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        Footwork and Stances

Stance Training and its accompanying footwork is critical to a strong foundation, and is so necessary for the basic, as well and advanced techniques of Kung-Fu San Soo.  For technique, without disciplined, controlled stance work is rarely rapid, powerful or exacting. Balance and its maintenance is the result of stance integrity and proper integration of upper and lower body movement.  With lots of practice, utilizing proper stepping and shifting, the student develops a reliable, fluid and varied technique. So the San Soo fighter is literally assembled from the ground, up. Quality control is realized by a carefully crafted and evolving curriculum, expert guidance and hard work.   

The San Soo practitioner is the product of a disciplined and focused process consisting of lessons, examples, explanations and precision workouts. These requisite procedures quite literally mold and shape the disciple.  All this, of course, is strictly, necessary for the development of a strong, but flexible foundational underpinning, which is, by continuing this same analogy, built brick by brick and piece by piece. Failing this, we build a house of cards which is destined to lean, sway and ultimately topple.


Excerpts from "The Mastering of a Combat Art" by Master Paul H. Borisoff...
Chapters dealing with the proper use of windmills...


20.     San Soo:  Old vs. New

The question pertains to the longer and wider technique utilized by early San Soo practitioners, contrasted with the more compact fighting style of late. Additionally, Jimmy H. Woo moved from the more powerful long movement which has historically typified Kung-Fu San Soo, to more compact medium range movements.  The inclusion of strikes to the quarter and half sectors allowed for the closer distance which is the requirement of the closer leverage technique (known by some as Tsoi-Li-Hoi).  From the mid 70's on, Jimmy concentrated more on the closer, more circular technique.

Jimmy H. Woo distributed five teaching manuals to his advanced students.  These books are the accumulated notes of several of his students.  They are illustrated and contain forms and lessons.  The volumes span a critical five year period with respect to this stylistic change.  Of note is the change from the longer and wider old-style to the shorter, more compact new-style.

Books 1, 2 & 3 show forms with abundant left to right horse shifting and featuring strikes that diametrically oppose each other. Kicks and punches occur in opposite directions at the end of each shift.  For example, the practitioner based in a left half horse executes a right reverse punch to the southern direction.  This is then followed by a full shift to a right-half-horse and left reverse punch to the northern direction.  The punches in this preceding example are in 180 degree opposition to each other. 

Books 4 and 5 demonstrate forms depicting a shorter, closer technique.  In this example, a right punch is delivered, followed by a mirrored left punch.  However, unlike the earlier forms, the practitioner does not shift, but remains in the same stance throughout the execution of the two strikes.

The latter movements are more indicative of the movement-type and style change seen in the school workout during the mid 70's. The closer, more compact movement made use of kick stances, short bicycle-like shifts, so necessary in the closer leverage techniques being shown at that time.  Since close-quarter fighting requirements are different, other changes were instituted. The longer windmills were shortened or dropped altogether.  The earlier forms of books 1 - 3 utilized large overhead windmills and shield guards.  The later forms demonstrated shortened, more efficient windmill movement.

As a matter of evolution, it was only a matter of time before the more basic long powerful movements, typified by large windmills, were replaced by close-quarter, mid- and short-range technique. The compact technique is all at once faster and the exponents target moves faster and more fully out of the way.  In close-quarter fighting the faster movement plays havoc with the opponent's reaction time, making many of the cover windmills unnecessary.

I asked Jimmy H. Woo about the changes in the form and the Grand Master answered, that the shorter form movements were "just different combinations of the same movements".

The more modern fighting approach demands more balance and timing, is more centered and circular, and to its deficit, is shorter reaching.  The older long windmills and long arm strikes were more powerful but could only be administered one arm at a time.

Here, perhaps, is a good example:

Imagine that you are seated at a square table... 

You are seated squarely, facing it.  In this position, you can use both arms to handle lots of things in front of you. However, if you have to reach far, say, for a salt shaker, then you have to turn dead sideways to increase your reach. Having done this, you can no longer use the other arm as easily; it is behind you.  

Now if you were to choose sit at the corner of the table, chest facing the table's center, you would find that you have the best of both worlds.  In this position, a compromise, you have the use of both arms, with added reach and facility across the table surface!

So, what appears to be differing styles during Jimmy’s many years of teaching is in reality the natural development, growth and outgrowth of Kung-Fu San Soo. The large powerful technique became more compact, skillful, and demanding. Unfortunately solid basics were discarded by some instructors for the faster, more efficient, more gratifying technique.

It is my opinion that The Grand Master Jimmy H. Woo changed little during his last 30 years and demonstrated a more lengthy, make-and-break style typified by the "old school".  I cannot say that I have witnessed the Grand Master utilizing direct straight centerline movement or short quick kick stance shifting which is commonplace in the "new school".  More important than Old vs. New is Correct vs. Incorrect.

It is important that the San Soo fighter learn to fight in all directions, executing lessons from a wide variety of positions.


27.     "Look up in the sky"… "It's a punch"… "It's a block"

... It's a cover, it's a parry and it's a counter balance.  It can be all of the above.  Every arm movement is a potential punch, block, protective shield guard, or parry.  An arm striking above the opponent's elbow is typically called a "punch", whereas a strike below the elbow is called a block.  Because the path of a punch or windmill is circular, the point at which the strike's arc interacts with the opponent gives the weapon, be it punch or block, direction and purpose.  By varying body positioning and/or the length of the arm, the practitioner can cause the arm to intersect the opponent's body at different points on its arc of travel.  This varies the angle and trajectory of the attack and allows the artist to take control of the opponent.  For example a punch that makes contact early in its circular path appears straight.  Allowing it to round the bend, before making contact, creates a round house.  Catching the opponent on the far side of the arc gives it a hooking quality.  So, in this example, the fighter changes his position so his arm will intersect its target at these different points on the circumference of the circle path.

There are two basic ways that we use windmills.  The first is when a windmill is used against an adversary's chosen weapon, i.e. your left against his left punch.  You see it and strike it.  The second is when your windmill moves across an area to protect a region which you are traveling through.  These two strategies may be likened to defensive styles in basketball.  The first example can be said to be similar to a "man-on-man" defense and the second example bears similarity to a "zone defense."

Strikes or blocks may be used to place the opponent, setting him up for the next action.  In combative fighting there are no rules, and as such, any target on the opponent's body is available. As an arm passes it may strike or not as needed or desired.

In many ways the arm can be thought of as a multiple-barreled shot gun.  The practitioner can choose to use it or not.  The ability to choose enhances the element of surprise.  An opponent cannot know for certain whether the weapon will be used or if it is a distraction, a ruse, or is just traveling on by.  Its appearance can break a rhythm or set a rhythm to be later broken.

In the discussion above we are speaking of the use of the arms but the same can be said for the use of the legs and all body appendages.  During the application of a technique, arms and legs serve as counter balances and whips to maintain and change the balance of the body as it carries out its duties.

An ice skater uses the arms to control body spin.  Gymnasts use their appendages in varying ways to facilitate movement.


A San Soo practitioner deficient in the use of windmills cannot progress into the more intricate levels of circular movement.  Instead of a graceful circular manner he will develop linear mannerisms, throwing himself here and there.

Remember that windmills, punches and kicks have follow-thru and continue on their journey even when impact occurs.  Fixation on the point of impact, treating it as the end of the movement, rather than visualizing “follow-thru” will result in incomplete shifting.  This will certainly destroy the continuity direction and purpose of the technique.  The base half horse can not fully form if the practitioner stops at the moment of contact and does not allow his horse to fully solidify.  This very problem is of serious concern as a large number of San Soo practitioner’s are focused on the target acquisition point and do not follow-thru into a finalized, proper horse.  Instead, they find themselves constantly in a less desirable transitional position and must “throw” their upper body mass to continue.  The result is poor flow and the introduction of linear momentum which distracts from the otherwise circular route.

28.     Circular Movement

The geometry of Kung-Fu San Soo is predominantly circular.  Stepping, blocking and punching technique necessarily follow circular paths.

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but circular paths must be utilized to clear punches, navigate a variety of target obstructions, and open gates to access targets in a more surreptitious or blind-side manner.

When using rounded, rolling body motion, the resulting circular blocks and punches cover more distance, accelerate faster, as their supportive musculature’s performance is bettered.

Square, linear Karate-style movement is not designed for close quarter fighting, but rather to cover longer distances and for setting up the opponent when working "the outside”.   Circular movement is an important part of proper and correct San Soo technique.  It gives the San Soo practitioner a decisive, deceptive edge, enhancing timing, coordination, speed, agility and balance, as well as maximizing striking power and leverage.  In addition, linear movement disrupts the natural circularity of body and punching movements.

29.     Complete Movement vs. Shortcut Movement

Good balance is at the root of a strong fighter.  That is not to say that one remains in perfect balance at all times.  In fact, the ability to put oneself in and out of balance is key to an agile and powerful technique.  The rule in Kung-Fu is that the more weight is distributed to one leg, the more maneuverable one is; the more evenly distributed, the more rooted.  It is fair to say that the more developed fighter is “lighter on his feet”.  However, this goes to the fact that the more experienced practitioner can more fully control and manipulate his body balance to obtain a desired effect.  One becomes skillful at moving into and out of differing and chosen states of balance.  

The basic stances of Kung-Fu San Soo provide a much needed solid base.  Without proper form and footwork, irregularities in the ground one stands on, and sudden, unexpected conditions, can play havoc with the fighter’s balance and subsequent control. 

For much of our beginning training, proper horse stances and complete movement are stressed.  In higher levels of training one learns to take shortcuts, to use various contractions and expansions in stances and movements to complete a transaction more quickly.  This is not without risk.  Complete movements provide great security for body targets and preserve body balance whereas shortened movement increases the element of surprise and allows compound movement.  

The former, the element of surprise is at the core of San Soo technique, and the latter, compounding of movement is fully utilized by the San Soo Practitioner in the more advanced levels.

It cannot be stressed enough that a student should not be encouraged to compound movement and shortcut his technique until such a time as his base art is second nature.  Improper and early compounding of movement and the usage of short cut movement lead to sloppy, incorrect and inconsistent application.  Furthermore, proper technique is not the natural outcome of a self-guided, improvisational study.

The development and maintenance of a good core technique is critical.  The compounding of its movement is a study requiring a disciplined and methodical training process.

A good foundation and ability to use ourselves in a manner that offers true flexibility is at the expense of many hours of strict and focused fundamental training.


32.     Using Pre-Arranged, Patterned, Blocking and Punching Sets

Some arts use blocking and punching sets (pre-arranged patterned movement).  In sport fighting or where the opponent's attacks are often stylized or where there are set rules, one can often predict what's next and how to respond.  “Hands up fighting”, using the arms, for example, to protect the front of the upper body is particularly effective when there are rules which exclude strikes to the backside or below the opponent’s waist.

In actual street combat, where anything goes, just when you think he will counter with this punch or that, he will probably step on your foot or kick you to the knee. In combative fighting where a multitude of targets are available at any given time placing your hands in a generalized manner is not productive and puts those potential weapons in plain site.

Trying to predict which appendage will block which arm or leg movement is next to impossible, particularly when you are close to your opponent.  So "man-on-man" defense, like in basketball, is difficult to pull off. It is also hard to execute an attack when you are preoccupied with defensive concerns.

Rather, like a zone defense in basketball, our windmill movements and manner of stepping afford a basic level of "regional" protection. We practice this coordinated effort in form and lesson, where the arms act as shield guards, precede and pass between the artist and the opponent, and impede the attacker's avenues of attack. Windmills, well used, and body positional changes automatically protect major body targets and can distract and hide the San Soo fighter's real intent. 

Many complain that the San Soo fighter should fight with his "hands up".
 I would argue that we find ourselves in similar hands up postures when we step and use our windmills properly. 

Boxer-like hand positions appear and disappear as we progress through our movements.  Also, remember that there are no rules in street fighting. Other targets are exposed when one raises the hands.  An opponent has no reservations about hitting those other emerging areas.  Anything goes in a street fight.

It should be noted that pre-arranged movements can be a double edged sword. They may well offer protection, however they may also be more recognizable.  This may well send a signal of a pending attack thus triggering an effective counter response.

Movement of the body and its targets is a key strategy in this art.  Keeping oneself on the move and out of range is preferred to the use of patterned offensive or defensive hand patterns made necessary when one is "pressed" or "jammed".  

Mental energies must also be reserved for use in attacks on the opponent.  It is better to attack and let him deal with the assault, than to be busied with a response to the opponent's varying attempts.  So rather than having to deal with an opponent's kick attack, kick him!  Keep your opponent on the defensive.

Where to start…

Form provided a good place to start.  It is particularly important, in general, that windmills are executed and directed at the opponent before shifting and stepping commences.  In this way they will act to clear a path and if necessary to strike instantly in a surprise attack.  These days students can be seen needlessly spinning their windmills in their rear quarter and then turning there whole body into the coming attack. 

Jimmy H. Woo… “If you don’t want to be hit… Don’t be there!”

     … And I'll add that it is important how you get…there too!


The Basic 8 Exercise


Click here to watch Jimmy H. Woo demonstrate "The Basic 8 Stances"

Note:  All rotating is done on the balls of the feet. Feet do not move at the same time.  When one foot moves, the other is at rest.  During the exercise, the hip remains level and does not bob up and down.

The exercise begins from set position, hands on hips.  The heels of the feet are touching and the feet form a "V". 

1.     Su Ping Ma  (Full or Center Horse Stance)

From set position, pick up the right foot and move it in a clockwise arc, putting it down, to your right, at a point, just past your right shoulder.  Next, move the left foot in a counter clockwise arc, placing it at a point just past your left shoulder.  The toes of the feet remain pointed at a 30 degree angle to each side.  Proper horse distance is 28 - 30 inches.

2.     Ando Ma  (Half Horse Stance)

Turn the hips and right foot counter clockwise, to your left, until the right foot points about 35 degrees right of the line of your heels.  During the execution of this movement, the left foot for the most part, remains stationary but is allowed to adjust slightly in a counter -clockwise direction.  The left foot’s final position is also about 35 degrees with respect to the line of the heels, or parallel to the right foot.

3.     El Ma  (Kick Stance)

Move the hips, back, over the right foot, allowing the right leg to bend at the knee. Draw your left foot back, putting the left toes down very slightly ahead of the right toes. All weight is on the rear leg.

4.     Deem Ma  (Slide Stance)

From the kick stance, move the left foot to a point about a horse and one-half ahead of the right foot. The left foot travels in a slight clockwise arc, and the left toes will be pointing about 35 degrees to the right. Now, pull the back leg up till the legs are, again, one horse distance apart. Be sure that the right foot points about 20 degrees right of the line of your heels.

5.     New Do Ma  (Cross Stance)

Swing the right foot in a counter clockwise arc placing the right foot, on line, ahead of the left foot. The right toes point about 60 degree to the right. As the right foot makes contact, the left knee bends, moves forward and comes to rest, touching the top of the right calf. The left big toe points slightly right of the right big toe.

6.     Jona Ma  (Turning Horse)

Rotate the upper body 90 degrees, counter clockwise, and allow the left foot to rotate on its ball, at the same time. The hips and foot turn until the left foot is nearly parallel to the right foot. Like the plie (plee-ay) position in ballet. As you are doing this, do not allow the right foot to move. As you set the weight on the left foot, now, begin to rotate the right foot, counter clockwise on the ball, about 105 degrees, until a Su Ping Ma is formed.  Note the point that your bent knee is now hovering over.

7.     Bing Guy Ma   (Kneeling Stance)

Continue twisting counter clockwise turning the right knee down down. The left foot does not move!  The right foot rotates until the right foot points about 20 degrees right of the line of your heels. At the same time bend and drop the knee half way down toward a point between the legs.

8.     Shum Gak Ma  (Triangle Stance)

Draw the right foot towards your left foot and circle it clockwise, stepping 45 degrees out to a location directly above the previously noted point.



How I Teach Shifting - The Axial Shift
(From "The Mastering of a Combat Art by Master Paul H. Borisoff)

The axial shift is the most often used shifting pattern in Kung-Fu San Soo.  It is executed in a fluid manner. 

So we start with a right half horse.  For a student of average height, the horse's gait should not exceed 28 inches.  Please note that deep, long horses are a tactical liability and make the following procedure difficult to execute.  In a proper right half horse, the right foot is pointing about 35 degrees to the left and the left foot parallels the front foot.  The left leg should be straight and locked.  What is important, here, is that the rear knee is pointing downward, and not to the left, and that the rear leg is straight.

To begin shifting, we pull our left heel inward, counter-clockwise to the right, pivoting on the ball of that foot.  One's hips move left and center between the two legs.  At this point, we are in a full horse with the weight of our body evenly placed between our feet.   We then rock our weight onto our left foot and roll our entire hip, right leg, and right foot, as one unit, to the left, until the right big toe is pointing slightly to the right of our left big toe.  The right leg is then straightened, as the heel is placed on the floor.  The leg locks at the knee; the knee is pointing downward.  Note that during these movements, the left knee will flex to a point above the left toes.  It is critical that the forward swing of the lower leg be on the same line as its foot; the ankle then works in a natural fashion.  One must not place a bias against the joint.  During the execution of a straight punch, the two legs rotate in close synchronization, appearing to move almost simultaneously.  A roundhouse punch, however produces a greater lag time between the two foot movements, making them appear as two separate movements.

During the execution of the Axial Shift, it is important to insure that one foot maintains contact with the ground at all times, albeit momentary.  When both feet twist simultaneously contact with the ground is at a minimum.  In general our feet appear parallel to each other throughout the shift.  Good footing and good balance go hand-in-hand.



The Axial Shift



right half horse


full horse



left half horse




right half horse



full horse



left half horse



The shifting method used by the San Soo practitioner is in many ways similar to the one used by a batter, in baseball. And, to be sure, the mustering of a sword and a bat share many common attributes. However, unlike this batting procedure, the rear foot must remain on the ground, straight and locked at the knee.  When we hit a baseball, which is relatively small and light, the contact usually does not have a harmful effect on our balance. However, when we contact our opponent, his mass is far larger and so his inertial forces are of a far more serious nature and affect us all the more.  Support from the rear leg "strut" is essential.

It is important to note that, as we shift, the use of the arms and their windmills is fundamentally important to the initiation of the shift and the stability of the entire movement.  In general, the arms are used in tandem with their respective hip and leg.  The Form is an excellent activity for the practice of the arm movements (windmills) and leg movements so necessary in the development of proper shifting. It is vitally important that a practitioner learn to shift properly and completely.  Incomplete shifting destroys the natural flow of Kung-Fu.  Good shifting is a prerequisite for the mastering of advanced technique and movement in the art of San Soo.

Controlling the Shift

The smooth shift, shown above, requires the forward leg to bear about 60 percent of the body weight.  This allows for proper heel to toe transfer of the weight on the forward leg.

This depiction allows the fighter to keep his foundation steady and under control throughout the movement.

Now, if one intentionally moves his weight fully onto the forward leg, this motion can be spun into a progressive pivot.  This movement has been likened to “tornado motion”.  It is really very spectacular.

Finally, one can shift keeping his weight over the rear foot for a more prolonged period. This creates a back stance where the head and upper body actually move away from the opponent. This type of shift is very helpful in sword work.

Where to Step

By definition, a line is created when two points are connected.  When the practitioner is standing in a horse stance, he occupies two points - each foot residing on a point of its own.  The connection of these points creates what is called the BASELINE.   Picking up a foot and stepping to a third point creates a TRIANGLE, which can be visualized by connecting the two original points of occupation and the newly created point to which the stepping foot was moved.

When approaching an opponent, placing one’s feet in a precise manner is crucial to the effectiveness of the upcoming technique.  Clearly, a powerful technique requires the stability and leverage produced by the proper positioning of the body.  Footwork is of the highest importance. As forces are applied, poor placement will ultimately lead to a loss of balance.  Lacking balance, the fighter’s technique will surely be compromised.



 The line of the opponent’s heels is called the BASELINE. 
The Fighting Diamond is defined with respect to this line.


When the fighter occupies two adjacent points on the diamond, it can be said that he has “SETUP” the opponent.  When the punch is landed, its contact point and the two points occupied by his feet share a triangle relationship which effectively supports the blow.

In moving from point to point, if the fighter’s limb should pass through the opponent’s body or leg, all the better.  The leg passing through the opponent’s body, on its way to another point, is called a KICK.  Similarly, the leg moving through the opponent’s leg is a SWEEP.

As shown above, the fighting diamond is visualized with respect to the opponent’s BASELINE.  As an opponent is struck, and forced to move, the baseline swings with him, and so too, the fighting diamond.  As a result, the fighter will lose his placement.  The exponent will now be required to take another step or steps to regain his position on the diamond and in so doing, maintain the SETUP.

                   You may wish to purchase, The Mastering of a Combat Art, a trusted source of information.

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