According to the legend, Chang Chuan (Long Fist) was developed by the founding father of Sung dynasty, Chao Kwang-Ying, over a thousand years ago. It was used to train his soldiers who helped him to usurp the throne from his predecessor. This style of kung- fu is characterized by fast kicks and long punches. It utilizes circular motions to deflect opponent's power without taking the blow head-on so that a smaller person can beat or at least resist a person bigger than he or she is. It is flexible, rhythmic and simple. Since the emperor used it to train his army, theoretically it should be appropriate for the beginners to learn, if even the not-so-well-educated farmers can master the art. At least, it should be very effective in combat. It helped Chao Kwang-Ying gain his throne, didn't it? But the evidence does not seem to verify the hypothesis. Some people get so distraught that they even claim one year of practice in chang chuan or kung fu for that matter is not as rewarding as one year of practice in other styles of martial arts like karate or Tae kwon do. Is that true? I really do not think so.

Some people have trained in kung fu for many years but with limited results. But this does not mean kung fu is intrinsically ineffective, only good to look at. I would argue that it is because the field of kung fu is so deep and wide that the student is lost. Just like a kid in a candy store, he likes everything he sees. And he tries to learn as many forms and fancy moves as possible, believing his power will be increased automatically if he learns one more new move, neglecting the fundamental principles that he should have picked up from learning the moves or forms. If he tried to seek help from written works, most likely he would find more new forms and how to perform these new forms without a discussion on the stripped-down bare-bone underlying principles. The purpose of this article thus is to explain and demonstrate through the basic moves that most people have learned the underlying principles in learning chang chuan that beginning students should have grasped. The intermediate students can also use them as guidelines in examining their moves and forms.

The first principle to grasp is to locate the center of gravity of the body, that is dan-tien. It is located about 3 inches below the navel, where sacrum is. When we hit a base ball, tennis ball, or golf ball, we have to hit it on its center of gravity to drive it far and away. In the same vein, when we strike an opponent, it has to be on his center of gravity to give him a hard blow. But normally that part of the body is well-guarded and inaccessible. However, we can extend the feeling of the hand or fist toward the opponent's dan-tien, the same effect can be achieved. I know it sounds like fairytale and the beginners most likely can not do it. But through conscientious practice, it can be done after a while.

But this only concerns the opponent's dan-tien. What has it got to do with your own dan-tien? Due to reaction force, the force we exert on the opponent is equal to the force exerted on ourselves from the opponent's body. Thus if we want to have a powerful blow to our opponent, it has to be exerted from the straight line connecting our fist or kick to our dan-tien. That is why when beginners throw a punch with a raised elbow, he would feel the impact of reaction force on his elbow or shoulder. If it is done right, he would feel relatively little impact.

After understanding the importance of dan-tien, we should learn how to train the feeling of dan-tien. The first and foremost is of course ma bu (horse step). A lot of people believe that the purpose of ma bu is to strengthen muscles of the legs, and with strong legs stability is achieved, and with stability the maximum power of punches or kicks is achieved. There is no argument that maximum power is achieved with stability. But strong legs do not necessarily mean stability. We have seen muscular men start to sweat and tremble the minute they squat down in ma bu, as if different sources of power are in conflict inside their bodies. Therefore stability is controlled by the mind, not muscles. When one is in ma bu stance, in addition to following the usual instructions, the most important is to focus on your dan-tien. Relax the muscles of your upper body, then you would start to feel your weight dropping down along with your chi, and your center of gravity would be lower, and you feel like a Humpty Dumpty, top light and bottom heavy. 

Also you can use the five basic moves, hoa bi (flex arms), shuai yao (swing the hips), huo yao (enliven your waist), chie jang (cutting palm), tuo tien hua di (brace the sky and paint the floor), to train the feeling of letting dan-tien lead the movement of the limbs. If hoa bi is not done right and let dan-tien lead the movement of both arms, they may not be coordinated. They may move in the same direction, or they may not move at all. What you should do is let the movement of both arms follow the swing of dan-tien. The minute you rotate the dan-tien around the y-axis, one arm will be raised in front of your body and one arm behind, then to the head together, and then down to one arm in front and one arm behind again, and then down to the sides again. If it is still difficult for you to imagine the lead of dan-tien, then change it to the swing of your hips. But in this case, the radius is larger, and it is not as efficient. As to the other basic moves, the guidelines are the same: maintain the stability of your dan-tien, and the arms or legs follow the swing of your dan-tien. The more synchronized your move is, the more power you get.

After the importance of center of gravity is understood and position located, we need to know how to use this knowledge to improve the performance of our skills. First of all, we can use dan-tien to increase the power of our punch. Normally when a person uninitiated to martial arts throws a punch, his elbow is always raised. When resistance is encountered, he will try to push with his shoulder, and as a result his body tilts to the side. We don't think this is the most efficient way to do it. To correct this problem and understand better, we need to use three-dimension coordinate to describe human body. First we can draw a straight line from the center our head to the ground and call it y-axis (we call it the middle line in Chinese.) And this line will pass through dan-tien. We will draw another line parallel to the ground from left hip to right hip and let it pass through dan-tien and call it x-axis. We will still draw another line from the back of the body to the front of the body and let it pass through dan-tien again and call it z-axis. Now we can start to analyze punching. Usually we divide punching into two moves. First you put your fist a few inches in front of solar plexus depending on the length of your forearm, while keeping your elbow close to the side of your body. Then you start to swing your hips around the y-axis, while keeping the y-axis, i.e. your body, upright. When you swing your hips, your arm moves in tandem as if pushed by the power generated from the swing of the hips. The path of your arm's movement should be parallel to the z-axis, meaning you should not raise your elbow. Since your body rotates around the y-axis, your arm should also rotate around the line that is parallel to the z-axis. This way you will be punching with the full body weight behind it, not just one arm or one side of your body. Follow the instructions down to the smallest detail and practice. You will find your power increasing significantly.

Secondly, we can use our knowledge of center of gravity to improve stability. Many beginners encounter difficulty, when they get to the changing of stances from ma bu to gong bu (bow stance.) One of the usual reasons is that they pivot on the balls of their feet instead of heels. The other more important reason is that their center of gravity does not move along with the turning of their feet. If the momentum generated from the turn of the feet is not in sync with that of the turn of dan-tien, instability is created, because the two powers are not in harmony.

In any case, to train at this stage students should focus on letting dan-tien lead the movement of your limbs. Understand the relationship between the three-dimension coordinate we just discussed. And manifest everything we have discussed in the moves or forms that you have learned. You will find that stability is improved, power is increased, also a smoothing of transition of moves. Take yi bu san chuan (one step three punches) for example. The first move is a ma bu and a forward punch to the side. Some people throw a punch with a raised elbow, and therefore the path is like an arc, while your body moves forward in a straight line. Subsequently you can't add up the two forces. But if you keep your elbow close to the side of body, and let your fist rotate forward following the swing of your hips, these two forces can be added up with resultant increase of power. In the second move, you change the stance to gong bu and a punch to your opponent's nose. In executing this move, many people lift their bodies up a little. When taken out of its context, this is a harmless move. But next move is ma bu again, and a lot of people move their center of gravity back. This way the opponent is out of your reach, and since you are punching while you move back , the two forces are in conflict, and power is lost in the process. The right way to do it is to keep your center of gravity at the same height, let your dan-tien rotate clockwise around the y-axis, at the same time let the movement of the dan-tien lead the punching. This way the two forces are in unison. In the third move, keep the dan-tien at the same height and you can rush forward a little to create momentum while you punch. At the same time move your back leg forward a little, and let the right fist follow the lead of dan-tien and rotate forward in a straight line parallel to the x-axis.

Your skills at chang chuan will be lifted to a new height now that you understand the importance of dan-tien, body coordinates and how to use them. But you have only discovered part of chang chuan's potential so far. To fully develop the potential, you need to be able to utilize the reaction force from the ground. As a matter of fact, every move we discussed can be greatly increased in power, if you know how to use the reaction force from the ground. The reason why we didn't talk about it in the beginning is not to confuse the beginners. If the beginners pay too much attention to the ground reaction force, it will only make their stances unstable. You have to wait until you know how to use dan-tien to increase power and improve stability, then you can start to think about using the reaction force from the ground.

For every force exerted, there is a reaction force with equal magnitude. If we stamp on the ground, we feel our body is lifted upward. If we can harness this force, we can use it to increase power in punching and improve performance in other moves. Let us illustrate this point with the example, block and punch and change the stance from ma bu to gong bu. After we finish blocking, we stamp on the ground, and use the reaction force to turn the knees. The turning of the knees will push the hips and hence dan-tien to rotate, and that pushes shoulder, elbow, wrist and fist to rotate forward. The whole body is like a series of transmission shafts pushing fist forward. If it is executed smoothly, these forces can be added and increased in magnitude. Therefore even if you know it, you still need to practice. There is always room for improvement.

You have made another giant step in the pursuit of chang chuan education, now that you understand the importance of dan-tien, how to use it to increase power and improve stability, and how to use reaction force from the ground to increase power. But as Confucius once said, if you want to walk one hundred miles, the halfway point is ninety miles, meaning ninety miles is as good as ten miles, if you can't reach the destination. Therefore, you have now only learned half about chang chuan, if you don't know how to use chi to increase power. As to the training of chi, the subject is too complicated to be treated in an article like this. What I do want to say about chi here is that it is the only tool to examine if a stance, move, or a posture is correct. If you can't breathe normally,, or let the chi go to the tip of you limbs, then you are definitely doing something wrong.

If air, sunshine and water are the three elements of life, then we can say dan-tien, reaction force from the ground and chi are the three elements of chang chuan, or kung fu for that matter. If you have a good grasp of these elements, manifest them through constant practice of moves and forms, your gong li (level, power) will be greatly improved.

Joseph Chiang