Introduction to Soft Style
The strength of soft style resides in its softness nurtured by ki flow, in its internal power rather than muscular power. Fluidity, mobility, and non-resistance of soft style techniques overcome hard, straight line force. The push/pull principle of action/reaction is utilized to take advantage of the attacker’s own strength. The attack is avoided, channeled, and redirected rather than resisted.
A principle concept of soft style is to save energy. Three main components are to yield, absorb and control. If the attacker responds aggressively, they become off balance mentally and physically. You can control the attacker by taking advantage of their being off balance. If you are calm and relaxed you can yield and absorb their energy, subduing them with your composure and attitude, thereby neutralizing the attack. Your strategy is to confuse your attacker by being mentally centered. Having perceptual awareness of your environment and your attacker will enable you to save energy and control the situation.
Characteristics of Soft Style For Kata and Application
Soft style technique is usually practiced differently than hard style techniques because the student must concentrate on internal and external components of each technique simultaneously. Mastery of soft style technique typically takes a longer time than externally comparable hard style technique. Soft style practice is usually characterized externally by:
• Slow motions. Slowness allows for greater analysis of body position, self-awareness, and for greater internal ki flow. Slow motion allows more time for you to feel what is going on internally and develop mind-body synchronization. However, remember that the slowness is a practice method only. In application, the motions become extremely fast.
• Continuous motions. Each move has no beginning and no end, though the rate of motion may vary throughout a given technique. Ki is like water, and you must keep the current flowing to become energy efficient.
• Smooth, fluid motions. Avoid jerky movements. You must always be in motion for efficient ki flow. Every stop you make reduces your momentum and lessens your ki flow.
• Circular or spiral foot and hand motions. Even your foot work should be circular. The “Open Door Principle” dictates that your body and stance must pivot to allow you to blend with your opponent’s attack.
• Quiet and tranquil motion. Move without sound or friction. Each motion becomes a moving meditation. Be both mentally and physically quiet and tranquil.
• Relaxed musculature. Achieving a high degree of relaxation allows you to recharge your energy and rid yourself of non-essential tension.
• Balanced stance. Do not lean over. Keep your back as straight as possible and lower your center of gravity.
• Coordinated action. Your whole body (arms, legs and torso) should move in harmony and unison.
Internally, soft style practice is characterized by:
• Effortlessness. Move with a feeling of internal lightness, not muscular (or external) effort. This self-awareness leads to proper body positioning, allowing each technique to be executed with “effortless effort.”
• Peaceful and graceful expression. Find the beauty in each movement of arms, hands and fingers.
• Floating hands and sinking feet. Imagine that your fingers are balloons and you are inflating them with your ki flow. Maintain a gentle flow forward through your hands, as if your hands and arms are “floating” in the air. Maintain a simultaneous ki flow downward by centering and rooting the feet to the floor, letting your stance “sink.”
• Calm mind. When your mind is calm and free of aggression it can become a mirror which reflects the opponent’s intent. Clarity of thought allows you to anticipate an attacker’s intent.
• Centered attitude. Being centered gives you a base from which to have control over others. Achieve a natural focus of mental and physical abilities. If you are centered you will have self-control and composure.
• Save your energy. Your opponent will not be threatened when you are soft. Restore a comfortable feeling of cooperation. Be attentive, alert and have a soft spirit.
• Deep breathing. Each breath should be slow, smooth, quiet, even and deep. Breathing is the pump that drives the ki flow.
• Deep concentration. Your mind must be alert and sharp. It directs the ki flow, and it must do so continuously to all parts of the body.
In Cuong Nhu, the soft style techniques have their origins in several Chinese and Japanese martial arts. At any given time Cuong Nhu soft style can resemble aikido, judo or tai chi. These differences will depend largely on the situation. The practitioner of Cuong Nhu soft style is not bound, however, to stay within the confines of only one style at a time. The practitioner may choose to flow from techniques using the principles of wrap, trap and throw from Wing Chun, to ones taking the opponent’s center or body molding from judo, to the flowing/escaping hands of tai chi, to the kokyu technique of aikido. To use the appropriate technique(s) for the situation the practitioner must learn to go from being rooted one moment to being like water the next, flowing around the opponent yet maximizing contact for control. This can take years of study and require a large amount of patience on the part of the practitioner.
Unbendable Arm Exercise For Developing Inner Strength
Central to all soft styles is the ability to utilize ki, or inner strength. Everyone has ki, and though it is difficult to define, it is a real power, not a mystical force. It is part physiological and part mental in origin and is driven by the coordination of the mind and body. However, what matters to the martial artist is not the definition, but that ki is a force that with training can be summoned and channeled at will.
One elementary exercise to demonstrate ki is the “unbendable arm”. To start this exercise, extend one arm in front of you, placing the back of the hand, palm open on your partner’s shoulder. Maintain a natural stance, breathe and relax until you have very little muscular tension in your body. Concentrate your ki from your “hara” or “dan dien,” located approximately one-and-a-half inches below your navel. The hara is the source of your ki energy and your main balance point or “center.” Achieve a deep, relaxed but projected concentration to make your ki flow. Concentrate on projecting your mind beyond your extended fingers. When you have achieved this mental state, have your partner clasp hands on your arm (at the elbow) and gently apply weight. Your elbow may flex at first, but with practice it will become virtually unbendable.
Repeat the exercise with the extended hand clinched into a fist and use active muscular resistance to your partner’s pressure. Both of you should be able to feel the difference between this external method and the previous internal method.
The following drills are to be learned from an instructor. These notes should only be
used as a reference.