Basic Blocks → Gam Sau 撳手

Gam Sau 撳手 – for the ideal defence against most punches, especially straight punches below your hands

Gam Sau 撳手 (downwards slap) is generally the best thing to do for defending against a straight punch, if you have the time & space for it. It puts you in a dominant position for exchanging punches, or for flanking the opponent and potentially getting behind them.

You can also sometimes slap down a hooked punch if its arc is narrow or its reach is short (stepping back can help with this).

Use your hand that’s adjacent to their punch, come around the outside, over the top, catch it with your hand, and bring it down.

In Wing Chun this can be called Gam Sau 撳手 (literally ‘pinning hand’) which emphasises the forwards & downwards pressure that you’d often make after connecting, or Pak Sau 拍手 (slapping hand) which emphasises the initial slapping contact and hand structure.

Bruce Lee doing Pak Sau with Biu Jee vs Dan Inosanto
Bruce Lee doing a rear hand Gam Sau from maximum range, accompanied by a Biu Jee finger strike with his lead hand, against Dan Inosanto. Bruce is catching Dan’s fist in his left hand, meanwhile his fingers can just about reach Dan’s eyes if he extends his right arm, or if Dan falls forward like he probably would (head first) if he were throwing a heavy lunging punch at speed and it’s getting slapped down. If Dan’s punch were really in range for a powerful hit, Bruce could have stepped back a bit to achieve the range depicted here.
Bruce Lee doing a Gam Sau on Dan Lee's punch, in LA Chinatown
Bruce Lee doing a Gam Sau on Dan Lee’s punch, at Bruce’s JKD gym in Chinatown LA. Bruce is countering with a finger strike to Dan’s eyes. This example is taking place at classic Wing Chun range. Bruce is slapping down Dan’s arm, just enough to stop it interfering with Bruce’s counter strike and anything else going on at head or neck level. Bruce’s slap is making contact just below the elbow – he may even be pinching Dan’s forearm to hold onto it. This is a great spot for trapping and flanking although he appears disinterested in applying that kind of pressure here in this move. From this range Bruce has a lot of power in his punches and potentially a lot of control in case he wants to counter Dan’s next move with a throw.
Bruce Lee doing Pak Da on John Saxon
Bruce Lee doing a technique like Gam Da 撳打 on John Saxon in 1973. It’s unclear what Bruce’s right hand is doing, because of the flower pot in the way – I think he’s trapping either one or both of John’s hands using Gam Sau 撳手 (pinning hand) but there’s a chance he’s doing Dai Bong Sau 低膀手 (low wing arm) with his right hand. Still, this is one of the rare shots where Bruce is punching with his backhand over the top, as would be done after an adjacent lead-hand Gam Sau, like we are teaching on this course.

It’s not strictly just going down – it may also have forwards and sidewards energy – this depends on many things including how much time you’ve got to position yourself, how much space & ability do you have to move your feet, how heavy is the punch being thrown at you, etc. But it’s always going in some kind of downwards direction – their punch is guided down by your hand on top of theirs.

Even if your hands are down, if you see a punch coming and can move fast enough, you may be able to come around the outside and over it, in order to bring it down and have the most advantageous result from a single block. From here, you’ve got an easy punch over the top – their head is probably falling into your fist.

Ideal point of contact

  • Their wrist is the ideal point of contact if you’re not trying to flank them, only staying standing in front of them.
  • Their upper forearm, near their elbow, is the ideal point of contact if you’re applying pressure to pin them, especially if you want to step down their blindside to outflank them and potentially get behind them.

Why step down the flank?

Stepping down the flank puts you in an advantageous position where it’s very difficult for your opponent to reach you with his fists, feet or any other weapon, but very easy for you to have your way with him. Outflanking your attacker also gives you the option to avoid facing him head-on. Ideal if if they look tough and you don’t fancy trading punches with them. Especially useful if you’ve got your back to a wall and he’s lunging through you, following through with his punches and destined to crash into you with his body weight even if you block the punch – this is as good a time as ever to flank him, to avoid being smothered against a wall. The pros & cons of this scenario are magnified when there’s multiple attackers – strategic stepping & flanking is especially vital against multiple attackers. Potentially even more so when sharp weapons are involved, although stepping in may create an immediate new risk, so it’s about weighing up the balance of risks vs threats – trying to de-escalate while also trying to avoid getting “cut off” into a corner where they can pressure you indefinitely.

To stick or not to stick

In Yi Quan, this move is called Àn 按 which means push or press, but Àn is also a term used in Tai Chi to refer to the energy of shoving (or hitting) sharply to causing surface trauma while disengaging without significantly displacing the opponent (to allow for continuous strikes), but we don’t want to disengage with our Gam Sau in empty handed combat – much better to stick until we’re ready to let go, to fire a second counter punch, or to move away. Although there may be exceptional circumstances which change this.

But you don’t need to grab onto them with a firm grip, because their punch should be stiff enough to move like a lever if it’s got any weight behind it – it becomes a lever which makes their head fall forward, so if you want to return fire after Gam Sau, you’ve got an easy punch over the top with your backhand. This simultaneous trap and counter-strike can be called Gam Da 撳打 (pin & hit) or Pak Da 拍打 (slap & hit).

Simultaneous counter-strike options

Using your spare hand:

  • You could throw a punch over the top, which could be a vertical fist, or a diagonal fist, or an inward twisting Drilling Fist.
  • You could grab the throat; or strike it with a grabbing hand structure (called ‘Toho’ in karate, or Sword Peak Hand).
  • You could chop the neck with knifehand structure (palm facing up).
  • You could throw a ridgehand strike (palm facing down) which could be heavy enough for a clothesline takedown.
  • You could poke them in the eyes with your fingers – be careful not to break your fingers.
  • If you haven’t already knocked them down after striking, or by skipping the strike altogether, you could transition directly into a side choke, or go for the rear choke (rear choke is much better than side choke, but further work may be required to get fully behind them).

Block with the adjacent hand (on the Outside Gate)

Be sure to use your adjacent hand to slap down the oncoming punch. Slap on the Outside Gate (the rough & hairy side) of their arm. If you slap against the wrong hand, ie, on the Inside Gate (the soft & smooth side) of their diagonally opposing arm, then you’re probably using the wrong hand to block with – this is dangerous move because it leaves your blind side exposed for a sweet shot over the top from their other fist, or their current punch could potentially hook and hit you.

Much safer is to slap on the Outside Gate (Oi Moon 外門) of their directly opposing (adjacent) arm, instead of on the Inside Gate (Noi Moon 內門) of their diagonally opposing arm.

Bruce Lee's inside Pak Sau on Chuck Norris
Bruce Lee doing a risky Inside Gate slap on Chuck Norris, in the movie Way Of The Dragon, 1972. Although it’s generally a move to avoid, there are exceptions, and this position is a complex one, because Bruce’s knee is raised, potentially enabling him to trap Chuck’s two extended arms between Bruce’s knee and slapping hand, by pulling down on the hand he’s slapping, thus leaving Bruce with one hand free to strike over the top.
Bruce Lee doing a risky Gam Sau
Bruce Lee doing a risky Gam Sau pin on Ted Wong’s diagonally opposite hand. This is risky and normally not recommended, because it’s much more likely to slip off than if using the directly opposite adjacent hand. It also leaves you exposed to a potential body shot underneath, although a head shot generally trumps a body shot so Bruce still occupies the dominant position here. Bruce may be pinning with a closed fist or a half closed hand – it’s unclear from this angle.

Footwork

When doing Gam Sau with your left hand, against the opponent’s adjacently opposing hand (eg, your left slap vs their right punch), your weight drops into your left leg. If you’re slapping with your right hand (against your opponent’s left hand) then your weight goes into your right leg. Try to synchronise this so that the lifting of your hand coincides with any stepping needed, and the downward pressure of your slap coincides with the sinking of weight into the corresponding leg.

If you sink weight into the wrong foot, the block may throw you off balance (if the punch is heavy enough), or the punch may slip through and catch you (since you’re more weak & open in that stance).

If you’re moving quickly, when you throw your arm out, your corresponding foot may hotch forwards with it. If you have more time & space for perfect positioning, you’ll first set your corresponding leg in the ideal spot which depends on the attacker’s distance, then as you swing your slapping hand around the outside, you’ll simultaneously swing the opposite leg back behind you, while sitting into the heavy leg. This advanced footwork is rarely seen in Wing Chun, but Bruce Lee used to did it. It’s also sometimes seen in professional boxing – Oleksandr Usyk often did it against Anthony Joshua.

Using advanced footwork during Gam Sau, to form a strong stance pointing in the right direction as described, optimises the alignment of your arms and legs for strength and balance, and gives maximum cover to the rest of your body including your privates which may become a target after the opponent is deflected downwards – they may also shoot for a single or double leg takedown and your new stance is well structured to defend from this.

Power side forward variation

Use Gwa Choi 掛搥 (backfist) if punching with the lead hand while parrying with the rear hand (but be sure to still slap the opponent’s adjacent hand for control from the outside gate, so the punch can’t hook and still hit you, and your chin isn’t exposed to the opponent’s other hand). As Bruce Lee was a rare “power-side forward” fighter, and very much fancied a bladed stance instead of fighting square-on, the Gwa Choi version of Gam Da was among his main techniques.

Bruce Lee doing Gam Sau / Pak Sau vs Bob Wall.
Bruce Lee doing Gam Sau / Pak Sau with his rear hand, and counter punching over the top with a Gwa Choi (backfist) from his lead hand, which Bob Wall is blocking with an over-collapsed Wu Sau (guard hand). In fact, Bob’s whole stance is caving in, he’s almost falling backwards, and he’s wide open for a kick between the legs. Bruce also looks susceptible to the same kind of kick, but his stance is more bladed for cover, and he’s in control of the energy exchange up top, and is more balanced in his own structure, so he has a much better chance of avoiding being caught between the legs himself.

Personally I favour the Gam Sau hand being the lead hand, and the power punching hand being the rear hand, like most professional boxers do. For me this prioritises defence over attack, which suits my mostly pacifist style. This is nothing against Bruce Lee – he said it himself – he had an unusually aggressive style, and this is one example of that. And when you look at who else boxes primarily with their dominant hand forward, ie, a Lefty Orthodox, or a Righty Southpaw like Bruce Lee, you find legends like Oleksandr Usyk (righty southpaw), Vasiliy Lomachenko (righty southpaw), Shakur Stevenson (righty southpaw), Andre Ward (lefty orthodox), Oscar De La Hoya (lefty orthodox), Mike Tyson (lefty orthodox) – it makes a compelling case! Of course there’s no need to stay in one stance forever – many of the best boxers are mixed-handed switch-hitters. Even if you have a strongly preferred side forward, it’s good to train both ways in case of injury, or in case you have no space or time to adjust your stance.

Bolo Yeung's Gam Sau vs Bruce Lee's Side Kick
Bolo Yeung steps back with a Gam Sau to block (or at least cover) Bruce Lee’s side kick, while posing for pictures behind the scenes of Enter The Dragon (1973).
Morihei Ueshiba doing Gam Sau
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, demonstrates a pivoting Gam Da against a downward-chopping long sword, in his 1938 book called Budo, released shortly before World War 2. Ueshiba’s style changed significantly after the war (where hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese men, women & children were slaughtered in Hiroshima & Nagasaki). After the war, Ueshiba ridded his system of all remaining aggression, making it much more passive & pacifist, for maximum opportunity for de-escalation. The technique here, from pre-war Aikido, was demonstrated under the name Tachi-Dori Shomen-Giri Kote-Gaeshi 太刀取り 正面切り 小手返し in his book, but this refers to the follow-up throw rather than the Gam Da technique itself. Ueshiba needs to pivot here, to get out the way of the sword, but also to pull and generate leverage for a throw since the sword is already chopping down so slapping it down will have minimal throwing effect in itself.

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