Bong Sau & Shoulder problems

KPM

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There was a long thread in the FB forum about Bong Sau and shoulder problems. I thought I would repeat I here what I said there in case it can be useful for people.

Someone said they were told if you try to bear too much weight or force through your Bong that it can cause a shoulder impingement. But it is not so much the bearing of weight through the Bong Sau as it is the height of the Bong Sau that causes shoulder impingement. If you want to be "shoulder friendly", don't raise the elbow of the Bong any higher than the shoulder. It should be just below shoulder level. There is a shoulder impingement test we use in orthopedics called the "Hawkin's Test"....and you guessed it....it is essentially putting the patient into a Bong Sau position!



When people talk about being able to hold a lot of pressure or force with a Bong, I suspect they are actually doing more of a Lan Sau. If your elbow is below the height of your shoulder, you have the joint in a "closed pack" position, and the force is going straight up the shaft of the humerus....in my mind this is a Lan Sau regardless of the angle of your forearm.

If you keep the shoulder joint in a "closed pack" position, this helps prevent wear and tear on the shoulder from impingement or from overloading the rotator cuff. This means that you fire the shoulder girdle muscles (including the rotator cuff) so that the head of the humerus is held seated in the glenoid fossa of the scapula (cup of the shoulder blade) like it is supposed to be. How do you do this? The better question is "how do you NOT do this?"!! This is one of the bad results of the dreaded "Wing Chun slouch." You've all seen it. This is when someone is doing Chi Sau with a slouched posture with their back all rounded, their chin forward, and their shoulders extended forward for the roll. This takes the shoulder joint out of "closed pack" position because it moves the head of the humerus forward out of alignment with the scapula and makes the joint more vulnerable to injury. Stand up straight, keep the chin back, fire your rhomboids to keep your shoulders back and you will take a lot of stress off of the shoulder joint. Never try to roll with a Bong Sau raising your elbow very much above the height of your shoulder. This IS shoulder impingement almost by definition! This is squashing your rotator cuff between the head of your humerus and the acromion (side tip of the shoulder blade). Over time this wears on the rotator cuff and can produce a degenerative tear in the tendon.

So "Bong" healthy! ;-)
 

Rmada

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Having had rotator cuff injuries in both shoulders I really appreciate posts like this. The hardest part of learning so far has been dealing with or working around limitations.

On a side note, is it just me or does the girl in the video look like she's being held at gun point? o_O
 

dudewingchun

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In my old school, we had our bong sao elbow higher then our shoulder. One of my good training mates actually had to get surgery for a busted shoulder joint and had to take like 2 years off training. Look after those shoulders !
 

Wing Chun Auckland

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Agree with the not rounding yourself forward part. Not so sure about:
"fire your rhomboids to keep your shoulders back and you will take a lot of stress off of the shoulder joint"

Seems to me your are exchanging one type of muscular tension with another here.
 

Wing Chun Auckland

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Also agree with the elbow not being too high. I also think that the forearm should be somewhat parallel to the ground. Not sloping diagonally down like many do. Even without pressure you can feel how much strain that can put on your shoulder.

In our school we have the opposite idea to packing the shoulder in. We want to think of it as expanding out. So we think of the shoulders as being wide. However, we don't round them forward.
 

Danny T

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Interesting on the bong sao. I learned bong out of Lan sao... the upper arm is parallel to the ground.
My sifu would tell us not to have the elbow above the shoulder. Makes the shoulder weak.
 
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KPM

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Agree with the not rounding yourself forward part. Not so sure about:
"fire your rhomboids to keep your shoulders back and you will take a lot of stress off of the shoulder joint"

Seems to me your are exchanging one type of muscular tension with another here.


Its all about alignment. With good posture in general, keeping the shoulders back and not "slouching" involves firing the rhomboids.
 

PiedmontChun

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Good topic KPM.
Once thing I remember from when I began to chi-sau was my shoulders becoming agitated after any real length of time. For me, the issue was not so much elevating my elbow too high, but tensing up / activating the upper shoulder. I'm still working on it, but actively relaxing the shoulder and ever so *lightly* pressing them back (much like you would to have good posture sitting at your desk or computer) has been the biggest help. I would have to imagine doing so activates those back rhomboid muscles in some way.
 
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yak sao

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Bong sau is a tough one. A couple of common flaws I see are lifting the bong sau instead of pushing it forward, which is hard on the shoulder. The other is the elbow being out to the side instead of the elbow/ upper arm pointing forward. This places tremendous strain on the shoulder when force from an opponent is placed on the arm.
 

geezer

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Bong sau is a tough one. A couple of common flaws I see are lifting the bong sau instead of pushing it forward, which is hard on the shoulder. The other is the elbow being out to the side instead of the elbow/ upper arm pointing forward. This places tremendous strain on the shoulder when force from an opponent is placed on the arm.

This second flaw (bolded type above) was one of my bad habits and contributed to some shoulder problems I have. Now I work hard at always aligning my upper arm straight forward, basically keeping it parallel to my centerline. Not only are my shoulders healthier, but my chi sau is better.

As a side line, I remember that Leung Ting had very flexible joints, including the shoulders. One manifestation of this was the flexibility of his bong sau. When I do a bong, or that (Hawkins impingement test) my forearm remains almost horizontal and barely slopes downhill towards the wrist. By contrast LT's bong was very supple and the forearm would slope steeply down under pressure. This allowed him to easily "unburden" himself of downward pressure on the bridge-arm. "Just let it go! ..Like water running off a steep roof" he would advise us. My arm cannot move that way, so I'm end up crashing force more often and also risking injury.

Sometimes I wonder if LT's very springy, yielding bong sau, and by extension, the "flexible" quality of energy emphasized throughout his WT system was in part a result of this unusual physical ability.
 
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Danny T

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Bong sau is a tough one. A couple of common flaws I see are lifting the bong sau instead of pushing it forward, which is hard on the shoulder. The other is the elbow being out to the side instead of the elbow/ upper arm pointing forward. This places tremendous strain on the shoulder when force from an opponent is placed on the arm.
I am no where near being an expert on the body but my understanding and feeling is when the elbow is out even a small amount the deltoid becomes one of the main muscles holding up the upper arm and stabilizing the shoulder. But when the upper arm and elbow is forward as in a Lan Sao posture the lat muscles are engaged and become the stabilizing muscle for the upper arm rather than the deltoid. I was taught lan sao position before bong sao to understand the position of the elbow. Then I learn to screw or allow the forearm to be rolled into bong sao keeping the elbow and upper arm in the forward parallel to the ground position.
 

Wing Chun Auckland

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"Its all about alignment. With good posture in general, keeping the shoulders back and not "slouching" involves firing the rhomboids."

Totally agree it's all about alignment. My opinion differs in what constitutes good posture though. There are some somewhat old ideas about what constitutes good posture which are changing. One of these old ideas is how you would see a soldier stand at attention with his chest pushed forward. Another is the idea that our butts must be tucked in. These are not natural positions. Check out the works of Ida Rolf or Esther Gohkale. They helped to change my perception of good alignment and posture.

Alignment is of prime importance in my school. We spend a lot of time just standing. In general you shouldn't try to counterbalance a tension with another. We talk about slouching a lot. But when you think about what slouching actually is, it's not necessarily the shoulders dropped forward although that could be a result. It's the spine and head bending forward. Now when you think about what the spine is doing to allow you to bend forward. It's actually contracting it's muscles on the inside part of your spine. It's actually not relaxing like most people think. Same if you were to arch your back backwards. The backside muscles of your vertebrae are now contracting. Perfect alignment is about each vertebra sitting on top of the other and bearing the load via gravity. Not pushing forward or pulling back. With this alignment my shoulders will be in the right place. Another problem with firing any muscle (but especially in the back) is that in can start a chain of tension.
 
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KPM

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Totally agree it's all about alignment. My opinion differs in what constitutes good posture though. There are some somewhat old ideas about what constitutes good posture which are changing. One of these old ideas is how you would see a soldier stand at attention with his chest pushed forward.

---Agreed. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about essentially the same thing as when your mother told you "now sit up straight and stop slouching!" :)


. But when you think about what slouching actually is, it's not necessarily the shoulders dropped forward although that could be a result. It's the spine and head bending forward.

---Both are factors. Modern people are bad about this because we tend to spend so much time sitting at a desk slouching over a keyboard and straining our head forward looking at a screen. If you think about it...that bad posture sitting in front of a computer is almost the same bad posture a lot of people have in Chi Sau!


Now when you think about what the spine is doing to allow you to bend forward. It's actually contracting it's muscles on the inside part of your spine. It's actually not relaxing like most people think. Same if you were to arch your back backwards. The backside muscles of your vertebrae are now contracting. Perfect alignment is about each vertebra sitting on top of the other and bearing the load via gravity. Not pushing forward or pulling back.

---Uhhh.....not exactly. There are no muscles on the "inside part of the spine." The muscles of the back are countered by your abdominal muscles and your iliopsoas. And your back muscles are never completely relaxed when you are standing. They are considered "postural" muscles which means they always maintain some amount of tone. You cannot rely on vertical alignment of the vertebra alone because the curves in your spine throw this alignment off. Its more a matter of balanced muscle activity. Of course good vertical alignment in relation to gravity reduces the amount of tone your muscles must carry and gives an optimal balance of muscle activity. Extending the arms out in front for Chi Sau or any Wing Chun techniques means the muscles off your back have to fire even more to maintain a good balanced upright posture. When the shoulders are not in a "closed pack" position, this means the muscles of the shoulder girdle and especially the rotator cuff have to fire even more. The job of the rotator cuff is to keep your shoulder joint in this "closed pack" position. If you are purposefully holding it out of this position for prolonged periods, then you are really over-working your rotator cuff.


With this alignment my shoulders will be in the right place. Another problem with firing any muscle (but especially in the back) is that in can start a chain of tension.

---Again, the muscles of your back are firing any time you are in an upright position, whether you consciously realize it or not. Their job is to maintain that upright position! But what happens for a lot of people in Chi Sau is that they "shrug" their shoulders and create too much tension. In other words, they are firing their upper traps in an attempt to hold their shoulders up. Hence your Sifu always telling you to "relax...drop your shoulders." ;)

---The "Wing Chun Slouch" is bad posture and bad for your health. I'm sure I could find multiple examples if anyone is unsure of what I'm referring to.
 

Wing Chun Auckland

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Good points KPM!

---Agreed. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about essentially the same thing as when your mother told you "now sit up straight and stop slouching!" :)

Yep, and you might be meaning the same things as me here, but when your mother or teacher told you to stop slouching many of us artificially hold a position in the opposite direction which is equally as unnatural. You know the one I mean....chest puffed out, back arched backwards.

---Both are factors. Modern people are bad about this because we tend to spend so much time sitting at a desk slouching over a keyboard and straining our head forward looking at a screen. If you think about it...that bad posture sitting in front of a computer is almost the same bad posture a lot of people have in Chi Sau!

Yeah just playing with bad posture and slumping now. I tend to think of the shoulders dropping forward as a result of gravity which is caused by bending forward. If I were to stand aligned, it would take conscious effort to push my shoulders forward. And the dreaded chi sau posture slumping posture to me is a conscious decision made by some wing chunners to do this. It's not natural.

---Uhhh.....not exactly. There are no muscles on the "inside part of the spine." The muscles of the back are countered by your abdominal muscles and your iliopsoas. And your back muscles are never completely relaxed when you are standing. They are considered "postural" muscles which means they always maintain some amount of tone. You cannot rely on vertical alignment of the vertebra alone because the curves in your spine throw this alignment off. Its more a matter of balanced muscle activity. Of course good vertical alignment in relation to gravity reduces the amount of tone your muscles must carry and gives an optimal balance of muscle activity. Extending the arms out in front for Chi Sau or any Wing Chun techniques means the muscles off your back have to fire even more to maintain a good balanced upright posture. When the shoulders are not in a "closed pack" position, this means the muscles of the shoulder girdle and especially the rotator cuff have to fire even more. The job of the rotator cuff is to keep your shoulder joint in this "closed pack" position. If you are purposefully holding it out of this position for prolonged periods, then you are really over-working your rotator cuff.

I may stand corrected on the exact workings of spinal muscles here KPM. I shall make a more deligent study on this. In any case, when you slouch forward there is increased pressure between discs and muscles are being stressed in other ways. I still believe vertebrae sit on vertebrae. Yeah the spine makes a natural S shape, but that is a gradual transition. There's not a single vertebrae that is bearing your weight purely with muscle. There are stabilizer muscles to support your spine as you say. But if the natural curves of the spine are moved one way or another muscles have to work harder to support the weight which starts a chain of tension. We are probably saying mostly the same things here. There is a sweet spot that we are aiming for where stabilizer muscles are doing the least work to hold our posture up. When I touch the back of an advanced wing chun practitioner their back feels soft and spongy. As opposed to a beginner whose back can feel hard with tension.

---Again, the muscles of your back are firing any time you are in an upright position, whether you consciously realize it or not. Their job is to maintain that upright position! But what happens for a lot of people in Chi Sau is that they "shrug" their shoulders and create too much tension. In other words, they are firing their upper traps in an attempt to hold their shoulders up. Hence your Sifu always telling you to "relax...drop your shoulders."

Yeah, and I agree that this in incorrect posture in chi sao. Sure stabilizer muscles are at work as you say to keep yourself standing. And I think you would agree though that there is a point where they will be working too hard when alignment is incorrect. And conversely when you are aligned correctly they are doing less work.

---The "Wing Chun Slouch" is bad posture and bad for your health. I'm sure I could find multiple examples if anyone is unsure of what I'm referring to.[/QUOTE]

Not arguing there!
 

JPinAZ

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Keith, you've brought up some great points. IMO, if we are going to talk about correct/incorrect anything, I always find it it is a good start by getting on the same first page before going deeper into things. While correct posture, alignment, proper usage of muscles/joints, etc are always important to any WC structure (and some have greater consequences when done incorrectly, as in Bong Sau for example), there is more to it than that for bong sau to be viewed as proper or avoid/overcome some of the injuries people see with this technique

To clarify, with 'bong sau' there is a lot more to take into consideration that just what's been outlined here. First, what type of bong sau are we talking about? And in what context (range, facing & alignment to opponent, contact & leverage point, etc).

For an example, in my lineage we subdivide 'bong sau' into 3 categories - Ying/Eagle Bong, Hok/Crane Bong and Laan Bong. If we look at just the first two, there are distinct and separate usages for each.
Ying Bong has a straight wrist and raised elbow with elbow always being higher than wrist (this seems to be the bong most are talking about here). The contact point is typically at the wrist. While it uses a fwd energetic, the motion and be lifting, diving or as a way to change lines across the body. This can be applied in an open stance 'outside the box' or when squared up duie ying inside the box as in chi sau. If everything is correct and in the proper timeframe, there should be little fear of damaging the shoulder.
In Contrast, hok bong has a fwd penetrating nature with a bent wrist. The tool has wrist, elbow and shoulder all in line horizontally with the wrist & fingers on center and elbow on shoulder line. This is usually a tool for squared-up scenario, but not always. The contact point is typically on the forearm vs ying's wrist. Again, if used in the correct time frame, leverage point and with proper fwd penetration, there should be no issue with damaging the shoulder.

But if you use the 'wrong bong' at the wrong time it's not going to hold up under pressure and yeah, you're going to to start having to use different muscle groups to compensate for incorrect tool in the wrong time. And there have been much heated debates thru the years about which bong is correct/incorrect. IMO, both can be either - it all depends on the situation, contact point, position and leverage.
Point is, to proper diagnose why something isn't working or causing damage, we need to look beyond just how a structure or tool should be aligned and more-so if we're using the correct structure/tool in the first place
 

geezer

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The "wrong Bong" that you use a right Bong Shou to block a right punch is a big NO NO.

We call that situation cross-bong. In our lineage, the opponent's force "makes" our bong, so cross-bong (right against right or left against left) can happen. When it does you must change it to the next technique immediately or risk getting hit. Exactly what you do with it, depends again on the energy you receive or position you are in relative to your opponent. Under the proper circumstances and properly applied, it is quite functional if not optimal. Optimal for me is always lin siu di dar -- simultaneous attack and defense.
 

Danny T

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The "wrong Bong" that you use a right Bong Shou to block a right punch is a big NO NO.
We have no 'wrong' bong sao. One is preferred but that doesn't make the other wrong. We don't use bong as a static position, either it is a transitory controlling action or it is a controlling yielding action while transiting into another action.
 

kakkattekoi

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lucky i wasnt taught with the bong sao to bong higher than my shoulder
 
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