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The Form is Not Just the Form

On the surface, a form is a routine of movements, which is included as a part of the curriculum for many Asian martial arts. Did you know that learning the sequence is just an introduction to the form?

A form in WingChun is not just a collection of techniques, an artsy performance piece, or an exercise routine. The first step is to learn the routine as a syllabus of movements. Before we even say that we have completed a form at a basic level, we must also learn the concepts, strategies, applications, and partner exercises for the techniques within the form. That way we can understand and use the form, which is the most important part after all.

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The Meaning of Collision and Tension in WingChun

Many people put martial arts into the two categories – hard (external) style and soft (internal) style.  But what does hard and soft really mean?  For some, a soft style means avoiding or reducing physical impact, cultivation of chi energy, relaxation of the muscles, and/or using technique instead of speed and strength.  Attributes of a hard style are opposite like conditioning the body, training speed, and strength, etc.  Using those criteria, WingChun is both.  However, the description of hard and soft is a bit too general in terms of the physics of a real-world encounter and may be misleading if taken too literally.

In WingChun, much emphasis is spent on how to defend against pressure (pushing) and striking.  There is little to no impact when someone pushes, however, defending a strike results in a collision with your arms because of the speed and distance.  You might feel a little pain or get a bruise on your arm, but at least the target was protected.  Of course, you can do things to avoid or reduce the impact on the arms such as positioning and timing, but we cannot ignore that collisions happen.  Therefore, we must prepare for collisions because we don’t know if someone will hit, push, or grapple with us.

Whether you use your arms to defend a push or strike, they need a strong frame to keep the attack from reaching its target.  What holds the frame together is muscle tension.  Of course, you don’t want to strain, but the arms will be useless and collapse if they are too relaxed.  Therefore, good technique requires proper coordination of the muscles as well as arm, body, and stance alignment.

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The Basics of WingChun Stance

One of the first-world problems that we experience today is neck and back strain.  Many times it is caused by an accumulation of prolonged daily sitting in bad postures and looking down at your phone.  Your muscles get used to the positions when you stay in them after a while.  Eventually, muscles such as those in the hips, back, and neck will tighten, and the discs in the spine will compress creating an unnatural shape.

In WingChun, we learn proper alignment of the spine in the first stance, Jing San Ma (frontal body stance), which is done at the beginning of each form.  The stance looks simple, but its most basic function (proper alignment of the legs, hips, and torso for stability, tension, and power generation) is used in all of the other stances and footwork.  However, the stance may look awkward and can be difficult for most people to understand.  

Here we will explain the basic concepts of the stance and their function:

Stand naturally with your feet about shoulder-width apart.  Lower your body slightly then raise up by pushing off of the ground with your legs.  (You do this naturally anyway when you are pushing something.)  Don’t lock your legs keeping a slight bend in the knees so that you have some play to push or ground yourself if pulled forward.

At the same time, rotate the heels slightly outward to connect the legs to the hip joint.   You don’t have to overturn the feet too far or squeeze in the knees, which would be uncomfortable.  Not rotating the heels makes it easier for you to get pushed back without compensating by leaning forward.

Now, push your chest slightly up and forward from about the solar plexus.  This creates tension in the upper body and keeps proper straight alignment.  Pushing too much or letting the chest sink in is bad posture.  

Once the chest is pushed forward, your body will try to relax the lower back and stick out the buttocks.  So, you must keep tension in the hips and engage your core a little to maintain a straight lower back.  Pushing the hips too far forward or letting your butt stick out is also bad posture.  The former leads to lower back and hip pain and the later makes it easier to get pushed back.

Why is alignment important?  Because leaning forward or backward makes it easier for you to lose balance.   Also, good posture reduces back pain.  You can try the same posture in your daily life when you are standing or sitting if you have back issues.

Why is tension important?  Just like the arms, your body’s alignment creates a frame.  Tension keeps both from collapsing when something pushes you.  The holistic frame involves the legs, body, and arm as one piece.  Please do not tense your muscles too much to a point that you are straining them.  Tense just enough to maintain the frame.  

If all of this information is too abstract, you can learn each concept by just getting into the stance and push against a partner’s arms.  For example, try pushing with your toes turned out then see the difference versus the proper positioning.  

In WingChun, good posture and mechanics are critical for optimal performance.  Hopefully, this information will help you understand the concepts of the basic stance a little better so that you can apply good posture in your life.

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