Before studying Yi Chuan I spent a fair amount of time in Aiki Jutsu. Joint locks, throws, take downs and grappling practices in Waza format or freestyle was the focus. Most of that training was self-defense oriented, meaning we would practice submission tactics but mostly as a means of learning how to defeat them. My experience is that being tangled up in a self defense situation is a bad thing, especially if you are winning because there is almost always a friend, cop, bouncer or even a girl friend ready to kick you in the side of your head.
After beginning to get results from my Yi Chuan practice I began to wonder how integrated strength could be utilized in very close quarters situations, where someone has a hold on you and is unwilling to let go. With some help from my fellow Yi Chuan students we were able to work out how to apply integrated strength to prevent and extricate oneself from things like arm bars, bear hugs and other techniques. Consider this video clip we shot several years ago:
In this friendly demonstration you can see me and then my teacher (at a much more refined level) show how integrated strength can be effective in warding off techniques intended to tie you up or immobilize you. The trick is hijack the strength of the attacker with your integrated frame and literally turn that strength against him.
The method can be applied after an aggressor has gotten a hold of you in order to break the hold and restore mobility or before the hold is applied to prevent being tied up all together. Its very interesting because the force and vector of the attacker strength gives you the route to defeat it if you know how to use the frame to ‘listen’ to the incoming strength. What seems like a huge advantage in leverage for the attacker suddenly becomes his undoing.
Now, this is really no different than applying integrated strength in push hands or other testing strength situations. But, unlike with push hands, even people who have not yet developed an integrated frame will feel the qualitative difference between using regular strength and integrated. For example, someone without an integrated frame will seldom bounce away when integrated strength is applied on them in push hands. Yet, the same person will feel a distinct difference in their advantage when attacking with a bear hug to someone applying integrated strength.
We have also found that using integrated strength gives distinct advantages while grappling, applying joint locks, applying submissions or performing throws and take downs. Its really like a universal key that helps you open any door. The challenge is letting go of old habits of using localized strength and leverage and rebuilding a functional capacity based on integrated strength. Integrated strength needs to be developed first, through rigorous solo practice. Once established, the self defense techniques must be practices with integrated strength at the core, otherwise nothing is gained. I think that is why my great grand teacher once said it is better to lose in practice then to win while applying the wrong method.
As a student with Steve in San Francisco, I can attest to one, his abilities as a student and teacher and two the effectiveness of close quarters practice. In about a 5 foot (1+ meter) square, Steve and I had a good combative practice within that square that lasted about 5 minutes which seemed much longer. No holds were bared and it was pretty intense, trying to remember practices when engaged in a ‘friendly’ combative practice was not easy as you have to think quickly. This is a great way to practice however it is not the only way nor the best way to practice Yi Chuan methods. One of the keys to this is not to get yourself into those close quarter situations in the first place, however they do happen. As a former Bartender I have been in situations where close quarter combative situations do happen, and let’s just say, I will be continuing my Yi Chuan practices whether in class or on my own for a long time.