What do we train at the Shaolin Temple? – Part 1: Jibengong – The building blocks of Shaolin kung fu

Over the past 4 years, more than 80 people have joined us on our Warrior’s Way Kung Fu Bootcamps at the Shaolin Temple. After being asked “Where is the Warrior’s Way Kung Fu Bootcamp held?” and “How much does it cost?”, the next question is always “What do people learn on this program?”

To answer that, we have put together a few articles that explain in detail what kind of training we do at the Shaolin Temple, why it’s important, and how it all fits together to make a complete system and martial arts experience.

Today in Part 1, we look at one of the fundamental aspect of kung fu training, jibengong! So please, read on, enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions!

What does jibengong mean?

Jibengong, written as 基本功 in Chinese, translates directly as Basic (ji) Foundation (ben) Work (gong), which perfectly summarises what this set of techniques are. But as with many Chinese names and phrases, a simple translation doesn’t always convey everything a name means.

For example, the translation of ‘ji’ is basic. However, the word can also be translated as key, or primary, emphasising the importance of these techniques when used in the term jibengong. Then there is ‘ben’, or foundation. While foundation is a perfectly adequate translation, further consideration also shows that ‘ben’ can mean the root of something, or something of major or central importance, which is exactly what the techniques of jibengong are. Finally there is ‘gong’, or work, which is the same character that is used in the Chinese word ‘gongfu’ (or kungfu as is more commonly written.) While you could simply translate ‘gong’ as work, which is correct, ‘gong’ can also be (and in this case perhaps more appropriately) translated as ‘meritorious deed’ or ‘skillful achievement’. Bearing all those options in mind, another way to say jibengong could be The Key Foundations of Meritorious Skills!

Of course, it’s all open to interpretation. But as you can see, as with martial arts and Chinese culture in general, the deeper you go into your study and interpretation, the more there is to discover!

What is included in Jibengong training?

Typically, jibengong can be anything from simply staying in horse stance for a prolonged period of time, to sets of a specific techniques, such as a kick or punch, practiced in quick repetition again and again. These may sound easy at first glance, but the task of completing these exercises while already exhausted, together with meeting the high demands of both the CK Martial Hearts coach and your Shaolin Warrior Monk instructor, make these exercises anything but simple.

While many exercises can be considered jibengong, at the Shaolin Temple, there are 18 techniques which are traditionally considered original jibengong movements. 

1) 马步担扁 Ma bu dan dian : Punch in horse stance
2) 弓步行斜 Gong bu xie xing : Punch in archer stance
3) 仆步切掌 Pu bu qie zhang : Knife palm in drop stance
4) 虛步格掌 Xu bu ge zhang : Sword palm in empty stance
5) 歇步冲拳 Xie bu chong quan : Punch in twisting stance
6) 劈腿 Pi tui or 正踢腿  Zheng ti tui : Straight leg rising kick
7) 单拍腳 Dan pai jiao : Front snap kick
8) 外摆腳 Wai bai jiao : Outward swing kick
9) 里合腳 Li he jiao : Inward swing kick
10) 低弹腿 Di dan tui : Low front kick
11) 后蹬腿 Hou deng tui : Back kick
12) 侧踢腿 Ce ti tui : Side kick
13) 二起腳 Er qi jiao : Double snap kick
14) 漩风腳 Xuan feng jiao : Spinning kick
15) 空中外摆腳 Jia zhong wai bai jiao : Lotus kick
16) 前扫腿 Qian sao tui : Front sweep kick
17) 蝎子尾 Xie zi wei : Scorpion tail kick
18) 鸡行步 Ji xing bu : Chick leg stance

These stances and movements are built upon even more basic techniques, such as basic punching, stepping and horse stance techniques. As part of each warm up before each class, those fundamentals will also be practiced.

What is the purpose of Jibengong?

Mastering kung fu, or even just being any good at it, means not just to be able to fight, but to strengthen your mind, your body and your soul to the point where you simply cannot be stopped, because you refuse to stop. And to do that, to reach that place, you have to push through whatever your current limits are, go past whatever are barriers you have, to reach a level of strength, of speed, of balance and of clarity that most people do not have, or could even imagine. That is what you get through training jibengong.

Jibengong functions as the very epitome of what it means to train, and master, kung fu. As mentioned above, it is a major step on the path to developing or improving your martial arts acumen, achieved through constant and consistent practice of these fundamentals. In China, we have the saying “只要功夫深,铁杵磨成针” which translates as “The iron rod can be ground into a needle, as long as you keep working hard.” And this is exactly what jibengong aims to do; to instill the very essence of these techniques into your mind and body, through continuous repetition.

And continuous repetition does not simply mean 10 or 20 times a day, as it might in classes in the west. At the Shaolin Temple, students will be expected to practice at least 100 times, per technique, per class. And you will be expected to give 100% focus and effort on each movement, lest you be wasting your, and the teachers time, in practicing. But that requirement, demanding 100% from each execution, is part of what jibengong is and trains. It’s not just about the technique, whether it be a step, a kick or a block, but about how you as a person develop as you train. It is the intention you train with and reflect through your jibengong that will ultimately decide how far you can take your martial arts.

It is through training jibengong consistently and with 100% intention that you will develop your kung fu.

Jibengong – the path to martial greatness

It is a common mistake to think that studying kung fu, or being able to do kung fu well, means you know many forms or techniques. This is completely untrue. Having a truly high level of kung fu means that your jibengong is excellent, not that you have learnt 100 forms. Kung fu forms are merely different patterns of performing jibengong. 

Looking back at the history of martial arts study in China, and indeed still at many kung fu schools in the country, jibengong techniques would have to be mastered before a teacher would be willing to let students start practicing the actual kung fu forms, as every form is, at its core, the various jibengong techniques combined into different patterns.

Of course now, martial arts are taught slightly differently now. Most students aren’t able to dedicate whole years, let alone their lives, to the study of the arts. Teachers now teach the forms at a faster rate, and no longer demand students expertly execute each jibengong technique before even the first form is taught, instead opting to teach students simpler forms once they are familiar with simpler jibengong. Regardless of this fact, however, your ability to perform the jibengong will be the basis of how well you can understand and execute the Shaolin Tongbiquan form that you will also learn while at the temple.

Hopefully this short introduction to jibengong gives you a better idea of what this training method is, why it is so vital and why it forms such an important part of our training at the Shaolin Temple. In Part 2, the Tongbiquan form will be discussed in detail, including information about the history and characteristics of the style, and why it is perfect for short term study at the temple.

Thanks for reading, and as always please let us know if you have any questions!

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