The wall bag training is incredibly complex work considering such a simple piece of equipment.
The wall bags we use consist of a canvas bag with inner vinyl lining, filled with various grades of material and hung against a brick wall or similar surface.
The softest bag we use primarily for students under 15 years of age is filled with mung beans. This bag can also be used when injured, or for beginners who find the harder bags too difficult. Up until 15yo the bones are still forming, and punching a hard target repeatedly at this stage can form nodules on the growth plates at the ends of the bones in the hand, creating problems later on in life.
The next grade of bag, soft, is fine aquarium gravel, which forms a firm yet resilient target. This bag is unlikely to damage the knuckles and allows the student to build up their structure and power in the strikes while developing toughness in the knuckles to handle the work.
The next bag, medium, is filled with a mixture of fine gravel, slightly larger round gravel and larger gravel up to 1cm that has been rounded off a bit to take the harsh edges off. This bag is great to sink into and still quite easy on the hand.
The final stage of gravel bags, hard, is rough road gravel about 1cm. It certainly is possible to sink into this material but it does offer a lot of resistance that penetrates our knuckles through the bag.
We progress to the hard bag by punching more and more on the softer bag until we can do 1000 punches. Then we move up to the harder bag and proceed to work our way up to 1000 on that. In the meantime while building up on the hard bag we continue to work on the previous bag to keep the numbers up.
Sometimes eg when injured or ill, we drop back to a softer bag until we have recovered and move back up to the harder bag.
We work on the bag at solar plexus height and at head height. 1000 punches means 1000 down low and 1000 up high. This trains and develops the structure and strength for each type of punch. It is best practice to also do 1000 palm strikes at the head height.
Whatever we do on the bag, we do in the air. This is so that our strikes will go to their limit of motion and not stop where the bag has taught them to. After doing a thousand on the bag, we do a thousand in the air.
We train the low punches and the high punches in the open training stance. We want the centre to be activated for all of this work, so that our stance is not holding as a brake on our actions and all of our power drives into the bag.
We also train pivot punches and stepping punches off the lead foot and the back foot, with doubles and triples, after we have a very good understanding of how to use the bag in stance.
There is no hurry to progress to the hard bag. It’s best to build it up slowly and not be impatient. A good timeframe would be 12 months of daily practice to get up to the 1000 punches. Impatience can mean blisters and loss of many layers of skin which can put the training back by weeks or months. Pay attention to the skin on the knuckle.. if it starts to feel wet or squishy, even a little bit, stop and start punching in the air. You’ll be able to return to the bag the next day.
We use a liniment, jow, after punching the bag, not before. The jow helps the skin and bone to adapt to what is being asked of it, and also heals bruising much quicker than normal. See the Ving Tsun Supplementary Fitness and Health article for a great jow recipe.
When punching the bag we don’t want any scuffing on the canvas. Scuffing is caused by the wrist being tilted upward too far on contact. It will build up a big callous on the knuckle and this is a sign of incorrect punching. It can also be caused by poor elbow movement.
We want the small knuckle of the fist to be driven straight into the target, not up or down on contact.
The arm is quite relaxed and the fist only closed just on impact.
For the low punches, the elbow is drawn directly to the centre at a fist and a thumb from the body. This is a shoulder action, and the wrist snap must begin as soon as the shoulder action begins. The action of bringing the elbow to centre is so efficient that there will be no time for the wrist snap if it is left until later in the movement. Pull the elbow to centre and wrist snap.. the punch is done. This efficient movement makes for the simplest, most direct, powerful and effective punch possible, without telegraphing any intention to the opponent.
The low punch can sink into the solar plexus and wind the opponent, making it impossible for them to breathe for a time. It can break off the xyphoid process and drive splinters of it into the heart and lungs. It can rupture or cause damage to the gall bladder, duodenum, spleen or liver. It is worth working on, a lot.
The head high punch needs to drive with the elbow high but not popped straight, the elbow in a little but not in so far as the centre. These factors help the elbow to transfer forces most effectively through the structure, and to deflect an opponent’s incoming strike. The wrist snap helps with both these points and with delivery of power.
The head high punch serves to set up for another immediate strike, usually a palm strike. Sinking through the target, this strike threatens to break teeth, break the jaw, break the nose, possibly snap the neck, and mostly to shock the brain and place it next to the inside of the skull ready for the next hit which serves to switch it off.
The main function of the wall bag training is to develop the structure. We need to feel the reactive force off the bag travel down through our body structure and into the ground through the heels.
The structure of the low and high strikes is quite different, the centre acting in a totally different way for each strike. The centre rolls from high to low for the low strike and low to high for the high strike. Also the shoulder’s internal structure changes relevant to each elbow position, as learned in SLT, dan chi, chum kiu and elsewhere. The system needs to be consistent throughout, and it is amazing how it all links up.