We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.
There are at least two types of dangerous addictions rampant in Wing Chun training; one is doing Chi Sau to the exclusion of all other training and one is having Bong Sau be your first defense.
Bong Sau is the trademark Wing Chun move. But doing it at the wrong time can get you killed.
Real fights, in which people get hurt or even killed, happen in the blink of an eye. Some times, neither the fighters nor the spectators see what happens, then its over.
In fights between unskilled opponents, you often see everything because most of the fight is preliminaries. There is a lot of talk, posturing, and gradual escalation. Then its scrambling all over the map as they flail around, heads down, eyes closed.
Even after the first attack is thrown, often some sort of shove or jab, the participants avoid actually fighting. They stay out of range and circle one another and do more talking. There is a lot of reaching for one another from too far away, with brief bursts of grappling and then breaking apart.
This is the amateur’s version of fighters finding their range. But it is also a lack of nerve and caution. They are trying to find a right moment to attack that is “safe.”
A trained fighter knows that the longer the fight goes on, the more danger they are in, so they do not circle or delay. Once they decide they must fight rather than leave, they get within range and then attack.
Faced with an attack by a skilled opponent, many inexperienced Wing Chun fighters throw a Bong Sau to avoid getting hit. This is because their training has misled them.
Bong Sao seems important because it is the signature move of Wing Chun. Its in Siu Lum Tao, Dan Chi Sao, and its a basic repeated move in Chi Sao.
We do it over and over.
We learn, especially in the early stages of training, that Bong Sao can save our ass. Its a quick, very natural response to an attack to the head. We learn to do Bong Sao as an “Oh, Shit!” defense.
Don’t get me wrong – Bong Sao is an important secondary movement. It’s a useful linking movement for drills, because you can usefully use it to reset and do a drill again. It’s important to Chi Sao because it is a Tan Sao upside down, so it can be used to simulate launching an attack then defending against an attack, back and forth, over and over. Its useful for changing.
But it’s not an intelligent first action. In Wing Chun, your first action must always contain an attack. There is no way to perform a Bong Sau and simultaneously attack! Wing Chun is a system based on simultaneous attack and defense. But the attack is more important than the defense. In Wing Chun, the attack is the defense.
Inexperienced Wing Chun fighters, like inexperienced fighters of any type, try to defend and delay – its natural. They hope they will somehow find a safe position from which to attack, if given enough time.
Experienced fighters defend by attacking. They create their opportunity rather than hoping it will appear through luck.
If I throw Bong Sao after Bong Sao in response to your attacks, I am only prolonging the moment when I must attack. If you never attack, your opponent can continue to press their offense.
This is what the Lap Sao drill teaches. Bong, then HIT. Bong, hit. Bong, hit. In the Gary Lam lineage, we do Wrong Bong drills. The Bong is always followed by an aggressive recovery. Never bong without following it immediately with an attack.
Also, the Bong is structurally unsound. All your opponent has to do is cover (get on top) and put some weight on that shape – it will collapse and they will hit or grab over the top of this fallen position.
Remember this: your first action should be an attack, preferably attacking the head of your opponent. Your job is to stop the fight. Wing Chun stops fights through knockout. Knockouts only result from attacks to the head. So you must attack the head. Its that simple.
For more on this subject, here is a good video by James Sinclair, a senior student of Ip Chun’s teaching in the UK.
Although my Spanish is not that great (I used to speak it fluently when I was a kid – I spent my first four years on an Air Force base in Puerto Rico) I’ll translate this comment – its from one of our Wing Chun brothers in Madrid, who kindly linked to my article and a video by James Sinclair on this Bong Sao problem and agrees the bong is meant to guide power past the centerline to create an angle to hit through – its not a block, like a high karate block, the way it is often misused.
I’m currently practicing the wrong bong/correct bong to Po Pai, which illustrates this point exactly. The bong creates the bad position for the opponent and good position for you, and then you exploit the angle with a Po Pai action and taking position. Very powerful!
Jerry Avalos says
Your article is dead on, in a fight I”m looking to punch and deflect at the same time or simply move in quick and attack the centerline.
Steven Moody says
Exactly Jerry. My teacher does a little stomp which accentuates the violent and quick transition here – that’s the Pao Bong anyway – we have the other bong from contact, which we use to go from below to above or to maybe transition in a little Chok Kiu (sp?). But I feel bad for the people I see in videos just going in the wrong direction with this technique.
I disagree, A bong sao can also be used offensively. all you have to do is to extend the arm a bit more. In this way if you make a fist with your hand, the bong sao will turn into a somewhat direct attack.
some may argue that this isnt a bong sao anymore, but it fulfills the same purpose by protecting that side of the head, but it strikes at the same time.
Steven Moody says
Sounds like an elbow strike. Or a Lan Sao. Wasn’t even thinking about bong as a weapon really! My main point is that too many WC trainees (and even styles) think of the bong as the essence of WIng Chun and yet its a defensive move so they build their whole WC approach on being defensive, which is the opposite of the WSL interpretation (and really, the songs and principles) which is that WC is an attack, not a defense. The attack is the defense. So the emphasis must be one hitting the opponent, thus, get rid of that bong ASAP and hit. Hey, if you want to hit with the elbow, go for it! At least its an attack.
Bong sau is my most formidable move in attack and defence , it acts as a hooking punch, an elbow, a trapping arm, a deflecting arm which manifests to counter attack and engage in close combat, a lock, it is the sizzle .
Steven Moody says
It sounds like you have a very active bong!
The big problem is not with advanced practitioners having a nice set of nuanced reflexes – its with beginners (and others) responding to a punch in training with a bong nearly every time, without an IMMEDIATE attack linked to it.
Plus, an attack is always faster than an attack then defense. The fastest bong da has a beat in there. You have to bong, THEN da. A jut which punches is innately faster and more to the point, as a general rule.
Steve Hans says
I think that Bong is a natural defection of an Attack , since the difference between WC and Shaolin Kung Fu is that WC borrows from the Opponents Power , whereas Shaolin it is Force against Force. WC in this respect is very similar to Aikido , which uses the oponent’s attacking force positively, that is if a momentum is projected at you, dont try and block it, as force against force will end up the big guy winning. You deflect with a Bong and side step to let the Momentum of the attack pass you. WC masters can use just body rotation ad deflection to allow a force to be deflected and not even use blocks.
Also WC is different from other Shaolin KF by the stance taken. Shaolin uses much lower stances, the Quadralateral Stance and the Frontal Stance to lower the Center of Gravity down to a couple of feet from the ground. By lowering the center of gravity so drastically the Shaolin KF hopes to achieve a stable platform from which to launch his attack.
WC does not lower the Center of Gravity but uses the Eiffel Tower Stance with the knees pushed inwards, the hips slightly sitting down and the feet turned in. This creates a Stable Center of Gravity situation from which to attack and defence. Awareness of the Center of Mass of the body and its stability is vital in WC. This is what the forms really teaches us , that we need to be aware of a stable Center of Gravity during movement and when still in afluid and dynamic situation. Concious of this stable environment , we launch attacks and defence simultaneously and in a stable manner.
Launching pre-emptive attacks is fine if you are in a position to do so. Each situation demands either a pre-emptive attack, a defence or creating an opportunity for an attack. To go in and say i must attack first may create a situation where you are out of balance or you create vulnerability and weakness in your stance and defence. I think Bruce Lee’s motto was attack first !
Launching an attack to the face is extremely destructive and launching a series of chain punches to the face can literally destroy the face. WC is an extremely destructive in certain situations . If you study Biu Jee , it is extremely destructive .
Steven Moody says
Yes – WC is definitely extremely destructive. But this is fighting, after all. This is why I also studied Jujitsu – for the handling of situations that didn’t have an ethical justification for destroying someone’s face. For me, Jujitsu and other locking (in combination with WC deflections and reflexes) is the soft and gentle method. WC is the knife.
My main point was that although Bong is of course an integral part of the system and very useful, it shouldn’t be your go-to move and many students use it excessively because they are afraid to go in and want to try to stay safe outside, which is not the WC way. WC is in-fighting and you HAVE to go in. Of course, this gets hairy in training and you have to have great training partners and understand what is going on, so no one gets hurt (physically or their feelings).