Three Cornerstones

The Three Cornerstones of WingChun.

Recently, I did a poll on Facebook and my blog. I was curious what you wanted to read about. Because of your feedback, I am laying out a vital model. To represent it visually, I created the graphic at the right.

Specifically, I will expand on several of the WingChun Principles and Mottoes written by Sifu Klaus Brand. Composed as concise strategic aphorisms, they deserve further commentary.

I’d like to share my personal experience working with them, starting with Mottoes 3, 4 and 5:

3. Always improve your technical knowledge and therefore your physical and mental flexibility.

4. Work on the power of your technique because only technical power is usable power and is decisive in combat.

5. Work on your speed without sacrificing power. Technique, power and speed are the cornerstones of WingChun.

This is how I paraphrase them:

  • Technique is primary.
  • Power is secondary.
  • Speed is tertiary.

Of course, in synergy, they are all important. But there is a priority in training. Moreover, each of them has a quantitative and qualitative aspect:

  • You can know a lot of techniques, but not do them well.
  • You can have a lot of power, but not use it well.
  • You can show a lot of speed, but not time it well.

Simply, more is not better. Better is more!

Poor form must be transmuted into high technique. Brute force must be transformed into refined power. Raw velocity must be translated into correct speed. This maturing process of change naturally unfolds via a recurring investment in appropriate education. By doing so through reading, thinking, applying, you will adapt yourself into an adept.

Now I will carve out each of the cornerstones. But first, what is a cornerstone? Here is one simple definition:

The basic part of something, on which everything depends.

So how you understand, perform and align the fundamental qualities of technique, power and speed will collectively affect your holistic expression of WingChun.

High Technique

What exactly is technique and its benefits? Technique is a tool that confers efficiency. The finer your tool, the more efficient your outcome. You get more for what you put in.

Low efficiency is exerting big effort with little effect. That is like using your bare hands to drive a big screw into the wall. A screwdriver is higher technique. An electric one is even higher! Of course, that technology also leverages power and speed. More on that later.

How do you elevate your technical level? Knowledge. Technique is smarter, not just harder or faster. In WingChun technique, it is making sure you properly prepare your action. It is asking yourself if you understand the application. It is slowing down a movement. What is its function? Where is its trajectory? Why does it work?

The goal is finding, calibrating and executing your best technique possible with precision and accuracy.

Refined Power

The best techniques are robust. They are not very useful if they fall apart with a small impact. Powerful WingChun techniques can withstand your own mass as well as sustain its collision with another.

However, technical power is as much about overall coordination as it is the unit force of individual muscles. A general rule is to infuse your whole body into a technique. An arm movement always involves the body and legs.

Refined power comes from progressively extending from the ground, through your legs, through your body, through your arms, through your target. This is a mental awareness that leads to a physical sensation. Try to get a feeling for this in different configurations.

The goal is setting, connecting and projecting your power as a single wave with everything you are behind it.

Correct Speed

You can actually move too fast. That is a waste! Save your acceleration for the right moment. In application, this is when the opponent is in Main Distance. Attacking when it’s too far is almost as bad as defending when it’s too late.

That is relative speed for interaction. When training by yourself, tune your action for absolute speed. Without a timing apparatus, you can’t objectively measure your increase in speed. But having your partner raise a hand for you to hit can subjectively gauge your reading and reaction speed.

If the above is positive speed, there is also negative speed. This is slowing due to confusion, hesitation and indecision. Psychological factors definitely hinder physical speed. My recommendation is to pretend as if everything you do has the clarifying urgency of life or death. And that the latter will happen if you delay. Act faster than fear.

The goal is clearing, focusing and triggering yourself in order to realize and engage your full speed with perfect timing.

For Example

Begin in Ji Ng Ma (Meridian Stance) with Wu Sau (Protecting Arm) and Man Sau (Inquiring Arm). Then do a Dap Bo (Striding Step) with Tsong Kuen (Thrusting Punch) and Wu Sau.

Here’s how to reinforce this process with the WingChun cornerstones:

  1. Feel your technique. Don’t rush and don’t stress. Go slow and easy with little power and low speed. Think very consciously about what you’re doing. That is, step with purpose and strike with intention. But until the sensual naturalness of this exercise clicks, just repeat at this leisurely level of training. You are a pleasant stroll in the park.
  2. Add your power. Check that you are stable upon and connected into the earth. Gradually incorporate more body tension. Imagine you have growing internal pressure like a pumped tire. The large muscles of your legs and butt push down and drive up into your torso and arms as one flow. You are an avalanche about to crash.
  3. Add your speed. Although you tapped into a certain density of being, which is substantial, don’t get heavy. Activate yourself with the energy of speed. The cue words here are fast, light and bright. Like the crackle of an electric charge or the crack of a spiraling whip. You are a sprinter just out of the blocks.

A Triangulation

Look back to the triangle above.

Although technique is the essential base, the two legs of power and speed are necessary too. Remember middle school geometry? Isosceles, scalene and right triangles are not as balanced. Notice the WingChun cornerstones depict an equilateral triangle, equivalent on all sides. That is ideal. Train all three.

But, as Motto 5 says, do not sacrifice power for speed. And don’t give up technique for either!

Let’s go one step further. The shape of the triangle is important, but its area is too. Your triangle will get larger as you advance in skill. To do so, you lengthen the sides. You upgrade your technique, increase your power and improve your speed. Combining technique and power, we optimize technical power. Combining power and speed, we create powerful speed.

Technique, power and speed integrate efficiency with efficacy. The three cornerstones must be placed together to maximize the strength of your quality.

Was this informative? Let me know below and I will continue to elaborate on our WingChun Principles and Mottoes. Your comments inspire me to write more!

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6 thoughts on “Three Cornerstones

  1. Sihing Paul, I agree with Greg above – it is great to have a body of literature for the IAW. I appreciate the theory combined with the praxis (i.e. the “For Example” section). The article is useful for solo training, which is great for those of us who are no longer near a practicing community.

    A request – it would be great to have a dictionary of WingChun terms – Ji Ng Ma (Meridian Stance), Wu Sau (Protecting Arm), Man Sau (Inquiring Arm), Dap Bo (Striding Step), Tsong Kuen (Thrusting Punch). Some terms are online but spelling is seldom consistent. It would be great to have a place to go where we could look up the terms and meaning as understood by Sifu Klaus, IAW, our Sihings, etc.

  2. I hear you, Dan. Theory and practice are one! They apply the interdynamic unity of mind and body.

    Yes, it’s seductively easy to get caught up in the Wild Wild Web. I’m doing what I can for us all with this technology. Hope it’s helping more than otherwise.

    All I can say for now is actions speak louder than words. That is, a movement can be practiced effectively without knowing its name.

    But thanks for your patience!

  3. Thank you Sihing, great article. It makes me think back to physics class when we studied. I remember we define the instantaneous power as the force applied multiplied by the velocity, . This can be linked further to speed when one defines Force as mass multiplied by acceleration, or F=ma. Then one step further to define acceleration as the derivative, or rate of change, of the speed. P=Fv -> P=mav -> P=m(dv/dt)v . Then this would become a differential equation meaning that the power depends both on the speed and the rate of change of the speed (acceleration). It’s very interesting how it’s all related….

    • Thanks for sharing, Mariano.

      That reminds me when I took physics years ago at Cal. During lecture, I’d draw pictures and calculate vectors for WingChun movements. Your analysis parallels mine. Whereas you noted the variables of power and speed as they literally relate to the Three Cornerstones per your equation, what about mass (m)?

      There is a concept in biomechanics called effective mass, which is all the mass used during impact. Rather than just applying the mass of your arm to strike, with better technique you can incorporate your whole body mass as one. Thus, you maximize effective mass. This technical ability requires optimal alignment and coordination of the musculoskeletal system through better understanding and more experience.

      In other words, training!

      Hope this brings another dimension to light for you.

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