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Since day one we have been exposed to Kwun-sau. In the Siu-Nim-Tan and the arms return to Gow-cha Tan-sau from Gow-cha Gaun-sau, this action of rotating or twisting is Kwun-sau. The interesting thing is that even though it is one of the first movements in the first form, it is a concept not really explored until later in the system. For many, it is not even explained fully until the Biu-Tze.
Kwun-sau, or Rotating-arm/Twisting-arm, can be thought of as a motion vs. an arm position. Many will assume a Bong-sau/Tan-sau pose and call it Kwun-sau, but this is incorrect. The position they assume is just Bong-sau and Tan-sau, respectively. The action to get there might be Kwun-sau but those two positions can be taken from any number of other positions.
So what is Kwun-sau?
Kwun-sau is the act of turning or rotating the arm, just like the term itself denotes. It can be high to low just like it can be low to high. Normally we see it as Bong-sau transitioning to Tan-sau but it can also be Tan-sau transitioning to Bong-sau. The act of the rotation is Kwun-sau.
In most traditional lessons we see this action as a defense against double punches. At the AWCA, however, we also explore using Kwun-sau against fast, repetitive high-to-low punches, meaning the attacker will jab hard and fast towards the chest or throat while immediately following up with a lower cross to the stomach with the other fist. This type of scenario training lets you really explore what Kwun-sau can do and how it will fare vs the stoic “classical” training that sometimes collapses.
We also utilize Kwun-sau during Biu-Tze Chi-sau as the second phase of this training. In Biu-Tze Chi-sau, we begin with elbow rolling using Kup-jarn, or Downward Overhead-elbow. Defending with Pak-sau, we continue this elbow rolling repeatedly and on both sides until it becomes competent. We graduate to basic attacks, takedowns, etc., and then explore the Kwun-sau section of Biu-Tze Chi-sau.
At this phase, the attacker uses double punches in a Sideling-stance while the defender defends via Kwun-sau. The attacker pivots to Juk-sun-ma on the opposite side while switching hands, to which the defender responds with Kwun-sau on the opposite side. This continues in this manner for quite some time until a smooth, relaxed flow is achieved.
It is important to achieve this flow for a variety of reasons, one of which revolves around the necessity of a relaxed yet explosive response. Some train this action as being section 4 in Chi-sau but we do not; instead, we continue to work this action as it was taught to us, which is Biu-Tze Chi-sau.
In tandem with the elbow rolling, Kwun-sau graduates to dissipating force and immediately flowing into Kup-jarn during the turn. This action allows for quick changes and responses, fluid explosion at extremely close ranges, and an improved sense of control during attacks and defenses when in elbow range.
Now, remember that not all schools teach this curriculum in this manner. Some will gloss over it while others will spend an inordinate amount of time exploring each and every nuance from all angles. It all depends on the lineage, as well as the individual instructor.
We must also remember that even though we are purely defensive when in Kwun-sau, it is only for a fraction of a second. Kwun-sau will rarely complete fully before a counter-attack is followed after it, yet it will defend completely and keep the practitioner safe.
For those that do not train it in this manner but want to explore what it might be like, have your training partner launch a double high/low punch while you defend with Kwun-sau. Change sides and hands, continuing to repeat this exercise until it flows smoothly and efficiently. If you feel like you are getting driven backwards when executing Kwun-sau, lower your weight a bit more and press into the double punches vs letting your arms be too relaxed.
For dummy training, you can execute Kwun-sau on one side, pivot your body via Chuen-ma to the other and simultaneously initiate Kwun-sau to the opposite side. Not only will this teach how to clear the arms and maintain a certain amount of protectiveness while do so, but it will also work your turning, balance, and force exertion while driving into the arms.
Lastly, when working any action on the dummy, the goal is not to condition the arms. Your arms will take a beating, that is true, and this is a good thing when done properly in order to condition them for contact. However, this is a side effect vs the main intent. Instead, drive the arms slightly and then gradually increase power and speed as your competence progresses.
In a short time you will begin seeing the wonder of what this elusive action can really do. It might feel awkward at first, as do many actions when we are first exposed to them. But in a relatively short amount of time, it will unlock a lot of other areas that might have seemed puzzling. All you can do is give it a try and see for yourself. Kwun-sau is in every form and repeated frequently even in the wooden dummy. It is there for a reason, so our ancestors obviously felt that its concept was quite valuable. It is worth our exploration to examine what it is, why it is there, and what we can use it for in today’s modern fighting environment.
About the Author – Phil Bradley
Phil is the founder and head instructor of the Arizona Wing Chun Association, Peoria, Arizona USA. Training since June 1985 and teaching since March 1993, Phil has worked with a variety of well-known instructors and masters from the United States and Europe. In addition to the AWCA, Phil is an IT professional in the mainframe and server/networking industry. He is also a technical writer and eLearning media creator since 1995. He has written numerous books, articles, and training programs on Wing Tsun, as well as operational standards and on-demand training programs for the IT, medical, health/fitness and corporate security professions. Phil is married, has three daughters, one dog and a parrot that likes to answer the phone. But she does it with an English accent of "'ello." Go figure.