which is stressed to a high level as time under tension increases.

Structure is strength.

double bridge  rolling 50 lb bar




I set out to master the many  traditional Shaolin stone-lock exercises to facilitate the locking and grappling skills

basic brick flipping


The modern kettlebell certainly is a great tool for this as well. I am nearing my goal of putting 1/2 my body weight ( 80 lb) over my head using several single handed lifts. Again, I would urge you to not skip the progressions built around this tool as injury is very likely if you do. I began with the ability to move my body following the correct ranges of motion before I started adding weight. I started extremely light working through the various progressions.

70 lb TGU



80 lb swings



Once dynamic pressure is added, it makes the exercise exponentially more difficult…Self regulating your own muscular intent and breath control is a very detailed science with proven results.

In Conclusion:

The rule to functional strength training is that you must be training toward a specific goal and make everything you do in the day directed toward that goal.

There are no secrets. Just hard work.


I have rambled far too much. Time to Go Train.