Stepping and Footwork
Northern Shaolin #2 Leading Steps emphasizes the use of stepping and footwork. Of course Leading Steps, like any Northern Shaolin Form, has high kicks, flying kicks, leaps and sweeps. What it shows more than any other form is the stance mobility of Northern Shaolin. Often when people think of Northern Shaolin they think Northern legs equals kicks. This is definitely true.
However, the Northern legs also includes deep stances and quick steps. The key here is not only to get into a deep stance but also to be able to get into it with balance, stability and the ability to exit it quickly. When exiting a deep horse, bow, or low stance, there are the obvious methods of pulling back to a cat or empty stance with only the toe touching or the crane stance with the standing leg straight and lifted leg held high touching the knee. In addition, a properly trained Northern Shaolin practitioner will also be able to easily step in any direction into another equally deep horse, bow or low stance without raising up while in the transition between the two stances. Or, they should be able to leap in almost any direction and land in any other stance. This gives the Northern Shaolin practitioner the ability to control the distance between the opponent and strike at an advantageous angle.
Advantages of Deep Stances
Deep Stances have several advantages. First, if they are well formed, they are very stable. Throwing a person who has well formed deep stances confounds even expert wrestlers. Well formed here means not only low but well structured. A person can bend their legs a lot and still be wobbly because their feet are not firmly set on the ground. If the foot is rolling off to one side or the other and is not flat, it will not provide a stable foundation for the legs and body. If the feet are firm, the position of the ankles, shins, knees, thighs and hips must also be integrated and correct. In general, Leading Steps continues the development of the stances that began with Springy Legs and Continuous Steps and was advanced with Penetrating Heart.
Really Fun Sequences of Leading Steps
Leading Steps has long sequences of deep Horse and Bow stances. These include both advancing and retreating steps, steps changing sides in place and steps that flank the opponent. These sequences show both how to attack with the stances and how to defend with them. If your stepping shows skill, it will be hard for the opponent to find you and difficult for them to escape.
When you practice the stepping skills in this form enough, your ability to lead the opponent will be greatly enhanced. Leading the opponent requires you to stay close enough that they still think they are going to get you. But, you remain mobile enough that you can escape at the last moment after your opponent has fully committed to their attack. When the opponent has fully committed to the attack, they are very vulnerable to your counter attack.
There are several sections of this form that are personal favorites of mine. Near the end, there are four ground level broom sweeps in a row. It starts with a 180 sweep, then a 360 sweep, then a180 sweep, then a 360 sweep, you finish in a low stance, and then run forward and throw a flying double toe kick! Pretty fun! That is if you can perform a full 360 sweep. if you can’t, well, its not so fun.
Awesome Hand Techniques
At the beginning of the form is a sequence of two chopping palms, two back hand palms (very similar to the classic Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form Ward Off), a thrusting palm or spear hand and double stretching palms. All of those are really solid techniques that flow in a great combination. Wow, this form has great hand techniques that combine slippery evasive stepping with arrow like counter attacks. So cool!
A Major Workout with Balanced Choreography Pattern
The end of the form is also very exciting and includes a triple kick followed by a double ear strike and then a very fast retreating sequence with rolling upward hooking hands that suck the opponent into a series of upper cuts.
This form is very long and while you are not constantly jumping leaping kicking and rolling on the ground, like #1 Enter The Gate, it is still a major endurance challenge. Because there are so many low stances, it is also a major leg work out and is very good for opening the hip joints.
The overall pattern of the choreography is very balanced and symmetrical. At first it is very hard to understand this pattern because the form is so long but later it becomes easier to see and grasp.