While practicing punches last week, Si-Fu Shoellhammer mentioned that it was better to hit an opponent with the lower knuckles than with the upper. When I asked why that might be, he grinned his boyish, cockeyed grin and challenged me to figure it out for myself. (Is it just me, or are all Si-Fus required to have this cryptic, all-knowing grin?) I’ll be honest, I still haven’t come to a conclusion. I’m open to suggestions, if any of you know the answer to this one, Si-Hings!
However, there is one thing I’ve learned this week that doesn't require homework: how to be a Bent-arm Beauty.
In Wing Chun, punches are practiced with arms slightly bent. If you've been practicing another martial art for a while, this may look to you like it’s not “full-out” or it’s improper form. In some martial arts—karate, for example—the punch is fully extended when practicing. But, while it looks good and, yes, it could possibly hurt the other guy, the danger in real combat is that you may not hit your target.
The very first thing I ever learned about punching, I learned as a teenager. You don’t try to hit your target, you try to hit THROUGH it. Don’t aim for the other guy’s teeth—aim for the back of his throat. Through his teeth. When you practice a fully-extended punch, you don’t leave yourself any room to push through your target.
Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you’re trying to hit something and you just can’t connect? Practicing with straightened arms puts you in danger of hitting air when push comes to shove. What if your opponent pulls his chin back? Perhaps you do hit him, but it won’t be with much force, which means your fight is going to be a lot longer than you may have stamina for, especially if your opponent picks an inopportune moment to land you on cement (you have a bad cold, your kids are close at hand, you're carrying a backpack and an armload of books, etc.). One of my good buddy Si-Hings says, “If the fight lasts a full minute, you’re going to get hurt.” So it has to end as quickly as it starts.
Perhaps because your punch is just out of serious damage range, you lean forward to extend your reach. This, of course, throws you off balance. Remember, you’re going to have an adrenaline rush propelling you further than anything you did on the mat. It’s not going to be perfect--it's probably going to be ugly. Who cares, as long as you're winning? But if your balance is compromised, you could really be screwed.
It seems to me (neophyte that I am) that the whole basis upon which Wing Chun rests IS balance, the foundation upon which all other principles can be built. It’s hard enough to maintain proper balance when dealing with an opponent who is trying to jackhammer that foundation out from under you. You certainly don’t want to sabotage yourself in the first round.
In Wing Chun, then, punches are practiced with a slightly bent arm, allowing for an extension through the target, allowing for the possibility of a backward-moving target, and allowing you to maintain your balance. As an added bonus, you’re also less likely to painfully hyper-extend your arm during practice--like I did back when I was a sashless newb. There are so very many benefits.
Si-Fu tells me when I’ve done 10,000 punches, perhaps I’ll have the answer to my knuckle question. I’ll probably have an adequate amount of practical experience with those bent-arm punches, too. I’ll let you know what I discover when I’m through.
Yut, yee, sarm, say, ng...
I guess I do have homework afterall. Mm. Beauty has it's price, right?
Luk, chut, bart, gou, sub…