PROXIMITY AND ITS MAINTENANCE SHOULD BE THE QUINTESSENTIAL TRAIT OF INDIVIDUALS WISHING TO SPECIALISE IN CLOSE-RANGE COMBAT. WITHOUT MAINTAINING A DISTANCE WHERE ALL FOUR LIMBS CAN STRIKE WITH POWER, WE STRUGGLE TO EXHIBIT THAT CLAIM.
Refining existing models is integral to progression in any endeavour. In exacting modification, we should be unequivocally certain in our discernment prior to making a change. Change should be based on experience, perspective, testing, and reference to ensure that we are moving closer to, not further away from an “ideal”. Concerning Wing Chun, the ideal should always be about improving the efficiency of combat.
In analysing output, it is pertinent to first acknowledge a couple of defining signatures concerning Wing Chun. Here are some basics that I feel are key to the Wing Chun concept:
Simultaneous attack and defence
Redirection of force
In achieving the above, it could be said that structure, as a supportive component, is absolutely necessary in underpinning these facets, or the game plan so to speak has a habit of falling unequivocally short of the mark.
“Structure” is currently one of the most misused words in Wing Chun. In attempting to use the word structure to support an assertion pertaining to shape, it would be wise to first ascertain what the function or premise of that shape might be, and be capable of both describing and demonstrating that function, so as to ensure we are not simply decorating our speech with popular terminology.
In underpinning fighting with a structural component, and comparing and contrasting against methods devoid, we must be clear that structure trained, is the understanding and adoption of physiologically superior posturing and movement to manifest facets that are directly supportive of (or eluding to), functions we otherwise cannot access without conforming to set behaviours both mindfully and physically.
Structure is not simply the acknowledgement of shape—all structures possess shape, but not all shapes embody structure. In discussing structure, we are addressing function. Function is accumulative, unearthed through repetitious training and analytical discernment in building faculties we would otherwise disregard.
Structural competence is quite frankly, a level of depth and a measure of a man’s aptitude and hard work in harnessing martial skill. Good Wing Chun is hinged on understanding and utilising our bodies. Without comprehension of internal states, or understanding how parts of the body operate both independently and cohesively, Wing Chun is trained and deployed in a state of obscurity where the composite parts are robbed of relationship and function. Tactical advantage is lost to the diminishment of the art and in the diminishment of personal capability.
Elbow position is a generic subject that we can use to illustrate how structure is intrinsic to the maintenance of proximity and therefore Wing Chun.
Elbow position supports reflex. Reaction to stimuli is impaired when working inside the distance measured from the elbow to the tip of the fingers. Once an object has impinged on this distance, the ability to move or remove an incoming object prior to its contact with our body is reduced. Therefore, setting elbows ahead of the body replaces the distance lost in bridging behind the wrist to supplement reaction time and minimise the probability of being struck. Elbow position also supports absorption of force.
The size of the human foot is an evolutionary phenomena produced to reduce the likelihood of a biped hitting its head on the ground from what is an unusual height. If you push a human being backwards, it is hard-wired to place a foot under its head. It is almost impossible to switch this natural behaviour off.
Elbow set ahead of the body can forge a strong relationship to the stance, building the ability to transfer force from the upper limbs back to the ground. This stabilising facet is intrinsic to regulating balance and maintaining proximity whilst dealing with pressure. In building a relationship between the elbow and the stance, force may be transmitted from the upper limbs to the legs. In this state, the body may absorb force and channel it downwards to enable us to move proportionately to pressure received maintaining our distance and balance.
This eradicates the ability of an opponent to create an advantage via distance or imbalance. It maintains a range where blows can be deployed immediately to reassert dominance. Conversely, in instances where force is transmitted to the shoulders, the value of that force plus the weight of the head tends to tip the body backward, leaving the brain to calculate a recovery via reflex in an effort to correct its self. Invariably the brain will overestimate, and we will come to rest outside of our desired proximity, leaving us in a position where we are quite simply too far away to produce Wing Chun.
Through this mishap, a new problem is created in the requirement to regain proximity supportive of bridging and striking. Without maintaining appropriate distance, pressure will channel through the shoulders, making it easy for an opponent to unbalance us—worst case scenario, we may fall to the ground. Outside of an ideal distance, we are susceptible to kicks, unable to strike with power from the ground, unable to bridge, unable to produce simultaneous attack and defence.
An elbow set too close to the body hinders our ability to read pressure and retain a functioning reactive state. A limb set too close has a higher propensity to transmit force directly into the shoulders or centre of mass, causing a body to move backwards. An elbow set too far is compromised in its ability to transmit force to the Ma and pressure will route through the shoulder.
Transmitting force to the shoulder causes muscle tension and produces force against force. Two parties rolling wrist to wrist and maintaining this distance have a much greater likelihood of being hyper-extended and being unable to transmit force to and from the ground, as the function of the stance is not being utilised to its fullest—we are using a fraction of the power that is available to us.
Rolling on the wrist produces sensitivity at the wrist; this operates quite like a wristband taking the surface area trained to read force down to the absolute minimum. Conversely, running a body set up that supports absorption, fosters sensitivity throughout the entire forearm and for that matter the body as a whole, maintaining function, strategy, power and above all sensitivity. Without setting the body correctly, there is a glass ceiling on our development within Wing Chun, and on our ability to fight at close range successfully in the context of the design.
The three base hands in Wing Chun; Taan, Fook and Wu, are set in the first form to offer insight into tactical collection of force and the choices or situations pertaining to each. Collecting pressure into the shoulder, and an inability to absorb pressure, cloaks this proximal transition, and the innate advantages inherent in each. To illustrate, Taan, Fook and Wu, when applied with absorption to the stance, bring either myself or an opponent to differing positions of rest.
Taan, in cohesion with absorption, invariably brings a party to rest between the wrist and the midpoint of the forearm. Its bridge point buys us maximum time and space. Taan bridges leaving us under committed, aided by time and peripheral vision in a situation that may still require additional deduction and change.
Fook, when aided by absorption, carries a greater propensity to eat up space, bringing us to rest closer than Taan, obtaining better distance for delivery of power through a target in optimal time.
Wu, in combination with absorption, may bring us closer again, which is useful if I wish to take my opponent to the ground or escape confrontation.
These permutations only arise when force can be transmitted to the ground; otherwise, due to the tension held in the shoulders the sticking point on contact will remain the wrist, inhibiting the tactical choices described above. Some functions concerning Taan, Fook and Wu are therefore rendered ambiguous.
The path of pressure relating to the habits discussed will either create tension in the shoulders as you struggle to maintain proximity poorly or transmit force to the ground enabling you to neutralise pressure competently.
To roll wrist to wrist with elbows unset engages soft tissue. It is not the use of structure and should not be described as such. Carrying these habits is force against force. Rolling wrist to wrist is pantomime—to transfer this habit to violent confrontation, you will find that unless you have a long reach advantage, you are too far away to deliver appropriate power through a target. In striking, you will be delivering force manifested at the shoulders, not the stance; you will be using a fraction of your available power. As you attack, you will step unduly, thus producing moments of imbalance, these moments may be capitalised on by your opponent.
In Wing Chun, proximity and its maintenance is king. The way you use your body has the power to either underpin this, or decimate your ability to produce movement, function, and tactical deployment within a fighting context.
I hope this article leads you to explore and evaluate your current habits. Of course, Wing Chun should be Simple, Direct and Efficient, but in investing in Wing Chun, you invest in a sophisticated tool. Set principles must be thoroughly understood and exemplified in the way you employ your body, before Simple, Direct and Efficient arise. Hopefully, the information here goes some way to helping you explore Wing Chun and perform to your highest capacity, retaining competency in the face of raw aggression, and working to the best of your ability.
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