Wing Chun’s Secret Weapon – the Fook Sao
The following is an excerpt from Sifu Jason’s new book, “Wing Chun’s Foundation: Siu Lim Tao.”
The Fook Sao section is the slowest, not just in Siu Lim Tao, but of any of the Wing Chun forms. It’s importance is accentuated by this very fact and we do well to consider it carefully. Not only is it the slowest section, it’s also the most eccentric looking thing you’re going to do in Wing Chun. Period. Having your hand cupped weirdly in front of you and moving it with painful slowness along the center line has to be the most un-combat looking thing a person can do in a combat system. So, what’s the deal with it and why is it so important?
There are two primary things to know. First, it’s teaching us to attack and defend the center of mass. Second, it’s teaching us the fundamentals of close-quarter contact or, in another way of saying it, street-fight clinching.
The aspect of defending and attacking the center of mass is something akin to making sure your gun is loaded before a gunfight. The modern martial art world is so shot through with hysterical and illogical support of MMA that it simply doesn’t occur to most of us that the easiest way to truly injure someone is by hitting them in the throat. Sure, there’s the occasional joke about a throat-punch here and there but no one practices it and even less than that, no one practices defending it.
This isn’t to say that we hope to see broken windpipes in the octagon soon. No, of course not. What we’re saying is that in a situation where it’s life or death, with someone much larger and stronger, such attacks are critical. The Fook Sao structure, is therefore, the key to being able to achieve real self-defense skill. To have a self-defense system that eschews the attack and defense of the body’s weakest link is the height of folly.
To be clear, sparring and drills of that nature are very beneficial for one’s accuracy and timing. That’s certainly true, but they can give one a dreadful false confidence. In real-fighting, the sort of thing Wing Chun is concerned with, it’s necessary to attack and defend the softest, most vulnerable targets. And that’s exactly where Fook Sao comes in.
The key to it is the elbow position. If the elbow flares out, the structural support is broken and the enemy will be able to break through your guard. It should be known, in light of this statement, that a good Wing Chun fighter, properly trained and educated in the reality of fighting, is nearly impossible to grapple with due to their ability to seize the throat of the enemy whenever they (the enemy) vacate the center in order to grab (as seen in the photo above). Misapprehension of the core principle of Fook Sao is catastrophic to your Wing Chun. There is no “hand-chasing” or “baby-sitting the hands” in Wing Chun! Attack and simultaneously defend your center mass and vulnerable targets. You don’t care about the centerline as an abstraction. You care about the targets and center of gravity the centerline protects. The centerline isn’t a thing; it’s a reference to those things.
If Fook Sao isn’t chasing hands then what is it chasing? It’s “chasing center” or “chasing critical targets.” In this way, by learning how to properly occupy and control the centerline (in reference to these targets) one becomes a formidable self-defender. The throat/neck, jaw, and eyes, as well as one’s balance (by pushing, pulling and shoving) are constantly attacked with fast, springy power developed by the Fook Sao section.
The other aspect of this section that’s exigent is the ability to clinch/bridge properly. Unfortunately in fighting we aren’t always able to hit the target we want. Sometimes things aren’t going our way. There are two ways that one can deal with, that is to say, shut down the offense of the enemy in a helter-skelter environment. One is to be mobile and use evasion. The other is to tie them up. This is, incidentally, why grappling methods work quite well at times. It’s the tie-up that keeps the grappler from getting hit if they do it properly. The thing is, Wing Chun people often don’t understand this connection with grappling methods. A BJJ fighter that is able to grab his enemy is able to nullify their striking. You see this also in boxing when fighters use the clinch.
Well, the Fook Sao represents any top or outside hand. Tan Sao represents the structure you need if you have an inside hand relative to your opponent. In other words, Wing Chun clinches, ties up their hands (or bridge) to gain control of the enemy so they can’t strike. Fook and Tan, amongst other things, but chiefly, are types of clinching positions. Wing Chun has been nearly ruined because people don’t understand this and use chi-sao as a game of “Gotcha” or some hyper-technical arm wrestling match. No! A thousand times, no! We bridge. We tie them up! We use these logical and fundamentally sound structures to shut down the offense of the enemy and launch our own attacks. This section is the gateway to understanding close-quarter fighting.
This aspect of fighting, clinch control and striking the body’s most vulnerable targets, is virtually unknown today. I’d go so far as to say that the systematic training of this is utterly absent from modern fighting arts. The closest we get is the clinch in Muay Thai, boxing and grappling systems. The methods of those arts differ but they all use variations of the clinch to control the offense and balance of the enemy. Wing Chun, you should know, seeks to achieve the same thing yet with the critical difference of using close-range striking to the throat, neck, jaw and eyes. To leave these targets – both the attack and defense of them – out of Wing Chun is to eviscerate the system. In order to achieve this objective, though, we must master the Fook Sao principle and structure, which mean we must master Siu Lim Tao.