How to Treat Shoulder Injuries from Wing Chun Training

“Not a doctor…shhhh!”
Brooklyn Nine Nine credits



DISCLAIMER: I’m NOT a doctor, so the following is all intended for entertainment purposes only.  Please have your doctor check you out before making any self-diagnosis.  For instance, one time I was nursing what I thought was a torn bicep muscle for many months — when I finally went to the doctor, it turned out if was referred pain from a pinched nerve in my back (my biceps were fine), requiring massage to unclench that muscle in the back, not rest and no training as I had prescribed to myself, losing months of training opportunities.  The doctor spotted it instantly and pushed on the spot and said, “is that the pain?”.


The shoulder muscles and tendons on humans are capable of generating and transmitting tremendous energies.

Human beings have pressed well over 400 pounds over their heads.  Other people have thrown a ball 105 miles an hour.  People have punched a sensor with a force in excess of 1000 pounds per square inch.

Yet this complex of muscles, bones, and tendons we call the shoulder is also potentially very delicate and difficult to repair when damaged.

A lot of us in Wing Chun get these injuries from training in partial ignorance.  We do the Bong Sao slightly wrong or our partner hangs on it with their Fook Sao and next thing you know we start getting sore.  Then we ignore it for months or years and develop a more chronic condition.

I’ve had all these issues and recently I developed problems of the chronic variety, I think because I switched jobs and the new position is more sedentary.  Some days I sit nearly the whole day and nearly two years of this started to take its toll.

So I had to read a bunch of books, go to a masseuse and my doctor and a finally a physical therapist to determine first what the problem was and then a treatment and rehab plan.

The rotator cuff  is a group of muscles and their tendons that act to stabilize the shoulder.  This idea of stabilization is very important.  The four muscles of the rotator cuff are the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis.


Your shoulder joint is also composed of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the humerus (upper arm bone).

So the best way to think about this area is that you have these three bones which are tied into a cup-like structure by the tendons.  Its like the way the hands of two people intertwine to become a Fireman’s carry.

Your shoulders are the most movable joints in your body. They tend to be somewhat unstable because the ball of the upper humerus is larger than the shoulder “socket” (that cup of tendons) into which it inserts.

To be stable, the humerus must be pulled into the socket by the muscles, tendons and ligaments. This stability requires good structural habits which are easy to fall out of, especially since we all form bad habits due to the demands of modern life, which push us toward doing a lot of “rounding” of our shoulders and backs..

Sitting at the computer in a shoulders-forward and round-backed manner will weaken the habit of having good posture aka a stable shoulder joint.  Sitting a lot on soft couches will also encourage a rounded back and shoulders which sit forward of the collarbone.  This creates a weak and structurally unsound capsule for the activities of the humerus.

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Fightland Article About Wing Chun

“Wing Chun remains the punchline of many jokes in the mixed martial arts community. In fact, I often receive tweets and emails asking me to come down on one side or the other in an argument between friends—one will say that Wing Chun is useless in a modern combat sports context, the other will argue that it is simply because no true Wing Chun masters feel moved to compete.

What if I were to tell you that both were wrong? Obviously, the man who thinks a true Wing Chun master could mop up in mixed martial arts is more laughably erroneous, but the idea that Wing Chun can hold no value is short sighted and arrogant.”

For the rest of the article, go to: Wing Chun and the MMA: Controlling the Center  by Jack Slack at Fightland


The Hidden Hand in Chain Punching

The Bong Sau is the best hand you never want to use.
Wing Chun Songs

The Bong Sau is never seen.
Wing Chun Songs

As you can see, if we listen to the Wing Chun Kuen Kuit (songs), the Bong Sau is something of a “hidden hand” in fighting.

It is another question for another post about whether it should be seen quite so much in training!

But today I would like to draw your attention to another “hidden hand” in the system.  The retreating/rechambering hand of the chain punching sequence (aka Lin Wan Kuen).

There are a lot of misconceptions about chain punching.  I try to be pluralistic and understanding of the fact that there are many flavors and interpretations of the ideas which drive Wing Chun and how these ideas are expressed in techniques, but sometimes you just have to take a stand and point out when something is WRONG.

Chain punching is not something we do as we walk toward an opponent, each punch fully extended so the arm finishes as a straight line from fist to shoulder (as you sometimes see on Youtube).

Chain punching is not an invincible technique.  If someone walks toward you chain punching, you can easily time the punches, evaluate, anticipate, and intercept the angle (with a Jutt or Jaam) and cover (hands on top and push down and forward).

The Wing Chun songs advise putting two hands on top because of the power of leverage.  Body weight versus the shoulder muscles holding up that arm is no contest.  And the further that arm is extended, the easier it is to cover or deflect.  All the power of a punch is spent when the arm is fully extended.  There is the potential for what they call “long power” from an extended arm, but its a slight amount of power which is typically directed sideways, not forward.

Basically, before you punch, you must be in range.  By “in range,” I mean Wing Chun distance.

Gary Lam Seminar 2013
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Movie Fight: Daredevil vs Many Russian Mobsters

“…it was always scripted that this scene was going to be a one-shot. ..We were able to slow down the fight, and just have this raw, animalistic feeling happening…There were no cuts in that fight. Every performer, the actors and the stunt doubles, were in there performing that fight full on. …We had maybe a few days to set up…most feature films would get weeks to rehearse something like this. …I felt like the New York stunt community stepped up in a big way. To me, it’s going to be a highlight of the show.”
Fight Choreographer Philip J. Silvera in The Observer

Netflix Daredevil_I’ve broken two conventions here.

One, I didn’t use the actor’s name (Charlie Cox) because I didn’t think anyone would know who I’m talking about.  He has been creeping slowly toward stardom (with scene-stealing roles in Encore’s Moby Dick and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), but his breakout role as Daredevil in the Netflix series just started Friday, so I think it will be a little while before his name becomes well-known.

My second break with convention is highlighting a fight scene from a TV Show.

But the show is so good (the best superhero TV series and in my opinion, equal to the best Marvel movies (Iron Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

The fighting was intentionally modeled on the best of the new film fight choreography (exemplified by the Bourne films and The Raid films) by fight choreographer Philip J. Silvera.

Here, in a scene reminiscent of the “hammer in a hallway” sequence in the excellent original Koran version of Oldboy, Daredeil (already badly injured from a previous fight) rescues a kidnapped boy by taking on many armed Russian mobsters.

As the son of a professional boxer, its not surprising that the character’s fighting style is mostly dirty boxing, with a little Parkour-like gymnastics and BJJ thrown in.  His superpower is mostly a combination of being able to sense attacks (so he slips many punches) plus the ability to take a shitload of punishment.  Daredevil is, by far, the superhero who suffers the most damage in his pursuit of justice.

Daredevil was one of the superheroes I used to read in my 12-14 year old comic reading heyday, but now I like the character because of this new gritty treatment but I also like his mission.  Unlike so many superheroes who wander all over the place looking for trouble, Daredevil is just cleaning up his very narrowly defined neighborhood, the ten blocks that constitute the so-called Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, an area which, while now quickly gentrifying, used to be a dangerous holdout of crime and poverty until the late 90s.

He is the one superhero who is focused on acting local!

Check it out.

Karate Master Explains Reverse Punch

Mind leads breathing.
Breathing leads body. So it’s one.
Which one is first? The mind.
Tsutomu Ohshima

OhshimaTsutomu Ohshima is 5th dan in Shotokan Karate.

Here he is speaking to the a group of students at the Ohshima Dojo in Santa Barbara about gyaku-zuki (Reverse Punch).

I like to look at top level players in other arts and note the similarities.  The better the player, the more they converge on the same basics.  Arts that look different in theory and on the dojo floor often look much more similar in an actual fight.

The reality is its always people working with the physics of being a human with (up to) two and two arms and two legs working with gravity against another human similarly equipped.

Watch his body mechanics.  In Wing Chun terms, he’s talking about ground power and Sam Yi Hap Yat (Mind and Body as One).  I wonder if the significance of the belt in the martial arts is to bring a lot of focus to the waist?  The hips and the waist are the source of power.  Power is channeled there.

Here is my edited version of his comments.

“Many people think this (arm only) is punching.  This is important but that’s only one small part of it.  If you think of the whole being, mind and feeling and breathing and body and movement top to bottom you have a better idea of it.

If you only think of this and this and this (should and arms)  when you punch, well, OK, a big guy can make it work against a small guy.  But your opponents are bigger than you – half of them anyway – you have to use your whole strength.  Every time you think of this, no matter what kind of technique, you have to use your whole strength.

But we’re missing something, because in 1952, some guy (Oshima) invented the tournament system – so they will go “Yahhh!”  It ippon, ippon!  (the highest score a fighter can achieve in tournament scoring).

But I’m not so sure.  If you attack –POM (demonstrating lousy tournament tap) — it doesn’t work.  Because to most people it LOOKS good, is it OK?  No.  We are not practicing that way.  If it’s really working , then we accept it, OK?

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