My impression of Kung fu is that it seems have a strong focus on the range of motion and what the body is capable of. From balance to quick strikes. Whether you are going through the forms slowly or in the middle of a rapid spar, whatever movement you are making at any given time is important.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about kung fu, it’s that there is a reason for everything. Every time I practised a form, Sifu Dan would analyse me carefully then tell me everything I needed to work on. And the big thing he kept pointing out was that I needed to use more circular motion in my movements. I mean, does it really matter? Apparently it does. Funny enough he had explained to me why we use circular motion at an earlier lesson, but what can I say… I’m forgetful. He’s had to give me the same explanation of why we use circular motion several times. Practising kung fu must really have taught him patience – the patience to deal with silly students like me.
So why do we use circular motion in kung fu?
To explain this, Sifu Dan had me stand in front of the punching bag and told me to punch straight at it. So I did… and the punching bag didn’t swing much. Then he told me to stand in a 90 degree angle and punch using a twisting motion with my fist and turning my hip. This time, there was a little more power and the punching bag swung just a little bit farther (I’m not that strong yet). He explained to me that the circular motion helps to direct the flow of energy.
Many martial arts styles use a linear motion where attacks are more direct. For linear martial arts, the body weight is shifted in a straighter line and may move more forward with the punch. Circular movement uses the natural movement of the body.
Visually, the circular motion is very graceful and kind of resembles a dance. Each movement uses an arch or circular motion that guide the hands to move more smoothly. The body flows from one form to another and where once circle ends, another one is just beginning to form. Because of the calming and graceful appearance, kung fu is considered more of a soft style of martial arts. Just because kung fu is called a soft style, it doesn’t mean that it is any less dangerous. The circular movements can generate as much power as linear movements.
The power of circular motion
When doing a simple kick or punch using circular movement, you are using your whole body to generate power rather than a single limb. For example, when I punch, I am not just using my arm, I am also twisting my hips in order to maximise the power from my whole upper body into the force of the attack.
Sifu Dan likes to compare the movement of a fist to a bullet or arrow. When shot, an arrow or bullet will travel in a spiral motion to add more speed and power. The same thing happens when you throw a punch using this technique. Like a screw, it will drive a deeper and fiercer attack.
Breathing and circulation
Those who use a circular motion are believed to be in greater harmony with the flow of Chi. In kung fu, air is inhaled to circulate around the body and then released. Many of the forms mimic the motion of the air through body movements. Sam Chien is one of the forms that teaches students how to apply breathing and motion. The coordination of each breath with the movements of a form teaches students to conserve energy and helps them to perform with more grace and agility.
Knocking your opponent off-balance
Using a circular technique is a good way to throw your opponent off-balance. By grabbing onto a part of their body and spinning quickly is enough to throw them of course and give you advantage. The purpose of this kind of movement is to control and strategically position yourself around your opponent.
Kung fu teaches to use the motion and power of an attacker rather than fight against it. So when blocking an attack, instead of simply slapping an attack away, in kung fu, the deflection sends the limb in the direction it was already travelling in. Doing this will make your opponent lose balance which will then make it easier for you to either knock the opponent to the ground or send your own attacks.