Learning Kung Fu is no different than learning how to walk. As a child we first learn how to roll over on our bellies. Soon we are able to get one leg up and inch our way across the floor, eventually getting up on both knees and hands to crawl. Soon we gain the determination to stand up, fall down, stand up and try again, only to fall down. Then there is that one day where we finally take that first step. We don’t think about walking anymore, but there was a time we had to learn, and we had to start with the first step to get there.
Once we have built a solid foundation to stand on with our horse stance, we need to start walking. The first set we learn in our lineage of Kung Fu is called Ng Lun Ma. This is a basic form or set pattern that goes through the basic stances that are needed to transition correctly from one position to the next. It’s important to understand that this set is to train the beginning student how to develop proper footwork. Kung Fu is not just about some great moves you can use to take down an opponent. We focus just as much on footwork, as well as the combative applications of attacks using the arms and the legs. There is a saying that I have heard the Gracie’s use lately which is, “Position before submission.” I really like this saying because it highlights the value of proper set up before you go for your heavy blow or final submission. The same is true in Kung Fu. You can’t properly execute a solid strike or a proper take down if you do not have good footwork to set things up correctly.
The stances that the beginning student learns are very complex and sophisticated. For this reason every student always seems to have the same questions when practicing them for the first time. New students often say, “It’s hard to see how such a stance can be practical or effective in real life.” The awkward feeling of twisting the body or standing low on one leg at times is hard to conceptualize more than just what you see. Stance work in Kung Fu is very unique in how it is used to bridge and lock the legs of the attacker in many different ways. While we use the stances to attack an opponent, we also use the stances to guard the groin at all times. Stance Bridging is very effective to immobilize and limit an attacker to having fewer options, and therefore setting them up to using certain types of attacks. This is very similar to a chess game, always trying to stay several moves ahead.
While learning our first set, Ng Lun Ma, we are working on becoming comfortable and natural with our new stances, while continually strengthening the legs. At the same time we are also learning how to properly use the twisting of the hips when transitioning through the various stances. The basic stances teach the new student how to properly turn the hips and use the whole body to deliver a strike. The first stage of this starts by keeping the hands on this hips with the elbows bent outward. From this position we practice turning the hips and hitting with the shoulders to develop good form. This basic practice is the beginning of learning how to hit using the whole body to generate relaxed power. Once a new student has practiced Ng Lun Ma many times they will naturally begin to walk and use the footwork of Kung Fu. It’s a beautiful feeling looking back after you realize it just naturally happened at some point, and you don’t even think about it anymore, your body just does it.