Center of Gravity
There is a point in every object where the gravitational forces are in equilibrium. This point is called the center of gravity. In a standing position, a person’s COG is located inside his body somewhere between his naval and the sacroiliac joint (where the spine meets the hip bones). You can attest to that by pushing a person’s sacroiliac region with one finger and move him out of balance. A tightrope walker must keep his COG perpendicular to the rope to stay balanced. He uses a long staff to control it. The staff helps him recover from derailment. Without it, the mobility of his center of gravity is limited to his hip width. When the COG moves out of the hip border, he loses his balance. He might be able to return the COG back atop the rope if he swung it back with the help of his arms. In essence, he has transferred his center of gravity to his arms and extended the border to the width of his arms length. He recovers by swinging the arm (that’s on the falling side) towards the original COG. By using a staff, he gets a better control of his COG as the borders are farther extended. He becomes the fulcrum for the two ends of the staff. The COG is no longer vulnerable to quick changes and narrow limits. If you don’t get the picture, here’s another example. If you fitted a marble in the center of a two-foot long, open-end, u-channel beam and held it from the bottom, a slight tilt would have the marble running down one end. You are able to return it to the center by tilting the beam the opposite direction and then back and forth several times. However, if the beam was only six inches in length, the likelihood of recovery is very small.
Generally, we are not aware of our center of gravity. We have made it second nature from the time we learned to stand and walk. When you get into activities other than the norm, an awareness of it becomes crucial.
In martial arts, the awareness and control of Qi is the awareness and control of one’s center of gravity. As mentioned earlier, the Qi, as an energy form, is best stored in the abdomenal region. Likewise, Qi, as the center of gravity is also best kept in the abdomenal region. The energy Qi, when raised, is thin. It dissipates quickly. The center of gravity, when raised, is vulnerable to toppling.Take a tall beer glass filled with beer. The center of gravity is situated somewhere in the middle of the beer, halfway up the glass, from the center point of the base. If you stood the glass against a small ledge, and pushed it at the COG with a finger, it will topple over when the COG goes past the base (which has been narrowed because of the lean). The angle at which point you had pushed the glass to make it fall is dependent on the size of the glass’ base. Let’s say for example that it fell after you pushed it past 45 degrees angle. Now, if the beer was half full, the center of gravity is lowered to about one third of the glass’ height. If you pushed it at this point, it will lean much further before toppling, don’t you agree? Now, hypothetically speaking, if we were able to raise the (half full) beer to the top of the glass and leave the bottom empty, the COG would now be two thirds or three quarters up the glass. In this case, it will only take a slight lean before toppling.
Keeping our Qi low and centered allows us to control our balance. If you don’t believe it, try it. Breathe in through your nostrils, and push the air (Qi) to your stomach. Breathe out, imagining the air being released downward to the ground, through your legs, from your stomach. Compare it with expanding your chest (and contracting your stomach) while breathing in, and exhaling out of your mouth and collapsing your chest. You will feel grounded when you breathe the former way and flighty with the latter. When you think of your Qi as the center of gravity, you will feel how it moves with your breathing pattern. You will feel the COG in your chest when you use your lungs to regulate the air. A push to the chest would knock you off balance. On the other hand, Qi in the abdomen keeps the COG low and stable. A push to the chest amounts to nothing.
I’ve noticed that most Wing Chun practitioners hunch and sway their backs in their stances. Pictures of my Great-Grand-Master Yip Man show him doing the same. I have the uttermost respect for GGM Yip Man, and truly believe that he was one of the all time masters of Wing Chun. I don’t believe there will be another one like him, or possess the knowledge that he had on Wing Chun. I don’t believe he was able to (or willing to) pass on all he had possessed. By the time he opened the doors to Wing Chun, he was an elderly man. His health was frail, and he hunched. Pictures and movies of him demonstrating Wing Chun were done in the last days of his life. I believe his hunching posture was due to his age, or perhaps he was suffering from chronic back pain. I don’t believe the hunch was or is part of Wing Chun’s concept. It doesn’t make sense. If someone has a good scientific explanation for it, please tell me. Wing Chun is such, that it allows one to discover for himself the truth behind it from the basic principles it outlines in Siu Lim Tao.Unimpressive as it may look, the “secret” of Wing Chun is in the Siu Lim Tao. If you don’t understand Siu Lim Tao, you will never understand Wing Chun. If you rush through it, you will pick up bad habits. The bad habits remain with you all through your Wing Chun life. You cannot possibly execute the other forms without a firm foundation of Siu Lim Tao. Siu Lim Tao teaches balance, stance and posture among other fundamentals. The straighter you keep your spine, the better you are balanced, the better you will be connected to your hips and legs, the quicker you are able move, the firmer your stance will be. Think about it. Would a straight pole balance better than a curved one? Would a straight pole have a better chance of standing on it’s own than a curved one? Would not a straight pole have better rotation control over it’s attachments than a curved one?
I know of no martial art styles that teach students to hunch or sway. Wing Chun is a very advance form of fighting. There is no reason for Wing Chun practitioners to sway like they do. It seems like practitioners are just imitating what they have seen of Yip Man in pictures and movies. I’m sure GGM Yip Man was a superb in Wing Chun in spite of his old age and hunchback. However, that doesn’t mean that his posture was correct. If someone is to find pictures of him doing Wing Chun twenty years younger, perhaps they would find him postured straight.
When a practitioner leans back when punching forward, he is not properly delivery the force. He is drawing some of it back. His force would strengthen if his spine (and body) were squared to the punch. In addition to being squared, if he moved forward (with his hips), the force would multiply. Supposing you were moving a heavy table. Would you have your feet under the table, leaning yourself backward to push it? Not only is it an awkward sight, but an awkward position to be in. Most people do the opposite way, having the feet far away from the table and leaning forward to push it. They are using their upper muscles, like the shoulders and upper back, to push the table forward. However, a stronger way to do it is to use your lower muscles, the hip and leg muscles to push it.
In fighting, it would be impractical to lean your head forward with the punch. You’re likely to get hit before landing your punch or falling forward if you miss. Throwing a punch with your spine perpendicular, not only secures your defense and balance, but gives power and support from your heels to your hips to your knuckles.
Balance in pugilism cannot be over stressed. Most form of pugilism, whether Asian martial arts, boxing or wrestling, begin with balance training. This is the foundation of your force. Without a firm stance, you cannot apply force. If you are constantly out of balance, you will neither be able to defend or attack. Unfortunately, most form of pugilism do not continue and concentrate on balance, particularly in the West. The picture of a Western He-Man is one with wide shoulders, narrow waist and light legged. A picture of an inverted triangle. The Asians concentrate on strong legs (wide base), strong waist (waist generated force), and completely relaxed shoulders. A picture of an equilateral triangle.Since we are two-legged creatures, we need to concern ourselves with balance more than a four-legged animal. We’re not fighting on horses like the knights of the ancient or in an armored tank. We’re fighting more like on a bicycle. We’ve got to keep our balance while dueling with another bicyclist.
Some styles are so concerned about their balance that they have created wide-based stances for all their moves. The only trouble is that they are slow in shifting. The kick-stylists are light on both feet so they can use both of them. The only trouble is they become unicyclist once they lift one leg up; they become vulnerable to toppling.
Wing Chun stance and shift is shoulder width, the same as standing or walking. In terms of a bicycle, it is a unique type. The two wheels are not in one plane, but shoulder width apart .
When a Wing Chun practitioner faces his opponent, he is in tune to his opponent’s centerline and center of gravity. Whether the opponent is in wide stance, narrow stance or in one line, Wing Chun directs his force from his own center towards the opponents. Knowing how to apply the maximum force with the least amount of energy can knock an opponent off balance. Even if the opponent has a wide stance, the angle that a Wing Chun practitioner approaches his attack will narrow the base and balance of his opponent. (More on the topic in other lectures.)