“Chi Sau should teach us how to hit and not stick endlessly to our opponent’s arms. It should teach us to take the balance of our opponent while we preserve our own balance.”
John Smith and Greg LeBlanc, “Get Out of the Chi Sau Bubble.” WC Illustrated
I recently had a discussion with Ben, an SvC reader, and he included a link to the sparring match below and said “It’s this kind footage that adds to the bad reputation of WC.”
I agreed and thought it was a good subject for an article. I started off writing “Why Wing Chun Sparring Sessions Suck,” but then I caught myself and watched the video a few more times.
I realized its easy to fall into the thought process that this fight explains or is an example of the general Wing Chun versus the general Boxing. But really, no one person can represent their whole approach to fighting!
So I started looking at this as two fighters in a bout. First off, although they call it boxing, I am pretty sure the tall guy is Muay Thai. How many boxers wear those instep guards? He’s not kicking because he doesn’t have to – he has a six inch reach advantage (at least). Plus he is much taller. His opponent can barely reach his head!
Lets start with kudos to anyone who wants to fire test their skills. So lets give the “Wing Chun” guy an A for effort. Of course, in this fight, he clearly does many things wrong (like getting knocked out). But, in all fairness, when you put yourself in a position to be punched in the face, even with gloves and rules, many people will lose half their skills. This goes for real fights too. You will forget half your skills and gas out in a tenth of the time. Adrenalin gives and takes away.
Fighters who spar as part of their training (Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, etc) are naturally more relaxed and manage their energy better, because they are just doing what they do. They have been here before.
I’m pretty sure the Wing Chun guy has been mostly doing Chi Sao. He is trying to figure out, on the fly, with punches coming in, how to transfer his Wing Chun to this situation. He is walking up to his opponent’s guard and trying to figure out how to get a bridge. How to clear that guard. How to avoid those counter punches. How to deal with that reach. He obviously doesn’t have a clear plan.
OK, having praised him a little, lets critique this guy.
Wing Chun is a bare knuckle bone-on-bone (as Hawkins Cheung said) system. Wing Chun strikes are not the hardest possible way to hit (pretty sure the hardest possible punch is a cross from the rear hand with good leg support and body weight shift with some torque). Jab Jab Cross. Wing Chun sacrifices power for other attributes (two handed simultaneous attack/defense and chained attacks, etc).
But to work, you must get into a particular range and then punch elbow done on a clean line. All the CHi Sao is to help you develop reflexes to find or make that clean line. This guy never gets a line.
Gary Lam said that the number one most important element of Wing Chun is taking position. This is where Wing Chun derives its striking power. Taking position means stepping in with your body weight (when you have found a clear line of attack via your other skills) and punching into and through the opponent’s head. This guy never takes position or affects his opponent’s balance.
You have to mow them down!
The WC guy doesn’t ever deliver any power because he does not control the distance. The other guy keeps the fight in his comfort zone.
Wing Chun works by eating the opponent’s position (Seg Wai), throwing them off-balance, and forcing them to defend, rather than continue their attack at their leisure. This is why you’ll often see in my videos or illustrations, I mimic this situation of my whole body being canted at a 20 degree angle on the end of a punch, the hitter stepping in.
Wing Chun is the science of in-fighting! This is our specialty and this is our goal. Like the alligator which pulls the victim from the land into the water, dragging it down to the bottom where it has the advantage, Wing Chun skills are largely designed to be used inside our range and finish it there quickly.
You have to get into your chosen range (bent elbow distance) and stay there until the fight is over. If the guy is dancing away, you need to chase his center and stay close. Chase his back leg.
PS — this isn’t easy!
Wing Chun is said to be a system of ideas.
I used to wonder what was meant by this, but my experience has now shown me clearly how each major step forward in my development has been the result of receiving a concept or metaphor at the right time.
Wing Chun is first and foremost a way of thinking.
The Bong Sau, trademark action of Wing Chun, has always been somewhat elusive for me.
Despite doing the action many thousands of times, embedded as it is in Chi Sau, I have often found it difficult to picture doing the action in a fight to great effect. I’ve written before about my problem with it as a defensive action, and not a hit.
The descriptions for its use I heard evolved from one school to another.
At one school, I was told that the rolling action of the forearm put the incoming punch on a sort of treadmill which slowed it down as you redirected it.
At another, one emphasis was on its use to transition from inside to outside (wrong bong to tan).
Recently I was told that the word “bong” in Cantonese means the humerus bone (located between shoulder socket and forearm bones…the upper arm). This really set my mind to work!
I had been discovering its power independently as something you can quickly jam into situations. It has no joint and no human can easily break it in motion. We can gauge the strength in the double lan position from Chum Kiu.
When you are pointing your elbows at your opponent in any approximation of a Man Sao/ Wu Sao position, you have basically constructed a cage around your upper body, and most particularly, your head.
Its like the roll cage on a racing car. A wipeout can decimate a car, with chunks of the chassis and engine flying in every direction but the driver is surrounded by the cage.
This is the castle in Wing Chun. This is why we need bridges. Because it is no easy feat to get past a couple of humerus bones pointed at you. With correct structure and a well-trained waist, this whole cage (used by an opponent) will come toward you as an offensive weapon in and of itself, and the point of its triangular structure can wedge into small gaps in your cage structure.
Its like the Muay Thai guard, except there is more intent to control the opponent’s facing in the Bong technique. We defend against the attack but also turn the opponent off the centerline.
The trick in Wing Chun is to be able to throw up a flexible structure in a heartbeat and to continually throw the bars of your cage forward, trying to strip out or pull down or push aside the bars of your opponent’s cage.
Question from the Comments: “How can I tell that the elbow is in alignment with the hip or not?”
This is a great question and one that is at the heart of structure and thus striking power.
Teaching structure is interesting because I find that in Wing Chun, it is often alluded to by teachers but in vague ways that are hard to understand.
We are told that the Wing Chun training stance (Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma) enables us to develop structure. We are told it has to do with “sitting” and the angle of the hip and a “straight” spine.
We are shown these things and expected to take it in through the eyes, seeing it from the outside and then be able to replicate it inside our own bodies through feeling, since we can’t see ourselves as we move (unless we film our movements, which is an excellent practice).
Over the years, I’ve come up with various ways to demonstrate structure to my students through feeling. This helps add another level of understanding as the student tries to develop better structure.
One thing to keep in mind about structure is that its always changing.
We don’t fight standing still. Fighting is fluid and dynamic. Our relationship to our opponent is always changing.
Also, structure is a relative concept. Structure relative to what?
In fighting, we want our defense (in Wing Chun, generally our hands and arms) and our offence (hands and arms again) to be structured relative to our opponent and the ground.
We must learn to slip into what we call a “structured position” as naturally as we take a step. As the angles in the fight change, your facing will change. In fact, “facing” is another word for structure. When I turn my hips and shoulders toward my opponent, I am “facing” him in a technical sense.