Question from the Comments: “How can I tell that the elbow is in alignment with the hip or not?”
This is a great question and one that is at the heart of structure and thus striking power.
Teaching structure is interesting because I find that in Wing Chun, it is often alluded to by teachers but in vague ways that are hard to understand.
We are told that the Wing Chun training stance (Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma) enables us to develop structure. We are told it has to do with “sitting” and the angle of the hip and a “straight” spine.
We are shown these things and expected to take it in through the eyes, seeing it from the outside and then be able to replicate it inside our own bodies through feeling, since we can’t see ourselves as we move (unless we film our movements, which is an excellent practice).
Over the years, I’ve come up with various ways to demonstrate structure to my students through feeling. This helps add another level of understanding as the student tries to develop better structure.
One thing to keep in mind about structure is that its always changing.
We don’t fight standing still. Fighting is fluid and dynamic. Our relationship to our opponent is always changing.
Also, structure is a relative concept. Structure relative to what?
In fighting, we want our defense (in Wing Chun, generally our hands and arms) and our offence (hands and arms again) to be structured relative to our opponent and the ground.
We must learn to slip into what we call a “structured position” as naturally as we take a step. As the angles in the fight change, your facing will change. In fact, “facing” is another word for structure. When I turn my hips and shoulders toward my opponent, I am “facing” him in a technical sense.
This question also begs for a fuller description of balance and center of gravity, but I’ll tackle that later.
The video is my short answer (showing is better than telling). And feeling is even better than showing in this case, but you’ll have to do that part on your own!
See how I get into YJKYM (the horse stance) and how this stance has in it all the elements needed to create a structured position relative to my “opponent” Buka.
Buka leans his 220+ pounds onto my fist. If I stepped forward and hit him with this structure, the structure will be able to “support” his weight easily and my legs can act as shock absorbers and transmitters of force up and down the power chain (ankle, knee, hip, the single structure created by having a locked back\pelvis\clavicle\scapula, into the elbow and out the wrist). And the force can travel in either direction.
You can see how his weight compresses my structure, but the structure can easily handle the weight because its distributed efficiently and ultimately travels to my back heel and the ground.
Sifu Lam calls the joints “power points” because they are flexible and let power flow through them.
Notice Buka’s weight does not cause me any strain. My joints and tendons are doing most of the work because they are aligned. The muscles just hold the shape in place and then my back leg drives the step.
If my elbow was out of alignment, it would flare out or collapse in and I would have to strain with my muscles to hold Buka up.
Combine the physics of this structure with the momentum of a step, making the opponent wrong, the speed of your arm as it goes forward, keeping this attack on the centerline, a little step into the opponent’s position, and some of the other elements of a Wing Chun action, and you get the dramatic results you see in Sifu Lam’s or Greg LeBlanc’s demos.
A “Wing Chun action” combines many elements which act as force multipliers. Use the other elements (angling, trapping, clearing) of Wing Chun to get a clear shot and you can blow somebody’s head off.
I had a question.
So many years ago, I trained for just a couple of months in Duncan Leung’s lineage. I didn’t get that far (only two months of training). Although I didn’t get to train in a studio, I heard stories from my instructor about wooden dummies, butterfly knives, and poles. I NEVER once heard about the big blue soft upright mats that I see in the Gary Lam/Greg LeBlanc videos. I’ve never seen those used in Chi Sao the way Lam/LeBlanc use it. I don’t remember which sifu explained it, but one of your sifus said that pushing guys towards the upright mat was useful because the structure of pushing is the same as the structure of punching.
Did Gary Lam invent this training method? I don’t imagine they had big mats like that in Hong Kong. I think it’s brilliant. Have you ever heard any criticism of that approach? It seems to make sense to me.
Steven Moody says
The story I heard was that at Wong Shun Leung’s school in the late 70s/early 80s there were many international students who were sleeping in the school on the floor. They would stack the mattresses against the wall when class was in session. One day, someone was doing the double tan exercise which involves stepping in and “taking position.” If you do a good job with this and catch your partner unawares with the right timing, you can, as Gray Lam so eloquently says, “make them fly away.” Someone had the bright idea of pointing them at the wall with a mattress leaning against it and the “mattress drills” were born.
Now we do various drills which isolate the functional elements of this action or make doing it more difficult (such as using a bong shape, which is inherently weak, unless you line up the upper arm bone correctly).
I think this is one of the key drills of the system, as it allows you to use your whole body weight and really understand how much juice can be generated with a correct Wing Chun action. When Greg does it, you feel as if you have been hit by a car. I myself can get into that power band here and there, but not every time (yet!).
That is an awesome story, Steve. Thanks so much for sharing it. I love stories like that. The international students just happened to using the gym to sleep, and by coincidence it created an entire new drill that is now one of the defining characteristics of your system. It’s also cool because even though I’m not from the same lineage, I can learn from it.
It only recently occurred to me that martial arts always evolve, whether intentional or not. Sometimes it’s for the better; other times it’s for the worse. It’s cool to see that your lineage evolved in this way. I’m hoping to write about this in the next few days.
Steven Moody says
Evolve or die! This is the truth behind Bruce Lee’s criticism of the “Classical Mess.” In fighting, principles and techniques must continuously re-earn their place in the curriculum. And systems must acknowledge where they are weak. We are so lucky now, in that we can (more or less) decide to study BJJ or Escrima or whatever art we think will fill in a gap and there is no cultural or political backlash. Well, maybe we are not entirely there, but its way better than it used to be!
This is why principles are more important than technique, because they are usually more ever-lasting and the student, if they are a thinking person, can take them and apply them very specifically to their own situation.
I agree with you 100%. I just posted it up:
Looking forward to reading more about your martial arts journey!