My teacher Robert Chu after years of training and research developed some basic tests to see if one had an understanding and ability to control pressure with the frame of Wing Chun’s stance. This is very important to be able to control ones balance and use of power. Since that time the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun system has developed its whole approach to teaching based on the key principles of structural base.
It’s become the buzzword in Wing Chun now and I hear all the time people talking about structure. But every time I see what they are doing and discuss their view of structure I can see they have no idea of what it really means in the sense that we use it.
The term ‘Structure’ or ‘Body Structure’ is being used to describe people’s explanation of why they do something as if by saying it’s the ‘structure’ then it will be right and work. Over the last few years I have taught a many open seminars to other Wing Chun groups. It made me realise why Wing Chun is developing a reputation of being an art that would not work under real pressure. Some people have become locked into the theory and not the ‘alive’ practice i.e. working under some pressure. We have some excellent practitioners of Wing Chun, but not enough!
I hit a wall with some of the open seminars I taught at. As I quickly realized that a lot of people did not come test what they had been taught and see if they could improve their understanding of the martial arts. They had come to for a few new techniques a maybe a day out! It was a shock to be given principles that they found hard to understand. Why where they hard to understand? Funny enough the reason was due to the fact that they can be tested under pressure, but the small amount of pressure they where given to test with, was to much out of the normal comfort zone that they could operate within. So in the end I could see half the guys where feeling ‘great’ now I can see what I have been missing and the other half hated me for letting them know that they where not training correctly and did not have a clue. Well, no one likes the massager as they say. To be fair, I like to test the ego of new students by pushing them to test their belief systems. If they are open-minded they can take or leave what I show them. If they are already closed minded they will blame me and say they didn’t like the way I teach etc. All good. The martial arts can have a big impact of our egos some good some bad. It’s important to develop a sound understanding of what makes us tick if we wish to improve and grow.
I hear a lot of ‘In theory I would….’ Theory is half-baked people! It’s all-good to have ideas, but they must be tested and you must have a protocol of how you carry these things out. Wing Chun is not a concept art as many choose to believe. Concepts are just ideas and not core standards. You must have principles, which are tied to the natural mechanics of the human body.
Principles before Concepts
Principles are the key, once you have an understanding of the correct Principles then you can have concepts based from your core Principles. Concepts without core principles are just somebody else’s ideas. Which is not a system but a person’s style of application. This is a limited approach to the martial arts in general.
It would seem that some people have been taught the same ideas for so long that they can no longer see the truth. I often show people the reason why we do what we do in terms of the structural control and then test it. Believe me or not, even after physical proving correct use of the body you will hear people say ‘Oh, in a few years I will make it work’ or ‘that’s great now I know what I’m doing wrong, I will work on it’ Work on what? You can learn something that you can’t make-work straight away, of course. But you must be able see it works and understand it fully. The rest is in your normal training to get better at doing what you understand. But something that doesn’t work doesn’t get better.
If you buy a car you want it to drive well now, not in 5 years time! If it’s a powerful car then you may need time to get to use of driving it, but you can see the potential in the car right now.
Now this is the same for other martial arts! It may take time to improve the skill of what you training but you can see results now.
Lets look at words. Why, because we seem to get so wrapped up in words it becomes a whole new realm to disagree about! Does a word really mean what it is or does that word represent an understanding of a situation or a chain of events? The words ‘body structure’ means what? Really body structure within the context of the martial arts can mean many things to many different people. When I talk about body structure. I used the term as heading to the complex subject of how, why and when the body and mind work to achieve a specific goal.
That’s not to say body structure itself as a physical manifestation does not exist, or that it is purely a word, but in terms of a principle it’s really just a label to many things.
The term rooting or all having root is often used in the martial arts to describe either the idea for the physical application of controlling one’s body position under external pressure. Some people say there is no just thing. Of course there is not, but it’s not a thing we are talking about. We use a word as a label for understanding of what we are doing with our bodies. Therefore, one might say, in order to maintain balance under external pressure (i.e., someone pressing or pushing it to you) that you may need to have good root. Now this does not mean that by saying a word that you can automatically control your balance. The word is just really a label of commutation to inform you of the correct protocol to apply in the given situation you’re in. That would mean when training you are taught if someone is pressing towards you then you must lower center of gravity and direct the force through joints using the correct vector angles to gain alignment and engaging the correct amount of muscular contraction and tone, which would allow you to maintain your given position. Also, this would take in consideration the fact that you would need to constantly adjust your pressure via the feedback of your nervous system to your brain. Therefore, you can see that it’s much quicker and easier to tell someone to root under pressure, rather than explain what that word means, in relation to the activity each time. So yes, you can say there’s no such thing as rooting or structure, but you can also say there is no just thing as ‘base’ in BJJ. And again we run into the same problem. What is base? Really base is no different than body structure. In fact, having good base and having good body structure is the same thing. The only difference would be the environment that you relate to a protocol on what it means in relationship to the activity, are you involved in.
If I am training with my BJJ teacher then if I can’t do something or solve a problem then the first thing I do is go back to basics. Base – Balance, position, control of weight, release of power, timing these are the key Principles. This is the same as body structure on the ground. Then you have concepts, which would be the dynamics of understanding control of pressure and application via these principles. I don’t tell my teacher well that’s what I was told by … I don’t say well it may work when I can do it better… I don’t say well I been doing it for x years…. If its not working now it’s not going to work. My BJJ teacher will always say something like just move your hip or just make your base. It’s always the Base/ Position – key Principles.
When am wrestling I find new students very quickly learn to control their balance, otherwise they get thrown around all the time. This is a core principle. Pressure tells you when something is wrong. It gives as the chance to test and develop and therefore learn quicker.
Wing Chun is the same, that’s why we have Chi Sao. It is Wing Chun’s rolling, a testing ground for feeling out your understanding of pressure control with resistance. But it must be done in a robust manner to test the core power and balance.
Chi Sau must be dynamic and must be done with the tempo and rhythm that represents the normal movement and aliveness of your sparring. All too often I see Chi Sau performed in a static compliant fashion, which has no relation to the dynamic flux of a combat situation. If Chi Sao is trained in and unrealistic manner, and then often, you will see a person become even less coordinated than normal. Which is totally the opposite goal of the practice in the first place! You then have Wing Chun students with an eye for the wrong things altogether! In fact a student of Wing Chun from another school once asked me my opinion on their Chi Sao skills and when I told them they where not training the right things they started to defend their methods and attack mine. Which was in fact very funny. They had such a strong belief in their compliant training methods that they could not see the facts. I did offer to have a friendly test of these ideas and said they don’t test it. Okay, no problem, but then it’s hard to have an opinion. You don’t have this problem in Wrestling or BJJ. Everyone knows if what he or she are doing works or not. The sparring is controlled of course and has many rules, but within these rules you can still test the core principles. Chi Sao must be the same or it’s training you to not deal with the correct level of pressure you will receive. This will in turn increase the level of shock factor in a real fight, which is the last thing, you need. Wrong place to find out!
- Is being soft mean being weak and having no power?
- Is having power mean you are stiff?
- Is being small mean you can’t have power?
- Is having structural root mean you can’t be soft?
- s redirecting mean giving away control of pressure?
- Is angling away and moving back stopping your opponents attack?
- Is blocking going to stop fast combination attacks?
- Is your stance alive and have power?
Think about it. Can you answer each question and have you tested each answer. If you have then great, now add 5 more questions and do it all again!
You must ask yourself these questions then test the answers.
Sparring Yes or No? Good or bad?
I ask lots of Wing Chun guys what kind of sparring do you do. Most Wing Chun guys only seem to do Chi Sao, which is important, but it’s only one of the building blocks you need for the skills required in a fighting or self-defence. It is only part of the cake. Sparring is an important method of training to help you start making use of these skills in a more open environment.
The guys that only Chi Sao with no pressure will say they are not fighting they are working sensitivity, but they don’t spar! So when do they test if they can take pressure? When do they test if their sensitivity training has paid off? Chi Sao must be linked to your sparring. Therefore you must train skills for development in a controlled way, but you must also Chi Sao with pressure which crosses into Gor Sao (Crossing Hands) with becomes sparring.
The other end of the spectrum is that if they do sparring then they automatically think they are better for it. Tough training equals better skill – wrong. Remember Sparring is also training. It’s not a fight. A fight is a fight, be it a real fight or a sport fight. Hard sparring is a benefit to one’s development and is close to being in sport fight. But sparring on the whole should be use as a tool to develop and check your skills. It should be done with different goals and levels set in place. Tough training is useful if you have a plan of what you are going to improve upon. Pressure testing your sparring means you try to put the hurt on each other. That’s not day to day training and not for everyone, but the minimum is to glove up and hit move around and see what is working. You some be able to play the game otherwise you will have no chance of a home run.
Power is number one!
That is a full understanding of power. Some may be assuming that we are talking power against power. In fact I have even taught some students whom even after some time they think as they can now issue power and that’s all we are talking about. Producing power is 101 and often misunderstood. But that is only one stage. Controlling your own balance and producing power are the starting points.
I have another question for you – can you punch full power and not lose control or give your base away?
Structure is not just the understanding vector forces and kinetic chains. It’s what you do with them. Linking power and delinking power is the key to being able to root your body and control your center on mass. But also being able to release pressure and direct it using your joints correctly. This is the higher levels skill. To have power you must know the stepping-stones to developing it, before you can be free to express it in a functional manner.
Many practitioners at a high level will naturally develop structure skills in order to deal with opponents. This can be from years of training and time dealing with the same problems over and over. This is normal, but only the practitioners that spend a lot of time gaining feedback from their experiences will stand out. They will often teach what they think they are doing and believe it to be so. But can their students also do it? Can students develop the same results in a quicker time span? This is often the problem. They have naturally solved the problem and have passed the need to know the real answer. With Body structure we talk about the natural use of body mechanics etc but what is natural? The correct natural way is lost for most people. They spend a lot of time not exercising not working out, then that start martial arts. That is why for most people learning forms in their art is a method of relearning the basics of body movement. Of course once you have learned this then forms are not of so much importance. I teach the 3 forms in Wing Chun very quickly in order for the student to get an overview of the system and its principles. But it is guys with a strong understanding of the forms and the movements that ultimately have good sparring skills as well. The forms reinforce your intentions within your striking and reactions in Wing Chun as we have Chi Sao to play with the reactions and changes to our base principles of controlling an opponent. If you train your Chi Sao in a non ‘alive’ manner this will not be the case. If you never spar this will not be the case.
The victor writes the history. If it works its right, right? Well not always. Any test must be based on more that one persons ability to pass. The key to learning structure principles is to reach this higher level of course, but by learning and basing your understanding on core principles you will end up with a clear course of development to take you on this wild journey of martial arts.
I think it might be worth making the point that there’s a difference between something you just have acquired and something that you can teach. A system or clear set of paradigms is important if a skill is to be passed on. Otherwise it is very easy to end up with person ‘A’ thinking person ‘B’ understands what they are teaching and also for person ‘B’ to think that the understand what person ‘A’ is teaching, when in fact they are both completely on different wave lengths.
Doing things is a natural way would be great if life is so easy. I’m not saying this approach doesn’t work because it often does. But is research has shown us that what we learn when you are young becomes hardwired skill sets. In order to make a change or redevelop our early learning we sometimes need a new track run on. This means developing new protocols, which take into consideration our new environment and situation. Once we reach a level of new conscious competence. We can become free again and then aim to develop unconscious competence.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it ~ Aristotle
A limited mind has limited understanding. That is why I push my student to have an open mind to what we are doing. But it is also important to have a protocol of what you do and why you do it, otherwise you can chase you tail. You have to believe in what you do. As long as you have tested it and are happy with the results then you are good to go. Mostly I have new guys come that have tried different arts and have not reach a level they feel they should of from the time they put it. They come ready to learn. That is the way to be, ready to learn.
When I first when to train with Eddy Millis at the Shark Tank in LA, Eddy showed me his legs kicks. I had never seen anyone kick that hard. But the funny thing was that he was not trying to kick hard! Well after he shown me the principles of this method I was able to see very clearly why he could kick so hard with no effort. The reason I could see this was due to my understanding of the Protocols of Body Structure it allowed me to see the keys of what he was showing me. Now the next step was adding this new layer of principles into back into my own kicks. This was easy due to the fact that Eddy’s kicks used the same principles, but as a K1 fighter had a deeper level of layers, which translates as more experience.
So lastly if Body Structure is using natural mechanics is there only one way? No of course not. There are some Principles that I see as set in stone and others that can be used differently depending on which platform you work from. I work of a Wing Chun and Wrestling platform within my Body Structure. Others will use different platforms; this is not what is important. It is the full understand of Principles and Intention that are the important factor.