Forward focus, aiming forward, pointing, facing and heung (in Cantonese)…… All these terms may sound familiar to you as early as you first started your Wing Chun training. In most cases they intend to refer to the same thing, one of the core principles of Wing Chun, which is essential due to the following.
You are told not to use muscular strength but to relax every piece of muscles. Once relaxed, there is some kind of momentum intending downward due to gravity. If left unattended, such momentum will collapse the body and press the legs onto the ground. The direction of the momentum so generated (vertical) is not in accord with the opponent’s incoming force from the front (roughly as horizontal). Forward focus (or alternative descriptions) is the core concept of making use of the relaxation momentum by first converting it from downward (vertical) to forward (horizontal), ready for combat.
How to focus? For beginners, it is easier to describe it in straight lines, as depicted in the following two common episodes.
Episode 1 Practise Siu Nim Tau: The whole body relaxes. The shoulder muscles, especially those at the shoulder blades, relax towards the elbow, and at the same time through the waist and pelvis areas down to the knees. Now the entire body “faces” the front – the elbows together with the forearms, and the knees together with the lower legs aim in straight lines towards the front where the two lines intersect. And this is commonly described as “triangulation”. In triangulating, it does not encourage focusing onto a particular point of the vertical intersection line out there. Rather, the focusing is just an intent, and the target need not be concrete but just indicates a direction.
Episode 2 Start Sticking Hands: Apply what has been acquired in Siu Nim Tau for forward focus, but now you have a real person, the opponent, in front of you for targeting. This time, the triangulation is said to aim at or go into the opponent’s body, probably his centreline and is around the chest area. In this way, your relaxation power is gathered together (focus) to effect a “forward” attack.
Movements governed by the intent of triangulating are prone to be inflexible when meeting forces – roughly speaking, the sides of a triangle are weak in expelling forces exerting laterally, so your movements are likely weak in many directions. (To keep this post short, further elaborations are not given here.)
Let’s pause to add some concepts to facilitate discussion.
The purpose of forward focus, or triangulating, can be regarded as creating a control zone for yourself to which no external force is allowed to intrude and pose any threat, i.e. you feel safe in its presence even when exchanging forces with the opponent at the contacts (as intercepting movements of the limbs, mostly of the arms particularly in practising sticking hands). The immediate association is to think about the control zone as bordered by the bodily parts, primarily in terms of the shapes and positions of the limbs plus the relatively stably poised body trunk. This is true and let’s name it as the “physical control zone”. Beyond it is then the “virtual control zone”.
(Now need some imagination.) To remain simple, let’s assume the virtual control zone stems from the same relatively stably poised body trunk, and extending to the physical elbows and knees, beyond which the differences come into play: instead of bordered by the physical limbs, the virtual control zone is rather bordered by the ever-changing curvatures of the projections from the elbow tips and knee points, (now need more imagination) bringing along virtual forearms and virtual lower legs out there to the front, as parts of the curvatures themselves. Your arms and legs are moving as if out there virtually, not right here physically. By curvatures, it means any 3-dimensional shape possibly willed as an extension of the physical body but completely free of angular corners. Effectively there is no restriction on the shape. For example, the zone need not be symmetrical (left-right or top-down) as the human physical body structure would well suggest. I like to describe it as the membrane of an amoeba – can be in any degree of curvature, concave or convex or both coexist, highly asymmetrical…… yet the surface tension is always present and is even throughout the surface. It is this tension that keeps all incoming forces away outside the membrane surface, without pushing and pulling, nor thrusting and dragging. To give out such tension, the surface of the membrane has to be closed (without openings), i.e. the projections, bringing along virtual forearms and virtual lower legs, converge towards the front with the aim of forming a closed surface, not just point forward in straight lines. As far as it is closed, the surface can even be irregular if necessary for a desired effect on the opponent. Converging in such way will not result in angular corners; angular corners could imply blockades or potential weak points. And converging in such way already attains forward focus, facing, heung (in Cantonese) and, interestingly, triangulating, which can be viewed as a limited, particular version of such converging.
Let’s get back to the two episodes. Applying converging to Episode 1: All the same except project the elbow tips and knee points to converge to the front, bringing along the forearms (and supposedly the lower legs) to perform all the SNT movements, as if, not physically here, but out there upon the membrane surface. How far there and how “straight” the curvatures are to be willed by your mind. For this reason, it is better to leave your eyes open to ensure clear and stable vision.
To Episode 2: You set up the shape of your virtual control zone by converging, such that it is powerful enough to keep your opponent outside (via the contacts). Then change the zone’s shape as desired like an amoeba’s membrane, and roll the zone when it is changing. Now the zone could have covered beyond your opponent’s physical body to affect it in the way you want. (Remember the zone is virtual and reflects your mind activity).
A postscript: Projecting out there (the “virtual” control zone) is not something ultimate, but a pathway. When you are able to directly operate points from inside, there will only have the physical control zone; no need to go “virtual”.