CONNECTING BRIDGE, FLOWER SET AND LOHAN FIST
1. Could you please explain the strengths and weaknesses of each of the four sequences of Asking Bridge?
2. During the Winter Camp in Finland, Asking Bridges was combined with Flower Set. During your coming visit to Frankfurt it will be combined with Little Lohan Fist and 18 Lohan Fist. How does each set i.e. Flower Set, Little Lohan Fist, 18 Lohan Fist complements Asking Bridges? And how does it differ from each other?
3. What will be the difference between the last and the upcoming course?
Sifu Anton Schmick
In the coming Asking Bridge course in Frankfurt, four special skills are taught. They are Hoong Ka Asking Bridge, Wing Choon Sticking Hands, Taijiquan Pushing Hands and Wuzuquan Kneading Hands. The term “Asking Bridge” is used here in both its wide sense and narrow sense. In its wide sense, it includes all the four special skills. In its narrow sense, which is the original meaning, it refers just to Hoong Ka Asking Bridge. To avoid confusion, we shall henceforth use “Connecting Bridge” for its wide sense, and “Asking Bridge” for its narrow sense.
The four sequences of Asking Bridge in its wide sense, or Connecting Bridge, are as follows:
- Black Tiger Presents Claw
- Swimming Dragon Plays with Water
- Throw Ball in Waves
- White Crane Rustles Wings
While each of the four sequences contains strong elements of each of the four arts of Connecting Bridge, which are Hoong Ka Asking Bridge, Wing Choon Sticking Hands, Wuzuquan Kneading Hands, and Taijiquan Pushing Hands, it is not that each one of the four sequences is derived from each one of the four arts. Instead, each sequence has elements of all the four arts, though one art may be prominent in one particular sequence. This enables the course to be more than the sum of its parts.
The techniques of first sequence, Black Tiger Presents Claw, are mainly from Hoong Ka, but the skills trained in this sequence are mainly from Wing Choon. This sequence represents an excellent combination of sensitivity development and force development, and of flowing force and consolidating force.
Personally I don’t find any weaknesses in this sequence. This is not because of self-glorification, but because if there were any weaknesses they would have been rectified. By weaknesses, I mean aspects in the sequence that would be detrimental to combat and to health. Kicking high where the groin is exposed, for example, would be a weakness because it gives an opening for an opponent to exploit. Tensing muscles to exert force would be a weakness because it causes energy blockage detrimental to health. Such weaknesses are not found in this and other sequences.
Indeed, a main reason why matching strength to press down an opponent’s hand-bridge, which is common in many Hoong Ka Asking Bridge routines, is not found in this sequence although this sequence is based on Hoong Ka Asking Bridge. Its absence is because I have replaced this aspect of using the One-Finger Zen hand form and a solid stance to press an opponent’s hand-bridge down, with using the tiger-claw and waist rotation.
In other words, in Hoong Ka Asking Bridge it is common to use the One-Finger Zen hand form and a solid Bow-Arrow Stance to match force with an opponent. This may create energy blockage as practitioners tense their muscles for muscular strength,. Also they often use body weight to lean on opponents’ hand to add strength, with the result that if the opponents let go of their hands the practitioner may fall over. Using tiger claw can facilitate better energy flow to generate internal force, and waist rotation can overcome opponents who may be physically stronger.
The second sequence, Swimming Dragon Plays with Water, draws its inspiration from Taijiquan Pushing Hands. The counters against pressing attacks are typical examples of Taijiquan moves using Immortal Waves Sleeves and Fierce Dragon Across Stream. Participants to Intensive Taijiquan Courses may recall me demonstrating the three classes of responses to an opponent’s attack.
Third class response is when a defender moves a step back as he wards off an opponent’s attack. He avoids the attack but is too far away to counter effectively. Second class response is to ward off an attack by sinking the body back and without moving the feet, then counter-attack, making two separate movements. First class response is to sink back the body as an exponent wards off an opponent’s attack, and shift the body forward again to execute a counter-strike in one smooth movement. It employs the tactic of “lean siew tai ta”, or “defence-cum-attack”, which is famous in Taijiquan. The responses in this sequence are of course first class.
There are no weaknesses in this second sequence, as any weaknesses have been rectified and improved upon. Some Hoong Ka practitioners use brutal strength in Asking Bridge. This becomes a weakness if an opponent is more forceful. This weakness is overcome by using “leak hand”. If an opponent is more forceful, pressing your bridge-hand down, instead of using brutal force to press up and revert your down-position, you use another hand to “thread” away his overwhelming hand and “leak” your previously subdued hand into his groin.
If your opponent intercepts your leaking attack with a taming-hand, you leak over his taming-hand to strike his head. If an opponent uses a reverse hanging fist on you, you sink back slightly to avoid his full force, then counter-strike his face with a tiger claw. Hence, you use Taijiquan Pushing Hands skills and Hoong Ka techniques.
An effective counter against Connecting Bridge is applying the principle of “If there is form, strike the form. If there is no form, chase the shadow.” This principle is best employed in Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu, which forms the theme of the third sequence, “Throw Ball in Waves”. So, although Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu does not traditionally train Connecting Bridge, it provides the skills and techniques for the third sequence. Not only participants learn how to use Choy-Li-Fatt techniques and skills effectively, they also learn how to counter them.
Imagine you hold a pair of iron rods. Whenever your opponent attempts to connect your arms, you strike the opponent’s arm with your iron rods, which are your powerful arms. If he retreats his arms, you chase after their shadow and strike his body. This is a formidable strategy, and not many people know how to handle it.
An effective counter against the iron rods is to use chin-na. You need to avoid the full force of the iron rods before gripping them. Skills from Taijiquan Pushing Hands will be very useful in this respect. Hence, training Connecting Bridge as a whole, and not just training the four arts of Connecting Bridge individually, is very helpful.
Chin-na is the nemesis of the iron rods. How would you counter chin-na attacks on you? Circulate your arm to release the chin-na and strike the opponent’s arm with your powerful iron rod. All these are trained in the third sequence.
As in the other sequences, the innate weaknesses of the skills and techniques employed in the sequence are taken care of, like the weakness of Connecting Bridge being hit by iron rods, and the weakness of iron rods being gripped by chin-na. Not only course participants learn how to handle the innate weaknesses if opponents exploit them, they also learn how to change the weaknesses into strengths.
It is significant to note the term “innate weaknesses”. Innate weaknesses are those that are innate in the skills and techniques even when these skills and techniques are performed perfectly. They are not weaknesses due to carelessness or ignorance. For example, as you apply a chopping fist on an opponent, you expose your groin or fail to cover your opponent adequate, these are weaknesses due to carelessness or ignorance. But as you need to generate momentum in your chopping fist, you take more time in your chopping movement thereby giving an opponent more time to respond, it is an innate weakness.
In the fourth sequence, White Crane Rustles Wings, the theme is Wuzuquan Kneading Hands. As in other sequences, skills and techniques of other Connecting Bridge arts are also incorporated, and innate weaknesses are taken care of and changed into strengths.
While much of Hoong Ka Asking Bridge is consolidating force, and much of Wing Choon Sticking Hands and Taijiquan Pushing Hands is flowing force, Wuzuquan Kneading Hands has a fair amount of both flowing force and consolidating force, and is thus a good concluding sequence for Connecting Bridge.
Wuzuquan is an advanced art where many sophisticated techniques are reduced to a few apparently simple ones. This is actually a special strength, but to those who do not know the invaluable functions of these apparently simple patterns may consider it a weakness. The Wuzuquan technique known as “shoot”, for example, can be used to counter any attack – yes, any attack if you know how. But most people do not know how, so they think the simplicity of Wuzuquan is a weakness.
If an opponent attacks Wuzuquan practitioners with a strike, for example, they will probably know how to defend against it, unless they practice “flowery fists and embroidery kicks”. But if the opponent attacks with a kick, a felling technique or chin-na, many Wuzuquan practitioners would not know how to respond with Wuzuquan techniques because they think there are not any. Only rare masters know how to apply the “shoot” to counter any attack. So many Wuzuquan practitioners as well as other martial artists may consider this a weakness, when actually it is a special strength.
As an art that was crystallized by a kungfu genius, Bai Yi Feng of the Yuan Dynasty, from many other arts, it is expected that there are no weaknesses in Wuzuquan. But most martial artists would not know these secrets, and from their perspective there are many weaknesses in Wuzuquan besides their mistaken view that Wuzuquan lacks counters against many types of attack.
They may, for example, not know how to use its fundamental set, San Zhan, which forms the basis of this sequence, to develop internal force. They may also not know that Kneading Hands, a special art of Connecting Bridge in Wuzuquan, is meant to train invaluable skills like internal force, sensitivity and good stances, and not practiced as a routine for demonstration. All these apparent weaknesses due to ignorance will be overcome in the Connecting Bridge course.
While Kneading Hands forms the theme of this fourth sequence, there are also other invaluable aspects from other arts of Connecting Bridge. Sensing an opponent’s movement and intention in Wing Choon Sticking Hands, and getting to the back of an opponent in Taijiquan Pushing Hands, for example, are also included. This is the advantage of learning Connecting Bridge as an integral art, and not just the indivuidual arts of Connecting Bridge separately. It is a manifestation of breadth and depth.
There was no conscious attempt to combine Connecting Bridge with any specific kungfu course at the previous Winter Camp in Finland or in the coming courses in Frankfurt. In the previous Winter Camp, the other course, Flower Set, just happened to be chosen by the organizer, Markus.
In the coming courses in Frankfurt, Lohan Kungfu also happened to be chosen by the organizer, Kai. Had an organizer chosen another set, like Flowing Water Floating Clouds or Twelve Animal Forms of Xingyiquan, the Connecting Bridge course would be combined with that chosen set.
Connecting Bridge, which includes all the four special skills to be taught at the course, is a group of fundamental skills that can be used in all martial arts. A person trained in Connecting Bridge will be more competent in his chosen martial art, be it Baguazhang, Judo or Taekwondo, than if he had not been so trained.
In a Judo match, for example, when your hands are in contact with an opponent’s, as soon as he attempts to grip you for a throw, but before he can actually throw you, you have already sensed his movement and even intention. You can neutralize his attack and counter-throw him, like following his momentum throw him across your waist, or intercept him and throw him backward onto the ground.
Nevertheless, Flower Set and Lohan Kungfu are good choices as combinations for Connecting Bridge as they complement each other. The benefits of their complementary combination, however, are different.
Relatively, Flower Set is flowing, whereas Lohan Kungfu, which includes Little Lohan Fist and 18-Lohan Fist, is consolidated. Being flowing, Flower Set is more suitable for Sticking Hands and Pushing Hands, whereas Lohan Kungfu is more suitable for Asking Bridge. Kneading Hands is somewhere in between, but with a predominance on flowing force. Hence, Kneading Hands can combine well with Flower Set and Lohan Kungfu, but slightly better with Flower Set.
In other words, because Flower Set is flowing, and Sticking Hands and Pushing Hands are also flowing, combining a course of Flower Set with a course on Sticking Hands and Pushing Hands is better than combining a course of Lohan Kungfu, which is consolidated, with a course on Sticking Hands and Pushing Hands.
On the other hand, because Lohan Kungfu is consolidated, and Asking Bridge is also consolidated, combining Lohan Kungfu with Asking Bridge is better than combining Flower Set with Asking Bridge. “Better” here means it is easier for a teacher to teach, and students to learn.
As a rough estimate, the proportions between flowing force and consolidated force in the following arts are as follows:
- Sticking Hands – 80:20
- Pushing Hands – 90:10
- Kneading Hands – 60:40
- Asking Bridge – 10:90
These proportions are different from the proportions between sensitivity development and force development mentioned in another answer, and are as follows:
- Sticking Hands – 80:20
- Pushing Hands – 70:30
- Kneading Hands – 30:70
- Asking Bridge – 10:90
Although the proportions are different, we can see a correlation. This is because the more flowing an art is, the more suitable it is for developing sensitivity. Reversely, the more consolidated an art is, the more suitable it is for developing force.
As a rough estimate, the proportions between flowing and consolidating in Flower Set and Lohan Kungfu are as follows:
- Flower Set – 70:30
- Lohan Kungfu – 20:80
All these estimates are made with the presumption that all other things were equal. But in Shaolin Wahnam, all other things are not equal.
For example, although the orthodox manner of practicing Flower Set is 70% flowing and 30% consolidating, because of our breadth and depth, we can, for any reason, practice it with 70% consolidating and 30% flowing, or in any proportion.
Similarly, although the orthodox manner of practicing Lohan Kungfu is 20% flowing and 80% consolidating, we can practice it with 20% consolidating and 80% flowing, or in any proportion.
In fact we did this with Iron Wire. The orthodox method of practicing Iron Wire is 10% flowing and 90% consolidating. But in some Iron Wire courses, we practice Iron Wire with 70% flowing and 30% consolidating. From their direct experience many course participants reported that they obtained better result with this unorthodox method. It may change the way Iron Wire is trained in future. With flowing more than consolidating, it is certainly safer in its training.
Here, “better” refers to the ease of teaching and learning. It is better to combine the Connecting Bridge course with Flower Set than with Lohan Kungfu. But if “better” refers to other criteria, like benefits students will get from the course, the answer may not be as straight-forward. For most other people, it is better to combine Connecting Bridge with Flower Set because as it is easy to teach and learn, students will get more benefits.
But for our school, it may be better to combine Connecting Bridge with Lohan Kungfu. There are two main reasons.
As we have the advantage of breadth and depth, teaching Connecting Bridge in combination with Lohan Kungfu will not be a problem for me, and it will also not be a problem for course participants to learn. In other words for other teachers and students who lack breadth and depth, because much of Connecting Bridge is flowing, and much of Lohan Kungfu is consolidating, they will find it more difficult to teach or learn them together because the two courses conflict with each other. But for us, with our breadth and depth, it becomes an advantage because we can adjust the proportion of flowing and consolidation to get the best benefits.
Secondly, for most other people the flowing nature of Connecting Bridge and the consolidating nature of Lohan Kungfu conflict with each other. They may be unable to apply Connecting Bridge in Lohan Kungfu, and vice versa. As an analogy, it is detrimental for Taijiquan practitioners to learn Iron Wire, or vice versa, because the nature and principles of the two arts are diagonally opposite. But for us, with the advantage of breadth and depth, the flowing nature of Connecting Bridge and the consolidating nature of Lohan Kungfu enrich each other, just as Taijiquan practitioners in our school enhance their art by practicing Iron Wire, and vice versa.
As in all other courses, a course held later avoids the mistakes of, and gain the benefits from a same course held earlier. This is the main difference between the Asking Bridge or Connecting Bridge course held in Finland, and the upcoming course in Frankfurt.
From my perspective, there were no mistakes in the Asking Bridge course in Finland. The course was carefully thought out and successfully executed. There were many benefits from the Finland course. We shall, therefore, emulate these benefits.
One surprising benefit was that course participants found the course more useful than what they had thought. The gains are not only useful in Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, Wuzuquan and Taijiquan, but in any kungfu styles they practice, and more significantly in their daily life.
Another benefit is that the sum of the course is more than its parts. Course participants not only learn Hoong Ka Asking Bridge, Wing Choon Sticking Hands, Wuzuquan Kneading Hands and Taijiquan Pushing Hands, but also learn, amongst other things, how to apply the skills and techniques of one art in another, and how to choose, often instinctively, which art to use in a particular situation.
One very special benefit of the Finland course was that three happy marriages resulted from it. These couples not only connect bridges, they connect lives. Perhaps we may emulate this special benefit in the upcoming Frankfurt course.
The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions on Asking Bridge in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.