When the late Wong Shun-leung taught me the Wing Chun pole, I was neither impressed nor excited about the content.
The Wing Chun pole form movements are after all seemingly very tame and lacking in aesthetics. I took the necessary snaps of Sifu doing the routine, noted down what I considered then to be the main points and decided to close that chapter in my learning of the Wing Chun system then.
The Nullah Road premise, where Sifu taught, was often noisy, chaotic, confusing and yet challenging. The cacophony of the street noise, together with the blaring TVB broadcast combined with the practitioners coming to practice or to chatter, assaulted my concentration on the subsequent partner practice of the pole form, and affected my take of the pole for a long time.
Around that time, I was also attending training sessions with Sifu Tsui SheungTin who lived only a short walk from Nullah Road. Old Tsui’s (Old as a adjective in Chinese is an affectionate and venerable term) premise was at that time only marginally quieter, and yes, I also watched a lot of TVB there. Although both Sifu and Old Tsui learnt from the same legendary Ip Man, their take on the system were divergent in emphasis and nuances, amongst others.
Old Tsui, once told me that the pole should be more advanced than the knife form. Sifu normally would not teach the knife form without a red packet. In Sifu’s days, there were anecdotes of him, learning and arming himself with the Butterfly knives to protect Ip Man when the latter patronized certain dangerous club houses.
The pole ain’t much mentioned as a practical weapon of choice then.
By the early nineties, I luckily also learnt some pole from Sifu Derek Fung Bing-Bol back in Sydney. Sifu Derek confessed he learnt everything Ip Man had to offer except the knifeform. Understandably, because as I understand it, Sifu Derek wasn’t even 20 when he left Ip to go to Australia. As I remember it, his pole form was also pretty non-descript. This is of course without any disrespect to Sifu Derek. Sifu Derek was one of Ip Man’s most unsung hero disciples. In his days, Sifu Derek was so devastatingly fast, he was referred to as “Lightning Hands”.
So why learn the pole? How did it come by into the Wing Chun system? How relevant is it to students, practitioners and teachers nowadays? How should we proceed with incorporating the pole form in our curriculum and lesson plan?
ORIGINS of the Wing Chun Pole
Like many aspects of Wing Chun, there is NO definitive documentation on where the Pole came from. The anecdotes and stories vary from teacher to teacher, and lineage to lineage. My study of the Triunifiniti Goo-Lo Wing Chun system clearly indicates they have a 3.Half Pole in the Goo-Lo tradition. Along with that, there are also the Wayfarer Staff (“Hang Tse Pang”) and the Beautiful Lady Paddles the Sampan Pole (“May Lui Tsang Tsou Kwan”).
Leung Jaarn seemingly did not teach the 6 Point and Half Pole in the Goo-Lo village where he retired in his senior years. Collectively with the stories told of the 6.HalfPole, we can only at best surmise that the Opera Red Junk boaters used a 10 feet 4 inches long pole to help navigate their junks along the narrow water ways around the Pearl River Delta, where they ply their travelling opera shows in those years.
We can only conjecture that over time, with the input from one or more sources (including possible spear forms), the kungfu practices they had then, evolved their boating navigational pole into a fighting pole, enabling them to fight with other boaters. This seems to be a realistic scenario playing out into the eventual formalization of the pole form that we see and practice today, as the 6.Half Pole form.
WHY learn and practise the 6.Half Pole
Wong Shun-Leung Sifu mentioned specifically that the 6.Half Pole cultivates the competency of fighting efficiently with one arm. My initial reaction to that was – huh? It remained so for quite a while until I realized that we need to see past the physical movements of the 6.Half Pole.
It actually is one of the most potent power enhancers in the Wing Chun system. It also cultivates a structural geometric mindset.This means instead of swinging the pole as a weapon to hit, swipe, poke etc, we focus more on the pole mapping the horizontal plane, the vertical plane, tracing both the eccentric and concentric cone shape, power lining and dotting the space the pole can probe comfortably with. While doing so, we cultivate the ability of using the shoulder, the hip, the Kneeling Horse (“Gwai Ma”) and the Hanging Horse (“Diu Ma”).
“The secret? You will be pleased to know like I was, lies in applying bodily leveraging.”
By leveraging different parts of the body, including the arms of course, we actually train up different parts to move and accelerate independently and interdependently. Meaning at the advanced level, you train all major moving parts of the body to generate the requisite power for fighting. At the most elementary level, we of course, train the arms first. To train the arms to have the capability to operate independently with confidence and competence in combat.
Some misunderstand this to mean strengthening the arms to get the job done. So, I suspect, some Wing Chun practitioners may in fact replace the Pole training with gym work, performing weight lifting routines as a modern alternative. This, based on my understanding and experience, limits considerably their progress and retards tremendously their ultimate actualization of what Wing Chun can do for them.
Powerlifting in the gym has a proven place in body sculpting and overall body’s muscular strength. We cannot deny their value to the gymnast and other athletes and other sports people. Even many of the old masters who could easily kill their enemies with their bare hands, trained with weights. What is not so obvious is the weights seem unbalanced like the Okinawan chiishi weighted levers (also referred to as sticks or weights). In fact one of Bruce Lee’s favourite wrist training exercises was using a one-sided handheld barbell, where weights were removed from one end and kept at the other.
The 6.Half Pole is like that. You need to leverage the Pole with a dynamic balance. This refines the neuromuscular coding of the arms and parts of the body involved.
It is truly an advanced training tool and technique. Very much like the spear training in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Aikido (yes, they do have long weapon training in Aikido). Even Pakua has a giant sabre training tool with its heaviness flopping towards the tip of the giant sabre. The list goes on.
How and when to train the 6.Half Wing Chun Pole
There is one disadvantage practicing the pole in HongKong. Its length hampers its popularization. So many people either don’t learn it or only learning it superficially, and this only after quite many years practicing Wing Chun empty forms and dummy.The lack of movements and the sheer brevity of the routine further deter others to pick it up as a worthwhile combative training requirement.
Others find the pre-requisite of the lower horse stance battle punching exercise, which many 6.Half pole trainers insist the students demonstrably practice enough before taking up the actual pole form, to be tedious and irrelevant.
Personally, there is a reason why the Opera Red Junk boaters practiced the low horse stance. They needed it to balance themselves on a moving junk. Lancing opponents on an adjacent moving junk with a long pole required even more balance. In today’s world, the low horse stance and the battle punching exercise may only assist in habituating the waist to twist without sideways leaning which could misalign the spinal column. This is when you need to balance the long Pole on one side, and carrying out the essential 6 and a half movements.
So, in my opinion, I suggest in a proper environment, with an optimum exposure, and familiarity with the Character Two Adducting Goat Stance (“Yee Tzi Gim Yeung Ma”), Siu Nim Tau form, Chi Sau, etc seasoned foundation students should start working on the weapons, including the pole. This means a continuing foundation student training in class with the Sifu or Trainer 3 times a week, can after 4 months or more, start working with the 6.Half Pole form.
Like everything in Wing Chun, we must and I stress, must, facilitate a proper understanding of the core foundation principles and purpose training the pole. First. That I cover above – in manifesting the body and its moving parts especially the arms in sheer leveraging power, in a combative context.
The Siu Nim Tau form enables the arms to first learn and pick up supination and pronation in core essential body structural movements, which can translate into the pole movements. Without first having sufficient proficiency in Siu Nim Tau, especially in supinating (outward spiraling) and pronating (inward spiraling) of the 2 lower arm bones – the ulnar and the radius, and conditioning the wrist and hand muscles involved, familiarizing with applying the elbows to move in the correct Wing Chun way, going into the pole training prematurely can be risky. A less than rigorous postural construct can exacerbate the risks and accidents can happen, in minor cases muscular straining or tearing, to severe cases of spinal injuries. A close, qualified supervision should minimize such risks.
My conclusion after years of hearing out the training experiences of Ip Man’s direct disciples Old Tsui, Wong Sifu and Sifu Derek, is, Ip Man did not teach in an organized manner. In fact, I tend to believe, he was rather casual and relaxed in his approach transmitting to his students and disciples. I take it that was how most masters used to teach under the circumstances then.
Certainly, a refugee like Ip, escaping the clutches of the communists in China, eking out a living in post World War 2 Hong Kong, away from his own wife and family in Fatshan, penniless and without many friends, life would be hostile and seemingly hopeless. Ditto for many others like him. Teaching the pole in a clear-cut manner would have been the last thing on Ip’s mind.
Hence, from what I can see, there really ain’t a lot to go by from Ip’s transmission in helping later generations to progress this weapon category. Thus, there are many different names, terms and explanations for the various movements of the 6.Half Pole.
Personally, I suspect no one in the lineage really can say for sure. Within the context of contemporary society and within our martial arts community now, this in itself, may in fact be a good thing, as it stimulates members of the community to research, analyse and study even more. We should then have continuous and continual improvements in all that we do.
The sequence of the 6.Half Pole
Tai Kwan aka. Tang Kwan (Lift Pole)
Ping Kwan aka. Ping Cheung (Lateral Pole)
Fong Loong Cheung aka. Biu Kwan (Dart Pole)
Gord Kwan aka. Tiu Kwan (Slice or Stitch Pole)
Tank Kwan aka. Fook Kwan (Nail or Subdue Pole)
Tang Loong Cheung aka. Taan Kwan (Layout Pole)
Lau Shui (Flowing Water) ½ technique
1.Tai提 Tang登 Kwan棍
This is the first exercise students should do in a Yee Tzi Gim Yeung Ma stance (aka. Symmetrical Phasic Adduction Structure “SPAS”). This is the first exercise in training the arms to leverage interdependently between the left and the right arm.The Pole ascends up and descends down a projected Frontal Plane.
2.Ping平 Kwan 棍 Cheung 槍
From an elevated shoulder height from 1 above, extend the pole out laterally along the shoulder height projected Transverse Plane.
3.Fong Loong Cheung 放龍槍 Biu Kwan 鏢棍
Dart the Pole out to where it points from 2 above and using a low squat stance. You can first low squat from 2 and then dart out from a lowered pole OR go from an elevated pole in SPAS to a low squat position.
4.Gord剮 Tiu挑 Kwan 棍
From the Biu Kwan position cut back down in a slicing motion thus seemingly flicking the darted end up. The squatted position retracts back up to a Hanging Horse position.
5.Tank 釘 Fook伏 Kwan棍
The name derives from its hammering action as if the pole is hammering nails on the floor. The lead hand will pronate into a Fook Hand.
6.Tang Loong Cheung 騰龍槍 Taan Kwan 攤棍
While 5 is a pronating arcing down, 6 is actually a supinating arcing up, a bit like 4 but advancing forward.
7.Lau Shui 流水
Lau Shui lifts pole in a semi-circular clockwise (from the practitioner’s perspective) manner covering a swathe of space, providing a shield like coverage in the process but this movement does not fully circle. I suspect it is because the boaters on the junk just did not have the maneuverability to do that. Hence only half way allowed.
I hope this introduction of the Wing Chun 6.Half Pole brings to you another perspective on what it is all about. I think it is a marvelous and integral part of the Fatshan Hong Kong Wing Chun system. I also believe some of the really great masters including Yuen Kay Shan, Ip Man, Tsui Sheung Tin and Wong Shun-Leung meticulously studied and used the pole to power up their prowess skills.
I strongly suggest to aficionados of Wing Chun to seriously consider using the pole and this form, in particular to follow the footsteps of the master both gone and some of the more distinguished teachers still with us. In my humble opinion, an indispensable tool of the Wing Chun trade, in fact, its sceptre of power.
For more information visit: www.VIKOGA.com