Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Testing Strength is a core concept in Yi Chuan we use for a number of purposes, including:
testing our structure (can connect the six surfaces, move, step, etc. while maintaining Integration)
working out how to transfer the opponents strength (rather than carry it in the frame)
challenge the conceptual model we came to the table with
learn to use any part of the body to accept, redirect and issue force
find and plug 'leaks'
using our frame to 'listen' to the opponent
experiment with different ways of using our intent
getting the right polarity in our footwork
building confidence in using Integrated Strength
figuring our how to use IS for self defense
conditioning oneself to respond with IS
showing us we are full of shit an have to go a different direction
demonstrating to other the nature of IS
Of course, I could go on and on with all the ways we use Testing Strength in Yi Chuan. The no fixed form thing applies here as well, testing strength is really only limited by our own imagination.
Consider this video clip of my Teacher testing his strength on me.
My role in this scenario is to provide a committed attack to my teachers frame in an effort to knock him off balance or push him back.
We are not fighting, he asks me to present him with a challenge and I comply. The practice is cooperative. My attack is not an attempt to hurt my teacher nor is his defense an attempt to hurt me (although either could go awry if we are not careful) . The point of the exercise is to test whether Integrated Strength can be used to deal with the challenge, the given condition that is being presented in the test.
Every attempt I make to resist my teacher in this clip results in me being bounced away effortlessly and with very little visible movement from my teacher. How is this possible?
If you watch closely you will see that in every instance my teacher is able to use his Integrated Strength to intercept my attack by breaking my connection to the ground (uprooting) and reflecting my strength back to me. Its not just his strength that sends me flying into the bushes but a combination of his strength and my strength that sends me out. I am really trying to push him and he is using subtle changes in his shape and timing to thwart my efforts.
Sometimes the result is just a little hop back wards, sometimes I am barley able to stay on my feet.
Works Both Ways
When I was first learning to provide a frame for this type of testing strength it was common to have people behind me to catch me in case I lost balance. Overtime I learned to properly receive the strength by letting it send me back as a whole unit, landing on my feet and essentially unharmed by the discharge.
So, while this video is a demonstration of my Teacher’s ability to use Integrated Strength to bounce my attacks away it is also a demonstration of my ability to receive his strength and (for the most part) maintain my unity and preserve my balance.
This is also an application of Integrated Strength, one where unity is being used to remove my body from harm's way. All of the IS requirements still apply. I still need to be connected as a single unit, my strength needs to be at 'the edge' and I need to be intentionally engaged to be bounced away.
A common misunderstanding of 'bouncing' type practices is that the 'bounce' is the self-defense technique, like somebody comes to try and harm me and I 'bounce' them away.
A 'bounce' occurs when IS is used to displace the opponents mass. Its a good indication that the proper type of strength (Integrated Strength) was used. It also indicates the attacker's frame did not break during the application of strength, rather, it remained intact and essentially rode out the IS power curve. Its just a test....A good, B bad.
The nice thing about our Testing Strength approach is techniques with whole body power can be safely practiced with a partner and both parties get something from the practice.
Who needs a partner?
Don't limit your Testing Strength thinking to partner practice. Anything that serves to indicate you are using the right method, going the right direction can be useful.
Wobble boards, beams and posts are great for training balance and weight transitions. Punching bags can educate you on timing, footwork and weak links in your chain. A bright light to cast your shadow on the wall can illuminate issues we were not even aware of.
My son trains Parkour. In his world a simple walk down the street reveals itself a ninja obstacle course challenge. His if over this and under that, skip hop climbing and rolling around obstacles I didn't even notice. He is always testing himself, making sure his perception of his ability and his actual ability stay at least loosely aligned.
Bring it Home
All your effort with Testing Strength will be for not if you fail to bring what your learned home.
At the heart of this work is solo-practice designed to change tissue and open energy flow. Anything learned in Testing Strength has ramifications for the rest of your practice and training. If you can't root your opponents strength how can you be rooted during standing practice? If you can't physically connect your body how can it be energetically connected?
Don't make the mistake I have repeated to often in the past.....learning something while Testing Strength then going back and doing my exercises the same way I've always done them. We have this great thing called the feeling state, if you can feel it in partner practice you should have it in solo and visa versa.