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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 捎- 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.