When Dr. Yang trained with his White Crane students, they had a room with 12 bags which could be adjusted for height, size, and hardness. The smaller bags were softer and the top of each bag was softer compared to the bottom. Chalk was applied to the bags and each person would try to strike the bags without being hit by one (chalk would show up on their clothes). Candles were lit in the corner of each room and the students had to sense what was a bag, another student, and shadows. They would take one candle out at a time until there were none.
The 9 bags in our gym were designed to mimic the old training grounds, though the equipment (and students using them) are far from the same.
When we first started training with the bags last semester, the senior students told us we should train different types of hand strikes (punches, cuts, palm strikes, side strikes, elbows, etc… kicks would come later), close or medium range strikes depending on distance from the bag, rooting, footwork around the bag, different target heights, work on technique and not just try to hit it as hard as you can, etc…
I still had no clue on how to train this so I’d try to throw everything I knew at every height and range while trying to maintain good root (it was not). The bags would mock me by bumping me from behind and giving me bruises on my knuckles.
This semester, I asked Dr. Yang for a progression and he gave me this list:
Stages (build root & body structure at each):
2. Rocking (shift between Four Six Stance & Mountain Climbing Stance)
3. Moving around the bag
4. Add more bags
I didn’t want to get beat up by the bags anymore, so I started thinking about my own progression. I broke things down and came up with a routine.
1. Bare hand straight punches to condition the hands (rocking):
I’ve had little bits of skin rip on my knuckles and fingers which is bad because it hurts to punch the bag (I know I sound like a pansy), I get blood on the bags, and I have to use a new Bandaid each time. I condition with bare hands until I can’t take it anymore and then I put on my gloves.
2. Additional strikes (stationary & rocking):
With gloves on, I can punch harder and last longer, but I also start to add cuts and palm strikes.
3. Power and form training (rocking):
The bags are about 3 feet apart and as a measuring tool, I’m currently using the lightest bag and seeing if I can punch it far enough to hit the next bag. Once I can do it with both hands, I’ll move to the next heaviest bag. I also pay attention to my form. For symmetry power, I start with one hand at the waist (it punches) and the other touching the bag (it pulls back to waist). I shift from Four Six Stance to Mountain Climbing Stance and try not to fall into my habit of rising up. I try to feel the power coming from the ground to my foot, legs, waist, arms, hands, and (ideally) to the back of the bag. The coordination is much harder than it seems. Sometimes I make sounds to help manifest power. (I’ll blog about sounds in the future).
4. One bag angling and forwards/backwards (moving):
I strike while moving around the bag, trying to maintain root and keeping one leg in front of the other so my groin isn’t exposed. Of course when you move, there may be a split second when you are exposed, so you have to make sure you’re in a safe position.
5. Two bags (stationary):
I stand between two bags and strike at them while trying to avoid being bumped. I start adding hooks and elbows in addition to punches, cuts, and palm strikes. I mix it up by going slower for more power and hitting the bags so they’re further away from me, or going for speed and adding 2 or 3 strikes to one bag before moving on to the other. This is also a good core work out.
6. Patterns (rocking):
Lastly, I work on techniques I feel I would use against someone. On both sides, I do a block up & punch high (“deflect and punch” in Lian Bu Quan), block down & punch middle, and block high & punch low. Sometimes I sub the punches for cuts or palm strikes. I started out doing the patterns in a specific order to make sure I would do each one, but now I’m starting to mix them up.
That’s it for now. I can see that there will be many more steps and variations to add in the future. I try to do steps 1-3 and 6, and I may alternate between 4 and 5 depending on how much time I have. I like to spend a minimum of 20 minutes on this 3-4 days per week. I’d train longer, but there are too many other things to train and I need to save on Bandaids.
Separately, I also started to train Lian Bu Quan and Gong Li Quan between the bags to change angles and go for different distanced targets.
If you have any tips on training with bags, please share!