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.