The Open Hand Closed Fist KISS

Because of a discussion on Facebook related to the previous post (The Open Hand or the Closed Fist), it seems a little clarification, if not simplification, is worthwhile.

The axiom is ‘soft against hard, hard against soft’. We know punching bone, such as a skull, is high risk, yet we all train this way. This is not isolated to newbies or showoffs. Even old timers do it. Why we train this way is open for debate. Perhaps it comes from sport / mma, or perhaps the use of gloves for protection during training makes us forget that punching a skull is not a good idea. Who knows why we practice punching heads when we know we should not.

A critical look at Wing Chun’s forms shows this idea holds true. In most Mook Yan Jong forms, but not all, there is no punching above the arms – which would be the head region. However, there are punches below the top arms – the middle of the body. The same is true in other forms. Siu Nim Tao’s punches are mid level. Chum Kiu resorts to open hands on the high areas. Biu Jee / Tze is exclusively open hands on the high side, the only punch being to the body in those variations that have a punch.

Our training becomes ingrained in us. You practice the forms, but you probably run drills more often. Many practitioners rarely consider what they are doing during a form. They focus on position, shape, speed, weight, and breathing perhaps, but may not give critical analysis to the actions themselves. As such, drills tend to cement our responses.

If you do not believe that, try this. Take a simple combination common to JKD, Muay Thai and a host of related arts and kickboxing – the 4 count. Typically, it is a lead kick, cross, hook, rear kick, though there are at least 16 variations. If you are familiar with it, try conducting a class where you are not allowed to punch toward the head. Something like lead kick, forward palm (Jing Jern), slap (or Wong Jern), rear kick. Notice how difficult it is to get your hands open, and how often you or your training partners revert to punches.

In a pure Wing Chun approach, try something simple like Tan Da with a blast. Tan your partner’s punch and strike high, and then follow up with a triplet. The odds are you will punch toward the head, even though not punching is the goal. While you intend to Jing Jern or Wong Jern, more than likely you will find yourself reverting to punches, at least from time to time. Your repeated practice has overridden your knowledge that punching a head is not a good idea.

Despite the clear maps of the forms and axioms, we train hard against hard, closed fist to the head, with the side effect of doing what we train. As such, we need to change how we train.

The previous post attempted to offer a simple rule of thumb, though it may have been buried in the flourish. Here is a KISS (Keep It Super Simple):
Punching is for the body only – mid-level. Everywhere else is open hand.


About Sifu

I teach Wing Chun, both traditional and practical, at KDA Karate Academy. I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager. In addition to being a Martial Arts Instructor, I am an author. My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge".

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