Luk Dim Boon Gwan - the Sound of One-arm Fighting

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by David Peterson

Luk Dim Boon Gwan - the Sound of One-arm FightingThe Wing Chun system is extremely compact compared with other Martial Arts methods. Made up of just three "empty-hand" forms, a "Wooden Dummy" form and several unique training drills, Wing Chun is well known for its efficiency and practicality as a bare-hand combat system. Perhaps less well known, but equally as practical & efficient, are its two weapons forms, the Luk Dim Boon Gwan ("six-and-a-half point pole") and the Baat Jaam Do ("eight-slash/cut knives").

Traditionally, the most coveted form is that of the Baat Jaam Do, considered by some as the highest level of the system. However, it is the Luk Dim Boon Gwan which more closely resembles the "empty-hand" component of the system, and which in many ways, is a far more beneficial aspect of the system in terms of what it offers to the student. In fact, it could be best described as "One-armed Wing Chun!"

The actual pole used in Wing Chun is a particularly long weapon, usually measuring anywhere between 8 to 12 feet in length. This being the case, it comes as no surprise that the weapon is not one that is twirled or manipulated like the poles found in other fighting arts. It is basically a "single-headed" weapon, held at one end and making use of thrusting, spear-like actions for attack, and short deflecting motions defensively.

Historically, it has been suggested that it was developed on board the opera boats that plied the river systems of southern China, a very convenient adaptation of the long poles used by the crew to move the boats thru the shallow portions of the waterways which they traversed on a daily basis. In fact, there is much about Wing Chun, especially with regard to footwork, which lends support to its genesis having been on the water, the pole form being anespecially obvious example.

What of the significance of the name? It is quite simply stating the obvious, that there are six-and-a-half techniques (seven if you like, but bear with me on this for the moment) which make up the content of the form. These actions include both offensive and defensive movements that, like the basic actions of Taan Sau, Bong Sau and Fook Sau, the "seeds" of the "empty-hand" portion of the system, combine together to create all that is required to be combat effective.

Luk Dim Boon Gwan- the Sound of One-arm FightingThe techniques involved, at least in the version of the Luk Dim Boon Gwan form as taught by my own teacher, the late Wong Shun Leung, are as follows:

  1. Fong Lung Cheung - "releasing the dragon spearing-action" - the thrusting/ striking movement in the form which is its major attacking action, comparable to the basic Wing Chun punch.
  2. Ping Cheung - "level spearing-action" - the pushing & pulling action of the form, similar to the Lan Sau in the empty-hand forms.
  3. Leung Yi - "two moves" - the action that resembles the Jaat Sau and Jaam Sau techniques in the empty-hand forms. It is referred to as Leung Yi because it enables us to both defend and be in a position of attack within one action.
  4. Lau Soi - "moving/stirring the water" - the movement that is the pole form's equivalent of the Bong Sau and Gaan Sau actions.
  5. Kam Gwan - "covering pole" - the action that follows Lau Soi where the pole covers the opponent's weapon, knocking it downwards. It is akin to an exaggerated Jaat Sau action.
  6. Dang Gwan - "ascending pole" - this is the arcing/lifting action done at the start of the pole form, and again towards the end, a Laan Sau-type motion that can be applied offensively or defensively.
  7. Che Cheung - "descending spearing-action" - the backward/downward action at the very end of the pole form, used to intercept the opponent's weapon (or the opponent's legs) when the attack comes in on a low line from the rear. It is something of an "emergency" action, used to recover from being poorly positioned due to over-commitment of motion. It can be likened to the Suen Kuen ("chord punch") in the Cham Kiu form.

This last action, the Che Cheung is the seventh motion referred to earlier, but is considered a "half-motion" for two specific reasons. The first of these is the fact that, according to Wing Chun folklore, if this action is used to strike a rice paper target, it leaves a "half-moon/half-circular" shape in the paper, whereas all of the other striking actions leave a perfect "full-circle" behind. It is also the only striking action performed from fully extended arms, thus considered a "half-action" compared to the rest. This fact also makes it potentially the most difficult action to perform and master.

When one first sees the Luk Dim Boon Gwan form, the stances and footwork used suggest that it is very different from the rest of the system. It has even been surmised that this form was introduced into the system at a later stage in the development of Wing Chun, coming from another system of Gung-fu altogether. Personally, I find myself disagreeing on both counts. Looks can be deceiving, and the more one studies the form, the more that parallels with the rest of the system become apparent.

In fact, as stated in the opening paragraphs of this article, the best description of this form would be that of "One-armed Wing Chun." Basically, what the form resembles most of all is the way in which one might have to fight if restricted to just one side of the body, whilst still utilising Wing Chun concepts and strategies. If that were the case, due to injury to one arm for example, the smart way to fight would be to use extremely short deflecting movements and very direct thrusting attacks, whilst reducing one's own target area and increasing one's reach.

This is exactly what we see in the Luk Dim Boon Gwan form, but due to the nature of the weapon, being that it is both long and heavy, the stances and footwork, as well as the way the arms and body are used, take on an especially modified format. The arms alone cannot generate near enough power to move the weapon effectively, so the legs are used to replace the shoulders and the hands kept in contact with the legs during virtually all defensive actions so as to draw power from the stance.

When attacking, a lower "horse stance" (Sei Ping Ma) is used, with the rear elbow held close to the body and the body perfectly side-on, thus generating outstanding power and strength straight up from the ground. Defensively, the feet are drawn well back, with the front foot placed such that the toes/ball-of-the-foot is in contact with the ground and the knees well spread. What this does is to give a "springy" base that provides dynamic power from short distances in deflective actions, allowing the arms to connect to the legs and hips for stability and structure.

In movements such as the Lau Soi and Che Cheung actions, the entire body is thrust behind the movements through the use of a shift of the hips. This is particularly so in the Lau Soi action, with the elbows also staying in contact with the body to enhance the ability to use "whole-body" power, rather than relying upon arm strength and the shoulders alone. Unfortunately, many Wing Chun practitioners miss this point and wield the Gwan solely with their arms.

Such is the directness and efficiency of the Luk Dim Boon Gwan, it is a tradition that when it is used effectively against an armed opponent, one should expect to hear only one sound – that is, only the sound of ONE clash of weapons –before the opponent is hit and incapacitated. This is possible because the defensive motions are extremely short and allow for the follow-up attacking motions to flow immediately from the point of interception. Being struck with the small end of such a powerful thrust, rather than being hit with a swinging motion, is similar to being hit by a bullet in the chest – few can withstand the impact.

Luk Dim Boon Gwan - the Sound of One-arm FightingOf course, this will NOT happen if the person wielding the Gwan is NOT using the whole body to make their movements. Doing so with the arms alone increases the likelihood of over-shooting the opposing weapon and being forced to have to recover with a second, or even third, defensive action, thus missing the opportunity to counter immediately and effectively. Many in Wing Chun are as guilty of "pole chasing" as they are of "hand-chasing" due to not appreciating this aspect of the form.

As a prelude to learning the Luk Dim Boon Gwan the student of Wing Chun is taught the Che Gwan Kuen ("pole pushing & pulling punches") exercise to train the Sei Ping Ma and the stepping that is involved, as well as stretching and strengthening the arms, chest, waist, back and shoulders prior to training the Gwan itself. Replicating both the basic footwork and arm actions of the form, the Che Gwan Kuen exercise is an invaluable addition to all-round Wing Chun training, not only for the form.

Once the form is learnt and trained as a solo exercise, the student is then introduced to a handful of partner drills that further enhance their understanding of the Luk Dim Boon Gwan and increase their ability to actually apply those skills. Like the "empty-hands" aspect of the system, the Gwan also involves the concepts of "sticking" and of Lat Sau Jik Chung, something that the Baat Jaam Do definitely does NOT involve. This then is yet another reason why the Luk Dim Boon Gwan more closely resembles the rest of the system. Thus, as with the "empty-hands", these skills can be tested via drills akin to Chi Sau and by sparring another person also armed with a Gwan or other weapon.

Having knowledge of the Luk Dim Boon Gwan offers an introduction as to how to make use of ANY long object as an effective weapon, confirming that the same basic concepts of the system that apply to the hands can also be applied to weapons usage. In addition, it provides an efficient means of strengthening the body, especially the wrists and arms, enhancing one's ability to hit harder, as well as how to draw more power from the body structure, stance and the ground. Sure, you won't be carrying a 12 foot pole around with you on a daily basis, but regular training with the Luk Dim Boon Gwan will add greatly to your Wing Chun skills base.

Editors note: This article was originally published in Wing Chun Illustrated magazine, Issue 7 (2012)

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