Robert Chu is the Founder and Grand Master of Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun, the roots of Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun are in Yip Man Wing Chun as taught by Hawkins Cheung.
As a Chinese martial artist, one of the most important quests in learning and mastery of your art is the study of power (“Jing” in Mandarin, “Ging” in Cantonese, and often described as “internal power” in English). The most important thing in the quest for is learning body connection to issuing that power. In my studies, body connection is the first way to Ging and sadly, too many practitioners are still searching for power after 20 years or so of practice. A student of mine, Kim Eng, once remarked that when he studied another internal art, he was waiting to get the “Qi Power” after 20 years of practice. I laughed. I then explained to him the understanding of body connection and how to get power.
Power is dependent upon both internal and external factors. Oral traditions state, “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”. Proper positioning of the body, muscle relaxation and contraction, breathing and timing are also factors involved in this. Proper body alignment from aligning the 3 dan tian is crucial to the development of this power. One must align the Yin Tang (an acupuncture point between the two eyebrows), Tan Zhong (Ren 17 – a point located on the midline of the body, level with the 4th intercostal space) and Qi Hai (Ren 6 – also known as dan tian – a point 1.5 cun below the navel) points in one line. With this basic posture and a basic stance practised in your system, you should try two important exercises. One, you should try to stand when a force or pressure is exerted upon you, let’s say a person putting his palm on your chest and pressing with continuous force.
The pressure should be rooting you to the ground. One cannot develop this power if he is leaning back like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, nor “hunchbacked” like Quasimodo from Notre Dame. Being hunchbacked is a bastardization of the concept of “Han Xiong” (Empty Chest). The second exercise is to practice striking your partner when he has a focus mitt on his chest. Try to practice an inch punch so that you know where your power is coming from. It should be from the ground up. My speaking of alignment is compliant with Xing Yi’s 7 stars of power and San Ti Shi (Trinity Stance), Tai Ji Quan’s peng jing (expansion power) and Ba Gua’s Niu Jing (twisting power), as well as Zhan Zhuang. Wing Chun also follows this concept of alignment. Chinese martial arts oral traditions also state, “Internally train a breath of air, externally train the sinew, bones and skin”. Yip Man was known to practice the Siu Nim Tao set (Wing Chun’s 1st form) for an hour. He was training to develop power. I believe that power development comes to a student from day one in their training. It comes from the basics of stance, posture and relaxation. It’s just that beginner students are not coordinated, nor do they understand how to put things together. In my opinion, they are just doing things “externally”, simply mimicking a teacher’s motions without the understanding of why they are doing basic motions. If a martial artist only emphasizes “purely external training”, they typically use weight training, stretching, and maintain an emphasis on endurance and speed. That’s fine, yet it does not tie into the rich concepts of complete body alignment, which is internal training.
One of my Wing Chun students, Gerry Pang, asked me while we had tea, “Sifu, does our art favour a larger person?” I asked why would he ask that? He said because he saw a majority of the students were bigger than him and they could make the art work. Then I told him that he must look at our core training and it deals with an emphasis on structure – turning it on and off and adjusting to the pressure and scientifically linking and unlinking the body at will. All of our forms emphasize that all of our partner exercises drill that and all our weapons work supports it. I said our art is designed for a smaller person to maximize his potential. Other teachers don’t emphasize that, so the body structure is emphasized when people are smaller than their opponent, not larger. I think he left our tea session satisfied with my answer. My words do not only apply to Wing Chun here. They are universal for all systems of traditional Chinese martial arts.
I don’t think many emphasize body alignment unless they, too, are looking to maximize the potential of issuing power. I have always studied other martial arts forms not for the sake of beauty or collecting systems, but for the sake of understanding their body connection concepts. Whether you be a practitioner of Hung Gar, Shaolin, Xing Yi, Tai Ji, Ba Gua, or Wing Chun Kuen, you should understand how to get power from your basic training.
Many people confuse Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terminology with the Jing of martial arts. They say that Qi is the source of their power. I once had a discussion with a senior acupuncturist and he wondered, where exactly did Qi move in the channels when doing martial arts? I replied that the Qi moves not just in the main collaterals, but also moves in the muscle channels (channels related to the 14 main collaterals, but more superficial). 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.
Jing should be differentiated from Qi. Jing is power, essentially, a vessel or road from which raw power (Li) may flow. It is this temperance of raw power (Li) which is differentiated with the concept of Jing. The difference may be understood by the analogy of rowing a boat. A strong person may be able to row a boat but may splash about until he develops the mechanical skill of rowing. We can say that the experienced rower wastes little energy and gets a greater result with his Jing.
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).
Wing Chun people say “Yau, Shen, Ma Lik” (Waist, Body and Horse Power) and “Jang Dae Lik” (Elbow down power) to hint where the power comes from and how we should align ourselves. Many martial arts classics explain how to develop power. When you have developed one type of power very well, you begin to learn the variations of issuing power and can manifest different forms of Jing (such as Cun Jing/inch power, Chang Jing/long power, etc.) by varying your timing and length of expenditure and direction of your power. You can only get this through training total body connection and coordination. If you do not have this form of training in your system, perhaps you can seek it out from other accomplished individuals in your system, or read the classics of your art, that may point the way. I hope that my few words here can at least point the path for martial artists to enter the gate.
About the Author
Robert Chu is a martial artist with over 28 years’ experience who specializes in combat application and health aspects with a focus on the Yip Man Wing Chun Kuen system as taught by Hawkins Cheung and the Yuen Kay-San and Gulao Wing Chun Kuen systems as taught by Kwan Jong-Yuen. He is the co-author of Complete Wing Chun, (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc., 1998) and has written many articles for Inside Kung Fu, Martial Arts Legends, Martial Arts Combat Sports and other publications, in addition to his regular monthly column, Wandering Knight, which appears in Martial Arts Combat Sports magazine. He teaches privately in the Pasadena area.
Robert Chu is also a Licensed Acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist available for consultation for pain management, sports injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, and internal medicine.