Centerline Theory in Wing Chun is perhaps the most talk about theory in Wing Chun, but it’s also the most misunderstood. Much of what we do in Wing Chun, we do because we’re trying to protect the centerline, control the centerline, stay on the centerline, attack from the centerline, attack our opponent’s centerline, rotate on the centerline, and generate power from the centerline. What does all this mean and are our theories about the centerline correct? Most are not and here’s why.
When we first learn Wing Chun, we are taught from Yi Jee Kim Yeung Ma that the centerline is an imaginary line running down the front of your body from your head to the groin. Along this line are many vital organs such as the center of the eyes, nose, throat, and groin. We are taught to always keep our hands in front of use along the centerline. The theory is that if you are hit along your centerline, then you’ll absorb 100% of the blow as oppose to absorbing a blow on your side where some of the impact dissipates outward. That’s the same reason you target the centerline of your opponent. However, is the centerline just in front of you? Can’t a good boxer strike your centerline with a mean hook to the side of the head?
The centerline is just that, the centerline. It’s not the center frontline. If you absorb a blow to the side of your body or back, it could just as easily impair you as taking a blow to the front. Three dimensionally, it may be more helpful to call the centerline the central axis instead. The front centerline theory is the reason many Wing Chun practitioners keep their hands in the classic Wing Chun fighting stance when they fight with their arms extended away from their body along their centerline. In reality, Wing Chun has no fighting stance and one must adapt one’s stance to the situation.
When you stand in the classic Wing Chun stance with one leg forward and both arms extend from the body, this sends a message to your opponent. One, it tells your opponent that you want to fight at long range because your weapons (arms) are extended out to prevent him from running straight forward into you. If he does he’ll run into your hands and risk a finger in the eye. Two, it tells your opponent that you can’t generate any power at close range because your arms are fairly extended, especially your lead arm. I know Wing Chun uses short range power, but even short range power must start from a bent elbow unless you plan to only use 1 inch punches. Three, since your lead arm is extend far from your body, it tell the opponent, you’ll likely punch with your rear hand because you have no power in the front hand unless you can step forward into the punch and allow the elbow to bend more. Four, it tells the opponent your lead hand can’t resist a grab or pull because the muscles in the arm can’t fully engage when stretched out. Lastly, it tells the opponent if he rushes in with hooks, you’ll likely tag him with one punch, but you’ll eat a much stronger hook punch because you’re open there. So, this stance doesn’t really protect the centerline 3 dimensionally.
Have a strategy when you fight. Some fighters prefer for their opponents to target their centerline. Think about it, if you guard the sides of your body, then you know your opponent can only attack you from one direction, the straight line. If you are in a classic Wing Chun stance with both hands guarding the front centerline, then you’re open on both the left and right sides of your body and head. Sometimes, it’s better to limit the angles from which your opponent can attack you. Force him to attack where you want him to attack. Protecting the sides of your body and leaving the front centerline slightly open is one way to do this. In theory, Wing Chun practitioners kept their hands in the front center because they want their opponents to attack on the side with a curve attack, then they would counter with a straight punch because a straight line is faster than a curve line. However, no competent fighter will attack you at long range with a curve punch without also checking your lead hand. At close range, they may because again, a straight punch has little power at close range. Always train as if you will fight a competent fighter and not a random guy in a bar. In summary, if you want to protect your central axis, you don’t need to keep your hands extended in the middle of your body, just become a smarter fighter.
The next thing we try to do in Wing Chun is to control our opponent’s centerline by moving him, attacking, and controlling the pace of the fight. In grappling arts, to control the centerline means to control the head, the hips, or both. If you can control those, then you can move the rest of your opponent’s body. Wing Chun is similar. You can control your opponent’s centerline by hitting him flush along the central axis (3 dimensional centerline) or by controlling his stance, footwork, and structure through pushing, trapping, and pulling. So, if you want to control your opponent’s central axis, you must become a smarter fighter.
The idea of the central axis is we attack from it and defend it. The traditional Wing Chun sun punch is a central axis punch as it travels along a straight line and aligns in the center of your body. A traditional karate punch thrown from a horse stance is not a central axis punch as the punch remains in line with the shoulder and not the center body mass. It becomes just an arm punch and not with the body behind it. Granted, many Karate practitioners punch with great power and these types of punches from the horse stance are used to train the same punches from a fighting stance.
Alignment to or rotation of the central axis is used to generate power in Wing Chun. The Wing Chun straight punch, hook punch, and uppercut, all utilize this type of power generation. The key in this generation of power is staying on the central axis, maintaining balance, and not leaning too far forward or backward. Alignment with the central axis ultimately means alignment to the ground through the heels. The sun punch is aligned on the central axis between the two shoulders. This line then splits down the legs into the knees and heels. Hence, while a strike to the knee is not considered a blow to the front center line, it is a blow to the central axis and will result in a broken leg and the end of the fight. Rotation means turning the horse, hips, and shoulders along this line to generate power in both attack and defense maneuvers.
Becoming a smarter fighter means to think about theories like the centerline to make sense of them. If it doesn’t make sense to you, then why use it in a fight? The central axis is a vital concept to understand and grasp. When you think about the centerline from a 3 dimensional perspective notice how your fighting style changes. Now, you start to see angles of attack that didn’t exist before. Your movement is now 3 dimensional instead of just on a straight line. You see targets of opportunity. Whether or not you agree with everything written here is not important. What's important is that you make sense of Wing Chun theory for yourself before trying to use it in combat. Thank you for reading.
Wishing you happiness and peace of mind.
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