The secret of the sinking backfist

Master Wu Bin demonstrating the
sinking backfist
(image courtesy of Kung Fu magazine)
Following my previous articles "How civilian defence grappling differs from sport grappling" and "Elbow locks: an introduction", I wanted to discuss one particular technique that warrants special attention in both contexts:

Many of you martial artists will be familiar with the movement depicted on the right (demonstrated by Master Wu Bin - one of China's leading wushu trainers, as featured in the Kung Fu Special Edition 2012 magazine):

This is a technique that features regularly in Chinese martial arts forms (including the feng quan forms taught in the Chen Pan Ling system).
But what in the world is it?
One of its main applications, as often demonstrated to me by Master Chen Yun Ching, is not as a backfist strike, but rather as an arm bar to the elbow.

Why in the world would you ever want to do an arm bar in a low, cross-legged stance like this, you might ask?

You would so precisely for the reasons I've previously discussed: to be able to apply the arm bar on your opponent, yet remain in the melee range (that is to say, not enter into the clinch or grappling range).

So how does this cross-legged variation help you do that?  It has to do with using your whole body weight behind the lock:

The cross-legged stance (called "kosa dachi" in Japanese) allows you to sink down very low - collapse, if you will, like a concertina - putting your body mass and gravity to work together.
Don't believe me?
The standard arm bar is
always a millisecond
away from a throw.
Well first let's see what martial artists might ordinarily do to "power" such an arm lock.  They might well stand close to their opponents - basically "hip to hip", enabling their entire body weight to be over the elbow (as shown in the top image to the left).

This works quite well and is standard grappling methodology: you don't want to be trying to apply any kind of lock at "arms length" (so conventional grappling wisdom tells us).

But with this tactic comes the inevitable problem I've previously discussed, namely: your opponent is very likely just to dive into a grapple as soon as you start applying the lock.

Even if you manage to get a strong lock in place, the arm bar is quite easily frustrated by such a dive - precisely because it works in the direction of your downward push (ie. your lock will actually help accelerate your opponent's dive downwards).

As pressure is released on your opponent's elbow (because of the dive), your opponent can simply wrap his arms around your legs and just fall backwards - or pick you up and throw you backwards!

From there he/she is only a half-second away from mounting you (in or outside your guard) and starting what people now call the "ground 'n pound".  Nice.

So how can one go about avoiding this problem?  The first thing you could try is to stand further away.  But the problem is this:
That won't work!
The unnamed "master" demonstrated an arm bar at about this distance.
It can't work.  Try it if you don't believe me.
An elbow lock of this sort generally relies upon your body weight being directly over the joint you're locking.  If your body is off to the side, you have, as we say here in Australia, "Buckley's chance" of making the lock work!

A month or two ago, my good friend, long-time colleague and training partner, fellow IAOMAS member and fellow blogger Colin Wee came over for Chinese tea and we discussed martial arts for a couple of hours.

Colin brought with him a DVD released by a "master" here in Australia.  In it, the "master" demonstrated, among other things, applications of a particular form (I think it was the karate kata naihanchi).

I demonstrate the sinking backfist
One of this "master's" applications involved just such an arm bar - effected at a distance of about half a meter/yard.  Of course, the student went down very obligingly.  But in real life, what is likely to happen?
Your opponent will resist you - and laugh (as Rob is doing in the above picture!).  If you don't believe me, grab a fellow practitioner and try it out (with proper resistance, of course)!

So given this, is it ever possible to effect an arm bar from such a distance?  The answer is - yes!
Using the sinking backfist!
How does it work?  Very simply, the concertina shape of your stance allows you to drop your whole body weight down, like a stone.  Your arm is just an extension of the entire mass which is moving as one unit.  Accordingly, anything under your arm will also be subject to that mass.  Okay, maybe not quite to the same extent as if it were directly in between your legs, but near enough!

I've experimented with this technique and found it to be far more powerful than the standard arm bar, done "close up".  Obviously the closer your are to your opponent, the better the sinking backfist works as a lock.  Thankfully, you don't need to be all that close at all: The technique works from well within in the melee range (or well outside the grappling range - however you want to look at it).

I discuss the sinking backfist in the video below at about 3:55 (set to start at that point):

And for those who want to see this technique in a form, have a look at the following video at about 0:57 and 2:11:

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic