by Sifu Brian Hester.
My martial arts journey began in 1981. I have studied numerous styles such as Philippino Modern Arnis, JKD, Uechi-Ryu Karate, Small Circle Jujitsu, and finally Wing Chun under the direction of world renown Gary Lam. I have been teaching Wing Chun for approximately 8 years and always wanted to bring attention to the importance of elbow position.
The concept of elbow position starts from the very beginning, where one learns the first form called Siu Lim Tao, and continues throughout all the basic sections of Wing Chun. If you understand the first form and all of its applications, then you will clearly see the significance that elbow position has in making Wing Chun an efficient, direct, and powerful fighting system.
In the first form, the most efficient elbow position is achieved when a practitioner’s elbow is between his/her own centerline and shoulder. This allows the practitioner to react quicker to an attack from either the outside or inside by having his/her arm travel an equal distance to meet the oncoming attack. I have seen many practitioners with their elbow positioned directly on their centerline. I feel this is inefficient because of the time that it takes for the arm to move from the center to where the attack takes place. The same holds true if the practitioner’s elbow is too far to the outside of the body. This leaves the centerline vulnerable and the practitioner cannot react as quickly because his/her arm has to travel now a longer distance to defend against an attack.
The Wing Chun fighting system uses direct attacks to achieve maximum results. When we strike, we have to think of leading our strike with our elbows and not our hands, because emphasis on the hands creates stiffness and stiffness slows reactionary time. We don’t want to lead with our fist and pull the elbow along with it – we would much rather lead with our elbow, which pushes our fist to the desired target. This will give you more speed and remove any stiffness that you have in your arms as you strike.
In Wing Chun the elbow always leads the way. As an example, in the Chum Kiu and Biu Gee forms, as the practitioner executes a cover action after the Fung Hao, if an attack is directed towards the practitioner’s centerline, the practitioner’s elbow needs to lead the way. This is because the elbow is closer to the centerline than the hand. Once this happens, the hand will automatically be placed in the proper position to defend against an attack. If we react with our hand first to protect the center, one will have a higher chance of getting hit because it takes the hand a longer time to reach the center. In addition, without proper elbow position, structure will also be lost and the opponent can utilize this to his/her advantage. Delay in reaction time and loss of structure are counter intuitive to Wing Chun’s direct action.
The elbow position is also directly related to the practitioner’s power. If we look at the first form, we can see how the elbow transfers our energy most directly from the ground to the hip and up the arm by being correctly placed one fist length in front of the body and between the shoulder and the centerline. The elbow, in actuality, ties our lower and upper body together, transferring the energy needed to either push or strike an opponent with maximum efficiency and power. When the elbow moves away from the body, the energy path changes from our hips to our shoulders, instead of keeping the energy directly from the hips to the elbow. Improper elbow position results in loss of power, structure, speed, efficiency, and ultimately leads to undesired results.
In closing just remember to fight with your elbows and not your hands. This is a very general statement, but if you understand how much the elbow position plays in your movements, you will understand the statement.
Sifu Brian Hester
Gary Lam Wing Chun of Orange County
Wong Shun Leung | Gary Lam Lineage