The War Between the Limbs

Your knees are situated in the reverse of your elbows. Your bipedal body balances on your feet; your arms are independent of this task. In many ways the upper and lower limbs are quite different from one another. But, in other actions, the limbs should be almost undistinguishable.

lanshou_qinzhongbao1It’s hard sometimes to practice in this manner because the upper and lower halves feel so different, seem to be so oppositional. The arms, if anything, are capable of too many positions, many of which could never work in combat. The legs, on the other foot, are just uneducated enough to challenge our balance with even easy tasks.

Look: the action of your leg when you are mounting a bike is more realistic than most of the posed positions preceding a kick. In fact, one of the worse things we ever learn in martial studies is the cocking of the leg to a position where multiple kicks can be thrown but power cannot be generated.

Shuffling your feet, lifting a leg, shifting your weight, these are actions well-grooved into the neurological map of our nether body. They are motions where dropping the weight and sinking the hips is not something done before or after a kick, but during.

lanshou_wuji1The arms have a similar problem. First and foremost they are often cocked awkwardly and, in a way, frequently become as unfixed as the legs before they throw a strike. When the pelvis rises it off-balances the entire body; when the arms raise the shoulders the same thing happens to the upper torso. (This does not refer to certain types of shoulder-lifting punches which, if properly executed can actually consolidate power.)

The body lifts the leg. We all understand the opposite, that the legs lift the body. But when you haul that leg over a picnic bench it is the turning of the torso, the rotation of the waist and not your wonderful flexibility that drives the angle and height of your leg lift. Kicks should be as spontaneous as punches, not just something beautiful, but expressing our most natural ways of moving.

lanshou kungfuSometimes to emphasize this, we try something makes us look like an old Monty Python routine; we walk across the floor as though our legs had been deadened by some powerful relaxant. Our legs in deep sleep, we are forced to stretch our waists and literally drag each foot forward one step at a time: truly a scene from the Ministry of Funny Walks.

As people free their legs and hips and stances through practice, they also free their arms. The feeling of power that issues from “Mother Earth” when they kick sets them craving that same authority in a punch or chop. They find that the torso is able to transmit power in such a way that a hand strike becomes a kick without legs.

In Kung Fu we say that every step is a kick. As the two, arms and legs, seek their mutual cooperation, the difference between a kick and a punch blurs and eventually vanishes.

lanshou kungfuOf course, skills have to be acquired before any of this is possible. And, as they accumulate, things change. Not only do you see the opportunities for striking differences—the concept of proper distance, for example, becomes much more flexible—but standbys from basic training naturally attain a new level. Forms, for instance, must be allowed to alter their shapes and actions. They cease to be the source of knowledge and become the exhibition of it. Instead of being just the basics of movement they change into demonstrations of your particular natural power effortlessly channeled.

In every way, martial studies attempt to find balance, precision and union where there was only separation.


All photos of Lan Shou style.

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