Sunday, March 1, 2009

Size Matters - In Chin Na


Size Matters - in Chin Na

  'Why Chin Na works, and does not work'
  By Randy Brown

(article printed in - Journal of 7 Star Mantis vol. 3, issue 3/Northern Shaolin Praying Mantis Institute and Association 2012)

Chin Na - the Chinese art of bone and joint locking found in many styles of Kung Fu including Praying Mantis. The human body has a plethora of ways that it will, and will not bend. Chin Na capitalizes on these anatomical weaknesses with the objective of controlling, or destroying ones opponent. Locks exist for every joint from the head to the toes; and quite possibly 20 to 50 variations of each one depending on who you talk to, or what reference you use. 

Having spent years studying these locks, I found it awkward to pull some of them off in 'live' situations. A great many of them if even attempted, would have landed the practitioner in a world of hurt from their opponent. Simply from the person reacting by punching them with their free hand/arm. This article attempts to clarify some of the misunderstanding of how and why Chin Na does, or does not work.

Qing and Republican Era 

Much of the documentation I have been able to find on Chin Na, comes from the late Qing Dynasty (late 1800's when China's Martial Arts practice was in decline), and the Republican Era; with some emerging during the Communist reign. These sources are often littered with a ridiculous amount of locks; and include locks that are completely irrelevant to fighting. I recall one technique involving a hair grab from the front - the victim is attempting a forward hand press lock with no leverage to counter the attacker grabbing hair on the front of his head. A simple counter-attack to the persons groin would suffice, yet here lies an ineffective lock.

Forms - Our Window to the Past 

Forms are perhaps our oldest and most reliable documentation of Kung Fu's history of techniques. They are our library or catalog of applications that are relevant to each system or style. Given the lack of documentation on Chinese Martial Arts through the ages, we have to rely on forms as our window to the past. If you look at the majority of Kung Fu forms they are comprised of strikes (fists, elbows, knees), kicks, throws, and locks. The locks however, typically focus on gross motor movements; attacking the most accessible joints - elbow, shoulder, hip, and knee. Earlier in my training I studied close to 25 to 35 hand forms, and rarely, if ever, have I found a small binding lock within those forms.

Motor Function and Stress 

The primary reason Chin Na often fails to work, or has no place in certain situations, is our motor function skills. According to the National Police Association the level of accuracy in gun fights across the nation was reported at 12% for 2008. These are individuals that train to use their weapons over and over; yet there is a problem hitting their targets when under intense pressure; proving we as human beings lack accuracy and fine motor skills under stressful situations. 

In the world of Chin Na - humans in the midst of situations such as physical altercations, use gross motor function and react with adrenaline coursing through their system; the heart rate is up, breathing becomes erratic, palms sweat. These factors alter the reality of trying to attempt a finite lock on someone as they attack; grabbing a hand out of mid air becomes increasingly difficult.

Training the same technique over and over through repetition, helps eliminate this problem, but only if the training approaches live scenarios in its charter. In essence, if the locks are simply practiced with compliant partners and/or in fixed sequences such as line training, then we will find them unreliable in combat. To counter this, we can train the locks with 'feeder drills' that lead to random sparring to increase effectiveness.

Size 

The where, when, and on who, of locks is the most crucial element of lock training. What we cannot recover from, is attempting a lock on a larger and stronger opponent when we tried to use the wrong lock on them. This is typically where we get punished trying to use joint locks. 

A human body is a human body; no matter what size the person is. Aside from certain individuals who are double jointed, locks will work no matter how big the person is. The problem isn't whether a joint will lock, the problem is with a larger person - they also have larger muscles. It becomes increasingly difficult to manipulate these larger muscles when we are a smaller fighter. We need the appropriate strength to turn/position the joint and apply the lock. The battle becomes strength on strength, instead of technique winning the day.

As an analogy - joint locks will work on animals just as they will work on people, but you will see drastically different results if you attempt a lock on a dog vs. a horse. The two animals are not only different sizes and weights, but possess far different strength potentials. 12 dogs to pull a sled vs. 1 horse to pull a wagon. In the human world of Chin Na, there is no difference. If you attempt a lock on a much larger opponent, they will resist with strength and then counter with a punch, grab, or counter lock.

Working with different sized partners can give us insight and kinisthetic feedback to this phenomenon. Learning to move from compliant to resistant training, will train us on how to detect and become sensitive to the when and where of applying locks; so when we meet someone that resists, we know automatically to switch to another lock, or resume striking to soften the target.

Target Fixation 

Military and civilian pilots have a term - 'Target Fixation'. For a military aviator it is most common when we are diving and attacking a ground target. We become so fixated on our target, we fail to realize our altitude change, and leave insufficient altitude to pull the aircraft out of the dive - then crashing into the target or ground.

This same principle applies to joint locks. It is a common occurrence when we train Chin Na in fixed patterns, to get lock fixation. As we attempt a lock, and the initial attempt fails, we become fixated on making the lock work, and continue attempting to apply the lock while our opponent is first resisting, then changing position, and then starting to hit us, throw us, or reverse the lock.

We can avoid these instances by dynamic lock training, or principle based lock training. Instead of opponent throws X punch or Y grab, we train the principles of locking by themselves; direction, fulcrum, refined technique. Then once we have an understanding of these, apply feeder drills to train dynamic locking and counter locking. In this type of training, opponent attacks, we counter and apply X lock, and our opponent resists and/or applies Y counter, and then we can apply our counter. The lock, the counter, and the counter to the counter, so each of us learns to move fluidly from one joint lock technique to another, or even transition back to striking. Since fighting is random, it only makes sense for us to recreate this randomness in our training without full on fighting. If we try to apply in sparring, stress will take over and we operate in survival mode rather than learning mode. 

Small vs. Large Binds 

We can narrow locks down to two major categories:
  • Large Binds - locks attacking major joints such as the elbow, shoulder, knee, ankle.
  • Small Binds - locks that attack small joints such as the wrist, fingers, toes.
The key is for us to know when and where to use each of these locks. Given that stress is involved in a live situation, and as previously stated, gross motor function is more likely - large binds should be used for initial contact. The larger joints take larger motions, which fits into our first response to an aggressive act. Gross movement is more reliable and quite possibly why we see these in the Kung Fu Fighting Forms and a lack of small binding locks.

Small binds are more appropriately used when we are responding to a grab, in the clinch, on the ground, or finishing the opponent after softening them up with a throw. When we are tied up (grappling) with an opponent and have access to the occasional finger, toe; wrist, or ankle, then small binds are extremely effective. After we have thrown the opponent and they are stunned, we have access to time and movements that were otherwise difficult to pull off and can score a small bind as well if appropriate.

Leg Locks

Leg Locks are effective when we are able to pull them off; keeping in mind that the legs are proportionally stronger than the upper body of a human being. When we are attempting to lock up an opponents legs, we are fighting strength, maneuverability, and multiple weapons - other foot/leg, arms.

These are best attempted after a throw, or when our opponent is least expecting it - such as rolling in a ground fight. Basic knee bars can be applied as a counter to a kick, but attempting to maintain the lock on the ground after you have tripped them, is foolhardy at best. Our arms alone lack the strength to keep their knee from bending, and once they bend it, they will be more than willing to use their fists on our head. 

I mention these due to our applications of trapping a kick and trying to apply a leg lock in the air. This works to effect a takedown, but enters problems when trying to maintain that lock on the ground without using larger parts of our body as the fulcrum and lever such as the hips or torso.

In conclusion, Chin Na is a highly effective and rich part of our art and can be of great benefit. Training and practicing with appropriate measure is crucial to success, as well as understanding when it is appropriate to use each lock. We are wise to avoid the over complication that is commonly seen in much of the reference material on Chin Na. Seek out the K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simple Stupid) when locking and you will find success.

The Science of Bridging - How to Close Distance in a Fight

You charge in on your enemy, filled with the hope that you can capitalize on that weak spot you spy in their guard. As you are about to land your punch, suddenly, without warning, BAM!!!! POW!!!! SMACK!!! His strike has met you mid-stride and square in the nose. As blood begins to rush down your face you pause and wonder, why you were unable to hit that giant hole that invited you to enter to begin with?

If you have fighting experience then you are likely familiar with the above scenario. After countless bouts most of us have found tricks of the trade that allow moderate success at gaining the advantage as we move in on our opponent. Alternatively, some have decided to become counter-fighters, and instead patiently await their opponents charge, because they know full well the advantage will be theirs.

To help avoid circumstances such as these, I'll share some solid tactics to incorporate into your training so that you may gain control over this most unsure of moments in fighting. The moment when you go from out of range to in range. The moment we call - 'bridging'.

The following are a few definitions:

'Bridging' - the act of moving from outside of striking or kicking
range to inside striking or kicking range.

'Critical Distance' - The line that separates the two ranges. Critical Distance is determined by the range just outside the reach of your opponents longest weapon - their rear leg.

'Bridging Tactic' - a method of occupying the enemies mind, body, or both, so that they are unable to move or launch a counter attack the moment you cross the 'Critical Distance' line.

As we explained in above scenario - the danger with bridging is vulnerability when moving or transitioning. Timing (another bridging method) works in this regard. If you are in the midst of steaming headlong into your opponent's waiting defense, while preoccupied with striking, then you are vulnerable. The solution is to incorporate Bridging Tactics into your fighting toolkit to give you the advantage.

Here are some examples for executing an advantageous bridge:

Feint

A body movement that simulates a move or shift in one direction while then moving in another direction. This works as a great precursor to an attack when used at the proper range. As the enemy flinches, plants, or reacts in some regard, they are locked into their movement and unable to react to the real attack that immediately follows the lie.

Example on how to Feint-
Pretend to move left with your body and then quickly move right. When your opponent moves to gain advantage or reposition themselves for defense they create openings in their guard. Strike the targets now available, or shoot for the takedown on the exposed side.

Common Pitfalls -
  • Body movement is jerky and unrealistic. Opponent doesn't believe it.
  • Feinting, and then moving in the same direction you feinted. This gives your opponent warning of where you are going to move and nullifies the tactic.

Fake

A false strike that triggers the opponents block or counter. Again, as the opponent flinches, you immediately follow the flinch with your real strike to a different target.

Example -
Throw a forward punch (jab) but do not follow through with it. Done properly the opponent should emit a jerk-type response and attempt to block the non-existent punch. More experienced fighter's may resist the temptation, but may blink or twitch instead. Immediately strike the opponent in a different target right after they jerk, blink, or twitch.

Common Pitfalls -
  • If there is too much of a time break between the fake and the real attack the opponent will have reset and snag the actual strike. 
  • If you try to attack the same target as the fake attack then the opponent will likely block because their hand is already in that region and they previously witnessed an attack to that target a split second before, so they are now expecting a real one.
  • The fake doesn't look real. You have to sell the fake, as if it is the real deal, without over exposing the limb for them to grab, or seize.

Distraction

An act of motion, sound, or use of surroundings that will trigger a response from your opponent; causing them to momentarily flinch or become distracted.

Example on how to Distract-
Make a loud noise by yelling, stomping, or banging your gloves together. Upon witnessing your opponents twitch immediately bridge and enter past the critical distance and attack. In a street situation, the distraction may be throwing an item such as keys, coins, sand, or an object.

Common Pitfalls -
  • Too quiet, or not convincing.
  • Too much lag time between the distraction and the bridge.
  • You have tried it too many times without following up with a live attack. The opponent is not appropriately conditioned to it and will not respond, making them dangerous if you try to enter.
When bridging, the tactic either works, or does not work. This is immediately determined by whether or not they blocked your attack, moved out of range, or sprawled before you got there. If unsuccessful, the bridging tactic needs to be corrected or refined by training your ability to perform a realistic fake or feint so your partner believes the lie.