Bridges Are Your Battlements
In grappling arts, much of the information fighters base their decisions on comes in through their sense of touch. The benefits of doing so do not end when striking is introduced and that is why Wing Chun trains us to fight from the bridge.
What is a bridge in Wing Chun?
A bridge is a sustained or relatively sustained point of physical contact with an opponent by which to gather information on their position, motion, and intent as well as to impart some power over their movements. More succinctly put, bridges are your feelers and points of control. Arm bridges are the preferred manifestation of this idea.
Why fight from the bridge?
The intended purpose of Wing Chun (self-protection) tends to put us either very close or very far from to our opponents. You cannot win a boxing match by running away but you can “win” at self-protection by skedaddling. If we have enough room to play the range game we may need to reconsider the necessity of the physical violence (assuming both parties are unarmed, yada yada.) For example, “kicking range” is a step or two away from “running away range”. In self-protection your plan 'A' should be escape. If you do not have the space/time to run you will likely be within reach to employ bridges in your counter-offensive. And if physical contact is necessary or has been initiated against you, why not have all the information and control possible?
What are the advantages?
As previously mentioned: information and control. Every time one combatant moves to strike (or grab), the other can also be moving therefore landing techniques requires good timing and a bit of guessing. Experience and training narrows the guess but one cannot really know for sure where the other guy is going to be. Fighting from a bridge further narrows these guesses. How?
(1) The closer you are to the opponent, the lesser the travel time of your strikes. (Of course this is true for your opponent’s strikes, too. But this can be more than made up for by points no. 2, 3, and 4.)
(2) Bridges can be used to control an opponent's position.
(3) Bridges facilitate simultaneous attack and defence.
(4) Fighting from a bridge gives you additional and more timely information than sight alone because sense of touch processes faster than sight. Additionally, the site of an assault might not be well lit! Your sense of touch can be trained to aid you in defense and counter-offence. Wing Chun's Chi Sau develops these and other skills.
Wing Chun training encourages and develops the use of sustained points of contact with an opponent -in particular, contact of the arms. Physical altercations will tend to create bridges or at least the opportunity to form them. With training, fighting from a sustained point of contact improves one's chances for defence and counter-offence. Your sense of touch can give you information on your opponent's actions and position that sight alone cannot AND provides this data in a more timely fashion.
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Wing Chun Phoenix, Arizona