‘Paak Sau’ ...slaps can be deceiving


by David Peterson

‘Paak Sau’ ...slaps can be deceivingThe Wing Chun system is well-known for its ingenious training drills, of which there are two or three such exercises which typify how Wing Chun transforms concepts into reality. One of these training methods is the ‘Paak Sau’ or “slapping hands” drill.

On first appearance, most people mistakenly believe that ‘Paak Sau’ is a purely defensive drill, …in fact many Wing Chun practitioners have the same misplaced idea. Wrong! It is actually one of the most effective methods of training how and when to attack!

The action of the ‘Paak Sau’ can be found within the Wing Chun forms in two particular variations. The first of these is found in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, where it occurs twice, in the first section and in the third section of the form, utilising the same action, that of a side-ways moving ‘Paak Sau’ which moves across the body.

The other variation of the technique can be found in the ‘Muk Yan Jong’ form, in the second section of that set of sequences, whereby the ‘Paak Sau’ is done on what appears to be the inside of the arms, in the direction of the trunk of the ‘Jong’. This is the action that is utilised in the ‘Paak Sau’ drill (also known as ‘Da Paak Sau’ or “striking Paak Sau’”), and even this action in the ‘Muk Yan Jong’ form is done incorrectly by many.

To correctly make use of the ‘Paak Sau’ action, one needs to ensure that it is done in exactly the same way as the basic punching action (‘Yat Ji Jik Kuen’), except that instead of making a fist, the hands are allowed to open naturally, with no twisting or re-positioning of the wrist. In this way, there is minimal jarring to the hand or wrist upon contact, and more importantly, the action remains smooth and flowing, directly along the Centreline towards the incoming attacks of the opponent.

‘Paak Sau’ is actually an extension of the “Fook Sau Concept” which is established at the very beginning of the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form. As the ‘Paak Sau’ is aimed at the opponent, rather than at the opponent’s arms, it is therefore quite natural for it to become an instant counter-strike as well as a defensive action. This is the “Fook Sau Concept” in action. A major component of ALL Wing Chun fighting theory, this concept forms the basis of the ‘Lin Siu Dai Da’ (“simultaneous attack & defence”) aspect of the system, with the ‘Paak Sau’ drill providing potentially the most effective means of developing this skill.

The initial form of the drill involves observing several key factors, so as to elicit the very best results. The first of these is the fact that the two people doing the drill should be standing slightly out of reach of each other. This is for exactly the same reason that the identical conditions are observed in the practice of ‘Dan Chi Sau’ (“single-sticking hands”), so that full extension of the arms is possible at all times.

Why full extension? Because in that way, both practitioners are training thru the full motion of their limbs, thus not limiting their techniques to a fixed point somewhere mid-route. Why is this important? Simple, …if either person gets used to only extending their arms to a pre-determined point, it will become a habit that will limit their power and effective use of skills when under real pressure.

‘Paak Sau’ ...slaps can be deceivingBy training both the punch AND the ‘Paak Sau’ action thru the full range of motion, practitioners learn to hit with a relaxed, non-focussed action which enables them to remain calm and produce greater power at every point along the way. Thus, under more realistic conditions, they will naturally hit with speed, confidence and penetration, rather than tense up, using brute strength, and stopping short of the target.

Two bonuses come out of doing the drill at this range. One of them is that it removes the fear factor from the drill, giving the practitioners the confidence to do their best techniques without being afraid of getting hit, or of injuring their partners by accident. Secondly, and more importantly, by performing the drill with full-extension of the limbs, it is like working against a resistance machine in the gym, developing strength and power in the precise muscles that we require.

As a brilliant extra bonus, it encourages the body to become “spring-loaded” such that the limbs (and body) seek to go forward the moment that there is no obstruction. Thus, it enhances the development of the ‘Lat Sau Jik Chung’ (“constant springy energy”) concept of Wing Chun, loading this response into the neural system in a most natural and effective way. Not only the arms, but the entire structure of the body becomes spring-loaded, with the power truly generated from the ground up, …’Lik Chong Dei Hei’.

From the initial drill, whereby one person supplies straight-line punches for his or her partner to deflect with the ‘Paak Sau’ technique, the exercise can be extended to include a variety of concepts and techniques such as “natural entries”, pre-planned entries, counter-attacks, footwork applications, and so on. To ensure that the drill provides the very best results, it should be done at a steady rate, and NOT with excessive speed. Every punch should be done with full (relaxed) intensity and aimed somewhere between the partner’s upper chest and nose.

Likewise, the person doing the ‘Paak Sau’ action should also perform their actions with a relaxed, steady pace, directing their technique straight down the centre as if they are going to hit their partner in the centre of the chest. It is important that they do not “chase hands”, but instead seek to strike towards the centre of mass at all times. Ideally, the point of contact will be somewhere between mid-forearm and elbow – intercepting the punches at the wrist or hand is definitely NOT advisable.

At this point in the drill, it would appear to a non-practitioner that we are only learning how to “block” punches, but looks can be deceiving! What is really being developed is the timing and relaxed control that will lead to effective offensive skills. In other words, we are being shown the right time to hit the opponent, and NOT simply how to stop his/her punch. We are, if you will, being shown how to be a better attacker than our attacker!

If a relaxed and fully-extended approach is maintained, the person punching should feel as if they are hitting against an impenetrable brick wall, constantly being deflected off line every time they throw an attack. The ‘Paak Sau’ partner should find that the drill becomes more and more effortless and that from time to time their ‘Paak Sau’ breaks thru and potentially hits as well. This is what is referred to as a “natural entry” and is an expression of the ‘Fook Sau Concept’ whereby an attack is literally being overcome with an attack.

‘Paak Sau’ ...slaps can be deceivingSpace restraints limit how deeply this discussion can extend, but in brief, once this “natural entry” is occurring spontaneously due to correct structure and application, footwork can be added to take advantage of that occurrence, thus adding more reality to the exercise thru the inclusion of the whole body. The next stage is to then start to incorporate pre-planned entries, with the most logical one being the use of ‘Paak Sau’ and a punch in a combined attack. This is best learnt via a “four-beat count” method, with the fourth beat being the combination of attacking footwork, ‘Paak Sau’ and punch in one fluid motion.

Thus, we put into play the ancient strategy of “…attacking the enemy as they are crossing the river”, capturing our opponent mid-attack and less likely or able to counter our offensive response. After a short while, other means of attacking can then be applied to the drill, such as the use of ‘Wu Sau/punch’ (such that the outside hand attacks whilst the inside hand deflects, …the very opposite of the first method), or the ‘Jat Sau/punch’ attack, and so on. Not only can virtually ALL the Wing Chun “tools” be applied for deflection/control, ALL of the “weapons” can also be utilised, such as ‘Fak Sau’, ‘Waang Jeung’ and so on.

Finally, roles can be reversed such that the person punching is then allowed to attempt to counter-attack the “entries” being directed at them. With Wing Chun being, by its very nature, a superb counter-fighting system, this is a skill that is surprisingly easy to apply, and extremely beneficial in teaching practitioners how to remain calm, relaxed and not overly committed to any attack that they launch. Students soon discover that unless their attacking structures and timing are near perfect, even the best attempts can be defeated by someone with equally good structure and relaxed hands.

Overall, what is developed thru ‘Paak Sau’ is the ability to capture the opponent’s timing and structure with ease, to launch a devastating counter-attack at the very instant that one is attacked. The ‘Paak Sau’ drill provides the foundation, and then one can graduate beyond this, to “open drills” where free attacks from in and out of contact can be controlled with consummate ease and excellent timing/positioning. Take another look at ‘Paak Sau’ …slaps can be deceiving!


Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issue 11 (2013)