The Hung Ga system is well known for its “Iron bridge hand training”. Traditionally, there are twelve distinct Hung Ga bridge hand methods, each having a different shape, associated technique and mode of practice. The various bridge hand techniques are exemplified in different classical Hung Ga forms (Tit Sin Kyun, Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kyun, etc.). Amongst Hung Ga practitioners, the Twelve Bridges are a continual source of conversation, intrigue and even confusion.
In this article, for simplicity sake, as opposed to going into the specifics of all Twelve Bridges, I would rather break them down in a few broad categories of application I have used for combative training.
As a general description, bridging (aka Bridge Hands) literally means the connection between yourself and your opponent. Whereas the skill of bridging relates to the ability to control your ranges, of which, I break down into three basic categories (please note that bridging is more extensive than my short list):
- In the first category, bridging is evaluating distance between you and your opponent (in this case the “Bridge” is the literal space between you). In terms of combat, this means knowing how and when to step in and out of range and the ability to dodge/ evade an attack. This is essentially the skill of perceiving and distinguishing different ranges, which greatly relies on footwork, timing and depth perception to properly apply.
- The second category occurs during initial contact with your opponent. These bridging techniques are used to gap the distance between you and an adversary. These methods include jamming/ trapping your opponents’ limbs to set up a hold, takedown or a strike (i.e. checking a guard with Kiu Sau to set up a Ping Cheui) or conversely for defending/ shielding against strikes (such as using a Bik Kiu to deflect an attack). Additionally, in a larger sense, even a direct strike to your opponent is considered a bridge as well. Dexterity, and arm and hand conditioning are essential elements to use these techniques effectively.
- In the third category, the bridging techniques can be considered as a type of specialized Gung Fu clinch fighting, and the pivotal point between wrestling and striking. These bridging techniques are for defensive/ positional wrestling, grip fighting and clinch breaking. (This particular range is strangely not practiced or even considered by many “traditional” martial artist. Unfortunately, modern Gung Fu practitioner often neglect traditional wrestling techniques of Chinese Martial Arts and subsequently do not understand how to competently engage in this range). Additionally it’s important to note that, though bridging techniques are most commonly done with the arms (thus the term bridge hand), one can bridge with the leg, hip or even the head. This is essentially a type of clinch-wrestling range which requires a good deal of sensitivity and stability to properly use. (For Hung Ga, one can think of this kind of like push hands, under pressure with full body take downs, joint locks and strikes).
Below is a fun picture of the twelve bridges, though each picture theoretically represents a bridge, there is not necessarily a correlation between their name, shape and usage.
Generally speaking, both the second and third categories are more uniquely developed within Asian martial arts as a whole. As a point of interest, before the popularity of MMA, the use of clinch range bridging methods were more specifically practiced among Chinese martial arts.
Based on China’s extremely long and continuous history of wrestling, the high prevalence of the bridging techniques and the presence of some sort of clinch fighting in every Gung Fu combat sport, it’s a fairly reasonable assumption that wrestling is an integral component of most Chinese Martial Art styles. As a side note, when I wrestle with people from other styles, many of the defensive bridging techniques are frowned upon or even discouraged (with the exception of MMA folk). This is partly because defensive wrestling prevents one from properly engaging in sportive wrestling combinations, and partly because some of the techniques can be injurious to your partner (i.e.: wrist wrenching cause by grip breaking, cricking the neck or accidental eye pokes from cross facing, etc.). Additionally, many of the positional bridging methods are used to set up strikes, which simply has no use in a sport wrestling context. Subsequently, many sport wrestling/ grappling styles generally don’t practice these types of techniques.
Overall, bridging is a huge topic for the Chinese Martial Artist, especially for the Hung Ga practitioner, and one that I continually learn more about. (I am planning on series of videos and posts regarding Hung Ga basic training and application of traditional techniques of which, bridging will be a big topic that I will cover).
About the Author: Matthew Blazon Yee instructs private and small group classes in Qigong, Gung Fu, rehabilitation, fitness, and performance enhancement. Please check out his Facebook page at Jiao Li Kung Fu.
First photo: Ng Lim and Ho Yip Chau, demonstrating “Pressing Bridge” (Bik Kiu). Published in Lam Sai Wing Memorial Book.
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