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Geometry of Kung Fu: The Box

Kung Fu Geometry and The Box
Kung Fu Geometry and The Box

Welcome to The Box, an anatomic principle we use in the Martial Arts. And of course, we do use it in the Northern Shaolin style of Kung Fu and our classes as well.

This concept is simple, yet as practicing martial artists, we know that the basics, the fundamentals, and the core concepts, are usually quite essential.

And that’s the case with the concept of The Box. The Box itself is necessary to understand, 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 that the neck and limbs extend from and includes the thorax and abdomen.

However, “The Box” can be easier to grasp. See our Lineage & History to boost your confidence in us.

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.

Geometry has many different concepts, looking at properties of space – distance, shape, size, and relative position of figures.

These concepts apply to many topics. With martial arts, it is much more helpful than many realize.

Anatomy, stepping patterns, lines of force, structural shapes, grappling positions, lines of balance. The lens of Geometry makes these concepts easier to grasp.

Most basic shapes, like The Box, are composed of points and lines, creating angles, arcs, interior shapes, and more.

Point to the Dot = Build the Box

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, which is an essential 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 is powerful. 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 gained, as we move up this ladder as well.

Now let’s consider these points as dots. And what do we do with dots? We connect them! 

Connect the Dots

Connecting two points creates a line. Or more accurately, a “line segment.”

In geometry, a line segment is a part of a line that is bounded by two distinct end points, and contains every point on the line between its end points, while an open line segment excludes both endpoints; a half-open line segment includes exactly one of the endpoints.

We tend to label them as lines rather than line segments. We have to use our creativity and powers of visualization to use this. The line segments have ending points, but the lines may continue infinitely into space in either direction.

Seeing this helps various aspects of Kung Fu – both in our physical structure and in combat.

For example, having an opponent in a particular type of arm lock 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 physical structure.

Connecting the two bottom points at the hips creates a line. Ensuring that this line is level helps achieve balance to a great degree 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.

Keeping this “shoulder line” level helps prevent telegraphing movements to your opponent. It also provides a general measure of relaxation or tension.

Let's Go Halfsies

As we learned earlier, a line is composed of points. And we looked at two important ones: the starting point and endpoint. Yet another point is quite weighty as well: the midpoint.

We can locate this midpoint by bisecting the line.

Bisection is the division of something into two equal or congruent parts.

Bisection gives us an easy method: take the length of the line segment and divide it by two. Luckily for us, we can 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 also be a point along another line. A vertical line running down the middle of the body is 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 or Xià Dān Tián.

Looking at this intersection within the body and then rotating this bottom line of The Box around this central point, 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 all-important vertical line: The Centerline.

Knowing our Centerline is crucial; knowing the opponent’s Centerline is powerful. Sometimes we must start from the Centerline. Other times we must arrive precisely there and perhaps cross it. And still others, we want to avoid it.

And like other lines, it is sometimes beneficial to see them extending far beyond their line segment ends.

We can see two other vertical lines on either side of The Centerline, 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 or Zhōng Dān Tián.

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.

All of this visualizing has created a four-paneled cross-section. We can now identify 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 the 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 of The Box might not be so easy for beginners to grasp and put to good use. But with some focus, one can see that using The Box shape itself is easier to see and implement.

We know we must use the waist in manipulating power, but putting it into practice may be challenging. Thinking in terms of The Box may help.

For example, when we must turn to one side or the other, we should turn The Box to one side or the other side – 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. Consider this image as a hardcover book, pages opened to the middle area.

The “Spine” of the book is like our spine or Centerline, and the book covers can be considered as 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 about the concept of angles and diagonal lines. Yes, there is even more Geometry happening. But that’s enough for now.

We don’t want to get boxed in when we’re boxing with the box Kung Fu friends!

Yes – that just happened.

It is my sincere hope that this has helped you in some small way.

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