We sat down with Sifu John Crescione, a very well rounded Wing Chun practitioner and doctor who knows the system inside an out. He had the opportunity to study with many well known teachers, such as Lee Moy Shan, William Cheung, and Ip Qing. Luckily, we managed to get a hold of him and ask a few questions about Bil Jee and Dim Mak!
Let’s see what he had to say:
EWC: As someone who trained both the Moy Yat perspective of Wing Chun under Lee Moy Shan and Traditional Wing Chun directly from William Cheung, how do their Bil Jee or thought process different from one another?
Sifu Crescione: The Moy Yat/Lee Moy Shan version that I learned is more conceptual in idea and usage. The William Cheung Version, the way I was taught, is actually more technique and application of how to use it. Both are great and both are right when we understand the Wing Chun mind.
For example in Yip Man Hong Kong version, we spend a lot of time training the bridge area of wrist to elbow range in SLT. If the punch gets past the wrist range and starts to get into the elbow range, generally speaking we answer that question with Chum Kiu level techniques. The technique is based on the opponent’s penetration and pressure from our front gate(wrist to elbow range) as it gets into our rear gate(elbow to body range). With the use of our shift, horse and technique, we can reestablish our proper range and biomechanical advantage for maximum use. Now if the attack gets past our elbow range and is effecting our balance, our horse, body structure and collapsing our bridge arms, then we have a Biu Jee problem.
Once we start to lose balance, our body’s ”self defense” mechanism starts to fire our postural muscles and makes keeping the head and body vertical a top priority. So our answer is to use the body, our horse, a different ging or energy and whatever portion of our bridge arm that is available to defend ourselves all at the same time AND hit the person as well. The thrusting Bju Jee arm “strikes” in the third part of most people’s Biu Jee form as just as important as escapes and blocks as they are finger tip or side palm strikes thrusting forward.
From the TWC GM Cheung perspective that I learned, a lot of time is spent training the elbow strikes and finger strikes while always maintaining vertical structure and optimal position through the footwork carrying the vertical structure into ideal position. This means that I must be working on the proper angle of my strike as well as my body in relation to the opponent and the target. The Hong Kong model would deal with the same issue though hip and pelvic rotation shifting while defending and attacking.
EWC: From what I understand you also had the opportunity to train with Ip Qing, how does his version of Bil Jee compare to the others?
Sifu Crescione: GM Ip Ching’s version is all about applied horse and elbow power through the bridge hands into the point of contact on the opponent. All 3 have unique and wonderful perspectives on what they feel you should emphasize in your training. In my opinion, TWC’s beauty is in how to link your wrists and feet together, Lee Moy Shan (the unsung hero of Moy Yat family Wing Chun as far as I am concerned) version teaches how to useyour entire bridge arms and horse to get out of trouble, while Ip Ching’s teaches the whipping ging in all your moves.
EWC: What is the biggest mistake most Wing Chun people make when learning Bil Jee?
Sifu Crescione: To me, two things from what I see over the years since I learned Biu Jee in the late 70’s and early 80’S is that Biu Jee allows people to be sloppy with their technique when it comes to using the elbow.
First, they over rely on this flipping over the top elbow lop/ chop thing and feel they could reach and hit their opponent with their elbow while their opponent hits them in the chest or face with a full extended punch. Any elbow technique is like a hook-it is the striking distance is shorter because the length of the elbow is shorter. That means you have to be closer-so how can you reach me with your elbow if I punched you full length in your chest. Even if you argue that you are on my side when you do it-how close do your really have to be?!?
This leads into the second part of the problem, the sacred Wing Chun Chop to the neck as “the end all- be all – I WIN technique. Unless you have great aim, unless you have great ging unless you have proper usage, timing and angle- all you’re really gonna do is slow the opponent down, or piss them off more!
Second is that they don’t really understand what an emergency technique is. Somebody a long time ago said to me that any punch is an emergency technique. Actually, from our Wing Chun point of view-any punch thrown at us is a gift since it is our invitation to enter and defeat them. Our system is such that we don’t let them finish the punch, we don’t let them get into their stance, we take away their room, we take away their distance and timing while maintaining our own and staying in proper biomechanical advantage position for optimal destructiveness. When a Wing Chun practitioner is no longer able to do all that, then it is an emergency! THAT’S WHEN YOU NEED AN EMERGENCY TECHNIQUE. Biu Jee technique, form and level!
EWC: Do you feel that Dim Mak can tie in Bil Jee? What about the other levels of Wing Chun?
Sifu Crescione: If you really want to get people’s attention in Wing Chun, bring up Dim Mak! Since Wing Chun is a KUNG FU system, then of course it is in there. If you understand the “emergency situation” and you have to hit the opponent at the same time you are trying to reestablish balance and position, why wouldn’t you want to hit the person in the most sensitive spot you can? If you are going to use your fingers or knuckles to hit points in your system, how can you only say that a Biu Jee strike is to the eye or throat. That target may not be available in the “emergency” you are having at that point in time. It boggles my mind that so many people have issues with Dim Mak because they believe the movie version and not the combat version. And I totally understand the YouTube experience of disbelief as well, the Uke syndrome and all that goes along with it, but those are demonstrations to try and understand what is happening inside the body, without having to really hit someone.
If we say that Dim Mak is about hitting sensitive points on the body, most are ok with that model. If we say that when I hit “this spot,” I can slow your heart down, they might get it if the anatomy was explained to them more in detail from a western medicine perspective. If I hit your knee with a reflex hammer and we get a jerk from your lower leg, that is only a “tap” and we get that type of sudden jerk response. All it means is that things are going on that we are unaware of, but they are still going on. How do I show that to somebody? The issue is when they see it, and they don’t understand it or try to learn how and why it works or better yet-why they couldn’t make it work, then they just judge it off of their limited opinion and belief system. You should not have strong opinions without strong knowledge.
The Dummy, Biu Jee and even Chum Kiu are full of “Dim Mak” techniques or ideas if you understand the forms usage and know what the angles and vectors are that you are suppose to be in when confronting or exchanging with your opponent.
EWC:Do you think it is practical to train Dim Mak? After all in the heat of combat it is hard to hit one little point.
Sifu Crescione: If you are going to say to me, “I would stick my finger in the opponent’s eye with a Biu Jee strike”-Is that practical? In the heat of battle? With the opponent fighting back? Isn’t that A LITTLE SPOT? So to say you can’t hit “points ” in combat is really not accurate or fair and in my little opinion tells me the level of your training or what you haven’t trained yet. Change the word “point” to “target” and the whole mystique changes. Eyes, nose, knee, groin-all points. So how far away is the eyeball from Stomach points 1,2 or 3-which when you look at an acupuncture chart are right under the eyeball in a vertical line on the cheekbone.
So you mean you can’t hit the cheekbone? Dim Mak points are nothing more than targets. It is simply a matter of what targets. You are going to hit how your neurology and muscle memory have been trained. Train it regularly as a matter of course and would you do it anyway.
Here’s an example. Let’s say we do Pak Da to someone and the punch goes to the chest on the “centerline”. We would do it anyway. Now if you knew where a point was on the sternum and you knew that the heart was right behind the sternum-wouldn’t you want to aim there on purpose anyway? That’s the mistake people make with Dim Mak. So once you change your aim slightly, because the intent is a bit different-you are now doing Dim Mak and the surprise is you always were doing it! Just a question of Aim.
The other issue you bring up-the heat of battle-is custom made for anybody with sensitivity training. This is Wing Chun’s forte ! So in the heat of battle, the opponent punches me, I Pak Da to the heart – mid-sternum spot – the opponent counters by blocking across my punching arm. So like any good little Wing Chun practitioner, I counter with Lop Da… and continue on my merry way and hit the opponent in the spot I wanted to originally! That is because we have a method, a delivery system called chi sao. Many systems and styles don’t have a delivery system and try and pull this off “naked”, without feeling/ listening skills. This is why they fail, the technique fails and why the concepts fail them.
EWC: If someone is interested in learning Dim Mak, what is a good place to start and what types of training exercises should they do?
Sifu Crescione: First practice your aim. Pick a target on the front of the body and one on each side of the body. Second spar or chi sao to only hit those targets slow, fast and with fighting back. Then practice your techniques based on the same targets from a self defense situation. You have to train your muscles to work with full speed and aim! Third, if you are going to train your fingers you should be doing both finger push ups, forefinger knuckle push ups and wrist push ups. They are all important to hitting with the contact points and also not having your wrists bend or fingers collapse when hitting your opponent. Same goes for kicking as well. Pick the target. Kick it slow and fast, then with a fighting back opponent. If you are at chi gerk level-all the better-have at it!
Lastly, you need to suit up, or at least the training partner needs protective chest gear on and develop short power into your targets. That means no wind up and no room to pull back. Just touch and go which means if the Dummy and Biu Jee levels of training are done right, this is the benefit of that type of training. So if you used the Classic Enter the Dragon wrist vs wrist contact position and go from there-how hard can you hit from there without wind up or pulling back?
EWC: Are there any types of Iron Palm or finger training associated with Dim Mak? I mean, if you are hitting someone with your fingers, I would assume you would have to do some kind of conditioning?
Yes but it’s not what you think. If you hit the right spot with the right angle you don’t need much. The training is for not breaking a finger if you miss and you hit hard bone instead of soft tissue. Realistically, if I was to hit a spot on the body with a “Dim Mak” strike-I am NOT expecting this person to drop dead or cough up blood after walking 5 steps. I am expecting it hurts enough to bend them over, maybe bruise or crack a rib, to lower their arms, to have the pain linger on so that I can deliver my Wing Chun Fists of Fury more easily and with devastating power!!!
The fastest way is to train Iron Palm, this is because your fingers will go along for the ride and be trained as a result. The old school stuff – which I love – like grab bag work, twisting chop sticks, finger push ups done the right way, grasping and pinching exercises all have merit for proper finger strike training. Also, if you feel that using a fore knuckle strike, like a Phoenix Eye fist or a Dragon’s head fist then hitting a heavy bag, focus mitt or even using the inside pages of a phone book are good. All those methods have to be done slowly and over time so you build up to speed and power. When you can break a board with a knuckle strike or a finger strike then you should be pretty good to go with regards to really using them in combat.
EWC: From what I understand you just came out with a iPad app that helps people learn Dim Mak for WIng Chun. What can they expect to learn from it?
Sifu Crescione: Oh yes. It is completely different than what the average person in Wing Chun would expect. Much like what we have been talking about. While the title is Wing Chun Dim Mak it is really on the Wooden Dummy and how you would look at re-examining the Dummy and it’s techniques with a Dim Mak eye! It covers the explanations of Dim Mak, the training tools, the rules of Dim Mak from a Wing Chun perspective, anatomy, physiology and neurology as to why it works, points, charts, fighting techniques and over 35 video clips as well as a section of demonstration of Dummy form and application from the Yip Man Hong Kong version and the Traditional Wing Chun version of GM Cheung. There is a lot in there for an iPad App.
EWC: Where can they find it?
Sifu Crescione: They can get it on Itunes at the App store for Ipad under Wing Chun or Wing Chun Dim Mak or through the link below.
A special thanks to Sifu John Crescione! I believe he cleared up a lot of misconceptions about Dim Mak and how it applies to Wing Chun. Not to mention, he let us know his thoughts on how we can all improve our Bil Jee.