Welcome to The Box.
This is a very simple concept, yet as practicing martial artists, we know that the basics, the fundamentals, the core concepts – are usually quite important.
And that’s the case with The Box; The Box itself is important, as well as its components.
Many would undermine its importance and merely refer to the area as the torso.
Wikipedia says the torso, also called the “trunk”, is the central part from which extend the neck and limbs, and includes the thorax and abdomen.
However, thinking in terms of “The Box” can be a bit more useful.
The Box as Geometry in Kung Fu
The Box is not a square, but more of a rectangle. And a rectangle is a shape of Geometry.
Geometric principles and shapes may be layered upon many different areas of study to aid in its understanding and learning. With martial studies, this is a very strong point.
Anatomy, stepping patterns, lines of force, structural shapes, grappling positions, lines of balance… These and many other areas of concern to a Kung Fu practitioner can be more easily understood with a layering of Geometry.
Most basic shapes, like The Box, are composed of points and lines, creating angles, shapes, etc.
Point to the Dot
The Box is a rectangle shape, formed by the two points of the two shoulders and the two points of the hips.
From each of these points extends a limb. And this simple fact is an important one to consider.
These two points (on either side) are two of the “Seven Stars”, a system of points at joints – an important focus in Kung Fu. The Seven Stars comprise striking surfaces, targets, areas of body manipulation, construction of External “Harmonies”, and still others.
They form the “roots” of the limbs and this concept can be quite useful. Consider the arm for example. The wrist joint provides a small amount of movement, the elbow a medium amount and the shoulder large. Using this example, we may consider other aspects: moving up a ladder to our opponent, for one, and when manipulating the opponent’s joint, more control of the body is had as we move up this ladder as well.
Working up in this geometric revelation, these points can be seen as dots. And what do we do with dots? We connect them!
Connect the Dots
We tend to simply call them lines rather than line segments. This helps to keep in mind that although there are ending points, seeing that the lines may continue infinitely into space in either direction, helps when it comes to using these geometric principles in various aspects of Kung Fu – both in our structure and in combat.
For example, having an opponent in the type of arm lock that creates a line segment; visualizing this as a line extending in either direction infinitely, we may press their shoulder along this same line – and this line may be in many different directions, including straight down.
Understanding this as a general combative principle, let’s now look at our own structure.
Connecting the two bottom points at the hips creates a line. Ensuring that this line is level helps achieve balance, especially when one foot is raised or off the ground.
This line is also the “fold” when bending over or forward at the waist.
Above and parallel to this is the line “segment” created by the shoulders. Ensuring this line is level can help in the prevention of telegraphing movements or intention to your opponent and provides a general measure of relaxation or tension.
Let's Go Halfsies
As we learned earlier, a line is made up of points. And we looked at two important ones: the starting point and endpoint. Yet another point is quite important as well: the midpoint.
We can locate this midpoint by bisecting the line.
This gives us an easy method: simply take the length of the line segment and divide by two. Luckily for us, we can simply eyeball it in most cases.
Considering the bottom line on The Box, go ahead and bisect it. This midpoint on the front surface of the body, will be a point along another line – and a quite important one at that: a vertical line running down the center of body, known as “The Centerline”.
This particular intersection will also be about halfway between your navel and an area called the Lower Dan Tian (下 丹 田).
Looking at this intersection deeper inside the body and then rotating this bottom line of The Box around it, we now have an idea of proper waist turning.
Finding the midpoint of the top line of The Box is also simple – it’s right between the collarbones, the depression above the breastbone.
Connecting this midpoint with the midpoint of the lower horizontal line gives us a big part of that important vertical line: The Centerline.
Knowing our Centerline is crucial; knowing the opponents’ is also quite helpful. Sometimes we must start from the Centerline. Other times we must arrive precisely there and perhaps cross it. Still others we want to avoid it.
And like other lines, it is sometimes beneficial to see the Centerline extending far beyond its usually-viewed endpoints.
So the midpoints of the horizontal lines have become endpoints (or start/end-points, depending on your point of origin) of The Centerline.
We can see that there are two other vertical lines on either side of The Centerline as well, having the same endpoints as the horizontal lines.
Find the midpoints of these two lines and you’ve found some pretty decent striking targets.
Now, let’s bisect The Centerline.
Voila! This midpoint is in the Solar Plexus and also what’s called the Middle Dan Tian (中 丹 田).
Visualize a horizontal line through this midpoint, with the endpoints being the midpoints of the vertical lines on either side. Most points along this line are great striking targets.
Now we have a nice four-paneled cross-section, helping us to see upper & lower as well as right & left. Seeing this in your minds’ eye may make remembering movements and postures easier. Not to mention other benefits that you may have guessed by now.
For example “Buddha’s Palm” is centered in the cross-section, chambered fists are at the bottom corners (or middle horizontal line, or ½-way between bottom & horizontal lines), centered vertical punches come straight out from the cross-section, Tan Tui guard hand is at the upper corner, Eagle Claws for body-locks will end up at a horizontal line endpoint, and so on.
Putting it all Together
The component pieces oThe Box may be difficult for beginners to grasp and especially to put to good use. However, using The Box shape itself is not only easier to see and implement, it is no less powerful a concept.
We know we must use the waist in manipulating power, but actually doing this can be a big leap for some. Thinking in terms of The Box may help.
For example, when we must turn to one side or the other, it is best that we turn The Box to one side or the other – not merely our head or waist. Not counting timing, coiling or any other advanced concepts, using The Box method will help improve your body intelligence; just by learning to move the entire flat plane, rather than an incorrect isolated piece.
Another way that The Box may help is with the concepts of Opening and Closing.
Let’s picture The Box with The Centerline running down the middle. For a moment think of this image as a hardcover book, opened to the middle. The “Spine” of the book is like our spine or Centerline and the book covers are like our right and left sides. Now imagine the book opening and closing. This motion is much like how we should operate when advised to “Open” and “Close” in Kung Fu – from The Centerline.
Does it now make sense why I prefer “The Box” rather than “trunk” or “torso”? It should. Not only do we have The Box as a whole and its conceptual benefits, but we have its components as well – each providing some additional benefit in their understanding and usage.
As a Kung Fu practitioner, The Box has come in quite handy. As a Kung Fu teacher, The Box has become an essential tool.
Using geometric principles with Kung Fu may at first seem odd, but hopefully you’re beginning to see how it can help. Even with The Box, geometry has shown us much.
Think for a moment on the concept of angles and diagonal lines. Yes, there is more that geometry can shed light on. But that’s enough for now.
We don’t want to get boxed in when we’re boxing with the box my Kung Fu friends!
Yes – that just happened.
It is my sincere hope that this has helped you in some small way.