Full body power and sequences in sparring

Kung fu and Boxing use very different manners of attack, defense, developing power, issuing that power, and strategies. Here, Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit attacks with White Snake Shoots Venom while his disciple wards off the attack with Beauty Looks at Mirror. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

Kung fu and Boxing use very different manners of attack, defense, developing power, issuing that power, and strategies. Here, Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit and his disciple spar using Taijiquan. Grandmaster Wong attacks with White Snake Shoots Venom while his disciple wards off the attack with Beauty Looks at Mirror. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

I had a discussion with someone asking about power generation and someone else who disagreed with the notion of sequence training being useful for sparring, as well as the principles of “safety first” in sparring or fighting. Here’s how I replied to them:

Thank you very much for your patience and insight, +Mitch Morris  that was exactly the answer I was looking for! My previous Baguazhang sifu talked a lot about “full body power” and has his students do many partner drills (especially pushing hands type exercises) to ensure that the students’ power isn’t being “stagnated” in any particuar places. 

It’s interesting you mention moving exercises with weight; the first generation Baguazhang student Cheng Ting Hua was said to practice circle walking for hours at a time while holding buckets of water in his outstretched palms. I occasionally do circle walking whilst holding bricks in my palms, though I use it more to make sure my structure is correct (the strength that comes with it is more of an auxiliary benefit for me). 

I’m fascinated by the physiology aspects myself. My first martial arts master of consequence was a Ph.D. candidate in anatomy & physiology and would often lecture us on the why’s and whatfor’s of the techniques we were learning. A gross anatomy course I took a few summers ago in pursuit of my biology degree led to a noticeable enhancement in my gripping and striking, heh heh. 

I’m going to have to disagree with the notion that training sequences or series of techniques is a bad thing, +Matt Kovsky . After learning the fundamental movements (basic strikes, kicks, grips, and felling techniques), being able to use them in combination, even in planned sequences, really brings once’s fighting to another level. 

Most schools I trained in will practice individual techniques for miscellaneous situations (a rolling punch against a wrist grab, a basic strike to the chest and a certain block, etc.) They become very fast at performing each technique and their sparring methodology is essentially shaving away at the amount of time it takes for them to become ready for doing their next technique. However, they remain at the level of individual techniques and, by attempting to be “purely spontaneous,” they have no greater plan or strategy for the fight aside from “use techniques.” 

The success of using even basic techniques such as Fierce Tiger Crosses Valley can be greatly enhanced when it is performed in a planned sequence rather than an individual technique separated from your others. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

The success of using even basic techniques such as Fierce Tiger Crosses Valley can be greatly enhanced when it is performed in a planned sequence rather than an individual technique separated from your others. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

Sequence training, by contrast, is a higher level of fighting that entails having a sound understanding and good skills in the individual techniques. By training a sequence of movements, rather than aiming to reduce the “dead time” between techniques for a constantly moving situation as appears in sparring, you are aiming directly at the result: the ability to use the martial movements of your art in a constantly moving situation as appears in sparring. There’s no need to worry about what technique one will do next when one already has a plan. This is often expressed in kung fu philosophy as, “Going into battle without a plan is like sending an army in without a general.” 

A part of sequence training is, of course, dealing with variations. Once you are competent in a particular sequence, the restrictions over that sequence are systematically loosened; a surprise strike might be added to the end, another sequence might begin in the middle of the first one, sequences are performed one after another with no break in between, etc. The restrictions are loosened until eventually the practitioners are truly free sparring. My sifu better explains the sparring methodology used here: http://flowingzen.com/?s=systematic+sparring

The Swimming Dragon set has many beautiful and effective techniques, such as "Swallow Skips on Water," arranged in sequences for application in sparring and fighting. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

The Swimming Dragon set has many beautiful and effective techniques, such as “Swallow Skips on Water,” arranged in sequences for application in sparring and fighting. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

In my own experience sparring other martial artists of roughly my skill level (some folks who have been boxing for a little over five years, a Muai Thai coach who has seven years under his belt, and a wrestler of six years; I have been a member of my current school since about 2011), using sequences against folks who only ever trained individual techniques enabled me to flow over them. This is because I have grounding in the basics (including stances, footwork, internal force), the techniques being used, and training in variations for my sequences. The application set for my specialty, Swimming Dragon, has eight sequences (including both initiator and responder mode) ranging from five to ten movements each, which gives me a lot of material, all of which has been trained to be used in a sparring situation. Naturally, I’m better at some of the sequences compared to others because of the slant of my training (I’ve only been practicing Baguazhang for a year now). I’ve only had two people give me some trouble in sparring: my brother (who’s been practicing Xingyiquan for about a year now, and who I’ve given some tutoring in kung fu sparring, which includes a lot of “safety first” philosophy) and a wrestler (who practiced sequences in his wrestling and was quite good at it). 

A typical boxing jab, which is characteristically different from a kung fu punch in virtually all respects other than the use of a closed fist and the fact that a human is using it. Images of boxing jabs that include the boxer's legs are incredibly rare, perhaps  a note on how little importance the general boxing public places on their legs? Image taken from www.self-defender.net

A typical boxing jab, which is characteristically different from a kung fu punch in virtually all respects other than the use of a closed fist and the fact that a human is performing it. Images of boxing jabs that include the boxer’s legs are surprisingly difficult to find, perhaps a note on how little importance the general boxing public places on their legs? Image taken from http://www.self-defender.net

I also disagree that each martial art share the same strikes; they may eventually (after many levels) reduce down to “a punch” or “a kick,” but the punches I use in kung fu are very different from the punches my boxing and Muai Thai pals use in the nature of the force delivered (spiral force from the abdomen compared to weight-swinging from the shoulder), the stance used (the Bow Arrow stance used in kung fu which provides stability as well as a protected groin versus the typical boxing and Muai Thai stances were leave the groin exposed and are more “floating”), and even the way the fist is formed and the point of impact. At the end of the day, yes, we’re hitting someone with a closed hand, but almost every other variable is different. 

Different stances in kung fu offer many different advantages. Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit begins in Lohan Asks the Way while his senior disciple begins in Single Tiger Emerges From Cave. They are both solid yet agile, their front hands offer a guard and barrier that an incoming opponent must overcome, and their leg positions protect the groin from a direct attack from the front. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

Different stances in kung fu offer many different advantages. Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit begins in Lohan Asks the Way while his senior disciple begins in Single Tiger Emerges From Cave. They are both solid yet agile, their front hands offer a guard and barrier that an incoming opponent must overcome, and their leg positions protect the groin from a direct attack from the front. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

Despite almost everyone of average height and physiology being able to use “punches” or “kicks,” I would naturally spar or fight with them differently based on the types of punches or kicks they are using. Even if two people gave me the same attack (let’s say a whirlwind kick using their left leg), the stance and set up they used (e.g. a “facing me squarely” Muai Thai stance versus the more angled and covered kung fu False Leg stance) would dictate how I will respond (when that situation occurred in my sparring, I counter-kicked the Muai Thai boxer to the groin with an organ-seeking kick because it was open and my “straight” kick was faster than his “circular” kick; with the kung fu False Leg stance-using person, because he was more covered, I stepped off line and strike his kicking leg instead). 

Sorry about the long rambling of this post; I’m glad I’m able to chat with fellow martial artists about sparring and fighting philosophy! It’s a rare chance to learn more about how other people do things. 

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