For any person to attempt to put their views and understanding of the Twelve Bridges into print is not a decision to be taken lightly. The Twelve Bridges are so poorly understood by so many who wish to seem “in the know”, and if these people have ever published, printed, or in some cases even spoken anything different from what you say, you will be attacked relentlessly. And as sad as that may sound, the worst part is the number of people who will tend to believe the attackers without any thought on their own part. I have seen people leave public teaching of Hung Gar based on nothing more than the sheer volume of attacks for stating their position on a particular subject.
After much thought, I have decided to write this article. I am not putting this information forward as the final word or ultimate authority on the subject; I am merely trying to demystify something that is usually classified as “secret” by people who just don’t understand. You and your instructor may agree with what I put here 100%, or not at all. If you do not agree, put your knowledge out there for the Hung Gar community’s elucidation.
The term “Bridge” is just what it sounds like. It is a connection between you and your opponent whereby it becomes possible to transfer energy (force) into your opponent and facilitate control. Bridges can be initiated in attack or defense, but it must be properly understood that even when initiated in a defensive situation, the intent should be to gain control and dominate the opponent and therefore cannot be classified as defensive.
The manner of execution of any technique can change the bridge classification. This is one of the finer points of the Twelve Bridges concept that causes confusion for the uneducated practitioner. A simple change of intent can change the category. Some people see a picture of a technique classified as “Gong”, and think that it could never be “Yao”, and it is important to understand that the name signals intent, and not technique.
With proper training in the fundamentals, all one really needs to understand the Twelve Bridges is instruction. What follows is my interpretation of the Twelve Bridges, based solely on my understanding. If your Sifu disagrees, you should follow his instruction. Use this as an outline, or reference.
Gong Kiu (Hard Bridge) On most lists, if not all lists, of the Twelve Bridges of Hung Gar, Gong will be first. Hung Gar, by its very nature, is going to rely more on this bridge than any other. To properly make any technique Gong, you must have physical strength, and be able to generate and maintain power. If any of your fundamentals are out of whack, or poorly understood/practiced, your Gong Kiu will suffer. This bridge teaches you how to change static power into actual power. Coiling, shifting, and explosiveness are all characteristic of Gong Kiu. Speaking only for myself, this is the Bridge I fall back on, and use more than any other. You cannot only have Gong Kiu, but it will be a major part of your proper Hung Gar.
Yao Kiu (Soft Bridge) The Yao Kiu is usually misunderstood in Hung Gar. The basic idea of Yao Kiu is to redirect the energy of an attack from the opponent. Yao is not going to be used in the attack, but rather in opening the opponent for an attack. There are uses for the Yao in gaining a moment to recover energy from a previous exertion. But, used properly, the Yao is going to open the opponent to your next attack without expending much (if any) of your own energy. Yao must, in most cases be used in conjunction with another Bridging technique as a follow-up. Used properly, Yao Kiu can be very effective, if you know what you are really trying to do with it.
Bik Kiu (Crowding Bridge) While people love to place things in a box and say clearly, this is this, and not that, Hung Gar breaks the box. In Chinese martial arts, especially the Southern Chinese arts, people like to classify them as either Short Bridge or Long Bridge. Hung Gar doesn’t neatly fit into either category. Bik Kiu is a short bridge. The stance must be stable, and a technique can be Bik using either one or both arms. The range is limited, but the uses can be very effective when done properly. Primarily used for blocking/deflecting, this bridge can do some damage to your opponent if that is your intent. The damage will be done through jamming, but also through possible joint destruction.
Jik Kiu (Direct Bridge) As the name implies, this bridge is going to channel your force directly from the waist, through the arm, and into the opponent. Jik will be used mostly for attacking purposes, but as stated above, even if initiated out of defensive necessity, all of the bridges will be offensive in their use.
Fun Kiu (Dividing Bridge) This Bridge is expansive in nature. Starting from a solid stance, it will travel outward in a very powerful motion. As the technique begins its fall, the stance should sink as well. If this is done, the technique, and therefore the bridge, becomes much more powerful. This bridge can be performed as either a single or double arm technique.
Ding Kiu (Stabilizing Bridge) Sink the stance, drop the elbows, press slightly out from the body, and you are performing Ding Kiu. There is, in all of the appearances of this bridge in the forms, a slight pause at the end of the movement. Balance should be strong in this bridge. This bridge can be performed as either single or double arm.
Chuen Kiu (Inch Bridge) I have witnessed many heated debates regarding this bridge. Here I will detail my understanding, and the reader will either agree or disagree.
This bridge is not literally translated as “inch”. A Chuen is a Chinese measurement, similar to our inch, but what the name refers to is the target. The intended target when using this bridge is going to be very small. Some feel this falls back into the “Dim Mak” (often translated as touch-of-death, but really means cavity press). You do not need to go the road of mystical BS in order to understand Chuen Kiu. Understand the eyes are small targets. The throat is a small target. When Chuen Kiu is executed through the fingertips, be sure to hit a soft target. Do not use it on the ribs or solar plexus, as you are more than a little likely to break your fingers. In my experience, Chuen must be used together with Jik Kiu.
Tai Kiu (Lift Bridge) Tai Kiu is another often misunderstood bridge. My Sifu called this one “rising bridge”, even though rising would be “起”. From a lower position (stance), you will execute a rising attack. Most people look at Tai Kiu as a striking bridge, and while it can be used as such, it works much easier and better (with a higher success rate) in breaking the root of your opponent. I use Tai Kiu most often to dump my opponent over backward. This is not to say that this is all that Tai Kiu can be used for, on the contrary, it is a versatile bridge. This one is worth the extra study.
Wan Kiu (Sending Bridge) This bridge will use the force of your opponent and, through skillful redirection, send the energy back into the opponent. The name says a lot about what this bridge is used for. You will need a stable stance, as well as a calm mind in order to make this work, but it is very possible. You will gain physical control over the opponent by knocking them off balance, and mental control through the failure of their attack.
Jai Kiu (Controlling Bridge) Just as the name implies, this bridge will gain control of the opponent. Jai will start like Yao Kiu, but will change from soft to hard as the motion is performed.
A friend of mine once said “do it like you are drowning someone”, and I have yet to hear a better description of the proper execution of Jai Kiu. Using great force, you will dominate the opponent. The attitude must be of one who will not be denied. There are many uses for Jai Kiu, but all will bring about your total control of the situation. This can be done with either single or double arms, and often starts with an open hand closing to fist.
Deing Kiu (Settling Bridge) In this bridge, you are sinking into your stance while delivering force to your opponent. This sinking will assist your delivery. As with most of the bridges, this can be performed with either a single or double arm application.
Lau Kiu (Flow or Reserve Bridge) I must give two translations to this bridge. There are two schools of thought on this bridge, I will present both, and then cover what my thoughts are. As I stated in the beginning, I am trying to be all inclusive and non-confrontational, so I must point out that both schools of thought on this one have their basis and neither is incorrect.
Both schools of thought call this bridge Lau. The two translations are written differently in their Chinese character form. One character is translated as Flow, the other as Reserve. Both are pronounced the same. The reason for this discrepancy goes back to the time when nothing was written in Hung Gar, but passed on orally.
For those who follow the Flow translation, think about what flow implies. I think of water and rivers. Used in a martial sense, I must think of a raging river. Flowing, jumping its banks and spreading out. This leads me to the application thought that Flow would be diverting the opponent’s force and sweeping them away. In this sense, it should probably be used in conjunction with Bik and/or Jai.
For those who follow the idea of Reserve, it is important to remember that there are many martial systems which teach their adherents to take advantage of an opponent’s over-aggressive attack. An opponent can be defeated without overextending yourself. By keeping some of your force in reserve, not only do you prevent your opponent from taking this advantage, you allow yourself to maintain an offensive superiority through your ability to sustain your assault.
In my school, I teach this bridge as Reserve. I teach my students about the Flow school of thought, but I stick to what I know.
There is a lot to learn when you decide to gain a true understanding of Hung Gar. The study of the Twelve Bridges seems to me to be a lifelong study. Without the study of the Twelve Bridges, you will never make real progress in your Hung training.
While on the subject of the Twelve Bridges, I must point out that not all Hung schools study all twelve. One very prominent school, that of the Lau Family (headed by world-renowned Lau Kar Lung), teaches and uses all twelve, but focuses on eight. Their school focuses on Gong, Yao, Bik, Jik, Tai, Lau, Wan and Jai, and has described the remaining bridges as the “frame around the picture”. I find this to be an interesting approach, as some of the bridges plainly need to be facilitated through the use of others.
For anyone to be able to effectively apply the Twelve Bridges there is first a considerable amount of study and practice to be done. It must be stressed – no amount of book study will teach you to effectively apply the bridging theory to your kung fu! Without work done with a training partner, you may fall into the false notion that the opponent will stand still while you destroy them. They will not be so cooperative. They will resist, and will most definitely try to break your bridge (even if they do not have the sophisticated training which would allow them to identify that “breaking your bridge” is what they are doing). However, with training and practice, your bridging skills can only grow.