Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has become very popular and this popularity has naturally affected people’s views on martial arts.
The fans of the sport are fond of getting on the internet in places such as Youtube and martial arts forums and getting on their soap boxes to proclaim that some combination of Brazilian Jujitsu and/or wrestling with boxing and Muay Thai is the path to fighting perfection.
They insist this is true on the street as well as in the ring.
And they are scornful of those who don’t agree.
First, let me point out that the person on the street who is armed and skillful with their weapon is king. They will likely defeat whatever empty handed art you bring o the table. Second, multiple attackers are also a big problem. Even two people are hard for one person to beat. Four arms and four legs and the unknown combine into a big problem. But lets put those two aside for a moment.
Joe Rogan (Tae Kwan Do guy, stand-up comedian, and UFC commentator) is notorious among kung fu people for the way he dismissed and derided the entire range of Chinese arts in a Youtube interview.
But I think Joe Rogan and all these other people are missing the point entirely.
The assumption seems to be that all martial arts have the same goal, but this isn’t true. We are not all trying to become prize fighters!
We need to consider the difference between the goals of a prize fighter and an amateur martial hobbyist.
Fighting in the UFC requires a highly specialized set of skills. It requires a very high level of conditioning. Most of the people who are doing it successfully train for a living or are trying to reach that point by training all the time they are not working for a living.
Let’s compare a guy who is training for the UFC with your average Wing Chun student.
The UFC guy does a lot of wrestling or BJJ and boxing and strength training and road work, all day long for months and months.
The average Wing Chun student is training 3 hours a week. Even if they are a more dedicated than average student and train 10 or 15 hours, if they try to fight someone who is training for a living, it might not be a complete shock if they lose. That’s not unreasonable.
Kung fu isn’t some magic pill you take that makes you unbeatable!
Most people are not training Wing Chun in the same way that professional or even amateur boxers and wrestlers or UFC wannabes train for a fight. The most hardcore Wing Chun guy I know “only” trained 15-20 hours a week at his peak.
We all have jobs and families. You are only as good as your training regimen, no matter what style you do.
Getting really good at fighting takes work, a lot of work. You have to change not only your body but your nervous system.
If a guy did Wing Chun really, really hard, if he did dragon pole, heavy baat jaam do, wall bag, Chi Sao, Drills, Gerk Jong, for hours a day, months on end, for a living, and then he fought the guy doing the hardcore MMA training, that fight would be more of a fair test of the system.
But it would still be testing the system as it performed in the ring.
And the ring is a special set of conditions. Fighting in the ring is the only time in life you can be sure you only have one opponent and that opponent is not armed.
And there are gloves and rules and round lengths, etc, etc. No one is likely to get killed (most of the time).
Wing Chun people do not really train like professional fighters and this is by design.
Until Ip Man’s time, when he “democratized” Wing Chun by teaching to all (Chinese) comers in Hong Kong, it was a gentleman’s martial art, something a gentleman did in his spare time in the tradition of the gentleman warrior.
Gentlemen spend most of their time making money and do not show up at their office or their place of business with broken noses, covered in bruises. Wing Chun was a semi-secret family art which was handed down from father to son, from uncle to nephew, or from well-paid teacher to the children of a wealthy gentleman.
Chi Sao as a training method was designed or evolved into a brilliant compromise to support that Gentleman’s needs. You might end up in a war or have to defend against a kidnapping or an assassination attempt, but you also have to be able to mix with the other nobles and not look like a thug.
Fighting well requires the development of the correct reflexes. You need to train with another person to give you the stimulus (they hit you) that provokes your response (you counter / hit back).
But sparring is dangerous.
Imagine you’re a gentleman trying to spar in 19th Century China. There’s no head gear or foam gloves to reduce the damage. You can get an eye gouge, a broken nose, or brain damage. In Wing Chun’s Chi Sao, the contact is minimal, and this is on purpose. Chi Sao as a training tool was designed to allow the participants to train their reflexes while staying safe, keeping their faces intact and keeping their brains in good shape, so they could continue to do their main jobs, which was making money and engaging in politics.
The founders of Wing Chun found a way of using almost full power, almost full speed, without contact, to train reflexes for real fighting. They found a way to train to condition your body in a way so that when you do hit, you don’t damage yourself and you hit as hard as you potentially can in a straight line.
There’s a price to be paid for training to fight at the professional or semi-professional level. A lot of the guys in boxing and MMA are paying this price with brain damage. Not to mention joint damage. Torn ACLs.
When they get older, a lot of these guys are going to have serious problems.
Some of them never even get into the MMA because they got injured coming up, just like in football or any professional sport. They can get a life-long injury in the bush leagues, just trying to work their way up.
You have to ask yourself – what do I want from my martial art? Am I going to be fighting pro fighters or some guy who swings on me out in front of the bar? I’ll more likely be fighting a drunken asshole than George St. Pierre. How much do I want and how much am I willing to pay for it, physically?
Some guys make their choice when they are young but pay when they are old.
The other big question about Wing Chun versus MMA is, do I need a ground game?
Going to the ground is great in duels, one on one in a ring with an umpire and rules, but maybe not so great in public on the concrete.
You only can fight one man at a time. You are severely limiting your options. Ask any cop or bouncer if you want to get into a ground fight out on the street. Read Geoff Thompson’s Watch My Back (a book about a bouncer at a notorious nightclub in England who had 100s of fights).
Every art has its strengths and weaknesses. If you want to fight in the UFC, you want to be well-rounded, so of course you’re going to study ground game and Muay Thai and boxing and wrestling. You’ll want to get experience in all the fighting ranges.
If you really want the ground game, study the ground game. If you want to do tournament fighting, do it!
If you want full contact, go do Muay Thai. That’s what Sifu Gary Lam did. He wanted the contact, so he did Muay Thai and now he thinks Wing Chun and Muay Thai go well together and includes some Muay Thai in his version of the WC system.
No martial art is going to teach you everything and give you every single experience. Every martial art has its strengths and weaknesses.
Why does Wing Chun have to be what these other arts are? Why can’t Wing Chun be strong for what it is? Wing Chun is what it is because it was designed that way. It’s not a weakness or a flaw or because there’s something missing. It’s doing what it does because there’s a reason, it does it on purpose.
You can do Wing Chun and continue developing your reflexes and your fighting skills using no-hit drills like Chi Sao for the rest of your life. Ip Man was doing it in his 70s. You can’t do that with Muay Thai. You can’t do that with wrestling or boxing.
I’m fifty. I can continue to do Chi Sao and improve for the next twenty years. I train against big, strong guys in the twenties and thirties and I can hold my own, because of my skill level. Its an equalizer.
I might twist my ankle. I might tweak my back or my shoulder every once in a while. These sorts of injuries are inevitable with a busy active life. Meanwhile, my reflexes are getting better, my footwork is getting better. I can continue to develop and master the principles, the concepts, the skills, the structure.
What do I want from my martial art? I want to be able to defend myself as effectively as possible in the real world against violent people on the street or in a home invasion situation given the amount of time I’m willing to put in and the amount of physical damage I’m willing to suffer in training. I want to spend my time efficiently training for the most likely fighting scenario, which is a stand-up fight.
After decades of training in various arts, I finally settled on Wing Chun as the perfect style for me. It is an efficient system that I can comprehend, which makes complete sense, that gives me a big advantage over untrained people, that is an equalizer against trained people, but which doesn’t require that I train constantly or get injured every week.
One more thing. In a home invasion scenario, I will use a weapon. I’m not a fool. Again, we need to know why we’re training. I started training because I felt less than capable in a fight. It took me a few years to become capable. Then I shifted to enjoying it for the people, the way of getting exercise, the challenge of developing and getting better at this skill, the balance and eye/hand coordination, and a wide range of other reasons.
This is another difference between a martial system (developed over centuries with a philosophy) and a ad hoc collection of unrelated techniques built upon youth, strength, and conditioning. This is what is meant when we call Wing Chun a complete system. It is complete in accomplishing its aims, which is to leverage science to magnify the power of a fighter in a sudden stand-up fight in the real world.