Wing Chun – the ghost of real violence

Wing Chun in its modern incarnation is like most traditional martial arts, shit. Sorry, even the ones that train under pressure couldn’t hack it with boxers, judoka, and wrestlers unless they start fighting like combat athletes themselves. Dead horse, stop flogging.

It’s still the most interesting of all Chinese martial arts to me though. Why? It doesn’t really look like how things go down when someone wants to glass you, but the time in China’s history where these things were far too common isn’t so far away. No wobbly swords and spiked balls on a rope, just some sailor prick getting in your face in Kowloon. You can see some shadow of a pragmatic system if you look hard enough – something that can’t really be said of the beardy men on a mountain in Wudang. Here’s a few examples.

1. Violence happens up close. I’ve seen mêlées where people get separated but the gap is soon closed. Wing Chun starts and finishes here.

2. I may be mistaken, but strikes to the head that appear in the forms tend not to be fists too, which is a fair reflection on what you really ought to be doing if the right cross on the jaw doesn’t work.

3. People don’t like getting hit and they keep sticking their arms in the way. It’s far more natural to grab a hold of something and yank it out of the way than it is not to engage the arms at all as is more common in a boxing match. It’s also a lot easier to place accurate shots when you can feel, not just see, where the other bloke is in relation to you. You really should learn evasive head movement anyway, but don’t ignore the arms.

4. The arm positions for Wing Chun blocks are all very formalised, but you’ll find these kind of deflections and jamming techniques in bareknuckle boxing (if some 19th century manual is anything to go by) as well as things like karate. It’s pretty crude, but if sticking your arms in the way wasn’t somewhat effective, those two drunks on a Saturday night wouldn’t keep doing it. Crashing forward with your arms in a kind of prow position is reminiscent of the Wing Chun guard as well as the kind of stuff taught by a lot of the present day self defence guys, as well as their crappy copycats.

5. Lastly, the body mechanics are silly, but there isn’t any suggestion of using big wind ups, drop stepping, or other ways of generating force that assume a luxury of time and space that you don’t have. The fact they are not in the system suggests the creator(s) knew they wouldn’t be viable, even if the useful stuff like better body alignment (no, not the vertical fist with your elbows forced down) and the Serrape effect may have been lost over time.

So you had your shot and it missed, our sailor from earlier trying to Hail Mary your head off your shoulders, what do you do? Crash forwards, clear his arms out of the way and just throw straight down the middle to make some space. Too close to punch? Elbow until you can. Nothing to hit but the top of his head? A palm isn’t great but it probably won’t break your hands. Can’t get a high shot? Dig the bastard in the ankle. Can’t see him? Maybe you can feel him. So close you can smell his breath? You knew you’d end up here anyway so you shouldn’t be shitting your pants.

You see? Not all rubbish, even if you’d be better off not bothering with Wing Chun and doing something pragmatic.


Author: Stuart Hughes

Twenty-something from the hills and vales of Wales, grappling with the logistics of becoming a little more cosmopolitan.

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