“One day, while (Wong Shun Leung) was striking the wall bag, Grandmaster Ip Man was talking to Leung Sheung and said, “Look at the way this kid is looking at the wall bag as he hits it…It’s as if he’s hitting a person, not just a bag. I recon he’ll create a stink in Hong Kong within a year.”
Wong Shun Leung, the Legend by Lewis Luk and Cliff Au Yeung
The easiest and most certain skill you can develop is the ability to punch hard.
Its useless to develop the ability to get to the target (i.e., the rest of the WC system) if you can’t cause damage when you get there.
WARNING: I feel compelled here to remind everyone that this website is for entertainment purposes only and is not to be taken as advice: always work with a qualified instructor to put training techniques into practice! In other words, please don’t hurt yourself and then sue me!
This is a really tricky business, the conditioning of the hands. If you are going to hit anything hard, you need to prepare your hand. The hand is very delicate, with many small bones that can break easily (even though I think you will find that most of the injuries you will get will be from collisions with the other fighter’s hands during training — keep that thumb in!).
I have hurt my hands many times and have been forced into layoffs from training. Its easy to go too fast or to get excited one day and really blast the wall bag and end up with torn knuckles or some tendon injury. God knows what will happen to me in my 70s and 80s. I was stupid many times over the years and don’t want you to follow that bad example. You have to remember – you are a lot more likely to need that hand for typing and other fine motor activities than using it as a bludgeon.
So understand that you need to go VERY SLOW with this training!
Step One: You will need access to a wall bag.
I like the “one square” version (vs two or three square). I also prefer either real leather (which I don’t have) or this synthetic leather. I used to use a canvas bag and felt like a tough guy hitting it, but it kept tearing the skin on my hands. The shear force acts on the little wrinkles that form between your fingers when they land with force and causes these little tears that bleed (sometimes so bad you are sidelined).
The goal isn’t to toughen the skin on your fingers (which doesn’t last) but the bones and tendons of your hands (which will last a lifetime).
Now I just use the softer fake leather. The image below is the one hanging in my office (which I use as a target and do not hit hard). Note the use of metal rings and carabiner clips (both from a hardware store) – it took me a while to figure out this configuration! The clamps tying each end to the pole are from the plumbing section.
I have another one at home hanging on a post covered with a plastic bag to protect it from the rain – that one I hit hard. They are both filled with rice at the moment. I have also used Mung beans. The progression is supposed to be rice, Mung beans, ball bearings.
Your Elbow is Like a Fist Holding a Knife
If you hit the bag 50 times every other day, you will be on the road – this takes about five minutes each session.
Train your turning and sitting and stab at the bag with your fist as if your elbow was a hand and the forearm a knife, driven forward by the turning of the hip. Hit more from your turning than the straightening of your arm. Teach yourself to hit with the body.
“Sit” to find the ground power.
Do this lightly and easily – don’t push it. To be strong, train weak. To be fast, train slow.
If you are going to hit with your fists, you need to condition them. But it takes a long time. Think a year. Slowly hitting just a tiny bit harder. Always hit weaker than you want to hit.
You really have to restrain yourself here.
There is a scientific theory called Wolff’s Law which posits that bones will become denser as you cause them small damage and then let them heal. Bodybuilding is based on a similar notion with muscle. Every time you workout you cause little micro tears in the muscle, which then heal, plus a little. Over time, these modifications result in people like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bones also become denser when they repair damage. The bones fill the micro-breaks with calcium, which turn into bone.
But this is (again) nothing to play around with – you have to carefully increase your impact.
At first, focus on training your Jeun Ma (turning). Hit by leading with the hip, using the turning of the hip to precede and power the strike. You are like a turnstile at the subway. Your arm and fist are rotated toward your target by the turning.
Feel the ground power, ankle to knee to hip to elbow to wrist to knuckles. Put your mind into your body and visualize and feel this set of linkages. Gary Lam calls the joints in this chain “power points.” It is a power chain leading from the ground into your target. Ground power is one of the secrets to how the smaller person defeats the larger person.
This training will slowly evolve your whole relation to hitting. Everything will line up and your timing will slowly improve until the weapon arrives at the target at exactly the right time with everything in the right place and your power will sometimes surprise even you. Combine this with the other elements of the system (stepping, making the opponent wrong, etc) and you will be a handful in a fight.
Also: Train your palm strikes.
Palm strikes do not require conditioning. Even after everything I said above, I run hot and cold when it comes to conditioning my hands, even though I have all the equipment. I have had solid streaks of many months of conditioning but, as with weight training, I often fall off the wagon (or whatever) and stop training. So my go-to move it a double tan with a palm to the neck. I train that one A LOT. But I try to train my hands as well – I just know myself and its sometimes a struggle, so it pays to have a backup plan after you hurt your hand in the first few blows of the fight. Break a finger? Hit em with the palm.
Below is an earlier article I wrote on this subject – note I was still using the canvas bag. I learned my lesson! I hate waiting for my skin to heal. It was cool sometimes to hit the bag and watch the little blood spots on the canvas, but a few days of that and you are done and have to wait for the infection to subside!
Thanks for the posting this information, very helpful. At my local YMCA I noticed a couple of older gentlemen talking and doing some light training in WC one day. It was mainly lively discussion and debate about WC techniques. Out of curiosity I joined in. The Sifu taught me some basic punches and blocks and the history of WC. Let me just say at the end of our 45 minute discussion/training my hands, fists and forearms were sore. The next day I had bruises on my hands. Developing hand strength is extremely critical. Never experienced nothing like this before, looking forward to more.
Steven Moody says
Yes – not only your hands get bruises. I used to do the Lap Sao drill with some very “enthusiastic” partners and had these rows of bruises on my forearm – they were like little quarter sized bruises. I have a dent in my forearm bone from a particularly bad collusion. What is sad is that training wasn’t very useful! We learn all these things too late to save our bodies from stupid damage. One of the reasons I do this website – I want people to learn from my discoveries and mistakes and cut a few corners on their way to proficiency.
Marc-Andre Yun Jeong says
Excellent article, I am conditioning my hand since years, back to 1999 with the Shaolin plank and punching in wood (e.g.: power grid wood pole).
I now use a similar bag as you with stones in it. I started slowly as we feel stone are pretty hard at beginning; now I maintain 2-3 sessions a week of 10-15 minutes overall. I use Dit Da Jow after every session and for the days following conditioning sessions, then I have a conditioning session again, etc.
I also have a 8 kgs bag of rice unopened and I throw Biu Jee fingers against it to increase finger strength.
I also have my wooden dummy and other than forms I practice against, I use the dummy for conditioning (punching directly on the wood, between the upper arms and I develop iron arm with Fak Sau on the side of the dummy as well as foot sweep/shinbone against the dummy leg).
I personally think we must take pause to heal properly after every conditioning session and apply Dit Da Jow. If we hurt ourselves, then applying Zheng Gu Shui Healing Liniment and healing totally before conditioning again is recommended by many masters as well. Thanks for sharing and look forward to read/share again about Wing Chun (WC).
Steven Moody says
I applaud your dedication.
I fall in and out of practice.
Lately, I have been doing 50 hits to the bag (outside on the post) when I remember in the mornings, then rub the dit da jow on the hands.
Luckily, over the years, my hands have toughened up and they don’t lose the conditioning very quickly.
Tendons and bones take longer to change but last 10 times longer than muscle.
I think of how much you could do if you started in your teens and trained the whole life – this is one of the ways those old masters are so bad ass – their
hands are like rocks from decades of training.