James DeMille on Using a Reaction Timer

My kung fu brother Dave sent us this link of James DeMille (early Seattle student of Bruce Lee) playing around with a reaction timer to improve his striking reflex.

As we know, Bruce Lee was really into gadgets to improve his physical fitness and liked to make new tools with which to train. He was not only an innovator in the concept of mixing martial arts but was also a proto-biohacker.

Another of my kung fu brothers, Tyler, has suggested one of these might be made cheaply, using components. I will look into this and if it turns out to be possible, I will post our solution.

This is a scientific tool to do what I talked about in Triggers in Wing Chun.

Lightning Hands of Philip Bayer

The only obstacle always is the soul of Ving Tsun: not learning Chi Sau the right way, directly from master to the student… giving adequate strength with an enormous speed which contrastly generates a particular handling from the student… Ving Tsun will remain a mystery… as it is regularly read about, seen and experienced in public.
Phillip Bayer

WIng-Chun-Illustrated-Phillip-BayerPhillip Bayer is on this month’s cover of Wing Chun Illustrated.

Really cool picture by the way – whoever the photographer was really caught something, both in Sifu Bayer’s expression and with the blue and white color composition, so different from the usual dark and brooding martial artist image.

Sifu Bayer is, of course, a direct student of Wong Shun Leung from the same era as Gary Lam.  I haven’t been able to see everyone, but these two are the WSL students who have been able to capture the dynamic nature of our Wing Chun on camera.  Like catching lightning in a bottle.

Gary Lam has shown many times his effortless (natural) power and structure, tossing his opponents around with ease.   Sifu Bayer always demonstrates his infectious enthusiasm, his precision and his speed, his hands a blur as he controls and strikes.

Whenever I watch either, I want to run out and train.

Other Article by Phillip Bayer: Individual Improvement Strategy

Conditioning Your Hands

“One day, while (Wong Shun Leung) was striking the wall bag, Grandmaster Ip Man was talking to Leung Sheung and said, “Look at the way this kid is looking at the wall bag as he hits it…It’s as if he’s hitting a person, not just a bag. I recon he’ll create a stink in Hong Kong within a year.”
Wong Shun Leung, the Legend by Lewis Luk and Cliff Au Yeung

The easiest and most certain skill you can develop is the ability to punch hard.

Its useless to develop the ability to get to the target (i.e., the rest of the WC system) if you can’t cause damage when you get there.

WARNING: I feel compelled here to remind everyone that this website is for entertainment purposes only and is not to be taken as advice: always work with a qualified instructor to put training techniques into practice!  In other words, please don’t hurt yourself and then sue me!

This is a really tricky business, the conditioning of the hands.  If you are going to hit anything hard, you need to prepare your hand.  The hand is very delicate, with many small bones that can break easily (even though I think you will find that most of the injuries you will get will be from collisions with the other fighter’s hands during training — keep that thumb in!).

I have hurt my hands many times and have been forced into layoffs from training.  Its easy to go too fast or to get excited one day and really blast the wall bag and end up with torn knuckles or some tendon injury.  God knows what will happen to me in my 70s and 80s.  I was stupid many times over the years and don’t want you to follow that bad example.  You have to remember – you are a lot more likely to need that hand for typing and other fine motor activities than using it as a bludgeon.

So understand that you need to go VERY SLOW with this training!

Step One: You will need access to a wall bag.

I like the “one square” version (vs two or three square).  I also prefer either real leather (which I don’t have) or this synthetic leather.  I used to use a canvas bag and felt like a tough guy hitting it, but it kept tearing the skin on my hands.  The shear force acts on the little wrinkles that form between your fingers when they land with force and causes these little tears that bleed (sometimes so bad you are sidelined).

The goal isn’t to toughen the skin on your fingers (which doesn’t last) but the bones and tendons of your hands (which will last a lifetime).

Now I just use the softer fake leather.  The image below is the one hanging in my office (which I use as a target and do not hit hard).  Note the use of metal rings and carabiner clips (both from a hardware store) – it took me a while to figure out this configuration!  The clamps tying each end to the pole are from the plumbing section.

wall bag

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Triggers in Wing Chun

“The amygdala in the emotional center sees and hears everything that occurs to us instantaneously and is the trigger point for the fight or flight response.”
Daniel Goleman

Gary Lam points out that the difference between the first place winner of a race in the Olympics and the second place “loser,” or Silver Medalist, is often tenths of a second.  It is a small fractional difference between winning and losing.

And this is true in fighting.

So in the later phases of our training, when we are pretty good with the basics and more or less have learned the system, we start trying to work through it in our training, trying to hit every aspect of the system once a week or so.

We do the forms and the dummy and the pole and maybe the knives, if you are among the minority who have learned them.  We do Heavy Baat Jam Do and Dragon Punching, etc,, etc.

And then we work with our partners and we do Dan Chi Sao, and Double Tan and Taking position, etc.  Do some Chi Sao and some Gwoh Sao.  Back and forth, more intensity, less intensity.

During this part, we may start playing around with some “tricks” to try and get a little extra.

We try and squeeze out just a little more speed, take position a little more completely, reduce or eliminate our flinch response.  Small things which add up.

So here is one I think I may have “rediscovered.”  I don’t say discovered because I believe there is probably nothing new under the sun.  This is probably part of the curriculum somewhere.

Say you want to do a Jutt Da very fast and with lots of snap and dramatic intensity.  This is in Chi Sao; you go from Low Fook toward High Fook and the Fook becomes a cover of the opponent/training partner’s crossed hands.  You want to catch their hands together so you can have “two hands controlled by one.”

Then you want to hit through the hole you’ve made in their defense.

Ideally, this happens simultaneously.  The cover and the hit are practically one.  How do you make this simultaneous?  How do you increase the speed and the intensity?

Here is how I did it.

I started finding a trigger in their behavior, in their rolling action.  It was a position their hands hit every time.  It just preceded the point where I wanted to go from moving toward a high Fook to covering/hitting.  This enabled me to take the decision-making out of the action.  Their hands hit the position, I covered/hit.

Its like a starting gun.  They get to the position and it triggers me to go.

I’ve done this with other drills besides Chi Sao.  For instance, you stand there and talk with your training partner and then they suddenly hit you (with a pad).  They have another pad up by their face.  You Jutt one and hit the other.


This is similar to physicists Neils Bohr’s experiments with toy guns.  We train ourselves to respond reflexively to the action.


Gary Lam demonstration