Training Progression

The I-Liq Chuan system has a carefully thought out curriculum to advance the student’s understanding and skill level. Having a systematized plan for transmitting the art is a boon for instructors and helpful for students to see a defined path for skill progression. Admittedly, I was initially a skeptic of a standardized curriculum for teaching a concept based art. But as I start teaching more students and deepening my own understanding, I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom of having a carefully laid out plan for skill advancement.

The ILC system is primarily divided into three parts: I. Philosophy, Concepts, and Principles; II. Unifying the mental and physical; and III. Unifying with an opponent. The first part is the theoretical foundations of the art. It is placed first since ILC is a concept based art (as opposed to a technique based art). To effectively teach and learn the art, one must have some understanding of the underlying principles of the art. The second and third parts desribe more the plan for training progression.

Unifying the mental and physical can also be described as unifying the self. This phase of training is largely solo and focuses on learning to unify your own body, developing body awareness and body control, and understanding the mechanisms of body movement. The thirteen points are used as a general tool for unifying the body; they provide a mental checklist for both unifying the body and focusing the mental attention on the body during the solo training. The 15 basic exercises teach mechanisms of body movement (i.e. the five qualities) and serve as simple movements to begin exploring the art’s concepts (e.g. the six physical points). The form work trains the ability to maintain unification of the body and express the mechanisms of body movement through a sequence of pre-choreographed moves.

The third part of the system is unifying with an opponent (or a partner if you’re less martially oriented). This phase of training builds upon the unification of the self. Once sufficient ability to unify one’s own body has been achieved, training to unify with a partner can begin. The unification of the self now must be refined to unification of the self to the point of contact. Your partner provides you a force on a point of contact; you sense the force on the point of contact and unify yourself to it. This starts off as simple linear pull push exercises where the force vector is straight and point of contact is stationary. The simple pull-push progresses towards the spinning hands exercises where the point of contact is ever changing. The five qualities are expressed to maintain unification and adapt to the dynamic force at the point of contact. The four qualities of contact unification (flow, fend, roll, and pivot) are explored with the changing point of contact through the dynamic interaction with your partner. Spinning hands then segues into sticky hands, where the training focuse more on not letting the point of contact change (“sticking” your partner at the point of contact) and maintaining a position of control at the point of contact.

With an understanding of how to unify to the point of contact, the partner training progresses to learning how to manifest a force into your partner at the point of contact. At the point of contact, you should ideally manifest at least two forces: one directly attacking your partner’s center of mass and one directed through the body structure to the center of mass. The direct force to the center is easy to explain and visualize. The secondary force through the structure is better understood with some more conceptual framework, namely the three engagements: 1. center to circle, 2. center to center, 3. center with cross. In rough terms, circle to center translates to the engaging force at the point of contact being directed straight into the rigid structure of the body (i.e. bone) to develop a solid force connection at the point of contact. Center to center is directing force from the coupling at the point of contact through the bones of joints of your partner’s structure. Center with the cross is aiming the force from bone to bone and joint to joint to direct the force from the point of contact into your partner’s center of mass.

There is a great deal of detail on how progressing training in ILC in just two primary training steps of unifying yourself and unifying with an opponent.  Many of the core elements of the training have been described above, but a lot have also been left out for the sake of brevity: four strategies, mindfulness training, training section and range, flowing into locks (qinna), timing and spacing, full and empty on the point of contact, etc.  Although the curriculum was not initially what attracted me to the art, I-Liq Chuan’s clearly laid out path to learning is an essential tool for me now.  I don’t have a ton of training time or even regular access to my sifu, but the systemization of the art still allows me to continue making regular improvement.  With the entire art systematized and a training progression laid out, I have a good sense of how to progress my own training and that of my students.