How to Condition Your Hands

My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.
Bette Davis

The heart of Wing Chun is striking; it uses a stand-up approach to fighting whose goal is to knock out the opponent. As my Sifu once said, putting all the delicacy aside, its about delivering blunt force trauma to the head.

Knocking a person out is a task we break down into many smaller parts.

Today, I want to talk about conditioning the hands. 85% of your Wing Chun training develops your ability to ram your hand into your opponent’s head with supporting structure from the ground.

Its very important to condition your hand for this impact. Wing Chun favors the “sun fist ” strike (so-called because the vertical fist resembles the Chinese character for “sun”) for the same reason Heavyweight Champion boxer Jack Dempsey did – because hitting with the fist in this position, with the elbow down, creates a power chain to the ground.

If you hit someone with power and structure with an un-conditioned hand, the hand will possibly break. This is why Wing Chun (and many street fighting experts), advise using the palm to hit with if you have not been conditioning your hand.

Why use the fist at all? There are a few reasons.

The way Wing Chun hits, with the bottom two knuckles, concentrates the force into a small point.  Its like stabbing with the end of a pool cue rather than hitting with the flat head of a brick.  Both will hurt, but one will disperse its force over a large area and the other will penetrate.

Hitting with the fist is faster than hitting with the palm.  You can chain punches faster than you can chain palm-strikes.  This maximizes the concussion-producing effect of chaining strikes to the head.

Lastly, it’s a a matter of distance. For an in-fighting style like Wing Chun, inches matter a great deal. In fighting, range is very important. Wing Chun brings the fight in very close, too close for the comfort of most opponents. A big part of our advantage is that we advance (a surprise) aggressively, step in uncomfortably close, and start hitting.

{Wong Shun Leung’s classic “The Science of In-Fighting – sun-fist punching example at 5:30}

Yet the “long” punching style we use, with the force applied at the end of our arm at the tiny point of our bottom two knuckles, holds the opponent at a “safe” distance. Its safe for us because we have trained for the various contingencies that will happen at this range. Our Chi Sao training will allow us to trap, cover, or deflect the actions of the opponents arms at this range.

Hitting with the palm actually brings you in just a little bit closer and exposes you to more danger, becuase distance equals reaction time. Hitting with the palm takes you in closer and the action will be faster and harder to manage.

How do you condition your hand?

Buy one of these.

Fill it with rice and hang it somewhere convenient. Hit it every day, but don’t hit full force at first.  You have to build up.  Its always better to train soft and then slowly increase the force.

Start slow and build progressively. I started with 25 and added 5 a day. I leveled off at 100 for a while and now I am up to 200, which takes about 10 minutes.

Sit in your horse stance and then train your turn and your sitting, hitting the bag with careful structure. When training, you should always use “perfect” form, since you fight like you train. Use this activity as a lab to analyse your structure. Can you feel it in your back heel?

When you feel comfortable hitting the rice (say 6 months), switch to Mung beans. Hit the bag filled with Mung beans for a year. Then (they say) switch to ball bearings. I haven’t done this yet, so can’t give you a report.  But I can hit the Mung beans very hard and my fist is fine.

But take it easy. There is no hurry. Your are slowly conditioning your hands – do not rush and end up injured.

Get some dit da jow, and rub it on your fists after training. Do a couple of rounds of Siu Lum Tao to get some chi (or blood) flowing into your hands afterwards.

  • Anonymous August 20, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    uses a stand-up approach to fighting whose goal is to knock the opponent. As my Sifu once said, putting all the delicacy and art aside for one moment and being realistic, its about blunt force trauma to the head.

  • Alex February 24, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I really enjoy your weblog!

    Do you have a recommendation for good dit da jow that can be bought on the internet?

    • Steven Moody February 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Sorry – I’ve gotten it in two places, both in person in the Oakland area. Both from Chinese herbalists.
      Maybe some of our other reader’s know something?

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