Kung fu movies are known for their training montages. One common scene is for the young student to carry buckets of water up a set of steep steps that would be challenging to climb even without buckets.
I’ve had the experience of carrying buckets of water outside of the montage, because I grew up on a farm. The weights, the pain of the handles cutting into your hands, the fatigue creeping into your shoulders, and the underlying desire to not be there—to do anything other than the redundant, painful task—are all important lessons to carry into life. They are also good reasons to be in a training montage.
In the Heaven Fist 10,000 (a kung fu that you can find described in the kung fu FAQ here), we (the practitioners) describe the body produced in the montage as the kung fu body. Our watchword is that “the kung fu body is fast, fit, flexible, and strong.” In other words, it is a body that is of service to the Heaven Fist practitioner—and is not likely to fail that practitioner.
The pathway to that goal is gradual. Like with the movies, most people starting kung fu don’t have the body that they need for practice. It is usually not strong enough, tires easily, and is very sluggish in response.
As with the movies, the purpose of training is to create the body that you need. We accomplish that by having a graduated process that breaks physical goals into a progression. That progression has 3 stages through black belt, each marked by being able to perform gradually more difficult tasks. We do carry a lot of objects to get there, but usually filled with sand and not water. It keeps the mats from getting wet!
At the end of the third stage, a person should have the body of a serious amateur athlete. More importantly, a person should have acquired the behavioral skills to keep that level of fitness throughout their lives. In reality, lifetime fitness oscillates. It can be a struggle to maintain it with other needs competing for time, and moods undermining the fitness process. The ability to go through the montage again and restore or even increase fitness comes from having a solid, approachable method for getting there.
As a practicality of martial art training, the kung fu body also gives a person the greatest return per training hour in the early years of training. The trainer in the montage knows that—until the person has the body to do the training, most of what they want to accomplish performance-wise will be unachievable.
Like the steps up the mountain, the first step of training is to focus on developing the kung fu body. The second step would be to develop technique. The third step would be to focus on combat.
Keep on those steps!