Leaks and Slippage

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One of the most interesting books we handle is “The Science of Internal Strength Boxing”. Written by Zhang Nai Qi in 1933 and translated by Marcu Brinkman, this is an attempt not so much to create a scientific book for Kung Fu practice as an objective and logical work. Sample the following…

“For most people weakness is actually not a lack of strength it is due to the decentralization (fen san) of the separate parts, or one’s inability to centralize. This is quite a distinct differentiation: Supposing that, in accordance with the laws of physics, the position of your two feet, in relation to your body, are not coordinated with your fulcrum (pivot point), causing an unstable leaning throughout the body. When practicing martial arts, you will then be unable to apply a lot of force, because a part of your strength is distributed toward your feet, in working to maintain an upright structure throughout the body. This creates some degree of decentralization of strength. In addition, decentralization occurs as strength is unconsciously dispersed into unnecessary places.”

It is comforting during these troubled economic times to have some measure of job security. And, in my case, you just read my guarantee. I spend at least 30 – 50% of all my correction time as a teacher trying to reinforce this single point. Fen means to separate and San means miscellaneous or unorganized. Scattered, awkward, akimbo or whatever you prefer will do. I cotton to leaky. People tend to either A. fool themselves they are moving as a unit and therefore not subject to the above description or B. they lock everything into one unit but a lifeless one and think they are fulfilling the criterion.

Women students are, genderally speaking, the big culprits. What makes the female body wonderfully expressive in ballet creates all sorts of problems in martial practice. As a woman moves from one position to the next she will subtly disengage her shoulder or whatever and reengage it with sly skill at the conclusion of the motion. The hips will shift, or the shoulder blade will detach momentarily, or the back will arch taking the movement out of the martial realm, just for a blink but a telling blink.

Men and women in the martial arts do this all the time. The ancient analogy was releasing the bow arm before firing or, conversely, pulling back on the bow string a second time before shooting. Both of these are “leaky” executions. If you are going to behead Lady Jane Gray you don’t allow slippage.

Slippage is a wonderful word because the most interesting thing about this process is not the physical movement itself but what the student do while  slipping their gears. I’ve spent years literally observing this, back leaning against the white board, arms folded, eyes open and even staring. What I see is a cornucopia of blanketing behavior. Over there someone glances away just as he leaks, on this side she twists here hips so slightly as to be almost invisible, near the mirror he tenses up, goes limp, then tenses all in one move.

The very act of making one single movement with full awareness is not impossible but it had become a rare thing indeed. Gesture has been superceded by function. My students are hard working. And let no one mislead you I feel the slippage in myself too. It all remains so captivating after decades of teaching, and compared to the outside world where near anesthetized spokeswoman suffering from anorexia and catatonia are actually selling their infirmities to others who seem to want to feel less. My studio is a sanctuary. You over in the corner! Don’t let your shoulder lift that half inch!

And they keep coming back. And they get better. And we laugh a lot about how hard it all is.
Don’t ask me.

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