Choy Li Fut 蔡李佛 is a very powerful Southern martial arts system, known for its wide movements and circular strikes. However, the concept of centreline also plays a fundamental role in this system and it is necessary to understand it to be able to apply the system correctly.
The concept of centreline is related to the concept of vertical axis; to understand one it is necessary to first understand the other, so let's start with the concept of vertical axis.
The vertical axis
The vertical axis is an imaginary line that crosses the body vertically or longitudinally from the crown to the coccyx and reaching the ground and that, if we look at the person from the front, divides the body into two symmetrical halves, left and right.
In martial arts, this concept is important because it differentiates between two halves of the body, which need to be protected. That is, we not only need to protect the vertical axis or the midline of the body, but also both sides of it.
This will be relevant when positioning ourselves on guard with respect to the opponent, as well as when positioning our trunk when striking, so that we can keep one hand on each side of the axis, and never both on the same side.
Correct position of waist and shoulders in striking. Both hands are on both sides of the vertical axis.
Incorrect position in striking.
The trunk is excessively turned, and only one of the two halves of the body is protected,
so the back is easily accessible to the opponent.
In Choy Li Fut, the two halves of the body created by the vertical axis are usually divided into three parts each, upper, middle and lower, resulting in a total of six sections or "gates".
On this it would be possible to expand more in detail, but what interests us here is to understand the concept of vertical axis in order to understand the concept of centreline. So, with this idea in mind, let's define the centreline.
The cenreline in Choy Li Fut Kungfu
The centreline is that straight and imaginary line that joins the vertical axis of the practitioner with the axis of his opponent.
It is important to note that the position of this line is not absolute but relative to the position of the contenders; it is in constant motion, moving in space depending on both our movement and the movement of the opponent.
In individual practice, that is, in forms or another similar type of training, the centreline is also in motion, but in this case it depends on the relative position between our body and that of the imagined opponent.
But why is it important to understand the concept of the centreline? The centreline is especially important in order to be able to apply kungfu techniques correctly, and is an essential concept in any style of martial arts.
The key to the centreline is how we position ourselves with respect to it, and our position relative to it is very important when it comes to dominating space.
The first important point we must dwell on is the position of our feet with respect to this line. In the guard position of Choy Li Fut, the feet should be positioned on both sides of the centreline, touching it with the toe of the front foot and with the heel of the rear foot. Positioning yourself with both feet stepping on the centreline is a mistake that will make it difficult to apply the system's techniques.
Correct positioning facilitates the access of our rear hand towards the opponent, in addition to covering our back and protecting our rear.
Correct position on the centreline. The feet are located one on each side of it, contacting the toes of the front foor and the heel of the rear foot.
(This is not the only correct position on the centreline; there are other possible ones.)
A common mistake is to put both feet on the centreline. This makes it difficult to approach the rear shoulder in the execution of the techniques. For example, to block a straight punch, the blocking hand needs to cross that centreline, or else occupy it, taking the space that the opponent needs to use to reach us. If the feet are not positioned properly, we may not be able to cross that line without losing our correct structure and alignment.
Incorrect position on the centreline. The feet are stepping on the line.
As already said, it must be taken into account that the opponent, when moving, is moving or modifying the centreline. Understanding how this line is modified is key to knowing how to reposition ourselves in space and protect our body without leaving it exposed in our movements.
Devices such as the ching zong 稱樁 or wooden dummy are very important in this regard, since they teach us to position ourselves on the central line with respect to the opponent. Unfortunately, many practitioners today overlook this aspect of wooden dummy training, and limit themselves to pound it, limiting the potential of this precious device to mere body hardening.
Although Choy Li Fut is a system that uses strikes to both sides of the head, that is, on both sides of the vertical axis, when applying hand techniques the centreline must be protected without any doubt to prevent us from being hit.
In defence, the key to the centreline is not always to cross that line as to occupy it, that is, to occupy the space that the attacker needs to hit us. While we occupy that space, it is impossible for the opponent to use it to hit us.
This, of course, does not mean that the flanks should not also be protected, but the centreline is the shortest way to reach the opponent and therefore special attention should be paid to it.
However, many times we see practitioners mistakenly performing techniques such as chiun nau 穿撓, in which the practitioner should occupy the centreline to deflect the opponent's attack, but instead crosses it. In this particular case, crossing the centre line means unprotecting it and leaving the opponent an open gatee through which to sneak through.
In the Choy Li Fut system, many of the techniques are designed so that its structure covers the centreline while hitting, being able to hit and deflect the opponent's attack, simultaneously, with one hand.
In the attack, it is normal for the practitioner to use the centreline as a first approach to reach the opponent, and sow a distraction or a lure and then be able to develop more power with circular blows on the flanks. This is one of the most common strategies of Choy Li Fut, in which the lead hand opens the way using the centre line and the rear hand can sneak either through the centreline or the flanks, developing a lot of power with the rotation of the body.
In short, correctly understanding the concept of central line is key not only in the application of techniques but also in the domain of space. And adopting a dominant position in space is a determining factor in being able to defeat an opponent before even making first contact in combat.