Saturday, 1 August 2015

The reality of wing chun

When it comes to fighting, most people are cowards.  Certainly, the guy with whom you were arguing earlier in the evening is a coward.  That's why he wants to make sure the right hook he's throwing at your jaw comes as a surprise.  He probably said something which diverted your attention or made you think he was walking past you.

Of course, he's close enough that he has a good chance of landing that punch, and that means he's practically in your face.  The roundhouse kick you've practised again and again - forget it.  If you duck and try to take him down, it'll just result in him hitting you on the cheek or higher on the head.  In a fraction of a second, you're down.  Just like he wanted, it's lights out before you even have a chance to respond.  He might decide to kick you in the head while you're down.  That's the nature of anger.  He'll probably think about the consequences later.

If only you'd trained to fight at this range, where the distance has already been closed and an ambush attack is on its way.  There isn't time to think at this range, so you want a collection of valid responses, you want to have trained them to the point where they are instinctive, and ideally you won't have to think about them.

Life isn't a ring or an octagon

I apologise if the opening of this piece is more aggressive in tone than usual.  It's the only language the keyboard warriors of the internet understand.  Most of them don't actually train in a martial art, but they love watching the UFC and other mixed martial arts competitions.  They also consider themselves experts in every conceivable combat system known to man, and feel qualified to say that systems whose development time can be measured in centuries are useless.

The situation I opened with is a situation for which wing chun was designed.  An ambush attack is measured in fractions of a second, and has to be dealt with in the same time frame.  If the whole cage fighting thing has taught us anything, it's that people are surprisingly reluctant to fight, if both parties know a fight is about to happen.  Not many have the courage to step into an octagon, a ring or onto a competition mat, so instead they attack through deception and at close quarters.

There's the primary difference between competitive fighting and the type of situation for which wing chun was created - knowing that a fight is going to happen would be something of a luxury in the environment within which wing chun was created.

If you train for competitive fighting or self protection, and you think that either environment has the same rules as the other, it is better that you get a wake up call right now than when you have to test your theory.

Range (I may have to get technical here)

Wing chun is known as a close quarters combat system.  If you look at videos on the internet, though, you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.  Watch the videos where wing chun students are sparring with karate students, for example, and you'll see them maintaining a range at which the karate practitioners are happy to fire off their arsenal of kicks.  It's the same when they are faced with muay Thai, taekwondo and other kicking arts.  So, what's going on?

Remember wing chun's focus.  From the very start, the assumption is that we are facing a surprise attack, and the distance has already been closed.  If we are to use the greater part of our training, we risk walking into a kick or another longer range attack on our way in.  Notice how most competitive fights involve the fighters moving into range of each other.

Wing chun sucks at a longer range, right?  Wrong.  We have ways of getting into range.  If we use the example of a kick coming at us as an example, the prescribed response is to cover with a block and kick the supporting leg, taking the power out of the kick and disturbing the opponent's balance long enough for us to move in and use our hands.  Why isn't it used in all those sparring and cage fighting videos?  Well, one of the targets for the standard front kick is the knee.  Another one is the hip.  Or, there's a downward kick aimed at the lower leg, designed to break the ankle.  If you can't understand why the forward thrusting kick of wing chun, aimed at these targets, might be a problem in a competitive environment, then I don't think any amount of explaining wing chun will be enough for you.

Let's also consider the level of wing chun we are seeing in these fights as well.  I've seen many videos of a Steve someone-or-other fighting in an octagon or on a competition mat.  In one fight, he was introduced as one of the top wing chun fighters in the world.  Apart from the videos, I've never heard of him.  In one particular fight in an octagon, an eastern European fighter takes him to the ground, and he offers no reply.  We have ways of dealing with attempts at taking us to the ground (shuai jiao, the predecessor of Japanese jujutsu, is a Chinese art).  I'm not going to reveal what they are, but we have them.

My point is that a lot of these fighters don't seem to have much experience.  Their form is wrong.  Some of them dance about on their toes.  Kicks don't even appear in the first form, so it's fair to say that a few years of training is needed before a wing chun practitioner will become proficient at kicking, unless we change the way we practise.  Using kicks sparingly is good wing chun; not using them at all may be a sign that someone hasn't learned much wing chun yet.

A lot of wing chun schools don't spar, and students don't test themselves.  I applaud any of the videos that represent a student's first steps in sparring or testing themselves against another combat discipline, but let's not misinterpret what's going on.  If you are going to label it as martial art X versus martial art Y, at least ensure that both fighters are experienced in what they claim to represent.

Here's a short video to illustrate my point about correct range.  Notice the strike to the eye occurs at a range which suits wing chun, when he is able to close the distance.

Here's a potentially more contentious video about fighting range in wing chun...

The gloves are off

I've heard it said many times that the gloves take away a lot of wing chun's effective techniques.  That may be true, but the problem is a lot more fundamental than that.  Gloves change the nature of a fight, because they protect the hands.

I noticed a long time ago that the wing chun forms, which are our reference to how this stuff should be used, contain no punches to head height.  The punches go out roughly at chest height, maybe as high as the neck as well (not recommended, unless you want to run the risk of killing someone).  The lineage I study has removed Ip Man's palm-up punch to the abdomen, but I have restored it in the second form for my own practice, because I consider it useful.  Anyway, the point is that open hand strikes are used to the head.

How easy is it to perform a palm strike with gloves on?  Not at all easy.  Still, a lot of videos show wing chun students punching to the head, which is going against what we are shown by the forms.  Essentially, this is changing the art to suit a different environment.

As a side note, I'm disappointed to see Samuel Kwok supporting bare knuckle boxing, as shown in the video below.  Aside from the ethical issues I have with him supporting competitive fighting, it is quite a different skill set to that which is needed when dealing with an ambush attack.


There's a lot more I could say about this issue, but it's probably an exercise in futility, and it is for the good of humanity that certain people do not understand combat arts.

You'd be right to question my own knowledge of martial arts.  I'm happy to be judged on what I write here, because it's an honest representation of my thoughts.  Am I able to put my knowledge into practice?  Well, that's another question entirely, and one I feel is answered only by fools.