We’re talking about using this for fighting, not for a game or sport…it’s designed for the street.”
Sifu John Smith
“He who manages the distance manages the damage that can be done.”
One of the frustrating things about training for the street is its a highly hypothetical scenario, unless you’ve had street experience. Even if you have had street experience, every situation is basically different. Not many people have had all out street fights and not many of them have had multiple fights. The more fights were are talking about, the fewer people have had that many. Out of the general population, a microscopic fraction have had extensive experience. Going from books and the experience of the experienced people I’ve known, the main thing people learn from their street fighting experiences is how to gauge the kick off of the fight, the importance of distance, and the importance of the psychological element, especially the need for controlled aggression.
So how do we deal with this conundrum? How do we train for the street in a classroom in which most people have not been in a serious fight and only the most rare individual has been in a life or death fight. There are many tacks people take. One of the most recent at my school is the use of “Bulletman” padding to allow for full release of power against an opponent who is closer to human (i.e., they can hit back a little, move around, unlike a heavy bag).
Another important thing to learn is the effect your “training bubble” has on you. You go to a school and learn from an instructor who is teaching a specific system. They usually think this system is the “best.” They have particular curriculum’s they use to share the skill. You end up doing very specific drills which have various constraints (on power, on footwork, etc). You do them repeatedly, to drill them into your nervous system. You develop certain grooves of behavior. These grooves have holes right beside them that you don’t see. In your training, you relax into expecting certain kinds of attacks.
In these two videos below, we see these sorts of issues discussed by some Jiu-Jitsu players.
In the first one, we hear from Rener and Ryron Gracie about the difference between “street Jiu-jitsu” and “sport jiu-jitsu” and how they differ. Many martial artists throughout history have learned something in their schools and then later ran into opponents and situations in the street they were not prepared for. The unseen holes in their game were exposed. We develop these habits playing at fighting with friends in a friendly environment. We don’t usually train how to defend against a sucker punch or misdirection, yet these occur a lot out on the street – just ask Geoff Thompson.
Another good point in the Gracie video is this idea of “tiers of instructorship” and how ideas get diffused and morph. I’ve talked about this some in other articles and its super important. All Wing Chun is not created equal and this goes for all fighting systems. Just because I learned from somebody who was good (or their student’s student) doesn’t mean I’m good. It can often be like the game of telephone. This can be true even with the same person over their lifetime – a teacher can go from excellent to mediocre over the decades. Caveat emptor!
In the other video, Nick Albin (aka Chewjitsu) talks about the phenomenon of having strangers come into the school, bringing their non-school attacks and energy and exposing the holes and assumptions.
There is a great four part interview with Hawkins Cheung by Robert Chu, first published in Inside Kung-Fu magazine starting in November of 1991.
I was pointed to it by an article on Kung Fu Tea, where it was hosted on the USADojo site. It appears that Inside Kung Fu went out of business in 2011. It doesn’t seem as if anyone is offering its backlog of articles and it made me think I better backup the USADojo site’s hosting of this really important article. If Robert Chu or any representative of Inside Kung Fu would like me to take this down, I will do so – my principal aim is preservation.
In this article, an interview with Sisuk Gung Hawkins, many interesting points are made about Wing Chun. Hawkins asks many questions that cut to the heart of the system and bring to light certain questions with the system with which we all contend, and the approaches to answering these questions that were tried by both Hawkins and Bruce Lee (i.e., Jeet Kune Do). One question being how to bridge against opponents who do not “stay” but zip in and out with either/both their body or their strikes. Boxers come immediately to mind, with their jabs and quick footwork.
A system like Wing Chun, which seeks a bridge and uses relatively slow footwork (to preserve the potential for structure), will naturally have to contend with this feature of such fighting styles and every WC practitioner needs to work on their response to attacks such as the jab used by the “outside fighter.” I’ve heard many discussions over the years about how one should handle this issue. The fundamental Wing Chun approach is that we Jeet once we get close enough. But its a high level skill to work against a skilled opponent. Some people take the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach and incorporate jabs into their fighting repertoire. While, as Wong Shun Leung said, Wing Chun is what works, I think people sometimes try to incorporate elements from other systems before becoming competent at the Wing Chun approach, and that sometimes the non-Wing Chun element is brought in to try and plug a hole in the person’s understanding of Wing Chun. This patchworking of systems is a feature of the post-MMA world, but I think with Wing Chun we have a pretty integrated system and we need to truly understand it before starting to cobble together a Frankenstein’s monster of our own devising. We are standing on the shoulders of Giants and they thought a lot of this stuff through. But, once you have become truly competent, then there are some valid discussions to be had about ground game and closing the distance and other aspects of dealing with the strengths of other systems and customizing the system to your own physical idiosyncrasies, such as we find in these interviews.
Beginning in November 1991, Inside Kung-Fu published the following four-part interview with Hawkins Cheung, reprinted below.