Johnny Dutch: Hi, I have been enjoying your posts and have some ideas that you might consider discussing in future posts. One is on the penetrating quality of the wing chun punch and how this works……
Me: I will try to discuss “penetrating” from another perspective, by answering this question: When your punch lands on the target, what should you aim at (your intent) to make the punch penetrating?
Let’s start with practising with a sandbag. Often you’ll expect a “heavy” impact during the hit, to be heard as a loud sound. In this case, when the sound is loud enough to satisfy you, the sandbag usually doesn’t move too much. You can readily explain it as your force being dispersed at shallow depth as sound energy, thus not penetrating.
Alternatively, wanting to make it more penetrating, you’ll expect the sandbag being tremendously affected along the force direction during the hit, and this time often in terms of the bag being expelled away as far as possible, probably as a big swing. It is as if a deeper penetration of the punching force should cause a bigger swing of the sandbag along the force direction.
Do you also think in the same way? If so, I’ll try to convince you the opposite.
A needle is very penetrating when it pins into an object. It breaks (pierces through) the object’s surface, further displaces all the materials along its pinning direction to reach a depth it can go the farthest. Yet, the object almost, if not at all, stays stationary. The pinning by the needle is very penetrating which doesn’t manifest in moving the object to any distance. Note that the pinning has already caused material damage inside even though there has been no noticeable movement occurred outside!
Then, can we draw a parallel for a penetrating punch?
I propose that for a penetrating punch, the aim during the hit is to displace and damage the column of materials, in the size of your fist’s facing area and lying along your punching direction, ONLY and no more. That is, you have no intention to move the other bodily parts of the opponent beyond that column; all of your punching energy goes to “shoot” that column forward, instantly and abruptly, as if tearing it off along its cylindrical periphery from all its neighbouring bodily materials, sharply towards the punching direction, and no more.
It is more telling by the small but abrupt tapping at the wrist during the hit. The tapping, which refers to an additive momentum initiated by rotating the fist from inside the wrist joint, should be highly in line with the punching direction, towards which your elbow power is propelling the fist. In this way, the small tapping greatly accelerates the propelling force in the same direction so that the force can focus to sharply displace and damage just (as far as possible) the column of bodily materials ahead, like a needle. In fact, this tapping is the “magic” that turns a smashing punch into a penetrating one; or say, without this tapping, a punch can hardly become penetrating!
On the contrary, a pronounced tapping at the wrist (then not in line with the punching direction) fails a sharp focus on that column, inevitably disturbing more neighbouring parts surrounding the column, resulting in more pushing away of the opponent’s body, rather than more damage inside. Put in another way: more energy has been wasted in pushing, instead of causing more damage.
Nevertheless, for demonstration purposes, punching an opponent far away forward is exciting and eye-catching. This is especially true for Chinese martial arts which usually emphasise “fa geng” (Cantonese pronunciation, meaning the kind of internal power being released outward), expected to be seen as a big expulsion.
Does it mean that a penetrating punch won’t show itself as sending a person far away? Yes and no. Of course, you can do that by moving your body parts (i.e. pelvis, rib cage, shoulder, etc.) more pronouncedly forward. But I wonder it is both self-limiting and unnecessary.
Being penetrating, the hit moment is instant and abrupt. There is not “enough” contact time for sending the target excessively far away. This is its self-limiting property in this context.
In reality, a penetrating punch can already well achieve its destroying effect without the need of expelling the target far away. It is just unnecessary. Such need, on the other hand, might reasonably show up, again, for demonstration purposes.
Now if you have been convinced, there will be different implications for your training. For example, when practising with a sandbag, the target in your intent is no more the sandbag as a whole, but just the column (in your fist’s size) lying along the punching direction, and what you aim at is to “shear” it off from the sandbag body, sharply and abruptly. It is the same when punching on a person.
Sifu demonstrated such punching in the footage, one that I posted here years ago in the article Penetrating Punch – The Basics. As a follow-up exercise, you may be interested in surveying more of Sifu’s footages to see whether the above explanation applies.