Masters of Old....
I have heard so many stories from so many lineages that exemplify the teachers of old. Cheng Tinghua (baguazhang) used to train in a weighted vest, Yueh Fei (General, Eagle Claw, Xingyi) would train 1000 pole shakings a day, Wang Shujin (Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi) would have steam rise from his body as he was doing standing post in the park and so much heat would emit from him that his students would warm their hands near him in cold weather, and so on.
What is interesting to me is how so many people today seem to venerate these stories and look only to emulate them themselves. As the saying goes “Do not seek to be like the masters of old, seek what they sought.” this seems lost in most cases. It is fine of course to train in a weighted vest or wearing iron rings or train pole methods with a 45lb iron staff, but it is even more important to understand the why of the thing. Taking on extreme training without an understanding of its dangers and purposes is just emulation of old stories which through the miracle of time and generations may either be wildly exaggerated or completely untrue!
If a teacher were to tell you that Einstein would sleep with a math textbook under his pillow each night and was the father of atomic theory and the theory of relativity would you immediately start sleeping with one under your pillow? In today's day and age when you have the whole of human knowledge accessible at your fingertips one would hope that some research would go into a decision like that. Are the facts true to the best of my knowledge? (BTW Einstein is not the father of Atomic theory). Why would he sleep on a math book? What would that accomplish? Was he just a total weirdo and slept on that book for no reason? Was it for his neck? Is it a total fabrication? Why don’t people apply these ways of thinking to martial arts methods of training?
Asking why someone would undertake an extreme method of training is most important and should be the first step in any thought process towards doing it yourself. What will the training accomplish? What am I trying to do by training in an extreme way? Is it a well informed decision?
For the record, heavier weight is not always better, more is not always better, sleeping under a rock is a bad idea, training will change your body and your mind and affect the rest of your life. Standing post with iron rings builds strength and perhaps structure but is that the point of standing post? What are you trying to accomplish? If you do not know what result you are looking for then what are you doing? Why are you doing it?
Lower is not always better, in fact many people who train extremely low stances lose the chance to build root well by concentrating on strength instead. Sometimes they destroy their knee joints by not allowing it to transfer weight and instead use it to bear weight. The idea that extremely good martial artists did extreme training is not necessarily correct, but it is what we are told through the stories. Without preamble, without cultural and historical context and without much investigation we can easily take ourselves far from the path our art lies upon and into a strange place where more is better, rather than better is better.
Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.