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Rock Solid

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Martial Weight Training
Of all the remarkable medical breakthroughs and amazing inventions of Chinese innovation, one of the most influential developments to emerge from the Middle Kingdom was gongfu. Warfare has been the shaping element of China since its first habitation. Accordingly, the evolution of folk wushu and Shaolin arts changed the course of Chinese history—from the establishment of the Tang Dynasty to the Boxer Rebellion and beyond. Monks could defend their monasteries, citizens enjoyed better health and self-preservation, and warlords enjoyed greater success in battle. But the strength and speed required to gain the upper hand was usually not innate. Challenging routines utilizing weighted rings, spheres, locks and heavy weaponry were developed to enhance the static stance postures and combat routines already choreographed. Practice with brass/copper rings (often “dragon/tiger claw rings”) and large mouthed jars was especially helpful in developing finger and hand strength for qin na applications. By clutching the mouth of the filled jar or the ring’s perimeter, immense power could also be developed in the forearms and wrists. Heavy “iron pens” or “judge’s brushes” (pan guan bi) could also serve the same training purpose while doubling as a lethal weapon. While smaller tools and weights emphasized the hand and forearm, the stone lock allowed the martial artist to train the muscle groups along the entire arm as well as the torso, shoulders, chest, and legs. Through years of experience and observation, the Shaolin monastery collected many bodybuilding drills that utilized stone locks and similar weights. Monks and masters also emphasized that only through diligent training and good intent would one succeed in achieving superhuman strength and endurance.

How to Train with a Stone Lock
Like any bodybuilding or aerobic routine, results are developed over time with persistent training. Traditionally, it is taught that the body should be given a day to rest the muscles between each workout session. The traditional stone lock workout consists of swinging and lifting routines performed in sets of several repetitions (from 5-50, depending on ability) after which the lock is transferred (often by spinning or flipping the lock in midair) to the alternate hand.

The vast majority of lock exercises are not stationary poses. Rather, muscle groups along the entire body—from the legs to torso to arms—are kept in continuous motion by raising and sinking one’s stance along with the swinging lock. This combination of physical and internal elements can greatly improve coordination and synchronization. Proper breathing, as in all exercises, is extremely important to maintain endurance (and of course consciousness!). Surely most people are aware of someone who had passed out due to trying to work out too hard too fast. In order to prevent harm to muscles, joints, and tendons, sufficient stretching and warming up should always precede any type of physical exercise, specially when working with free weights.

Traditional Shaolin Stone Lock (shi suo)
Traditional Shaolin stone lock (shi suo) techniques have evolved through the martial lineages of monk-masters and generals for centuries. Training with the heavy stone lock results in increased muscular power, bone tenacity, and overall coordination and balance. The traditional locks were usually carved from solid rock or molded like a brick. The large, blockish base constitutes most of mass, while the strong handle provides the means to control the block. The basic lock maneuvers for building strength consist of swinging and hoisting the lock while gripping the handle. Advanced exercises include manipulating the lock with one’s elbows/forearms, spinning the stone in midair, or heaving the weight while maintaining low stance postures.

Traditional "Tiger Claw" Balls
(hu zhao qiu)
Traditional “tiger claw” balls (hu zhao qiu) are usually made of metal, ceramics, or shaped stone. The sphere should be chosen so that the weight is challenging (but not overwhelming—start small) and student’s fingertips can clutch the ball. Since practicing forms or techniques with this hand posture improves strength and endurance in the fingers and wrists, this type of training often accompanies qin na (seizing/joint manipulation) and dian xue (pressure point attacks).

Today, metal ball bearings or athletic shot puts can be substituted for stone balls. Shot puts can be found in most sporting goods stores and ball bearings of various sizes can be obtained from rail yards or machine shops.

Big Stone Ball (da shi qiu)
Occasionally seen in movies and picture books, the “big stone ball” (da shi qiu) is a rarity in contemporary training regimens. The origin of using round boulders for bodybuilding is said to have emerged during the era of Emperor Shi Huangdi—whose civilian construction workers became renowned for their muscular strength and endurance after just a few months of hauling rock. To many people, the round stone has become affiliated with Tai Chi and Chi Kung, but its benefits transcend regional or systemic boundaries. Common exercises consist of rolling the ball at torso level (like many Tai Chi postures), coordinating “walking” routines, and slowly raising and lowering the weight in front and to the sides of the body.

Amongst all the great benefits of these ancient methods, there are of course potential hazards when training with kung fu stones. The sheer weight of the lock or sphere can cause substantial bodily damage if dropped on oneself or accidentally propelled at someone else. Great care should be taken when practicing with any kind of free weight to avoid pulling and overworking of muscles and joints. Because great momentum can be built up through swinging, it is crucial that the student find a clear, open space to practice under the supervision of a knowledgeable instructor.

Training with stone apparatuses out of doors is perfect, provided the area is sandy or grassy, should the lock be dropped or the student lose his balance. Indoor training areas should be equally designated with safety in mind. Traditionally, sandpits set in the studio floor prevented rocks from breaking if accidentally dropped; thick padding can also serve the same purpose.

While its roots are buried in antiquity, the practice and applications of the kung fu stone lock are far from obsolete. History teaches us that those things that are impractical and unbeneficial are not retained in human memory—the lock’s very existence in modern training halls testifies of its usefulness. The stone lock has been time-tested and warrior-approved as a great tool for enhancing the kung fu regimen of any student of the Chinese martial arts.

About the author: Jake Fitisemanu is a university undergraduate and student of Shandong Shaolin gongfu under Master Cheng Tsang Lu. Master Lu is a two time Taiwan National Champion and licensed TCM doctor. His esteemed Chung Shing Shaolin Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as Master Leary’s school, is the exclusive source of Shandong gongfu and traditional stone lock training in the region.

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