Posts

Chang Hong School of Wushu

 

Master Chen notes: This article was published in the Chang Hong Wushu 2011 annual book. It details the core principles of our system of Wushu. It gives vital information on the broader perspective that ones’ Wushu study can attain, gives learners direction, and can help to demystify the path of learning. There are many historical references and quotations in the text which we have tried to translate more directly, hence giving an insight into the style and flavour of Chinese literature. Many of these phrases require some background knowledge of Chinese literature or history to interpret their meaning, so additional explanations have been added in parentheses. The original phrases have also been included as Chinese characters and followed by the corresponding phonetics using the Hanyu Pinyin system.

 Basic Origins and Concepts

Chang Hong Wushu is a school of “Zhong Dao” 中道, or “Middle way” Wushu study. It is also a school of lifestyle Wushu study (making Wushu part of everyday life), and holds this as its’ central concept. It is a branch of Wushu established on traditional Southern, Northern, Internal and External styles. We strive to break the shackles of external form routines (using purely physical muscle strength only) by turning inward and using inner space and breathing vitality as the central focus of learning and practice. This allows the practice to freely interchange between dynamic and static, fast and slow, light and heavy use of power and “Jing” 勁 (a dynamic form of power steered by intention and sensation rather than brute muscle force). In traditional Wushu terminology it is required that ones use of power must span: Hard, soft, skillful and lively 剛, 柔, 巧, 活 (gang, rou, qiao, huo). These four co-exist and can be used interchangeably so that Chang Hong Wushu practice is not constrained to only a few methods of exerting power and a narrow range of techniques.

Of course without doubt, our foundation is built from Northern Shaolin Long Fist 少林長拳 (shao lin chang quan), Southern Shaolin Hong Quan 南少林洪拳 (nan shao lin hong quan) and that which in ancient time was also called “Long Fist” 長拳 (chang quan) now known as Taiji Quan 太極拳 (tai ji quan), as a basic foundation and origin. This however is only our original starting pool of knowledge and is not something that should remain unchanged over thousands of years without any means to progress because of a conservative out-look that clings to what is familiar. As per the phrase: To value one’s old broom as a precious item, 敝帚自珍 (bi zhu zi zhen). Some would mistakenly cherish the external forms and empty shells as the so called proof of assumed lineages like the alms bowl and mantle of former Buddhist masters, instead of recognizing the truly important central concepts. To further explain the essential concepts contained in our system of martial arts, we quote and modifying a section of a poem by Li Bai 李白 (a 7th century poet) called  “Ballade of Lu Shan” 盧山謠 (lu shan yao) :  Colourful clouds swept along ten thousand miles by the wind, A flood wave nine fathom high rises towering out of the ancient river. 「長雲萬里動風色,洪濤九仞騰古江」(chang yun wan li dong feng se, hong tao jiu ren teng gu jiang). The first phrase referring to Chang Quang’s continuity, speedy advances and endless extension. The second phrase refers to Hong Quan’s unpredictable manifestation of power that is overwhelmingly forceful yet utterly shapeless out of a deep flowing base, the ancient river.

Our goal is to pass on wisdom through Wushu practice 「以拳來傳道」(yi quan lai chuan dao). To perpetuate ideas through the tapestry of history. We aim not to simply practice form movements to appreciate their postures and mythology, but rather to explore more deeply the vitality of the martial arts, which is the true essence of Chang Hong Wushu. So with Chang Quan 長拳 and Taiji Quan’s 太極拳 pursuit of continuity, opening 開 (kai) and closing 闔 (he) on the one hand, and Hong Quan’s 洪拳 multi layered variations and fine details manifested by its’ many diverse animal styles on the other.  Then the integration of both clearly inspiring the use of Li Bai’s lines of poetry. This establishes Chang Hong’s requirement to achieve the proverbial : ” To ride upon the rightfulness of Heaven and Earth, and drive the changes of the six elements”  one must walk the road of “permanence” and “change”「乘天地之正而馭六氣之變」(cheng tian di zhi zheng er yu liu qi zhi bian). This is from a quote by an early Daoist philosopher called Lie Zi 列子 (lie zi). He discusses the six elements or poles of change as:  Yin, Yang, Cold, Hot, Dark, Light 「陰,陽寒暑晦明」(yin, yang, han, shou, hui, ming). The theory is that one has to know and maintain that which is constant 「常」(chang), and also know and shape that which can change 「變」(bian). In addition using an approach of logical examination, analysing counter arguments and unifying the results with new findings and deeper research, which gives more room for progress and a goal to head towards. Chang Hong’s training guides one to change one’s bodies habitual method of using power step by step from its fundamental basis.

 The Quest for the Vitality of Wushu Learning

 Over the years, I have constantly investigated the path of Wushu learning’s intention and true meaning, hoping to sufficiently grasp the dynamics of its depth and life. Hence, I strive to continuously carry on learning and exploring unabated, hoping to fully grasp its’ vitality. Fortunately I have had the opportunity follow Wushu teaching as a career. It has allowed me to move beyond deceptive narrow minded thinking about martial arts and the so called “Discussing the battle on paper” 「紙上談兵 」(zhi shang tan bing).

[This refers to the Battle of Changping 長平之戰 (chang ping zhi zhan) in 260BC, in which the King Xiaocheng of Zhao 趙孝成王 (zhao xiao cheng wang) appointed Zhao Kuo 趙括 (zhao gua) the son of a famous General Zhao She 趙奢 (zhao she). It seemed to the King that the son’s ideas were sound, so the King took the sons advice. The battle was a momentous failure resulting in the slaughter of the Kings’ army. It refers to the difference between bold but empty speech and actual knowledge and experience.]

I have had the chance to face learners from different cultures, learners with different requirements, and of a wide variety of ages, from advanced learners to part-time enthusiasts.

Thus gradually the complete spectrum of Wushu learning has become increasingly clear.

I feel that now more than ever Wushu training must still contain the four traditionally required aspects : Martial Philosophy 拳道 (quan dao), Martial Concepts 拳理(quan li), Form routines 拳架(quan jia) and actual application or usage training 拳功(quan gong). Then it can truly be a complete system of Traditional Wushu study.

Unfortunately most pursuers of Wushu study, will only execute movements and achieve the form routines outer physical manifestation. They may add to this a few theoretical frameworks and then feel that this constitutes a complete syllabus of Wushu study.

However, such practitioners might find themselves unable to explore and integrate inspirations from experiences in life’s other realms. These may include so called spiritual experiences concerning the bounds between man and heaven, or connecting with nature and gleaning analogies from its direct experience, or even regarding interpersonal dynamics calling on moral restraint and courageous action. [The term used here is the Confusion phrase : 有守、有為 (you shou, you wei), which refers being clear about and maintaining ones moral principles]. This above mentioned deficient system of Wushu cannot be used as the yardstick of one’s seeking and a guideline to live by. Hence, most systems cannot become a Wushu practice that plumbs the depths of the vitality of human life experience, having only mechanical movements and gymnastics. We strive however, to establish a Wushu practice with Wushu Vitality, i.e. that has the capacity to draw from all of life’s experiences for its growth and then internally boost ones’ ability to manifest in life’s other arenas by using the abilities and insights gained during practice. To have this functional connection to every aspect of our life the Wushu practice must encompass the physical body, the breathing and mental intention, using the integration of all three domains inner and outer space transformation as the main focus. This is Chang Hong’s deeper goal and direction for Wushu training.

Just as with Chang Hong’s “No-stepping” 定步 (ding bu) Wushu training, which is an advanced type of inner and outer space training. We have taken the traditional saying of “A form routine fitting inside the area of an ox lying down” 「拳打臥牛之地」(quan da wo niu zhi di), which implies that practice can still take place in a limited space, and constrained it even further to become: “The fists move right where one stands” 「拳動立足之所」(quan dong li zu zhi suo). In normal Wushu practice there is the outer body methods and stepping to facilitate advance, retreat, turning and redirection. However in “No-stepping” practice this all becomes the transformation and flow of inner space, which allows the whole form routine, whether open hand or with weapons, to be used in an even smaller area but with even more freedom. This is by no means merely the typical use of fixed stance training to simplify forms by taking out the stepping component and restricting movements into a smaller space. What we require is an even more detailed, faster and more fluid expression than the normal version of the form routine with stepping allowed. The “No-stepping” form makes even greater use of inner breathing transformations that lead the body techniques and stance transformations while still obeying the criteria of the feet not moving from their initial position on the ground.  This is because we want our Wushu training, if confined in an even smaller environment, to still be able to manifest unhindered. No matter if walking, sitting, lying down or located on a mountain peak, waters edge, the work place or a small room. Chang Hong holds “The Dao follows Nature”「道法自然」(dao fa zi ran) as a core concept. [This is a quote from Lao Zi’s 老子 work the Dao De Jing 道德經. It states that: “Man follows Earth, Earth follows Heaven, Heaven follows the Dao, the Dao follows Nature.” 「人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。」(dao fa di, di fa tian, tian fa dao, dao fa zi ran). This means Nature is the ultimate guiding principle. In “No-stepping” practice the more constrained the situation, the more one needs to rely on the bodies internal space and adhere only to the core principle and abandon all inefficient and obstructive habits. Just as in the Daoist principle that is striving to strip away all that is superfluous and delve to the core. What remains is Nature.]

 

 Chang Hong studies lifestyle Wushu

 

Obviously because methods of refining power usage are a driving force in the vitality of any Wushu practice, it is fundamental in the direction of Chang Hong’s basic training. In order to let our learners advance their ability and gain knowledge in this regard,  Chang Hong takes the traditional idea of a martial arts syllabus needing to include ” Cavity pressing, striking, throwing and seizing” even further. Firstly one learns the skill and cunning of the technique. Then refining and progressing to an elegance in simplicity which allows a degree of freedom from the laws and stipulations of the technique.  Then ultimately to move to a level of mastery that is completely instinctive, natural and beyond the constraints of a step by step methodology. These three levels of depth allow one to achieve the goal of Wushu’s fine detail and artistry in application and practice.

First of all one must be meticulous and learn the basic theories. If these fundamentals are glossed over too quickly they will forever be flaws preventing deeper progress. Chang Hong’s syllabus takes into account the perspective of beginners all the way up to that of the most advanced learners, guiding them by a consistent theory and philosophy. Hence learners won’t encounter inconsistency and conflict of the essential concepts as they progress. Only with this competence and coherence can learners truly be able to step by step advance into the deeper aspects of study. Otherwise students’ progress will be mere  memorizing of additional moves and routines. Both basic and advanced forms learned in this manner will still be done simplistically. Hence they cannot discover the vitality of entry level forms, and the advanced transformation of our styles’ forms that achieve great depth and intricate details of power usage. Hence even with the most basic form Lian Bu Quan 連步拳, after 20 years of dedicated study one can still find even finer intricacies, new ways of achieving the core underlying principles, find even more space, and deeper levels of power manifestation. This truly is the kind of depth and detail in Wushu study that Chang Hong specialises in.

Additionally, dependence on life experiences and life application is Chang Hong’s key principle. To strive to in ones’ everyday life environment, easily adapt and attain some level of perfection. This is really Wushu studies greater purpose. This is the main difference between us and other traditional wushu practices that only have mechanical power training methods. I grew up in a poor rural environment, and initially my goal of learning Wushu was only to adapt to make everyday tasks easier. After that I progressed ever deeper into the application of Wushu vitality in everyday life, making it the focus of my studies and a way of learning from life’s events. Hence I can provide useful guidance and direction to learners in many different aspects based on personal experience. Rather than only reciting empty theories when teaching, with no way to actually practice what one preaches, or only impart superficial knowledge.

To transform our daily life style, we should have Wushu training principles and vitality as our central focus. Once applied in daily life then we can achieve the ability to do refined training even while at work. This could be focusing on continuously leading the breath to achieve the so called “Practicing Wushu as naturally as walking down the road” 「打拳如走路」(da quan ru zou lu). Or an even higher realm of practice: walking that is actually in-depth training. Our ideology encourages us to take inspiration from everywhere to feed the vitality of our Wushu practice. So even in a completely different environment we can still manifest Wushu lifestyle’s abilities and natural fluency.

 

 Chang Hong is the middle way of Martial study

 

The “Middle Way” 「中道」(zhong dao) is Chinese philosophy’s core idea and leading direction, regardless whether from the ancient “Shang Shu” 「尚書」(A compendium of documents in various styles making the oldest collection of texts in Chinese history) , which has the phrase: “It is well to hold the centre”「允執厥中」(yuan zhi yue zhong), or the later amended by other scholars and hence know as the “fake” Shang Shu: “The human mind is unstable, The true way (Dao) is feint and subtle, only found if focused as one, it is well to hold the centre” 「人心危危,道心微微,唯精唯一,允執厥中」. [It describes one of the five legendary emperors, Tan Yao 堯(2500BC) sayings, who instead of passing his reign on to his son, broke tradition and rather chose a promising young leader called Shun 舜 (shun). These are the words of advice Yao gave to Shun when passing the reign on to him.] The above mentioned are all central to Chinese Philosophies core. Further on to Ru Jia 儒家, The Confusion school of thought around 500BC starting with Confucious 孔子 (Kong Zi) and later Mencius 孟子 (Meng Zi) around 300BC, whose “Doctrine of the Middle Way” 「中庸」(zhong yong) in which was written: “Don’t deviate, don’t lean, without excess, without deficiency” 「不偏不倚, 無太過與不及」 (Bu pian bu yi, wu tai guo yu bu ji), which was their core principle advising the benefits of the Middle Way. This concept is Chinese cultures philosophical lifeblood. It is also Chang Hong’s pursued culture and naturally our most fundamental element.

Chang Hong draws on the ” Middle Way” concept, letting it be our systems Martial Philosophy 拳道 (quan dao), our guiding nature and cultural spirit (consciousness). Thus allowing our Wushu practice at the deepest spiritual marrow to sufficiently attain the theory of the so called: “Oneness of man and heaven” 天人合一, or in contemporary terminology: Man’s integral part of Nature, as a philosophical state of awareness. Our quoting these old texts is not the so called “Clinging to a dragon and attaching the phoenix” 攀龍附鳳 (pan long fu feng), as a form of quoting famous phrases to inflate ones status. Nor is it merely a dry reciting of the old phrases. [Literally: 八股不通 (ba gu bu tong): a formal essay written in the classic eight part structure, but actually doesn’t make sense.] Rather it is Chang Hong’s Wushu training methods and ideology that actually mirror the existence of this fundamental ideal: The Middle Way.

Chang Hong’s theories are built on Vertical Centre Line and Centre of Gravity, combined with the opening and closing of the nine joints in the three sections of the body to attain balance, co-ordination and lively nimbleness in the basic body methods. Added to this the theory of continual circulation of force which always cycles back to ones centre rather than extending then falling back. This is absolutely not the normal action and reaction theory of using force used by most. Further advancing to include the principle of the bodies outer Yang 陽, inner Yin 陰 and central pathways of force to achieve Jing 勁(Power) and Qi 氣 that flow continuously rather than stop and fall back. Both need to be continuous over time and smooth in shape without bottle necks in their flow. Letting them circulate back to the inner core again building to extend even longer. These concepts all require locating and maintaing stability of the center. Just as in the “Don’t deviate, don’t lean” 不偏不倚 (bu pian bu yi) prerequisite stated earlier. Once having this focus of awareness of the bodies central rotation point, then when the centre of gravity is shifted. One should still be able to create upright circular rotation and not lean over or hold the breath and suffering distressing panic conditions where you resort to using brute force. This really is where the essence of the “Middle Way” of martial arts lies. If one can sufficiently grasp this point, then one can maintain a state of activity and jumping about and easily transform lightness and heaviness letting the Wushu trainings “Centre”「中」(zhong) still be lively and ever present. Otherwise it’s a empty theory that only applies superficially in a static posture, but one is actually still clumsy when in movement.

 

Chang Hong is a style of Wushu vitality exploration

and philosophical inheritance through Wushu practice.

 

We have continuously emphasised Wushu life style vitality’s importance and value, so Chang Hong’s attitude to this aspect is to make it the central ideology and teaching requirement. The same as in traditional Chinese Culture, regardless of whether its Confucius’s great works: 「刪詩書, 定禮樂, 贊周易, 修春秋」[Shan Shi Shu, a consolidation of ancient poetry and historical records. Ding Li Le, a compilation of ancient rituals, ceremonial procedure and music. Zan Zhou Yi, a version of the original I-Ching or “Book of Changes” with added explanation, expanding on the very brief original work. Xiu Chun Qiu, “Spring and Autumn Annals, a record of the recent history of his times].  Or then later in the Song Dynasty 明理學 (Ming Li Xue or School of Principle which was later known as the Neo-Confucian Rationalist School, from the Song to Qing Dynasties 1000-1750AD. Then still later with 心學(Xin Xue), [Literally “School of Mind” a Ming Dynasty school of thought, who championed the works of Mencius in discussing Man’s role in nature and the link between knowledge and action], who’s teachings passed sequentially on to 陸久淵 Lu Jiu Yuan, to 王陽明 Wang Yang Ming, to 周敦頤 Zhou Dun Yi, and to its culmination in the teachings of 朱熹Zhou Xi etc. Even though all these era’s had the Confusion classics as their teaching framework, all had a new appearance which emerged as various types of Neo-Confucianism thought. The difference is only in the manifested life vitality of the inherited knowledge at each stage and the different ways each age chose to further research and experience it. This is analogous to how we have retained the traditional way of martial arts through life experience, awareness and the mental principles, the manner of which we’ve been exploring for many years.

Refining Chang Hong’s ideology required time and experience. Before starting the Chang Hong School I had endeavored as a student for fifteen years in the pursuit of traditional Wushu knowledge and practice. Then later in the first ten years of my teaching experience, I followed the traditions closely. So twenty-five years of observing the traditions and in-depth understanding were devoted to make the Wushu concepts that I have been seeking more realistic and mature. Unlike most others who teach Wushu, who speak of passing on traditions with shameless bravado after merely three years of shallow study. They may then need to exaggerate their speech when trying to teach the next generation. Or others may be unwilling and unable to deeply understand the fine distinctions between truly understanding the principles and blindly following mistaken ideas. They use superficial knowledge and the memorized form movements to teach in a secretive manner, in which they place themselves in a position of seniority in the lineage.

Of course, the value of Wushu learning lies in the vitality of the martial art, which encompasses both the refinement of one’s own body and manner of application of techniques, which is way more than simply a few empty movements and postures. This is similar to the importance of actually analyzing and understanding, gaining comprehensive knowledge, and then application of the classic works in ones life such as Lao Zi 老子, Zhuang Zi 莊子 and the I-Ching (Book of Changes) 易經. This is way more important than simply memorizing and reciting the old verses. Thus the fundamental concepts and direction that I offered learners were always explained step by step and demonstrated while teaching. Until after a great number of years I concretely proclaimed the crystalized systematic core concepts of Wushu as the specialty of the Chang Hong system.

The central concepts and focus of learning in Chang Hong Wushu can be stated as follows: The opening and closing and balance of the nine joints in the three sections of the body is the basis. Further with the Central Axis and Centre of Gravity concepts allowing circular rotation and continual recycling of force, which is then further enriched when including the concepts of the bodies Yin and Yang pathways. These all combined together to bring about the manipulation of Intention 意念, Space 空間 and Situation 形勢 both internally and externally. This is Chang Hong’s core principle and practice.

[形勢 Xing Shi here translated as “Situation” needs further clarification as it is a concept that doesn’t exist in English and as used in Wushu differs from the dictionary definition anyway. Some have suggested a translation of “Gestalt” as it covers so many aspects. In a physical sense it is the comprehensive landscape of the distinct and cumulative momentums of all the parts of both oneself and the opponents bodies. Added to this is the strategy, goal, and the intended, perceived, or telegraphed paths of travel, which is also affected by the mental presence or spirit, and also the distribution of  Qi 氣. So it is the entirety of the situation made up from all the contributing factors of both combatants.]

Chang Hong regards form routines as merely a tool, or a ladder and a curriculum that learners advance through and not the main goal of Wushu practice. Hence Chang Hong regards a traditional forms’ origin and system with respect, but does not consider it something that should be followed blindly in a self-constricting way. As the saying goes: “The Yangtze river and the oceans are vast because they don’t turn away a single small flow” 「江海之所以成其大者,不擇細流」 (Jiang hai zhi suo yi cheng qi da zhe, bu ze xi liu) . The Yangtze rivers’s source is the Jin Sha river 金沙江, but the Yangtze’s greatness and beauty comes from its unique living value, as opposed to some inheritance from its predecessor. Otherwise it is only an extension of the Jin Sha river, and not worthy of an independent name. Chang Hong’s traditional Wushu system as passed on to the next generations, is not as un-selective as the great rivers and oceans that turn away no small flow of water, but rather there is a clear process of tempering and refining the integration of life vitality and honing the clarity of purpose and direction. We are in an unceasing process of evolution. Our relationship to our historical lineage is neither the stifling adherence to age-old rules, being bound by convention unaware and inflexible, nor the pursuit of fragments of history and obsessed with formalities. The example we follow, is the great ideal exhorted by Tai Shi Gong 太史公. Literally known as the “The Great Historian”, whose actual name was Si Ma Qian 司馬遷. In the Han dynasty he wrote the first officially sanctioned history of China. This was a life’s work which detailed nearly 3000 years of Chinese history. When writing The Record of the Grand Historian he continuously maintained a single aspiration: “Investigate all between Heaven and Man, Know all the changes from ancient times to the present, and form a school of teaching”. 「究天人之際,通古今之變,成一家之言」(jiu tian ren zhi ji, tong gu jin zhi bian, cheng yi jia zhi yan). This is how we approach the variations and flexibility of Wushu, which is actually where the life blood or spirit of its’ study lies. This is the dynamic life vitality that we embody and perpetuate.

 

 

Conclusion

 

A Confucian saying goes “Our ways are linked by the One ” [吾道一以貫之](Wu dao yi yi guan zhi), which originally referred to the one central morality of his teaching. It applies especially well to the path of Wushu study. It is a kind of endeavor that requires bodily practice and effort. A single over-arching concept is needed to harmonize its various layers, including body, breathing, and intent through their various stages of development. Throughout the years, I have endeavored to integrate these aspects, and worked to hone and direct the contents of this prestigious school with a unifying mental approach. This is in the hope that the concepts and practices can be further refined, just like the natural principles of the 8 trigrams in the Book of Changes. So that over time they may be polished by the grinding against each other and the collision and swaying between counterparts. Through all these iterations of refinement, they should still embody the fundamental principles, which will be elucidated in the process. For a long time now, Chang Hong has undertaken to establish this way of thinking, this mental approach is our lineage, which is showing signs of good initial achievements.

In the summer of 2011 we had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to teach classes and also present the school in Durban with a ten year celebratory carved wooden plaque. It carried the four characters 長洪武學 (Chang Hong Wu Xue), which is honored alongside the name of the school. Already with many Chang Hong Wushu schools open, we need to let everyone understand the required state of mind and core concepts. I hence specially wrote this article to further explain the core principle and application of the Chang Hong system, and illustrate its’ vitality. I hope that it will aid all learners to gain further understanding and knowledge about their own pursuit and direction.

Written by Chen Ching Ho

 Translated by Si fu Paul Hanrahan and Hsu Sheng-Hsia

Principles of Self-defence

 

 Human Nature

It is important to realise that people are not basically good. Everyone is motivated by a certain level of selfishness. This selfishness can cause people to do shocking things. This can been seen in the fact that babies and young children are very selfish but learn compassion as they grow older. Different people develop different levels of control over their selfish nature. Some people have a high level of control, and these are the friendlies. Others don’t, and these are the un-friendlies. It is important to remember, however, that anyone can become violent or dangerous given the right circumstances. With this in mind, every person out there, in particular some of the badly adjusted people you may be dealing with directly, are a potential threat to your safety.

We should cultivate awareness of this fact without living in fear of people or becoming paranoid. Essentially, keep your eyes open, don’t daydream when you’re dealing with people or when you’re in a dangerous situation, and always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.

Self-Defence Truths

What do you think you need in order to be safe in a physical confrontation?

  • 1001 combat techniques
  • A gun
  • Extreme physical strength and speed
  • 20 years of experience in a martial arts system

The truth is somewhat uncomfortable. In a real combat situation, learned techniques too often are not remembered. Gun owners are often the victims of criminals using their own guns against them. Without the will to act, speed and strength are just decorations. Experienced martial artists are often left questioning their own abilities after being incapable of defending themselves.

The truth is that all the weapons and physical training in the world are next to useless in self defence without the appropriate mental training. The will and mental control to fight and survive is of paramount importance. Without it, physical training is like carrying a pistol without any bullets loaded in the clip. It is counter-productive because it gives you a false sense of security.

What is Self Defence?

Actual combat is of minor importance in self defence. Self defence is predominately the avoidance of dangerous situations. A self defence situation can be compared to a long chain with a meat-hook on the end of it. The chain represents a chain of events leading to a physical confrontation, which is represented by the meat-hook. The physical confrontation can be avoided by breaking the chain at any point before the meat-hook. This could involve apologising to someone for spilling their drink, crossing to the other side of the road when you see a potential situation occurring, or choosing a safer route home from work.

Don’t forget your OATS

I have identified 4 prime principles of self-defence:

  • Observation
  • Acceptance
  • Tactics
  • Safety

Observation – The more observant you are, the smaller the chance that you will find yourself in a physical confrontation. Observation can be visual, social or internal.

Visual observation includes visually noting people, events, and places. This includes noting suspicious behaviour, learning about dangerous areas and avoiding them or being cautious when travelling through them. This also includes being aware of unfolding events that may bring danger such as a fight happening on the street or a client becoming anxious or using abusive language.

Social observation includes awareness and understanding of social dynamics such as body language, gang mentalities, ego issues, clothing and appearance. It also includes using social dynamics to diffuse or mitigate self defence situations before they become physical. It is important to never let your own pride or ego cause you to place yourself in harms way.

Internal observation includes paying attention to any feelings that you have. Feelings are often a communication tool used by your subconscious to feed information to your conscious mind. For example, if you have a bad feeling about someone or something, treat that person or situation as a threat until you find otherwise.

Acceptance – The next key step in a self defence situation is acceptance. Remember that your first opponents will be internal. You will be assailed by adrenaline overloads, fear, self-reproach, existential questions, anger, resentment etc. It is important to accept what is happening to you and then do what is required. Adrenaline gears you for action – do NOT interpret it as fear. Accept it and work with it. You will feel sinking sensations in your stomach. You may loose bowel/bladder control. Your heart rate will increase rapidly. These are all NATURAL. Do not think of these as symptoms of fear. They are your body preparing for action. Training in mental control techniques such as meditation can assist in accepting a situation and removing unnecessary and negative thoughts. During your martial arts training, ensure that you are focused and that your thoughts are clear and concise.

Tactics – It is important to realise that actual combat or fighting should be automatic, not a tactic. You should never have to think about HOW to fight. Combat/fighting is just a tool to help you to become safe. Don’t get distracted by silly ideas about the ”glory” of combat. There is nothing ”glorious” about it. It is brutal, fast, dangerous and dirty. Combat is a meathook. Combat is only applied in order to assist in the application of your tactics. I have identified 2 types of tactics involved in a self defence situation– Microtactics and Macrotactics.

Microtactics are minor advantages which help you to achieve your goal. These answer the question, “How can I make my journey or task easier?” or “What can I use to increase my chance of success?”. This could involve use of the environment eg. Stairs, walls, doorways, high ground, rough terrain, other people and obstacles. This could also involve the use of psychological/social controls eg. confusion, distraction and emotion. Finally this could involve the use of combat approaches, tools or weapons eg. fast movement, rocks, sand, hats etc.

Macrotactics are broad tactics or goals which answer the questions, “Where must I go or what must I do to be safe?” and ”What is my final destination or goal?”. This should involve identifying the nearest possible place of safety or the easiest way to achieve a state of safety. These goals should be as simple as possible eg. Get to a doorway, get to the end of the street, get to the nearest phone, or get to a large crowd of people. It is always best to avoid combat/fighting but it might prove unavoidable, for example if you identify that your macrotactic is to physically disable an opponent because escape is impossible. When faced with a self defence situation, immediately identify your macrotactic, and then use microtactics to help you achieve this goal.

Safety – Once everything is over and you are safe, you can evaluate the event and think about it.

Remember that if you used combat/fighting, you may have a court battle to fight as well. Perhaps there are injured people that need medical assistance – call the relevant authorities. In any event, you should report the event immediately and use all the proper channels (police/medical authorities) to follow up.

taken from a recent seminar presented by Si Xiong Lester Walters of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

SENIOR CLASS GROUP SESSIONS

With all the up and coming Public holidays we are joining senior classes on these days below.

Times depend on when senior classes are held at the different branches. Check with instructors.

Monday senior classes will join with Tuesday 22 April class (21public holiday)

Monday senior class will join with Tuesday 29 April class (28 public holiday)

Tuesday senior class will join with Wednesday 30 April class (1 May public holiday)

Hope this all makes sense and keep up the hard training.

Si gung

 

UK Branch

The Journey Begins

 

When I moved to Johannesburg I started looking for a new martial arts school to train at.  Having always had an interest in Kung Fu I was lucky enough, in 2003, to move in to a house around the corner from the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre in Parkhurst.  I was not aware at this point just how life changing this move would in fact be.

When I entered the school, I was met by Si Fu Marco who spoke to me and asked me a few questions and showed me a video of the school.  I decided I wanted to try a class and that first class was the beginning of a wonderful journey for me.

It was shortly after starting that I realised this was the system for me and that in order to truly progress in my own training I needed to put the time and effort into both my kung fu and the school itself.  It was not long after having started my path within the ranks of the school that I realised I wanted to not only train kung fu but to gain a better understanding and further my own learning, I wanted to get involved in teaching.  After two years of training I was given the opportunity to begin down my path of becoming an instructor within the school.

Several years later, in 2008, I made a move to the United Kingdom.  I was determined that the move would not limit my training and made a concerted effort to ensure I was able to maintain my training and learning within the school, as there were a few senior students.  I have also been able to make regular trips back to South Africa to ensure my progression is maintained.  It was shortly after moving to the UK when I started chatting with the students in the UK about potentially opening up a school in London.

A lot of discussions where had regarding starting a school, but every time we looked into it we realised there were several hurdles that we would need to face.  The UK has a very different set of rules and regulations, especially when it comes to things like martial arts.  There were various laws that we had to ensure we could comply with, for example the handling of our training gear, as well as ensuring the health and safety of those individuals looking to participate.

A few years later still, I had a conversation with Si Fu Marco who then asked me whether I would be willing to consider formally taking on the responsibility of setting up and opening a Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre in the UK.  I was very excited about this, as I had never thought it would be possible for me to open up my own school.  This was always a dream, which thanks to Si Fu Marco now had the potential to become reality.  Having thought about the opportunity that was being offered to me, I accepted Si Fu Marco’s offer and started working towards setting the school up.

With all the various legal restrictions which I knew where facing me, I started doing some further research with the help of the other senior students that were in the UK.  Having identified that insurance was a high priority to ensure legal cover both for the school and the students looking to start their own journey into the ranks of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre, I looked for the best place to obtain insurance.  After additional research it was evident that the best way to get the school started and obtain the necessary insurance would be to register with a sports council.  Thankfully in the UK there is the British Council for Chinese Martial arts, I successfully registered the UK branch of the school with the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts.  One of the requirements meant I needed to undertake training to become a qualified coach, which I have since completed.

Although senior students have been training for a number of years in the UK, the next and biggest challenge I am currently facing, is identify the best location to start advertising and building the student base.  The hunt began to find a suitable venue to run more classes and be in a position which would benefit more people.  At this point in my journey, I am continuing the search for a suitable venue to start building the necessary student base needed to successfully grow the school.

Even facing these challenges it has not stopped a junior class from forming.  This first junior class of the UK branch has been with two students, and will hopefully increase as the school grows.

I will look to write another article once I have progressed with building the school allowing me to further grow my own knowledge, the schools lineage and the strength of Chinese Martial Arts.

Image 3

Dui Da Sparring special class

 

My goal in writing this article is to try and highlight some of the important underlying principles that Master Chen discussed during the Dui Da (Sparring classes).

It is important to know that all the principles of traditional Wushu should remain intact when sparring with a partner. To think that form techniques have no use during sparring means incorrect understanding of the movements. This article will discuss several fundamental principles and their relevance when sparring.

1) Centre of gravity

In all marital arts the centre of gravity or Zhong Xin is a very important concept ot be aware of. If we aren’t in control of our centre of gravity then we cannot stay standing firmly. Standing upright requires that out centre of gravity remains anywhere on the line between our two feet. If this criterion is not met then we will easily fall over. An Opponent will try and unbalance us by getting our centre of gravity off this line. Under the pressure of sparring with an opponent we must be very aware of where our centre of gravity rests at any time.

Our basic posture or ready position has the centre of gravity mostly on the rear leg so that is furthest from our opponent and less vulnerable to being pulled or swept. If the leg closest to the opponent carries less weight then it can be more easily lifted to kick with. The stance that suits these criteria well is San Jiao Ma or triangle stance. The rear foot has about 70% of the weight and the front foot has 30%.

To achieve control of the centre of gravity we must pay attention to the Dantain, Kua and posture. The Dantian should be drawn in and held stable so that it forms the central hub for all forces in the body. Opening the Kua and stretching the lower torso taller allows the stepping to be lighter and more sensitive to changes in balance. Keeping the whole spine upright is vital to keeping the centre of gravity controlled. Tension in the shoulders and expanding the ribs and chest will cause the body to become top heavy and hence unstable. The legs and Daitian at the base of the body should be relied on for power instead of the shoulders. This is the foundation for good upright posture that is essential or agile movement and generating force while sparring.

2) Vertical Centre-line

The principle of centre line is probably the single most important idea in Wushu. Our basic ready stance should be balanced around the vertical central axis of the body. Most styles of Wushu also stipulate that the central axis of the body must be kept vertical at all times no matter how low or high the posture is. This is an important principle to keep in mind for sparring because it helps keep the body balanced, helps us generate power and keeps the head protected.

Whenever the body rotates it should be on the central axis. Most turning hand and leg movements are more efficiently done using a very small movement with the limbs accompanied by rotation of the body on its centreline. The surprising truth is that turning the whole body on its centre is much quicker than keeping the body still and moving the limbs on their own. So if we use the rotation of the body our blocks and strikes will be much faster and more powerful.

Turning of the body gives us a way to convert and redirect incoming force from an opponent and send it back at them. As an opponent strikes at us we reach out and stick to their strike with our one hand blocking or controlling their strike. Simultaneously our other hand strikes back at them. As both arms are driven by the body’s rotation this simultaneous action is possible. As opposed to a block followed by a separate strike which would be much slower. Rotation of the body on the central axis allows us to move efficiently and keep the limbs relaxed. Making use of this concept will allow us to save energy. Otherwise a short session of sparring will leave us exhausted.

3) Line of attack and Strategy

When facing an opponent we should have a clear idea of the direct line between our bodies and our opponents centre. This can be called the line of attack.

Our focus normally is straight down this line. Our eyes, fingertips and the front foot all facing the same way. This represents a well-defended front line to our opponent. It leaves our limbs well aligned for attack and defence, and our senses focused on our opponent.

The strategy of stepping during sparring is to face directly down the line of attack and hence prevent our opponent from doing so. As soon as any contact is made the opponents will compete for alignment down the line of attack. Id on opponent is even slightly off, their power cannot be sent in towards their target as easily. If they are misaligned and continue to exert forward power they are easily deflected like water by the angled hull of a boat. To achieve this relies on our understanding of the Line of attack concept and our stepping being agile, swift and well timed.

4) Stability, Balance and Dantian

There are very few discussions in Wushu that do not mention Dantian. It is seen spatially as the 3 dimensional centre of the body, and also as the central hub via which all force in the body should be channelled. A vital property of the Dantian is thus to be stable and balanced. To achieve this stability the lower section of the body this is cupped partially by the pelvis should always remain drawn in during Wushu practice. When stepping the Dantian controls force from the legs to shift the body to the required new position. If done correctly the stepping should be light and the body should stay tat the same height and remain stable during the transition. We want to keep the body balanced at all times without the weight falling as we step. A good test for this is if the stepping can be silent.

Stability in the hands is also important. A stab le Dantian provides the starting point for extension od the rest of the body and allows the shoulders to relax and open. Our goal is to meet our opponents with defensive arm postures that are stable, but empty. This means that they are free of muscle tension. If our arms are too stiff then an opponent can easily push us over by pressing on them. Our hands should be an intelligent defence that allows us to sense the direction and position of our opponents force and also disguise the nature and position of our force.

5) Don’t use force against force

One of the most important ideas in Wushu is that one should never fight force against force. Bu yao yong li peng. This can also be translated as: Don’t use the collision of force.

We can say that this is the “litmus test” for successful application of Wushu principles. One might feel that this is a very lofty ideal that can never be achieved in the neat of a sparring situation, but in actual fact if we can keep a clean head, this idea can be our sole guiding principle.

When it comes down to instinctive reaction as an opponent’s attacks, the answer to the question “what should I do now”, is answered by the sense of which action will not let our force crash into our opponents force head on.

6) Ranging

When facing an opponent in San Jiao Ma, the most efficient way of shifting backwards or forwards as a small shuffle step keeping the San Jiao Ma stance intact. Once one is able to do the basic forward, backward and side step, the strategy of stepping needs to be studied.

When facing an opponent one of the most important principles to be aware of is staying in the desired range from the opponent. This is not to say that being close is good and far is bad, or vice versa. Each range has its benefits and deficits. What is important is that we have the ability to move to the desired range at any moment.

If we first only consider forward and backward stepping alone the line of attack: there are preferred ranges for both attacker and defender. Hand techniques will all be much easier to use of the basic stepping and range is well executed. Poor stepping will always leave us vulnerable to attack and unable to generate power in our strikes.

If an opponent steps forward and tries to hit us we can use a reverse step to protect against the attack and neutralise the opponents force. The ideal reverse step would take our body just out of range of the attack, but no further, making counter-attack much easier. Our body can end up less than 1 centimetre away from the opponent’s fist, but because the retreat was well timed out body is not harmed in any way. The opponent has reached their maximum extension and is hence vulnerable to counter attack. To achieve this desired effect our stepping needs to be agile, swift and light. Our retreat should match the pace of the strike rather than being too fast or too slow.

From the perspective of the attacker, one’s stepping should be able to close the distance to the opponent, and bring them in range for attack. The stepping however, cannot just be quick and long. It needs to also be stable. If we charge forward unbalanced out opponent can easily side step and make us fall forwards. If we are unstable our power falls downwards to the feet with each step. Heavy footsteps are an indication of this.

7) Mental state

When sparring it is very important to keep our mental state focused, but calm. Just as the body should remain relaxed to conserve energy and move swiftly, similarly with the mental state. If we are overcome by fear  or panic then our ability to react quickly in defence and attack is lessened. Frantic action will cloud our mind and reduce our ability to instinctively choose the correct course of action. We should keep our intention centred and undistracted, and our vision focused on the opponent. An aid in keeping the mind and body calm is to keep the breathing even.

8) Summary

The above sections have highlighted a few points of traditional Wushu and their relevance to sparring. Posture and body alignment are very important. To be aware of the centre of gravity and how to prorect it is essential in both sparring and wrestling situations. The concept of centreline should  be focused on until it becomes a natural instinct to keep the vertical axis upright. It is the ey to good movement and power generation. The competition for control of the line of attack between us and our opponent is the most vital point to be aware of for manoeuvring and strategy of sparring. The basic sparring posture should offer the opponent the least opportunity to attack vital areas of the body, and most importantly keep the front centreline of the body guarded. The body should stay stable, balanced and relaxed to conserve energy and allow for swift movements. Instances of colliding with the opponent force and using too much muscular effort should be avoided. Keeping the body relaxed, the mind calm and the breathing steady and even are all key points in keeping the mental intention and focus unclouded.

An analogy that is often used by Master Chen to summarize the nature of good Wushu practice is:

Huo de shi ruan de, si de shi yin de.

Which can be translated as: That which is living is flexible. That which is dead is rigid.

This is a core underlying principle that we should try and infuse all our Wushu practice with.

Si Fu Paul Hanrahan Untitled2 Untitled1

 

 

 

On the Functions and Training Methods of Ma Bu

To train Ma Bu is the basic training of learning martial arts. Some call it zhan ma bu(to stand on ma bu), zhan zhuang(to stand solidly like a pillar), di pen(to stand firmly on the ground like a basin), or zhuang gong(the skill of standing solidly like a pillar.) Ever since I have some idea of what martial arts is all about, I have considered it a golden rule to train ma bu, something that cannot be changed or a step that cannot be skipped, if you are serious about martial arts. I have studied kung fu for several decades, and I have endured the hardships of training ma bu, driven by the environmental factors and my own will power. When I started to teach, I have seen some people sweat it out and persevere, and yet still more people try to avoid the pain, or simply give up the idea of taking up martial arts training. So through the observation and experimentation during the teaching sessions, I spent a couple of years delving into the further understanding and consolidated what I learned about ma bu. Thus I hope I can help students overcome the obstacle, let more people benefit from kung fu training and have some fun in the process.

 FUNCTIONS OF MA BU

All styles of kung fu have ma bu, especially among traditional styles, it is very much emphasized. I myself have suffered a lot from its training. In our Chang Hong system, we further divide ma bu into the Chang Chuan Ma (northern ma bu) and Hong Chuan Ma(southern ma bu.) What exactly are the functions of ma bu? Some pugilists in the past consider it only a way to train muscular endurance. Indeed it is basically correct to say ma bu can train the endurance abilities of muscles. Human body is made up of skeleton and muscles. The application of power is correlated to the endurance and tightening and loosening of muscles. But we will not emphasize here in order not to lose sight of the more important and fundamental aspect of Chi (breathing.) We will briefly divide into several parts and explain in the following.

(1)the function to sink the Chi lower

To train in kung fu, one must first change the way he exerts power. He must give up the simple muscle power that is generated by tightening the joints and convert that to the power integrated by mind, Chi and muscular power. And the simplest way to do that is through zhan zhuang(stand on ma bu solidly like a pillar.) When we have found zhong xian(imaginary central axis) and Dan-tien.(about 3 inches below navel) through the basic training of hands, eyes and body, we must let the Chi sink down, and then when we stand on ma bu, it would be like a tree with deep root in the earth or like a tumbler that has a low center of gravity. If one squats down only with one’s body, but not one’s Chi, the bottom of the feet will have a reactionary force and make one’s body float. At this juncture, although the body may seem to go down, the Chi actually floats up and makes one unstable, not to mention if one rushes forward to throw a punch. Another situation is when one squats down with the whole body tightening into one block, it may seem very stable. Indeed, if the volume of body is shrunk into one block, it is more stable, but it’s like an ostrich, not only defenseless and clumsy, and it has nothing to do with sinking the Chi down. This is not what a martial artist should strive for.

(2)to train will power and patience

In the process of traditional kung fu training, it is of utmost importance to ask the practitioners to follow the way and virtue of martial arts. That is why the practitioners must first endure hardships so that they won’t be like the ancient practitioner, Chin Wu Yang who courted disaster because of his rashness. Martial arts is not just a discipline that offers health exercise, also it’s a skill that teaches one how to defend himself, or even kill the enemies. If a student cannot restrain himself and resort to etiquette, when he is highly skilled in kung fu, he becomes a loose cannon. That can be a very dangerous thing. Therefore, in the traditional training methods of basic skills, one of the purposes is to train the students’ perseverance, endurance and will power and let the students at the same time “nurture Chi in the mind” and “straighten the internal breathing” so that the ability to have “clear mind, clear eyes, sunken Chi and steady step” is achieved.

(3) to coordinate the hips, body and power

Before integration, the force that be exerted is only bits and pieces of power that can be generated from the limbs, and not the synchronized power generated from the center of the body. The reason why we list zhan zhuang as a basic training is to synchronize san guan qio qie(neck, ribs, waist, shoulder, elbow, wrist, groin, knee, and ankle) and Chi of the mind. One must be able to feel the existence of the power of the body center, and through other practices, to train the feel of correspondence between the head and the rear, like the modulation of the river and the sea. As a result, the theory of generating power and practices will affect the demands of zhan zhuang. Different training methods and demands of ma bu of different schools diverge subsequently.

HORSEBACK RIDING STANCE OF CHANG CHUAN AND FOUR-EVEN HORSE STANCE OF HONG CHUAN

In the previous section, we discussed the basic functions of ma bu. Here we eemphasize that ma bu is the basic skill to let the body balance, coordinate and the Chi become stable and flexible. The training methods and demands of ma bu will vary depending on the power generation habits of different styles of kung fu. In the following, we will explain in further details using the basic ma bu stances of Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan in our system as examples.

1. horse-back riding stance

The movement of Chang Chuan is long and extended. As to the power generation mode, it is through the change and rotation of hips and legs in conjunction with the application rules to make it accelerate in the end and extend the body, so called “straight line acceleration power penetration, hips and legs extension and retraction, whipping power generation…” Therefore, we must pay very careful attention to the coordination and balance of body.

With respect to the training aspect of stances, the basic eight stances are considered the basic zhuang fa(method of standing firmly like a pillar.) Among them, the horse-back riding stance is considered basic of the basic. The gist of training ma bu is to straighten up the body, sink the Chi low, tilt the knees slight inward toward the center of the body, and let the hips remain flexible. When the body is straight, it is well balanced from the left and right, without tilting to any one side. And then in conjunction with the lowering of one’s center of gravity, let Chi into the Dan-tien, and let remain stable there. Since Chi is in Dan-tien now, it is not stuck in the upper body, and the hip is not stiff, upper body is relaxed, not uptight. If Chi does not go down along with the center of gravity, normally it gets stuck in the chest and ribs. In this case, the body will be deadly stiff or even floating upward. It will be very painful to do ma bu then. So at this instant, one has to try to adjust breathing, and stand a little bit higher, and let the knee and thigh form a 45-degree angle. Wait until the breathing is smooth and low in the Dan-tien and then gradually squat down lower. Otherwise, there will be all sorts of twisted postures like stiff chin, drawn up shoulders, thrust out chest, a spine that is bent too much inward, and as a result the buttocks seem to be projecting outward.

Another important requirement of horse-back riding stance is to slightly bend two knees inward toward the center of the body. When we stand on ma bu, if we relax our body, the force of gravity will fall evenly on two feet, and the weight of the body will evenly sink down too. But sometimes when we do ma bu, due to the changes of breathing, center of gravity and posture, part of the force of the center of gravity and body will disperse outward because of pressure and will result in the phenomenon of what we call “the confusion of axis and wheel.” Unless we only want to use the rotational force of perimeter of the body and reactionary force, we have to straighten up the lower back, bend the two knees slightly inward, try to concentrate the Chi in the Dan-tien, and produce the torque about the central axis. This way we have some idea of the central axis, and this is the kind of power generation mode we want.

During the ma bu training process, we always ask the students not to let your knees go over your toes, even if that means you have to stand up a little. (You can go over a little, if you are built that way, but not too much.) Why is that? That is because the power generation method within our school is to rotate your body around the fixed axis centered in Dan-tien and create the torque. So you have to stabilize your Chi in the center, not to push it to the front or extend to the back. Also you have to straighten your body, not to tilt to any side. Furthermore, when you execute the blow, it has to be swift and direct like snapping a whip or shooting an arrow. On the other hand, if the knees should go over the toes, the Chi will be in the front part of your belly instead of center, and the pressure will fall on the knees. In this case, you can only exert power using the perimeter of your body to rotate as opposed to the central axis. For Chang Chuan, this is not direct and crispy. After the fine points are understood, then the rest is all time and sweat. Grand Master Lee once said, “kung fu is grinding practice of time and sweat.”

After one has nailed down ma bu, the next stage is to learn its flexible changes. First, it’s the upright body and sunken Chi, in combination with the left right switch of mountain-climbing stance; the real false conversion of cat stance ton make the change of posture nimble gradually; and then with the application of forms to make the stances reach the stage of being alive and usable.

We have to pay attention to one particular point. That is when we practice the change of various stances, a lot of people overlook the “straight” transmission. What I mean by “straight” transmission is that we move with the rotation of the whole body, not to hold your breath and move like a concrete block. For example, when we change from horse-back riding stance to mountain-climbing stance, pay attention to the accompanying change of heel and ball of the foot, we can’t just twist the knees and the upper body. We will lose balance that way. Then when we switch from left to right stance, although there is no pause in the middle, make sure to change to horse-back riding stance facing the front, and then rotate to the right smoothly. This is the right way to do it. This rule should not be neglected in the training of zuo pan, fu hu, xu bu and du lib u either. From the requirement of ma bu to hold your body straight, and then to accompany the change of other stances, this is the basic training, and also a very important process to step into the doorstep of the treasure house of Chang Chuan.

2. four-even horse stance of Hong Chuan

According to the tradition, there are 12 different stances in the Hong Chuan posture training, which is the building block of Hungar kung fu. Among the 12 stances, the four-even horse stance and Er Zi Qien Yang Ma are essential. Four-even horse stance is for the low wide stance training, and the Er Zi Qien Yang Ma is for the tall narrow stance training. In the following section, we will introduce the four-even horse stance of the 12 stances.

The so called “four-even horse stance” is in fact a ma bu. The only difference between it and the horse-back riding stance is that its stance is lower, the knees don’t bend inward and the requirements of “four-even, four-straight, and four-sinking.” The four-even is to have an even head, even shoulders, even thighs, even heart. The four-straight is to have a straight head, straight body, straight posture, straight Chi. As to the requirement of four-sinking is to have sinking shoulders (not to draw up), sinking elbows (not to raise it. Should point to the direction of the floor.), sinking groin, and sinking Chi.

To study Hong Chuan, one must have the concept of mind and Chi first, and its central idea is “the way of nature.” Hungar kung fu adopts the forms of the birds and wild beasts, the shape of the mountains, rivers and nature, the figure and presumed intention of gods and Buddha so that the students can imitate the form, study the intentions, and make it a reality. “This so called reality is that you can try it out in your daily life.” Therefore, it is pretty important to grasp the idea of mind and Chi, and the central axis of the body.

It is stressed in Hong Chuan system to exert power from internal Chi, and therefore to  keep the body straight up is emphasized. As a result, the changes of 12 stances rooted in the four-even horse stance demand attention to the postures, accompanying Chi and variations, not to do it at will without paying attention to the center. This is why the forms for the beginners seem to be slow and driving the Chi all the time, clumsy and not as agile.

3. horse-back riding stance, four-even stance/north and south, it’s all in the family

Many people believe ma bu of different styles cannot be mixed and practiced at the same time. In fact this is a misconception based on the misunderstanding of the relationship between “man and martial arts.” As a matter of fact, martial arts is a skill evolved from the struggle between man and the world, man and the animals, between man against man for survival, for protection of his home and community.. It is the man who uses the skill. The application environment is variable. How can we limit ourselves to a narrow area? Therefore the more advanced martial artists can control the body with internal heart, mind and Chi to better adapt to the changes of nature and environment. They will not stick to rigid rules to train their ma bu and entrap themselves. Consequently, if one is good at controlling the Chi and mind, he can adapt to different stances of different styles, not just the Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan. Otherwise, even ma bu and bow stance have different configuration, how can one train at the same time? Cat stance even requires a different center of gravity and falsehood and reality, not to mention if you add hand and leg techniques. This is where the difference of good and bad interpretation lies between martial arts learned with external physical training and training with internal Chi. After we understand the relationship between center of gravity and accompanying Chi, we know why some styles of martial arts are classified as external pugilism.

ZERO IN ON ONE OR DABBLE INTO DIFFERENT STYLES

Almost all martial artists from all styles of traditional Chinese kung fu emphasize stances to have a solid foundation. As a result, stance plays an important role in all schools of martial arts, such as the 10 basic stances of Chang Chuan and the 12 stances of Hong Chuan. But can we mix the stances of all styles and train at the same time? People’s opinions vary on this subject. In fact, compatibility of the stances between Chang Chuan and Hong Chuan is high. For instance, the stances of Hong Chuan centralize on four-even stance, and some of the styles of Chang Chuan in the north utilize this stance too like Hua Chuan. Whereas the horse-back riding stance is the major stance of our style, Chang Chuan, which is also used in Hong Chuan as a modified little four-even horse stance. Therefore, putting aside for a moment the requirement and variation of mind and Chi, one can focus on one stance to train utilizing it to train the Chi to go down and the integration of the body, and then use the other to train for the variations. This way you don’t have to worry about mixing them up.

When can you change this and start to 2, 3 styles or even more? This is not a difficult question to answer. After you start to train for a while, you will know if you can or not. You don’t need to hurry to make a decision now. Let’s reflect on the experience of some of the senior famous masters. After they have immersed in a style for a long time, when they try to learn a new style, they often are stubborn about changing old habits. This is to say for this kind of people, it’s even more difficult for them to change their deep-rooted habit or conception. This is the shortcoming of learning one style, and then trying to learn another, when they have some basis. And this is why some masters don’t like to teach students with previous experience, because “it is easy to learn a new style but difficult to right the wrongs of the old style.” As to the beginning students who just started to learn the basics, it is also a grave concern to get mixed up. But if one can understand the relationship of the way of martial arts between the front and the rear, the subject and the object, it is alright to learn a few styles of skills, sports. It’s just that if you dabble into too many different kinds, you may have only a superficial understanding of everything. That’s something to be concerned about. Therefore, teachers become very important to the students who are beginning to form their first concept and seek their first objective. They should pay attention to mind and Chi, not just in the pursuit of exterior form. So in the beginning, if they seek to understand what their purpose and concept of learning kung fu, what their central idea is, and follow that direction to search, then whether to focus or to leaf through, stabilize on the constant or to seek the change, the choice to choose and to give and take should be clear to make.

To practice the basic moves, one has to understand its objectives and guidelines. One can’t just practice blindly or brush it over. The practice of these beginning moves will affect the progress you can make and the level you can reach in the future. Stances to martial arts are the building block for future development and basis for a variety of change of stances and movements, and launching pad of power generation. Therefore, with respect to the diverse detailed applications of kung fu, if one can’t accommodate with diverse flexible concept of stances and direction of training, one can’t bring the abilities to a higher level, nor can he grasp the intricacies of kung fu applications. Therefore when learning the basic skills, like stances, one has to be flexible, and to try to grasp the changes and internal breathing, and not to stop short at imitating the external forms. Normally the formation of a more complete or important style of kung fu is complicated. Take Chang Chuan for example. Currently, the prevalent Chang Chuan style is not just one school, one style, but formed of many styles, many divisions. The characteristics of each style are not exactly the same, if we try to delve into the nuances. Just like Lien Bu Chuan and Gong Li Chuan, there are different requirements, style and objectives. As to the formation and content of Hong Chuan, the variances are even greater. For Wu Xing (5 forms), Shi Xing (10 forms) and Zhang Fa (palm skill), they are different in requirements form from form. They are so different in terms of stances, power generation methods and style that they each can form an independent school. The reason why they can be combined into one school must have its theoretical basis and common grounds. Subsequently, one has to be aware of the following points when learning the foundation building stances.

1. It has to be correct

Especially, the consistency between the stances and power generation methods of relevant styles can’t be neglected.

2. Seek the flexibility of diverse changes.

Kung fu is a physical skill, applicable in daily diverse variable environment. If one is rigid, and can’t cope with changes, one would always feel “it is never enough when you need it.”

3. Use Chi and Mind as the guiding principle to train.

This will break through the rigidity and clumsiness of stances resulted from the wrong training methods and will enter into the new realm of diverse and synchronized world of kung fu.

So, in conclusion, if a kung fu student who doesn’t have much time, or who thinks he can’t handle it because he just “doesn’t have it” or because of impracticality, he can just choose one style or even just one form, and don’t even think about learning many forms and many different styles. But if you can surpass this, the rest will take care of itself.

by Joseph Jiang

DSCF4322