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The Mechanics of Wing Chun Empty Hand Forms

Last updated by drwi at 2014-4-19

In the introduction, it was suggested that Wing Chun was a different, more technique-based system of Kung Fu compared to the more ordinary systems of Kung Fu that rely as much on brute strength as superior technique. Much was said there to describe what WCKF wasn't. Also immediately above, we introduced the philosophical essence, the very heart, of WCKF. In this section, we describe the component parts, the mechanics, of WCKF. This is best accomplished by describing the component parts of WCKF with an eye to their underlying concepts (remember also that, in the introduction, we said that WCKF was "concept-based"?). Central to the art of WCKF is the notion of the Central Axis (Zhong​ Zhou [中軸]), or the center line, which is the area of the body, or body zone, in which punches, kicks and grappling (trapping) takes place, while punches, kicks and trapping, in turn, belong to forms (Empty Hand forms). Each of these concepts – these topics and subtopics – will be treated in the following...


The Central Axis

Though the Central Axis is often understood to mean an imaginary line of attack/ defense that extends from the center of the chest of the WCKF fighter to that of the other Kung Fu fighter (or the other WCKF fighter, as the case may be), it actually describes a three-dimensional set of planes, making up a "field", between the two Kung Fu fighters where attacks, parries and counter-attacks take place. The field is laterally narrow because in Wing Chun, the arms, as an integral part of Wing Chun's defensive strategy, are kept tight to the body, i.e., the elbows are not akimbo (i.e., not pointing outward from the body) as they typically are in Western boxing, but are deliberately kept tight in to the front of the body as protection, thanks to the strength and resilience of the forearms especially, against punches and kicks delivered to the body's midsection.

Note additionally that the vertical, 'tight to the body' defensive arm position is also ideally suited to the so-called vertical punch, thus it serves both a defensive as well as an offensive purpose. Apropos the vertical punch itself, its use – as opposed to the typical horizontal punch of the Western boxer – also carries additional benefits since the recoil, as it were (i.e., the effect on the puncher himself), from a vertical punch is diffused into the torso, the residual effect being transmitted downward into the legs, then its remainder is absorbed by the elastic stance of the feet.

This contrasts sharply with the recoil that results from the horizontal punch delivered by the Western boxer, since this latter's recoil exerts tremendous torque on the body of the puncher, requiring a rigid, 'feet firmly planted' (and spread wide) stance on the part of the puncher in order to absorb the torque, otherwise the puncher may himself lose his balance. Worse, if the Western boxer is struck solidly while in such a rigid stance, the body part that is struck will likely absorb most of the force of the blow due to the less than ideal, inelastic stance that anchors the boxer to the surface – see the subsection on punches farther below in the section on Forms and San Sik.

The vertical range of the field is considerably larger than its corresponding horizontal range, as it extends from the eyes to the groin, or basically, it covers the head plus the torso. Thus, viewed in cross section, the field roughly describes a rectangle which, at its base, stretches in an imaginary line from the groin of the one Kung Fu fighter to the groin of the other, and from the eyes of the one Kung Fu fighter to the eyes of the other, and, additionally, from the sides of the narrow-profile bodies of each of the two Kung Fu fighters. In other words, the Central Axis is where the bulk of Wing Chun "action" (punches, kicks, grappling, etc.) takes place.


Forms (Taolu [套路])

There are Forms and then there are Special Forms. This is usually expressed as "there are Taolu and then there are San Sik (literally: "Casual Style" [散式])". The difference is that while the former are complete movements, or routines – and which therefore lend themselves admirably to general training and which further help to concentrate the mind and coordinate the reflexes – the latter are elements, or building blocks, of forms. San Sik (to be introduced farther below) are sometimes called "Free Forms". Thus, once one has mastered the general forms, one can disaggregate the individual general form into its various component parts and then substitute different San Sik, thus individualizing the routine. But San Sik can be entire movements in and of themselves in the sense that in a close combat situation, an accomplished WCKF can deliver a so-called one-inch punch, which is nothing but a San Sik delivered from short range but with all the force of a much longer punch belonging to a form.

Forms are also said to be meditiative, since, in order to perform them properly, that is, in order to perform the entire sequence, or routine, with fluidity, one must internally visualize (or "internalize") the sequence of movements so that they can be executed uninterruptedly. In this sense, the practice of forms is a kind of meditation.  In a typical Wing Chun lineage, there are six forms: three Empty Hand forms, two Weapons forms and one "Wooden Dummy" form (a Wooden Dummy (Ye Zhun [葉準]), or stylized human opponent, is a contraption made of wood consisting of a column with "sticks" extending outward from the column, where the column represents the opponent's torso and the "sticks" represent the points on the opponent's arms that offer a "handle" for grappling or trapping – see the image below, but note that Wooden Dummy, as earlier indicated, is treated in a separate article). In addition, forms vary depending on the lineage, resulting in a myriad of possible variations, though we will conventiently decline to open that particular can of worms here!

Wing Chun Wooden Dummy

Fig 3: The Hong Kong wall-mounted version of a Wooden Dummy


Empty Hand (Chi Shou Kong Quan [赤手空拳]) Forms (Taolu [套路])

As indicated above, there are three Empty Hand forms. As is typical for Wing Chun, they are not just three arbitrary – and arbitrarily interchangeable – forms, but each form serves a separate function both within the training and the practice/ implementation of Wing Chun, especially the former. Before the three Empty Hand forms are presented, the concept of Rooting, a concept that is practiced in Chi Kung, but which is in fact borrowed from Taoism, needs to be explained...



Central to all of the Wing Chun forms is the notion of Rooting (Zhan Zhuang [站樁]). Rooting is a somewhat elusive topic to describe, mostly because it is not a procedure that can be performed mechanically, such as performing a turn or a step, or any other ordinary Wing Chun routine. Rooting contains an element of the metaphysical; it is what one might call "mind over matter". This means that to impart to you what is meant by Rooting, I can only conjure up an image for you, the reader, to grasp – it will ultimately be up to the Wing Chun practitioner himself to experiment with the suggested image until he can eventually himself "feel" what the elusive qualtity, "Rooting", is all about.

Think of a tree that is solidly anchored to the ground via a network of roots. Except that we humans aren't trees and we don't have roots – moreover, there is both stationary (static) and mobile (dynamic) rooting, so having real rather than imaginary roots wouldn't be of much help anyway. So think of imaginary roots that anchor you to the ground (or to any other surface where you, as a WCKF fighter, find yourself). Or, if it is more helpful, think of the earth as having a gravitational pull on you, which it in fact does.

But you need to cultivate a sense of this gravitational pull as being much stronger than the gravitational pull that one normally experiences. Imagine, then, this stronger gravitational pull that is so strong that it can, when you allow it to, lower your center of gravity, "nailing" you just a little more securely to the surface. WCKF masters – called sifu – speak of "sinking" in conjunction with Rooting"; this "sinking" is nothing more than a sense of lowering one's center of gravity, of "nailing" oneself just a little more securely to the surface.

Rooting, or "nailing" or "sinking", or 'connectedness to the surface below', needs to be cultivated to the point where it can be regulated, or fine-tuned, at will (called, in the language of the WCKF sifu, Scott Baker – see the next paragraph – "being able to presence the root"), attaching the WCKF practitioner at some times more securely to the surface than at other times. And note that there are many degrees of Rooting, just as there is static and dynamic Rooting, as we have seen above. A rule of thumb for general dynamic Rooting is the "70-30" stance, i.e., 70% Rooting, 30% Projection (see more the reference to Projection (hei [黑], literally "dark") under the treatment of Repulse Monkey – Repulse Monkey being a "back-step" instead of a "side-step" Stepping maneuver – under the Stepping rubric below). Here is a depiction of a classic Rooting stance "Three Nails" Rooting:


Fig 4: The "Three Nails" Rooting Stance


The above-mentioned WCKF sifu (and professor of psychology), Scott Baker, from the US state of Maine, has devised the following handy test to determine whether a neophyte has acquired the necessary sense of Rooting:

"[T]he student kneel[s] on the ground. Then, standing in front of him, the teacher... place[s] his hands on the student's shoulders. The student then places the palms of his hands softly under the teacher's elbows. In this position, the student must relax and root into the ground. Then the teacher attempts to push the student over backwards. If [the student] is rooting correctly, the teacher should not be able to push him over."

Dynamic rooting comes after one has learned to use static rooting well enough that it becomes second nature, meaning after one has mastered the ability to "presence" the root at will. The ability to maintain rooting while in motion is absolutely essential to Wing Chun – indeed, it is essential to martial arts in general, since motion lies at the very heart of the martial arts.


Siu Nim Tao ("Little First Training" [小念頭]) – This is the basic, or fundamental, form on which all other forms in Wing Chun build. Not surprisingly, therefore, the focus in Siu Nim Tao (note that Tao is often written as Tau instead, just as any move, block, etc., whose name ends in –ao is as commonly written as –au)), which is also sometimes referred to as Siu Lim Tao, is on structure, posture and stance, the perhaps three most important aspects of WCKF and which rely on a knowledge of Rooting, as described above.

The stance is defensive, with the feet, slighlty pigeon-toed, barely far enough apart to prevent the WCKF fighter from falling over, with the legs very slighty bent, for the sake of elasticity, and the knees close together so as to protect the groin (the easiest way to come into this stance, called the horse stance, is to stand with the feet pressed against each other, then, with the weight on the heels and keeping the heels together, spread the feet at the toes to a 45 degree angle, then, shifting the weight to the balls of the feet, spread the heels until the position of the feet is very slightly pigeon-toed). The posture: the spine is held straight, the chin slightly lowered (to protect the throat), which has the effect of raising the crown of the head slightly, though some postures require the head to be held level. From this position, a number of hand moves, most involving only one hand at a time, will be performed, but keeping focus on the center line and the posture.

Siu Nim Tao does not involve turns, and thus one says that it does not involve footwork. It does, however, involve hand moves (both defensive and offensive) launched from the 4 "directions": moving forward, moving backward, and with the opponent at a right angle to one's own position, either on the right or on the left. Siu Nim Tao is divided into three stages, the first of which concentrates on performing the hand moves very slowly.

The first moves are naturally defensive, blocking moves involving one hand at a time – with power seated in the elbow and forearm only – but since the defensive and the offensive in Wing Chun are as intimately linked as the Yin and the Yang, every defensive move leads to a positioning where it can glide over into an attack with the other hand. Thus a typical block with the one hand is potentially followed up with a punch by the other hand, though in the first stage of Siu Nim Tao, the emphasis is on the defensive. Each of the moves are performed very slowly and deliberately, and with relaxed arms except for the slight tension in the relevant muscle (tricep or bicep), depending on whether the arm is being extended or retracted, and with focus on posture, structure and stance.

As the practitioner shifts his weight to the balls of the feet, the hips move slightly forward, and the reverse of this applies for a backward movement. This is a fundamental part of Rooting, and it helps to absorb strikes, meaning that it will reduce the chance that the practitioner will be knocked over or knocked down. For defensive purpoes, the practitioner should be aware of his inner gate (the area in between the arms) and outer gate (the area immediately outside the shoulders) at all times. The elbows are kept tucked close in to the sides, slightly in front, when the arms are not being extended or retracted.

In the second stage, both arms come into play, the tempo is increased, the hand moves of the first stage are repeated, but with greater precision, and new ones are added. This stage is a bit artificial in the sense that in a real-life, or sparring partner – or even Wooden Dummy – situation, only one arm would typically be used for a block; the point of performing them with both arms simultaneously is to demonstrate that the move can be performed with either arm, but, additionally, with the speed with which they are performed in the second stage, performing them with both arms gives a greater feeling of balance, and, should one ever be attacked by two assailants at the same time, one would know how to block two strikes simultaneously.

Sliding from the one move to the other, but remaining stationary, is a central part of the second stage practice, since, in actual fighting, sparring, etc., situations, the practitioner glides from one move to the other in response to constantly changing contingencies.

The third stage involves focusing on directing one's movement along the center line. That is, the lessons learned from the previous two stages, once trained to a level of proficiency, are made subsidiary to (become second nature to) the attack or retreat along the center line. In this stage, the arms, when at "rest" are held upright in front of the torso, bent at the elbow and with the palms of the hands facing inward. The elbows are held close in to the body to protect against a strike to the abdomen.

Combination moves are practiced in the third stage. These can be high defensive blocks that shift to a low defensive block with the same arm, or it may be a defensive block with one arm followed up by an offensive block with the other arm, including "escape" moves where the practitioner strikes an opponent who grabs one's wrist; the contingency here is never to try and wriggle the trapped arm free first, but to strike the assailant with the free hand, thus making it easier to retrieve the trapped wrist if the assailant hasn't already, in a reflexive response to the punch, released one's trapped wrist. Parries and other defensive moves are said to take place in the inner gate, while a punch or a kick is said to take place in the outer gate.

These three stages make up the entirety of the Siu Nim Tao form, which demonstrates yet again that Wing Chun is essentially a very simple martial art with a simple – but entirely adequate – repertoire of moves.

Chum Kiu ("Seeking the Bridge" [尋橋]) – Having mastered the fundamentals of the Siu Nim Tao form, the aspirant can then proceed to the more aggressive phase in his learning, having to do with attacking the opponent while maintaining a proper defense at all times. The first priority of Chum Kiu (sometimes written as Chum Ku) is quite simply to breach (or "bridge") the "outer defenses" of the opponent so that one may thereafter fight at close range, for the brilliance of Wing Chun lies in its superior close range techniques. (The US military openly admits that it always seeks an advantage over the enemy, for it is not interested in "slugging it out in a fair fight" – war is not about fighting fair, implies the US military, war is about winning! The US military generally achieves superiority over the enemy via its technological advantage. Still, in concept, the strategy is pure Wing Chun!)

Wing Chun's superiority lies in its close range techniques, that is, its bridging, or entry techniques, are ultimately subsidiary to the business of the close range fighting that characterizes Chum Kiu. Close range work, in turn, involves turning, or repositioning (which sometimes amounts to a pivot, therefore sometimes called pivoting), which is the salient feature that distinguishes Chum Kiu from, say, Siu Nim Tao.

Put somewhat simply, the hand moves of Siu Nim Tao, due to the fact that they are practiced with linear movements (one "wades in an out" of the opponent's range in a more or less straight line with one's mostly defensive moves), can be said to be static, while the same moves in Chum Kiu are said to be dynamic, in the sense that they involve constant repositioning. Another way of saying the same thing is that Chum Kiu requires lots of "fancy footwork" while Siu Nim Tao requires none. Indeed, Chum Kiu is also known as the footwork form. In addition to Turning, Chum Kiu involves Stepping as welling Turning-Shifting (both to be described in separate sections below).

The stance of Chum Kiu is slightly wider than that of Siu Nim Tao, a necessity in order to perform the requisite turns that belong to Chum Kiu without compromising one's balance. Another feature of Chum Kiu that distinguishes it from Siu Nim Tao is that it involves kicks. In southern China, these kicks are directed no higher than the waist, though in the north of China, there is a tradition for higher kicks. This northern tradition means that even in Wing Chun, a northern practitioner typically kicks well above the waist, even to the head, which tends to violate the ultra defensive nature of Wing Chun, since high kicks expose the practitioner to the risk of seeing one's kick intercepted, and with a leg raised to such a high level, compromising spills are almost unavoidable if one is tripped up, but such is the nature of regional habits!

It must be said, however, that high kicks, especially kicks to the head, tend to reduce the chance of an opponent trying to grab one's foot, unless the kick is executed extremely clumsily.

The above characterization of Chum Kiu as specializing in close quarter fighting should not be taken to mean that entry techniques play an insignificant role in Chum Kiu compared to short range fighting techniques, for entry techniques pave the way not only for getting in close to the opponent, they also, when performed properly – and with a bit of luck, or perhaps with a bit of help from an unsuspecting or clumsy opponent – destroy the structure of and destabilize the defensive stance of the opponent, handing the Wing Chun fighter the advantage from the moment he gets into close range of the opponent.

When short range fighting techniques are emphasized in the above, it is because this part of Chum Kiu represents the "chase", as it were, i.e., it is the stage of Chum Kiu that seeks to incapacitate the opponent, which is what Chum Kiu is all about (the sometimes rather violent, even deadly, techniques of Biu Jee are conceived out of an emergency situation where things do not go to plan... where things do indeed go to plan, it all ends with the short range fighting techniques of the Chum Kiu stage).

In Chum Kiu entry techniques (the first phase of Chun Kiu), the WCKF fighter uses primarily his forearms and elbows as well as his knees and shins – rather than fists and feet – to parry, or break, the opponent's attempts to keep the WCKF fighter at a distance. In deflecting the long-range blows of the opponent, while constantly repositioning himself, the WCKF fighter is better able to penetrate the outer defenses of his opponent, bringing himself within range, where Wing Chun excels.

The idea is to quickly penetrate whatever defensive or offensive strategies the opponent offers, including trapping the opponent's arms, where the opportunity presents itself (see Figure 11 for an example of where this does present itself). Then, once within close range, the knees and elbows can be employed to great advantage. Like a first-class football team that "triangulates" the ball from player to player, distracting the opponent while waiting for the right moment to accelerate the play explosively and slam the ball in the net, the Wing Chun fighter clashes and parries probingly with the opponent, constantly shifting his position to maintain an element of surprise while looking for an opening, then exploits that opening rapidly once it appears.

However, if no opening presents itself in a timely manner, perhaps because the opponent is himself an experienced fighter, the Wing Chun fighter then escalates the duel by launching a series of probing attacks that are designed to create an opening, and when the opening does present itself – which it will sooner or later if the Wing Chun fighter keeps up relentless pressure on the opponent, and in such a way that the manner and sequence of the attacks cannot be  predicted – he capitalizes on the opening promptly, where possible, making short shrift of the disadvantaged opponent at close range.

In addition, Chum Kiu enables a highly experienced Wing Chun fighter to take on two lesser experienced opponents at the same time, though it would require a very adept WCKF fighter to manage this, and it would almost require that at least one of the opponents was rather inept, unless, of course, the single WCKF fighter was extremely good at his craft (there are probably some Wing Chun courses that teach the aspirant how to tackle this particular problem – there seems to be an "App" for everything these days! – and one can imagine that such an "App", if it exists, focuses on how to quickly assess the relative strengths of the two opponents, so that the WCKF fighter can concentrate his attention on the weakest of the two, while holding the stronger at bay, of course, so as to reduce the duel to a one-on-one affair at the earliest possible opportunity).

The Chum Kiu form, like the Siu Nim Tao form, is divided into three parts: the Ma (alternatively, Mah), or turning stances (stances that permit the practitioner to turn while maintaining proper structure); Bo, or stepping (there are many such steps, see a near-complete list below); and Zhuanyi, or turning-shifting (in connection with performing the various hand moves).


Turning Stances

Regarding the turning stances, or Ma, the most common of these is the Chor Ma/ Zhuan Ma. Note that the static stance of the Siu Nim Tao form is strictly the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma ("Two-syllable abduction stance")/ Ji Zi Qian Joeng Maa ("Two-syllable pinching goat stance"), whereas the stances of the Chum Kiu form are dynamic, since they involve turning as well as transitions, or shifts, from one hand movement to another (actually, the Siu Nim Tao form also allows transitions from one hand movement to another, but since Siu Nim Tao does not involve turns/ pivots/ repositionings, the available combinations are quite limited, whereas they are practically unlimited in the Chum Kiu form).

At the same time the Chor Ma turning stance is practiced, the hips, knees and ankles are strengthened, which is absolutely essential to Wing Chun, otherwise posture cannot be maintained, and with loss of posture, the practitioner is vulnerable to a loss of balance. Some masters insist that the most important first lesson of the Chum Kiu form is to strengthen the joints so that posture can be maintained. For example, with the proper posture, the double Lan Sau (see Figure 5 immediately below) can be turned 180 degrees by effortlessly swivelling the body without moving the feet, but by simply shifting the weight from one leg to the other as the legs switch relative position, from leading to following.

 Double Lan Sao

Fig 5: Double Lan Sao (defensive arms) executed with Chor Ma turning stance


Note how, in Figure 5 above, the right leg is the front (leading) leg and the left leg is the rear (following) leg in the image on the left, while this arrangement switches in the image on the right. The trick lies in proper Rooting and balance, where the stance is relatively wide (feet far apart) and the posture is very "vertical", i.e., the back is held straight, the hips are tucked slightly forward, eliminating the sway in the lower back, the knees are slightly bent (for flexiblity) and the head is held "level".

Turns, or repositioning, involves changes in the practitioner's stance and in his weight distribution. During a turn, the arms are typically held in a double Lan Sao (alternatively, double Lan Sau, where, as indicated above, the –ao ending may also be written as –au), as in Figure 5 above.

Immediately following the turn, the arms are repositioned from the strictly defensive Lan Sao position to, typically, with one arm lowered at one's side, near the waist (the offense-oriented arm waiting to be triggered if an offensive opening presents itself) and the other in a probing, bridging move such as the Fut Sao or the Fuk Sao, the latter of which comes in a left or a right variant – here, in Figure 6, a left Fuk Sao is depicted:

 Left Fuk Sao

Fig 6:  Left Fuk Sao


This sequence subsumes that the practitioner has not yet bridged (breached) the opponent's outer defenses, or has been cast out of the opponent's inner defenses, for once inside the outer defenses, i.e., once at close range, the goal is to attack relentlessly. Note also that the double Lan Sao of Figure 5 can be employed by the practitioner at any time as a distance-generating defense when one is under attack at close range (it can even be used, if the opportunity presents itself, to pin an opponents arms against his body), though as a defensive maneuver from a distance, it is less than ideal, as it exposes the entire abdomen. A good probing move is the Bon Sao which can then transition to a double Lan Sao move. This is what the typical Bon Sao (which comes in a number of variants) looks like:

 Bon Sao contra Bon Sao

Fig 7: Bon Sao Against Bon Sao


Note how easy it would be to transition from the Bon Sao of Figure 7 to the double Lan Sao of Figure 6. The Bon Sao can be used both to parry a punch (or a Bon Sao from one's opponent, as in Figure 6) or as a probe that can either set up a punch with the other hand or to transition to a double Lan Sao (or a number of other, positionally-related moves). Below, in Figure 8, is a more textbook correct view of the Bon Sao, with the leading forearm downward bent at the elbow, and with the backup hand at the ready to deliver a punch or to join the leading hand and arm in a double Lan Sao (note that the downward bent leading arm of the Bon Sao provides the greatest amount of defensive cover prior to contact, but in an actual contact situation, such as that depicted in Figure 7, the Bon Sao adapts, the leading arm providing an attack/ parrying function):

 Bon Sao Textbook Perfect

Fig 8: Bon Sao



There are, as indicated, many Stepping techniques. Their purpose is in side-stepping an attack, and then using the new vantage point to launch a counter-attack (see Figure 9 below, which is a diagram of a simple Stepping technique involving the launch of a kick). Wing Chun always seeks to avoid a frontal attack (recall that Wing Chun was developed in order to give a delicate young maiden a fighting chance against a grown man), therefore side-stepping frontal attacks, then using the new vantage point to launch a counter-attack, is integral to Wing Chun philosophy. There are numerous Stepping techniques, some of which involve a retreat of sorts (one of which "retreats", one in particular will be discussed farther below).

Stepping Example

Fig 9: An example of Stepping


The Stepping technique in Figure 9 above is one of the simplest. Starting at point 1 of the figure, the assailed sidesteps his assailant by taking a step forward and to the left. This is accomplished by placing the left foot forward and to the left in one long stride (this assumes that the WCKF fighter is right handed and –footed, otherwise one would move to the right, reversing the legs/ feet positions accordingly), and then (point 2 in the figure) bringing the back (rearward, or right) leg around in an arc, or roughly in an "L" shaped movement, but with the leg bent at the knee – and with the left foot "planted", i.e., with one's weight resting on the left leg and foot as an anchor and center of gravity (or Rooting, as described above) – as one extends the right leg (point 3 in the figure) in a swift, straight kick, jabbing the heel of one's right foot into the leg/ torso/ head, as the case may be, of the assailant.

Note that in point 3 in the above generalized image – which covers not only a follow-up kick contingency, but also an attack using the arms – the left foot, were the follow-up attack to be in the form of the above-described kick, would remain pointing at 45 degrees to the left, as depicted in point 2 of the image.

A similar reverse "stepping", called The Retreating Monkey (or Repulse Monkey), has the WCKF fighter stepping back and to the side as the center of gravity is lowered and shifted to the rearmost leg (or "rooted in the rearmost leg", as we can now describe it) as the body prepares for a counter-attack, since, in all such "escape" maneuvers (dodges), whether the WCKF fighter moves forward (Stepping) or rearward (Repulse Monkey) in order to avoid the charge of an assailant, the idea, in keeping with the Yin and the Yang of such strategies, is that the dodge – for lack of a better term... one would hardly call Stepping a retreat while that term does indeed apply to the Repulse Monkey – be followed up by an attack, which may be launched at any moment during the dodge, as long as the "planted" leg/ foot is rooted (note that the Yin here corresponds to the sinking/ crouching movement that lowers the center of gravity, while the Yang here corresponds to the explosive unleashing, in the form of a counter-attack, of the force made possible by the very sinking/ crouching movement of the Yin... think of a spring that is first loaded, then released... which only goes to prove, yet again, the 'two halves of one whole' concept of the Yin and the Yang).

Therefore one's center of gravity, given that one must be prepared for a counter-attack at any time (at the propitious moment under the given circumstances), is not clumsily shifted all in one movement – nor with locked joints, as if one were walking on stilts – but rather, is shifted in a slow, gliding, tiger-like, somewhat crouching movement where the center of gravity is at the same time lowered, simultaneously creating better Rooting for the counter-attack, though one's weight during the dodge movement itself (whether a forward or backward movement) can be momentarily rooted on the ball of the foot (or simply on the pad behinnd the big toe) or on the heel, as the need may be, though the forward-motion counter attack, if it involves a kick, needs one foot firmly rooted, as in the Three Nails Rooting of Figure 4 above.

The Repulse Monkey is typically performed with a poised, outward extended but relaxed arm with upturned hand (fingers pointing upward, palm facing forward – for example, similar to the Biu Sao (upper left) or less similar to the Wu Sao (upper right) shown in Figure 7 below, though the Palm Strike (lower part of Figure 7) is not a bad defense-offense position either for the Repulse Monkey, since the auxiliary hand protects the abdomen), called Projection (hei [黑], literally "dark"), since it imagines the protective force of one's chi extending through the body, and, in this case, along the arm and into the hand, then outward, beyond one's body, directed at the assailant, with the other arm close in to one's side, the hand near the hip, palm upturned, fist slightly clenched, ready to launch a counter-attack. (Note that not everyone performs the hand moves of Wing Chun the same, some are wildly diverging; in fact, the move that I have just described (and have seen, at least in online imagery : ) ) might better be called as a cross between the Biu Sao, the Wu Sao and the Palm Strike).

Projection, or hei, belongs to what qigong (and Taoist) adherents refer to as the Second Level of the Nine Physiological Cultivations, though the physiological aspects of this discipline, not surprisingly, would more probably be called parapsychological (if not pseudopsychological!) by the established medical community, who see more of a psychological than a physiological element in Projection... still, as they (you know, "they"!) say, there's more to heaven and earth than meets the eye, as a modern-day Hamlet might have said to his modern-day pal, Horatio, or "whatever works for you", as the current lingo goes, i.e., if it can psyche out your opponent, well, it can't be all bad!

 Biu-Sao - Wu-Sao

Fig 10: Some good hand move for the Repulse Monkey


Note that the extended arm with upturned hand serves both as a first defense and as an ominous threat which, in itself, thanks to Projection (note that with Projection, the upturned hand/ outstretched arm looks more offensive than defensive, and this is naturally intentional), may cause the assailant to hesitate momentarily, buying the defender milliseconds of precious time during the Repulse Monkey. But if an opening presents itself, the extended hand can become a vertical Palm Strike, where one jabs the open hand, heel first, into the face of the opponent (generally, 'heel of hand to chin' contact), but it can naturally also be used to parry a punch if necessary.

There is another useful aspect of the looming hand of the outstretched arm in this and many other Siu Nim Tao and/or Chum Kiu hand moves (such as the Fuk Sao), namely, that because they extend so close to the opponent's body, the hand appears distortedly large, thus partially blocking the view of one's own body, and anything that the WCKF fighter can do to disadvantage the opponent the better!).

The flexibility of the joints as well as the Rooting extends to the hips and to a string of other key points of the body that make up what are called the Nine Gates: the extended foot, the extended knee, the pelvis/ hips, the lower back, the back and spinal cord, the shoulder girdles (the shoulder joint including the shoulder blade), the elbows, the hands (and fingers), and finally, the neck and head (and eyes). However, in some variants of Wing Chun, one works with the concept of Six Gates, while the concept of the Nine Gates applies to many if not most Chinese martial arts and has its metaphysical foundation in Taoism.

The overarching point of the dodge is that the WCKF fighter is in control at all times – it is not a wild, desperate and therefore reckless dodge. This means that the WCKF fighter, even in a dodge maneuver, remains relaxed, rooted, and in balance. Also, whether one chooses Stepping or a "false retreat" such as the Repulse Monkey in response to an assailant's charge will depend on the circumstances, i.e., the WCKF fighter chooses the option that best fits the given circumstances, though this is of course a matter of judgement which in turn depends on the WCKF fighter's degree of experience and level of self-confidence.

Without going into the diagrammatic details of what the various Stepping moves look like (except for Figure 9 above), here is a list of Stepping techniques (Bo) that relate to the Chum Kiu form (note that there are Stepping techniques that also relate to the Wooden Dummy form, the Pole (aka Staff) Weapons form and the Butterfly Swords Weapons form, and note also that some of the stepping techniques below also relate to other forms in addition to the Chum Kiu form):


Bik Bo – Pressing or chasing steps (Jamming stance, in the Butterfly Swords form).

Bot Gwa Bo – 8 Trigrams stepping.

Chat Sing Bo/ Chut Sing Bo – 7 Star Stepping, based on the stellar pattern of the Big

                                                  Dipper (Ursa major) constellation.

Cheung Sam Bo – Long Robe Steps, a term for a method of footwork that is practiced in

                              various forms, depending on the lineage. For example, in the Yip Man

                              lineage, it is found in the Butterfly Swords (Weapons) form; in the Pao

                              Fa Lien lineage, it is found in the Siu Nim Tao (Empty Hand) form,

                              while in the Lo Kwai lineage, it is found in the Pole (Weapons) form.

Chin Bo – Fighting Steps

Chut Sing Bo (Qixingbu) – Seven Star Step

Dap Bo – Joining Step

Dap Bo Bong Sau – Joining Step Flanking Arm

Mah Bo – Moving (Stepping Horse) Stance

Mah Bo Chi Sau – Stepping Horse Sticking Hands

Mah Bo Lop Sau – Stepping Horse Grabbing Hands



We will not dwell a great deal on Turning-Shifting here, as it cannot be described well (and it would require video (though animated GIF images can be helpful), not two-dimensional imagery, to do it justice), except to say that, as already indicated, it involves the dynamics of altering the attacks and "retreats" as needed – i.e., shifting from one hand move to another, potentially involving some relevant repositioning such as "swivelling" the body, i.e., where the body is shifted without moving the feet (as in Figure 5 above) – depending on the unfolding circumstances. Aggressive probing moves such as Chi Sao (chi sau, chi shou [黐手]), Chi Gerk (chi jiao [黐腳]) and Trapping (qin na [擒拿]) techniques are employed, and lead, where relevant, to follow-up direct attacks such as punches and kicks, the latter of which, at close quarters, is a kneeing.

Chi Sao is a forearm to forarm technique aimed at keeping in constant physical contact with the opponent in an effort to "read" any intended move on the part of the opponent, and in order to search out the opponent's weaknesses. Additionally, since, with Chi Sao, the opponent is stuck to oneself, as it were (remember that Chi Sao means "Sticky Hands") one knows where one "has" one's opponent, which thus reduces the range of surprises that the opponent can spring on one.

These are the main "tangible" advantages of Chi Sao. But Chi Sao also contains an eerie psychological element, since the almost massage-like circular movements of Chi Sao can have a deceptive and almost hypnotizing effect upon the opponent, lulling him into lowering his mental guard, or, it can represent a 'who will blink first' duel of nerves, hence the reference to searching out the opponent's weaknesses. Note that these movements, when both arms are employed, are called Luk Sao ("Double Sticky Hands" [雙黐手]), whereas Chi Sao should properly be written as Dan Chi Sao, or "Single Sticky Hands".*(5)

*(5) It is no accident that of the many Kung Fu martial arts available to it, Hong Kong Airlines has chosen to teach its staff, including inflight personnel, Wing Chun as a means of "neutralizing" unruly passengers, even if the "neutralizing" in question is aimed at pinning the arms of the "rage passenger", not punching his lights out... and you can be certain that the Chi Sao hand move figures prominently in this training!

Trapping is often performed in conjunction with Chi Sao, since with Chi Sao, one "glues" oneself to one's opponent via the forearm. As the name suggests, Chi Sao is ultimately aimed at trapping one's opponent's hands (or arms and therewith hands), for with the hands neutralized, the opponent is neutralized. Chi Gerk ("Sticky Feet") is the lower legs (shins) equivalent of the forearm "Sticky Hands" drills, the Chi Sao and Luk Sao drills. As an exercise, Chi Gerk, as a training technique, has the added benefit of relaxing the legs, which generally tend to be tensed more than is good for the WCKF fighter, since relaxation provides the key element of elasticity that is requisite to a good WCKF stance.

Below is a three-part image showing two WCKF fighters leading off with Chi Sao (the drawing is inspired by the iconic image of a Chi Sao "duel" between Bruce Lee (in blue) and his teacher and mentor, Yip Man), where "Bruce Lee" manages to grab "Yip Man's" left arm while at the same time pinning "Yip Man's" right arm. If you note carefully, the mistake of "Yip Man" in the duel depicted in Figure 8 below seems to lie in "Yip Man"having allowed his right arm to come too close to his left arm (of course "Bruce Lee" is also applying pressure on "Yip Man's" right arm, forcing it inward!), thus making it easier for "Bruce Lee" to pin that arm with the forearm and elbow of the same arm with which "Bruce Lee" grabs "Yip Man's" left arm. Well done!

Note also that "Yip Man", in the first part of the image, has already transitioned from a double Chi Sao to, at the point of contact, a left Fuk Sao (notice the "hook" quality of "Yip Man's" left hand, which is characteristic of the Ful Sao, as depicted in Figure 11 below) combined with a right Chi Sao. "Bruce Lee", in contrast, quickly grabs "Yip Man's" left hand while trapping "Yip Man's" right arm, with his right hand cocked and ready to deliver a punch.

Chi Sao contra Chi Sao

Fig 11: "Bruce Lee" (left) and "Yip Man" in a Chi Sao "duel"


As can be appreciated, any two different hand moves involving a shift, or transition, must naturally be "related", in the sense that the practitioner can relatively easily transition from the one to the other. Indeed, all movements in Wing Chun are fluid, or continuous in nature, never jerky or discrete in nature.


Two-Way Force

At this point, it is necessary to introduce the concept of two-way force (shuang xiang liliang [雙向力量]) as it applies to the Chum Kiu form, for the Chum Kiu form adds something extra to the hand moves of the Siu Nim Tao form, and that something extra makes Chum Kiu an even more effective though disarmingly simple weapon. The idea of two-way force is just another way of saying that as a turn is performed in conjunction with a typical hand move, say, a typical Tan Sao, Bon Sao or Fuk Sao hand move of the Siu Nim Tao form, the force that is being applied to the opponent, due to the turn, is coming from two slightly different angles, and this has the effect of destablizing the structure, and even the stance, of the opponent. Below are depictions of the Tan Sao and Bon Sao hand moves (see Figure 6 above for the Fuk Sao hand move, and note that this completes the second Empty Hand form, the Chum Kiu form):

Left Tan Sao

Fig 12: Left Tan Sao


Right Bon Sao

Fig 13: Right Bon Sao


Biu Jee ("Darting Fingers" [鏢指]) – Having mastered the art of breaking through the opponent's outer defenses and having mastered the art of close range combat, the aspiring WCKF fighter also needs to prepare for the eventuality that some things might not, alas, go to plan! This is where Biu Jee comes into play. There are two categories of Biu Jee emergency measures: one for short-range contingencies and one for long-range contingencies, because things can go wrong in either of these relative positions. Of the three Empty Hand forms, this one is the shortest, for the good reason that Bu Jee techniques are only to be used in extreme emergency situations.

Even though the aspirant quite logically can't practice these moves in any realistic manner, the well-trained WCKF fighter who has mastered his Siu Nim Tao and his Chum Kiu forms will easily be able to place these extreme-measure punches, jabs, thrusts and kicks where they need to be placed in order to do the greatest amount of damage in the shortest space of time.

The long-range Biu Jee techniques involve low kicks and and sweeps (a roundhouse type swing with a leg, designed to knock the opponent off balance) in the event that one has fallen – either because one has oneself lost one's balance, or one has been dealt a debilitating blow that causes one to collapse – and one needs to keep the opponent at a safe distance until one can recover enough to stand up and resume the fight from a more normal stance.

The close-range Biu Jee techniques involve the use of the elbows in the face or throat (a smack across the larynx with an elbow punch – in either direction – can send the opponent gasping for his breath), a knee to the groin, the knuckles of a clenched fist jabbed into the solar plexus (or at the larnyx – see the image below), and finger thrusts into the throat (incuding in the soft area under the chin) or, where necessary, into the eyes, hence the name "Darting Fingers". Close-range Biu Jee techniques are not pretty, but then they were not designed for their aesthetics, they represent an extreme "escape" measure designed to ensure one's own survival by, if necessary, ensuring that one's opponent does not survive!

Of course, in the sport version of Wing Chun, deadly techniques or even techniques that can cause lasting bodily harm are never practiced!! The use of Biu Jee stems from its military application, where both parties were locked in a life and death (life to one, death to the other) fight.

 Biu Jee Punch

Fig 14: A girl's best friend: a close-range Biu Jee punch to the larynx





Read the next section here, The Mechanics of Wing Chun Weapons Forms.




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There are 1 comments on this topic

posted by "67.22.255.*" at 2012-1-20 0:42:00

Thank you for the reality you have given me on this subject. I enjoyed reading the very informative and concisely written article, thanks!


david replied at 2012-1-20 2:36:00

Thank you for reading this article!

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