By John Dennen
Preparation is the entry level class at the Shaolin Temple UK. Every new student needs to go through it in order to progress to the higher levels. It is also advisable to keep practising the elements of this class, even once the level has been passed. This is because the preparation class focuses on the fundamentals that will serve as the basis for any further development. Here there is a heavy emphasis on stamina and flexibility, all essential for a martial artist.
The class is explosive, featuring bursts of activity at the high intensity one needs to fight. Exercises like running on the spot, press ups and squats are all great for fitness and strengthening the body. But even these simple exercises have a deeper meaning. Raising the knee high, for instance, is more than running on the spot. The ball of the foot needs to bounce off the ground, as in a sprint, because this is how you generate the speed needed to deliver kicks properly. Furthermore, if the knee is raised high enough, up to the elbow, later this can be used as a blocking technique.
New students are also subjected to rigorous flexibility training. This is an aspect of the class that can be discouraging. But it is crucial because good flexibility means these movements can be executed with speed. It also gives you more options in your kicking, allowing you to trick low and strike high and vice versa. New students should not worry about forcing themselves as low as those who have more experience. They need to push their muscles as far as they can go but without compromising the form. High kicks are also drilled so this flexibility can be deployed with effective speed and power.
The preparation level also introduces the five classic stances of Shaolin gong fu; gong bu, ma bu, xie bu, pu bu and xu bu. On their own they provide excellent conditioning for the legs and lower body. But the class employs movements which combine the different stances into movements along with punches and kicks. These patterns provide the basis of the co-ordination and conditioning for combat techniques. All five of these stances are combined in the primary form, wu bu quan.
To move on to the next level, a student must pass a preparation exam with a minimum of 60 points out of a possible 100. The student needs to demonstrate knowledge of the Chinese names of the Shaolin gong fu movements and answer questions on the theory behind the gong fu.