When practising Bong Sau, it is typical to point the fingers forward along your centreline. This is something most emphasised when your Bong Sau doesn’t seem to stand up incoming force at the forearm and your instructor repeatedly guides you to point it more focused, and more intently. Have you ever had such experience? Did you feel it was working? Or rather, how well did it work?
Why pointing? Let’s roll back to the basics. The Wing Chun stance, the alignment of the body axis, the relaxing (softening) of muscles, the intent of converging towards the centreline…… all this cumulates the internal body energy up to the elbows as solid elbow power. Now then, in Bong Sau, the fingers also point along your centreline, hinting that this simultaneous intent is to further “direct” the solid elbow power onto the forearm and through to the fingers to affect the opponent.
However, when the pointing is done by twisting the wrist area (including the ends of the two bones of forearm, ulna and radius, next to it), the neighbouring muscles actually contract in order to point. This will result in a more constricted wrist-palm condition that congests the energy movement supposedly to be directed and brought about by the pointing. Put in other words, such pointing has in fact weakened the forearm in withholding incoming forces; the harder (of the twist) the pointing, the weaker the forearm becomes. A blown-up balloon tube is strong to receive pressure on its surface; when one end of it is twisted and tied into a knot, it becomes weaker in overall.
When the forearm is weak, it is not only weak in itself, but the incoming force having broken through it also collapses the elbow joint such that your elbow power is stuck there and cannot take further effect, if hopefully the collapse is contained in time from infecting the upward stream – the shoulder and so on.
The above analysis alerts us that converging (or focusing) should not be judged in terms of the pointing shape only; whether the forearm can be maintained clear throughout to the wrist-palm structure (including the fingers) is of more fundamental importance. This means that “clear-through” is a better indicator than “pointing” – when we want to direct the elbow power to affect the opponent, we check how clear-through the forearm plus the wrist-palm structure are, rather than how determined the fingers are pointing towards the opponent.
Applying this principle to Bong Sau, as far as the wrist-palm structure is kept clear-through (as manifested as something dynamic inside always passing through the structure), you can see a strong Bong Sau even with the fingers pointing downward! I prefer to describe it as the wrist-palm “curving”, in this case, downward. “Curving” as an intransitive verb (an action) implies a deliberate act on its own to keep and maintain its shape of curve, and the curve can only be maintained smooth when it is clear-through inside. That is to say, “curving” can serve as the intent to gauge how and how much the forearm plus the wrist-palm are clear-through inside. When the forearm up to the fingers is clear-through, the elbow joint is kept free to act, enacting the elbow power to be multiplied by the curving acceleration of the wrist-palm.
Interestingly, you can view it as a division of labour (regarding intents) between the elbow tip and the forearm plus wrist-palm. To the latter, the intent is JUST to keep it clear-through, to make it strong; but you don’t use this strong part to move, i.e. to initiate movement, in the arm. You can, however, adjust the intensity of that intent so that the degree of “clear-through” can vary in context. Put in another way, the only activity in the forearm plus wrist-palm is increasing or decreasing its extent of clear-through inside to decide how strong it should be; the forearm plus wrist-palm will not respond or react directly to the incoming force which in fact is exerting on the forearm itself. On the other hand, the elbow tip (power) takes the proactive role. It initiates movement in the arm to respond and react directly to the incoming force, bringing along the strong forearm plus wrist-palm to complete the desired move in the necessary hand shape – the latter then as an indirect response and reaction.
In my experience, learners having seriously practised the fundamentals can already attain a certain level of elbow power. Yet when being tested (at the forearms) and the result being unsatisfactory, the immediate query usually falls on insufficient relaxation of the shoulders and the body. While it is always true for more relaxation, an immediate remedy may well be from merely improving the curving of the wrist-palm structure: Starts from softening neighbouring muscles into the wrist joint; wanting to curve up to the fingertips (with the umbrella analogy imagined in the palm) as much as the wrist-palm’s current limit allows (maintaining clear-through), but not forcing the wrist to bend and point. By doing so, your elbow power at its current level will take effect right away to cast noticeable influence onto the opponent.
After all, should the fingers point along the centerline in Bong Sau? Yes, as far as you keep the forearm and wrist-palm clear-through, such pointing (actually in any direction) can indeed greatly amplify your elbow power to your desired effect. So, curve to point!