Wooden Dummies

Sifu Chan Yong Fa recalls learning the dummy sets from his grandfather, Master Chan Yiu Chi.

"The house where we used to live in Guangzhou was extremely restricted in space. Because my grandfather wanted to teach me and the kung fu brothers dummy techniques, he redesigned the 20 square meter living room and installed various types of dummies. He did this by removing pieces of floor tiling and dug many holes in the ground so that the dummies such as the “ching jong” (balance dummy – 稱椿), “sui sau jong” (crushing hand dummy – 碎手 椿), “do jong” (sword dummy – 刀椿), “sin jong” (fan dummy – 扇椿) and many more could be pulled out for use or neatly hid away when not in use. Whenever we finished training with these dummies we would take them apart and hide their pieces under the beds and recover the holes with tiling ending up with a normal living room again.

The physical practicum of this uniquely expansive and detailed style can be broken down into three stages of training: individual, dummy and partner-sparring. These successive stages lead the practitioner through a process of refining the technique, generating power, and honing the mental capacity to think and react in a calm, focused state.

In individual training of fist and weapon forms, the practitioner learns to attack and defend dynamically. Foundational to the entire system is the horse stance. Cultivating flexibility and strength in the horse is imperative to progressing within the style. There are 24 horses in Chan Family Choy Lee Fut. These are the six basic horses, with variations upon them in depth and lateral positioning of the hips, i.e. tol ma and tan ma (spitting and swallowing horse), transitional horses, and others like hok pei ma (crane stance).

With stability of the horse, and a regimen of bone and tissue conditioning can begin. All parts of the body become striking tool. Tops and bottoms of hands and feet, shins, forearms, elbows and knees all harden to sustain impact and deliver the power generated in the horses and marching. Unique to Choy Lee Fut, the blocks in this style are simultaneously strikes, shifting the energy of the opponent to the fighter’s  advantage and increasing the unpredictability of counter-attacks. In this stage, diligence in perfecting precise body alignment while delivering techniques is crucial. Synchronizing the power mechanism of the hip, shoulder, root, and later, waist, then, incorporating live footwork and movement in the horse stance, jiao san ma, “running the live horses,” generates the force behind strikes and the momentum to evade. Correct alignment transfers and concentrates all of that force into the opponent. Moving in a variety of speeds and from full extension in oi lem sou, external energy, to the short, coiled noi lem sou, internal energy, the adept has a ready arsenal for any situation. All of this and more must be trained over and over to reprogram the cellular memory, transforming learned techniques into instinctual movement of the body. High-level practitioners should be able to deliver 100 techniques in less than one minute with continuity, precision and power from sound horse stances. As stated by Master Chen Yon Fa:

Grandfather had explained that training in weapons and fist forms is to strengthen the ability of the individual’s hip and horse movement and mobility so that all forms of execution is faster then fast without losing the explosive/ballistic power as well as improving the individual’s physical and mental ability.

None of that is achievable without countless, dedicated hours of in the lessons of this rich art form.

With the proficiency gained in those hours, the practitioner can progress into the second stage of training—the wooden dummies. These mechanical training partners provide an important proving ground to build an awareness of proper body alignment, speed, agility, strength, and accuracy in striking the dim, target points often represented by nickel-sized dots on the striking surfaces. With spring-loaded, spinning, swinging and levered parts, the wooden men require dynamic movement in the stances. The practitioner must sink low, rise, march, “swallow” tan, and tol “spit” the horse while engaging the limbs and utilizing the body’s energy and power mechanisms at different lengths, (oi lem sou and noi lem sou)—all with exact timing. The dummies teach the practitioner to generate power in execution and retraction by “using the different combinations of hip, chest, trunk, shoulder, elbow/arm and fist as well as the knee and leg”8 in a real-time setting. Actions have reactions on these devices, some quite painful.

In addition to improving fighting skills and mental acuity, the dummies contribute to body conditioning regimes. They are made with padded, wooden, bamboo or steel appendages, and bags filled with rice, beans, sand, gravel or rocks. These interchangeable parts allow the dummies to continually challenge the bone and tissue conditioning. By increasing repetitions and intensity gradually over time, the practitioner can harden the striking areas to allow for effective execution and delivery of power through the techniques.

While they all relate to these general attributes, each dummy is designed to concentrate on some specific aspect or aspects of the practitioner’s movement in energy and technique.

Within the secondary stage of dummy-training as a whole, there are stages of advancement: primary, secondary, tertiary and post-tertiary. The primary dummies are predominantly stationary, with no, or few and simple, moving parts. They then get progressively more complex, their reactions more dynamic. They test timing and flow as well as precision of strikes and quality of the horse stance and footwork. Pain is an important part of learning, and according to the student’s needs and application of force, these dummies deliver. Their potential to injure is in direct relation to the practitioner’s ability, and thus cannot be outgrown. Infinite. Like the rest of Choy Lee Fut.

Once a form of a dummy set is mastered, the adept can then begin to learn the secondary and tertiary forms of that single dummy, renewing the cycle to encounter a new level of understanding.

The eighteen dummies are as follows, with some annotation:

Primary Level

1) Ching Jong – Balance Dummy

With strikes and blocks moving on and off of centerline position, this dummy teaches the student to attack on three different planes, from the left and right as well as high and low. It has two stationary arms, one moving arm and a head-height propeller against which the student must pit an array of strikes, striking blocks, grabbing and trapping techniques, heavily relying upon the kiu sau, bridging arm. This conditions the forearm and trains balanced movement across multiple directions exacting equal and opposite movements on both sides of the body, hence this dummy’s name.11 Master Chen Yong Fa states, “the ‘ching jong’ (balance dummy – 稱椿) is to train firmness of power and direct attacking abilities.7

2) Sa Bo Jong – Sand Bag Dummy

This is the first of the primary level moving dummies. It consists of a hanging bag traditionally made from canvas and filled with sand. Master Chen Yong Fa relates, “the ‘sar bau jong’ (sandbag dummies – 沙包椿) trains the individual’s horse mobility in combination with hand techniques such as ‘sim’ (avoid -閃) ,’bei’ (evade – 避), ‘mun jit’ (maneuverability – 敏捷), ‘gon fon’ (attacking and defending – 攻防) reaction with speed, accuracy and unwitheld internal, as well as external energy.”7 It tests the student’s speed and allows the student to focus on a continuous motion in a flow of techniques at multiple angles with proper timing. Joint alignment and strength of the horse stance, are surely tested as the bag’s swinging hulk bends awkward strikes and uproots unstable horses, sending the student sore and airborne to re-think his or her technique.

3) Sui Sau Jong – Hand-breaking Dummy

   This dummy combines the elements of the previous two with small swinging bags dangling from outstretched arms, striking points down the trunk of the dummy and a head-height propeller to keep that horse in check. The “‘sui sau jong’ (crushing hand dummy – 碎手椿) trains the hand execution to be fast and unwitheld in combination with the horse running in and out from left, right and centre” (Master Chen Yong Fa)7. The trainee must maintain mental focus on fast timing in executing the techniques.

Secondary Level

4) Chern Lung Jong – Penetrating Dragon Dummy

The emphasis of this dummy is dantien qi and stance work. A heavy bag, hanging by a system of pulleys, is attached to the student’s ankles with leather straps. Every movement must be firmly rooted, requiring the qi, bio-electric energy, to be activated and sunk through the lower dantien, the energy center below the navel. Flawed footing is succinctly up-ended. Thus, through the cultivation of intense grounding and balance, the “‘chune lung jong’ (penetrating dragon dummy – 穿龍樁) trains the individual to use the external hands and legs to defend and attack by closing in on to the target with explosive strength and power” (Master Chen Yong Fa).

5) Ma Jong – Horse Dummy

A spring-loaded battering ram, this dummy cultivates the expression of linear techniques, forward and back, on both the left- and right-hand sides. The spring allows the force applied by the student to be redirected back, equally and oppositely, for the student to evade and control.

6) Sarm Sing Jong – Three Star Dummy

 Like Sa Bo Jong, this dummy trains the student’s timing, strength, speed and alignment, but now the movements must be coordinated against multiple attackers. The two additional bags are each of different dimensions and fastened differently. This means they swing out of sync from each other. Lock into a single bag’s rhythm, and the other two will give prompt retribution. This highlights the quality of the student’s ability to combine the speed of delivery and the timing and angles of attack and defense. All while training power and stability of the horse stance in a 360 degree field of awareness.

7) Sui Bagua Jong – Small Eight Trigrams Dummy

This dummy trains specific qualities of the elbow and hand strikes.

8) Dai Bagua Jong – Large Eight Trigrams Dummy

Balancing atop the moi fa jong, a grid of poles upon which the set is enacted, this dummy draws attention to the precision of the stepping pattern, footwork and balance while exhibiting speed and power in a continuous, multidirectional  flow of techniques.

9) Toong Yan Yeuk Wai Dim Yeuk Jong – Copper Man Acupressure Dummy

The different forms of this dummy map out the acupressure points of the body to train exact accuracy in attacking the vital points in close combat. It requires differentiating and mixing the energies of oi lem sou and noi lem sou, training them separately and within one another.

10) Moi Fa Gwan Jong – Plum Blossom Pole Dummy

An apparatus of propellers and swinging plates, it trains all aspects of pole techniques, incorporating single and double-ended techniques, circular and linear strikes and blocking, as well as appropriate distancing.

Tertiary Level

11) Dai Moi Fa Jong – Large Plum Blossom Dummy

12) Siu Jook Lum Jong – Small Bamboo Forest Dummy

13) Dai Jook Lum Jong – Large Bamboo Forest Dummy

14) Moi Fa Do Jong – Plum Blossom Sabre Dummy

15) Siu Muk Yan Sen Jong – Small Wooden Man Fan Dummy

16) Dai Muk Yan Sen Jong – Large Wooden Man Fan Dummy

17) Siu Hoi Mourn Jong – Small Opening Door Dummy

Post-tertiary Level

18) Dai Hoi Mourn Jong – Large Opening Door Dummy

As the dummies intensify, with booby traps and unlocking sequences, the adept is led to adapt and maintain a sharpness of cognition. Increasing strength, agility, speed, body conditioning, and correct execution of the forms, leads to mastery of the physical technique, but it also hones the state of the mind. One must harness the intent “through the focal point of the mind”, with patience in “a calm but focused state.”8 The student must be steady. Where the action is the same as the intent, with calmness controlling the movement. Accuracy. Ruthlessness. Vigorous dummy training prepares the practitioner for multiple partnered forms and sparring “to train an individual’s ability to adapt to real fight situations.” (Master Chen Yong Fa).

The global headquarters for Chan Family Choy Lee Fut is located in Sydney, Australia, with five other affiliate schools in country. There are Chan Family associated schools throughout the world in Europe, South America, and North America.

Many thanks to Dai Si Hing Mark Whelan (Wailung) for his contribution of Master Chen Yong Fa’s translated notes.