What’s In A Name?


It’s so easy to get discouraged or confused when faced with the names and terminology behind a style, but the nice thing about Wing Chun is that there are no names, only descriptions.


Okay, so you are learning Chinese but you are not just in memorizing fanciful names for the sake of it, what you’re learning actually makes sense.

Tan Sau mean palm up, and why is it called that?

Well, you know why don’t you.

The same can be said for Pak Sau, Lap Sau, Jum sau and so on.


It is also worth noting that these names are being given to something that has just happened, a description of what you’ve just witnessed and not what we want or plan to do.


If you did a block and when you did it, it looked like the palm was facing up, ‘Hey Presto!’ let’s call it a ‘Palm Up’ block, Tan Sau – a description, not a name.

The same would be said should someone describe how you appeared to ‘Slap’ the oncoming attack away, Pak Sau.


So don’t get too worked up if you make a few mistakes at the start, you’re learning a new language!


It’s like the old saying,

‘One mans Jut is another mans Jum’

Okay, so maybe I made that one up, but you get the idea right?


Try to imagine this the other way around, a Chinese person, with no English speaking skills wanting to learn boxing and being told that:

A clenched hand is called – a fist

But if we hit with it, it’s called – a punch

And if we hit with it from the front hand, it’s called – a straight

And if we hit with it and this is done quickly and pulled back, it’s called – a jab

And if we hit with it from the back hand, it’s called – a cross

Now have you understood all that?



It may well be that he’s only remembered how to pronounce the first thing he was told, and now believes that he must ‘Fist’ his attacker before they ‘Fist’ him!



The same is also said for spelling or interpretation, I like to spell hand/arm ‘Sau’, you may like to spell it ‘Sao’.

It does not matter!

I also interoperate Chum Kiu as ‘Bridging the gap’.

Whereas you may wish to interoperate it as ‘Seeking the bridge’.

Again, it does not matter.


Anyway, the point is this, unless you are Chinese, you WILL get a few things wrong, it’s fine, it’s all part of learning.


In 1991 in Hong Kong, I was fortunate enough to find myself invited to dinner by, and sat with, many senior Wing Chun Masters, including Ip Chun, Ip Ching, Wong Shun Leung, Chu Chong Tin and others.

Well the banquet was wonderful and addressing the Sifu’s, I attempted to say “Ho Sec”, meaning, ‘Good Taste’, but instead I said “Ho Sec” (and yes it is the same wording) but when pronounced in an ever so slightly lower in tone, it then translates as “More Sex”!


Although they all knew what I was trying to say, it didn’t stop them having a good old belly laugh at my expense.


A mistake I did not repeat the next time we dined.

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