Biu Ji : when the S**t really hits the fan!

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by David Peterson

Wing Chun Malaysia - Biu JiOf the three wing chun “empty-hand” forms, the third of these is definitely the most misunderstood and overestimated. Declared by some as a “deadly” form with which one will be invincible in combat, it is said to have been so treasured by the wing chun clan that it was rarely seen and never taught to “outsiders.” The ‘Biu Ji’ form has also been said to contain the secrets of dim mak, the so-called “delayed death touch” with which one can dispose of their enemy with a mere touch, depending, of course, on the time of day, and so on.

In reality, all of the above claims are missing the real point of the ‘Biu Ji’ form altogether. The name of the form is a contraction of an expression from the classical Buddhist sutras which, in Cantonese, reads as ‘Biu Yuet Ji’: a “moon pointing finger” …and this best sums up what the ‘Biu Ji’ form is all about. Just as Bruce Lee said in the movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ when he, too, quoted this sutra, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.”

The ‘Biu Ji’ form is a “pointing finger” and what it is pointing at is a series of examples of the kinds of problems which can occur in combat when things do not go as planned, and it offers some possible solutions to these situations. As human beings, we are all prone to make mistakes no matter how well we plan, or train for, a combat situation. ‘Biu Ji’ form takes us outside the wing chun system, outside the system as presented in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ and ‘Cham Kiu’ forms, that is, and asks the question “What if…..?”

My own instructor, the late sifu Wong Shun Leung always suggested that effective wing chun could be likened to a "sphere" or "bubble", within which the concepts and techniques of 'Siu Nim Tau' and 'Cham Kiu' existed. For the bulk of the situations that we might ever find ourselves in, the contents of that "bubble" would be more than enough to take care of things. What 'Biu Ji' does is to take us out of the "bubble" and encourage us to look back at it from a distance and consider what could go wrong.

It encourages us to seek logical methods for dealing with conditions for which the contents of the "bubble" are not able to provide us with a workable solution. It tells us that while theories of combat may well be perfect, the people who apply them are not, and errors will occur. More importantly, it is indicating to us that "rules were meant to be (or at least, sometimes have to be) broken".

Where the first two forms are each easily broken down into three distinct parts, each part with its own particular concepts and techniques, the ‘Biu Ji’ form is quite different. Instead, in ‘Biu Ji’ the breakdown takes the form of clusters of techniques which build into a repertoire of “emergency responses” designed to overcome an opponent who has overpowered, out-positioned, injured, surprised or, through some error on the part of the wing chun fighter, managed to gain the upper hand.

According to sifu Wong Shun Leung, unlike the first two forms, which are clearly structured, each with three defined sections, 'Biu Ji' is far less structured and has the potential to be added to at any time, should someone come up with yet another situation that gives rise to the need for a more specialised solution outside of the normal spectrum of wing chun concepts. As such, 'Biu Ji' is something of an "open-ended" training form, in keeping with its basic reason for existing in the first place.

Biu Ji: when the S**t really hits the fan!Wong Shun Leung believed that to claim that the ‘Biu Ji’ form is the superior technique of the wing chun system is to imply that Grandmaster Ip Man was holding out on all his students by making them waste years and years training the first two forms while they could have been spending their time developing ‘Biu Ji’! Of course, this is an absurd notion, one which he enjoyed making a point of during his enormously popular seminars around the world in the 80s and 90s. “Besides,” he would add with a smile in these discussions, “You might kill yourself with a touch!” On its own, ‘Biu Ji’ is in fact virtually useless in that it is teaching responses to so-called “errors” which a person who has not studied the earlier aspects of the wing chun system would be totally ignorant of and unable to appreciate in a meaningful or beneficial way.

In short, the ‘Biu Ji’ form on its own, without the knowledge of any other elements of the system, is about as deadly as a bowl of wet spaghetti! However, it should be pointed out that in the past the reluctance of the wing chun clan to expose the form to outsiders is understandable when one considers that the ‘Biu Ji’ form does in fact point out potential weaknesses in the system which could be exploited by an enemy with a knowledge of the form. Thus, it could be suggested that the form is “deadly” in the sense that it points to disadvantageous rather than advantageous aspects of wing chun combat.

To take this notion further, sifu Wong Shun Leung always ended his discussion of the ‘Biu Ji’ form by stating that he hoped that his students would never need the techniques from the form. His reasoning for this was quite simple when one realises that the only time we would need to use these movements is in a situation where we are either injured or overwhelmed by the opponent(s) and essentially close to defeat! In other words, it is good to know ‘Biu Ji’ in case one is in a desperate situation, but it is even better if that knowledge never has to be put to use.

As stated earlier, ‘Biu Ji’ is not a “better” form and to use the concepts and techniques from ‘Biu Ji’ when we should use concepts from ‘Siu Nim Tau’ or ‘Cham Kiu’ does NOT guarantee success. ‘Biu Ji’ is comparable to the approach that one would take in an impending business crisis. When there is a certainty of sustaining losses what person wouldn’t do his or her best to attempt to cut those losses? To quote sifu Wong Shun Leung again, “We don’t go out to make mistakes, but if we do we must know how to recover from these mistakes in order to minimise our chances of injury.” This is not a form to teach us to win, but to teach us how to survive with the least amount of damage, …but there may still be damage, just the same!

An example of this philosophy of recovering from mistakes is contained in the middle of the form where there are several clusters of techniques, each cluster containing a “key” movement. As each cluster or set of movements is done, one begins to see how the form is indicating how to rectify the situation when the preceding “key” movement is mistakenly applied. If these “solutions” are linked together we get an easy to remember cycle.

The series begins with gaan sau which is used when bong sau is wrongly applied; if the gaan sau is incorrectly applied, huen sau is used; should the huen sau be misused, jat sau is then applied. ‘Biu Ji’ also frees the wing chun practitioner from the “constraints” of the first two forms, enabling one to “become a master of the system rather than its slave.”

By this I mean that it points out quite clearly that rules sometimes need to be broken, that it is not always possible, or for that matter even advantageous, to always operate within the concepts and movements taught in the earlier stages of the system. For example, there are many “rules” established in the first two forms and in chi sau training, such as “never allow your arms to be crossed” or “it is not a good idea to use grabbing” and “never use force against force” to quote just a few. In the ‘Biu Ji’ form ALL of the above “rules” (and several others) are challenged.

Wing Chun Malaysia - Biu Ji: when the S**t really hits the fan!It is for these very reasons that 'Biu Ji' is best not introduced to a student too early, because the way in which it contradicts all the basic concepts makes it terribly confusing for the novice student to appreciate. Perhaps it is also for this reason that this form was, in the past, so closely guarded and rarely taught outside of a tight circle of trusted students. As stated earlier, 'Biu Ji' isn't "deadly" because it contains secret, lethal techniques; its "danger" lies in the fact that it exposes situations or conditions whereby a wing chun fighter's potential "weaknesses" could be exploited by an opponent, should that knowledge be widely known.

Generally speaking, when a student is fully conversant with the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ and ‘Cham Kiu’ forms, and has engaged in lots of chi sau practise and related drills, they should be performing their techniques naturally and correctly. Once this is the case, and on having then learnt the ‘Biu Ji’ form, sifu Wong Shun Leung believed that it should be possible for them to use its concepts if necessary simply by practising the set. He seriously advised AGAINST spending long hours drilling ‘Biu Ji’ concepts and techniques, believing that the time would be better spent on training the skills that are more efficient and more practical, all of which are found in the earlier forms and drills. In his view, the nature of the wing chun system is such that its practitioners develop instinctive reactions at a neural level and the techniques of the ‘Biu Ji’ form, in time, will automatically become a part of  their combat “vocabulary.”

In summing up, I hope that the reader now has some insight into the true nature of this most misunderstood of wing chun training methods, and that some of the myths surrounding the ‘Biu Ji’ form have now been cast aside forever. Although this brief article has not exposed all the “secrets” of the form, I would hope that the reader has been “put on the right track” and will be able to gain more insight into their own training. The real lesson here is that everyone needs to “step outside” their particular system occasionally, to look beyond the outward appearance of their forms and techniques. In this way we can all aspire to be the master of our chosen art instead of its slave, …to look beyond the pointing finger and see the glorious moon.


Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issue 10 (2013)

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