The author states that "[i]t is impossible to perfect oneself in all 72 Arts" and that is probably because there are just so many of them it would take more years than a person has to live. So, we are either stuck with trying to develop a low to moderate skill in 72 different skills or a Mastery in just a handful over the course of a lifetime. The great thing about this is that you have your base set of skill and then, essentially, these 72 Arts are specialized skill sets or abilities. It's reminds me a lot of distributing skill points in video games, if that makes it easier to understand. You have a maximum of skill points you can spend, so choose wisely, because redistributing them at a later time is not really an option. So, in general, pick Arts that you like or find attractive for whatever reason, and then practice them relentlessly.
We're going to start with the basics. These exercises are to be done no matter which Arts you select and are to be practiced on a regular basis and are never abandoned. So this will be the subject of this first post on the 72 Arts of Shaolin-- the basics.
Retsu Kaioh's Training- The Basics
(Note: To be done before any and all 72 Arts training sessions.)
1. Suspending the Golden Coin -This art requires either a coin with a hole in it (or you could use a larger washer) to be suspended from a string.
>The First Stage- Stand close to the coin and push it away from you gently. As it comes close to your eye, try not to blink. When the coin can come very close to your eye without blinking, you can move to the next stage. However, you must practice the first stage even if you attain the second stage.
>The Second Stage- Stand with the coin behind your back and listen for the sound of its movement. Really focus on the sound. You don't have to react, merely focus. After a time, the author says, the skill with spontaneously reveal itself. It's half meditation, half ear training.
2. Hanging Pearl of Buddha- This art requires a pearl (or a small sphere) to be placed on a string in front of you and behind you while in a seated position. You could use a heavy bead on a string, for example. Have both of them swinging from side to side, one behind you and one in front. Try not to blink and also listen to the sound of the one behind you. Randomly reach out an attempt to grasp a "pearl" with two fingers. When you can successfully do this for both "pearls" you will have acheived a high level of skill with this exercise.
3. 1,000 Layers of Paper- This art requires 1,000 sheets of paper to be attached to a wooden block at waist height. Hand and elbow techniques are to be employed. However, I believe that a good substitute for the 1,000 shees of paper is a heavy bag. You make your own decision, though.
Attempt to deliver as many different kinds of strikes as you can think of-- slaps, punches, elbows, forearms, chops-- from as many angles as you can think-- from the side, front, behind you-- whatever. The author says if you train this skill (I'm assuming almost every day) for six months, the first stage will be complete. The second after a year and the third after two years. "Punches will be rapid like rain drops during wind blasts," the author says.
4. Circle RUYI- This exercise is for gripping. It involves two metal rings of varying weights. Initially, the metal rings should weight approximately 3-5 lbs a piece and held in each hand by the fingers. You will make circles with the ring in your fingers. Essentially, you hold the ring and shift your fingers like you're rubbing them together in order for the circle to turn.
You'll work your way to only being able to do it with your thumb and forefinger and you've completed the first stage. You shouldn't neglect your other fingers if you can do it with just the thumb and forefingers, practice with all five every time and take one finger away every so often. After you complete the first stage, you increase the weight of the circles to 8 or 9 lbs and start over. The third stage is 15-17 lbs and is the final stage. You'll stay here after you've reached this level.
Doing both hands at once also build coordination. The "rings" do not have to be circular and don't have to have a hole in the center. You could use a flat piece of metal or something like it as long as it weighs about what you need it to weigh.
5. Striking at Cotton-Wool Ball- Take a cotton ball or a piece of wool and hang it from a string. Punch, kick, finger strike, kick, elbow, or palm strike at the cotton ball. The point is to develop pinpoint striking. You can strike continuously at the cotton, but be careful about overextending your joints. Eventually, you can do two cotton balls and do simultaneous attacks to each.
6. Striking at Wooden Dummy- You need a thick log in the ground, like a telephone pole or something and you need to attach cross arms to it to make it look more like a person. Wrap the arms and the body with wool and leather. Employ as many different kinds of strikes, pushes, or grab attacks as you can think. You can strike with your shoulder, hip, fist, or whatever body part you like.An alternative is if you have access to a real wooden dummy.
7. Kicking at Wooden Pole- Pretty much the same as the wooden dummy, but no cross arms. Also, this comes in stages.
>Stage One- Deliver kicks from a stationary position and try not to shift your weight too much.
>Stage Two- Deliver kicks from simple stepping motions or turns. Includes Stage One.
>Stage Three- Deliver kicks from jumping or spinning. Includes Stages One and Two.
The author says that when you can break a thick pole by kicking, it shows the emergence of gong fu. Whether or not you can break the pole by kicking is not certain, but it's a goal!
8. Kicking at Flying Meteor- Hang three or four goose-egg size stones from a beam. Kick the stones to make them swing in different directions. You can hang them directly in front of you or one at each side, front, and back. You can have them at varying heights or all at one height and raise them as you get better at kicking. Employ many different kicks and when you can kick all of them without any of them swinging back and hitting you, you have acheived a high level of kicking skill.
- Ok, I know this seems like a lot, but it's only eight exercises. If you devoted 5-10 minutes to each before you trained you're 2-4 Arts selections, your total training time for a day would be approximately 2 hours. That is a long time to be training, but you can work up to that level or only work on perfecting a single Art if you lack time.
- If you have to choose between practicing an Art and doing the basics, please do the basics.
- Take your time and practice-- you'll see results soon enough.