Three Powers

Something that all martial arts share is the three powers.  The powers are:

  1. Front and Back

  2. Left and Right

  3. Up and Down

An individual fighter or a martial arts system can be assessed based on how effectively the three powers are used.

Front and back power is the most common and the least powerful of the three, but without it you will always be too close or too far away.  It is the kind of power used in a 'steppin'a'jab, steppin'a'jab' type technique.  It usually involves a shift of weight.  It can be accompanied by a snap or a push or a twist or any old force multiplier.  The main issue in training front back power is getting the student to not lean.  With leaning the power becomes 'front only' power and while most of us would prefer not to get hit by a football linebacker, such power is vulnerable to attacks from other angles and is easily diminished by getting out of its direct path.

Left and right power is characteristic of anyone with fighting training.  The key for a beginner is turning at the kua, the hip socket.  If you turn from the spine or from somewhere on the leg, right and left power will become 'right only' power.  I can't really think of a kungfu technique which will function against a resisting opponent without left and right power.  If you are going to use more than one hook punch, you must have this kind of power.  If you are going to execute a throw without following your opponent to the ground, you must have this power.  Left and right power is the most strategic of the three powers.  It opens up possibilities.

Up and down power is by far the most powerful of the three.  Effective use of up and down power will increase your power by about 8 times.  Can you stop an upright man from rising by pressing down on his shoulders or on his hips?  No, even without any training, if you ask a  man to bend his knees but keep his back straight, you can not hold him down by pushing on his shoulders.  It would take 8 men pushing down to stop him from coming up.   But up and down power is difficult to use.  The exceptions to this are stomping on someone when they are down, and downward elbow strikes, both are very powerful techniques and take little training.  But when using downward power like a chop or a hammer punch, most people become stiff and carry their own body weight rather than putting their weight on their opponent.  Alternately people are too loose and risk tearing their own shoulder joint.  When trying to use force upwards, most people float and become too top heavy, making them easy to unbalance or topple.  An effective upper-cut, as a lower level technique, relies heavily on accurate targeting.  At the higher levels of skill an uppercut is simply unstoppable, regardless of where it hits you.

The three powers are also sometimes called the six dimensions of power, or six harmonies.  To use each of these powers effectively the two aspects of each power must be inside of each other.   A movement forward must have backwards movement already active inside of it.  A leftward movement must already be moving right.  And so on.  This is written in the Taijiquan classics and many other sources.

These three powers are actually a state of mind.  Together they are a posture which leaves no opening for an attack.  Through the use of these powers the body disappears and we begin to fight using the limitlessness of space.  Baguazhang mud walking without these three powers becomes hard parched earth.  The taijiquan form without these three powers is frail and trivial.

But fighting skills aside, these three powers are luminosity (ming).  This is what brings tea ceremony to life.  This is the archetique's eye.  By this, we are humbled before great art.