Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My (String) Theory of the Internal Arts

The fundamental problem of most Chinese martial arts is how to effectively and efficiently utilize the ground and body weight to transform a primarily vertical force (body weight) into a primarily horizontal force (punches, kicks and throws).

External and Internal

There are many definitions of external and internal martial arts, most of which I find unsatisfactory. I prefer a more pragmatic definition:

An external art is one where the power generation mechanism is easily visible to the naked eye. For example, southern arts like Hung Kuen or Choy Lay Fat, northern Shaolin like Cha Quan etc., utilize primarily the body torso rotation around a vertical axis to generate power. The detail of how it is done is somewhat unique to each art, and it makes each art distinctive.

The power generation mechanism of the internal arts, on the other hand, is much harder to see by an inexperienced observer, especially when loose clothing is worn. It is much more subtle and the movements are much smaller (hence short power emission (i.e. at close distances) is very common). The action relies on the subtle movement along the spine, bending back and forth in different directions.

How to attain internal power

每一家都有自己的獨特功法:太極站無極樁,形意用三體式,意拳站樁換勁,心意蹲猴,八卦走圈換掌,南派洪拳練扎馬,蔡李佛首練五輪馬,而詠春最重小念頭。

Each style has its own distinctive way to train the body: taiji uses the wuji stance, yiquan has different stances for different purposes, xingyi uses the santi posture, Shanxi xinyi uses the squatting monkey posture, bagua trains by walking in a circle, etc. In southern arts, Hung Kuen is known for its strong horse training, Choy Lay Fat also trains the horse but with more nimble footwork, and Wing Chun uses the Siu Nim Tau.

The Theory

Disclaimer: knowing and understanding the theory does absolutely nothing for improving your kung fu. Only countless hours of mindful practice will do that.

I don't have a good drawing program, so I am just going to wave my hands and talk my way through it without using pictures. We are going to run a series of thought experiments, so put on the safety goggles and fasten your seat belts.

Imagine a vertical wall with a horizontal rope fastened on it, just like in standard high school or college physics texts. If you pull the rope horizontally away from the wall, you can make the rope taut. If you hang a weight on the rope, you can make the rope taut again by increasing the tension (i.e. pull harder in the same direction as previously). Technically it's called increasing the horizontal force.

Now imagine, if instead of a simple rope, we have a segmented rope similar to those segmented snake toys you can sometimes find in a toy store (those which have the snake head wiggle when you wiggle the tail), or like a multi-sectional Chinese steel whip. Obviously the same thing works, i.e. you can support a weight (vertical force) by suitably increasing the tension (horizontal force). So far, so good.

Now imagine instead of having the sections being a uniform length, they come in different lengths, so some are longer than others. No problem, it gets more complicated but everything still works similarly as before.

Next, make these segments different shapes, so besides being different in length, they are also different in shape, so some may be thicker or thinner, others may be triangular, polygonal, or just plain irregular in shape. Again everything still works as before as long as they are attached together, even if the attachment points are at odd angles.

Suppose the individual segments are piecewise attached using something like heat shrink tubing, so the joints are flexible while the segments are rigid, and everything is hanging together as before.
Now for the critical step, rotate the picture 90 degrees so the vertical wall becomes the horizontal floor, the vertical "weight" now becomes a horizontal force, and the "rope" is now standing vertically. So long as tension is maintained (by pulling vertically up) the rope remains taut when a horizontal force is applied.

If you imagine a little harder, you can see the non-uniform, multi-segmented rope is very similar to the human spine/skeleton. The ground attachment is not a single point but a complicated collection of bones in the foot. Proper placement of the foot (aka foot bow) and tibia angle results in a suction like action which helps to stabilize the attachment point and help direct the incoming force into the ground.


太極拳所謂清氣上升,濁氣下降,骨肉分離,大抵是這個意思吧。


Some object to TST's demos as being simple physics tricks (which it is), and useless, which it is not (because of Newton's 3rd Law, the force his body can generate is equal to that of the pusher, hence he is capable of delivering a very powerful horizontal force) and hence infer that he is a charlatan. I don't agree with that assessment. It is not easy to control your body to that extent.

Insight #1: if you create tension (a very misleading word) in the physics sense in the vertical direction by imagining a straightening of the spine (the spine really cannot be straightened too much, but you can have the intent to try straightening it), you can withstand a horizontal push (think TST's demos). The tension is created by keeping the head suspended (蹬頭dung tau), flexing the spine in the right direction (挺腰ting yiu), and dropping weight into the knees (落馬lok ma). By minimizing non-essential muscular tension (there's that word again), the tension (in the physics sense) can be distributed more evenly along the spine/skeleton as opposed to concentrating in a few places (blocking the qi) where it can be easily overwhelmed by the external force. It is a very good thing that the spine is S shaped, because if it were straight, the vertebrae will be stacked directly on top of each other and it is much harder to get the horizontal forces canceled between the links. As it is, at each joint, because of the difference in alignment, the horizontal force gets resolved into longitudinal and transverse components. The combination of all the joints tend to counterbalance the incoming horizontal force (up to a limit). There's a whole lot of complicated things going on along the spine, and all of the joints together works like a bow.

Insight #2: the skeleton coupled with relaxed muscle usage creates a frame. Force can be issued and received with minimal movement in the joints (minimal flexing of the frame). This is known as whole body force(整勁), which is a more efficient use of the body's resources than localized muscles.

This is a first approximation to what I think is happening. I have left out a lot of elements (e.g. the use of the dantian) which may contribute to how things are really done, but it helps to have a mental picture which, while not complete, may offer a rough sketch as to what is going on. I have been thinking along the lines of this theory for a few years now and I haven't seen anything which contradicts or pokes holes in it yet. If anyone can think of reasons why it is wrong or where it should be amended please let me know. It is similar to Mike Sigman's basketball post model but whereas his example is rigid where all the internal dynamics are hidden, mine is more explicit and perhaps, easier to understand.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

煮酒論英雄

近年葉問電影非常賣座,帶動一股學習詠春熱潮。然而一般八十後對五、六十年代詠春歷史一無所知,甚至有人會誤把虛構電影情節當成歷史看待,這樣對當年為推廣詠春作出過貢獻的前輩是不公平的。

在這個輕而易舉便能學到詠春拳的年代,很難想像到在一九五○年詠春拳只有少數幾個佛山人認識,如果當年有人說五十年後詠春拳將會風行全球,成為世上最流行的中華武術之一,一定會被人當是瘋子看待。

然而事實確是這樣奇妙的。

詠春拳自一八四、五○年代起傳習於红船各祖師,至一九四○年佛山時代每代只傳少數幾人,直至葉問南下香江,經數代弟子的努力才發展成今日的局面。

提起葉問,自然會有人提起到李小龍。無可否認李氏的名氣令詠春更廣為人知,但在六十年代當李小龍在荷李活還是一個名不經傳的小角色時香港巳有數萬人學習詠春,對此李氏是不能居功的。

今天已成主流的兩位葉公子,在一九六二年才移民來港,對五、六十年代的詠春發揚亦起不了甚麽直接的作用。

倫佳、郭富等雖名為葉問最初期弟子,但多年來在國內因種種原因沒有公開教授,直到近一、二十年才廣收門徒。

博士憑其金字塔層壓式推銷,在歐州確有號稱 十數萬的信徒。但在美加和其他有競爭性的城市,不見得有其市場。

張卓慶號稱為世界第二大詠春團體領導人,當年與黃淳樑,李小龍號稱詠春三虎,五十年代四出與人講手,七十年代開始在澳州用Traditional Wing Chun品牌教授詠春,八十年代初登陸美國,鋒頭一時無兩。但自經Emin Boeztepe一役,優勢好像一去不復返,最近又因搞詠春歸宗少林立碑嵩山一事,帶出很大風波。一生功過,尚代蓋棺定論。

在五十年代黃淳樑四出與人講手,令詠春之名不徑而走。今天多位名師皆是黃氏高足,但當年黃氏還是新手一名,尚未設館授徒,傳揚詠春的只有葉問宗師自己及(在五十年代中、後期)兩位大弟子梁相、駱耀(徐尚田當年尚未設館)。各位可看徐尚田“佛山市『葉問堂』觀後感”一文便知大概。

當年葉問隻身來港,棲於三太子廟。若非巧遇舊友李民,由李民的關係認識梁相,而梁相在一試之後便心悅誠服、死心塌地支持宗師在港生活,葉問縱有絕世武功也難在三太子廟長期掛單,說不定要回佛山,可能便會性命不保,更不用說成為世上萬人敬仰的一代宗師了。

五○至五三、四年是關鍵性的幾年,詠春由一個不為人知的小門派逐漸在香港建立了基地,葉問在梁相、駱耀,及較後期的徐尚田等弟子協助下打下了堅固的根基,到後來由黃淳樑等開花结果只是遲早的事。至於後來發展到衝出香港、走向世界,可能亦非宗師始料所能及。

我們今天能學習詠春,在慶幸之餘,飲水思源,亦應向這幾位前輩致敬,多謝他們多年來對詠春不離不棄的誠意。

值得發人深省的是葉問當年已是五、六十歲,身材廋小(據說比現今的葉準師傅還 廋小),肯定不是練外家拳的肌肉形,也不是 練南螳螂的鋼條形。他究竟憑什麼能夠技服當年三十來歲、身材高大、精通龍形、蔡李佛的梁相?是用不能被人扯落的膀手嗎?是 用機關鎗式連環拳還是以攤打破掃捶?這些手法是一個廋弱老頭能有效地用以制服年輕力壯的對手的嗎?如果這些手法在一個廋弱老人或女性身上不能發揮作用,那麽詠春這種女人拳究竟有何奧妙能夠在世界武林佔一席位?

究竟甚麼才是葉問詠春拳(三)

顧名思義,葉問詠春拳自然是以葉問為宗。但葉問自己一生也經歷過幾個階段,由初學於陳華順,吳仲素,至與阮奇山,姚才等日夕切磋的詠春三雄時代,初來香港,任教於飯店職工總會時期,後來也有一段意志消沉,無心教學的日子,最後幾年疾病纏身,那麼應以那一時期的葉問為準?愚見以為與其憑藉臨終前一星期,已經病入膏肓時的錄像,或單憑某一弟子自己的心得和片面回憶,不如由葉問本人的身體條件開始研究,再配合其親傳弟子在黐手時的感受,再用詠春拳理加以印証分析,從而再重新塑造出當年葉問的詠春拳比較合理。

葉問的香港身份証顯示他當年身高五呎三吋,體重大約一百磅左右,圖片顯示他非常廋削,是典型的手無縳雞之力的書生型。所以他不會是像劉翔那般身手不凡的運動健將,當然不會是姚明那樣身高手長,亦不能倚仗亞里,泰臣那種膂力,亦沒有他們的挨打能力。那麼葉問究竟何德何能,能令其門下弟子終生心悅誠服,不懷二心?

葉問門下不乏運動健將,身高力大,好勇鬥狠之輩,他們身經百戰,當然不能說他們的詠春不行,但極其量只能說那是粗枝大葉詠春(套用陳志文師傅語),未及當年葉問自己的詠春幼細。

世上沒有長勝將軍,強如呂布,關羽,也有兵敗被囚之日。所謂盲拳打死老師傅,只要有一身蠻力,又肯挨打,在競技擂台上發揮不一定會比一個苦練多年的中華武術高手差。如果像王大導那樣說:功夫兩字一橫一豎,只有站著的人才能有發言權,那麼如果要葉問自己戴上拳套上擂台和亞里,泰臣之輩爭雄,結果肯定不會像甄子丹電影那樣。同理,要葉問落地和格雷斯家族成員碌地沙,吃虧的肯定是葉問。葉問當年來香港時已年近花甲,在擂台上肯定不會是這些擂台健將的對手,但在沒有拳套,沒有規限的情況下,一個在比賽中完全無望的矮廋老頭或許還會有幾分取勝機會。

意拳王老說:拳拳服膺。如果不能用理論說清楚的便不能被稱為拳。相傳詠春是由五枚所創,由嚴詠春傳下,這是否事實不必深究,但在有詠春拳歷史這百多二百年以來,我們的祖先都選擇承認這個傳說,其中必有深意,正如所有詠春拳套路都是以左手開始一樣。在佛山時代,詠春被稱為女人拳,但未聞當年詠春有任何出名的女將,那麼詠春拳本身肯定是有若干特徵和女性有關聯,而不是像現今常見的那樣完全男性化鬥快,鬥大力,鬥身體質素的詠春。當年的葉問,阮奇山(恕我對姚才所知不多)都是矮小,廋削的身形,他們能稱雄於佛山,不能是靠體形優勢,那麼他們手上的功夫,肯定是有其獨到之處。如果我們想學到葉問當年的功夫,肯定不能走奧運會的更高,更快,更強的一條路,而是要思考一下一個矮廋老頭,或弱質女流如何才能有效地運用得到的技法。

根據張學健的描述,葉問的拳很重,和廋小身形完全不成比例,和他黐手時是無法在他身前站穩,被他隨意帶動,有如像汪洋中的一鞗船在驚濤駭浪之中,始終處於下風,從而陷落萬劫不復之地,任憑宰割。這種說法和當年梁相,黃淳樑初遇葉問試手時的遭遇,如出一轍,所以可信度甚高。只有能做到這樣的人才配稱為一代宗師,才能令其門下弟子終生心服口服。如果單憑大力,一味靠快取勝,縱能一時服人之口,不能永遠服人之心。

怎樣才能學到葉問那樣的功夫?訣云:拳由心發,力從地起。詠春倚賴的不是局部的肌肉力,而是借助地力運用的整體力。誰都知道初學詠春入門要學小念頭,而小念頭一開拳便要扎二字拑羊馬,整套拳開馬後兩腳便紋風不動。據說葉問打一套小念頭要用個多小時。為甚麼要這樣做?因為要練馬,而從扎馬中找到運用地力的法門。當你能有效地運用地力時,你便不必依靠身體局部的肌肉力,這樣一個廋小老頭,或弱質女流便有一點能在壯漢手中奪取生機的本錢。

Thursday, May 8, 2014

帶手

帶手是學習詠春的一個非常重要的環節,通過師父或師兄的耐心引導來喂勁,初學者可以逐步掌握如何在各種情況下正確地運用詠春的各種手法,從而養成習慣。我們應感謝葉問當年將這套系統的訓練方法傳下給梁相,駱耀,而他們也傳下給門下弟子,讓我們今日有機會能夠學到如此巧妙的一門拳術。

駱耀-》盧志禮 Lok Yiu -> Lo Chi Lai

梁相-》吳華森 Leung Sheung -> Ng Wah Sum

梁相-》吳華森-》林展霆 Leung Sheung -> Ng Wah Sum -> Wilfred Lam

梁相-》黃子華-》李家華 Leung Sheung -> Wong Chi Wah -> Lee Ka Wah

梁相-》陳春保 Leung Sheung -> Chan Chun Po

梁相-》鍾萬年 Leung Sheung -> Kenneth Chung