As a Wing Chun practitioner (for over twenty years), I’ve heard the debates over which is (more) important: learning to become more sensitive to your opponent’s force or controlling pressure (either from yourself or others). In this blog, I thought I’d touch on this subject, as I’ve matured to understand it.
When I started in Wing Chun, I was 135 pounds (lbs.) of muscle on bone. I over-relied on this physical condition (physical skill, called gong fu in Chinese), and quickly found that ability to use that condition was limited: (1) as I met physical conditions stronger than my own or (2) as I met nei-gong (i.e., internal skill) techniques that over-came that condition. Whatever it was, I quickly became aware that there was more to true ability (i.e., being able to do what you intend to do the exact moment you intend to do it) than physical strength.
In Wing Chun there are many principles of self and of relationships taught. If one doesn’t come to a real understanding of their union (i.e., the ability we seek to master and become as a Wing Chun’er) then one will not truly understand Wing Chun. And, this is, in my experience, where the confusion comes from. You see: The principles of developed sensitivity and pressure control are not contrary to each other; rather, they are complimentary.
For example, force is, generally, defined in mechanical terms (e.g., torque or turning force, couple, moment, stress, spring, etc.), but it can result from the action of electric fields, magnetic fields, thermal heating, particle bombardment, etc. In Wing Chun we see all of these play out (as one matures through the system). For example, turning force is found in all of the arm movements, as well as the energy distribution of structure in-use. This example illustrates a mechanical understanding of Wing Chun that many beginners (practicing Siu Nim Tao, for example) find. But, this is not the end for Wing Chun’ers (or shouldn’t be). These beginners should come to an understanding of this movement in relation to others and environments.
What that later part means is more complicated. Examples include:
- Is my mind intention correct in relation to the events taking place (e.g., will they be effective and efficient in defending my self)?
- Will my body behave the way I know (intellectually) it should when faced with the relationship of combat and as per my own mind’s intention?
- Does my condition (e.g., relationship between mind and body) have power enough to be effective?
- Is my use of energy (in order to express my mind’s intention) efficient, or am I burning out before I can complete my tasks?
The list goes on and on. This should make my initial point. Now, to the next: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed the word “relationship” in this article. That’s because combat is a form of relating with others. Each body in motion, moving as per some intended expression, trying to over-come another’s motions/intentions. This is where the forces between the two (or more) moving bodies collide. When they do one’s body and intention will either move forward (i.e., continue to express itself until its own end) or be re-directed or eliminated by the collision, and this is where the confusion comes in for those that haven’t mastered the sense vs. pressure debate.
Sensing another’s energy is to understand the force another is trying (or actually) generating. The pressure created by that person (one is sensing) is, simply, a continued force that that person is able to achieve in relation to the one sensing it. Therefore, if we are sensitive to another’s energy (e.g., intention and force), we can manipulate the pressure a safe direction (something many call the re-direction of force in martial arts), while simultaneously forcing our own pressure upon our opponent(s).
This is one of the main principles of chi sau (sticking hands), and how the Wing Chun principle “If its coming, stay; if it’s leaving, follow” is possible.
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