Sunday, July 28, 2019

Choy Lay Fut’s 5 Guidelines for Correct Practice

The Choy Lay Fut System has a vast amount of material rich in concept and theory.  Approaching the system as a conceptual method will allow the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to cut through the vast quantity of material and understand how to effectively apply the system in combat. The conceptual method of training a martial art can be compared to learning a new language. Learning only the forms and techniques with no understanding of the concepts behind them is similar to attempting to communicate in a foreign language using a phrase book. You may be able to ask specific questions like “where is the bathroom” but you will not be able to express your own ideas and converse fluently. The conceptual method of learning a martial art is similar to learning a foreign language in its entirety. You begin with the core concepts and theories which can be compared to an alphabet then you move on to combining concepts and theories together which is like forming words and sentences. Finally you can put together combinations and apply these concepts where they are needed and, in essence, converse freely with your opponent.

Practicing the Choy Lay Fut system as a conceptual method of martial arts leads to a greater adaptability and freedom in the application of the systems combative technique. However, practicing the system as a series of separate concepts can lead to confusion as to how these concepts interrelate to one another to form a cohesive method of combat.  The Choy lay Fut system is governed by 5 “laws” or “methods” to be used as a guideline to build a framework in which the concepts can be brought from a series of ideas into physical technique employed for self protection by the practitioner.
Modern day practitioners often question the validity of forms practice. Forms training is an excellent way to build attributes necessary in the application of the Choy Lay Fut system. With proper attention during training forms practice can offer the opportunity to practice the 5 methods without the added pressure from the resistance of an opponent.


When practicing the Choy lay Fut system these 5 guidelines should be applied to each maneuver to ensure proper and efficient usage. These 5 guidelines are Sun Faht (身法), Bo Faht(步法), Sung Faht (松法), Ang Faht( 眼法), Sau Faht( 手法). Each of these categories contain rules that are universal in all Choy Lay Fut technique that aid in proper usage, proper power generation and correct technique. Following the 5 guidelines in combination with each other is the key to what is called “total body unity” in the Chinese martial arts. Total body unity doesn’t rely on vaguely defined concepts such as qi(internal energy) but rather is a combination of good body mechanics, positioning, focus and structure.  Similar to the core concepts, learning and following the 5 guidelines leads to a greater understanding and application of the Choy Lay Fut system as a whole.


Sun Faht (身法)
Sun Faht or body law/method refers to the method of utilizing the practitioner’s body mechanics to achieve the greatest possible efficiency in power generation. The method is not limited to single strikes, Sun Faht also includes using the positioning of the body during rotational power generation methods to place the practitioner’s body in an advantageous position to continue an attack, defend or counter attack. Power generation in the Choy lay Fut system follows a pattern of movement that starts from the ground up. The body is divided into 3 major sections, the stance (Ma馬), the core(yiu 腰 ) and the shoulders(bok膊), power generation typically begins from the stance initiated by legs whether by stepping, pivoting or driving the legs into the ground. After the movement has been initiated by the legs the next major section of the body to move is the core. Rotating the waist for power is common not only in other methods of martial arts but for most movement in general. Following the rotation of the waist the next and final section of the body responsible for generating power are the shoulders. A loose and flexible shoulder is paramount to the delivery of a powerful strike. (see sung faht for more on looseness). In addition to generating power the rotation and alignment of the shoulder plays an important role in maintaining correct structure.(see sau faht)     

The author using the rotation of his shoulders to simultaneously generate power in his strike, evade his opponents punch and set up a follow up strike.


There are 3 main methods of power generation used in the Choy Lay Fut system 
  • Sinking
  • Sliding 
  • Torque 

Sinking
Sinking the stance is a method of generating power by dropping the weight as a strike is executed. Similar methods of power generation are used in other combat methods such as western boxing where it is described as “sitting on your punches”. When done properly sinking can increase the power of a technique by allowing the practitioner to take advantage of a lowered center of gravity providing a solid base from which to deliver devastating striking power. Sinking is often mistakenly done as a deliberate lowering of the body by bending the legs or bouncing. Sinking when properly done is a releasing of the hips allowing the practitioner to “sink” into his center of gravity as the strike makes contact with the intended target.    

The author using the "sinking" method of power generation to deliver a "Yum Chop Choi" during sparring


 
Sliding 
Sliding is a form of power generation that relies of a specific type of step. This shooting step, Biu Ma (標馬), is done by the Choy Lay fut practitioner to drive forward into position while taking advantage of the forward momentum to generate power. Using the practitioner’s body weight and forward momentum to drive the strike into the opponent the sliding method is often used in conjunction with sinking for maximum efficiency. 

During a sparring match the author reads His opponent’s strike and counters with a strike of his own using a combination of sliding and sinking power generation methods

Torque
Torque is the use of the body’s rotational force created by pivoting. There are 2 main methods of pivoting to create torque, pushing and pulling. Pushing begins with pressing the rear leg into the ground driving the pivot through the legs into the waist where the rotation of the body continues through the waist to the shoulder. The shoulder continues the rotation through to the arm into the intended striking surface. Done in a similar way, pulling is using the same movement as the push while the body rotates away from the intended target.
The author uses the pushing method of torque to throw a rear hand strike then uses the pulling method of torque to rotate the body the other direction to strike with the lead hand.  


Bo Faht(步法) 
Absorbing and understanding the footwork theory of Choy Lay Fut causes the practitioner to move with a clear and defined purpose. Many mistakenly believe that good footwork is simply hopping around or fancy shuffling. However, good footwork is the key to moving in and out of attacking range, gaining an advantageous position and generating sufficient power in your strikes. The Choy Lay Fut practitioner should not be moving for the sake of movement but moving with a clear and defined purpose.

The concepts of distancing and positioning are essential to the successful use of both offensive and defensive strategies employed by the Choy lay Fut practitioner. Choy Lay Fut footwork follows eight possible directions in which the practitioner can move called the asterisk footwork theory. This theory informs the practitioner of the proper positioning to take relative to the opponent in order to maximize the practitioner’s offensive and defensive capabilities.   In addition to the eight directions of the asterisk, when discussing distancing and positioning within Choy Lay Fut, two concepts are also employed by the practitioner; they are invasion, and evasion.

The symbol for the eight possible directions in which the practitioner can move called the asterisk footwork theory.


Invasion is done through taking over the opponent’s center of gravity through aggressive invasive body positioning.  Invasion is done mostly through forward movement but can also use slight angular stepping to drive into an opponent’s center of gravity.  Evasion is done by stepping to a position that limits your opponent’s available methods of attack.  This allows you to attack your opponent as they are striking or while the opponent attempts readjusting their body positioning to attack you again. Evasion must place you within a particular distance to your opponent after he initiates an attack.  If you place yourself too close to an opponent, it will hinder your own attack.  If you place yourself too far from an opponent, you will give room for the opponent to readjust and continue their attack.  Correct distancing must be used to effectively place the practitioner in the optimal place to deliver offensive techniques and maintain an effective defense.  The practitioner must be able to judge distances and adjust stepping and positioning to ensure the strike will be effective.  The practitioner must also effectively judge the distance between themselves and the opponent to choose which of the evasion lines would be most effective.  


The author using the asterisk theory with a variety of stepping patterns for invasive and evasive positioning


The asterisk footwork theory dictates where the practitioner should attempt to move to gain a positional advantage. In order to gain the desired position the Choy Lay Fut practitioner employs three main types of stepping based on the distance relative to the opponent and whether they are employing invasive or evasive tactics. There are various ranges in fighting, the outside range, striking range, clinching range and grappling range.  Each type of stepping in Choy lay Fut is best employed within a specific range.  For instance using small shuffling steps wouldn’t be very effective in the outside range where you may need to cover a large distance very quickly. Likewise if a practitioner is engaged with an opponent in a closer range smaller shuffling steps may be more effective than making larger strides that are susceptible to sweeping and tripping techniques.


Replacement Step
The outside range is the distance in which neither the practitioner nor the opponent can strike each other without stepping. This range is relatively safe and is often used during the “feeling out” stages of a fight or self defense situation. In this range the Choy Lay Fut practitioner would utilize what is called a replacement step or Siu Til (小跳). The replacement step is a footwork pattern in which the rear foot replaces the lead foot when moving forward and the lead foot replaces the rear foot when moving back. Used in a skipping fashion this footwork pattern can cover a large distance very rapidly moving the practitioner in and out of striking range.




Shooting Step
The Striking range, sometimes called “in the pocket”, is the distance in which both the practitioner and the opponent can strike each other. Typically since this is the danger zone the practitioner should only be here when striking, otherwise they should move back to the outside range. When using invasive or evasive tactics at this range the Choy Lay Fut practitioner uses the shooting step or Biu Ma (標馬) foot work pattern. The shooting step is a shuffling step similar to an advance in western fencing. When moving forward, the lead foot moves first with the rear sliding behind it. Often this step is done explosively in conjunction with the Chop Choi(插搥) as a lead attack.




Triangle Step
Employing the use of evasive tactics inside the striking range requires the practitioner to also utilize what is called a triangle step.  The triangle step refers to the three points of a triangle with the lead foot being the top and the two bottom points representing the angles in which the practitioner can step. The triangle step is an angular stepping tactic that allows the practitioner to step from the center to the outside angle of the opponents attack.  




Sung Faht (松法) 
Sung is often translated as “relax” or “loose” and in the context of Chinese martial arts explained as “relaxed but not completely slack”.  Sung Faht refers to the correct amount and placement of tension within the body during the execution of technique. Completely relaxed and the practitioners strike would be ineffectual, too much tension and it would be difficult to coordinate the body into a single unit. The amount of tension and relaxation differs throughout the body during the delivery of a strike. Using Choy Lay Fut’s whipping power as an example, the stance needs to be firm using both the sinking and torque methods of power generation.  The waist and shoulders remain relaxed and loose throughout the movement and the arm from the elbow to the fist must have a significant amount of tension.

Sau - A sweeping punch the Sau choi is often called the signature technique in the Choy Lay Fut system. Proper execution of this technique relies heavily on a correct balance between tension and relaxation. 





Ang Faht( 眼法) 
Ang Faht or “eye method” is often over looked and underappreciated.  Usually over simplified as “look where you strike” , a better explanation of Ang Faht would be to use the correct focus. Many of Choy Lay Fut’s techniques require split focus using feints and deception to set up strikes. Kicking in the choy Lay Fut system for example requires the practitioner to feint with the hands in while kicking in order to hide the kick and reduce the chances of the opponent capitalizing on the inherit vulnerabilities in kicking. For many of these techniques the practitioner would definitely not “look where he was striking”. The correct focus in these scenarios would be to look where the intended deception was. If the practitioner was feinting to the head and kicking the leg he would not want to give the kick away by looking at the intended target. Typically the best place to focus on an opponent would be the opponent’s center of mass.

Typically the rule when practicing forms is to "look where you strike" however in application often looking where you strike will inform the opponent where you intend to strike. Many times a combination of actions occur at once, here the author simultaneously attacks the upper gate and lower gate at the same time, making the opponents center of mass a better focal point.



Sau Faht( 手法) 
Sau Faht refers to correct technique or more specifically correct structure. An effective strike is one that efficiently impacts with power causing damage to the opponent. The force of the strike should be focused and transferred squarely into the intended target. Familiarity with the correct structures of strikes allows the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to strike within the power zone of each technique. Similar to using a hammer each technique has an intended striking surface. Just as one would not use the handle of the hammer to strike a nail, using the bicep to strike the opponent instead of the forearm or fist would not be efficient or effective. Correct structure is the positioning of the body and limbs to take advantage of the natural load bearing capabilities of the human body to issue force or receive it. 
 
 

The author performing a "structure" test, pressing against a wall the practitioner can check for proper alignment in the shoulder, spine and stance. Correct structure insures the practitioner is taking advantage of the natural load bearing capabilities of the human body to aid in power generation as well as increase resistance to pressures placed on their own bodies during combat.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Choy Lay Fut Complete Combat Efficiency: The Value of Combat Sports For the Traditional Chinese Martial Artist


Given the popularity of modern combat sports events like the UFC and the history of combat sports like the lei tei (擂臺) , it seems strange to have to make the argument for the value of combat sport training in today’s martial arts community.   However it is still very common to see posts in online communities dedicated to traditional martial arts attempting to make the argument that combat sport fighting is not real fighting. The primary purpose for training the martial arts is as a method of self protection using physical force to counter an immediate threat of violence. Such force can be either armed or unarmed. In either case, the chances of success depend on a large number of parameters as situations where one is forced to use their skills are largely unpredictable. Choy Lay Fut was a system originally employed as a method of fighting for militias and fighting troops during a turbulent period of Chinese’s history. The original purpose of the system has led some opponents of sport combat training to believe that the system is not intended for sport and such practice is deluding the practical nature of the system. While many practitioners can often be resistant to new ideas, modern sports combat training can offer a wealth of benefits to the traditional martial artist.

A combat sport is a competitive contact sport that usually involves one-on-one combat. Typically in a combat sport a combatant wins by scoring more points than the opponent or by disabling the opponent within an established set of rules.  Combatants usually fight one-on-one. Different combat sport formats involve different skill sets and rules. In Ancient China, combat sport appeared in the form of Leitai, a no-holds-barred combat sport that utilized the full spectrum of Chinese martial arts, striking, wrestling and weapons. Lei tai in its present form appeared during the Song dynasty when it was used for striking and Shuai Jiao exhibition matches and private duels. An ancestor of the lei tai was used during the Qin dynasty to hold wrestling competitions between imperial soldiers. The winner would be chosen to act as a bodyguard to the emperor or a martial arts instructor for the Imperial Military.
The author on the Lei Tai saluting the judges before the beginning of a SanDa (free fight) match. In the Second picture the author is using a leg catch followed by a punch and sweep counter to take his opponent down. SanDa is a Chinese combat sport which usually takes place on the Lei Tai and allows punches, kicks, knees and takedowns


                A tradition in the Chinese martial arts was for a practitioner whom wanted to establish themselves as a martial arts instructor in a new location, to initiate an open challenge on top of the leitei to established martial art practitioners in the area. A fighter lost the match and his credibility if he fell, was forced off or was knocked to the floor of the stage. The winner of the match remained on the leitei unless he was forced off himself. If there were no more challengers, he became the champion and or established the dominance of his system of combat in that area.  In order to become a champion, a fighter had to defeat countless opponents. For instance, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam set up his own lei tai platform in front of Hai Tung Monastery in Guangdong after having worked as a famous bodyguard in Northern China. For 18 days, he fought over 150 other martial artists and was never defeated Shortly afterwards, he was elected as the leader of the Ten Tigers of Canton, who were the top ten martial arts practitioners in Guangdong.
              The irony of the Traditional martial arts versus combat sports debate is that combat sport fighting has always been a vital component of martial arts. Many who practice the traditional martial arts view the practice of combat sports as antagonistic towards their practice. To understand the issue it’s helpful to re-evaluate our terminology.  What is a “traditional martial art”? The term in itself, while conjuring images of Shaolin monks in robes wielding ancient weaponry, doesn’t really mean anything in the context of this debate. Combat sports have existed in China since antiquity, and current combat sports are undeniably linked to traditional martial art and exist as a continuation of those methods. Training for combat sports can help the traditional martial arts practitioner reorganize their training and make it more efficient by focusing in a specific direction. 
Hung Sing Martial Arts Association instructor Maickon Carrico delivering a devastating straight left hand that downed his opponent in a SanDa Match





A Traditional Chinese Martial Art Refocused

            The Choy Lay Fut system was created in 1836, by founder Chan Heung in Guangzhou, a southern province of China. Seeking out the most information he could find on the Chinese martial arts led Chan Heung to seek the tutelage of 3 different teachers during his life time. Like many contemporary mixed martial artists, he sought to consolidate the 3 different methods of his teachers into one method utilizing the strengths of each. Because of this, Choy Lay Fut is a well rounded method combining powerful striking methods with grabs/holds, kicking and solid yet nimble footwork.
 Choy Lay Fut is often thought to be a vast and complex system of martial arts by both the casual observer and even many students of the system. This line of thinking can be attributed to a large quantity of empty hand and weapons forms practiced by the various schools teaching the system. The number of forms practiced by an individual Choy Lay Fut practitioner can range from only a few to well over forty. If you take into account all the variations and unique forms created by and taught by the different lineages of the system the number of empty hand and weapons forms can easily number in the hundreds. If you include the different apparatus training sets and partner drills, the sheer volume of the system can become such that even a diligent practitioner can seem overwhelmed and unsure of how to properly identify those things that should be priorities in training for combat efficiency. The key to making effective use of this vast library of material is through an understanding and proper focus on the systems core concepts.
The Choy Lay Fut method is centered on its key combative concepts such as the 10 elements, asterisk footwork, gate theory etc. These concepts give a practitioner the tools to deal with various vectors of force leading to a better understanding of fighting in general and as such making it easier for the practitioner to fight against an aggressor regardless of that aggressor’s background and training in other systems. Approaching the system as a conceptual method will allow the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to cut through the vast quantity of material and understand how to effectively apply the system in combat. The conceptual method of training a martial art can be compared to learning a new language. Learning only forms and techniques with no understanding of the concepts behind them is similar to attempting to communicate in a foreign language using a phrase book. You may be able to ask specific questions like “where is the bathroom” but you will not be able to express your own ideas and converse fluently. The conceptual method of learning a martial art is similar to learning a foreign language in its entirety. You begin with the core concepts which can be compared to an alphabet then you move on to combining concepts together which is like forming words. Finally you can put together combinations and apply these concepts where they are needed and, in essence, converse freely with your opponent. 

A video explaining one of Choy Lay Fut's 10 elements, Sau, and showing it being trained for combat sport application. Simple strikes such as these, not complicated applications or "deadly" techniques, are what the practitioner should be focused on when training for combat efficiency. 


One of the most critical problems facing the Chinese martial arts today is a lack of adequate training to prepare the practitioner for an actual fight. While there is a variety of training methods used to develop attributes to be used in combat the main method of instruction and practice in most traditional Chinese martial arts is related to forms practice.  A form is a set of formalized prearranged movements, techniques and set combinations of movement that a practitioner of the traditional Chinese martial arts performs either against an imaginary attacker, with partner mimicking an actual fight or on a training apparatus such as a wooden dummy or heavy bag.  A legacy of the Chinese martial arts foundation as a battlefield combat method many of the techniques in the Chinese martial arts cannot be performed in anything but an all out fight.  Techniques such as clawing, eye gouging, hair pulling etc are commonly used in most methods. Obviously these methods cannot be used safely on a training partner. So complaint drilling and forms practice have become the main method of practice in most schools. Over time the aesthetically pleasing movements of the form have become an end to itself.  “Mastery” in performance of the form is often mistakenly taken as mastery of combat itself. 
Traditional forms, if unaltered for aesthetic appeal, utilize the core fundamentals of the system and utilize different exercises meant to develop attributes useful in combative situations. The efficiency of forms training in developing combative skills has been questioned for some time now. Though not necessary to reach proficiency in combat, forms can serve as a valuable training tool for practitioners of the Chinese martial arts. The principle of specificity in modern athletic training states that in order to derive benefit from physical training for an activity the training should mimic the activity one is training for as closely as possible. Perhaps the greatest advantage a Choy Lay Fut practitioner can reap from forms practice is the ability to consolidate technical training with physical conditioning. As stated previously, the principle of specificity states that performing a specific exercise primarily develops the physical attributes or skills of that exercise. The practice of forms provides a type of drilling that develops not only the conceptual and strategic components of a system but also helps to develop the physical attributes needed to employ the system in combat. 


When utilized properly traditional forms can be a valuable part of an over all training regimen. Here a Choy Lay fut practitioner from the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association does the technique Kuixing Kicks the Stars  魁星踢斗 in both the form and in free sparring


Live training is an essential part of preparing for combat sports. However, the problem with many systems of traditional martial arts is that many of the techniques have unsafe elements that are unsuitable for daily live training. If sparring practice becomes too dangerous, practitioners will not progress as a result of high injury rate and attrition. The solution to this problem has been the removal of these “dangerous techniques” replaced with a focus on those that can be used in regular training an excessive injury rate.  For instance the Chop Choi sparring method used by the Ng family Chinese Martial Arts Association removes attacks to the upper gate (head) as a way to counter the high rate of head injury experienced by regular free sparring.  The criticism of decisions such as this has been that by removing dangerous techniques or limiting targets the system will become watered down or less combat effective. Fighting techniques are physical skills and like all other physical skills they require realistic practice to make them effective. “Deadly” techniques only have theoretical deadliness and little practical deadliness as they have never been practiced in any situation that approximates the resistance they will get from an actual opponent. On the other hand regular practice of “safe” techniques in a realistic way creates a more effective practitioner through regular practice of the core concepts in a situation more approximate to what they would face in combat.
 There is a gap between technique and application of a technique. A technique may be considered effective independent of the practitioner, however if applied poorly it will fail to have the desired effect.  The value of a technique is limited by the practitioner’s ability to apply it.   It therefore makes sense that the practitioner should prioritize the effective application of the core concepts over the accumulation of “deadly” technique.
At the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association a method of applying the progressive resistance method of training the Choy Lay Fut system’s core concepts has been instrumental in the practitoners success in full contact combat sports competition.  Compliant drilling with a partner allows the practice of correcting structure and correct application of a technique. However, in order to achieve correct structure and application in free sparring, a practitioner’s technique must be stressed by additional stimuli such as changes in timing, distance and the partner’s compliancy levels. If these stimuli are not introduced in a gradual incremental increase, then the attributes developed in the early compliant stages of drilling will degrade when there is an excess of stimuli introduced during free sparring.
Though head contact may not be allowed and "deadly" techniques may not be allowed in the Chop Choi sparring exercise, this drill still allows for the training of key fighting concepts such as attack and defense, invasive and evasive positioning and what to do when under pressure from an opponent. This drill can be done full contact on a regular basis with a low risk of injury. This means the practitioners can train hard often under conditions replicating the pressure one would face in a real fight. 




The Value Of Combat Sports to the Traditional Martial Arts


One criticism many traditionalists make is that the rules of a given competition may not allow for the full range of techniques their system employs. As a traditional martial art Choy Lay Fut employs a wide range of strikes that with little modification or exclusion can be used in most competitive formats. The key is finding the competitive format that most aligns with your values as a martial artist. Full contact fighting events are what we have found most align with our values. We do use other formats such as continuous sparring as a primer for those that are new to competition that want to try it out and may not be ready for full contact. Even if the practitioner doesn’t wish to compete, using combat sport methods as part of the overall training can yield significant results. For instance, the removal of “dangerous techniques” and using safety gear such as head gear and gloves offers protection that allows training with more intensity more frequently in a way that is a closer approximation to the aggression and pressure one would face in an actual fight. Having a goal or event to actually train for can provide motivation to ramp up the intensity in your training. Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. [The aim is to reach the highest level of performance for the most important competition of the year. Conditioning programs can use periodization to break up the training program into the offseason, preseason, in season, and the postseason. Periodization divides the year round condition program into phases of training which focus on different goals. Adding modern training protocols such as this can help develop attributes needed in both sport combat and self defense.
Situations where one is forced to use their skills are unpredictable.  The primary purpose for training the martial arts is as a method of self protection. Even with that being the case the only thing you can do to prepare for the unpredictable nature of a true fight is to develop attributes that are beneficial to fighting in general. Sport combat methods train these attributes and offer a multitude of benefits for both the competitive and non competitive martial artist.




Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Stable yet Nimble Footwork of Choy Lay Fut

Discussions of Chinese martial arts are often accompanied by the terms "northern" and "southern".  These categories refer to the method's geographical origin, with "northern" styles originating in provinces north of the Yangtze River, and "southern" styles originating from the provinces south of the Yangtze.  A well-known adage concerning Chinese martial arts is the term "Southern fists and Northern kicks" (南拳北腿). This phrase is used to categorize the Chinese martial arts based on both their point of geographical origin and the specialties of the systems born in those locations. While there are many exceptions to the rule, in general it is said that systems from the north focus on developing quick footwork and leg techniques such as kicking. Systems that originate from the south are said to specialize in strong stable positioning with sophisticated powerful hand techniques.

Choy Lay Fut(蔡李佛) is a southern system of Chinese martial arts known for strong, stable yet nimble footwork.  The change in the stereotypical low rooted immovable stance typical of southern systems can be attributed to Choy Lay Fut’s founder. Having trained in both southern and northern methods, Chan Heung(陳享) was able to take what he believed was the best concepts and techniques from each method to compensate for any apparent weakness that were found in any of the individual methods. The result was a system with footwork that retained the stability that was needed as a base for the powerful hand techniques of the system while still retaining the ability to move quickly and freely in any direction.

 Movement is important to the Choy Lay Fut fighting method as it controls distancing for attack and defense, assists correct timing in attack and defense, and is core to invasive and evasive positioning which is a significant part of offensive and defensive strategies.  Good footwork allows a Choy Lay Fut practitioner to be in position to attack, evade, or counter attack while utilizing angles to gain a advantageous position to hit the opponent while completely neutralizing their offense.

Correct Structure

A common misconception is that stances are to be used as a static or “ready” position. Stances such as the Sei Ping Dai Ma(四平大馬), Ding Ji Ma(丁字馬), Diu Ma(吊 馬) and Gwai Ma (拐馬) are meant to be used as stepping techniques in conjunction with offensive and defensive techniques. Different from the hopping or shuffling that typically comes to mind when one thinks of footwork, stances in the Chinese martial arts are meant to facilitate movement while lowering the center of gravity and maintaining the structural integrity necessary for the generation of power. Each of these traditional stances has a position from which they are at their structurally strongest. For instance, the horse stance is structurally strongest from the side position and the ding ji ma is strongest from the front. Knowing the strong points of the stance informs the practitioner of the correct method of use. In turn, knowing the correct method of use informs the practitioner on the correct structure for application. 

The stances of the Choy Lay Fut system are meant to be used at the mid level height. This allows the practitioner to retain their mobility while giving them the structure needed to deliver powerful strikes. 
1 The Sei Ping Dai Ma (四平大馬) or Horse stance is one the most fundamental stances in traditional Chinese martial arts. Practitioners of the Choy Lay Fut system make extensive use of the horse stance from the side position often in conjunction with the Biu Ma step and the lead hand Chop Choi. 
2 The Ding ji Ma (丁字馬) is structurally strong from the front this makes this stance work efficiently when coupled with the invasion concept of driving into an opponent’s center.
3 Diu Ma(吊 馬) is most often used as an evasive retreating step. The practitioner shifts the weight to the back leg while sinking their center of gravity. This causes the leg to store potential energy which is used for shooting back into position for the counter attack. 
4 Gwai Ma(拐馬) is a stance that can be used for evasive movement

 
When discussing the proper structure of a stance it is important to differentiate between aesthetics or exercise and what will facilitate fighting function. The key to retaining stability without sacrificing mobility begins with the height of the stance. The idea of “lower is better” is born out of both the use of stance training for strength and what looks physically impressive for performance and competition. Extremely low stances can be a source of frustration once the practitioner attempts to employ these positions in free sparring due to the limited mobility they offer. This frustration can cause the practitioner to abandon the use of traditional stances for fighting altogether, thus sacrificing all stability for increased mobility.  

Choy Lay Fut uses what could be called a middle level stance.  Typically the correct stance height for the Choy Lay Fut practitioner can be found by standing in front of a table assuming the horse stance and finding the height where you feel the strongest, both pushing down on the table and lifting it up. This height is where you are lowering your center of gravity enough to generate power yet you can shift or reposition yourself without exerting too much effort. Once the practitioner finds this position it is to be maintained throughout the various stances found in the system.  Stance holding can be a useful tool to integrate the correct structure of the stance into a practitioners muscle memory.  While using this training method it is important not to change the height or structure of the stance to increase the difficulty for the purpose of strength development. If your goal is to develop a stance that will facilitate fighting function remember, you fight how you train therefore you should train how you fight.  


Distancing and Positioning

The concepts of distancing and positioning are essential to the successful use of both offensive and defensive strategies employed by the Choy lay Fut practitioner. Choy Lay Fut footwork follows eight possible directions in which the practitioner can move called the asterisk footwork theory. This theory informs the practitioner of the proper positioning to take relative to the opponent in order to maximize the practitioner’s offensive and defensive capabilities.   In addition to the eight directions of the asterisk, when discussing distancing and positioning within Choy Lay Fut, two concepts are also employed by the practitioner; they are invasion, and evasion. 

The Asterisk

 
Invasion is done through taking over the opponent’s center of gravity through aggressive invasive body positioning.  Invasion is done mostly through forward movement but can also use slight angular stepping to drive into an opponent’s center of gravity.  Evasion is done by stepping to a position that limits your opponent’s available methods of attack.  This allows you to attack your opponent as they are striking or while the opponent attempts readjusting their body positioning to attack you again. Evasion must place you within a particular distance to your opponent after he initiates an attack.  If you place yourself too close to an opponent, it will hinder your own attack.  If you place yourself too far from an opponent, you will give room for the opponent to readjust and continue their attack.  Correct distancing must be used to effectively place the practitioner in the optimal place to deliver offensive techniques and maintain an effective defense.  The practitioner must be able to judge distances and adjust stepping and positioning to ensure the strike will be effective.  The practitioner must also effectively judge the distance between themselves and the opponent to choose which of the evasion lines would be most effective.  




Ranges of Combat

The asterisk footwork theory dictates where the practitioner should attempt to move to gain a positional advantage. In order to gain the desired position the Choy Lay Fut practitioner employs three main types of stepping based on the distance relative to the opponent and whether they are employing invasive or evasive tactics. There are various ranges in fighting, the outside range, striking range, clinching range and grappling range.  Each type of stepping in Choy lay Fut is best employed within a specific range.  For instance using small shuffling steps wouldn’t be very effective in the outside range where you may need to cover a large distance very quickly. Likewise if a practitioner is engaged with an opponent in a closer range smaller shuffling steps may be more effective than making larger strides that are susceptible to sweeping and tripping techniques.  


There are 4 main ranges of combat the outside range, the striking range, the clinching range and the grappling range. The Choy Lay Fut practitioner must be able to move freely and swiftly between these ranges in order to implement their offensive and defensive strategies

The outside range is the distance in which neither the practitioner nor the opponent can strike each other without stepping. This range is relatively safe and is often used during the “feeling out” stages of a fight or self defense situation. In this range the Choy Lay Fut practitioner would utilize what is called a replacement step or Siu Til (小跳). The replacement step is a footwork pattern in which the rear foot replaces the lead foot when moving forward and the lead foot replaces the rear foot when moving back. Used in a skipping fashion this footwork pattern can cover a large distance very rapidly moving the practitioner in and out of striking range.  

The Bai Jong or ready position should be natural enough to allow the practitioner to move in any of the 8 directions of the asterisk theory.  The advantage of the replacement step is that it allows the practitioner to move rapidly around the outside ranges and can be done while still maintaining the bai jong stance


 The Striking range, sometimes called “in the pocket”, is the distance in which both the practitioner and the opponent can strike each other. Typically since this is the danger zone the practitioner should only be here when striking, otherwise they should move back to the outside range. When using invasive or evasive tactics at this range the Choy Lay Fut practitioner uses the shooting step or Biu Ma (標馬) foot work pattern. The shooting step is a shuffling step similar to an advance in western fencing. When moving forward, the lead foot moves first with the rear sliding behind it. Often this step is done explosively in conjunction with the Chop Choi(插搥) as a lead attack.  

The author waits on the outside in a comfortable Bai Jong position. After his opponent closes the distance with a strike the author uses the Biu ma step to drive in the chop choi to the body as a counter.


Employing the use of evasive tactics inside the striking range requires the practitioner to also utilize what is called a triangle step.  The triangle step refers to the three points of a triangle with the lead foot being the top and the two bottom points representing the angles in which the practitioner can step. The triangle step is an angular stepping tactic that allows the practitioner to step from the center to the outside angle of the opponents attack.  

The triangle step is used for evasive angling and setting up for counter attacks 

The Concept of Movement


The Choy Lay Fut System has a vast amount of material rich in concept and theory.  Approaching the system as a conceptual method will allow the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to cut through the vast quantity of material and understand how to effectively apply the system in combat. The conceptual method of training a martial art can be compared to learning a new language. Learning only the forms and techniques with no understanding of the concepts behind them is similar to attempting to communicate in a foreign language using a phrase book. You may be able to ask specific questions like “where is the bathroom” but you will not be able to express your own ideas and converse fluently. The conceptual method of learning a martial art is similar to learning a foreign language in its entirety. You begin with the core concepts and theories which can be compared to an alphabet then you move on to combining concepts and theories together which is like forming words and sentences. Finally you can put together combinations and apply these concepts where they are needed and, in essence, converse freely with your opponent. The footwork theory of the Choy Lay Fut system gives the practitioner the tools to “converse freely” in the language of ever changing distancing and positioning that occurs in combat.  

The author attempt to use the Biu Ma coupled with the chop choi as an invasive tactic. His opponent responds by using the triangle step evasively to flank giving him positional advantage 

 Using the gwai ma coupled with the gwa choi allows the author to retreat from the dangerous position and create space between himself and his opponent in an attempt to recover his positioning.

The author then “untwists” from the gwai ma to continue his invasive tactics by stepping in and throwing a gwa choi (掛捶) attacking his opponent’s extended limb. 

The author then continues his attack by using the triangle step moving to the outside angle of his opponent while finishing the combination with a kup choi(扱捶).


 Absorbing and understanding the footwork theory of Choy Lay Fut causes the practitioner to move with a clear and defined purpose. Many mistakenly believe that good footwork is simply hopping around or fancy shuffling. However, good footwork is the key to moving in and out of attacking range, gaining an advantageous position and generating sufficient power in your strikes. The Choy Lay Fut practitioner should not be moving for the sake of movement but moving with a clear and defined purpose. As the Choy Lay Fut maxim states “Still like Static Water on Guard, Attack like a Leopard Catching its Prey”

 


Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Bridge From Form To Function: Choy Lay Fut Chop Choi Sparring

The Choy Lay Fut (蔡李佛) system is categorized as a traditional system of Chinese Martial Arts. Founded in 1836, Choy Lay Fut has 180 years worth of history and tradition interwoven into the system. Though Choy Lay Fut is steeped in the culture and traditions that would come with any traditional Chinese martial art, many of its practitioners take on a surprisingly modern approach to training this system. That progressive approach to training may also in itself be a tradition. The origin tale of Choy Lay Fut has the founder Chan Heung (陳享) learning martial arts from 3 different teachers. Each of these teachers taught a different system of martial art. Two of the systems he practiced were southern in origin and the third system was northern in origin, Chan Heung created a system of martial arts combining the methods into a system that was the best of the three methods. When creating the Choy Lay Fut system Chan Heung took the best attributes of each system and altered what he perceived to be flaws in his previous methods.  

Since 1836 Choy Lay Fut has grown in popularity to become one of the 3 most famous southern systems of Chinese martial art said to be due to 2 main reasons. One of those reasons is Choy Lay Fut has produced fighters that have consistently done well in full contact fighting. The other reason and why it took hold early in its creation as a preferred method of fighting in its region is how it was taught. When creating the systems framework, Chan Heung drawing from his scholarly background, devised a then uncommon method in the martial arts of building a curriculum based on progressive levels of difficulty. This made the system both easy to teach and easy to learn. Today practitioners of the Choy Lay Fut system at the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association in Chicago continue this tradition and apply the principle of progression in difficulty not only to the Choy Lay Fut syllabus but also as a way to bridge the gap between the practice of form and function.
 
Forms are an integral part of training in the Choy Lay Fut system. Training forms helps the practitioner to become familiar with the proper structure of the techniques and contains a wealth of concepts and strategies to be used in fighting. 



Progressive Resistance


There are many ideas surrounding the application of traditional martial arts that are the subject of much confusion and debate. Many practitioners mistakenly believe people believe if they are shown a specific application to a movement it has now become functional for combat. The counter to this point of view is those practitioners who think nothing less than full contact sparring is useful in the training of combative function. While it is true you do need to be taught what the techniques are for and those techniques need to be trained against resisting opponents, if you wish to apply a technique in a fighting situation correctly, those techniques need to be trained in a progressive manner.  

 In the context of strength training the principle behind this protocol of training has been dubbed “progressive overload”. In order to achieve more strength, as opposed to maintaining current strength capacity, muscles need to be stressed in a way that causes the body's natural, adaptive response to new demands placed on it. In order to minimize injury and maximize results, the novice begins at a comfortable level of muscular intensity and advances towards overload of the muscles over the course of the exercise program. Progressive overload requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or time in order to achieve the targeted goal of the user.  This technique results in greater gains in physical strength and muscular growth, but there are limits. An excess of training stimuli can lead to the problem of overtraining. This training principle can be applied directly to the training of a martial arts practitioner’s technical prowess. Compliant drilling with a partner allows the practice of correcting structure and correct application of a technique. However, in order to achieve correct structure and application in free sparring, a practitioner’s technique must be stressed by additional stimuli such as changes in timing, distance and the partner’s compliancy levels. If these stimuli are not introduced in a gradual incremental increase, then the attributes developed in the early compliant stages of drilling will degrade when there is an excess of stimuli introduced during free sparring.   

Learning the application of techniques and taking the time to refine the details of the technique is an important part of training the fighting function of the Choy Lay Fut system. Here practitioners learn the finer points of applying the Choy Lay Fut Chop Choi from Sifu Sam Ng 


Chop Choi Sparring

At the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association a method of applying the progressive resistance method of training the Choy Lay Fut system’s core concepts has been instrumental in the schools success in full contact competition. The core concepts of the Choy Lay Fut system are identified as the asterisk footwork theory, gate theory and the ten elements (十訣). One of the ten elements, the Chop Choi (插搥) is a penetrating straight punch used in the Choy Lay Fut system and often compared to the jab in western boxing in the sense that in Choy Lay Fut the Chop Choi is often used as a lead punch and serves to set up the systems other techniques. Named to illustrate the importance of the Chop Choi, the progressive resistance method of drilling practitioners at the Ng Family Chinese Martial Arts Association is called “Chop Choi Sparring”.  
  
The Chop Choi (插搥) is a penetrating straight punch used in the Choy Lay Fut system and often compared to the jab in western boxing in the sense that in Choy Lay Fut the Chop Choi is often used as a lead punch and serves to set up the systems other techniques.


Before Chop Choi Sparring can be undertaken preparatory drills must first be learned. The only way to insure correct structure in technique is to first drill it with enough stimuli removed so the practitioners can focus on proper technique. In this environment, the practitioner can train a technique with a partner in a way that will offer feedback from that partner that informs the practitioner of what it feels like to correctly execute the technique and have the opportunity to correct his own structure. To reinforce the correct structure and core concepts of the Choy Lay Fut system several unique drills have been devised such as the pendulum drill. 

  The pendulum drill is named for its repetitive back and forth movement between offensive and defensive movements. The pendulum drill not only arms the practitioner with offensive and defensive hand techniques but trains invasive and evasive footwork. The types of steps primarily used in these drills are a straight forward and backward shooting step called a Biu Ma (標馬) and the triangle step. These two stepping patterns are the primary methods of stepping for the asterisk footwork theory of Choy Lay Fut.  The next in step is to take the same techniques into free movement drilling. 

Free movement drilling is a type of training in which you trade the technique with a partner in a more spontaneous manner. It is important that this drill has plenty of movement simulating a sparring environment and a focus on breaking the rhythm of the exercise. During this phase of training you can get a feel for the abstract aspects of fighting.  The practitioner learns to utilize the technique while training distancing in relation to the opponent, timing, set up, recovery after execution etc.


A basic pendulum drill is Kum to Chop. Kum (擒) is one of the 10 elements of the Choy Lay Fut system and is used as a slapping deflection, pressing check or palm strike. In this drill the Practitioner’s transition from offensive to defensive maneuvers in a back and forth manner like the swing of a pendulum. 
 

The Kwan Kiu to Straight punch is a pendulum drill that utilizes the triangle step. The kwan kiu is used to defend the middle gate by deflecting the punch while moving to the opponents flank. To obtain this position requires the triangle step which is a stepping pattern that moves offensively toward an opponent’s center and stepping defensively to the outside in either the left or right direction. These 3 directions form a triangular pattern on the ground. 


Vectors of Force

The division of Chop Choi sparring into different levels of progression is based on the presence of various stimuli with the addition of each new technique. At the Ng Family Chinese martial Arts Association, the levels of progression in Chop Choi sparring are organized mainly by vectors of force. There are 10 lines of attack that can be utilized by the Choy Lay Fut practitioner. These ten lines when combined with the gate theory offer a wide variety of possibilities for the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to attack with. However within this variety of angles there are only 2 types of striking techniques that can be thrown, straight attacks or curved attacks. When considering defense in fighting it is best to simplify your opponent’s attacks into these 2 categories. When faced with full resistance the techniques that remain will be the simplest. By seeing an opponent’s attacks in terms of vectors of force such as the 10 lines of attack and as either straight or curved, the practitioner will eliminate the need for a specific response for each variation of strike that is likely to be used against them.  

The Gate theory is the division of the body into different “gates” or segments for attack and defense. The centerline runs vertical along the body’s center of mass. Horizontal lines across the shoulders and waist further divide the body into the upper, middle and lower gates. Chop Choi sparring is organized by focusing on different gates and lines of attack during the various stages of training.   


Each stage of Chop Choi sparring follows a specific set of guidelines that are meant to eliminate an over abundance of stimuli for those who are not prepared to deal with such. The first stage allows the practitioners to utilize only the lead hand Chop Choi for attack to the middle gate. This is similar to jab sparring in boxing. As stated earlier the Chop Choi in Choy Lay Fut is used to set up combinations and other angles of attack, this being the case, this punch forms the foundation for all other hand techniques in the system. The straight lead is the most common attack in the striking systems of martial arts. This is the most important line of attack to learn to defend against.
 The second stage of Chop Choi sparring allows for the practitioner to utilize both the lead and rear hand straight line attacks. This stage doesn’t differ from the first in terms of lines of attack however the addition of the rear hand opens up the possibility and use of combinations of attacks. This allows the practitioners the use of a line of attack they are familiar with both offensively and defensively but with the additional stimuli in the form of multiple attacks and how to deal with the oncoming pressure as well as how and when to use the lin wan(連環拳) concept of continuing attack.  

The third stage allows the addition of curved line attacks. Building on the previous stage this allows for the use of a variety of angle to be used in the formation of combinations of attack. In addition to the possibilities of attack there is also a greater amount of counter attacks and angles that need to be defended against. This stage builds a familiarity with both the offense and defense of curved and straight lines of attack. Beyond this stage practitioners begin to add to their foundation of strikes (打) with attacks to the upper and lower gates and techniques such as kicks (踢), wrestling (摔) and joint locks (拿)
 


 

Chop Choi Sparring at the beginning stages resembles jab sparring in western boxing. The initial stage allows for only the use of the lead hand in the form of the Yerng Chop (thumb facing up) and Yum Chop (thumb facing down). This allows the practitioner to train the lead hand as a method of entry, setting up for combinations to be used later, intercepting an opponent’s attack and as a way to open and opponent’s gate for attack. Defensively a variety of techniques previous drilled can be used giving the practitioner more defensive options making for a more unpredictable defense


The next stage of chop Choi Sparring allows the use of the rear straight hand. This opens up the possibility of combinations and adds more stimuli to the sparring in the form of additional pressure the practitioners can place on each other.  In addition, defensively the practitioners can train moving to the outside angles to naturalize the opponent’s ability to execute the continuous attack.

The later Stages of Chop Choi Sparring allow the use of sweeping angled strikes that the Choy Lay Fut system is famous for, as well as other techniques such as kicks and attacks to various gates.  The addition of each technique over time builds a familiarity in both offensive and defensive capacities that makes a smooth transition from basic application training to free sparring.


Beyond Chop Choi Sparring

Ultimately it’s not the actual guidelines of Chop Choi sparring but the underlying principle of this method of training that is important.  Using the theory of progressive resistance practitioners of any system or school can devise a system of levels based on any criteria they wish as long as it’s logical in its progression. The progressive resistance method can be applied to all facets of traditional martial arts training. In addition to Chop Choi sparring practitioners of the Ng Family Chinese martial arts association apply this training protocol to joint locking and controlling techniques through bridge hand drills and bridge hand sparring, wrestling techniques including throws and takedowns through various stages of clinch wrestling and this method is also applied to weapons training. In this day it’s common for martial artists to question the usefulness of traditional systems. Why practice forms if the techniques don’t carry over to fighting? The truth is that traditional martial arts contain a wealth of sound principles and concepts that can be readily applied to fighting. It is up to the practitioner to find the bridge from form to function.