A Lesson from Wing Chun Pai

The family history of Kung Fu extends over a long stretch of time, over a huge geographical area, over the cultural hodgepodge that is China, and over at least a dozen belief systems. Diversity may be its face but unity is its spine for all of it is simply Kung Fu. This or that style may emphasize weapons, hands, softness or firmness, but, as many experts say, Kung Fu is about 90% the same and only 10% “style”.

Like a large family living through Diaspora the individual members rarely possess the whole family story. To get this we must learn from one another, check our facts and stories. Wing Chun Pai, for instance, may have a nice piece of the puzzle. It divides its three main hand sets into three very interesting levels of training. Their breakdown may be a surprise…

#1. Sil Lum Tao is said to ELIMINATE YOUR strength.
#2. Chum Kui is said to ELIMINATE YOUR OPPONENT’S strength.
#3. Biu Jee is said to BORROW YOUR OPPONENT’S strength.

Each form clearly illustrates these divisions. Sil Lum keeps the body almost rigid concentrating on perfecting structure without the vagaries of excessive waist movement. Chum Kiu encourages the body to turn moving energy so the opponent’s power can be re directed. Biu Jee uses devastating movements such as darting fingers to intercept the opponent and “borrow” his oncoming force. Walking into a Wing Chu Pai finger technique could spoil one’s entire day.

Isolate, Rotate and Intercept. What about other styles? Do they have a similar structure?

The first step, Isolation, is found in many systems. It is roughly the equivalent of the scientific method, Chinese style. First we control the variables. Tell a white belt to punch the bag and you won’t just get a punched bag but an awful lot of awfully done adjustment steps into the bargain. In Shaolin we start with the Horse stance to regulate the distance. The Horse isn’t so much an aid to performance as an inhibitor of BAD performance. Its used to show students that if they control their horse stance they know EACTLY the length of their steps. The student might have felt that this isolation actually eliminated his natural power, which it did but only to build it better later.

In Tai Chi style we have the Wuji posture. In Xing Yi the San Ti all as starting points to learn isolated structure. All as training methods that initially eliminate your power.

And isolation isn’t just confined to individual movements. The Tan Tui form is a key training device utilizing isolation. The same is true of Lien Bu Quan, Gong Li Quan, MiZong Jia, and many others. Isolation begins the process of cleaning up the students act. It straightens all the tilted pictures and adjusts all the antimacassars, it put coasters under each glass and cleans the bathroom mirror.

Rotation is next. It’s a natural outgrowth of the first stage. In Shaolin we use huge movements, tornado kicks, broom kicks and whipping fists. Each form builds on the previous spinning further and faster. In Tai Chi we’re introduced to moves like Turn Body to Strike Tiger, Lotus Kick and Fair Lady Works Shuttle. In Southern style we see body turning with off angle techniques. Rotation dissolves the opponent’s energy while mobilizing the body and extending the range of intent. Most people think of this as the “advanced” stage but there is still one more step.

The third step, interception, is half technique and half a way of thinking. In Kung Fu intercepting is never just jumping forward with your fist outstretched to bump the nose of the rushing opponent. To really intercept we add the structure from the first stage and the rotation of the second stage. We also add the idea of tightening or extending the rotation so we intercept at just the right angle. Our circle of rotation has become a spiral with tremendous power.

This special technique tightens into Shaolin Iron Body and Fa Jing practice. As for Xing Yi its actions shrink to drill like accuracy and driving power. Tai Chi builds the Reeling Silk and lets it flow through the entire body.

Can these three levels be applied to any art? Possibly. Sometimes something as simple as a finger pointing in up the hill, around the bend or across the bridge can save us from a detour taking us far from the goal. Isolate, Rotate and Spiral. Use it as a map to explore the larger territory.