In this article I wish to present to you some methods of maximizing your power by using proper Chu Sau Lei Body Structure methods.
I remember reading one of Matt Furey’s articles which was titled something like ‘What if everything you knew about grappling was wrong?’ At the time it caused quite a stir as he was promoting catch wrestling and many people had never seen the ideas he was presenting.
Most of the criticism came from people who wanted to tell him why they did what they did, when in fact that was not of interest to Matt. He merely wanted to open people’s minds to the idea that all might not be what it seems sometimes. Having an open mind and also not agreeing is fine, that’s life. Unfortunately it has become harder to share new ideas as many people seem to feel threatened by change; they often seek to aggressively defend ideas that they have been taught. I understand that if people invest a lot of time and hard work into something then they don’t want to feel it was in vain. I have trained for many years and been inside Wing Chun for most of that time. I know what I am presenting in this article is not in line with most schools of Wing Chun thought. I also read and hear a lot of people saying they have different Wing Chun, but whenever I check it out it is just that forms are preformed differently, that is the same for most Wing Chun. I have not seen many systems that have a different idea on the use of power and body mechanics. This is an area I believe we have something different to offer. I know in doing so some will not be happy with this, but nevertheless it is the way I teach and practise my Wing Chun. Therefore I am only sharing the views of the system I train in, being Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun.
With these things in mind, I hope you enjoy the insights into our system of Wing Chun. Remember the best martial artists are always growing and trying to understand new ideas and methods of training. Be free of your ego and enjoy new ideas!
It would seem that many practitioners of Wing Chun believe that having good hand movements in your forms means you have a structure in your system. Well, that is structure of hand movement, but that is not the same as having full Body Structure control. Also some may think that as they hold the stance strongly or even tense certain muscles that they have Body Structure. This is also not what structure is about. The term has become more widely used in the past few years since my teacher, Robert Chu, coined the term as an important, if not the most important, key to correct Wing Chun. Therefore in this article I would like to show some of the ideas that make up what we would term Body Structure in the Chu Sau Lei system of Wing Chun.
I have had many people telling me that they have structure in their Wing Chun, but on assessment of their control and use of movement it is apparent that they do not have the same idea of what structure means in the way we term it. Often they have a very fixed and/or static body structure, although not realizing it themselves.
I’m not saying they are incorrect to use the term for what they are doing, but what I am saying it is not the same ‘Body structure’ principles that Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun is based on.
“I use a pot of hot tea as an analogy. The heat is Qi. The pot is your body structure (Shen Ti Xing). The tea in the pot is Li (raw strength). The direction the tea goes in is Yi (intention). The tea pouring out is Jing (power). ~ Robert Chu Sigung
Ideas like adjusting where the weight falls on your feet to maximize power control are foreign to most. So, why do you need power? To be in control in close-range fighting and be able to generate and receive force without losing your base, you need to know how to maximize your potential for power, which is exactly what proper Wing Chun will teach you. Body structure gives you a powerful base from which to attack, defend and control. So what are the attributes we need? The way I see it, they can be divided into External and Internal attributes. The external attributes are; being able to generate maximum mass through proper body mechanics and body power. The internal attributes are; Yi – Intention & Chi cultivation. A Wing Chun fighter should be soft on the inside and hard on the outside. What that means is internally you should be relaxed and centred and externally your opponent will feel that you are very strong and grounded which gives the illusion of superior strength. Often people tell me I feel very strong but at the same time they cannot really find how to control my source of power. This is because I am in fact not really using muscle strength therefore it’s much harder for my opponent to neutralize my body power.
Lik Chong Gerk Jang Sang – Power originates from the heel
Some people use the saying ‘power comes from the heel’. This may be the reason some people may think that having your weight on your heels is powerful. It is not.
The reason we use the terminology “originates” rather then “comes from” is that weight distribution starts from the whole of the feet before power is issued through the balls of the feet. So you could say that power started in the heels, but had to be transferred through the balls of the feet in order to be used. If you were to merely have your weight in your heels and not transfer your weight to issue power you would end up with a very unstable stance. This is why many people find it hard to equalize pressure or forward pressure when utilizing a stance position with their weight dead on their heels or any other fixed part of the foot. In truth you could say that the weight in your feet really truly depends on what direction pressure is coming into your body. What I mean by this is if you have true body structure the real skill is to take pressure and redirect that pressure into the ground, commonly described as “rooting”. If you have this control of skill you should be able to redirect the force through your body and also store force in your body, which will allow you to reissue it back to your opponent with greater power. That brings me to the next maxim which is often also misunderstood:
Ging Chong Gwut Gun Faat, Lik Chong Gerk Jang Sheng – Power comes from bones and tendons, strength originates from the heels
Often people describe power in Wing Chun being delivered by bone power or bone alignment. Unfortunately, what you often see is locking out of the joints, i.e. the main punching arm will be extended at the elbow and shoulder. This is a very limited source of power development and more importantly causes severe damage in the long term to the elbow and to the rotor-cuff of the shoulder. (As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I can confirm that I have often had to treat this problem with new students). Now, locking the joints out on impact does produce a release of power but this is only a small amount compared to the power that can be produced with the whole body structure via kinetic linking to the ground. One of the main benefits of this type of body connection alignment is that not only can you issue power in this manner due to the “spring” nature of the body but you can also absorb power through the body into the ground without taking undue pressure into the joints. If you align your body in this correct manner the joints will absorb pressure and redirect the pressure without effort into the ground and the tendons will twist and strengthen and become stronger with this practice. Therefore when we talk about strength originating from the heels this is really talking about absorbing pressure and rooting therefore explaining the nature of the body in its spring position.
“Power originates from the heels, travels up the ankle and knee joints, is in conjunction with the waist, issues forth from the body and rib cage, travels down the shoulders, to the elbow, to the wrist and manifests from the hands”. ~ Robert Chu Sigung
Let me sort out the missing links for you. Kinetic linking is a term which describes how to correctly load gravitational forces in your body
Generating maximum mass is achieved through the alignment of the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder and elbow. These are the kinetic links in which power is generated and transferred. Should one of these links be out of alignment, its ability to transfer power from the rest of the body is reduced. To issue power using these mechanics you push your body forward and upward, making sure the three dan tian are moving in sequence, from bottom to top (Qi Hai > Tan Zhong > Yin Tang). Your three dan tian points are located approximately at the same positions as your segmented centers of gravity. So what you’re doing is pushing your entire mass forward and upward using all the aligned kinetic links (joints) in your body. Whether stepping or stationary, the principles remain the same. This is what is meant by using power from the ground up. Naturally, rooting power into the ground is done using the same mechanics.
The problem you will have in combat if you are locking out your joints is that you have committed your striking power. Therefore if you have actually missed your target you will find yourself exposed and also will have no stored power available. When I think of this I would say it is like having only one arrow, once you’ve shot that arrow you’ll have none left. If you generate your power from the ground you’ll have an endless source of ammunition. So now you have an automatic machine-gun! Therefore if you punch and miss you can then readjust and re-fire much more quickly and much more effectively because you haven’t over-committed your arm position. The fact is, the body alignment and body position are the important factors in generating power.
“Jang Dae Lik – Elbow down power”
Some people think that by having your elbow down, you’re automatically getting more power; this isn’t true. The key thing here is what we call “vector power lines”. Simply put, having your elbow pointing downward and having the arm bent, gives you a vector power line that bypasses the shoulder in terms of using it for power generation, and goes directly into the hip. This way you can use your body mechanics to full effect. Having your arm straight creates a vector power line that goes straight through the shoulder, taking away the structural support. The shoulder joint (primarily the rotor cuff area) is designed for stabilizing the shoulder joint, nor for storing power. Long term use of the shoulder in this manner will deteriorate the rotor cuff prematurely causing serious degrading of the stability of the joint. So, in fact, “elbow down power” is really teaching one to bypass power from the hip through the arm when punching and then through the arm to the hip when receiving power. That will bring us on to the next maxim of what happens to this power once stored into the body.
Bo Gun Sen Juen Ying Yee Mao – The horse moves with the body like a cat.
This maxim clearly shows the body mechanics of the Wing Chun fighter. The body of the cat demonstrates agility and mobility. In order to produce these traits one must have good body mechanics, strong sense of centre, balance and explosive power. Having the ability to adapt your weight and balance under pressure or when issuing pressure is the key. When a cat moves it will have light footwork but centred body weight.
“Siu Nim Tao Lien Yiu Sen Ma” – Siu Nim Tao trains the waist, torso and horse stance.
The first form in Wing Chun, Siu Nim Tao, teaches the practitioner correct body alignment but also correct storing and issuing of power. Many branches of Wing Chun practise this stance in a very static manner with no linking of the body into the movements of the arms. In the Chu Sau Lei system the Siu Nim Tao teaches the student to generate linked kinetic power and also what we term as the “spring core.”
The form teaches how to explode power with coordination between waist, body and horse. Another important aspect here is what is called the core-musculature. The “core” consists of the abdominal and low back musculature which are responsible for transferring force from the upper extremities to the lower extremities, and vice-versa. The core aids in stability during all physical activity. Even if the rest of your body is very strong, but your core is weak, you will not be able to use all your power since there is no way for the body to stabilize the movement. Improving core strength will improve your ability to transfer power, thus, improve your Wing Chun Kuen power.
The idea of the “spring core” is that the central fulcrum of power is controlled by the center of the body i.e. the hips and waist (core musculature). But, like a giant sphere, the core is just the center; pressure received from any direction will be equalized from the opposite direction. So in terms of combat if you receive pressure into the arm it will be stabilized by the hips and transferred into the ground via the legs. And the opposite can be generated to produce issuing power by sinking the bodyweight into the ground and the focusing intention of the hips as the storing point of this borrowed pressure one can then issue explosively from the hips, pressing the balls of the feet into the ground and releasing the power via the elbow through the fist into the target.
“Externally train the tendons, muscles and bones”
This relates to the idea of Gung Lik within our system, something that we translate as “Trained Strength”. To us, it has nothing to do with “hard energy” or “brute force” as some branches of WCK regard it to be. Gung Lik is trained in the forms and also in Chi Sao practice. Actually, everything we do moulds our bodies to comply with the nature of the system, therefore Gung Lik is always employed. For instance, twisting your Tan Sao will use muscle (to cause the twisting) and when the muscle is contracted this makes the tendons pull on the bone, making muscle, tendon and bone stronger. The tendons are the “rubber bands” of the body and they are what make us able to use true elastic energy. When receiving or absorbing force your muscles control the movement but your tendons store the energy. When the energy is released, there is a minimum of muscular involvement, which in turn makes the movement efficient, less tiring and enables greater force production.
We spring-load ourselves this way either by absorbing force from our opponent, or by using gravity to stretch our tendons.
Internally train one breath of air.
Some people will ignore Qi-gung training within the Wing Chun system. In the Chu Sau Lei system this is an important aspect of Qi cultivation.
Qi is cultivated through specific Qi Gung practices within the SNT form. Some branches even have separate chi kung forms in their syllabus. First, one tries to establish a flow in the small microcosmic orbit (Xiao Zhou Tian), then progress to the big macrocosmic orbit (Da Zhou Tian) which extends the flow of chi throughout the body. Accomplishing this requires correct alignment, breathing and focus. Meditational practice is also employed to build up and store chi in the dan tian.
Without Qi development or Qi focus within the Chinese martial arts the intention of power in the system cannot be expressed to its maximum potential. That brings us to the next maxim.
“Yi Dao : Qi Dao – Intention Goes : Qi Goes”
This relates to striking using your mind’s intention, and controlling and channeling your Qi to focus the results of your power. You need to concentrate your Qi into the part of your body that you’re striking with and focus your intent on the impact point.
“The muscles will move when the intention guides them. This is confluent with the theory of “Yi Dao, Qi Dao” (Intention goes, Qi goes). Qi is important to provide the person with energy to issue force. If one is not breathing, one has no energy.”
Yi – Intention
Intention is one of the key ideas of martial arts. Full intention means doing something whole-heartedly, visualizing what effect it will have and putting your entire being into your action. It relates to your power potential because it’s the mental method of inner power. When attacking, visualize the vector force penetrating into the opponent. Having a calm, relaxed and centred mind with strong intent can greatly enhance your power and overall performance. It will provide you with mental focus and concentration.
I hope I’ve been able to give you some insights or at least some things to think about in regard to power development in Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun Kuen. Remember that you should always stay centered and relaxed and avoid tension. Tension destroys your potential for elastic power and will blur your intent and focus. There are a lot more to be said about all the topics listed here, and if you’re looking for a path to mastery, the Chu Sau Lei system of Wing Chun Kuen is an excellent vehicle.
The true skill in the martial arts is mental flexibility of the mind, changing from one pressure to the next redirecting forces and holding your centre in balance at the same time.
Body Structure Test drills
I will give these tests to you but ask you not to do them if you have any doubt as to what I have been sharing with you, as you may hurt yourself. With correct body structure these tests should be easy.
Medicine ball test
The medicine ball test lets you test your stance under pressure. Try it from different stances and practice. Get your partner to throw the ball with force at your center and see if you can catch the ball on your body using your hand only to hold the ball without losing your base. Start lightly and build up for safety, but you should be able to take full pressure with no problem if you have good Body Structure. No cheating!
Air Shield double palm test
Stand in the basic Wing Chun Yee Je Kim Yeung Ma stance and have a partner hold an airshield against his chest and run at you from a distance with no intention of stopping. See if your strike can draw the power from his charge and channel the force to the ground to stop the runner without you toppling over! Strike the shield with your plams.
Advanced test Air Shield Punch test
Stand in the basic Wing Chun Yee Je Kim Yeung Ma stance and have a partner hold an airshield against his chest and run at you from a distance with no intention of stopping. See if your strike can draw the power from his charge and channel the force to the ground to stop the runner without you toppling over! This is an advanced test and if you haven’t correct body spring core you may damage yourself. So, I would recommend that you be very careful and do it slowly first. If you cannot control it at the slow level then do not increase pressure.
I hope you have enjoyed some insights into Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun Body structure methods. I also would like to think that you will take on broad these ideas and play with them before you take or leave them. May you grow forward in your art and look beyond the point that you are at, in order to find inspiration to improve where you are now. Live in the moment, but keep moving on your path.
By Alan Orr and Kim Elman