Palm Dynamics – the Umbrella Analogy

In most of the literature, demonstration, training of Wing Chun, the focus is overwhelmingly on the secrets and mysteries of power generation from the back, the spine and the body structure. For the sake of discussion, I call all this the back end. The back end includes every part of the body mechanism up to the elbows at which the body’s momentum so generated is reflected as the very solid elbow power. (The legs are a part of limbs and therefore are an element of the back end/front end analysis. However, they will not be discussed here but some time in later posts.) On the contrary, seldom will we pay attention to the mechanics of the front end – the forearms and the hands. (From this onward, for simplicity, the singular form of ‘forearm’ and ‘hand’ will be used.)

The solid elbow power, albeit great, has little effect on the opponent if it cannot be channeled through the front end. The verb ‘channel’ already connotes that the front end should not block or diminish the power by providing enough ‘space’ or ‘room’ inside its structure. How could this be done? Let’s examine the palm mechanism right away.

In training, you are usually told to relax everything including, of course, the palm. Sometimes the palm is made so relaxed that it is being left ‘intact’ (i.e. doing nothing) – yes, not tight, but also without proactive open-up. That means not attaining the amount of space it should be able to abundantly create. Alright, so how to make proactive open-up happen? Let’s borrow the umbrella analogy for explanation.

Imagine the wrist+palm+finger bodily part as an umbrella, comprising the wrist+palm+finger bone structure (referred as palm structure hereafter) and the muscles covering it up on the outer. The palm structure is analogous to the umbrella ribs, while the muscles and the space between fingers, well, with some creative imagination, the umbrella panels. Interestingly, the thumb serves as the button, of which the thumb tip segment functions as the trigger for push. Where is the shaft? In this imagery, it is negligible. Else you insist that there should be one, let’s regard it as extraordinarily short being embedded within the wrist bones, probably acting as a point instead and located at the centre of the wrist.

How does this palm umbrella operate? You might recall when you first did tang-sau, your instructor/sifu had possibly guided you to somehow ‘bend and press’ the thumb while maintaining the other fingers straight and aligned with the palm on the same plane; of course, in the relaxed way (see photo and Grandmaster Chu’s portrait). The ‘bend’ is to trigger a button push from the thumb tip segment through the second segment to send the ‘press’ down into the centre of the wrist where the extraordinarily short shaft erects the five ribs, each of them comprising a palm and a finger bone.

Now the palm umbrella has been erected. How about the panels? That needs some creative imagination. First, the palm and finger muscles are the panels being ‘stretched’ by the ‘erected’ ribs from inside. Second – and this needs imagination – the spaces between pairs of neighbouring fingers are the virtual panels reflecting the extended ‘stretch’ power. This is so even in the basic tang-sau shape, in which the spaces described are so small and narrow that one may just squeeze them out by pressing the fingers tightly together, i.e. not soft enough.

A fully opened umbrella is an empowered structure that can resist (head-on), deflect (along the curved panels), and attack (in its entirety). That is to say, it is a complete and self-contained power unit. This is also true to the palm structure – able to resist, deflect and attack, albeit comparatively small in size.

The palm shape can vary widely depending on how it is being used. Apart from a flattened tang-sau in its basic form, it can reshape into slightly opened and curved ready for Biu Jee movements, or deeply rounded with the thumb widely opened for forging the fook-sau taming power, or curved and opened in the half way for directing the bong-sau commonly-felt ‘awkward’ shape (see photos). You can name and describe many more variations, like that in a palm-strike. Compared to the flattened tang-sau, the umbrella analogy might be more obvious in all the other varied shapes since the extended virtual ‘panels’ are more visible between the farther separated pairs of neighbouring fingers. But hang on! – In some of the varied shapes, the thumb doesn’t look like ‘bending and pressing’ at all to trigger the button push. I’ll leave it to your own comprehension and return to it in later posts.

At the beginning I proposed that the front end (highly governed by the palm structure) should allow the elbow power to channel through to affect the opponent. Being a complete and self-contained power unit, it remains open all the time, (ideally) not blocking or congesting any energy being channeled from the elbow. Note that here we do not concern how this power unit adds to or amplify the overall power, something probably as the next step after it opens up. It deserves a separate post to further discuss.


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