by Grandmaster Wing Lam
Martial artists commonly salute with a bow when they greet each other. This salute is a custom that is an intrinsic part of traditional Chinese Kung Fu. It is a mutual show of respect for each other's skills and abilities.
The salute had a practical application. Martial artists were always very cautious in the old days, and a hand shake was considered either too threatening or an invitation for attack. Warriors would try to avoid contact with unscrupulous people, leery of surprise attacks. Many Chin Na (joint splitting) techniques begin from a handshake.
The Hung Gar salute is a signature movement of the style. It takes two steps forward and two steps back, with the open hand forming a Tiger Claw. According to legend, the Hung Gar style arose from the monk Gee Sim Sum See, who fled the destruction of the Fukien Sil Lum (Shaolin) temple by the Manchus. The Hung Gar school developed out of a network of underground rebels who sought to overthrow the Ching Dynasty. Their motto was "Restore the Ming, Destroy the Ching". The Ching Dynasty was considered by these rebels as non-Chinese. These rulers were tyrannical foreign invaders. This rebel spirit is evident throughout the Hung Gar practice. For example, the famous Kiu Sau technique is known as "Strong Finger Controls China", symbolic of their rebellion.
In 1986, the People's Republic of China standardized the salute for Wushu. This standard salute is basically the same as the salute used by Northern Shaolin. The right hand is clenched in a fist. The left hand thumb is bent, and the four fingers are stacked and straight. The palm of the left hand is placed over the fist. Both fist and palm are about 20 to 30 cm from the chest, with both elbows bent and the arms forming a circle. The hands are held at chest height. The feet are together with the knees straight. The posture is erect and the eyes are focused on the person who is being saluted.
The most common explanation of the symbolism of the salute is that the fist shows martial ability and the hand covers the fist to show civility. The modern PRC definition states that the right fist demonstrates that you are pledged to the cultivation of the martial arts, and are using martial arts to make friends. The left hand thumb is bent out of humility. Chinese people will point to themselves with their thumb instead of their index finger, as westerners do. A straightened thumb, like the western thumb's up gesture means "I'm number one!" to a Chinese. Therefore, the bent thumb means that that you are not number one. Even if you are, proper martial etiquette would demand that you be too humble to admit it. The four fingers symbolize uniting Wushu across the four seas (or directions).
Salute when you greet and take leave of your Sifu. This shows your respect for his (or her) teachings. Salute your instructors for the same reason. Salute when you enter and exit the Kwoon, to show respect for the school's ancestral tablets, which represent the sacrifices that your grandteachers made for the discipline. Salute your fellow classmates, to show that you will work together to hone each other's skills. You should salute your teacher before he salutes you. Once your have developed the habit of saluting, it is a gesture that must come automatically whenever appropriate, without being requested.