I've talked before about some of the strange practices that arts do that fly in the face of physics and one that really intrigues me is the stomping down to gain power forward. I am convinced this came about as a misunderstanding of projecting the body weight forward in a small shuffle, stepping into your punch. SPM uses this technique and in the book "The Dragon and the TIger" Campbell/Lee, which chronicles Bruce Lee's studies with Sifu Mark Foon, they speak about this very clearly. Sifu Mark Foon taught Lee how to subtly shift his weight into his strikes to make them more effective and more powerful especially at close range. Som Bo Gin, the three step arrow form, is specifically designed to teach this. When I teach it I will emphasis my forward weight shift by exaggerating the sound my front leg makes when I plant it forward. I do this so the student can understand this forward propulsion. What is most important is that the fist conveys all of the motion of the body behind it and strikes in a brief explosive manner into the opponent without giving up your weight to them.
So I've thought long and hard over how things get mangled in translation and I also considered the way things are taught in China. To quote one Chinese professor, " In America it is the duty of the teacher to teach and do his best to make sure you understand but in China it is the duty of the student to learn and figure it out and not to have it broken down by the teacher". He told me that by me teaching the physics of the motion and explaining it to the student I am in fact corrupting it. It is contingent upon the student to learn and not you to explain it to him. So the student observes what the teacher is doing and the teacher will rarely correct them when they are wrong. I watched Sifu instructing a student one day and he moved his hands in one manner and told the student "do that". The student did but muffed it. Sifu did it again and the student did it wrong again. Then a third time and the student still didn't have it right and Sifu simply said, "Ok, you do that then" without the student realizing that Sifu just wrote him off. Whenever I've heard a sifu say that, I know I'm doing it wrong. So I've spent considerable time thinking about how we get things wrong and then I remembered me and Ron the water guy.
I used to have water delivered to my house, four 5gal jugs at a time. Ron would lift them off the truck and put them on the street in front of my house and carry them in two at a time. Ron was about 5'6" and 150 lbs. I was 5'9" and 165lbs. He'd reach down, grab them around the neck and carry them up my driveway, up 7 stairs and into my porch. I decided I'd help him and grabbed two and walked about ten feet before I had to put them down, my wrists aching and joints hyper extended. Ron looked at me, smiled and nodded 'no' and he carried them. This annoyed me that I could not do what he could so easily do. Ron did not work out or do any form of exercise. He drove a truck and delivered water. How could I be so much weaker than him? I was on a mission to develop this strength. When no one was around I'd grip the bottles and carry them around and it was torture. I practiced going up and down the stairs with them straining to hang on and keep my grip strong. I did it for weeks till I could finally carry them from the street to my house, up the stairs and in. I was happy that I succeeded at this even though the torque was so bad on my wrists and elbow.
The following delivery I saw Ron pull up out front and went out to greet him. He put the four bottles on the street and proceeded to carry two up the driveway. I grabbed the other two and walked up behind him. He looked at me as I came up the stairs and said, "What the hell are you doing?" I told him that I was inspired by his strength and wanted to develop it and he burst out laughing and said, " I can't do that, that's not what I am doing! Jesus!" I asked what he meant, he was laughing heartily and he held up two blue plastic grips that went around the neck of the water bottle and allowed him to grip it like you would a dumb bell, with the correct torque and physics. He was having a good laugh at my expense shaking his head back and forth. He said, "I can't believe you did that, man, well you've worked so hard I've got a present for you". He went to the truck and brought back two more of those grips and gave them to me. I was amazed how easy it was to lift the water bottles now. So I'd spent months developing a technique that had nothing to do with the reality that was happening. This technique was destructive to my body but I muscled through it. In reality the correct technique was much simpler and more effective. Every time Ron saw me after that he'd have a huge grin on his face knowing my egregious misreading of what he was doing. I imagine him sitting in a bar with the other delivery guys saying, "So there's this knucklehead on my route......".
We can all get it wrong. It is important to use keen observation and critical thinking as we train in our arts so that we get it right.
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