Your Hips are your Engine but your Feet are your Wheels
Yiu ma or the Wing chun turning stance is our primary power generator when range or time does not allow for forward movement, so it pays to get it down. Yiu ma comes from the hips but it starts or ends at the feet. Huh? Think of it like this. The engine in your car generates the power. The power gets transferred through the drive train and out to the wheels. If the wheels/tires are not in good shape, movement will be compromised. Feet are your body's wheels/tires. If they are deflated or improperly loaded you are not going to "handle" well regardless of how powerful and tuned up your engine is.
As Yiu ma starts with the feet, good yiu ma requires well postured feet. Overly relaxed feet are like deflated tires. You will stick well, too well even, but you will have a sloppy, sluggish connection to the earth. If proper foot tension and pressure is not present it is very difficult to turn properly with balance and power. Additionally, if the surface you are practicing on is too grippy (or your shoes are), you will have trouble turning with your whole foot on the ground. This may cause you to try to load your foot differently to relieve the friction and will foul up everything up the structural chain. Furthermore, when your feet want to stick in place practicing Yiu ma can put unwanted torsion through the knee as well.
While moving in our turning stance the feet should remain flat but the weight should not be even across the bottom of the feet. Weight should be distributed towards the front half of the feet, lightening the pressure on the heels but not lifting them. However, the weight should not be solely (Hehe, pun intended) on the balls of the feet. Another way to explain it is to say weight should be centered over the Longquan point (also Kidney 1 point) on the bottom of the foot. In any case the pivot point during our turn should go through this point. Commonly people error towards pivoting on the heels (imitating windshield wipers) or pivoting on the balls of the feet with the heels off the ground. Stability, balance and therefore maximum power is found in between these two extremes.
Keeping your feet tight and "tenting" your arches coupled with proper weight distribution will prevent you from moving like you have flat tires. Grabbing the ground with your feet in this way will give you a solid but mobile connection to the earth. If you have issues with too flat of feet do not surrender. They do not have to stay that way! Check out this Blog post at Go Barefooting if flat feet are a concern of yours.
Yiu ma Tips for Beginners
-Initially do not worry about the shift. Keep your weight split about fifty/fifty between both feet and get the turning down. There will be use for turning and shifting off the line but trying to do both right off will just muddle things.
-Do not try to pivot your hips too far around. 90 degrees back and forth will do it.
-Maintain proper spinal alignment with the tailbone rolled under as in Sil Lim Tau. If your rear or your upper body sticks back you have moved your center of gravity closer to the edge of your base and your balance will be compromised.
-Organize your body from the ground up before your start to move in your practice. Hint: This should be happening at the beginning of Sil Lim Tau already! Foot placement, foot tension, weight distribution, soft knees, leg and hip torque, tailbone rolled under, c-spine, shoulders and elbows down, chin level, reach up with the top of the head (The Bai hui point).
- People will respond better to some neuromuscular cues than others. The end goals of efficient movement are the same but you may need different tricks of explaining the movements to yourself internally before you get it. Some people think about pulling the retreating hip back. Others focus on the knee they are transitioning to dipping in.
-Your thighs and calves should burn! If your joints hurt, something is off. It might be you or it might be the way you are moving or some of both. Consult with a professional if you are having joint issues. Don't simply ignore joint pain but do embrace the muscle burn.
-Experiment with your training surface. Shoes, flooring variations, bare-feet, sock-feet. Getting just the right friction under you will allow long pain-free practice. Getting experience on a variety of surfaces will better prepare you for the unexpected.
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Martial Arts, Phoenix, AZ