How to Work the Dummy

Choy Lai Fut Kung Fu dummyIt’s solid teak, something that your hand will not let you forget if it happens to meet the wooden body straight on. This reminds us that the first requirement in working with a dummy is that we not injure ourselves so badly that we have no choice but to stop working with the dummy. Also, it’s embarrassing. If asked about your hand wrapped in bandages, what will you say?

“He did it!”

Not likely.

If you think that the Wing Chun dummy is the only one in the Kung Fu training arsenal, you are mistaken. Choy Lai Fut has about ten dummies, all different from one another. One of the most famous is the square box with a bag in the middle and a whirling arm at top. As in every one of the CLF dummies this one has one moving part. The advanced student can use the moving part, whatever it may be, to add a little thrill and a good deal of danger if he is forgetful.

Choy Lai Fut Kung Fu dummyBaji has a dummy constructed of a core and one, very long arm. The emphasis here is on entering with a significant expulsion of energy. The length of the arm entices the student to stretch, to push hard, to cover the distance.

Bagua uses poles to engage its spiraling movement or, without much arm contact, to create an obstacle course which will improve the footwork of the player. When combined, the good Bagua artist will move through the posts striking and stepping with the kind of agility needed for a bodyguard’s duties.

Let’s get back to the Wing Chun wooden man; I want to make just a few suggestions from the many types of play I’ve seen. They may help you to step back and see new ways to address the skills which can derive from the dummy.

Dummy work has many skills: hand conditioning, angle of attack, simultaneous double hand or hand-and-leg movements. But there is one salient feature of the dummy work which can be summed up in a sentence or two, and clf_dummy10reveal the essence of this piece of equipment. You see it would be better—if not anachronistic—for ancient martial artists to work against some form of a robot programmed to attack. But the dummy cannot move of its own power. Acknowledging this fact, the form and the exercises especially emphasize specific foot patterns and angles of attack. At the most basic level they are obviously there to teach you how to move your feet. But, seeing the thing relatively (since the movement on the dummy is somewhat relative) you can just as easily reverse roles and see the collisions as being caused by the dummy’s movement instead of yours. For instance, you might regard every instance in the form where you cross the path of the dummy as being the action of the dummy attacking you. It comes to the same thing. One of the secrets of the dummy is not the striking, kicking or even the fast hand combinations but the feeling that you are entering then jamming the dummy’s advances, and not just chasing an inanimate object.

If you look at the traditional form long enough this becomes pretty clear. Your role is not only to kick and punch this Choy Lai Fut Kung Fu dummywooden opponent but also to cross from one side to the other while dealing with its arms. But if you had gained a really superior positions you would not re-cross and take the chance of losing your advantage. In any case, if the opponent suddenly made a traversing action toward you and crowded your space, you would definitely need to control the direction of the attack and counter. We see again and again movements designed to pass around the oncoming arms, or to turn and evade them. All of these add up to the same thing, demonstrations of different methods to pass his attack through your space while you reposition to neutralize the attack and control the opponent.

So on one level the dummy is all about footwork. You may even further discover that it is not only about timing, but time itself. When you begin training with equipment like this you start almost entirely in a face-on confrontation with it. As Choy Lai Fut Kung Fu dummyexperience deepens you soon find out that the angles and entrances programmed into the form create the close-in immediacy of a punch coming toward your face. What starts as you deflecting these attacks transforms into an entirely different experience where you pass them to one side or the other, continually bringing them past your face as though throwing them behind you , an orange peel tossed from a car window and swept away by the wind. Difficult, and the product of a lot of practice, you will slowly acquire a sense of what can be deflected, not only away from you, but past your spatial position; ceasing as a threat because it is behind you and, literally not symbolically, now a part of your past.

This is one view of the dummy you do not encounter too often, but try it and see if breathes more life into your training. The dummy is like an instrument: what comes out of it is directly dependent on what goes into it. So, most of all, just keep training.




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