Anyone who’s been in the Chinese martial arts for a period of time will be familiar with some sort of training prohibitions. Some of these prohibitions make perfect sense like don’t exercise with a full stomach. But, other prohibitions seem very far-fetched and almost mystical. To the Western mind some of these don’t make any sense at all. In this article we will tackle someone most common prohibitions and explain their reasoning.
Before we get started with explanations we should first layout some of the common prohibitions. Some of these you may have heard before and some of them might be new. This list is not all-inclusive and should not be taken as such. Listed above are just some general prohibitions that I can come up with off the top of my head while sitting in front of my computer. You can click on the links above and be taken to that section of the article.
So these are just some general prohibitions for practice. As you read the list I’m sure you can understand some and some might be a little confusing.
We will go into each of these prohibitions and explain them a little bit more.
You must keep in mind that these are just general prohibitions. Certain arts or certain practices might have their own specific prohibitions depending on the nature of the training, the goal of training, and the origin of the practice or art.
It’s important to remember that even though we might not understand the reasoning behind a certain prohibition we must remember that there is a reason these rules were passed down. These prohibitions were passed down so that students could benefit and avoid certain dangers. Even though the origin of certain rules might not follow what we consider scientific knowledge today, we must remember that they were created based on observations and experience.
Don’t Exercise When Too Full Or Too Hungry
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Even in Western culture we know that we should not eat a sandwich and then go for a run or that we must wait a certain period of time after eating to go swimming. This is just common knowledge and this same knowledge applies to the practice of traditional Chinese Kung Fu.
Before practicing traditional Chinese Kung Fu you should wait at least 45 minutes to one hour after eating. And, you should wait 45 minutes to an hour after practicing to eat. This ensures that your stomach is not full while practicing. This is important for several reasons.
The first reason why this is important is because, when you eat your body diverts energy away from other functions to focus on digestion. This means that other nonessential processes in the body take second stage to the important physiological process of digestion. When the body is in the process of digesting a meal it is not the best time to exercise, resources are already diverted and are not available for strenuous exercise.
In addition, when you eat your stomach becomes full. The process of digestion works to break down the food in the stomach and sends it further down the digestive tract. If the stomach is full moving around too much can hinder the process of digestion. In addition, when the stomach is full and you move around it can place stress and pressure on the surrounding organs and tissue.
So it makes sense not to eat before training, but why should we wait after we train for certain amount of time before we can eat? The answer is also simple, after we finished training the body is in a cool down period as it returns to the state of rest. During this time it’s important for the body to naturally go through this process, changing from works to rest. This process should not be interrupted. If you eat at this time, then naturally this process will be interrupted. Not only would it be interrupted by the physical addition of the food in the stomach, but the body will start to divert energy away from other processes and channel it to the process of digestion. This would basically hinder the body from going through its natural cool down process, which is important for normalizing the body’s systems, repairing damage, and making the body stronger.
Some people might forget that these prohibitions are important, especially if the practice time is devoted to something non-strenuous like Tai Chi or Qigong. Why keep these prohibitions if it doesn’t feel like you’re doing a strenuous exercise? The reasons are the same, and these prohibitions are just as important regardless of how strenuous the exercise is. It is very important to warm the body up before exercise and cool the body down after exercise. This process is physically interrupted if a meal is taken too close to training.
Now we must cover the other aspect of this provision which is not to train when feeling overly hungry. Similar to training on a full stomach, when you train on an empty stomach and you feel hungry the body is also not in its optimum state for exercise. Usually when the body is in a state of hunger and means that the body is lacking energy. This means you don’t have the resources to perform strenuous exercise. You won’t get benefit from exercise period because it’s like trying to drive a car without a gas, you just won’t get anywhere. In addition, if you exercise while in a state of hunger, then your body will not have the resources to cool down and repair itself after the exercise finished. If you feel hungry, it is better to eat something and then wait to do your training.
Something as simple as not eating too soon before and after exercise or not exercising when hungry can have a profound impact on the body’s state of health in the long run. Proper training can build the body over time, increasing your health and vitality. This simple prohibition can help make sure that you don’t damage yourself and that your body has the resources to become stronger and repair itself after strenuous training.
Empty the Bladder and Bowels Before Practice
This is one of the more obvious training prohibitions for Traditional Chinese Kung Fu and Qigong. Don’t exercise with a full bladder or when you need to use the restroom. Use the restroom first and then do your practice.
First- practicing while you need to use the bathroom is uncomfortable. You will be concentrating on holding it in rather then on your practice. This makes no sense- just use the bathroom and then practice.
But there is actually more to this prohibition then that. When the bladder or the bowels are full, the waste material is taking up internal space in the body cavity. As we train we are moving our body and breathing. This creates movement and pressure changes in the body and in the internal cavities. These movement and pressure changes are part of the training. When the bowels and bladder are full then this creates an obstruction or a fullness in the body cavity that should not be there. This fullness will change the way the movements and the exercises exert pressure and move the internal body spaces.
In addition, during the movements of the exercises, the fullness caused by the waste material can exert pressure on the nearby structures of the internal body and it can also make the proper execution of the movements more difficult or impossible. The fullness can also negate or make the purpose of the movements or internal training impossible to achieve or even change the outcome of the training and create undesirable effects to the internal body.
Also, exercising while the waste material is present might facilitate the transfer or re-absorption of waste material back into the system. This can also have adverse effects on the body.
So it is best to empty the bowels and bladder before training Kung Fu or Qigong.
Wait one hour after meals to train and wait one hour after training to eat
This prohibition has two parts. the first is not to train with a full stomach and the second is to wait after training before you eat. These are both very simple and practical prohibitions but violating them can cause some problems for your health.
The fist part is not to exercise on a full stomach. This is important for several reasons. The first is that when the belly is full right after a meal the body goes into digestion mode. Energy and blood is diverted from other parts of the body to aid in the digestion process. If you train at this time you disrupt the digestion process. This causes discomfort, but it can also adversely effect the health. If you train on a full stomach the food might not be properly digested, you might create stomach upset, and similar to the last prohibition that we talked about, the internal fullness changes the pressure and effect of the exercise and might adversely effect the surrounding tissue and structures.
So why wait for one hour after eating to train. In the hour after eating the stomach is processing the food. The stomach is full. After about one hour the food has moved beyond the stomach and into the intestines. The stomach is full only after eating so it is best to wait until the stomach is finished with its job before doing your exercise. It takes about 24 hours for the food to pass through the body completely, the rest of the time the food is being processed by the intestines. The intestines are almost constantly working unless you have been fasting for a period of time, so the food in the intestines is not a training concern.
Now the second part of the prohibition- wait about an hour after training to eat a meal. Why? If we finish our training why can’t we eat? This one is also very clear once you think about it. When we train Kung Fu or Qigong we activate the tissue, the organs, and the energy. So we want to give the body a chance to cool down first before we introduce food and the task of digestion. Sometimes we can easily forget that we need to take some time to cool down after training because sometimes training can be calm and relaxing and leave us energized and invigorated. But, even if we feel these states after training we must still remember that we should let the body cool down and normalize before introducing a new task. You would not run sprints and then expect to sit down to a meal right after word. It is the same with training Kung Fu or Qigong even though the effect of the training might not be so easily noticeable.
So what can happen if you eat too soon after training. The first thing is that you can create indigestion. The body is not ready to accept the food and is not prepared to go through the processes it need to to digest the food properly. The body’s energy and resources are being used elsewhere and are not ready to be diverted to the process of digestion. Second it can create a problem for the organs and the energy as it is a type of shock. Think about how you would feel if you tried to eat a meal after running some sprints- maybe your body would reject the food and you would vomit. The reaction internally is the same if you try to eat too soon after training but might not be so externally visible or noticeable.
Observing this prohibition can strengthen the health in the long term- exercise and digestion are very important for the proper functioning of the body. Don’t neglect this wisdom and train smart and stay healthy.
Don’t Expose Yourself to Wind
This training prohibition might seem a little strange, don’t expose yourself to wind, especially in the west where sometimes we seem to forget that the things around us actually have an effect on us. But, this wisdom does exist in the west too. There are several old saying that demonstrate this point. One warns to not let your head get wet in the rain otherwise you might catch a cold and the other warns to keep the neck covered for the same reason. Actually both of these saying are demonstrating that the west also has a concept of what the Chinese call wind.
To the Chinese, wind is an external pathogen, there is also an internal pathogen called wind but we will only concern ourselves with external wind today. Wind invades the outside of the body and causes colds, stiff necks, and aching and soreness. This is why we are told not to let our heads get wet, the coldness created by the wet will let the bodies defenses down and the wind can more easily invade the body. Keeping the back of the neck covered also serves this same function- to protect the body from the external wind invasion. The back of the neck is one of the place that is most susceptible to wind invasion, this is why massaging and heating up this area is prominent in many Dao Yin or health keeping routines.
When we train either Kung Fu, Qigong, or Meditation the training heats up the body. The training opens the pores and can also cause sweating. If we expose ourselves to wind while we are training it is easy for the this external pathogen to invade the body. If we sweat during training and then expose ourselves to wind it will create a cooling effect as the sweat is evaporated. This will chill the body and also create problems. This is why you see many traditional people practice and even in the summer time they don’t expose their bodies to the wind, even if they are hot and sweaty after training. It is important to keep your shirt on and your body covered when you finish training to avoid exposure to the wind pathogen.
Another aspect of this prohibition beyond the general health keeping effect has to do with the bodies energy. As we train we, we not only generate heat and movement inside the body but we also collect energy or Qi outside the body. When we finish training it takes some time for the body to readjust and also absorb some of this external energy. If we exercise with a wind blowing on us, it doesn’t allow the Qi to collect on the external parts of the body but instead the wind dissipates it. This is the same reason why there is another prohibition not to shower or bathe right after you practice.
Another point of interest that I think I should bring up is the knees. Many people today like to exercise in shorts, but from a traditional viewpoint this can be very bad for the knees. When we exercise we of course generate heat and sweat. If the knee is exposed to the wind then the evaporation of the sweat will have a cooling effect on the knees. This is bad for several reasons. The first is that the knees in Chinese are called the house of the tendons. This cooling effect can have a detrimental effect on the tendons and the ligaments of the knees. It is very important to keep your knees healthy. If you have ever had some knee pain then you know that this is not an empty statement but is just a fact. The other reason is because the energy channels that run through the knees are easily effected by the cold. If you train and expose your knees to the wind and cold- the cold and wind can easily invade these channels and cause problems in the body. This is important to avoid for both sexes but especially important for women.
I just want to add a short story about the knees and wind. It seems that this type of knowledge seems alien to us here in the west, but I was cautioned by a coworker to the same effect years before I studied any Chinese Medicine. When I was young I used to work construction during the summer breaks. I would always wear my old cloths to work because of the nature of construction work, you get sweaty, dirty, and your clothes take a beating. So one summer I was wearing an old tattered pair of jeans to work that had the knees ripped. An older gentlemen that worked with me pointed out that this was no good- the rips allowed the wind to blow on the knees and cool them off. He said this is no good – it will damage your knees. After I had this pointed out to me, I did notice that the wind blowing on my knees did in fact make my knees very cold and I never wore those jeans to work again. This is a lesson that I remembered years later while studying Chinese Medicine and also when hearing some of my older generation Chinese teacher talk about keeping healthy and training right.
This type of knowledge is easy to turn your nose up at. A little wind- how can it effect me? But, we have to remember that the goal of training – no matter if we are training Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Qigong, or Meditation- is to keep ourselves healthy. Everyday when we practice we want to be getting stronger. Instead if we do not pay attention to the training prohibitions we actually might be creating a weakness in ourselves. This might not be a dramatic weakness, it might take time to become something that we notice, maybe even years. So keep these training prohibitions in mind and use them to your advantage and to build your health over the long term.
Don’t practice when it is raining or storming out
This one is another training prohibition that people in the west are likely to scoff at. If its raining or storming out we can just practice inside, that is why we have buildings right? Well lets take a closer look at this prohibition.
In ancient times people lived closer to nature. Daily, monthly, and yearly schedules were tied to the movements of the celestial bodies (sun and moon) and the weather. Today – we try to pretend that we exist outside of these influences. We have electric lights, heating systems, cooling systems, etc., but in reality we exist in nature.
When it is raining and storming out the air is moist and damp. When we train or practice we open the pores and generate heat. The open pores can allow the dampness to invade the body (damp is one of the external pathogens in Chinese Medicine). In addition when we practice our breathing becomes deeper. So practicing during a time with rain and storms means that we are inhaling the moisture laden air deep into our lungs. If you know anyone with a lung condition or asthma – ask them if extremely damp air makes it comfortable for them to breath. In fact sometimes doctors even go so far as to suggest that people move to a more dry and arid climate for health reasons.
Another factor concerning the rain is that when the rain starts to fall and strikes the dry ground it kicks up all sorts of dust. If we practice at this time we inhale this dust deep into our lungs. But it is not just dust, it could be mold and many other things that get kicked up into the air by the falling rain.
A more esoteric reason not to practice when the weather is storming is that during practice we exchange and take in Qi from the environment. So the stormy weather is not the best Qi to take it.
Another reason for this prohibition is very practical. Some practices require calm and quite, like meditation or Qigong. If you practice during a storm the sudden thunder and noise can disturb your state of calm and cause a shock to the body. During practice when the internal energy and circulation has become smooth and clam, a sudden loud noise is like a jolt to the system and can actually cause some harm.
Even though in our modern time we can still go inside and not be bothered by the damp and wet weather, it is important to understand the natural cycles and our place in the natural world. This knowledge is powerful not only for self improvement but also for understanding how systems work. The understanding of the interrelations of a system can benefit all aspects of life because we are forever in the process of relating to something and do not stand alone.
Don’t practice while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This one is pretty self explanatory and we don’t need to go into this one in much detail.
Don’t practice while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol have an adverse reaction on the body and impair the mental function and also effect the circulation in the body.
Training Kung Fu, Qigong, and Meditation seeks to harmonize the circulation and quiet the mind. This can not be achieved while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Furthermore, drinking and kung fu training do not mix. Drinking can inflate the ego and lead to injuries. Think back to when you were in college, there was probably one time where a drunk guy had to be talked out of trying a backflip- even though he insisted there was no problem and he could do it.
Alcohol also has a warming property and can adversely effect the Liver organ in Chinese Medicine- aggravating anger and aggression- two things that should not be a part of training. They can very easily lead to training accidents and serious injury.
So basically this prohibition is in place to keep you from injuring yourself and others- it’s a good idea to keep it in mind and not practice while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
During training or after training avoid drinking anything cold.
This training prohibition is also very simple, but the main objection that people have to this is that they don’t understand how drinking cold beverages effects the body. The common thought process that many people have is- if I am hot, then if I drink something cold it will cool me off. Actually drinking something cold has an adverse effect on the body- especially when you are hot. Lets go into this in more detail.
Digestion in the body is a process of heat. The body sends extra blood to the digestive organs after a meal to facilitate the process. That is why you might have a good , warm, feeling in your belly after you eat and also why you might feel a little drowsy after eating- because the blood is being directed to the belly. If you eat or drink cold things- the stomach has to warm up the “pot” to get the process of digestion going. Because of this the Chinese actually have a health practice where the intake of cold food and drink is something that is refrained from- as they see this as impairing the digestive system and something that is done over time will decrease the health by putting undue stress on the system.
For training- we are warming up the body and stimulating the circulation of Qi and blood. We already talked about how you should avoid eating before or after training because it is bad for the system. The same thing goes for drinking liquids, and especially for drinking cold liquids. It is common in the west for people to stay hydrated while working out, but training Kung Fu and Qigong is different. If liquids need to be taken they should be in small quantities and definitely not cold. During relaxed practice sessions in the park it is common for practitioners to have tea breaks- but sometimes these relaxed practice sessions are more social then hard core training workouts. If you are working out seriously it is best to not shock your system with liquids, especially cold ones, let your body cool down first and then hydrate if you need to- in reasonable quantities.
Shocking the body is never a good thing, so please take this training precaution to heart and don’t damage your health in the long run.
Do not practice when angry or upset
This is another fairly straightforward training prohibition. Don’t practice when angry or upset. There are several reasons for this. Some will be directly obvious and some might be a little more hidden- keep reading to find out.
The first thing that should come to mind is that being angry and practicing martial arts is not a good thing. The problem is that many people can not understand that even though the training deals with the subject of violence- the purpose of training is not to be angry. They are two very different things. Training when angry is a good way to get hurt- both during training and also during any encounter that the training is supposed to be preparing you for. On top of that, if you are angry- it will be very hard for you to find training partners. Even if you don’t hurt them, not many people will want to be around you.
The same thing goes for if you are upset- it impairs your judgment and you will lack concentration.
So far we have only talked about the martial aspects of this prohibition. Now lets talk about how this prohibition relates to the energy systems of the body. Emotions have energy and they effect the body. The Chinese classify the emotions according to the Five Elements. Each Element has certain characteristics such as color, internal organs, directions, planets, food, animals, sounds, etc. and also emotions. Anger is the emotion that corresponds to the wood element and the Liver Organ. The Wood Element is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. Anger adversely affects the energy and instead of allowing the energy to flow smoothly throughout the body it makes the energy rush up to the head. Similar to the western phrases- hot head or red in the face.
If you are angry and the energy is not flowing smoothly- it is not a good time to practice Martial Arts, Qigong, or Meditation. The same goes for if you are generally upset in some way. The best time to practice is when you can concentrate on what it is you are doing.
Don’t use the bathroom directly after practice.
This prohibition – don’t use the bathroom directly after practice- is the one that most students ask me about, because logically it doesn’t make much sense – unless you already know how the body works energetically. If you don’t, or if this prohibition is not making much sense to you right now don’t worry- just keep reading and you will understand why it is not good to use the bathroom directly after practice.
Ok- so first things first- if you have to go to the bathroom with urgency- then it is best to go, but don’t make it a habit to go to the restroom directly after practice. What do we mean by directly? Directly means that you just stopped your practice and the next thing you do is use the bathroom. The big reason why you should not do this will be explained a little bit later in the article. Right now I want to point out that if you always do something it becomes a habit. Pathways are built up and the body is trained to respond to the cycle that has been set in motion. So if you need to use the bathroom after practice- it is OK but don’t make it a habit.
When we train we are doing more than throwing the limbs around. There are energetic things happening and training Kung Fu should be transforming the body inside and out the same way that Qigong and Meditation transforms the body. When we train we lift the tip of the tongue to touch the upper palate. Not only does this connect the Ren and Du Meridians, but it also helps to lift- it helps to lift the Qi and it also helps to lift the diaphragms of the body. This includes the pelvic diaphragm at the base of the torso. This lifting is subtle and happens by placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth. (Some Qigong systems and exercises use force to lift the pelvic diaphragm- this is not what we are talking about here.) This lifting is one of the reasons why you feel more energetic, “lighter”, and happier after practice. It is the internal lifting that takes place through correct training.
When you use the bathroom directly after practice it “breaks the seal” and stops the lifting from continuing to happen. Think about a can of soda- after you pop the top it breaks the seal and the container no longer holds the carbonation. In a similar manner using the bathroom directly after practice stops the internal changes and processes from continuing to happen. In western sports science they measured that you don’t stop burning calories when you stop exercising- the effects of the exercise continue to give you benefits for a period of time after you have stopped. It is the same with Kung Fu, Qigong, and Meditation practice. Just because you stopped the exercise, the internal processes are still continuing for a while. So don’t use the bathroom directly after practice- it stops these processes and you don’t get the full benefit of your practice.
Then the next question you will have is how long to wait after practice- the answer is that it is the same as with eating or taking a shower (45 minutes to an hour).