First I though about just naming this post “Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit”.
Then… I realized how high Google ranking that would get me with all you pervs out there, so I added the “The 4 Principles of Quan-fa:” -part before.
So, for all you weirdos out there, read no further. Because this post is about the four essential principles of TCMA (traditional Chinese martial arts) also known as Quan-fa, Kung Fu, Gong Fu, Chinese Boxing and a trillion other names depending on the Chinese dialect and phonetic transcription method you use.
Whatever you choose to call it though, Okinawan Karate (and Japanese Karate in extension) somehow sprung up from this tradition a very long time ago.
So, based upon this relation, of course there remains much to learn from the Chinese martial arts.
Too bad most of us look away.
(Note: I blame modern wushu)
Therefore, today I thought we could have a look at one of the most interesting – not to mention sound and pratical – concepts of TCMA. Namely, the four principles of attack and defense; known as Fou (Float), Chen (Sink), T’un (Swallow) and T’u ( Spit).
Note that these four concepts are predominant in the southern Chinese traditional martial arts (like White Crane, Mantis etc.) which means they are historically significant for us Karate dudes and dudettes.
So let’s have a quick look to see what the fuss is about, and what the correlation to Karate is:
#1. Fou (to float):
Fou, “to float”, basically means uprooting an opponent via a sudden release of force, directed upwards. Float is the expansion of energy, which is capable of “bouncing” the opponent away, and is analogous to “Ward Off” (Peng) in Tai Chi.
Float essentially refers to deflecting an opponent’s attack upwards and thereby uprooting said opponent, and skillfully applied the opponent will feel like being afloat on water (hence the term) and is easily thrown away.
Some textbook Karate kata techniques that embody Float could be the wa-uke (double rising block) in Bassai Dai/Matsumura Bassai (open hands), the jodan-uke of Gekisai Ichi/Ni, the two morote-uke of Jion, the ura-uchi of Pinan/Heian Godan (before the jump) or why not the last move of Kushanku/Kosokun/Kanku Dai (te-guruma)?
I bet you can come up with loads of better ones that apply to your specific understanding of Karate.
#2. Chen (to sink):
Chen, “to sink”, is used to control an opponent’s movement in the opposite direction of Float – dropping the aggressor down. Sink is, just like the other concepts here, difficult to truly master because it depends on your skill to feel or perceive your opponent’s exertion of force.
However, if you master this you can render your opponent immobile and put him under complete control.
Sink is analogous to “Push Down” (An) in Tai Chi, where it refers to pressing down the opponent’s “bridge” (arms, basically).
Also, you know how beginners bounce up and down when they first try to punch hard? And the sensei goes “Stop bouncing, keep your head on the same level!”. Well, that’s because Sinking and Floating is so natural to do when you want to achieve maximum power. (Speaking of power.)
Some examples of Sink from Karate kata could be the numerous dropping movements from the first half of Seipai (hiji-ate, otoshi-zuki…), the first move (tetsui uchi) of Pinan Nidan/Heian Shodan, the first gedan-uke of Fukyogata Ichi, the first move (juji-uke) of Gankaku/Chinto, the drop down in Unsu, first move of Nipaipo (picture) etc.
The examples are numerous. And it’s often a first move, for some reason.
But the principle remains.
#3. T’un (to swallow):
T’un, “to swallow”, means to absorb and deflect the incoming force or attack. Perhaps best embodied by Steven Seagal in particular and just Aikido in general (when I think about it, all of these principles constitute the core of Aikido!), Swallow refers to sucking in the opponent… before destroying him/her totally.
In Tai Chi, Swallow is analogous to “Roll Back” (Lu). Adhere to your opponent’s force, allow it to continue on its path, divert it, and direct it into a harmless circuit ending in total mayhem. You win.
In Karate kata we find these types of Swallow movements in kata like Seienchin (the one legged stance before lunging forwards into the open/closed fist strike), the numerous deflective movements of Empi/Wanshu, the mawashi shotei-uke of Anan, the hiji-gatame before the double strikes in Nipaipo and Chatan Yara Kusanku and so on.
Note that these principles often combine with each other, like Sinking/Swallowing, Spitting/Floating etc, as is very obvious in the Seienchin example (Swallow/Float), for example.
#4. T’u (to spit):
T’u, “to spit out”, is perhaps the most common – and easy to understand – of these concepts. Spitting is, just as the name suggests, releasing energy. Lashing out. The main movement in punching, striking and kicking is Spit. Also means “to eject”, but not in the VCR/VHS sense.
In Tai Chi, Spit is analogous to “Press Forward” (Ji). Most often used when you direct/reflect the “borrowed” force back to the opponent. Every Aikido throw basically ends with Spit. Applies both to joint-locks and throws as well as kicks, punches and other “ballistic” attacks.
I’m not even going to give you examples of kata where this concept is found, because every other move (in any kata) is a Spit move anyway. It’s like 90% or something, and funnily enough this percentage seems to increase the further away from the “source” you get.
Yeah. I said it.
Okay, so that was “The 4 Principles of Quan-fa: Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit”.
Interesting huh? Unless you’re a complete ignoramus, it’s pretty cool how you can actually find whole sequences of moves that embody this entire concept of Float, Sink, Swallow and Spit in certain kata.
For instance, the two 45 degree combos in Kurururururunfa, as done in this video 0:22-0:27 and then again 0:30-0-35.
In mere five seconds, you have Swallow, Float, Spit and Sink. In that exact order.
Literally a textbook example!
Other kata where similar easy-to-understand, all-encompassing sequences are found could be Bassai Dai, Seipai, Pinan/Heian Godan, Gekisai, Shisochin, Heiku and many more.
Seek and thou shalt find.
The hard part is, of course, how to effectively apply these concepts in a “balls to the walls” -bunkai/kumite scenario with a partner offering some lovely active resistance.
Let’s make that homework of the week, mmkay?