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Maturing in Kung Fu: The Proprioception Principle, Part 2

If you’ve ever spent time learning kung fu you quickly come to realize that the movements aren’t dependent on a single portion of the body and its muscles; for example, we don’t throw a punch with tension, utilizing specific muscles from the shoulder and/or arm only.  It is a mindful, whole body motion that utilizes certain joints, motivated by the center-of-mass’ movement, that is reinforced by the Earth.  This has the effect of protecting one’s self while inflicting the greatest amount of damage to one’s opponent (i.e., self defense).  While some would make this out to be some supernatural ability, that’s simply not the case.  It is, simply, the proper utilization of the created self – wholly – in relation to a given activity in a given time space.

adult athlete cramps field
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It’s natural, however, to feel awkward when first employing one’s self to the exercises meant to help one master such be-ing; after all, most of us in the Western world are not taught to use our bodies and minds as they were created and intended to be used.  Cultivating such be-ing takes time, but is worth the effort in many ways.

As I mentioned in the second installment of this series, there’s a principle of proprioception that is embraced and exercised in kung fu.  One’s ability to master this principle defines their true ability (i.e., being able to do what you intend to do the moment you intend to do it) to express their intention with integrity, without self-harm.  And, as I mentioned in that second installment of this series, chi sau is an exercise, practiced by Wing Chun practitioners, to develop this condition of self.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share a question with you that I received from a first year student of Wing Chun:

When I perform chi sau, should I be sensing what’s going on inside of me, or should I be sensing things outside of me, adjusting to them?  And, do the hands, muscles or joints feel this?

The initiation of proprioception is the activation of a proprioreceptor in the periphery.  These proprioreceptors can be found in sensory neurons in the inner ear, muscle spindles, tendons, and the fibrous membranes in joint capsules.  They are the specific nerve receptors utilized in the proprioception process – just as there are others responsible for light, temperature and sound.  (Proprioception is distinguished from exteroception, how one perceives the outside world, and interoception, how one perceives hunger and the movement of internal organs.)

wingchuncenterline whiteA major component of proprioception is joint position sense (i.e., structure); consequently, during chi sau the development of joint sensing (e.g., knowing where your elbow is without concentrating specifically on the elbow – sensing it in time and space) is an excellent way of maturing in your kung fu.  An example of this is when someone attempts to press upon your forearm in some direction.  If you’re utilizing your elbows and knees in relation to the rest of your structure correctly, you may brush into the center easily by changing-face, which allows that person’s energy to go the direction they want to without doing you harm and while applying your own force upon their structure.  The movement, in order to be efficient and effective, should utilize the redirection of the center-of-mass and the joints to change face in a manner that avoids struggle and exerts maximum force and pressure upon your opponent.


Of course chi sau is just one means of developing the proprioceptive sense.  This sense can be sharpened through study of many disciplines, and is done so through many other exercises and drills found in kung fu.  Examples include:

  1. Standing on one leg either in some fixed position or while doing something with the elevated leg for an extended period of time;
  2. Various forms and flow drills;
  3. Walking on variously degrees of surfaces;
  4. Walking or performing drills/exercises blind-folded or in the dark; and,
  5. Other disciplines.

While there is a lot more that could be said about this proprioception principle in kung fu, I will leave it here, for now.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at sifuyost@gmail.com.

Empower yourself to life!™

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