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  • Writer's pictureJohnny

Career Ending Injuries

One Month at Er Zu Temple

In my first month at Er Zu Temple. I was able to experience quite a bit. Hikes up mountains, interactions with locals in the village, and even a nice trip to Yue Xi City. My favorite interaction were the short conversations that I would have with Master Zhang. From learning about power, to understanding theories, all the way to my last conversation with him about flexibility.

On my last Friday, we had just finished an exhausting hour of acrobatics. Working solely on getting the aerial. Warmed up from all the jumping and flipping, we moved on to power stretching. After two students finished stretching my legs, I took it upon myself to work on the side splits. Seeing Master Zhang watch over us carefully, I asked him; "Can you do the splits?"

Looking left and right, he quietly shook his head no. "Fair.", I thought to myself. Even at Maling, most coaches couldn't do the splits anymore. This was due to age, injury, and just lack of training for flexibility. As I stood up to shake off my strained legs, Master Zhang approached me. Still massaging my legs I told him, "I've practiced for a long time but still can't touch."

"That is the hardest split to do. Most professionals can't do it without warmup."

Smiling he continued;

"It's especially difficult to do when you're older. Beyond the age of 15, your bones begin to harden. For some people, the hip hardens with a wide opening making the side split easier for them. Others, their hip hardens with a narrow opening. Making the split more difficult, if not impossible, for some."

"What about older students?"

I nodded, listening closely to what he was saying. My legs still wobbly from my own attempt at the most difficult split.

"Most professional Kung Fu/Wushu practitioners don't do this kind of power stretching. Instead, stretching is done on their own. At their own pace. This is because after many years of training. A good practitioner will understand their body, and any injuries, well. At later stages of training, the most important things are doing moves correctly, with power, and speed. Most people are able to kick higher than their flexibility allows, especially after warming up. So being able to touch the floor in the splits isn't important."

My eyebrows raised in surprise. This was very different from what I heard from other coaches. Most say that the splits, front and side, are a minimum requirement for Kung Fu. Especially the performers. This has been part of the reason for me wanting to improve my flexibility. So I asked, "What about older students?".

"We do power stretching here as part of the training experience. Also to push the older students towards their potential. Most normal people are not even close to their flexibility potential. But you must be careful as that is one of the two 'career ending'* injuries. Injuring the hip bone can stop your training. The other severe injury is your back. These two injuries cause most people to stop Kung Fu."

*'career ending' is my translation of a phrase he used often. 练不了,which means 'can't practice'. But the situation he was talking about was not being able to practice for good after the injury.

He continued to talk more on the topic. Even telling a story about a fellow student who broke their hip bone while stretching; making them walk with a limp! Planting the seed of caution in myself for my own training.

Something for Everyone

Listening to Master Zhang made me realize that he has a lot of experience teaching. Not just Kung Fu, but teaching this art to a wide range of people. His understanding of anatomy, age, and the toll that this practice takes on the body shows through how he pushes the students. It also made me enjoy the art more. Looking around, seeing people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 70s all training Kung Fu together. There is something for everyone at any stage of their life.

After talking about the splits with Master Zhang, class was over. My first month finished. The conversation floated around in my mind as I walked the steps of the temple. These lessons are what I'd like to bring back to my training at home. Lessons that let us see our potential while being realistic to our current situation. It's just like Master Zhang said on my first week:

"Kung Fu isn't about being better than others. It's about bettering yourself."


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