Is Hung Gar a reliable set of few techniques? Yes and no.
Yes in the sense that historically Hung Gar is one of the ‘fighting fists’, direct to use and great for applying power. Hung Gar fighters build up their strength and practice up to 5 striking techniques repetitively. Few techniques multiplied by huge strength is the key to winning street fights. Basically for anyone who trains their skills and their strength diligently, they will have great hitting power to their fists in a few months. Hung Gar has proven effective among the streets of the 60s and 70s, as well as the last few centuries of civil unrest in Southern China.
No in the sense that Hung Gar is a Kung Fu style with multiple levels of mastery, if you look at it as a whole syllabus you will find a lot of movements. What we often see in movies and documentaries are choreography and forms that showcases the intermediate and advanced combat techniques. Techniques such as the crane beak and tiger claws can be counter-intuitive and rather ‘artistic’, unlike basic techniques that could look boring to watch. These esoteric fighting expressions are what make Everybody loves Kung Fu Fighting!
The reality is that these awesome looking Kung Fu moves are only taught to students after they have mastered the simple and direct basic techniques.
We teach the basic set of techniques called Five Elements Fists. These are the very moves Chinese folk legend Wong Fei Hung taught the Canton army basic unarmed combat. The elements are
Straight thrusting punches that travel in a direct line towards the opponent. The gas piston effect of contrasting pulling and pushing motions of the two arms allows for quick follow up attacks of straight punches.
Rising punches that surge upwards to hit the opponent from under. Hung Gar’s equivalent of the uppercut. Earth element fists draw their power from simultaneously sinking and pressing off the ground, like a crowbar.
Using the fist like a hammer, the metal element fist can be used to bash downwards, or horizontally. The backfist and hook are densely packed with power and sent hammering at the opponent’s body, causing invasive damage.
Like swinging a metal ball tied to a chain, the swinging water element fists are relentless and heavy hitting. They swing across to hit the opponent, sweeping attacks and parrying hands away. Its form is likened to tumbling waves that rolls the opponent’s bridge hand away and splashes back in retaliation.
The squeezing wood fists are tight and interweaving, used to counter opponent’s offense and immediately turn it into one’s own offense. Its tight nature leaves little gap in space and time for the opponent to react.
These techniques do not involve complicated hand patterns and footwork. They are ideal for quick use in real life combat. Hung Gar experts from various schools reveal that most of their fights are won with these simple techniques. That is due to how simple it is to use these techniques and repeatedly use them again in quick succession. The result is an onslaught of a dozen fire or earth element punches that leaves the opponent no room to execute complicated countermeasures. To the layman, this is called a brawl. To experienced practitioners, we know that real fights are not ‘step by step’ like the movies, they are brawls.
The five elements fists are also suitable for people who don’t have fine motor skills. With repetitive drilling of each element, anyone can get the movements. Five elements fists are idiot proof.
If your aim is to quickly develop functional self defense skills, while building the physical foundation for a comprehensive martial art, the five elements fist is the answer. You can punch, but can you punch fast? You can punch fast, but can you punch hard? Once you got the technique down, you should practice the same techniques more to develop speed and power. Train these techniques in hundreds, a few times a week over a few months.
When you have done your techniques in the thousands, throwing the first punch becomes easy for you. While your opponent stumbles on which technique to use against your attack, you will be delivering rapid strikes that are hard to keep up.
For the hardworking but not-so-bright, such an approach to training will allow you to overtake your smarter peers through sheer hard work. Stories of dimwitted Kung Fu practitioners with little techniques in their arsenal overcoming their opponents’ technical finesse with speed and power is not new to any martial artist with a few years of experience.
Five elements fist movements are easy to practice in the rep range of thousands. Learners without fine motor skills require repetition to get a motion down. Focusing on the few moves also allow a beginner to develop a few fast and hard hitting techniques compared to learning many moves and becoming good at none.
Overall, forms and advanced techniques are okay for art appreciation, for the ordinary talent, drilling of simple techniques is the way to go. We recommend elementary students seeking combat effectiveness to focus on the five elements and reserve the more sophisticated five animals techniques for later years of learning.
There is also a philosophy behind the five elements fists in Hung Gar. Each element travels in different directions and uses a different mode of power. For example, the earth element surges upwards in contrast to the fire element surging forward.
Unlike the Chinese theory of five elements, the five elements fists do not really have a destructive or nurturing cycle. That means wood element does not actually counters earth element, nor water element particularly supports wood element. However, they can be used together in numerous combinations. For example a metal element backfist that flows into water element swinging fist. Discover the effective combinations yourself.
The five elements categorization also helps organize a fraction of techniques in the entire Hung Gar system for the ease of application and knowledge. Most if not all of the other techniques in the Hung Gar system are classified in such a manner, according to their nature, their shape and their origin.
After mastering all the elements individually, work on combining strikes of different elements together. Using the five elements together in combination with moves from the same element, another element or techniques in other categories is one of the keys to effective combat skills in a Hung Gar fighter.
There is another style of Kung Fu called Xing Yi that is also very famous for its five elements fist. Although the Hung Gar and Xing Yi are historically related a very long time ago, the nature of their five elements fists is way different.
They travel in different directions, hit with different parts of the hand and uses different body movement and footwork which hardly resemble Hung Gar, hands or feet. They also stand in a high stance with limbs squeezed together, much unlike the Hung Gar combat positions. The methods of maneuvering and power generation are as different as ostrich walking and crocodile crawling.
Hung Gar practitioners should not be mistaken that the five elements fists are the only techniques that are useful in a fight. Every move in the system comes in handy at the right situation. Even the advanced moves such as the crane style and the butterfly palm can be similarly quick and powerful if you practice them in the thousands.
The takeaway: Practical Hung Gar is about practicing your technique repetitively. And the five elements fists are most suitable for beginners to develop their practical Hung Gar.