The Southern Art of Ten•Wood•Rice

Southern styles turn, dodge and side step quickly with “rat steps.” At the same time hands flop out and haul in, forming themselves into a menagerie of claws, paws, wings and edges. Far more than the Northern Long Arm styles Southern boxers specialize in a huge assortment of unusual formations, facile transitions, and power issuance like a string of firecrackers.

Southern style Tiger Kung Fu @ plumpub.comPeople practicing Southern Kung Fu forms walk carefully with studied moves, each step coordinating precisely with the intricate hand motions. Many steps are small with sight adjustments done with the same precision given to big lunges and fast hops. Some steps are curved as though the master were fording a river on stepping-stones.

When you witness the flashing brilliance of these whirling hands your attention is captured; you can hardly keep your eyes off them, but the real art—as Southern fighters will tell you—is in the footwork.

There are a lot of clever methods to learn this footwork but one of the most common is known in Chinese as “Ten, Wood, Rice.” Each of these shapes derives from Chinese calligraphy and each of them is specifically used as the foot pattern for a separate form.

The Chinese character for "ten"

The character for "ten"

The first of these patterns moves only along the North, East, West and South lines. The shape inscribed on the floor resembles the Chinese character for “ten.” The new student learns to make 90º turns and follows the clearly constructed forms which, at this level, have only a few strikes. This orientation clearly shows the direct confrontation with the enemy: as he comes from the North you intersect him with a head on.

The Chinese character for "wood"

The character for "wood"

Next, the student learns a “wood” form. The Chinese character for wood adds two strokes to the ten figure. Now we have a TREE showing the branches, roots and trunk of a tree. When we place two trees next to one another we have forest, Lin, as in the word Shaolin or “young forest.” The tree form adds two corners to the floor plan. The corners are adjacent to one another. So the rotation from one corner to another is still 90º. Not only is the student taught to defend himself from the corners but also his own techniques are now to be executed from a corner angle as well, sideswiping the opponent while intercepting him.

The Chinese character for "rice."

The character for "rice."

The third pattern, “rice,”  is also known as the Bagua formation (no connection to the style.) All Ordinal and Cardinal directions are used. Movements can range from 45º to 180º rich with angular attacks and counters. The practitioner now sees himself as continually choosing from the eight directions. His sense of angle and alignment is tremendously heightened; possibilities abound.

While this may seem a very simple plan, let me tell you that angular and planer alignment is quite difficult for some students, and step-by-step methods like these do get results.

One martial artist I knew was a student in Hong Kong during his salad days. Having studied Southern boxing for some time there he was told, at one point, that he could not progress without passing a “test.” He showed up in the studio at the appointed hour. After demonstrating his basics and skills to the head instructor and four advanced students he was told to stop. He watched as each of the advanced students went to a corner. At the signa,l he began to demonstrate a third level “rice” form. As he approached each corner one of the helpers attacked. He was instructed to “deal with” the attack and immediately find his way back into the form while continuing.

This is just the beginning of Southern footwork. When these primary angles are learned, smaller and more exact adjustments give an ever finer edge to the technique. This refinement of angles continues to subdivide space and, by doing so, conquering it.

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