Building Bridges


by David Peterson

Cham Kiu Dang Geuk - Sifu David PetersonPersonal combat is all about building bridges. These may be bridges formed by the arms, legs or body, or all three at once. In fact in the very best of circumstances, it’ll be a bridge between your fist and your opponent’s nose! If there is no bridge, then there is no combat, so that leaves us with two very obvious choices: fight or flight!

If you simply cannot (or choose not to) avoid the conflict, then the only way that you are going to survive it is to know how to find/make and control bridges between you and the adversary.

That done, you are then in a far better position with regard to being able to come out of the conflict relatively unscathed. I say “relatively unscathed” because it is rare to come out of any altercation without some “trophy” to show for it, even if that is bruised knuckles from hitting the other guy, and it is often worse than that!

I am a firm believer in the importance of the Siu Nim Tau form as the basis of all that Wing Chun has to offer. It truly is the “alphabet of the system”, and so much more besides. However, Siu Nim Tau is a static form, comparable to standing still firing a gun at a stationary target – as such, it only offers us a “one-dimensional” view of the system. There is little apparent “reality” involved regarding the application of the structures and concepts involved.

Cham Kiu offers us the “depth” that the first form cannot – in Cham Kiu we are now trying to shoot at a moving target which is shooting at us while we too are in motion. In Cham Kiu, there are “three-dimensions” in play, such that the concepts and structures of Siu Nim Tau become far more “real” and the relevance of many of its motions suddenly become more obvious. Where Siu Nim Tau emphasised the Chiu Ying (“facing”) concept, Cham Kiu introduces us to the Jui Ying (“chasing”) concept, and this is its most important difference.

So what has all this got to do with “building bridges”, you say? Well, the clue is in the translation of the name Cham Kiu. The dictionary meaning of ‘cham’ is to seek, to search, to locate; ‘kiu’ means a bridge or a connection; hence the overall meaning of the form becomes “searching for a bridge”, with the bridge being a connection with the enemy. Interestingly, in colloquial Cantonese martial arts parlance, ‘kiu’ often refers specifically to the hands and forearms, making the name even more relevant considering Wing Chun’s close-range approach to combat.

Before taking this discussion further, I would like to pause long enough to propose that Cham Kiu form provides another “hidden” factor that few ever really consider. Historically, in less “structured” times (with regard to how the system was taught), the typical process of learning consisted of Siu Nim Tau practice for up to a year or more, then a gradual introduction to Chi Sau and the Cham Kiu form.

Cham Kiu Jeet Sau David Peterson Wing Chun MalaysiaNot surprisingly then, yet clearly missed by many, is the “Chi Sau-specific” nature of the concepts and techniques contained within the form, thus proving yet again what geniuses were the Wing Chun ancestors. They have taken into account the learning process, such that things contained within Cham Kiu are directly applicable to the development of skills in Chi Sau practice, and vice-versa, thus giving the student useful and very applicable ideas that enhance their overall training.

Like the Siu Nim Tau form before it, Cham Kiu consists of three specific sections, each one taking, as its theme, a particular interpretation of the Bong Sau technique under differing circumstances, expanding on the single, very simple Bong Sau action that was introduced in the final section of the first form. Where Siu Nim Tau provided the basic idea so that Dan Chi Sau (“single-hand” Chi Sau) can be trained by the novice learner, in Cham Kiu we are shown three “condition-specific” means by which Bong Sau enables us to form those “bridges” that we need in combat.

It is generally agreed by Wing Chun devotees that the first section of the Siu Nim Tau form is the most important of the three, containing the most important concepts, structures and strategies. As far as I am concerned, the Cham Kiu form is no different, with the first section of this form also containing the most important concepts, structures and strategies, in particular the idea of remaining relaxed and Jie Lik (“borrowing force”), so that one uses the opponent’s energy, rather than their own.

This section also contains the most difficult-to-master footwork, Juen Ma (“pivoting”), ensuring that the Wing Chun student begins working on perfecting this as early on as possible in their training. Keep in mind that in days gone by, there was not the kind of skills breakdown as found in classrooms today, so students were expected to work many things out for themselves, with the forms providing the information and skills for them to draw from in their journey. It makes sense then that the ancestors decided to make the first section of both forms so important, thus ensuring that anyone studying the system would end up repeating the early parts of each form many times over as a natural part of the learning process.

The late sifu Wong Shun Leung believed that the very best of what Wing Chun has to offer is found in the first two forms, Siu Nim Tau and Cham Kiu, stating that they comprised the “essence of the system”, all that one should ever need to deal with “normal” situations. On this point I thoroughly concur with him, and make sure that my own students are practising this form early on in their training. It is also the form that I find myself drawn to again and again as it provides so much knowledge and is a perfect workout in itself when done repeatedly, training all the essential ingredients for coordination, good footwork, angling, distance control and full-body power generation.

As stated earlier, each section of the Cham Kiu form contains a particular approach to the use of the Bong Sau action. In the first section, it takes the form of Yi Bong (“shifting” Bong), whereby we learn to use the enemies force when already in contact in order to regain control of the line between us and them. The counterpart to Yi Bong  is a variation on the Lan Sau (“barrier arm”) found in the first form, in this case a “bastardised” version of the Wu Sau (“guarding hand”) whereby we are starting from a disadvantaged position where the elbow is pointing upwards or outwards, instead of the far safer downward angle of a “normal” Wu Sau action.

Cham Kiu Yi Boong SauBy shifting from the Lan Sau to the Yi Bong, we learn how to let the opponent’s energy provide the stimulus to “shift” in our stance, maintaining our structure at the expense of theirs. This application of both structures works best under conditions where a “bridge” already exists, with Juen Ma (“pivoting”) providing the most effective means of changing the line whilst still maintaining control.

This is the application of Bong Sau that is in effect most of the time during Chi Sau training – it is simply more exaggerated in the form in order to impress its function upon the learner. In this section, we also find the Dui Gok Ma (“side-on/adjacent stance”), the Pei Jaang (“hacking elbows”) and some interesting combinations of techniques previously introduced individually in the Siu Nim Tau form, such as the Jeet Sau (“snapping/breaking hand”) and variations of both the Fook Sau and Jam Sau actions.

In the second section, we are introduced to the concept of Paau Bong (“throwing” Bong), as well as the first taste of the Dang Geuk (“ascending kick”) and forward footwork. Where the Yi Bong is utilised when in contact, Paau Bong is the answer when a bridge needs to be made under more dire conditions, whereby we have been caught with our hands down and need to “force a bridge” in order to survive the initial attack.

The Paau Bong provides an answer to such a situation, and like Yi Bong, is exaggerated for effective learning and combined with body motion to develop body unity. In this section we are also provided with yet another variation of the Lan Sau action, a very different kind of punch (the Chau Kuen or “whipping punch”), and a recovery technique for re-engaging with the enemy, the Yi Ying Sau (“recovering-shape hand”).

The third section is less complex in nature than the first two, but that makes it no less important in terms of what it has to offer. Within this section, we are offered TWO completely different ways of utilising the Daai Bong (“low-action Bong”), performed simultaneously in the form, but applied separately in reality. In fact, this is a feature of Cham Kiu form, with many techniques being performed on both sides at once, but this is for the sake of balance and posture, to ensure squareness of stance, and not because these actions will actually be done together in combat.

Once again, in this section, there is a heavy emphasis on “Chi Sau-specific” actions, most especially with regard to the Daai Bong and the Soh Sau (“pressing palms”) actions at the end of this section. Also introduced in this final section is the Waang Geuk (“horizontal/side kick”), which in itself is primarily another means of regaining or recovering position, like the Yi Ying Sau action, but this time with the legs rather than the arms.

Cham Kiu ends with the most obvious example of “building bridges” in the entire form – the Suen Kuen (“chord punch”), which is in itself an extension of the Daan Sau (“rebounding hand”) concept first introduced in Siu Nim Tau. Suen Kuen teaches the Wing Chun student to “chase” the main mass of the enemy, rather than the arms, thus enabling a “bridge” to be formed by the collision of the limbs, but under the right circumstances, may also drive straight through to strike the opponent.

Like ALL the Wing Chun forms, Cham Kiu is NOT about set sequences that must be applied mechanically, under totally specific conditions. Instead, it is another example of organised and intelligent training of the basic tools and concepts which can then be used independent of each other, as needed, by the individual. As part of an overall training program which includes many elements, all of which are essential in mastering this system, Cham Kiu teaches us how to build the bridges that we will need in order to engage, contain and attack our adversary when under fire.

Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issue 5 (2012)