SOME GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF KUNGFU
A combat application of Dragon-Tiger Set
Some students learn kungfu techniques or skills without any knowledge of their underlying principles, while other acquire the principles in the process of their learning. It is certainly a great help if the students are fully aware of the principles and apply them in practice. Sometimes it is helpful to learn the principles first, and then select the techniques and skills to illustrate the principles.
For convenience, principles can be labelled general or specific -- general principles are those that apply to kungfu training in general, and specific principles apply to specific situations. Many specific principles, like the leak principle and the circular principle, have been discussed in the chapter on the Dragon-Tiger Set.
In this chapter I shall discuss some of the important general principles in kungfu.
Learn -- Practice -- Master
"Learning a hundred things is not as good as practising one thing well; practising a hundred things is not as good as mastering one thing perfectly".
"Things" here refers to techniques or skills or kungfu patterns. I have met many beginners as well as intermediate students who always desire to learn more techniques or patterns. However, they do not practise the techniques or patterns they have already learned over and over and over again until the techniques or patterns become perfect. Thus, these students always remain as "students", they can never become "masters", for they never attempt to master the techniques they have learned.
To learn a technique is just the beginning. When a technique is learnt, the student is now aware, or has the knowledge, that this technique can be used in a particular situation or situations. But unless he practises the learnt technique many times over, he cannot use that technique spontaneously, flawlessly.
It is analogous to playing a musical instrument or to swimming. One may learn the best techniques of playing an instrument or of swimming; but unless he practises diligently and consistently, he would not be able to play or to swim well.
One may learn techniques from a master, from books or even from seeing other martial artists performing. But he has to put in a lot of practice himself for each technique, before he can use the technique efficiently.
After learning and practising many techniques well one must select a few techniques -- basing the selection on one's own nature and skills, and the general usefulness of the techniques -- and master them. Mastering a technique implies not only that the technique can be executed skilfully, flawlessly and fast, but also that the exponent can vary the technique instantaneously to suit any situation, or to overcome any counter-attack. These mastered techniques then become "ultimate techniques".
Techniques and Skills
There is some difference between "techniques" and "skills", and it is useful in kungfu to understand and appreciate this difference.
Let us take a few examples to illustrate the difference. The pattern "Lead a Horse Back to its Stable" (Pattern 23 in the Dragon-Tiger Set) shows a method whereby we can make use of the forward momentum of a charging opponent, to lead or pull him so that he falls forward. This is called a technique, and this particular technique is used to "lead" an opponent forward.
Having learnt this "lead" technique, the student now knows a method to counter a charging attack by "leading" the attacker forward to his fall. But he has to practise the technique many times so that he can acquire the skill to execute the technique effectively. If he does not have the skill, then although he has knowledge of the technique, he will still not be able to use it efficiently. In other words, he cannot put his theoretical knowledge into practice. Hence, skill is the ability to execute a technique efficiently; and skill has to be acquired, not learnt.
In the spear-piercing practice mentioned earlier in Chapter 11 (see page 152), when a student can hit the target every time he pierces, then he has acquired the skill of spear-piercing. A student who knows the technique of piercing -- like how to hold the spear correctly, when to pierce, where to slide his front-holding hand, and where to place his feet in relation to the target -- will understandably acquire the piercing skill easier and faster than one does not know the technique.
It can be seen, therefore, that technique and skill are complementary to and inter-related with each other; and neither one is superior to the other. We need techniques to acquire skills, and we need skills to execute techniques.
However, despite their complementary nature, in advanced kungfu the emphasis tends to be on skills rather than on techniques. A kungfu master would select only a few favourite techniques and practise them until he is very skilful in them. In combats it is usually the depth of skills rather than the wide variety of techniques that decides the winner. This brings us back to the importance of the principle Learn -- Practice -- Master. Learn many techniques, practise the selected few very well, and master at least one.
Skill includes three features: Accuracy, force and speed. To be skillful in a technique, one must be able to execute it accurately in terms of method, timing and placing; execute it with sufficient force so that the opponent can be hurt or be under control; and with sufficient speed so that the opponent cannot intercept or avoid that particular technique.
The Principles of Gradual Progress and of Perseverance
These principles of gradual progress and perseverance are closely related to each other, and are very important in kungfu, especially in the training of skill or force. Let us take running round a 400 metres track as an example to illustrate these principles.
As a person runs along the track slowly, there is a point when the runner first begins to feel tired or breathless. Every person has an endurance point which marks the distance he can run without feeling breathless. Suppose that the kungfu student can run 200 metres without feeling tired nor short of breath.
He continues to run the 200 metres on the second and the third day. On the fourth day, after running the basic 200 metres, he should, because of the cumulative benefits of his previous three days' practice, be able to run an extra few steps without feeling tired. If he cannot do this yet, then he should continue running just the 200 metres until his endurance increases.
Let us say he can add an extra three steps. Thus on the fourth day, he has increased his endurance point from 200 metres to 203 metres -- taking one step to be one metre for easy calculation. In this manner, with an increase of about three metres after every three days, the student can increase his endurance point from 200 metres to 400 metres after 200 days of constant daily practice. As he persists in his daily practice, after a few years he will be able to run round the track a few times without feeling any fatigue or breathlessness.
Generally the rate of progress is not uniform. But the principles work the same way-- there must be determined, consistent training to increase the endurance point, and the progress must be gradual.
Now let us take another example -- that of developing chopping power. Most untrained people may not be able to chop with their bare hands a piece of sugar-cane into two, but they will be able to do so to a small twig.
If one can have a set of sticks so designed that their thickness and strength range very gradually from the small twig to the sugar-cane, with time and effort, and using the principles of gradual progress and consistency of training, one can gradually progress from breaking the small twig to breaking the sugar-cane. From here he can progress to breaking a brick.
There must be progress in the training. If the runner runs only 200 metres every day, without any attempt to increase his endurance gradually at all, he may practise for many months but his ultimate progress, if any, will not be very much.
The principle of perseverance dictates consistent, regular training for a period of time. The training must be consistent and regular, preferably twice every day. If the training is not regular, it is impossible to achieve the desired result. In the above examples, if the student trains off and on only, he will not derive any cumulative benefit, and thus will not be able to increase his endurance point substantially.
The regular training must also be sustained for a reasonable period of time. How long the period is, depends on a few factors, like the type of skill or force desired, and the potentialities of the student. In general, very remarkable results can be seen after a year.
Laymen may marvel at the seemingly impossible feats demonstrated by some kungfu masters, and wonder at the secret formula that produce these feats. Actually what should be marveled and wondered at are not the secret formula, but the price these masters pay to achieve the feats, and this price is faithfully following the principles of gradual progress and of perseverance.
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