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GOING THE DISTANCE
"THE SECRET EIGHT HORSE STANCE
BASICS OF JOW GA KUNG FU"
Photos by Patricia Wong
Magazine page courtesy of Rainbow Publications
JOW GA KUNG FU:
Mike Willner and I mastered this art.
"Scott, I feel like you and I share an important understanding. We both benefitted from the instruction and mastership of a skilled martial arts sifu (everything else one might say, this at least is true). We both dedicated our lives to martial arts, entering into a traditional master-disciple relationship. We saw that relationship go bad, broke away, and coped with the results of that decision. Most importantly, we both came to our own conclusions about what is good and bad martial arts. Not many people take this path, but you and I have travelled it full. I feel like we have something to share with the martial arts world."
MIKE WILLNER, MAY 9, 2013
You met Mike Willner in "Memoir Part 6." Mike and I recently reconnected, after more than 30 years of not seeing or speaking with each other. Mike and I were fellow disciples of Sifu Richard Chin, at his Asian Martial Arts Studio in New York City, where we spent years studying and mastering the profound martial art of Jow Ga kung fu, before we each went our separate ways to teach our own students and disciples. The style of Jow Ga kung fu is a system that can act as a vehicle for martial artists, to develop maximum power in their techniques.
Any system though, is only as good as the way it is implemented in the way that practitioners train and execute their fundamental technique. One must always practice to produce maximum power and efficency, in order to do a system justice. The technique fundamentals have to be sound, so that Jow Ga's techniques can be developed to their fullest extent in the martial artist. One's fundamental technique is actually more important than the style that acts as a vehicle, for training those fundamental techniques. I do agree with Mike, about sharing some of the Jow Ga kung fu techniques, that have allowed us to produce realistically powerful technique. That is the purpose of this article. In this day of "TMI," one can never have too much information in the combat arts.
One of the cornerstones of this training, are the Horse Stance Basics of the Jow Ga style. Here in detail, is a description of how these are executed.
The Horse Stance Basics of Jow Ga kung fu, are a wonderful teaching technique. Each horse stance basic is a distillation of a combat principle, boiled down to it's very essence. Although each horse stance basic may hold many techniques, and these individual techniques are therefore subject to interpretation as to their relative significance, there is usually one overriding technique in each basic that is meant to be committed to one's combat muscle memory, in favor of other techniques within the horse stance basic. Diligent training using correct technique in these horse stance basics, leads to the type of muscle memory from which fluidly powerful combat technique flows.
Although I did describe these horse stance basics in Black Belt, Karate-Kung Fu Illustrated and Kung Fu magazines in the 1980s and 1990s, never have I provided such intricate detail about their execution and secret meanings. With full disclosure in mind, here they are.
A word of caution: These descriptions are meant for experienced martial artists, who possess the knowledge of the terminology used. For each horse stance basic, I describe how to perform them on both left and right sides, and it is understood that these drills be repeated ten times on each side, but the number of repetitions, is arbitrary. It is also understood, that one repetition, includes both sides. Included are some interpretive insights into them.
THE EIGHT HORSE STANCE BASICS OF JOW GA KUNG FU
(1) This first horse stance basic, as with all of them, should be practiced with maximum speed and power. The intent behind every teachnique, should be a killer intent, the purpose which is to inflict maximum damage to an opponent. Maximum velocity of any technqiue can only be achieved when all of the musculature involved in the movement is relaxed, with muscular contraction of the accelerating muscles, at the very end of the technique. Any effort to "add" to each movement by conscious muscular contraction before the very end of techniques, will only serve to slow the acceleration of one's body down, thereby bogging down the power available at the end of the techniques. When it comes to the speed of techniques, less leads to more.
Both hands chambered in horse stance with closed fists. There are two separate blocks melded into one smooth motion in this horse stance basic, a low block in one direction, followed by a middle-target block in the opposite direction. Still in horse stance, drop left arm with fist below groin, and execute a low-target blocking motion across one's groin (moving to the right). With one smooth motion, this then flows into a left outside-middle target block (as the forearm pivots at the elbow) as you pivot and turn to the left, right fist simultaneously executes a middle-target punch straight ahead, with a vertical fist as the movement finishes. Should end up in left front stance looking forward, with right arm extended forward (but both feet stay in the same position, with just a pivoting movement) in punching position.
Drop right arm below the groin, and execute a low-target blocking motion across one's groin (moving to the left). With one smooth motion, this then flows into a right outside-middle target block as you pivot and turn to the right, simultaneously delivering a left middle-target punch with a vertical fist straight ahead, chamber right fist. Should end up in right front stance, looking forward, with the left arm extended forward in punching position, right hand chambered.
(2) The movements in this horse stance basic are identical. The only difference is using tiger fists, instead of closed fists.
(3) One of the hidden tenets in this horse stance basic, is the Jow Ga technique of attacking a limb of an attacking opponent, with a blocking limb. For example, if an attacker is throwing a right cross at your midsection, you'll want to try to injure his punching arm with your down block, using your forearm as a bludgeon. Deflection is nice, but injury and pain to an attacker is even nicer. This the Jow Ga principle of a block, becoming an attack. For example, rudimentary blocks such as the down block, outside and inside middle blocks, and the high rising block should be done with maximum force to damage a limb of an assailant. Strong blocks in Jow Ga are characteristic, so strong that they may break bones. There is also a psychological component, using this Jow Ga strategy of "defense as offense." The unexpected pain delivered by what supposedly is a defensive move (the block), is demoralizing to an attacker. Drills done with this principle in mind, as in one-point sparring between partners, toughens up the blocking limbs of Jow Ga practitioners, making these blocking limbs weapons.
Hands chambered in horse stance, closed fists. Look left, left forearm and fist pivots and arcs downward to the left from the elbow, ending up as a middle-target knuckle or forearm strike or block to a kick (theoretically, the fist strikes the opponent's kicking leg with the knuckles, or the forearm executes a block). In Jow Ga, the forearm is considered one of the toughest limbs of the body, making it ideal for turning this blocking part of the arm, into a weapon. It is possible to debilitate an opponent, by breaking the metatarsal bones of a kicking foot.
In this basic, the feet stay in the same positions, and just pivot. Then pivot to the left, and simultaneously throw a right middle-target reverse punch to the left side, simultaneously chambering left hand. Should end up in a left front stance, in place, right punching arm extended to the side. Still in left front stance, bring left knife hand (shuto) to right shoulder. Then pivot back to horse stance facing forward, as you swing left arm as a straight unit, to the left (this is a takedown), with palm facing down. Should end up facing forward in horse stance, looking forward, right hand chambered, left arm extended straight out to the left, with palm of knife hand facing down.
Look right, pivot and arc forearm and fist from the elbow with closed fist to the right, at middle-target position (this is a block to a kick, or a strike to the kicking leg). Then pivot to the right, simultaneously chambering right hand and delivering a left middle-target reverse punch to the side. Should end up in right front stance, in place, left arm extended in punching position, right fist chambered. Still in right front stance in place, bring right knife hand up to left shoulder. Then pivot back to horse stance facing forward, simultaneously sweeping right arm with knife hand to the right, with palm facing down, and chambering left fist. Should end up in horse stance, facing forward, left hand chambered, right arm straight out to the side, looking forward.
(4) Leopard fist basic. The narrow configuration of the leopard fist allows punches to enter the restricted space ahead of the throat, targeting the attacker's windpipe. Training in the accurate placement of techniques, is considered critical in Jow Ga kung fu. The ability to place a fist of any sort, within millimeters of the intended target, is a basic principle in Jow Ga, and valued. It would seems obvious that a leopard fist, being relatively weaker than a regular closed fist, would have to depend on placement to damage an attacker's trachea. The leopard fist is a area-specific weapon.
Leopard fists chambered in horse stance. Look left and pivot to the left in place, ending up in left front stance, delivering right leopard fist punch to throat-level, chamber left leopard fist. Should end up in left front stance in place, right arm extended to the side in punching position, left hand chambered.
Still facing left, draw back to left cat stance, simultaneously throwing left leopard punch to the groin with a 3/4 turn of the fist (palm should end up facing left), right hand end up guarding the ribcage, right hand under the triceps/biceps).
Look right. Pivot to the right, in place, simultaneously throwing left leopard fist to throat-level, chamber right leopard fist. Should end up in right front stance, looking right, right arm extended out to the right in punching position, left hand chambered.
Draw back to right cat stance (still facing right), throw left leopard punch with the fist making a 3/4 turn (palm ends up facing right) to the groin, bring right open hand to guard ribs, hand ending up below the triceps/biceps.
(5) Overhand punch basic. There are several punches featured in this horse stance basic, but the essence of this basic is to train the Jow Ga artist, to have a fast and powerful overhand punch. The angle of attack of the overhand punch, matched with great speed, is intended to break an opponent's jaw. Although the arc of the punch makes it relatively easier to defend than a straight punch, nevertheless, in certain logistical circumstances, the power of an overhand right may be unequaled. Bilateral jaw fractures can ensue from this attack.
In this one, arms swing from the shoulders in arcs (except for the uppercut). Hands chambered in horse stance. Step forward into left front stance, swing both arms in an overhand (overhead) blocking/punching (left arm leads and blocks, right hand is an overhand right to the chin) motion forward. Pivot left foot back in an "L" movement (to the right foot, then out to the left, ending up in the original foot position when started). As this is being done, swing right arm in a sweeping outside-middle blocking movement, then chamber the right hand, and execute a left middle-target uppercut straight ahead. Should end up in right front stance, looking forward, right hand chambered, left arm extended to target in an uppercut to the middle-target.
Drop the left arm below the groin, simultaneously pivoting both feet to the left, ending up in left front stance. As this is being done, swing left arm across the groin (moving right), then flow into a sweeping left outside-middle block. and deliver a straight right punch to the middle target with vertical fist (the right fist starts the movement from chamber). Should end up in left front stance, left hand chambered, right arm extended straight out in punching position.
Step forward into right front stance, swing arms from the shoulders in a overhead blocking/punching motion (right arm leads and blocks, left arm follows with an overhead punch to the chin) forward. Pivot right foot backward into an "L" movement (to the left foot, then out to the right, ending up in the original foot position). Simultaneously, swing left arm into a left outside-middle blocking motion and then chamber the left hand, and deliver a right middle-target uppercut, forward. Should end up in left front stance, left hand chambered, right hand extended to target in uppercut position.
Drop the right fist below the groin, pivot both feet to a right front stance, block across the groin (moving left), then let it flow into a right outside-middle block, and then chamber, and deliver a straight left punch straight ahead with a vertical fist, to the middle target (the left hand delivers this punch from chamber). Should end up in right front stance, looking forward, right hand chambered, left fist extended out in punching position.
(6) This horse stance basic, is multi-layered, in that it includes several technqiues to be practiced, and understood. However, the one specific technique that this basic is intended to be adopted by one's combat muscle memory, is the hook. A powerful hook to the ribs, as the middle-target hook in this basic is, trains the combat artist how to swivel one's entire body mass behind the punch. The power starts at the very bottom, from the pivoting feet, which then propel all the accelerating parts of the body, to deliver maximum power at the end of the hook to the ribs, meant to impose maximum breakage of ribs and cartilage. Again, maximum velocity, achieved through relaxation of the musculature throughout the technique, is the goal.
Horse stance, hands chambered. Pivot feet to the left, throw right hook to the ribs, letting your body and hips move the arm naturally, but looking forward. Just remember, that whether you're throwing a straight or circular punch, the power of the punch comes from the momentum generated by hip rotation, which then rotates body mass, and ultimately the force of the punch in the direction of the target. I can't stress this enough:
Punches thrown without hip rotation, will lack power. They will be merely weak "arm" punches, which unfortunately, is the way that the vast majority of martial artists execute punches. Dont be one of these. Use good fundamentals with respect to hip rotation.
Left arm arcs up with an open hand over one's head, with the palm facing up. Move forward into right front stance, simultaneously swinging right arm into a backfist to the cheek, and moving the left open hand to guard the ribs, hand under the triceps/biceps of the punching arm.
Extend left arm straight forward at a 45 degree angle (as seen from the side) tilted upward, palm facing up. Simultaneously extend right arm backward at a 45 degree angle, tilted downward, palm facing down. The arms should be aligned in a straight line. Should end up in a right front stance, looking forward, right arm in front, left arm in back. This is a takedown of an opponent throwing a front kick (moving into the opponent as he throws the kick, left arm catches the neck, while the right arm hooks the opponent's leg.
Move right foot back in an "L" movement (to the left foot, then back to the original foot position) to horse stance, facing forward. Windmill left arm from shoulder in a clockwise motion, follow by windmilling the right arm from the shoulder in a counterclockwise direction, continue arc of right arm so it end up above one's head, palm facing up (this is supposed to be catching and guiding a six foot staff)), continue left arm into a hook to the ribs. This "windmilling" represents a breaking of a chokehold applied by an opponent in front of you. Try it with a friend. Nobody can withstand the leverage of this chokehold break.
Move forward into left front stance, while throwing a left backfist to the cheek, with the right hand ending up guarding one's ribs, positioned under the triceps/biceps of the punching arm.
Extend right arm straight out at a 45 degree angle (as seen from the side), tilted upward, and palm facing up, extend left arm backward at a 45 degree angle, tilted downward, palm facing down. The arms should be aligned in a straight line. Should end up in left front stance, right arm in front, left arm in back. Again, this is a takedown, moving into an opponent's close space, and hooking the opponent's neck with the right arm, and his kicking right leg with the left, as he throws a front kick.
Move the left foot in an "L" move (first to the right foot, and then to the left into the original position), while windmilling first the right arm from the shoulder in a counterclockwise direction, and the the left arm in a clockwise position. Continue the arc upward with the left arm, until the open left hand is guarding above the head, and continue the movement of the right arm into a right hook to the ribs.
Step into right front stance, throwing a right backfist to the cheek. Move the left open hand to guard one's ribs, so it ends up under one's right triceps/biceps of the punching arm.
(7) The intent with number 7, like basic number six, is to sear the power amd speed of the hook into one's combat muscle memory. However, a favorite techniques within this horse stance basic, are the gripping and crushing techniques using one's fingers. One of my disciples who is a former champion bodybuilder and gym owner named Jim Windus, gave me a Nautilus leverage grip machine more than 20 years ago. This is a device that one sits on, and squeezes adjustable freeweights on a swingarm with the forefinger, middle finger and pinky gripping one rod, while the thumb is anchored on an opposed fixed rod. I've developed great gripping strength from this device over the years. One of the techniques is to grip an attackers trachea, insinuating one's thumb and other four fingers around and behind the attacker's windpipe, as if gripping a broom handle, then ripping forward once one has a substantial handle on the attacker's trachea. Not a pretty picture, but devastating, and not expected.
Horse stance, hands chambered. Pivot feet to the left into left front stance, but looking forward. Simultaneously throw a right hook to the ribs, letting the body and hips move the punch, and swing left arm out and up until the tiger fist with palm facing up, is above the head.
Move right foot in an "L" movement (to the left foot, then forward) into a right front stance facing forward. Simultaneously, swing right arm out to a backfist to the cheekbone, and place open left hand to guard the ribs, with the hand under the triceps/biceps of the punching arm.
Draw back to cat stance. Open both hands to grabbing positions (think eagle claw), right hand goes low, left hand goes high. reach forward with eagle claw, right hand closes over genitals in vertical position, and closes (and supposedly rips), left eagle claw closes on esophagus and closes in vertical position (simulates closing around windpipe, and ripping out). Still in cat stance, throw left palm heel to chin with right hand then chamber, then throw right palm heel to chin, then step forward with right foot and plant when both feet are horse stance width, close fists, and pivot left to horse stance, chamber left hand, and deliver straight right punch forward to middle target (horizontal fist). Should end up in horse stance facing left, but looking forward, left hand chambered, right arm extended forward in punching position.
Move right foot back in an "L" move (to the left foot, and back to the original horse stance position facing forward). As this is bring done, drop right arm, continue arc of right arm up to guard over the head, palm facing up. throw left hook to ribs. Step forward into left front stance, throw left backfist to cheek, place right open hand to guard one's ribs.
Draw back to left cat stance, configure hands into eagle claws, left hand goes low, right hand goes high. Left hand grabs and rips genitals in a vertical position, and right hand grabs and rips the windpipe in a vertical position. Still cat stance, throw left palm heel to the face and chamber, then left palm heel to the face, step forward with left foot until feet ate horse stance width apart, then close fists, pivot counterclockwise into horse stance while throwing straight left punch to the middle target, chamber right hand.
(8) This horse stance basic imprints onto one's combat muscle memory, a defensive/offensive movement featuring the Jow Ga shifting step. Masters of this movement in professional boxing while at the peak of their talent, were Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Hector "Macho" Camacho. It is a simple, and extremely fast retreat and then counterattack, in which hip rotation plays a major role in maximizing the power of the reverse punch at the end. Ali, Leonard and Camacho won many fights using this technique, knocking people out with right and left crosses. The "cross" is merely different terminology for the reverse punch. The reverse punch is my favorite technique, my specialty technique if you will, that I've drilled daily for over 35 years. I think by now, that this punch has been well-absorbed into my muscle memory.
Horse stance, hands chambered. Move left foot in an "L" shape (left foot to right foot, then forward into a horse stance). On the second segment of the "L" step, execute an outside-middle target block, with a left knife hand (palm down), right hand chambered. One should end up in horse stance facing the right side, but looking forward, left knife hand extended in blocking position.
Perform a shifting step backward (both feet), and form a "hook" with knife hand by flexing wrist, and pull left hand back to chamber with this hooking knife hand in a clockwise oval arc. Do a shifting step forward (both feet), simultaneously completing the arc of the movement of the hand to the shoulder level of the opponent. On reaching the end of the arc at the opponent's shoulder, open left hand and grab. Chamber grabbing left hand, torque hips counterclockwise and execute a middle target reverse punch. The torqueing of the hips and body should be so forceful, that it forces the right back foot outward, so that the feet at a shoulder width apart for maximum leverage and power.
Now it's time for the other side. Move left foot in a "L" step (left foot back to right foot, shift left foot left (shoulder width move), plant left foot, move right foot in an "L" step (right foot to left foot, the forward into a horse stance facing the left side. On the second segment of the "L" step with the right foot, do an outside-middle target block, using a right knife hand (palm facing down). One should end up in horse stance facing the left side, but looking forward, right knife hand extended in blocking position.
Execute a shifting step backward with both feet, and form a "hook" with the right knife hand by flexing at the wrist. During the shifting step, pull right hand back to chamber in a counterclockwise oval-shaped arc, then continue and complete the counterclockwise arcing movement by moving the hand to the opponent's shoulder level. Then grab, pull back to chamber as you perform a left reverse punch, as you shift forward again with both feet. The rotation of the hips and body should be sufficiently violent, to force the left foot out, so that the stance is shouldder width for maximum leverage and power.
Besides the obvious power in the reverse punch that qualifies it as a finishing technique, the feature of this horse stance basic is the shift backward just enough to evade an offensive technique by an attacker, with an immediate full-force counterattack, unanticpated for because of the speed involved. Once a Jow Ga practitioner become adept at this technique, it can be executed as measued in the tenths of a second.