Kung Fu Training: Sum Chien – The Heart of Shaolin, Part 4: Body Mechanics

January 4, 2018 Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat

Twisting the elbows in while performing ‘holding the tree branches’: one of the key techniques in Sum Chien training.


Relaxing and sinking into a stance keeps all of the joints intact.  This is essential for the efficient transmission of strength.

The stance is relatively short, with the front foot only one foot’s length further forwards than the back.  It is narrow enough that the shoulders would just fit in the space between the feet.  Sixty percent of the weight is on the back foot.  The two feet are parallel and angled at about 30 degrees to front – this is the positioning that gives maximum stability.

The positioning of the arms is particularly important in securing mechanical advantage.  Once the shoulders are sunk down, the elbows are twisted in as far as possible, and the wrists out as far as possible.  In this position the arm is so firm that it is almost impossible to move, and it is in an ideal position to deflect attacks past the body.  Holding the arm in this position is highly characteristic of most versions of the Sum Chien routine and a famous tactic in Chinese kung fu.

In fact, the shoulders can be held in the middle position, swallowed into the back or let slip forwards.  In our Sum Chien practice we avoid the forward position because it is too weak but use the middle position when throwing strength out, and the back when drawing it in.

With a strong stance and back, adopting strong positioning for the arms completes the chain of strength, eliminating any weakness.  With these body mechanics we can overcome opponents who are much bigger and stronger than ourselves.

As I mention this, my mind is drawn to another of those principles which our kung fu teacher Master Tan likes to quote so much (there are a lot of them):

‘Train for maximum strength but use the minimum.’

It pretty much speaks for itself.  There will always be someone out there who is bigger and stronger than you – so rely on technique rather than strength if you are going to stand a chance.  Having said that, a little bit of strength never hurts and physical training should never be ignored.