The Relationship Between Centre Point Tower And Getting Your Back Right
Peter Williams (4/2002)
I have heard it said many times that Wing Chun Kung Fu is based on scientific principles. In this essay, I want to show how the power and stability of the stance and structure might be explained using my basic layman's knowledge of engineering and science. When learning Wing Chun, the word 'structure' pops up all the time. You can be working on your structure or talking about it - everyone seems to have their own idea of what correct structure is. When you consider that all of us are individuals and all at differences come as no surprise. I will explain why your back is critical in maintaining a stable structure and in staying relaxed.
The best way to do this is to compare the structure of the back with another structure that works in a similar way - a skyscraper called Centre Point Tower in Sydney. It is shaped like a lollipop, with a long thin trunk containing elevators and stairs up to a heavy, main part of the building on top containing restaurants, offices and observation deck. Centre Point Tower doesn't look like a stable building because there isn't much to hold it up. The trunk of the building looks way too thin and fragile to hold such a large mass safely above it. You could imagine an earthquake or strong wind making the whole building topple to the ground. But I can clearly remember the engineers saying at the time of its opening that Centre Point Tower, both in theory and practice, is in fact, a very strong and stable structure.
Gravity is the natural enemy of all structures. It is a force which is constantly pulling everything towards the centre of the earth. What I think the designers of Centre Point Tower have done is to cleverly try and use gravity to help strengthen and stabilize the building as a whole. They have done this by very precise alignment of every part of the structure. Every section of the building is supported and stabilized by the section directly above and below it.
Our back is also a thin line with 28 bones stacked one on top of the other that leads to the heavy mass of the head on top. Sure, Centre Point Tower is perfectly straight and there is a natural curve in our spine. Centre Point Tower also has its foundations firmly secured to the ground, while our back is balanced above our legs, which you could describe as being like hinged stilts. Yet, both structure can, with very good alignment, be stable and defy the constant pull of gravity.
Centre Point Tower has cables to maintain its alignment, so that it is structurally stable. Our spine and head use muscle to tense, hold, pull etc. in order to help maintain the alignment of everyone's individual posture. When muscle 'tenses up' for this purpose, its movement becomes restricted and cannot be used for any other job (such as a technique or movement). So, in essence, in Wing Chun, this is wasted muscle mass and power. These tense muscles also act to restrict the movement of the bone in the joint at the points of origin and insertion, which in turn affects and tenses other connected joints and muscles, and so on. Therefore, one tense muscle can effect the whole body as everything is interrelated. Thus, a tense back muscle will restrict movements in the joints of the back and then the shoulder and the hip joint, which will effect the elbow and the knee joint, etc.
I believe that skilled practitioners of Wing Chun are much more careful in the alignment of the spine than were the engineers in the alignment of the parts that make up Centre Point Tower. With practice and careful observation ( especially when doing the Siu Nim Tau form), it is possible to align the spine and head, so virtually no muscle is used to hold you up against the constant force of gravity.
The head and every vertebrae in the spine supports, equally, the part above and below it. When this is done very precisely, the whole mass of the head and spine can sink towards the ground without any muscular resistance. All the stabilizing muscles that are normally used to hold us up are allowed to relax, as the head and spine is self supporting. Thus, the more relaxed you feel, the better your structure is (full relaxation cannot be achieved if muscle is being used to hold you up). Because all muscle is allowed to relax, this effectively means all the muscles and joints are allowed to move freely and the whole body mass can be used without any holding.
'Sticking Hands' trains us to maintain this alignment under the influence of an external force. I think that this deep state of relaxation is need fully develop correct focus and to find and use your centre of gravity. Precise alignment of the head over the spine allows for a better connection or communication between mind and body. This is why the precise alignment of the head and back is critical for achieving a stable structure, relaxation and the development of other important aspects of training in Wing Chun.
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