This picture was taken a number of years ago. Its a snap shot of my Teacher sending me flying during a Yi Chuan partner practice called ‘bouncing’.
I often get reactions from people that this must be fake. I also see similar pictures and videos online that are met with very harsh criticism. I don’t really blame folks, before my experience with Master Fung and Yi Chuan I, as an experienced martial artist, would have been very skeptical too.
Now, after going through many intensive years of Yi Chuan training, I can tell you that this practice is simply misunderstood by most of its critics.
Here I will make an attempt to place some context around what you see in this picture, not to convince the hash skeptics but to inform those who are curious or interested in this type of training as to what is really going on.
What is ‘Bouncing’?
Bouncing is a subset of a much larger category of Yi Chuan practice called ‘testing strength’. The purpose of testing strength practices are to determine whether the right kind of strength is being utilized and typically involves a partner.
The Yi Chuan method is designed to help the practitioner discover, develop and learn to use integrated strength (also known as oneness strength, hunyuan strength, internal strength, etc.) for self defense, health and energy development or chi gung.
As I and my Teacher have written elsewhere, Integrated Strength is different than normal strength. Integrated strength is a latent potential in most of us, something that needs to be cultivated.
Bouncing practice is generally introduced after a practitioner has achieved integration of their frame (skeleton + connective tissue + muscles). This integrated or ‘hunyuan’ status is required to be able to express oneness or integrated strength.
Typically years of solo practice that includes standing, searching for strength, sensing strength, internal stretching and footwork are required before integration of the practitioner’s frame can be achieved. Before integration is achieved, engaging in bouncing practice is counter productive as it will only serve to reinforce the habitual use of regular strength.
When my Teacher first introduced bouncing to me I really struggled. I had not yet understood that using integrated strength is much different than using regular strength, it was so very counter intuitive. In my mind it was about sending my partner flying with a blast of energy or strength. Over and over I would slam my frame into my partner much to the chagrin of my teacher and embarrassment to myself.
The fact was that the practice was actually working for me. The repeated failure to get my partner to bounce was teaching me that I had the wrong idea of how to use integrated strength. It forced me to return the the drawing board, let go of my misconceptions and discover how it actually worked.
Is Bouncing Cooperative?
Absolutely. Bouncing is a partnered training exercise, not combat.
Just like virtually every partner practice in any form of martial art or sport it requires the practitioners to agree on a set of ground rules, it requires cooperation between attacker and defender.
The cooperation you see in the picture above, however, is not me jumping away from my Teacher as far as I can to make him look good. The cooperation I gave was to sincerely try to bounce him away with my integrated frame.
This brings up a very important point that should not be overlooked. The reason my Teacher was able to bounce me so dramatically was because I possessed integrated strength as well. My frame was tossed away as a single unit because it was a single unit.
Is Bouncing Self Defense?
No and yes. Let’s start with the ‘no’.
The primary purpose of bouncing is to test whether the practitioner can use integrated strength under a given condition. The given condition being the challenge put forth by the attacker to the defender, the attack if you will.
It starts off very simple, the attacker (cooperating training partner) engages the defender by lightly pushing on their frame and maintains that pressure while the defender attempts to bounce them away. My Teacher describes this stage of practice as the attacker feeding the defender like a mommy bird feeding its chick. That is pretty frikin cooperative.
We don’t stop there. Over time the ‘attacks’ become more forceful, more aggressive, more random, more intense and faster. The end goal is being able to spontaneously respond to an attack with integrated strength.
You may have seen all sort of demonstrations like this online. The defender bouncing people away from locks and chokes, from the knee back or stomach, multiple people in a line or surrounding them, etc. Over time the defender is learning to respond to an every increasing set of given conditions with integrated strength.
However, and this is another very important point, the goal is to bounce the attacker away, not to hurt them. In 99.5% of real self defense situations, defined as where I feel my physical well being is being seriously threatened, I would never use integrated strength to bounce someone away. That does not work because they would simply come back at you even more pissed off.
Now let’s look at ‘yes’.
Bouncing practice helps you learn to intercept the attack and defeat it before it arrives. In other words we are learning to attack the attack.
In a real self defense situation the goal of this attack of the attack in not to bounce the attacker away but to incapacitate him or her. The goal is to end the threat the attacker presents to your well being by doing enough damage that they are unable to attack again.
A strike, a throw, a break, something that takes the will of the attacker away long enough for you to remove yourself from the situation is how you apply integrated strength for self defense. You want to break, not bounce the attacker’s frame.
That being said, there are some conceivable situations where bouncing the attacker may incapacitate them. I can see where bouncing an attacker into another attacker, down the stairs, into a bus or solid object would be very effective.
There is also an often overlooked ‘yes’ to why bouncing is self defense practice and it has to do with the attacker. The defense to being attacked with integrated strength is to not get hit by it. The defense is to use your own integrated frame to neutralize the attack by allowing it to displace you, to bounce away from it.
Believe it or not, I landed on my feet with my balance intact and ready to have another go some fraction of a second after that picture was taken.
In bouncing training the defender is learning to attack the attack of the attacker and the attacker is learning to neutralize said counter attack.
So, What is Actually Going on in That Picture?
The answer is hidden in plain sight….I bounced away.
Think of what the term bounce means. It is a rebound effect, the redirection of a force from one vector to another due to the elastic quality of the object in question.
My Teacher is not blasting me away with a mighty chi ball, he is intercepting my strength, combining it with his own and sending me away. He is the tennis racket and I am the ball. Much of the force that has me flying through the air is my own.
I am really trying to get him, but you know what, he is really good. He has so internalized the skill that you can’t even see what is happening. I will tell you this, you sure can feel it!
Sifu has bounced me so many thousands of time in so many given conditions that can’t even remember them all. At the end of the day I think its a high compliment and testament to his level of skill when experienced martial artists call his demonstrations of integrated strength ‘fake’.