One of the first things beginners in Tongbei Pigua will question is why do we practice hitting ourselves? Your first thought might be conditioning, but there’s actually so much more to this traditional practice
#SifuAnswers: Although there are very specific conditioning practices in Traditional Kung Fu like the Iron Palm training, Qi Gong routines etc. The practice of hitting one’s body for conditioning is not unique to Kung Fu. At a surface level, any serious fighter needs to have a strong body and mind to stay focussed whilst withstanding pain and impact. But I don’t think this answer would come as a surprise to anyone. So let me elaborate on a couple other benefits this practice brings to a Tongbei Pigua Quan practitioner.
SELF CONTROL: LEARN WHAT HURTS
Firstly, by learning to hit oneself we can discover how impact feels like. This then lets us play with power and experiment with the variables that contribute to a powerful attack. For example, we can learn how a loose shoulder with a strong fist may feel like, or how using more or less torque in the hips and waist can create power. When your body is the target you’ll quickly learn how much power is enough to hurt, smart or harm. This is valuable to know when you consider how much partner drills and sparring we do in TBPQ.
STABILITY WHEN YOU’RE ON THE GO
Another common mechanical concept is that the larger the range of motion in your upper body, the stronger and more rooted your lower body stance must be to stay stable. However, one of the core TBPG concepts is to use 大劈大掛 – large chops and large hang whilst moving. So, in order to do this you must fully extend your arms, back and shoulder to its extremity and turn your hips and waist with maximum torque. Moreover, to use this range of motion on the fly, you will not have the opportunity to root. So to offset the toppling momentum that is generated we must strike a target, and if there’s no person or object to hit – as in when we train on our own – then we hit our own body to absorb the excess energy to stay stable. . Think of the body as a brake or shock absorber.
TARGET TRAINING & CRITICAL STRIKES
A third important concept in Tongbei Pigua Quan which is tied to the concept of being on the move is to always be evasive and look for openings to land critical strikes. Since we don’t want to be rooted, we don’t want to block attacks – we don’t even want to be hit. So we use light strikes at a maximum distance to simultaneously build and keep up the momentum, disturb the opponent and seek or create an opening to land an avalanche of heavy critical blows. In order to strike with maximum extension and force, we have to be accurate and familiar with where we are aiming, and how to strike through a target. In solo training, our arms, legs and body simulate the general area we are targeting. When we strike ourselves we can tell how good and crisp the hit is from the sound and volume of the hit. A good strike will sound like a thunderous clap, as opposed to a dull thump.