•Excerpts from the Diary of a Mad Martial Scientist•
American Chúan-Fa Concepts™
Stances and Footwork
Ron Chapél, Ph.D.
Footwork and stances is probably the most important aspect of any interactive martial activity. After all, everything you do and might hope to accomplish with your upper body is predicated on what you achieve with the support of your lower body platform.
Unfortunately, this is also probably one of the most misunderstood and poorly taught aspect of the arts. It is one of the first casualties of commerciality, simply because it is so labor intensive. This not only from a students perspective, but from the teacher as well. There is so much misinformation with regard to footwork and stances that most simply take what they do as correct and for granted. On the face of it, it seems fairly simple considering we already know how to “move” our feet, and “stand.
But most footwork taught in the arts have taken on more of an artistic persona rather than a practical one, or in many cases in some arts, it all but completely ignored, or taught as a throw-a-way afterthought.
Anyone who chooses to examine what and how they do with regard to stances and footwork would do well to start from the beginning. That is, how do bi-pedal mammals walk, run, change direction, and speed? A critical look at human anatomy and how the body locomotes itself holds all the clues, but the information is not necessarily obvious.
Why? Because the human body is unique in structure and its ability to achieve structural integrity is based on the entirety of its posture down to the smallest detail, and any change of a part can affect the whole positively or negatively.
In Martial Science, much like other sciences, there is a direct cause and effect to all activity. Martial Science draws on many different scientific disciplines, but all are in some way related to one another through the conduit of human anatomy. There exists a significant cause and effect interaction between all the many parts of human anatomy whether static or in motion. In any examination of the many martial postures and their transitions, the efficacy of its many positions are predicated upon, among many factors, weight distribution and an exacting posture relative to the physical activity at hand, and any load placed upon it.
With regard to stances and footwork, the relative position of the feet to each other, and their movement, also significantly determines whether structural integrity is created or maintained. Any variations in these categories beyond proper anatomical posture can diminish or enhance effectiveness on multiple levels offensively or defensively.
How you move your body in its entirety, the arms, feet, and even the head in particular, in martial science affects the stability of the complete body for a variety of reasons. For most, this probably is not news.
However, what is probably new information to most is that some of the basic things taught in most martial arts fall quite comfortably into the negative and inefficient category. Surprisingly their effectiveness can be demonstrated to be much less than perceived. That is, when these things are tested in the light of reality, they fall well short of their well-intended goals.
Essentially, the human machine is a large gelatinous bag punctuated by multiple directionally dedicated and articulated appendages, connected by loose and flexible tissue. This semi solid shape is supported by an articulated and rigid substructure we call a skeleton.
This necessary substructure skeleton, supports the human body as the primary load bearing entity, but also simultaneously provides it with mobility and sustains its general shape, while affording it a measure of protection. It also supplies the major structural frame for anatomical
rigidity or solid structure on demand.This relationship between the sub-structure frame,
This relationship between the sub-structure frame, (skeleton) the connecting tissues, (ligaments, muscle, tendons), and the containment vessel epidermis (gelatinous bag) have a constant and perpetually active interaction relationship from one jiffy-second to the next. The system software or brain constantly monitors all external stimuli from thousands of body sensors in general, and certain ones in particular through the autonomic nervous system.
This utilizes a mechanism called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, (which functionally includes the Golgi Organ) and subsequently makes thousands of minute adjustments every millisecond to allow the machine on one level to function intuitively, and on another, to take directed commands from the central processing unit (brain), simultaneously.
Proprioception and kinesthesia, the sensation of joint motion and acceleration, are the sensory feedback mechanisms for motor control and posture. Theses mechanisms along with the vestibular system, a fluid filled network within the inner ear that can feel the pull of gravity and helps the body keep oriented and balanced, are unconsciously utilized by the brain to provide a constant influx of sensory information.
The brain can then send out immediate and unconscious adjustments to the muscles and joints in order to achieve movement and balance. Why has the nervous system developed the sense of proprioception, and why is it an unconscious aspect of the sensory system? Proprioception, also often referred to as the sixth sense, was developed by the nervous system as a means to keep track of and control the different parts of the body.
So, by its very evolutionary design the human body unit operates in one of two non-destructive modes, operating either efficiently, or inefficiently. The inefficient mode I have termed Disassociated Anatomical Movement. In order to accomplish this, this extremely complex machine has an inherent ability to “disconnect” or create a more loose and flexible relationship between its many articulated parts, expressly for the purpose of performing movements and/or postures not necessarily anatomically structurally sound, but necessary for fluid human movement.
Therefore, by the very nature of the body, not all movement is necessarily effective, efficient, or even structurally sound, even though it may be performed quite easily. This is the reason humans do not move like “rigid” robots or automatons. Humans have the ability to “learn” incorrect physical movements that will have a long-term detrimental impact on their structure. Sometimes, it may manifest itself “short-term.”
When any physical activity is taught with only an emphasis on conceptual movement or motion with no regard for anatomical structural requirements and physical mandates, than inefficient movement is the most likely results. And these types of skills are readily perishable, without constant reinforcement.
The reason this can be confusing is that most martial arts instructors teach from this aesthetic perspective emphasizing the look, feel, or even sound of a movement over the proper anatomical execution to obtain the desired results.
This has created as many interpretations as there are so-called instructors. Thus, the western term “martial art” is indeed accurate because of this interpretive aesthetic perspective. Art, (in this instance artistic movement and postures) is clearly subjective, whereas Martial Science and its proper anatomical movement and postures are not. This explains why one “martial art” can have so many different interpretations from instructor to instructor, school to school, and even student to student.
Subsequently, training in improper movements like stepping backwards into any stance as an example, is an inefficient methodology that is readily revealed in realistic practice and application. Using this most basic of footwork to obtain a stance causes the body to go into its loose Disassociated Mode to achieve the objective.
The architectural human frame is designed to locomote forward partly deriving its balance from the swinging of the arm opposite the forward moving leg. Although the body can walk and move rearward, it does so inefficiently and in a definite disassociated mode making the body weak and susceptible to any load moving in the congruent direction of the stepping action.
However the converse of stepping backwards to meet resistance moving in the same direction as you’re stepping, is stepping forward when you are being pulled forward. Both of these movements are inefficient and must have correcting mechanisms to regain structural integrity. The principle area affected in all of these situations begins with the Primary Disconnect Mechanism, the pelvic bone. The same holds true in any lateral movement as well.
Stepping rearward without the mechanism makes alignment impossible. Stepping forward however because the body functions to locomote forward naturally may create alignment, but only predicated on either how far or how many times you step, or if an additional correcting mechanism is involved.
Therefore to teach any execution that by necessity requires inefficient movement forward, backwards or laterally, there must be first a recognition of these absolute anatomical facts, and second a mechanism must be designed to compensate, re-connect, or re-associate the body unit into singular structural integrity for efficient transference of power, or to resist body mass driven assaults.
Additionally as previously stated, proper weight, distribution and postures are also mandated based on anatomical parameters, and not aesthetics. What looks right may be far from correct under the harsh light of reality.
In American Chúan-Fa™ we teach a variety of mechanisms to counter every Disassociated Anatomical Movement we may be forced, by necessity to perform. These mechanisms are known as PAM’s, (Platform Aligning Mechanisms), and/or BAM’s (Body Alignment Mechanisms), and PAS for Platform Aligning Skip. Because of their variety and complexity, they are explored in detail in the physical curriculum and are taught situationally within the context of specific self-defense technique applications.
The important thing to remember is that all rules of martial science are specific, and therefore apply to specific circumstances. Any variation of any portion of the body, no matter how minute, may cause a complete breakdown of structural integrity, as well as other anatomical properties.
This means all methodologies have correcting mechanisms to compensate for inefficient movement or improper posture, associated with forced improper utilization of Proprioceptive Body Mechanisms.
In Martial Science Posture, there are rules relative to weight distribution. As an example, whenever the feet are parallel, weight distribution (absent a correcting mechanism) must be 50/50. This is the over riding base for the beginning of understanding correct postures and corresponds with the traditional Horse Stance found in most arts for a reason. However, that is not all. The position and manner of the hands, wrists, head, shoulders, fingers, muscle tension, etc. in addition to weight distribution will ultimately determine whether you are correct structurally or not no matter the stance, footwork, or posture.
The human body under load has an imperative to associate itself efficiently with only three (3) angle of resistance. These angles are 180, 90, and 45-degrees. Any angle that does not meet these anatomical mandates will be comparatively weak, and this mandate extends itself in 3
dimensions in space.
Some have found this unusual but like any other structure, the human body has its strengths, and its weaknesses. A tall building has structural strength up and down resisting the weight of gravity, but is comparatively weaker laterally even though acceptably sound depending upon the severity of the load. But consider a shearing lateral force that angles itself either upward or downward on that lateral surface and you begin to see how easily the building might be toppled using Newtonian Physics Principles.
But the difference is, and why Newtonian Physics only generally applies is because the human body changes its structure from moment-to-moment, so constant adjustments must be made to compensate for external loads and stimuli utilizing its strongest and most efficient angles. Solid objects don’t change shape and mass constantly, but the human body is not a solid. It is a semi-solid viscous contained liquid.
The simple act of standing still in one place requires hundreds of minute adjustments of muscle, and tendons every moment. Therefore, any stance achieved goes beyond what it may externally appear to be, and must include the subcutaneous structure as well as what mechanisms you utilize to bring it to the posture.
Moving forward from stance-to-stance is even more complicated, but yet simple at the same time and is an extension of the simple act of “walking” normally forward, and the same can be said of moving rearwards, and laterally.
So all of the answers are there if you have the ability, or the teacher to decipher them. It is not complicated, but its not simple either, especially if you have “learned” another martial flawed method over time that needs to be “unlearned” and corrected. That is unless you’re content with what you’re doing. In which case, none of this matters anyway. 🙂