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Chinese Kung Fu 中国功夫 - The Mechanics of Wing Chun Weapons Forms

Profile:Chinese Kung Fu,中国功夫

Weapons Forms (Bingqi Taolu [兵器套路]) are only introduced once the aspiring WCKF fighter is proficient in the other forms, for the obvious reasons. The aspirant is expected to be able to use a weapon as if it were a natural extension of the hand. That is, at all times, the aspiring WCKF fighter must know where the contours of the knife are situated, down to the millimeter, in much the same way that a first-class driver of an automobile knows, down to at least the centimeter, the countours of his automobile (many Europeans make poor drivers in this regard because they first learn to drive as an adult and thus never learn to "feel" the automobile as an extension of the body, whereas American drivers begin at the tender age of 16... the same concept applies to learning almost any sport, from skating to skiing to learning how to ride a bicycle or a motorcycle, and where the "instrument" in question becomes an extension of the body, for good or for worse – for good if one learns at an early age; for worse if one learns it later in life).

There is an added benefit to training with weapons, namely, that they strengthen the arms, the forearms and wrists in particular. There are two types of weapons that one trains with in Wing Chun: knives (swords) and poles (staffs).


Wing Chun Butterfly Knives – or Ba Zhan Dao ("Eight Cut Knives" [八斬刀], aka "Butterfly Swords" due to the wideness of the knife's blade), this Weapons form is also known as Yee Jee Yum Yeung Dit Ming Do ("Parallel Yin & Yang Life-Taking Knives"), which, though it may sound a bit Vietnamese like to Anglo-Saxon ears, is actually Cantonese Chinese (as are all Wing Chun terms) – not surprising, in fact, since Wing Chun stems from ancient "Canton", the Portuguese transliteration of "Guangdong"... whose language today, were it not for the Portuguese, we would be calling Guangdongese, so Hip, hip, hurrah! to the Portuguese!!!).

The knives in question are more machete-like in size and shape (see the images below, and note that despite the fancy decorations on the blades of some of these knives, the more aesthetically pleasing among them, to my taste, are the ones where the blade is broader toward the "business end", i.e., slightly scimitar-like, and, as it turns out, these are the better-shaped (more front-weighted) knives, from the point of view of releasing chi... indeed, thanks to their shape/ weight distribution, when they vibrate with chi, the sound they produce can be heard, yet another absolutely, blood-curdlingly spooky psychological element!). The Ba Zhan Dao, or Butterfly Swords (aka Butterfly Knives) are, in size, somewhere in between a large knife and a short, stocky sword, or a dao [刀].


 Deadly Butterfly Swords

Fig 15: Depiction of a deadly outcome with the Butterfly Sword

Wing Chun Long Pole – Luk Dim Boon Gwun ("Six and A Half Point Pole", aka "Dragon Pole" (Long Gun [龍棍]) is a slightly tapered wooden pole ranging in length from 8 feet to 13 feet (note that the practitioner typically holds the narrower end). There are 7 principles associated with the use of the Dragon Pole, the first 6 of which yield a point each while the last yields only a half-point: 1) tai ("uprooting"), 2) lan ("to expand"), 3) dim ("to shock"), 4) kit ("to deflect"), 5) got ("to cut down"), 6) wan ("to circle"), 7) lau ("flowing"). In some Wing Chun lineages, these 7 principles apply to all forms, not just to the Dragon Pole Weapons form.

Note that with the use of the Dragon Pole, the WCKF fighter can sometimes be required to adopt a 'feet firmly planted' stance, even if only fleetingly, for the obvious reason: when used as a fulcrum, the Dragon Pole demands that the practitioner be absolutely firmly anchored to the surface, else one flips oneself instead of, for example, flipping the Dragon Pole out of the hands of one's opponent! However, the Dragon Pole is not always or even most of the time used as a fulcrum, therefore the experienced WCKF fighter maintains, where appropriate, the typically elastic, 'ready for all contingencies' stance that is characteristic of Wing Chun (there is perhaps a tendency among younger neophytes to always adopt a ''feet firmly planted, legs spread wide' stance with the use of the Dragon Pole whether appropriate or not... it has a terrifically macho appeal!).

As can be appreciated, even simple, non chi-amplified Dragon Pole exercises can provide great training for both forearms and wrists. Below are several images that capture the various stances used in conjunction with the Weapons form involving the Long Pole/ Dragon Pole.

San Sik

San Sik (literally: "Casual Style" [散式]) are, by definition, as suggested above (see the reference to San Sik in the introduction to Forms, just above Figure 3), compact. They can be lumped into three broad categories: those whose primary aim is to train body "structure" (or posture, where the posture in question is ideally as narrow as possible and as pliant, or non-rigid, and as as "soft", or tension-free, as possible); those whose aim is to train arm movements, or cycles, including abrupt changes as required, thus equipping the WCKF with the key tools necessary to a good defense combined with an offensive follow-up; sensitivity training (searching-probing movements, which correspond roughly to the continual movement of a boxer's arms while searching for an opening to attack the opponent); and combination techniques. "Structure" training typically consists of punches, kicks, turns (deflections), stepping drills (introduced above) and relaxed, elastic stances. Punches and kicks, which belong to the second and third Empty Hand forms, i.e., to Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu, respectively, each form a chapter of their own, as in the following...


Punches and Kicks

"Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick.  After I studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick was no longer a kick.  Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick."

~ Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do


Punches (daquan [打拳]) and kicks (no Chinese name (the Chinese people were much too civilized to resort to suchlike!), the tradition is to use the Japanese name, geri – see Kicks farther below) are generally "uncommitted" in WCKF. This is just another way of saying that even on the level of the individual punch or kick, the WCKF fighter avoids a 'go for broke' strategy, as it can, where it fails to connect, throw the fighter off balance. Thus, in the spirit of defense first, the WCKF fighter does not commit 100% to a given punch or kick, but restrains himself such that the effort not only never goes "over the top" but never even reaches the top. Indeed, the WCKF fighter practices his technique such that he can easily recover from a "failed" punch or kick (i.e., one that does not connect) and launch a new effort, or simply glide over into a secondary punch or kick, depending of the jumping off point provided by the failed punch or kick.

The uncommitted nature of the WCKF punch or kick is one of the prime reasons why some critics, who do not fully appreciate the defense first (or "safety first") nature of Wing Chun, have accused the sport's practitioners of delivering punches and kicks that are too soft; there is thus good reason for the "softness" in quesion!


Punches – The punches that characterize WCKF have little in common with the punches delivered by a Western boxer. Whereas the typical punch of a boxer is a roundabout (involving a great deal of torque) or an uppercut, the typical punch delivered by a WCKF fighter is a so-called straight punch that is shot out directly from the body, and represents the quick extention of a vertically bent-at-the-elbow arm (hmm, it occurs to me that the kangaroo "boxes" a bit like this :), with vertically held, bent-at-the-elbow arms).

Also, the straight punch of he WCKF fighter does not have the follow-through of the punch of the Western boxer, but ends in a short retraction of the arm caused by bringing the opposing muscle into play. This means that the arm is partially re-cocked, as it were, ready for another, albeit short, punch or perhaps a parry. This type of punch is as different from the Western boxer's punch – which is characterized by follow-through (as follow-through maximizes the momentum of the punch) – as night is different from day.

Granted, some Western boxing punches can be said to be straight punches, but are, for the first, seldom delivered with the speed of those of a WCKF fighter, simply because the straight punch of a Western boxer is generally intended to be something of a knockout punch (i.e., usually contains follow-through), whereas the straight punch of a WCKF fighter – though, if well-placed and well-timed, can also be a "knockout" punch – is never intended to carry the same whallop as a Western boxer's knockout punch. In addition, the Western boxer's straight punch is the extension of a horizontally bent-at-the-elbow arm, not the vertically bent-at-the-elbow arm of a WCKF fighter.

Moreover, whereas the Western boxer trains to withstand a certain amount of physical punishment, the WCKF fighter trains to avoid being punished at all, which is why his stance, structure, etc., is intended to be more pliant should a blow connect, and hopefully, will prevent that a blow should connect in the first place (remember, a Wing Chun duel was never meant to be a slug-it-out affair, but rather, the clever, resourceful and tactical response of the snake to the more powerful crane).

Though the bent-at-the-elbow arms of the WCKF fighter are often held vertically, the fists themselves can rest in any position from the vertical (thumbs on top) to the horizontal (thumbs to the outside, meaning that the palm of the clenched fist is facing upward, the result of which is that the "upside-down" knuckles present the first contact surface with the opponent). Also, how many of the knuckles that will come into play is a matter of choice, with anywhere from two to three knuckles, ranging from the top three to the bottom three knuckles coming into play (my own street fighting (!) has taught me (don't anybody try this at home!) that the middle two knuckles are likely to cause the opponent the greatest amount of damage with the least amount of damage to myself, but this may vary with the fighter – and with the training, of course, and note that Wing Chun uses a Wall Bag punching bag to train to strengthen the knuckle muscles as well – in fact, today one can purchase a thick rubber ring to be attached to one's Wooden Dummy for this very purpose).

However, in WCKF, landing the "killer punch" is rarely the goal, the goal is to land a crippling punch rapidly and deftly so as to throw the opponent off balance, for this will enable further crippling punches. Indeed, if a punch creates an opening, a volley of punches, aka Chain Punching, will be delivered. Moreover, the philosophy of WCKF is based on the notion that the killer punch is risky, since it exposes the WCKF fighter to loss of balance at a best, and, at worst, to a counter-attack, i.e., it opens up the WCKF fighter's defenses for exploitation by the opponent.

In this connection, WCKF is sometimes criticized, as indicated above, for delivering punches that are too soft, i.e., punches that lack power. It is worth repeating: the somewhat restrained WCKF punch accords harmoniously with the overarching philosophy of Wing Chun, which is based on exploiting momentary openings, even if not to the full, while not exposing oneself to one's opponent. Moreover, to deliver a really bone-shattering punch, one would have to 'cock the weapon', and this requires time, meaning that, in practice, many perfectly good, 'less than 100%' Wing Chun punches would be forfeited were it necessary to 'cock the weapon' each time. Therefore, Wing Chun espouses an elastic, 'ready at any moment' stance that can deliver at least a painful (and balance- and structure degrading) punch, even if it is not an earth-shattering punch.

In summary, it is better to sacrifice a bit of offensive power for the margin of safety offered by a solid defense, confident that in the long run, one will, like the snake facing the crane, be victorious, but only if one refrains from risky, "go for broke" attacks and counter-attacks.

One might also say that there is a powerful psychological element in a strategy that is so self-confident that it will forego the killer punch. That is, the sheer relentlessness of an opponent's crippling punches will, in the long run, take their toll, both physically and psychologically. It is a curious fact that a salmon fisher, by exerting constant but gentle pressure on a giant salmon (imagine the constantly bowed rod of a salmon fisher fighting a large fish), will in the end tire the fish as much psychologically as physically, but only if the pressure is inexorable, i.e., if it never lets up. For a fighter accustomed to a duel where landing the killer punch reigns supreme, facing a self-confident opponent who doggedly pursues one while foregoing the killer punch can have a discouraging effect in the long run, wearing one down both physically and mentally. Then, and only then, will a killer punch, or finishing punch as it is normally called, be delivered.


Kicks – In southern WCKF, kicks are traditionally kept below the waist, while in northern WCKF, kicks tend to be aimed higher up on the torso, even at the head. Not that a kick below the waist cannot inflict punishment! The difference lies perhaps in the perceived need for defensive caution between the northern and the southern strategies, since the higher the kick, the greater the chance that it can be intercepted, with the increased likelihood that the kicker will take a nasty spill and may even be pinned (usually called "trapped" in WCKF). The two main types of kicks are the Front Kick (Japanese: Mae Geri – no Chinese equivalent) and the Roundhouse Kick (Japanese: Mawashi Geri – no Chinese equivalent).

There are variations on these two as well, and they may be different depending on whether they are performed in connection with the Chum Kiu Empty Hand form or the Mook Jong Weapons form (Mook Jong = "Wooden Dummy", but no traditional Chinese translation, nor a pinyin equivalent for that matter... Mook Jong is Cantonese, though Mahjong (or Mah jong) is a popular game in China played with tiles : )... Mah jong is written Ma jiang in pinyin and 麻將 in traditional Chinese, suggesting that Mahjong isn't Mandarin Chinese either, though it may well be Cantonese Chinese).

For example, in Chum Kiu the Front Kick is typically deivered with the body held upright where a leg is raised with a bent knee in front of the body, then the leg is extended rapidly, with the foot pointing upward and the heel making contact with the opponent's body, whereas in Mook Jong, the Front Kick is delivered with a 'bent to one side' torso (typically bent to the left side if one is a right-handed/ right-footed person) and where the 'bent horizontally at the knee' leg is extended rapidly, with the knee and foot on a horizontal plane, roughly, but, again, where it is the heel that makes contact with the opponent's body.

However, in Stepping (as we have seen in Figure 9 above), the second phase movement is a kick (the first phase is the sidestepping of an attack), namely the Mook Jong Front Kick, typically delivered with the foot in a horizontal position, heel first. This kind of kick invariably involves a pivot, for it is the pivot that offers the redistribution of weight on the "rooted" foot that puts power behind the Mook Jong, rendering it formidable if not dangerous.

Note that at close quarters, the Mook Jong can simply be a "kneeing", that is, the knee makes contact with the opponent, typically in the opponent's groin area, though, as practiced by northerners, it might be directed at the abdomen. This variant of the Mook Jong is closer related to the Roundhouse Kick since a kneeing gets its power directly from the pivot itself, whereas a normal Mook Jong only makes use of the pivot in order to position the Front Kick and to redistribute the kicker's center of gravity, so as to pack more "punch" in the Mook Jong.

The Roundhouse Kick, as the name suggests, builds momentum in an arc, not unlike the circular swing of Western boxing called the "roundhouse" or the "haymaker" (i.e., often delivered as a knockout punch), except that here we are speaking of a kick rather than a punch. With the Roundhouse Kick, it is the shin that makes contact with the opponent's body. Because of the inherent vulnerabilty associated with the Roundhouse Kick (due to its slower build-up of momentum, it exposes the kicker to the danger of interception), this kick is generally reserved as a finisher, or genuine "haymaker" – i.e., "killer kick" – if you will. Below is a collage of Roundhouse Kicks.


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