Harry: An article on common mistakes when practising the first and second forms would be instructional as many of us do not have the opportunity to study under a qualified CST lineage instructor.
Me: I’ve covered Siu Nim Tau in several previous posts. An expected outcome of practising SNT is that your arms are well ready to expel the opponent’s force right at the contacts, such that your shoulders are always free from made tense. This is an expected ability in the upper body.
Chum Kiu capitalises on this outcome from SNT to add on rotational momentum from the body. The upper body is maintained in the SNT state. You don’t need to acquire another “new” state to contribute to the pivoting process, especially not using the arms to help start and maintain pivoting. Rather, pivoting is initiated by the lower centre, bringing along the converging knees. This combination forms a solid rotating base at bottom. The upper body need not add anything but kept in the SNT state, as if just being rotated by the solid bottom base via the virtual axis (vertical alignment), something you are to figure out in Chum Kiu.
In Chum Kiu moves, most of the time the virtual axis is on one leg, not in the middle of the two legs as it is when you face front-on in SNT. Some learners might think that adhering to the Centreline principle, the axis should always stay in the middle throughout the pivoting process so that body symmetry is being kept to deliver the entire body power. This could be true if you always maintain your body front-on to the opponent (which is not realistic), or you are not confining yourself to just using “axis” to operate (as in Biu Jee). As far as “axis” is concerned, axis-on-one-leg, though virtual, actually aligns the most physical body elements vertically and by so doing such axis is the strongest. Ignoring axis-on-one-leg is indeed giving up the great potential of solid power. Nevertheless, you have to be cautious on how axis-on-one-leg is constituted.
It is not by pressing the upper body weight tight onto one leg, as if it’s sitting on the leg, appearing as the upper body all skewed even fully to one side. This is not the virtual alignment, but physical pressing. The key is to feel that alignment, which could be through into the leg at diverse positions. That means the upper body can be posited anywhere between the vertical middle and the end of one side (left or right), depending on need.
Skew-to-one-side will usually result in swinging when pivot, because you are throwing the weight of the upper body from one fully-skewed side to another fully-skewed side, and the folded arms (the initial Chum Kiu moves) will also follow to force from the shoulders to add to the swing.
This can be effectively avoided by not sitting on the buttock level. Sitting will instead encourage the intent to pull in the way that further sitting goes lower to create and increase the rotation. The result is that your whole body, including the arm, is pulling.
When pivot, it is not revolving around the contacts at the heels with the floor. This is a common misunderstanding, mainly because it is the easy way. In your mind, you should want to pivot around the centres of the foot palms, although for most people these centres actually don’t even touch the floor. That means you have to break the contact friction between your foot palms and the floor! – but not by the foot palms forcing, rather by the lower centre bringing along the converging knees in turn bringing along the foot palms to break. Is the centre located exactly in the middle of the palm? Need not be. But for practice, assuming on a proper floor with a pair of proper training shoes, try to locate the very middle as far as you can, especially if you are new to Chum Kiu.
This is the setting for practising Chum Kiu. The virtual axis dominates all movements – pivoting, stepping and kicking. The upper body is always in the SNT state regardless of what moves the arms are performing – folding, tang, bong, cutting, etc. (And it is important that you bring what you have achieved in SNT into Chum Kiu, rather than inventing something completely new.)
I didn’t practise Chum Kiu a lot, when compared to SNT. I used to think I had been able to do it quite smoothly. This thought was further strengthened by the fact that for a considerably long while Sifu had not come to me to fix anything. One night (some months before he left us), after I had done a round of Chum Kiu, Sifu rarely pointed out that my feet were tight during pivoting! Oh, really! – need another contemplation again but no hibernation. My reflection was that I had been pressing the foot palms onto the floor in order to break the friction on all sides of them, leaving the palm centres intact in the middle for the pivoting to revolve around. In retrospect, it was a created sensation.
How did I rectify it? After some quick attempts, I knew I couldn’t fix it right away. So I put this problem aside. Apparently it had been dealt with altogether when my overall improved, although I can’t exactly tell how it had happened.
More in the next post.