Reframing Our Approach to Testing Strength
For most of my time living & training in San Francisco with Master Fung I served as his go-to demo guy, as the picture on the left here evidences. I was regularly flung hither and yon by my Teacher. There was seldom a class where I did not get tossed around at least a few times.
While I know several of my fellow students who did not particularly appreciate the experience, being bounced over and over again by Sifu was really a great opportunity to learn. Although I could not make heads or tails of it at first, I regularly got to feel my strength being received, redirected and ejected from my Teacher's center. As you can imagine, this went a long way to helping me decipher the words coming from Sifu & the experiences I was inducing with The Method.
What is ‘Bouncing’?
Bouncing is a subset of a much larger category of Yi Chuan practice called ‘Testing Strength’. The purpose of Testing Strength practices is to determine whether the right kind of strength is being utilized. Its basically a feedback tool that can be used in several ways, including:
to test the structural integrity of the frame
to test the frame's ability to receive outside force
to test the frame's ability to rebound outside force
to test the ability to preload the frame
to test the ability to discharge potential force stored in the frame
In the clip below I break down a few of our basic Testing Strength partner practices and explain what we are looking for in each test.
Bouncing practice is generally introduced after a practitioner has achieved integration of their frame. This integrated status is required to be able to express integrated strength.
Solo practices that include standing, searching for strength, sensing strength, internal stretching, and footwork are used to induce integration and bouncing practices are used to test that integration.
Check out this clip where my Teacher has some fun flinging me around.
Is Bouncing Cooperative?
Absolutely. Bouncing is a partnered training exercise, not combat.
Just like virtually every partner practice in any form of martial art or sport it requires the practitioners to agree on a set of ground rules, it requires cooperation between attacker and defender.
The cooperation you see in the first picture above, however, is not me jumping away from my Teacher to make him look good. The cooperation I gave was to sincerely try to bounce him away with my integrated frame.
This brings up a very important point that should not be overlooked. The reason my Teacher was able to bounce me so dramatically was that I possessed Integrated Strength as well. My frame was tossed away as a single unit because it was a single unit. Often times folks are left with the impression that it is the overwhelming force unleashed by the bouncer that results in the dramatic effect you see. Not so. The trick is in the artful way the bouncer receives rebounds and red-directs the incoming force that achieves that result.
Is Bouncing Self-Defense?
No, and yes.
Let’s start with the ‘no’.
The primary purpose of bouncing is to test whether the practitioner can use integrated strength under a given condition. The given condition is the challenge put forth by the attacker to the defender, the attack if you will.
It starts off very simple, the attacker (cooperating training partner) engages the defender by lightly pushing on their frame and maintains that pressure while the defender attempts to bounce them away. My Teacher often describes this stage of practice as the attacker feeding the defender like a mommy bird feeding its baby chick. That is pretty freaking cooperative.
We don’t stop there.
Over time the ‘attacks’ become more forceful, more aggressive, more random, more intense and faster. The end goal is to be able to spontaneously respond to an attack with Integrated Strength. The defender bouncing people away from locks and chokes, from the knee back or stomach, multiple people in a line or surrounding them, etc. Over time the defender is learning to respond to an increasing set of given conditions with Integrated Strength.
There is another important point about bouncing practices. The goal is to bounce the attacker away to test Integrated Strength against the incoming force, not to hurt your partner. The 'attacker' should be capable of riding out the issue of Integrated Strength and land firmly without loss of balance. In this way, the attacker is trained to receive and diffuse the issued strength rather than being hit or knocked over by it.
In most real self-defense situations, defined as where I feel my physical well-being is being seriously threatened, I would not use Integrated Strength to bounce someone away. The self-defense goal is to remove the attacker's ability to render harm, bouncing is merely a tool to help us figure out how to apply Integrated Strength to get the desired outcome.
Now let’s look at ‘yes’.
Bouncing practice helps you learn to intercept the attack and defeat it before it arrives. In other words, we are learning to attack the attack. In a real self-defense situation, the goal of this attack of the attack is not to bounce the attacker away but to incapacitate him or her. The goal is to end the threat the attacker presents to your well-being by doing enough damage that they are unable to attack again.
A strike, a throw, a break, something that takes the will of the attacker away long enough for you to remove yourself from the situation is how you apply integrated strength for self-defense. You want to break, not bounce the attacker’s frame.
That being said, there are some conceivable situations where bouncing the attacker may incapacitate them. I can see where bouncing an attacker into another attacker, down the stairs, into a bus or solid object would be very effective.
There is also an often overlooked ‘yes’ to why bouncing is self-defense practice and it has to do with the attacker. The defense against being attacked with integrated strength is to not get hit by it. The defense is to use your own integrated frame to neutralize the attack by allowing it to displace you, to bounce away from it.
In this training session, I work with AQ to set her up for success in bouncing me away.
The above video is part of a longer playlist below that shows various ways of testing and demonstrating Integrated Strength with partner Testing.