Bridging: Engagement in Traditional Kung Fu

Comes a moment in every martial student’s practice when their focus shifts from attaining perfect posture to one effecting meaningful transitions. Or, better to say: There SHOULD be a moment in each martial student’s practice when their intent moves from picture-perfect postures to efficiently applied transitions.

Don’t get me wrong: the pre-structure of postures — from the correct weighting of the stance to the lowering of those shoulders around the ears to the intentional bend of the elbow and wrist — are all important. But I have seen teachers who put way too much emphasis on attaining these perfect mannequins — even to the point of blowing up old book illustrations to human-size for comparison, while de-emphasizing the movement between the postures. Those transitions are where kung fu often happens; everything else is voguing.

Probably the most significant feature that distinguishes the sophisticated from the beginning student is the skill of going from here to there and back. The study of these transitions is the gift that keeps on giving. The subject is too large for one short article, so I will restrict myself to just one method, “bridging.” In these almost magical moments, bridges reveal themselves as a kind of prestidigitation, the truth that actively shapes what they create, including the postures themselves. They catalogue the human highway with its hundreds of connected byways.

Bridging, simply, uses your and your opponent’s body to close the gap between you. The amount of power should be negligible — it is not a bump, shove, or strike. It relies on touching, continuing, sticking, wrapping, checking. As with the most effective kung fu movements, bridging is both defensive and offensive.

In a recent Kung Fu Skills class at the studio, I taught a lesson on bridging, and caught footage of some examples. You should be able to see sticking — following and shaping along the opponent’s body; contouring — using the opponent’s shape against them; leaking and sealing — recognizing and taking advantage of openings in the opponent’s structure. The sound is not perfect (it was a spontaneous shoot) but we hope you enjoy some highlights from this class.