Stand Up, Hollow and Round. Now try to fight.

There are rules and there are rules. When practicing the martial arts, people often find the rules and principles easy to understand and next to impossible to manifest. In some senses these are no harder than the basics we learned in kindergarten: put things back where you found them, don’t steal the other kid’s lunch money; highly ethical things but still hard for some kids to follow.

Below are some of the rules of posture and action that people find the hardest to follow for multiple reasons. For some people—take it from me—any postural suggestions are looked on as personal attacks on their individual (and often highly unconscious) body image. I’ve had students who come in almost hunchbacked, and when we address the issue of shoulder tension act as though they had never heard of it, nor can relate it to themselves.

For every person who immediately accepts these principles—almost on faith—there will be one who just doesn’t think they are realistic, even if this student himself has little experience. It is this issue of what is the standard versus what is the practical application that causes a lot of head throbbing. Each side believes it is using the language of common sense but coming up with opposing explanations. Let me add my two common cents in the hope of reducing needless friction. I have always believed that understanding the principles not only resolves conflicts but tells people how to get the most out of their precious practice time.


  erect  Rule #1: Keep the body  erect, allowing, of course, for ground rolls, cartwheels and such. We all know that most effective punches commit body weight into the strike, tilting the body a bit. There’s no denying the creation of power. But let’s go back in time to before this sequence of events. The first, pre-engagement position holds the body erect. The advantage of erect posture is that it can be launched in any direction. Once the movement is commenced the body weight moves in a specific direction. Most people bring a lot of lop-sided tension to their initial martial practice. The first step is to correct this. When you stand erect, truly erect, you will almost instantly be aware of every “tell” your body makes. Then, when you do decide to commit weight and movement, your action will be faster, more efficient and more powerful.


erect3Rule #2: Hollow the Chest. The most important thing here is to eliminate the misunderstood word “hollow.” The bad version has the practitioner looking like a turtle trying to stand on its hind legs. Hollowing the chest does not mean bending your spine like a shrimp. It’s simple: hollow doesn’t mean negative, it means empty. The chest should be empty, with neither the ballooned expansion of a stuck-out sternum or the locked-down pull of a folded heart region. Forget posing martial actors. What combat activity, Western or Asian, has people sticking out their chest to fight? Sure, when they touch gloves everyone’s chest swells like a peacock. But the business of fighting is to keep it inside until you launch. The strut and spread styles are all gone now, history’s victims. (Yes, I know about Duck style Kung Fu but even here the exception proves the rule.)


erect1Rule #3: Round the shoulders. First, you should realize that ’round the shoulders’ is NOT the same as the previous ‘hollow the chest.’ Round the shoulders is actually a backwards way of engaging back muscles. Think of lifting a half wine barrel, you know, the kind you plant flowers in. You can either wrap your arms around it, push out your chest and use arm muscles. Or wrap your arms around, roll your back and engage back muscles to lift. Guess which way is rounded shoulders?


erect2Dessert Rule: (If you can take one more.) Lower the Center of Gravity. I had one advanced Kung Fu practitioner tell me he would study any martial art “as long as there’s no Horse stance.” True, lowering the body starts with stance training but that’s not enough. Stance training should evolve parallel to student skills. Everyone uses some king of deep “Athletic position” for combat arts. The trick is to know when to sink the center of gravity. Some traditionalists are at fault. Lowering the stance is an action, not a position. When I watch San Da and other practitioners dancing around in awkward versions of the Horse, I can only shake my head. They are ruining the thing they want to promote. And there are other issues. If you never drop your stance you will, literally, never engage your lower back and unify your entire body. One you have caught this feeling of integration, the Horse becomes discretionary, a sudden drop for momentary advantage, an augmentation for grappling, a momentary fake. But stability is ensured.

Without a doubt the biggest problem of both traditional and “modern” martial practice lies in jargon, nothing more. And, even more so, it is true that some have even lost the meaning of their own jargon. When we see different practice methods augmenting rather than ruining each other, the students as well as the teachers will benefit.

2 Responses to “Stand Up, Hollow and Round. Now try to fight.”

  1. Patrick says:

    My monkey style teacher and Longfist teacher told me that you can tell if your monkey style was martial because body must be straight. Of course the animal does not follow this “rule”. My teacher was Shrfu Shen Mou Hui.

  2. I appreciate the breakdown of the old adages and sayings that I’ve been reading about for so long. But applying what you described in the article just now, I can see the postures the way the early CMA masters would do them in photos. I guess you should consider me an extension student, Sifu Ted. Thanks

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