by Jim Woodcock
In all Ip Man lineages (and possibly other short bridge styles of Wing Chun), you will find the concept of keeping the elbow near the waist or the hip. Most WC styles say you should keep it roughly a fist distance away — others are not so specific and allow the elbow to be freer. There are also disagreements on how far the elbow should be from the centreline. In 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 distance from elbow to hip will vary according to circumstance, application, and body shape.
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 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 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 what we are trying to achieve with this idea in Wing Chun, except that we have one pressing (literally) issue to contend with. The incoming force is from the top and also the front and sides. Once we have understood the structure behind Gau Bei Ga, we must learn to deal with frontal and sideways pressure and how to work with it, deflect it or change positions. From day one, we have many drills in our system that enhance and strengthen this skill — it is something that we not only practice and refine continuously but 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 to 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. 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 energy. Instead, you should lead the incoming force to the ground and use it to generate your returning force.
You may be thinking, “OK. But how do I do that?” I see this kind of question often on social media platforms. The answer to that question is simple — go and ask your teacher!
If they cannot answer this, they coud be using a different force system, or you need to find a new teacher! This training needs specific, hands-on teaching — no book or article can help you. You need to feel it.
In my classes, I approach this by ensuring that beginners can at least hold this static position against a steady force from the front, as a bare minimum. They may need to use the rear leg first to feel the force flow from the hip through the legs and into the ground. Once they have felt this, they will have an inkling of what we mean when we talk about “force flow”. Of course, this is just an introduction.
Once this idea is embedded into the student, they can begin to work on maintaining this feeling whilst moving the waist. A good analogy is that of a forklift truck (Fig 3.)
You have a strong, heavy base with bent arms that can withstand pressure from all sides. You can lift objects, pull objects, and also drop them. 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. Try to vary the force supplied 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 feel (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. You can adjust your Gau Bei Ga position to receive a better “signal”. You want that signal to go straight to the ground. When you know you have received your partner’s force signal, you can then transmit yours!
Once the beginner understands this concept, they can 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 the tension in the elbow — if not, the Taan sau and Fook sau might not be in line with each other. If one partner begins pressing downwards (instead of forward), you will lose connection, allowing space for the other partner to move in. It could also mean that one partner is pushing off center, making it very easy for you to take the line. 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 as each side takes turns to push and pull (using single-weight, your waist, and Gau Bei Ga)!
Of course, this is not a practical application drill. It is 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, then 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.
Good luck with your training.
Sifu Jim Woodcock