Instinct: Part 3


Thursday, 12 November, 2015

I know what you’re thinking. I talked a lot about differences, but I didn’t actually go into the particular differences, the details. So, here goes.

Sticky Fingers

No Center-line

Weight Shifting

Phoenix Eye

Wrist Mobility

The first thing we discussed, which李师傅 Sifu Lee pointed out, seems to be a common point of argument in Wing Chun politics – to maintain a stable mother-line, or to shift the weight from side to side? I think few of us are strangers to this conflict of ideas. When I performed my Wing Chun, for Sifu Lee I did not shift my weight, but maintained a mother-line – like a pole through the center of the body, which also passes through the center of mass – which, as a reminder, is primarily for the purpose of generating power. In Sifu Lee’s system, the purpose of the “pivot stance” is to evade an incoming force. The example he gave was a two-handed 拉手 lop-sau – pulling hand/s – which pulls the opponent down, into the ground, but which works best, according to Lee, when you move out of the way of the opponent’s force and body.

This was, however, only the beginning. 黐手 Chi-sau, as an important and common theme in all Wing Chun (as far as I know), quickly disclosed more differences. The first one which I noticed was a difference in the idea of center-line. For those of you who think center-line is the soul of wing chun, I can say in this system it certainly is not. Center-line is an idea, but it is hardly paramount, from what I gathered. As I’m sure many of you have seen in other schools, either in person or in some film, the hands roll from side to side, crossing the center-line each time, but not sharing it, or trying to keep it. This was only the most obvious observation. When I actually tried this out, Sifu Lee taught me that they point of contact is not the arm, or “bridge,” as we are used to thinking of it, but the fingers. The 摊手 tan-sau, for example, is flared outward, so the fingers touch the opponents arm. And, the 膀手 bong-sau hand is curled in toward the arm, so that it hooks the opponents arm. On the riding hand side, the 伏手 fook-sau also hooks around the opponent’s tan-sau, and when the opponent roles into a bong-sau, it is in response to a drilling phoenix-eye punch which comes from the fook-sau of the riding hand.

Riding Hands: hooking fook-sau → drill phoenix-eye → hooking fook-sau → drill phoenix-eye

Controlling Hands: flared tan-sau → hooking bong-sau → flared tan-sau → hooking bong-sau

Of course, they don’t call them “flared” or “hooking.” This is just how it is normally done. One more interesting piece. 摊手 Tan-sau (usually romanized with two a’s, as in “taan-sau”)means “open-hand.” In this system, a more common technique (and that used in chi-sau), is called 吞手tan-sau” (one a), or “engulfing-hand.” Sounds the same to me, but my Cantonese is horrible.

So far we have looked at weight shifting, a fuzzy center-line, and use of the fingers as points of contact and sensitivity. Before I move out of chi-sau, I want to say one more thing. That is, that though the idea of center-line is less emphasised, in their practice of chi-sau, the idea is still to control the opponent and prevent vulnerabilities to one-self, and it still works in that sense. Sifu Lee is very relaxed, controlled, well defended and ready to spring on any vulnerability in his opponent.

While looking at chi-sau, I said that the riding-hand, on the upward movement, becomes a kind of drilling phoenix-eye. So, in this system, there is no flat-fisted punch, or at least it is not really practiced. The punch is the phoenix-eye, and the targets are all acu-points, and it always encorporates a drilling motion. This was supported by the argument that the flat-fisted punch only works for big and strong people, and that the smaller person has the advantage in knowing where and how to hit.

The final point I want to touch on is the emphasis Sifu Lee puts on wrist mobility. In his system there is a lot of snaking and striking with the back of the hand, and the wrist must be strong and mobile. Sifu Lee taught me his 圈手 huen-sau drill, which looks similar to what I know, but isn’t quite. The movements are more snake-like, winding around the arm, and the fingers of both players always remain in contact with the other’s arms. I found a lot of tension coming out, while trying to move my hands in this way. Although, with a little practice this tention started to fade. Sifu Lee also has a “chop-stick” dummy, which has arms made out of thin PVC rods, which are clumped together. The purpose of this dummy is to develop wrist and forarm strength and mobility, in training 擒拿 chin’na applications. Sifu Lee also has a small individual bundle of these rods, held together by a rubber band, which is usually held in both hands and twisted in various ways as an exercise, also to develop the wrist and forearm.

One other thing which I’d like to go into more, but which I don’t quite understand just yet, is the 藤圆 rattan ring, which I’m sure everyone has heard of. Besides the standard three forms, which are quite distinct, and the dummy form, there seems to be several weapon forms, including the knives and the long pole, and a rattan ring form, and perhaps some others. At this point, I’m am not clear on how much is passed down, and how much he developed himself. Overall, the system seems much more complex, and at the same time less conceptual than the Wing Chun I know. It also seems older, and Sifu Lee often refers to the snake or crane influences in the movements and applications of the techniques.

This has been a lot of information, so I will not go into any kind of critique at this point, but leave it here. I’d like to remind the readers that this is the impression of someone, myself, who has just briefly been introduced to this system. I do not intend to support or denounce anything, and I certainly do not represent Sifu Lee‘s ideas, as I may have distorted them in my own effort to understand. This is only my impression. When, or if, the time comes for criticism, those criticisms also must consider what base assumptions lie beneith the different systems, before making serious judgements. The primary source of the Wing Chun I know, is the Yip Man, Ho Kam Ming lineage, which is extremely modern and likely altered (enhanced, improved, I don’t know). I suspect Sifu Lee‘s system is closer to the roots of Wing Chun.

Please send me your questions. And for a little bonus, here’s some poorly shot videos, taken by some of Lee’s students, on their phones, I believe.

John Lapham

P.S. I literally learned how to do this stuff about five seconds before the video was shot, so I’m focusing really hard!!


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