Broken Wrists & Dreams…

Use of the Cup Fist in Drunken Boxing?spilled wine

This is a common question about the cup fist, how does it work for impact? First thing to remember is that the shape of the hand can be changed just before the moment of impact, so the actual hand shape could be a fist or palm or really any martial hand method that is appropriate for the strike being delivered. However the cup fist is also useful itself for striking and shows us important ideas in drunken boxing overall. But first off to answer the question of how power is delivered through the cup shape.

The cup shape should see the wrist held at a forty five degree angle to the long bones of the forearm (radius and ulna) creating an arched shape from the knuckles of the hand through to the long bones. The arch is a powerful structure and so long as the power travels along the curve of the arch it can handle basically anything your body can generate to put through it. The main mistake people make here though is thinking that the strike is straight ahead with a bent wrist, which would of course collapse and break on impact. The strikes themselves when using the cup fist are curved as well, moving in a gentle curve that is somewhat hard to perceive by the opponent and lends itself to slipping past interceptions like blocking methods. It also then delivers the power into the body of the opponent on this curve which is usual for the body to deal with as it tends to “cut off” a piece of the body rather than driving directly through the motherline or centre line (Chong Mai) of the body as most martial striking methods attempt to do. This turns the opponent from the power of the strike effectively controlling their torso movement through our hit and gives us something to take advantage of. To be able to actually strike with the cup fist requires actually hitting something, over and over like a heavy or sand bag to find the angle of the arch and the appropriate angle of the punch itself to match it.

But this is still only a hand shape and its purpose is deeper than all that. It points at the nature of drunken boxing itself. Many times I have been asked this question about the use of the cup fist and it shows that it is not simple to understand, it is deceiving even the people who are training the style themselves. Drunken boxing is so deceptive it even lies to us the people trying to understand it. The idea of deception is of course well known in the drunken system but it seems few can be more specific than that it is meant to be deceitful. One needs to try to ask how it is deceiving others? How is it deceiving me? What does deception mean?

At a deeper level the bent wrist implies frailty. This is obvious by the questions about the shape in the first place “I will break my wrist if I punch like that!” this means that seeing and trying to understand the shape as a student it still makes you feel like it is weak and useless, exactly what we want an opponent to think. The lie here is not that we are drunken an unable to defend ourselves (you were sober a moment ago) but that we are unskilled, stupid and doing a useless method. This changes the opponents level of confidence and allows them to not understand and underestimate the drunken boxer. Secondly the ability to actually use the shape to deliver power shows us that we are to train ourselves to deliver force from strange and seemingly weak positions. If you have ever seen most drunken forms they appear strong, straight and powerful with a little stumbling and rolling thrown in. Not deceptive at all, not on a psychological level nor a physical one. If the practitioner obviously knows kung fu and has structure and line and power he has already missed the ideal of the system he is imitating. It is a bag of tricks instead of a deeply understood method of martial arts. If you do not appear weak you are missing the point.

Drunken is about taking the weakest positions and understanding them, knowing what balance really is and what its limits are, knowing how to break the “rules” of orthodox martial methods and still retain structure and power. This is why we should not abandon the ideals of what we study, thinking ourselves able to simply adjust them to suit our own needs. This shows a narrow mindedness in our training and an overconfidence in our abilities. The methods are there for a reason, a reason most likely not easy to understand, reasons passed down through generations who trained more years than you have yet lived, what makes you think you know better? I would argue here the often quoted “Take what is useful, reject what is useless”, who are you to say what is useless? How many decades have you trained to understand what the art is trying to teach you? Surely you should give it the attention your teachers and generations of teachers before you did before making such judgments. Do not fall into the trap of egoism and knowing better before really understanding what the art is about. Drunken is one of the most advanced and difficult forms of Chinese Martial Arts, this is often said and thrown around in martial culture. If indeed it is an “advanced” system then do not expect it to come easily. I have told my students many times that it took me at least seven years before I started to actually be able to understand it enough to use it in combat and now twenty years in to my drunken training I am still amazed at how well it is designed, its depth of understanding and it power as a martial art. There are many many other methods that are more simple to understand and use but fast food is not for everyone. Savour it.

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