In all Ip Man lineages (and possibly other short bridge styles) you will find the concept of keeping the elbow near the waist or the hip. Some say you should keep it roughly a fist distance away, others are not so specific and allow the elbow to be more free. There is also disagreements in how far the elbow should be from the centreline. In the our system (Wong Shun Leung via Sifu Cliff Au Yeung) we hold the elbow at the point where a line drawn down from the eye-line meets the hip (Fig 1). The actual distance from elbow to hip will vary on circumstance, application and person. We refer to this positional idea as Gau Bei Ga which translates as Dog Leg Frame. This exact translation may not read well in English, but you simply need to think of it as the physics behind a shelf and bracket. Wikipedia describes a bracket as such:
“A bracket is an architectural element: a structural or decorative member. It can be made of wood, stone, plaster, metal, or other mediums. It projects from a wall, usually to carry weight and sometimes to “…strengthen an angle”. A bracket enables the outstretched arm to support a greater weight, a bracket will often have a third arm running diagonally between the horizontal and vertical arms, or the bracket may be a solid triangle.” (Fig 2)
And this is exactly what we are trying to achieve with this system in Wing Chun, except that we have one pressing (literally) issue to contend with. And that is incoming force from not only from the top but also the front and sides. So once we have understood the structure behind Gau Bei Ga we must learn to deal with frontal and sideways pressure and how to deal with it. Right from day one there are many drills in our system that enhance and strengthen this skill and it is something that not only do we practice and refine continuously but something that literally defines our Wing Chun.
Without Gau Bei Ga we have nothing!
But just having this structure isn’t enough. We need to learn how to listen to incoming forces so we can interpret the signals we receive and therefore know what to do with them once we have a good connection.
So how can we improve this signal? Well the first thing is to feel what a strong signal is like to begin with, so whatever method or lineage you practice be sure that you relax (especially the forearms) and settle the elbow into its ideal position. This is the position in which you can hold structure without using the shoulder or excessive muscular strength. You should also not have to exert too much of your own energy, instead you should be leading the incoming force to the ground and using that force to generate your own returning force. You may be thinking, “OK. But how do I do that?” I see this kind of question all the time on various social media platforms. The answer to that question is really simple. Go and ask your teacher! If they cannot answer your question then either you are using a different force system or you need to find a new teacher!
In my own classes I approach this by making sure that beginners can at least hold this static position against a steady force from the front as a bare minimum. They may need to make use of a rear leg first to feel the force flow from the hip though the legs and into the ground. Once they have felt this they will at the very least have an inkling of what we mean when we talk about “force flow”. But of course this is not the full story just an introduction. The most important thing to correct at this point and every step of the way is that there is no use of the shoulder in any way. So if you see people with sore shoulders they must be doing something wrong.
Once this idea is embedded into the student, they can begin to work on how to maintain this feeling whilst moving the waist. I use the analogy of a fork lift (Fig 3) truck in class. So you have a strong and heavy base, with bent arms that can withstand pressure from all sides. You can lift objects, pull objects and drop objects. But this analogy begins to fail as the student gets more skilful because this model is too stiff or solid and doesn’t allow for fluid and relaxed movement. But it’s a start!
Another concept to introduce early on is how to hold and release force. So try and vary the forces that you give to the student from slow and heavy, to fast and sharp, each time they should be relaxing and tensing briefly as they feel the incoming force. More importantly they should be listening. By this I mean they should have an awareness of the incoming (or lack of) forces as they ebb and flow. So think of yourself as the mobile phone and the incoming force as the Wifi signal. As you adjust your Gau Bei Ga position you get a better signal and you want that signal to go straight to the ground. Once you have received you can then transmit your own signal!
Once the beginner has a very basic understanding of this concept they can now use Taan sau and Fook sau to give and receive along the same line. Understand that there are some basics you must stick to in relation to what you feel. You must feel tension in the elbow, if not, the Taan sau and Fook sau may not be in line with each other. If one partner begins pressing downwards as opposed to forward you will lose connection allowing space for the other partner to move in. It could also mean that one partner is pushing off centre making it very easy for you to take the line. So you should both listen to your elbows and make a connection together. Do you feel this?
You are now online!
This idea can be done simply on one side with beginners or with both the left and right sides during Chi sau practice with each side taking turns to push and pull (using single weight, your waist and Gau Bei Ga of course.) Now of course this is not a practical application drill, but a drill to enhance the attribute of in contact sensitivity. It will also enhance your contact reflexes and your ability to feel what your opponent is doing. So if you are weak I can do anything, if you are strong coming forward I will receive, if you are strong pulling me forward I will follow – this is what it means to be sticky. But like all drills you have to keep at it and make these ideas part of your complete system.
I am honoured to have Sifu Cliff Au Yeung as one of my teachers and I count down the days each year till we next meet and I can continue my journey into his awesome system.
Till next time.