By Arnaldo Ty Nuñez
At some point in our sojourn in learning martial arts (武术/wǔshù) we come across an awkward scenario: the instructor or master demonstrates a particular technique (技/jì) or method (法/fǎ) for a particular posture (架子/jiàzǐ) that you are learning; they may state that the technique they are demonstrating is a secret, which is supposed to leave you in awe. He goes on to extended his arm outwardly with a clenched hand and he ecstatically tells you it is a strike; wow! But in reality he simply demonstrated something that is obvious to any child raised on Power Rangers.
Indeed, this is an exaggeration; or is it? You go on to learn the whole sequence (路/lù) and that is the only technique you are ever taught for that particular posture even after being at the training hall (馆/guǎn) for years. However, without you realizing: each posture you are taught within a sequence possesses multiple techniques. We should take into account that each posture will consist of five possible alternatives, which is referred to as the “five attacks” (wǔjī/五击), which are: striking (dǎ/打), kicking (tī/踢), seizing (ná/拿), throwing (shuāi/摔), and bumping (zhuàng/撞). However, not all of these actions are obvious; therefore, how does one extract these methods out of a posture without the guidance of an instructor or master?
Every physical activity we engage in is governed by the principles of physics; therefore, within physics we encounter the theory of spatial dimensions, which consist of: one-dimensional, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, etc., which can be used to explain the properties of postures within a sequence.
One-dimensional refers to a numbered line or angle, which in layman terms: a straight line or length; therefore, in the context of martial arts we can perceive it as a strike, because it usually travels within a straight line. However, one-dimensional can be perceived in a figurative sense; for example, an exponent executes a level fist within a bow footstep (平拳/弓步píngquángōngbù) [1.A]. It is obvious that it is a strike, because we associate the extended clenched hand as a strike [1.B] and the same can be said by seeing an extended leg being a kick.
Even though we associate strikes and kicks as one-dimensional; however, some seizing, and throwing methods can be perceived figuratively within this realm too due to its direct approach or the intent of the technique is obvious. For example, there is a popular technique, which is poetically referred to as: Monkey Giving and Sealing Peach (猴予偷桃/hóuyútōutáo) [2.A], which consists of seizing hand (搂手/lōushǒu) and binding elbow (捆肘/kǔnzhǒu). It is obvious that this particular posture is not a strike per se, but the action implies a seizing technique designed to break an opponent’s arm. [2.B] Therefore, one-dimensional can be perceived as: what you see is what you get.
Two-dimensional is illustrated as polar or latitude and longitude coordinate systems; in laymen terms: horizontal line or width. Therefore, blocks (拦/lán) can be perceived within a two-dimensional plain and throws consisting of the use of a straight leg for a fulcrum, i.e., crossing-over leg, throwing-down (過腿摔/guòtuǐshuāi) [3.A]. However, from a figurative sense we start to look beyond the obvious and start to examine the posture to see if there are other attributes hidden within the movement. For example, the level fist, which we determine in the beginning that it was a strike, but now after examining it closely we notice that the intent of clenching of the hand can be interpret as grasping, and the rear-leg can be transformed into a knee bump or kick.
If we pause for a second, we may also notice that within a two-dimension plain we are simultaneously performing two-motions as one. Be it for the execution of a particular technique or as a mean to counter balance the body as illustrated within a popular technique/posture, which at times is poetically referred to as: the Dragon is Hiding and the Tiger is Leaping (龙藏虎跃/lóngcánghǔyuè) [4.A], which consist of a flicking leg (弹腿/tántuǐ) and level fist. Consequently, the extended clenched hand is not a strike, because it will be hard to sustain balance, while kicking and striking at the same time; therefore, in a conceptual situation the clenched hand is a grab to restrain the opponent, while kicking him. Thus, as a counter-balancing means, it is extremely helpful for beginners to have an extended arm for balance, while extending a leg. Most likely, he or she is still having issues with balancing on one leg, while the other leg is extended [4.B].
Another example of this notion is a technique or posture referred to as: Leading Horse To Return to the Groove (带马归槽/dàimǎguīcáo) [5.A], which consists of a grab and seizing motion. This particular posture can be perceived in its one-dimensional approach as tugging someone; however, within a two-dimensional it can be perceived as an elbow pressing (压肘/yāzhǒu) technique.
Three-dimension is described as cylindrical or spherical coordinate systems; in layman terms: volume or as circular motion. Therefore, within a three-dimensional plain we clearly see the emergence of seizing and throwing theories or methods, which are based upon the use of circular motion or fulcrums to complete.
All seizing and throwing methods are based upon the use of fulcrums. For example, a popular posture/technique throughout Asian martial arts is the proverbial level fist in a bow footstep or horse footstep (马步/mǎbù). As stated before, it is obvious that it is a strike or one-dimensional technique, and we know it is also a grab within a two-dimensional plain, but within a third-dimensional reality it is a throw due to use of the bow footstep and the position of the torso. For example, in a two-dimensional plain we saw the emergence of the rear-leg going forward for a bump of the knee; now the raised leg can be converted from a bump to hooking the opponent’s leg to create a throw/trip. Also, there is the inclination of the torso, which creates two fulcrums: the back and the shoulder or rear-leg and shoulder. Either one of these combination will create a throw. [5A & 5B]
The incentive of this article is based upon my personal sojourn in learning martial arts, especially Chinese martial arts, whose natural tendency is to focus on secondary and tertiary movements without acquiring primary movements within a sequence, which is probably referred to as flowery movements. Therefore: why so much focus on these so called flowery movements, because within them lie the dimensional theories that set Chinese martial arts apart from other Asian disciples?
The elders, who developed these postures or sequences, knew that there were subtleties hidden within these movements; due to secrecy they did not reveal the true intent of the posture and simply taught what was obvious. For example, level fist being executed within a horse footstep has traditionally been taught as someone descending down to hit soft body tissues in this case the floating rib, etc. However, will this particular application be sensible in a present day altercation? Honestly not, because the moment you expose your back you place yourself in a disadvantage and the elders knew this. Therefore, this posture was not truly meant as a strike, but as a throwing method; whereas the leg and waist are used as fulcrums to execute the falling. Indeed this posture can be used as a strike, bump, seizing, and even as a kick.
In the process of learning it is better to start with a one-dimensional approach to any posture. For example, the level fist in bow footstep should be taught first as a strike, because it is a primary motion, which assist student in learning coordination. Therefore, the notion of clenching movement within a strike implies a two-dimensional process of grasping and the inclination of the body to execute a knee bump or kick, which requires coordination compare to first-dimensional approach. Finally, the sweeping back of the leg, which manifests into a throwing method illustrates a third-dimensional approach, which consist of a higher level of awareness and precision body mechanics to execute. However, this is one interpretation of this particular posture. For example, another school of thought may perceive it as: one hand grasp the opponent’s wrist, while the other arm hooks, i.e., the level fist, over the opponent’s shoulder and the rear-leg is crossing-over the opponent’s leg and then the practitioner leans forward the opponent falls.
At this point it is highly recommend to compare postures within your discipline with other disciplines. It is interesting seeing how they view that particular posture. For example, in your discipline perceives a posture as a block, another will view it as a seizing technique and another as a shoulder bump; therefore, the posture is the same, but the interpretations are totally different, which makes it very fascinating.
Ideally, dimensional theory should be taught by an instructor, but sadly some are not aware of the possibilities within the sequence or postures. Therefore, a student may have to take the initiative in discovering what lies before them. Like the old Chinese proverb:
In making a four corner table, the master shows the student how to make the first corner. Therefore, it is the student’s obligation to figure out how to make the other three corners.