Centerline Theory

The centerline is sacred to the Wing Chun warrior. In an assault, it becomes our sole focus of attention to both attack and defend the centerline. Everything you do in the Forms and Drills relates back to the centerline, so before you learn any Wing Chun technique it is vital that you understand Centerline Theory.

As a whole, Centerline Theory is both elegantly simple and fascinatingly complex. As a beginning student, you will learn about the most basic concepts. As you advance into the Chum Kiu form and begin to move with structure, you will learn intermediate concepts such as Facing and Cutting Angles. As you move into the Biu Jee level and beyond, the advanced concepts of Centerline Theory will come into play.

To put it simply, Centerline Theory is something you will revisit many times during your study of Wing Chun. With every new exploration, you'll find that the Theory just gets deeper and deeper.


The Three Centerlines

Basic Centerline Theory includes three different centerlines: Self Centerline, Target Centerline and Combat Centerline.

SELF CENTERLINE is the central vertical axis that runs through the center of a standing human being. If you extend the Self Centerline all the way into the ground, it would mark their central point of balance. If a person were to rotate in place, the Self Centerline would mark their central axis of rotation.

Imagine a human being split into four equal vertical quarters. Splitting a person right down the middle into two symmetrical left and right halves is the sagittal plane. Similarly, you can bisect a human being into front (ventral) and rear (dorsal) halves with the coronal plane. The extended line that forms where the sagittal and coronal planes intersect is the Self Centerline.

You will be referencing the Self Centerline as you begin the study of the Siu Nim Tao form, creating a solid, balanced and rooted structure in the body.

TARGET CENTERLINE is exactly the same as the Self Centerline, only it is located inside your attacker. It represents the bad guy's center of gravity, his axis of rotation, and his chain of vulnerable anatomical targets.

The Target Centerline is your primary objective when trying to eliminate the bad guy's ability to continue the attack. You may connect with arms and legs, may even break the joints in these limbs, but that is secondary. Your ultimate goal is to carve your way past his arms and legs and get ahold of the Target Centerline.

If you can move the attacker's center of gravity beyond his Target Centerline center of balance, the universal force of gravity kicks in and he falls down. You may have heard an interesting fact about gravity before: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. If you are attacked by a bigger person, you can change the dynamics quickly by simply turning his vertical orientation into a horizontal orientation. For most people, it is a lot harder for them to hit you when they're on the ground.

Here is another universal truth that you will likely hear repeated throughout this course: If you must defend yourself, hit your attacker with the biggest thing you have at hand. Usually, this will be the Earth.

Driving your counter-attack into the Target Centerline also means that your force is targeting the bad guy's axis of rotation. This is important for maximizing the effect of your strike. If you strike to the outside of his axis of rotation – say, a shove to his shoulder or a kick to the hip bone – he can disperse the kinetic energy of your strike by rotating his body. If you strike directly into his centerline – directly into his axis of rotation – he cannot rotate and therefore cannot bleed off any of the incoming kinetic energy; it blasts into him at full force. All of that kinetic energy will then either be absorbed by the body in the form of potential damage, or the force will move his body in the direction that force was applied.

In the section on Close Range Combat we briefly discussed the value of having a single, well-defined target. In an assault situation where your body and brain have been flooded with adrenaline and a cocktail of other hormones, you may not be thinking at a hundred percent. But even in a diminished state, your Wing Chun training allows you to zero in on your objective: the centerline.

Tell a teenage boy that he can have the keys to a muscle car for the night. The keys are hanging on a peg on the other side of the garage. That peg is on a post that may be randomly moving up or down. Filling the garage are all kinds of obstacles: chairs, bicycles, boxes, etc. Think he will have any problems at all cutting through this obstacle course and hitting his target just right? When you have a laser focus on a single objective, everything else is just angles of entry and vectors of attack.

All of those angles and vectors simply provide a variety of anatomical structures that lie along the target of the centerline. Have an opening up high? There are the eyes, nose, ears and throat. Opening is low? Groin. Something opens up in the middle? You have the solar plexus and that nice collection of compressible internal organs behind it.

Here is a final tidbit about the Target Centerline: it is inside the bad guy's body. When most people think about striking an anatomical target – the nose for instance – they are automatically setting their striking range to hit what they see. Therefore, you aim at the nose and you hit the nose. A Wing Chun warrior is aiming at the centerline, which in this case is about three inches behind the nose. To hit that centerline, you have to penetrate through the nose (or any other piece of anatomy).

You may think that the difference is subtle, but the measurable amount of kinetic force being delivered between a surface strike and a penetrating strike is the difference between causing a bruise and causing an injury. We'll talk more about penetration, along with rotation and force when we get to the section on the Wing Chun Punch.

COMBAT CENTERLINE is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of a line, it is actually a plane that connects your Self Centerline to your attacker's Target Centerline. Wherever you move during the chaos of a fight, that Combat Centerline moves with you, constantly connecting your centerline to the bad guy's. It is your "field of battle" in Wing Chun.

In all the Reflex Drills and Tactical Drills, the Combat Centerline is foremost in your mind. You are constantly defending that centerline, moving it to where it is hard for the bad guy to defend, and then attacking along that path. The Combat Centerline is sacred; you never give it up. You want it like a two year old wants a shiny toy. No one else is ever allowed to have it.

"THE" CENTERLINE, then, is defined by the context. I personally think the old Chinese masters decided to use this one English word three different ways just to confuse us, but it's too late to change it now. When we talk about "the" centerline, you have to infere from the context if it is the Self Centerline, Target Centerline or Combat Centerline.

As I said in the beginning, we'll be discussing the centerline many times throughout the course. As a matter of face, you'll see it again extensively in the first form, Siu Nim Tao.


Enough theory; let's get started doing some Wing Chun. We will begin with the first Structural Development Form, Siu Nim Tao.