by David Peterson
Okay, …now that I have your undivided attention, I’ll confess that this article has absolutely nothing to do with what you were thinking! Actually, it’s all about the fact that, by and large, most Wing Chun practitioners haven’t got a clue about what the true purpose of the ‘Fook Sau’ action is. This is despite practising it multiple times in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form and constantly employing it when drilling ‘Chi Sau’.
Of course, many appreciate that the meaning of the Chinese expression ‘fook’ (or ’fuk’ ) is “to subdue” or “to lay prostrate”, to “bend over”, even to “hide/lie in wait” (the actual Chinese character is an ideograph for a man controlling a dog), but very few indeed seem to really understand the implication behind the definition. Even fewer, it would seem, have any real idea what this action is actually used for, or even how to execute it correctly.
‘Fook Sau’ (I prefer this “safer” spelling) is not a technique at all – it is a CONCEPT, one that forms the basis of many Wing Chun actions, as well as being the ideal way to train the “handle of a multi-purpose tool” (and I will elaborate further on this notion in due course). In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the “‘Fook Sau’ Concept” forms the basis of a good 90% or more of the hand techniques of the entire Wing Chun system!
Wing Chun is a deceptively simple and clever system of combat, one that is able to achieve a great deal from a decidedly small repertoire of concepts and tools. At the very foundation of this system are just THREE simple structures: ‘Fook Sau’, ‘Taan Sau’ and ‘Bong Sau’. If we simplify things even further, we can actually say that there are really only TWO structures, ‘Fook’ and ‘Taan’, because ‘Bong Sau’ is merely a modification of the ‘Taan Sau’ due to the “failure” of the ‘Taan Sau’ under certain conditions.
Now, let’s take this idea even further again – the ‘Fook’ and the ‘Taan’ are in fact the SAME structure, the only real difference being that ‘Fook Sau’ protects the inside line, whilst ‘Taan Sau’ protects the outside line – they are basically one and the same in terms of the direction of movement and the general shape of the structures involved. But there IS another difference that some in Wing Chun fail to see, and that is that whilst ‘Taan Sau’ can actually be used “as is” in combat, functioning as both concept AND technique, ‘Fook Sau’ is itself NOT a technique at all, but the origin of many.
As this essay concerns the ‘Fook Sau’ action/concept, I won’t dwell too much on ‘Taan Sau’ (perhaps a topic for a future discussion?), except to say that as it is presented in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, ‘Taan Sau’ is used to convey both theoretical concepts AND practical training & combat applications – ‘Fook Sau’ is ONLY concerned with concepts. In fact, in the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, it is used as a means of training and understanding THREE separate concepts in one!
Most people accept that ‘Fook Sau’ is traditionally practised three times on each hand within the first section of the form, as opposed to just one ‘Taan Sau’ action on each hand. Few people ask why. Some present reasons based upon fanciful notions of Buddhist devotion, or similar such ideas, but the truth is far more practical. Simply stated, the nature of ‘Taan Sau’ is such that most people can get strength into it almost immediately because it is formed from a naturally strong structure, utilising the support of the entire body and stance due to being underneath the limb that it opposes.
‘Fook Sau’ however, because it sits above the limb that it opposes, cannot make anywhere near as much use of the body or stance for support and strength, having to (seemingly) rely upon the arms alone. Therefore, as it is a much more difficult structure to master, as well as being (as alluded to earlier) the basis of so much of what Wing Chun is, it needs to be trained far more often so that the student of the system can truly understand, develop, and make full use of its potential. Thus, it is done not once, not twice, but three times on each side to ensure that it receives adequate practice. By virtue of being repeated three times on each hand, its importance in the system is also being clearly pointed out to the practitioner.
With both the ‘Taan Sau’ and the ‘Fook Sau’ structures in the first section of the ‘Siu Nim Tau’ form, what we are primarily trying to achieve is the most ideal shape and lack of muscular tension so as to develop the ability to absorb and recycle force. Rather than fighting force in the “natural” way, whereby we would tend to push back in the direction of the incoming energy, Wing Chun attempts to bend the Laws of Physics (in particular, the 3rd Law), and achieve what is referred to in this system as ‘Jie Lik’ or “borrowing force”. By attaining an angle in the limbs which allows the elbows to be drawn inwards and the muscles to largely remain relaxed, we are able to learn how to redirect and “borrow” this energy and to return it back at the source of the attack, instead of “chasing hands” or rebounding away from the opponent.
The development of ‘Lat Sau Jik Chung’ (better known as “springy energy), is best cultivated through the training of ‘Fook Sau’. This is the primary reason for the existence of ‘Fook Sau’ in the form. The late Sifu Wong Shun Leung was of the belief that the ability to apply ‘Lat Sau Jik Chung’ was the difference between good Wing Chun and outstanding Wing Chun. He felt that if a practitioner could develop this attribute correctly, they would have an acute advantage over their opponent because their hands would be naturally inclined to find gaps in the defences of their adversaries, as well as making them much more likely to attack aggressively at every opportunity due to their increased “intention” to do so.
The second reason for training ‘Fook Sau’ is to develop the concept known as ‘Lin Siu Dai Da’, far better known in English as “simultaneous attack and defence” and one of the so-called trade-marks of the Wing Chun method. This is in fact what I was referring to earlier in this article when I made mention of the “’Fook Sau’ Concept” - in short, this refers to the idea that if one utilises the line of delivery and basic structure underlying the ‘Fook Sau’ action, it trains and encourages us to make use of one action to achieve both deflection of an attack AND a simultaneous counter-attack of our own.
Every single time that we practice the ‘Fook Sau’ action in the form, we are being reminded that if we take this line in response to our opponent, we can achieve both attack and defence in a single response. But of course, to do so, one must have developed an effective means to get adequate strength into the structure being utilised. You may recall that just a few paragraphs above, I suggested that the ‘Fook Sau’ action “seems” to rely upon the arms alone for support and strength? Well, the truth of the matter is that, it too, is getting both its support and strength from the whole body, but to do so, it must be performed correctly – many practitioners miss this point and consider ‘Fook Sau’ relatively weak or ineffective because they do not know how to “connect” to this power.
With most people, too much emphasis is placed upon forcing the elbows inwards and creating tension in the arm. Doing so will only lead to the failure of the ‘Fook Sau’ structure under pressure. Actually, all it really takes to turn the concept into a functional reality is to make sure that the elbow is kept below the wrist and the shoulders are relaxed as much as possible. The wrist is actually just as important, if not more so, than the elbow. Rather than trying to force the elbow into the centre, the key to maintaining the integrity of ‘Fook Sau’ is to maintain the height and position of the wrist, as well as keeping the whole forearm as relaxed and tension-free as possible. We use the WHOLE FOREARM, not just the elbow – over emphasising the elbow is wrong!
Unlike ‘Taan Sau’, which works best when kept at 90 degrees to the line of the shoulders, the ‘Fook Sau’ still functions especially well without the need to keep such precise an angle. The clue to the correct usage of ‘Fook Sau’ is contained within its name: to effectively “subdue” the incoming attack, we need to deflect the force of that attack downwards towards the ground, not try to meet it head-on. Thus, maintaining a low angle, just as it should be practised in the form, whereby the front wrist does not exceed the height of the rear retracted fist, and with the shoulders switched off and elbows lower than the wrist, the structure effectively disperses force down through the stance instead of allowing it to effect the upper body.
When all these factors come together, ‘Fook Sau’ introduces us to the most effective means of making the ‘Lin Siu Dai Da’ concept become a practical reality. With this combination of structure, relaxed springy energy and stance support, the Wing Chun practitioner can achieve the highest level of combat response – to meet an incoming attack with an attacking motion of their own which both defends against AND strikes the enemy in ONE ACTION!
This brings us to the third reason for the training of ‘Fook Sau’ which was hinted at early in this article: to effectively train the “handle of a multi-purpose tool”. Taking into account all that has been mentioned above, it should now be apparent that with very few exceptions, all of the various hand techniques of the system are simply an extension of, or a modification of, the ‘Fook Sau’ technique and they utilise the “’Fook Sau’ Concept” of controlling and deflecting force, and of allowing for simultaneous, or near-simultaneous attack & defence.
Hence the basic punch, ‘Jam Sau’, ‘Jat Sau’, ‘Paak Sau’, ‘Waang Jeung’, ‘Che Jeung’, and so on, are all different “tools” attached to the very same “handle” – lose or misuse the “handle”, and the multi-purpose “toolset” is as good as useless. Hopefully, after considering all of the above, you will now find yourself “getting ‘Fook’-ed” in the right way and more often in the future!
Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issues 4 (2012)