Words are a vehicle for painting pictures of IDEAs.
This post in a similar vein to last weeks post where I mentioned how some Wing Chun explanations are at best just not what is happening. Over the years I have been accused of trying to re-invent the wheel, re-invent Wing Chun, I am not and never have been, for one thing you cannot re-invent a concept, and we are all at great pains to tell the general Martial Arts Community that Wing Chun is a concept and not a method.
I am not even trying to re-interpret Wing Chun, I am simply trying to use more accurate descriptions, to update it, we still operate to a very large extent on Chan Wah Shuns explanations as passed on to Ip Man and then whoever happens to be our lineages head.
Words are a vehicle for painting pictures of IDEAs.
Am I changing the words? … Yes.
Am I changing the IDEA? …No.
In Wing Chun practice it is quite common to hear people say “open your joints”, in fact having the ability to open the joints is held as integral to understanding Wing Chun, but how do we open our joints?
We do not, in fact we cannot, unless someone is abnormally formed or has developed something akin to Arthritis the skeleton is always exactly how it is meant to be, if you are able to deliberately change the way a joint works you would need to put it in an unnatural position, put it in an incorrect place, dis – locate it.
So why is it such a big thing, and not just in Wing Chun, yoga is full of it, pilates, most body methods talk of opening the joints.
Joints just do what they were designed to do, elbows and knees and wrists flex, shoulders and hips rotate, and they do this through a range of movements that is completely natural, forcing a joint to exceed this range of movement is a dislocation, preventing a joint of moving is a seizure, early in our training it is most often a case of us force closing the joints, or rather to put them under sufficient pressure to prevent them moving correctly and naturally.
When anyone talks of opening the joints what they should really do is ask their students to stop forcing them to seize up, or at least desist in putting them under excessive pressure.
Fang Song as a natural Chinese speaker knows it, does not translate into anything like what relax means to a natural English speaker, and it is more to do with the English usage of relax, to be more accurate and I believe more helpful we could ask them to release the tension instead of the usual mantra of relax. We all know how to release tension even if we think we do not, simply make a fist as hard as you can and then let it go, Voilà tension released.
If we think of the shoulder for instance, what is the rotator cuff and what is its purpose?
Our rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that keep the ball (head) of our upper-arm bone (humerus) in our shoulder socket. It also helps us raise and rotate our arm.
Each one of these muscles is part of the rotator cuff and plays an important role:
• Supraspinatus. This holds your humerus in place and keeps your upper arm stable. And helps lift your arm.
• Infraspinatus. This is the main muscle that lets you rotate and extend your shoulder.
• Teres Minor. This is the smallest rotator cuff muscle. Its main job is to assist with rotation of the arm away from the body.
• Subscapularis. This holds your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade and helps you rotate your arm, hold it straight out and lower it. source webmd.com.
Keeping it simple the Rotator Cuff holds our arm in place in the shoulder and allows it to raise and rotate, As an ex tennis player and ex Judoka I have had my fair share of R.C. injuries, most of them caused by enforced opening of the shoulder joint that results in a tear of even a dislocation, Preventing the opening of the shoulder joint is one of the primary functions of the R.C. The burn sometimes felt when playing Chi Sau is the R.C. complaining that we are placing it under unwanted strain.
If we think of the action of Tarn Sau from the perspective of the R.C. if we do not allow our shoulder to extend as the elbow rotates to centre we place it under strain, this is one reason the the Sun Punch as done in the first Form is not a practicable punch just an expression of the theory.
Understanding what movements work against our joints operating normally, and removing them from our practice is a much easier and far more fruitful endeavour than trying to “open the joints”, something our bodies where never intended to do. Telling people to relax is often not the correct approach, we need to tell them what to stop tensing and why.
Although the words are thought of as being synonymous, relaxing and releasing tension are not the same thing. Opening the joints, and not creating the problems that close them in the first place are not the same thing. As the next generation of Wing Chun Masters, for our students benefit, who will in time be the Masters that follow us we should try to be more correct with our language, and not a translation of something we can never know was spoken.
webmd.com. is as good a place to start understanding how the body works as any other, but always cross reference.