A Step (…or stance) in the Right Direction Pt2


by David Peterson

Part Two:

Wing Chun Malaysia - FootworkUnder these conditions, the Cantonese term of Tui Ma (“Pushed Step”) makes perfect sense. The other possibility is when initial contact is not made and the attacker launches an attack from a distance. Should this take place, the defender has to judge when to move from the visual clues offered by the attacker, but the method of shifting the body remains exactly the same. Again, the stance is being pushed, but it is by the intention of the opponent, rather than actual physical pressure.

“Side-Stepping” not only works from a neutral posture such as the “Goat Stance,” but also from a position where one is already committed to a movement in either the forward or backward direction. For example, should the initial “Side-Step” be insufficient to slow down the forward rush of the opponent, or perhaps the counter-attack not completely incapacitate them, the body can be instantly shifted again by means of one of two methods: (1) “Shuffle-Stepping” or, (2) “Long-Stepping.” Both methods make use of the same structures and mechanics already described, and both steps are natural follow-ups triggered by the opponent’s actions. As these are simply variations of the third method of footwork, they are considered as falling within the third footwork category of: (3) Tui Ma or “Side-Stepping.”

In an ideal situation, as proven by the late Wong Shun Leung during the majority of his Beimo encounters, the use of Seung Ma (“Attacking/Advancing Stepping”), is the very best method of using Wing Chun footwork to overpower and defeat an opponent. However, not only do most of us not have the skill, timing and experience, let alone the courage and talents of Wong Sifu, if we are forced to use our skills at all, it is far more likely that it will be as the victim, and not as the aggressor. For these reasons, it is imperative that we are exceptionally well-trained in making use of the third category of Wing Chun footwork, Tui Ma (“Side- Stepping”), in both its basic form and the two variations: “Shuffle-Stepping” and “Long-Stepping.” Knowing why and when to use these variations is essential, so as to ensure that we do not move into trouble, instead of out of it. Essentially, we want to use Tui Ma in order to get off the line of a linear attack, creating a narrow angle that gives us immediate access to the opponent’s centre of mass, but at the same time reducing or cutting off their ability to access ours. Wherever possible, we should be aiming to counter aggressively, not passively defend, and to reverse the situation in one move, making them the victim and ourselves the aggressor.

Wing Chun Malaysia - footwordThus, the goal is to combine the Tui Ma and Seung Ma actions into one fluid response, capturing the opponent’s balance, position, and line of attack, and immediately placing them in the firing line of our aggressive combination of footwork and attack. Wong Shun Leung referred to this as “moving the head and tail of the tiger in two directions”, and compared it with the teachings of ancient strategist Sunzi, author of the famous The Art of War, who taught that the best time to attack an invading army was when they were halfway across a river, thus leaving them in disarray, not knowing whether to continue to attack or to retreat.

The reason that the two “sub-sets” of Tui Ma exist is because it isn’t always possible to achieve that outcome immediately, and so a “back-up” method that fits naturally into place is needed and must be developed. Hence, if we manage to use Tui Ma to avoid the initial attack, but do not sufficiently injure and repel the attacker, leaving them able to press forward with their attempt to attack, depending upon the angle, pressure, technique or point of contact in place, we can utilise either of the two methods described above. To simplify, and by way of example, if we have already shifted to the left side, but the pressure of the attack continues to force us in that direction, we can use the “Shuffle-Step” one or more times to control the forward rush and re-position, prior to either attacking or escaping the threat.

If an attack immediately comes at us from the opposite line/hand, or if we find ourselves in a position where our hands and arms are at odds structurally (e.g.: we are being pressed by our opponent across the left arm, but our right leg is the forward leg), then the “Long-Step” will enable us to change the line and flank the opponent’s position. This then brings us to the fourth footwork option utilised by Wing Chun practitioners: (4) the “Pivot” or “Stance- Turning” (Juen Ma). Of all the footwork methods utilised in the system, this is probably the one most misunderstood, most misused, and most underrated. It is also the most difficult to use well and, as such, requires a great deal of training.

While the “Goat Stance” may be the perfect position for practising techniques, it is the “Half-Pivoted Stance” (Dui Gok Ma or “Diagonal/Side-on Stance”), which is the preferred pre-fighting posture. This is mainly because it is more mobile and less committed than a stance with either leg already forward, and less “rigid” than the “Goat Stance.” To put pivoting into perspective so as to illustrate the difference between it and the “Side-Step,” consider the following statement: “When one Side-Steps, to a large extent, one allows the opponent to maintain their position and structure and is forced to relinquish territory to the attacker, whereas when one uses the “Pivot,” the opponent is the one forced to give up position, structure and territory.” In other words, if one is able to use pivoting rather than automatically retreating off the line, it will be the opponent, rather than the defender, who ends up off-balance and out of position because their line of attack has been suddenly and dramatically disrupted. For the attacker, recovering from such a position is extremely difficult indeed, whereas when a “Side-Step” is our response to the initial attack there is always a chance for the opponent to reposition and attack again—especially if the defender has not counter-attacked with sufficient effect.

The question that should now be rushing to the mind is that, if the Juen Ma is such a dynamic technique that causes so much trouble to the opponent, why isn’t it used all of the time? The answer should be quite obvious. The use of the “Pivot” is limited by virtue of one’s proximity to the opponent, and by virtue of the type and strength of the attack being dealt with. Under most circumstances, the “Pivot” is employed only when initial contact has already been made, or when there is little body motion accompanying the attack (i.e. the opponent is remaining virtually motionless during the strike, apart from moving the attacking limb), such as when one throws a jab from a stationary position with shoulder or hip movement, but little or no forward body movement. Essential to correct practice and usage of the Juen Ma technique is to ensure that the target that is aimed for is always the one central position for both hands, regardless of the incoming attack. Far too many Wing Chun practitioners train and use the technique incorrectly, punching and/or defending across the centre, and thus actually learning to “chase hands” and miss the target.

Wing Chun Malaysia - FootworkWhile the “Assisting” hand (i.e.: the opposite hand that is most likely controlling, deflecting, or otherwise defending the opposite side) will in fact move along what is best described as the “shifting centreline,” remaining in front of the new angle created by the “Pivot” being employed, the attacking hand must consistently attack along the “original centreline” so as to maximise impact and get the full bonus of the change of angle, amplifying the amount of ground and body force sent into the opponent. The structure of the “Pivot” is such that, if used incorrectly where the opponent’s forward energy was misjudged or not as anticipated, the position formed by pivoting will automatically collapse into the previously mentioned “Side-Stepping” positions. Which way that one moves will generally be determined by the actions of the enemy who will trigger reactions in the stance that are predetermined by virtue of the underlying structure and concepts already discussed. This, of course, will only happen under pressure if the concept has been tested through drills, and more importantly, only if the practitioner adheres to certain basic guidelines.

The most basic of these guidelines is that the heels are always used as the pivoting point, not the balls of the feet or the centre of the feet. By pivoting on the heels, the body is able to remain on its original position with the balance remaining unaffected. A common error made by practitioners of Wing Chun is to pivot on the balls of the feet, but this method does not allow the body to remain on its central axis, nor does it maintain the balance. Instead, pivoting on the balls of the feet throws the body from one side of the central axis to the other, actually increasing the distance that the counter strike has to travel. It also provides an opportunity for the attacker to “steal the balance” of the defender because the rocking/swaying action caused by moving in this way leaves the defender easily overcome by the forward momentum of the attacker’s body.

In direct contrast to this, pivoting on the heels makes it possible to fall naturally into a “Side-Step” position while still maintaining the range required to nullify and counter the attack, because the structure of the stance at the moment of pivoting is such that too much force causes it to collapse in the same way as the basic “Goat Stance” already described. This completes the range of stepping to be found within the Wong Shun Leung Method, bringing the total number of options to five, this fifth one being a combination of two previously described methods, whereby:
(5) a “Pivot” collapses into a “Side-Step.” It is very important to keep in mind that the methods described in this two-part article have been put to the test dozens of times by one of the greatest fighters of the last century, the late Wong Shun Leung, who used these skills with incredible effect in his illustrious and undefeated challenge fight career, earning him the title of Gong Sau Wong (the “King of the Challengers”). If nothing else, these methods represent a natural extension of the basic principles of the Wing Chun system, are completely complimentary to the hand and leg techniques found within the system, and are easy to learn and put into practise, providing practitioners of Wing Chun with skills that are effective when it really counts.


Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issues 8 & 9 (2013)