Basic Blocks → Jong Sau 樁手

Jong Sau 樁手 – for rapid emergency response against straight punches above & smothering your hands

Jong Sau 樁手 is an emergency upwards wedge, for when your hands are low (like they normally are naturally) and the opponent is punching over the top of them. With little time to react, or little space to move, an upwards wedging block like Jong Sau may be needed.

If you don’t have the time & space & speed to bring down an oncoming punch (with Gam Sau) and you don’t even have time & space to slap it aside, because your hand is lower than theirs, and theirs is already almost hitting you, this may be the time to intercept quickly from below – simply lift your forearm to meet their forearm and take it off course.

Upwards interception is quicker than the sidewards or downwards slap when your hands are below and smothered by theirs, for example, if their wrist is directly above your wrist. It doesn’t put you in such a dominant position, but it blocks the punch immediately, which is the main thing. It’s more of a desperation move, but if you’re careful, you can stay balanced with it too.

There are many variations to an emergency upwards interception. We’ll focus on two versions of the sharp wedging variety in this tutorial. The Wing Chun way and the Tai Chi way.

The Wing Chun way

Bruce Lee demonstrating Jong Sau 樁手 vs Taky Kimura
Bruce Lee demonstrating Jong Sau 樁手 vs Taky Kimura

The very first move in Ip Man’s wooden dummy form routine is a great example of Jong Sau 樁手, the main Wing Chun technique for an emergency rapid upwards interception from a non contact position.

Jong Sau is done with the wrist higher than the elbow, in a classic high Wu Sau 護手 (‘guard hand’) structure. For this reason, it’s often simply called Wu Sau.

You could also call it Tai Sau 提手 (‘lifting hand’) although this term is usually used in reference to the Cheung Kiu 長橋 (‘long bridge’) version.

Ip Man on guard vs Wooden Dummy
Ip Man on guard vs a Wing Chun Wooden Dummy. He’s ready to lift his left hand to execute Jong Sau 樁手, the first move of his dummy routine.
Donnie Yen doing Wu Sau on Wooden Dummy
Donnie Yen, the actor who played Ip Man in the Ip Man movies, does Jong Sau 樁手 on a Wooden Dummy.

The fact it’s found at the very start of Ip Man’s wooden dummy form routine is a testament to how important this move is, as well as its relevance as an emergency interception at the very start of a fight.

The Tai Chi way

Bolo Yeung demonstrating Tai Chi (Tai Sau block)
Bolo Yeung demonstrating a Tai Chi style Jong Sau 樁手 upwards interception against Bruce Lee’s straight punch, between scenes on the set of Enter The Dragon in 1973, with co-star John Saxon paying close attention. Yeung is Cantonese for Yang – one of the famous Tai Chi family names. Although Bolo was more famous as a bodybuilder than a martial artist prior to Enter The Dragon (he was Mr Hong Kong for ten years running), he also practised various styles of Kung Fu from a young age and remains particularly fond of Tai Chi to this day.

Each variation of Jong Sau has its unique purpose. This version is most commonly associated with Tai Chi, but similar moves are also seen in Wing Chun.

This is roughly the best structure for intercepting quickly upwards from a non-contact position, and sticking without bouncing off, and holding structure without collapsing and without tensing up in a way that turns your arm into a lever that can then get you thrown by a skilled opponent. The Wing Chun way that wedges up more sharply, may be a faster move but is more liable to bounce off or create tension that can be countered. So this move is for when you have slightly more luxury of time but still need a rapid interception from below and want a dull impact that doesn’t rebound, disconnect or shake you off balance.

Bruce Lee doing Tai Chi, with a moustache
Bruce Lee (with moustache) doing Tai Chi. His high hand resembles a Tai Chi style Jong Sau, as well as a Wing Chun style Fook Sau. Indeed, Jong Sau can be done like a Wu Sau, or Tan Sau, or Fook Sau, depending on the type of energy you require.

Wrist on wrist is the ideal point of connection

With enough space & time, you’ll ideally make contact wrist on wrist when doing Jong Sau. This is the safest and most balanced way to do this move. But if lacking the time & space & speed to do this, you may need to go for mid forearm on mid forearm, or even closer to elbow on elbow, which is more of a clashing force, and is more risky especially if their arm is longer than yours.

Bruce Lee vs Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wingspan
Bruce Lee famously re-assessed the value of certain moves after training with Game Of Death co-star & basketballer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar whose arms were so much longer than Bruce’s.

Footwork

As with slapping down or sideways, in all forms of upwards interception you will ideally sink weight into the leg beneath the hand that’s doing the block, immediately before the block receives the impact. Any stepping with that leg to line up the initial connection should be done prior to impact, else be ready for the impact to push you back a bit, and maybe throw you off balance. If it’s not really an emergency, and you have time for footwork, but stubbornly want to intercept up from below, then you’d ideally still step back with the diagonally opposite leg, for extra cover and alignment. There’s less need to swing the leg back in a circular motion here, compared to when you’re doing Gam Sau, because Jong Sau is more of a linear move and its counter-balancing leg should match it. But if you’ve got time & space for adjusting your stance when doing Jong Sau, you should generally aim to do a more dominant hand technique too (ideally Gam Sau).

Bruce Lee doing Jong Sau / Wu Sau to block the kick of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Bruce Lee doing Jong Sau (which can also be called Wu Sau) to block the kick of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the movie Game Of Death. Don’t pay too much attention to Kareem’s kick as he was still in the early stages of training here – unfortunately Bruce died long before the movie was ready, so all we have now is this early rehearsal footage, and that’s what was eventually used in the movie when it was released after Bruce died. So let’s ignore the detail of Kareem’s kick, and just focus on what Bruce is doing here. This low stance, pointing towards Kareem, with weight practically evenly distributed between both legs, gives Bruce practically maximum power in his Jong Sau for absorbing and emitting energy along the sagittal plane (up, down, forwards and backwards) while still giving himself maximum cover and distance from Kareem’s punches and kicks, with plenty of agility to advance or retreat quickly as and when desired. It’s very similar to a Fencing posture in this regard.

What about Bong Sau?

Bruce Lee demonstrating Bong Sau
Bruce Lee showing John Saxon his Bong Sau 膀手 in 1973.

Upwards interception can also be done with your elbow being level with your wrist, to create a platform rather than a sharp wedge. This move is called Bong Sau 膀手 (meaning ‘upper-arm hand’). Here, instead of wedging inside the arc of their punch, you’re creating a platform beneath it. You can still wedge it up from here – your arm is like a balancing scale that can tip passively to either side or be asserted proactively if you prefer.

If the oncoming punch follows through, you can twist your arm even more to expose the palm and tricep, while rotating the torso on a vertical axis, then brushing or grabbing their punch off the top, using your spare hand, a technique called Lap Sau 擸手, to free up your initial hand for a counter attack – this combined brush or grab plus counter strike is called Lap Da 擸打.

When Bong Sau is done with a lot of forward energy, to pin them up and wedge them open from underneath, this can be called Lan Sau 攔手 (meaning ‘Bar Arm’ in Cantonese) which itself can be done from above or from below.

Bong Sau is by far the most complicated common move in Wing Chun. It’s mainly relevant in super close quarters, especially where you’re already sticking hands and are confident about the precise mechanics of the oncoming punch. It’s a collapsible structure – it can apply pressure but it’s always ready to collapse and transfer to Lap Sau 擸手 (grabbing hand – pulling the opponent’s hand aside with your spare hand), to open up a Fak Sau 拂手 (chop to the opponent’s neck) using the same hand that did the Bong Sau, or Gwa Choi 掛搥 (backfist) if you’re in a bladed stance and are a bit cramped for space. From here, after the initial counter strike, your backhand is waiting to follow up with a straight cross or Drilling Fist.

Bong Sau can be seen in professional boxing too – Tyson Fury often did it against Deontay Wilder. But it’s a fairly complicated move – you really need to learn it through sticking hands with a partner. And it’s a non essential move since the sharper Jong Sau 樁手 solves the same kind of problem in a much simpler way that’s also better suited to most real self defence scenarios. So we’ll skip Bong Sau for now and focus on the Wing Chun and Tai Chi variations of Jong Sau 樁手 to solve upwards interception needs from a non-contact position.

Terminology

Jong Sau 樁手 is the Cantonese name for this move. Jong literally means Post (sticking up from the ground), and Sau means hand. You may recognise Jong from Mook Yan Jong 木人樁 meaning Wooden Man Post (wooden dummy).

In Mandarin, this technique is called Zhuāng Shǒu 桩手. You may recognise Zhuāng from Zhàn Zhuāng 站桩 meaning Post Standing, a popular Qi Gong posture.

Post Standing is essentially holding the position of a double Jong Sau – that is Seung Jong Sau 雙樁手 (Cantonese) or Shuāng Zhuāng Shǒu 双桩手 (Mandarin).

The Cheung Kiu (Long Bridge) version of Seung Jong Sau (Double Post Hands) is the first hand technique in the original Chen style Tai Chi form routine, Lǎo Jià Yī Lù 老架一路 (Old Frame, First Routine) and is found at the beginning of many derivative form routines from Chen and other styles of Tai Chi too. But this technique is rarely named for what it is – instead, it is typically bunched in with the corresponding Cheung Kiu Seung Gam Sau (Long Bridge Double Pin Hand) and simply called Yù Bèi Shì 预备势 (Start Form).

The Long Bridge Double Post Hand and Long Bridge Double Pin Hand are also trained sequentially in the first form routine of most Wing Chun lineages, including Siu Lim Tao in Yip Man’s lineage, although something different (but with almost identical application) is found at the very start of this particular routine – that is the crossed-hands short-bridge equivalent of the same set of techniques. Bearing in mind, the hand structure of Gam Sau and Gaang Sau is practically the same, only the energy is substantially different.


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