Journey In Moscow: Training With The Russian Wushu Team
I’ve had the opportunity to train with the Russian Wushu Team in Moscow for about a month. They’re tremendous athletes with a strategic and scientific eye for improvement in wushu. This is what first drew me to want to train in Russia. The head coach is on the International Wushu Federation Technical Review Committee, and my other main coach is an international level judge who will be present at the World Wushu Competition in Jakarta, Indonesia in Mid-November.
I trained at a school in Moscow. Roughly on the southern edge of Moscow.
Something I found pretty interesting is that unlike city’s in the United States, Moscow is organized as a circle. That makes it pretty cool.
The school is the largest Wushu school in all of Russia. In fact, the Russian government gave the school money to build a huge new Wushu facility that would shame any wushu facility outside of China. This new building was built in less than a year and has fondly been christened the “Wushu Palace” by athletes.
From online content, this new ‘Wushu Palaceis a “6-floor, 14,000 square meter sports facility. The big competition hall can accomodate 8 taolu carpets, 2 sanda platforms and 1200 spectators.
It was a real treat to train here during my stay in Moscow. Out of the whole wushu school in Moscow, only around 10 athletes from the top team were allowed to train here. The builders were still working on a few final touches, and the ‘Wushu Palace,’ and it is slated to be used next month. As a foreigner and USA Athlete, I was given the opportunity to train here when some of the school coaches have never even been inside!
Another incredible fact. Vladimir Putin will be the attending the grand opening of the building!!!! Like THE Vladimir Putin or Vladimir Vladimovich as they call him. While I was there, a significant part of the afternoon was dedicated to preparing a huge demonstration for his arrival and grand opening. Alas, if only I had stayed an additional month. :(
The main reason for my journey is to train, and geez there is nothing like training with the Russian athletes. In preparation for Junior World Wushu Competition back in 2012, I spent a few months in Beijing, China training with the world-renowned Beijing Wushu Team. It was an incredible training experience, and it was my first exposure to how professional athletes train.
However when deciding where to train prior to the world competition, I really wanted to go to Russia for a few different reasons.
- I really respected a lot of the Russian athletes. From watching videos and competitions online, I believe that they will do really well at Worlds just by observing the level of their athletes.
- Both of my coaches are official international judges. This means they are up to date with the current preferences and specific deduction points for worlds. Wushu is made up of three primary scores denoted A, B, and C. The summation of the three scores totals a 10 point performance with A worth 5 points, B 3 points, and C 2 point. Of all three scores, B score is the most arbitrary. It represents a general ‘impresssion’ of your form and your level. A score and C score refer to the correct execution of your basics and jumps. A and C scores are where you can lose the most points. A simple error can result in a .1 deduction in your score which could easily push you down 20–3o places at the World competition level. I really hope to minimize the deductions in these two areas, and Russia seems like a perfect place to do it.
- I talked to a few of my athlete friends from around the European wushu circuit, and they spoke very highly of the training environment in Moscow. They emphasized that it was an incredibly reasonable price for the training expertise, facilities, and rigor. This can be contrasted to China which is an incredible place to train, but sometimes it may not be worth the price.
I’ll go ahead and outline a few key differences that I found in training in Russia.
- Varied Training Regimen: The biggest surprise for me is how they vary the training regimen. In most training environments, a typical wushu training day is pretty repetitive. You start out warming up your body, stretch to loosen your body, practice your basic kicks and movements, warm up your jumps, and then you practice your forms for the majority of a practice session. Sometime you will also add in some strength training excercises In Moscow, some practices are dedicated to one complete facet of wushu training. We did spend the majority of our times on basics and wushu forms, but we also had separate practices for stretching and strength training. There was a specific coach dedicated to stretching. She was an ex-ballerina, and the depth of which she pushed our flexibility was incredible. I learned so many new ways of stretching specific muscles in my body. Which is incredibly important for the prevention of injury and cooling down. We also had a specific coach dedicated to our jump training and stamina building. A few times a week we would spend the whole practice session just improving our stamina. Running a varied array of running drills in order to push our stamina and simulate the stamina necessary for a wushu form. In the United States, the extent that I train my stamina is running a few miles, and practicing full forms. I found out that this doesn’t improve wushu performance past a point because of the nature of the sport. Wushu is more like running consecutive sprints with little breaks in between than it is a mile long run.
- Training Scientifically: Russian Team is extremely scientific in their training. I’ve never thought about gathering data on my performance for wushu, but that is what these athletes do. Each athlete keeps a specific training journal that they update everyday. A few things they might update are things like Nandu completion percentage, the volume of training per day or week, and their pulse. That’s right. THEIR PULSE. The athletes would consciously take their pulse after doing certain running excercises and forms in order to quantify if their stamina was improving. This completely blew my mind because they can now scientifically plot and decide if they’re improving in terms of percentage of successfully completed Nandu in a set of 10, decrease in pulse after the same excercise, or an increase in volume from one week to the next.
- Focus on Footwork: Honestly, I’ve never given that much thought to footwork. Which is pretty sad because I’ve told some friends of mine that the “limiting factor to your speed in wushu forms is not your upper body but your footwork.” I know this, but I’ve never truly emphasized footwork training outside of training traditional sections. One of the best (and absolutely worst) excercises during my stay there was one that involved body weights. We would have three sets of weights. 1) A 5 kg body vest 2) A 3 kg pair of ankle weights 3) and 1 kg wrist weights one for each hand. We would rotate wearing these sets of weights and practice whole weapon forms with no Nandu or jumps. I found this to be the most helpful when it comes to footwork. Since, you’re only executing movements you can focus completely on your footwork. Your body is used to the natural speed of your movements. When you put weights on any of the three parts of your body, you can distinctly feel a speed difference. This helps you focus specifically on pushing your footwork, handwork, or general body movement. It simultaneously pushes you as a strength training excercise, and it also successfully isolates your focus on that part of the body.
- Nandu: Anyone who has seen Russian athletes knows that their Nandu is absolutely superb. In my opinion, they are the national team that is closest to China in the degree of difficulty and execution success of any country’s team. That is because they have extremely specific techniques for each type of Nandu. I’m not just talking about a blanket approach to a tornado kick or a butterly or a outside kick. Instead, they have specific differences in technique when it comes to a 360 degree tornado kick versus 540 degree tornado kick or 720 degree tornado kick. They also vary their technique when it comes to the type of landing for each jump. It’d be really difficult to describe each specific technique, but they’ve got the most efficient and successful methodology for the completion of each and every difficult jump.
- Form Choreography: This point also extremely surprised me. My choreography philosophy before training with Russia was to have a special something that makes me different. You find something about your skillset or level that is different that other people, and you capitalize on that. The result of this is sometimes weird jumps, movements, or combinations. Supposedly, this is what makes you different and makes judges like you. The Russian team approaches choreography from a completely different perspective. They maximize simplicity. They don’t focus on trying to do a movement that is really really different. Instead, the biggest thing I heard while training there was “what is physically comfortable for you.” To be completely honest, most of the time the most physically comfortable movements would be the basic movements that I’ve practiced since I was five, not some movement I came up with a year ago that has a weird body motion. By taking out some of these more abstract choreographed movements, I found that my overall form quality definitely improved.
Here are a few videos.
Lastly, I cannot thank the coaches and the Russian team enough. When I first decided to go to Russia, I had a lot of friends and family show concern. To the typical American, Russia is a supposedly scary, unfriendly, and dangerous place. In my time there, I’ve continually surprised by the courtesy, care, and generosity of both the coaches and athletes.
This is a pretty terrible picture. I’m still really bad at taking pictures and understanding lighting. Either way, this is the only picture I have with the whole team.
Thanks so much :)