Tag Archive: Ho Kam Ming

Back to Basics — Tan Sao

While complicated when you first learn it, the Tan Sao is easily one of the most useful hands that a Wing Chun student learns.  The general translation for Tan Sao is Dispersing/Negating hand.  Where, the majority of an incoming force is negated my the structure of the tan sao.

Let’s take a look at the key elements of the Tan Sao.  First, as with almost everything in Wing Chun, make sure the Tan Sao lands on the centerline. (Screencap credit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVkjj8568d8)


As you can see, the figure on the left has their Tan Sao more closely on the center line than the figure on right.  Physically, there is an important thing happening when you are able to align your tan sao on the centerline. When properly aligned with your centerline, the Tan Sao receives the support of the body, and is then able to receive much more incoming force than it would be able to if it were aligned to the side of the body, or just slightly outside the frame of the body.  When the elbow is flaired out, or is outside of the frame of the body, you are forced to engage your muscles much sooner to provide support for any overwhelming attack. 

The second is more of a feature developed within the Ho Kam Ming lineage.  To provide further support for the Tan Sao, we bend the hand so that the palm is facing upward, as demonstrated below :


What this does is it further locks in the structure between the forearm and elbow, providing more support. 

In application, you are not meeting a force head on with the tan sao, but rather, meeting the side of the attack.  In the case of a straight punch or jab, you should look to make contact on the side of the arm, between the middle of the forearm and elbow.  If you feel the force is still overwhelming you, then you pivot slightly, to allow the force to continue in the direction that it was traveling, which should give you a bit more of an opening. 

If you’re in the Warrensburg, MO area, and would like to visit our class, click here for our contact information.


Back to Basics — Pak Sao

In the next few posts, we’re going to take a look at some of the individual hands/blocks, getting back to the fundamentals of how the block should be used.  The tendancy is that when you get beyond the first form, you just go through the motions, and forget the basics, so let’s take some time to re-examine the important characteristics of some of these blocks.

One of the first blocks that a Wing Chun student will learn is the Pak Sao, or Slapping Hand.  It’s taught first because it’s the easiest to learn; but, force-wise, it’s one of the harder moves in Wing Chun.  When first learning the Pak Sao, you learn to intercept a straight punch, generally making contact from the outside, as illustrated in the picture (credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/henrylyne/4520154258/)



There are two keys to the pak sao in the beginning, force and distance.  First, let’s deal with force.  You don’t want to put a whole lot of force into this hand, as it will allow you to freely react.  Another consideration when dealing with force is the direction of the punch versus the direction of the block.  The punch has a forward force, therefore, basic Wing Chun principles tell us not to meet it with a head on force.  So, with the Pak Sao, we use a side to side force to redirect the forward force, which, against a fully committed punch, is hard to readjust against. One other consideration when dealing with direction is that when moving the block side to side, you don’t want to move too far.  In the first form, the Pak Sao is used twice.  In general practice, in the Ip Man Lineage, the general rule is: establish your hand on the center line, move it to the shoulder, and then move it back to the center line.  On a practical level, that isn’t bad, but, in reality, you want to make the minimal amout of movement necessary.  So, when working with a partner, you want to do one of two things: 1.Move your opponent’s punch just enough so that it is off the center line.  2.) Move your opponent’s punch just enough so that you can get your own punch through. 

Finally, based on practicality, let’s look at where we should be targeting on an opponent.  First, NEVER target the Pak Sao on your opponent’s hand; they still have control of the wrist and can still have the opportunity to bend and punch through.  When first learning the pak sao, we tell our students to try to hit anywhere between the wrist and the middle of the forearm.  This begins to teach the block and how it controls.  But as you gain more confidence, you actually want to move your target point a little further back.  What you will find out is that the closer to the elbow you get, the easier it is to take control and redirect the incoming attack with lesser force.  If you can get to the elbow, that is ideal, however, between the middle of the forearm and elbow will work just as well. 

If you’re in the Warrensburg, MO area and would like to visit our class, please click here for our contact info.

Drilling it in

Sometimes the question is asked: if Wing Chun is supposed to be about sensitivity, free flowing, and ever changing, what’s the point of doing repetitive drills?

It’s true, we want to develop the ability to change and adapt to different situations, as no two opponents will be the same; there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First: Don’t change your tactics based on what you see from different people. Stick with what works for you…as our Sifu says, “Don’t play their game, force them to play your game.” In other words, you know what works best for you, stick with that. Second: Don’t try to force a situation or scenario. If you try to force an attack without flexiblity, relaxation and sensivity, you are asking for trouble. Our rule has been, send something forward to get your opponent moving, and then control your opponent’s bridges (limbs) as they react, so that you are providing yourself a more secure opening for attack.

Now to the topic at hand, why do drills? Much like the forms give us the truest sense of structure, drills give a sense of reactive structure. Since you are actually making contact with someone, you get more of a sense of how you will respond to an attack, whether your structure is in the right spot, and whether you are able to respond/counter attack properly and in an adequate amount of time. But he real key element that drills provide is muscle memory. Think back to elementary school gym class. Maybe you were taught the basics of dribbling a basketball, throwing a football, or making proper passes in soccer. All of these had to be taught, and practiced, repetition was the key, and as you continued to practice these things became easier because your muscles were learning and adapting. It is the same way with all of the Wing Chun Drills. They may not be exactly right at first, but as you continue to practice, you develop the muscle memory, and this will allow you to be able to react instinctively, and not have to think about how to react to an incoming attack.

Yes, free flowing sticky hands (gor sao) is important, as it in an improvised unpredictable exercise, but drills cannot be overlooked. Development of proper structure and sensivity comes from drills and is tested in sticky hands, so, make sure that you’re not taking the drills for granted.


Punch Mechanics part 2

This is a continuation of a previous post, which can be found here

In my previous post, we discussed proper alignment of the hand (or more importantly, the knuckles), to the elbow, to the body.  Now, we need to look at overall practice and development.

First, to reiterate a few things; the vertical fist allows us to provide more power and strength to our punch as it is supported by the bones in the forearm, which in turn are supported by the elbow.  Keep in mind that muscle mass is always changing, therefore your muscular strength is more variable than constant.  This is why so many of the hand movements in Wing Chun are dependant on our bone structure.  Our bone structure (for the most part) will remain fairly constant for the better part of our lives, and therefore is a constant source of strength.

In practice, the major problem that most people have when they first learn the motion of the punch is there is a slight up to down arcing motion as they are traveling forward.  This also snaps the elbow, and if uncorrected, will cause tennis elbow.  In actuality, you should start with your fist slightly lower, and project your elbow forward.  This will give you a slight down to up motion, creating a more direct line, eliminating the snap in your elbow.  If done correctly, you should feel your tricep and posslbly your lats pulling.  It should appear to be an immediate release of your fist, rather than a punch that develops over time.  An example of this, if you have a long sleeved shirt, hold the end of one sleeve in one hand, and the shoulder that it is connected to in the other.  Bring your hands together, and immediately pull them apart, as if you are straightening the sleeve.  Your fist should draw a relatively straight line, and it should be a quick movement, done without hesitation.  The other important part to keep in mind is the fist closed, but relaxed.  The more you clench your fist while it is traveling, the sooner your punch will begin to pull.  Ideally, you could clench your fist ONLY at the point of impact, and then immediately unclenching, returning your fist to a relaxed state.  Immediately relaxing will allow you to be flexible to react and change your hands based on any incoming movements.

To close, GM Ho Kam Ming was once asked, “is it too much to practice 1000 punches in a day?” He responded, “Do what you can do–don’t force progress. Otherwise, you won’t get good results.”

For those in the Warrensburg, MO area that would like to visit our class, please click on the about tab for our contact information.

One of the most unique aspects of Wing chun is in the fact that we strive for near simultaneous attack and defense.  Most other martial arts look at defense and attack as two separate steps.  If there is an attack incoming, they will first block, and then attack. Our approach is to minimize the amount of time between the block and counter attack, so as to overwhelm the opponent’s timing with a fast and unexpected attack. 

The hand that punches also blocks.  This is simply saying that in wing chun, a punch is not simply a punch.  Our softness and flexiblity allow our punch to be a both a punch and a block at the same time.  For example, if a punch is incoming, you may throw a punch right over the top of your opponent’s arm to jam their momentum, and if there is no resistance, you are then able to continue into an attack. 

Drills are used to help develop the timing and the instinctive muscle memory, but, development comes witn chi sao (sticky hands), being able to detect untimed, spontaneous attacks, and knowing how to properly respond, based on the skill developed from the drills you have practiced.

Letting Go

There’s an old Wing Chun saying, (paraphrasing): Receive what comes in, send away what leaves…rush in upon loss of contact. 

Sticky hands training can be deceptive.  The name alone is deceptive.  Our school represents Ip Man’s student, Ho Kam Ming.  GM Ho once said, the goal if Chi Sao (Sticky hands) is not for me to stay stuck to you, but to force you to stick to me…if you don’t stick to me, then I have my opening to hit you. 

Receive what comes in.  Keep in mind that this says “receive”, not resist, not overpower, but receive.  One of the unique things about Wing Chun is that we strive for control over our opponent’s motions through sensitivity.  In our school, when we train Chi Sao, and in particular, early stages of Gor Sao, we ask our students to remove speed from the situation, and focus on attacking, and controlling the incoming attack.

Send away what leaves…if your opponent’s arm is leaving, then let it go!  The problem most people will run into is that they are so determined to stick, that as their opponent moves away, their arms goes too, and your structure is compromised. 

Rush in upon loss of contact.  If your opponent leaves, and you see your opening, then you must rush in for your hit (even if you don’t land it). Loss of contact means that your opponent cannot feel what your next move will be, and therefore will take slightly longer to react to what your next movement. 

Shooting Forward – Biu Ma

In Wing Chun, we emphasize in moving forward as much as possible…you shouldn’t have to back up unless you absolutely have to. In the standard fighting position, your feet should be about shoulder width apart, heels parallel, and feet situated comfortably and naturally, it is not necessary to have your toes pointed in (as in the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma or Horse Stance from the forms). When we shoot forward, we need to look at our motion as a triangle:

Looking at the base of the triangle (the horizontal line), this the square stance where the feet are approximately shoulder width apart. To train the Biu Ma, you should first slide one foot inward to the center first (still along the same line). Next you move the same foot forward, thus having hit all three points of the triangle, and keep in mind, this can be done with either foot. You should shoot forward with the front foot, and slightly drag the back foot to control the speed, and distance traveled. In moving, keep the feet relatively shoulder width apart, be careful not to allow the back foot to come up too close to the front, keep everything in relatively the same distance apart. Also, try not to lift your feet off the ground. Each time you lift your foot off the ground, (for even a split second) you are at risk of being thrown off balance.

In training, if you are training with a partner, try to shoot forward, aiming right down your partner’s center line, trying to shoot between their legs. Your goal should be to destroy your opponent’s stance. One way to train this is to have your partner move with you, step for step. As you shoot forward, they should counter with a step backward. What you will find, is that if you speed up, your opponent has to use normal walking to back up, and cannot keep up with the speed of the biu ma, so in training, be careful as a lack of control of footwork may cause one or both to stumble.

In application, the biu ma will allow you to better control yourself during a fight. For someone untrained in wing chun, they will generally use standard walking/running, which if not carefully controlled, puts them at risk for easy stumbling. There are two possibilities here. If you are being defensive, and wanting to walk away from a fight, then use the biu ma with a pivot, deflect your opponent’s attack, using their momentum to send them off, and see if you have the opportunity to walk away. In a more offense oriented application, when you counter attack, as your attack is launched, immediately use the biu ma to go forward, to further enhance your attack, and provide a bit more power through your structure.

Learning to combine your footwork along with your standard structure will greatly enhance your ability.

If you are in the Warrensburg, MO area, and would like to visit our class, go to the About section for our contact information.

Jong Sao

Something that’s not often enough discussed, but virtually all Wing Chun schools will teach from day one, and then never fully explain is the Jong sao, or ready position, or guard hands.


90% of the time, we are told to hold our hands out in front of us, one slightly ahead of the other, but why?  Bring your palms together, and fully extend your arms.  This forms a triangle in front of you.  As long as nothing is able to get inside of this triangle, then you should be able to remain safe.  The only time you should have to react is when something crosses into that boundary.  Now fall back into Jong Sao position, one hand slightly back.  The triangle is still there, but now you have two lines of defense; in case your front hand fails to fully defend against an attack, your back hand is able to compensate for the loss of control. 

Let’s look at the overall placement of the body for a moment.  In Wing Chun, we remain square against our opponent.  Some will argue that this gives our opponent a larger target to hit, which isn’t wrong, but at the same time, with our hands out in front of us, forming a triangle, we should be able to deflect incoming attacks before getting hit.  We stay square so that we can use either hand/foot at a moment’s notice.  Our goal is to keep our opponent guessing.  As soon as you turn your body to favor one side or the other, you are giving an indication that you are more likely to attack from that side, as it would take longer to launch an attack from the back hand/foot.  Even the slightest turn (although the body may appear square) will alter the structure of the jong sao enough that it is not as effective. 

Movies give a bad impression of the Jong Sao, where the arm may be too far extended, or the front arm is turned too far (almost in tan sao position), or the back elbow is fully up.  Sure, these look nice on camera, but they violate the rules of structure and efficiency.  Here’s how to form a good Jong Sao:

1. Front Hand/Arm — Just like in Siu Nim Tao, the elbow should be NO MORE than one fist distance away from the body.  Any further, and you lose the structural backing from the body.  The fingers should point forward, with the side of the hand facing down (with the palm neither facing up or down)

2. Back Hand/Arm – The positioning of the back hand/arm should be between the middle of the front forearm and elbow.  Further forward is alright, but you put yourself at a higher risk of crossing your arms and being trapped.  Further back is bad, as you lose structure, and the timing between the two arms is slowed significantly. 

3. Body – Make sure that you are square with your opponent.  This gives you the best opportunity to react properly to any incoming attacks, and also provides you with the best possible structure.

4. Feet – Some people like to hold the Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma (Horse Stance), but, as Si Gung Ho Kam Ming has pointed out, is this natural for how you would walk around? You don’t like to walk around with your toes pointed inward do you?  This gets awkward after a while.  So your feet should be positioned as you would normally stand and walk around.  They should be at about shoulder width apart and at a relatively parallel position.  In application, with your feet in a natural position, you stand a better chance at being able to walk/run if necessary.  Wing chun emphasizes in being able to defeat an opponent in the quickest way possible and being able to walk away from the fight.  So, if you are turned to the side, you will have to compensate your footwork first before being able to walk away.  With your feet square, you will be able to walk away at a moment’s notice without changing position.  Some people with flat feet have their toes flare out when they are standing or walking around (that’s fine, don’t alter your step to something unnatural for yourself), so if this is the case for you, just make sure your heels are parallel. 

I’m not going to say that the Jong Sao is better than other positions from other styles, because we could debate that all day.  What I will say is that this is what works best for Wing Chun practicioners, based on our principles and rules of structure and efficiency. 


Fighting Stratigies

In examining fighting strategies, we have to take some consideration. These strategies are for self defense, while it is possible that they may be used in organized fighting events, we look at situations where there are no rules, and we must defend ourselves by any means necessary.

Diverting the line of attack
Diverting the line of attack, or redirecting the line of attack, is exactly what it sounds like. Consider, that your opponent has thrown a punch, directly at your chest, head, etc…, you only need to move slightly to change their target…or, you only need to move their arm slightly to redirect their attack. That is defensive; when you do change their line of attack, you need to capitalize on this change, and counterattack, as you should have created a new opening for yourself, which allows you to attack in a place that they may not have accounted for.

Dominate the centerline
This is a defensive strategy first. Keeping your hands on the centerline is the safest thing you can do, as your opponent will have to cross inside the boundary formed by your arms in order to hit you. No matter what attack comes in, you should have no problem blocking, by simply covering your centerline, and raising or lowering your hands, when appropriate. The attacking strategy is simple, attack from the centerline, with structure. When using structure, you must minimize the amount of muscle, and this will allow you to maximize the strength that the combination of structure and speed produce.

Structural Recovery
Let’s say that you have lost control of the situation, and aren’t completely keeping track of all of your opponent’s attacks. Your safest bet is to fall back into jong sau position, and use your structure to regain control of the situation. The more you panic, the more you will be prone to use muscular strength, which becomes a disadvantage, as you are more committed to the movements, and this commitment can be used against you.

Alot of people will often ask why Chi sao, or sticky hands is so important. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, it develops the sensitivity through touch to be able to perceive your opponent’s intentions, in terms of direction of travel, and how much strength they are using. But, let’s look a bit deeper into Chi Sao and sensitivity.

When a student first begins training, they typically use their eyes to track everything, they will focus on the incoming punch/kick, and try to visually examine the incoming movements as they are occuring. However, as Grandmaster Ho Kam Ming puts it, if you see it, you are too late. Your sense of sight is significantly slower than your sense of touch. So, your best bet would be to establish contact with your opponent, and then allow your sense of touch to dictate to you where your next move is going to be.

The simplest way of examining this, is to look at the single hand sticky hand drill (dan chi sao). The idea with this drill is to stay within a routine, but, to hold your position, until you feel your opponent move. The error that most people will make when doing this drill is to maintain a set speed to their movements, therefore being extremely predictable. This removes the element of sensitivity, because you are anticipating the incoming attack, rather than truly reacting to an incoming force. The true key to this, is to develop your sense of touch, so that you can feel your opponent moving, and then you will be able to react properly.

If you are in the Warrensburg, MO area, and would like to visit our class, click on the ABOUT tab at the top of the page for our contact info.