Cloud Hands of an Angell
By John McKean
“THUMP!!” Ohhh, seein’ stars and feelin’ pain! This new training equipment is gonna kill me yet!
Strangely enough, I’d not yet started my morning workout; rather, good wife Marilyn was busily twirling her arms in our kitchen, intent on swinging the very well sculpted, long chunks of wood known as “Indian Clubs.” She CLAIMED that her eyes were closed while thriving within the healing, calming powers of the circular motion, obviously not sensing me walking in when her “war club” bounced off my noggin! (But why was she grinning??) And to think this handsome set of clubs, recently obtained from that master purveyor of old time gear, Roger LaPointe, had been my loving, thoughtful birthday gift to her! Actually Marilyn has greatly enjoyed this 2500+ year old exercise mode, also finding it necessary and beneficial to stabilize a recent arm/shoulder condition.
My own major incentive to employ mere 1 to 2 pound wooden weights as a huge improvement to my weightlifting program came from an Angell! No, not a vision from a winged and white gowned type, but directly from a LIVING LEGEND of All-Rounds, England’s super strong Steve Angell !! Through his insightful “Peaceful Warrior” concept, which tones mind, body, and spirit through such disciplines as tai chi, gigong, yoga, Indian Clubs, and high rep kettlebell work, Steve has found the way to acquiring physical/mental BALANCE to help recuperate from years of overzealous max poundage weightlifting. This well thought out and age-proven regimen hasn’t exactly diminished Steve’s awesome strength or mind blowing physique, if you’ve seen photos of last season’s “impossible” 20 reps with the Dinnie Stones, or his impromptu all-round successes!
Emailing back and forth with mighty Steve came encouraging words that very few ever need employ more than a pair of one, two to three pounders for healing, warm-up, shoulder restoration, and a terrific sense of well-being. Then, while discussing this matter, we both arrived at a theory simultaneously that most martial and meditative arts may well have been derived from ancient club training! (History shows that all martial arts forms originally traveled from India). In fact, Steve had an instant epiphany on this thought, realizing a vital movement known as “Cloud Hands” from Tai Chi, was also one of his very favorite traditional maneuvers with wooden pins! It would be a bit hard to describe Cloud Hands, even with photos, but fortunately Steve made a dynamite YOU TUBE video for me that you can see here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRbio87dHAM
Hmmm, although I doubt that those 20” guns came exclusively from club work, you can readily detect the dreamlike, circular toning (the gigong effect) and rhythmic tranquility of deep breathing that Steve and I (and Marilyn, when she’s not intent in whacking the crap outta me-much as I usually deserve it!) enjoy daily.
So our little home garage gym has what can be considered “unusual equipment” by today’s standards, with my growing collection of Indian clubs. I doubt you’ll find many commercial gyms, high tech spas, or even old time “pits” which have rows of these well-balanced chunks of wood that once surrounded lairs of Goernor, Saxon, and Sandow!
Following Steve Angell’s lead, I, too, looked to various martial arts to discover circular strategies of movement for my lightweight clubs. Some traditional Indian and British exercises are often used, but prove boring within the necessary high rep format. However, from the concise rotational motions of Indonesian “Silat” jurus (forms) came a more meaningful, often thought provoking, type of exercise. Also this proved to be a refreshing and needed change from our usual linear weightlifting, and tends to heal through more gentle pressure of leverage resistance. Now, at last year’s Bowling Green, Ohio meet, ole Roger took a video of my unique Silat club program, so hopefully sometime soon he’ll release this on his Atomic Athletic site (put McKean on screen and there goes the business, Rog is probably thinking!!).
No, I’ll never get near the phenomenal Indian Club endurance record of Australian Tom Burroughs during the early 1900s of over 100 consecutive hours of swinging a pair of 3 pound 6 ounce clubs (no food or water breaks, no sitting or resting, no pause whatsoever in achieving an average of 80 reps per minute!). By the way, Indian club work was Tom’s primary and most beloved form of exercise to achieve world class status also in boxing, wrestling, swimming, fencing, gymnastics, and track! For me, if it keeps this cranky, crotchety senior citizen from feeling any older from day to day, I’ll be content; however, last year it did get me down, with little effort, into a lower weight class, gave relief to my always aching shoulders, instilled some of the best warm-ups ever prior to lifting, and seemed to yield a special form of energy for everything I did! The only downside to club training that I’ve found is worrying about my nicely curved “bowling pins” getting smudged when training at the Ambridge VFW; not that the old gym isn’t always kept spotlessly well maintained, just that prodigious bowler Art would get chocolate on the wood, when he tried to roll a donut between them!