WING CHUN, AND MOST THINGS INVOLVING A TOUCH-ASSISTED MECHANISM, COME UNDER HEAVY FIRE ON A REGULAR BASIS. IT IS FAIR TO SAY EXTERNAL OPINION ON THE PLAUSIBILITY OR OTHERWISE OF “TOUCH ASSISTED” IS FORGED, FOR THE MOST PART, FROM DEMONSTRATIONS THAT DON’T REALLY CUT THE MUSTARD.
What has been clear for some time is that cross-cultural transmission and traditional training interfaces have not operated to underpin the Wing Chun system in the West as a credible device in a post-MMA/UFC world.
With this in mind, the closest individuals have come to presenting Wing Chun as a workable format on a semi to full contact basis, is in taking the standard mix of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Boxing and trying to superimpose Wing Chun principles and concepts over the top to define it as something it is not.
Coming from a Muay Thai background, I always had a pool of individuals I could use to build reference and perspective around parallels and differences concerning Wing Chun. Most of the time, this involved carrying ideas in my head as I boxed, experimenting with range, and exploiting opportunity when and where I could, to employ a fairly distinct set of body mechanics behind a Muay Thai framework. I managed to build some sensible parameters.
Certainly, there were some advantages to be had, attributes that disturbed seasoned guys enough to open new opportunities and enhance capacity to strike. However, there were always limitations concerning a glove.
To define an approach as Wing Chun in substance (rather than name), it has to be doing several things:
• It has to be seen to employ a set of tools that replace a catch-and-cover guard with a posture that supports absorption to create an area for cognition and transition via feeling.
• It has to work behind the wrist to modulate and redirect pressure.
• It must have the capacity to affect balance and centre of mass.
• Absorption and/or redirection should be accompanied by a semi-simultaneous return strike, until a time where no obstruction exists.
• It should be compressing and release power through a unified bodily state, absorbing incoming pressure to the ground to regulate personal movement relative to forces received.
The premise, or ideal, is to end violence as quickly as possible. Success is hinged on how well an individual can maintain a framework of levers, dampeners, and musculoskeletal control while navigating pressure to catch or create opportunity. Without the above in place, it is actually very difficult to acquire enough freedom under pressure to retain a high percentage success rate when employing the Wing Chun “toolbox”. This is not embodied overnight.
Working without a full jigsaw, some individuals still believe applied Wing Chun to be a Jeet Kune Do “mishmash”. This is a great shame. It is a loss to our heritage, and it is detrimental to the perception of our art. What is clear is that a 14oz glove massively retards the system’s workings, and a great number of opportunities to boot. On the other hand, removing contact to the head steals both from the objective and the reality of violence.
In the main, people’s understanding and utilisation of body play inside Wing Chun remain massively impaired, to such an extent a majority cannot successfully engage each other, let alone individuals from unfamiliar fight backgrounds, once risk and consequence are involved.
Usually, the dichotomy between drill work and live play highlight a major cause for concern. I had been deliberating for some time over how I could instil several attributes in my students without running them through a detached mechanism. At this time, I imported the Kudo headgear and a neck brace into my practice, to elevate the sticky handwork into something that retained its martial value—honesty intact, to audit and tune. I removed the glove and replaced it with protection around the head.
This has paid massive dividends and has opened an avenue for highly pressurised Wing Chun interplay, maybe the first time since the Beimo culture of 1950s Hong Kong, while minimising the physical risks associated with unprotected contest. Students’ skill has accelerated greatly. They challenge themselves safely and learn about their strengths and limitations, growing in confidence and understanding, via the truth of their individual experience.
It is by far the most fun had at the gym by everybody involved, mainly because the original rationale of the new student is to become good at fighting with Wing Chun, and I provide a sensible platform to grant them their wish. What is most important and exciting is not the contact, but coaching physical adherence to the laws governing this form of fighting. Concepts and principles come to life. The aim is to operate without being struck, although this forfeit is always in play.
Success and safety are born through focus and reproduction. A punch is a keen coach!
Wing Chun is designed on scientific principles. Its movement, function, and justification are entirely measurable. This assertion, however, does not mean we are training in a scientific manner. Science is defined as an intellectual and practical systematic study concerning the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world via observation and EXPERIMENT.
Therefore, if we are studying something scientifically, it should be tested, and we must strive to produce a fair test to obtain honest results. If you wish to deduce the capacity of Wing Chun to handle violent confrontation, the test must be violent; otherwise, the test is skewed. If you are testing Wing Chun and you remove violent exchange, you have changed the parameters. Results are inconclusive, deduction hypothetical—the test is void.
Investigation, acknowledgement and refinement do not stem from regurgitating a teacher’s viewpoint. If you are operating physical interplay and drill repetition that you have not successfully undertaken in a highly pressurised situation, there is nothing scientific to underpin you regime, only faith in your teachers capacity to impart to you something that worked for him. However, most importantly, it is something that worked for him, not something that worked for YOU; not something that necessarily works for a majority.
If you want to say you operate scientifically, be scientific, test fairly, obtain data, measure results, review function and process, and test again. Lots of people purport to be practising scientifically. It is important when stating this that you are, by definition, practising scientifically. Concrete proofing requires fair testing.
Similarly, if your contact work exists within a large glove and does not encompass Wing Chun mechanisms, i.e. Taan, Fook, Wu, etc. then it is devoid of simultaneous attack and defence—the hallmark of our system. You are testing the kinesiology and performance of Boxing, something that has been explored for decades. You are not testing Wing Chun. Because much of the recent development concerning Wing Chun took place after sporadic Beimo arrangements and street fights, the inherent danger in these inter-stylistic contests and conflicts would have taken precedence over practical experimentation and analysis.
It can be said then that some of the work at my gym falls into the category of “uncharted waters” or at least waters that have not been mapped and sailed fully in a number of years. Combative vantage was the inception of Wing Chun; indulgence in combative play paves the way for much consideration about the learning templates we use as a collective.
This inspires a re-evaluation of emphasis and applicability about a great number of things. One thing I can tell you from my work is that although nuance and perceived application within Wing Chun remain myriad, the composition and nucleus of the forms is nothing short of remarkable. There is nothing I am using to solve my problems combatively that wasn’t already held within these forms respectively as physical movement. I find this fascinating.
In utilising this construct, you cannot help but build an affinity to the individual who first compiled these forms—an individual of considerable depth and expertise, who was without a doubt, party too much strife and bloodshed in their acquisition of skill. I feel quite close to this person, you get a measure of their character; they have my deepest respect and admiration. In removing risk and consequence from training, martial arts becomes ornamental.
There are too many things to account for in violent exchange, that remain entirely hidden until you introduce a platform for parallel behaviour and an interface for learning that supports Wing Chun modality as a combative system. I have built a mechanism for measurement and improvement. It is the embodiment of hard work. It is fruition, fulfilment and growth. In martial arts, it is the job of the coach to create an environment to assist students in developing skill through pressure and vulnerability, or they remain ill-equipped. Owing to a disproportionate pool of talent in any given discipline, that discipline has the tendency to erode exponentially, to a point whereby no talent exists to pass on.
Wing Chun is exceptionally rich—competence is essential to its future. If you mix cake all day without putting it in the oven, you are not a baker, and no baker will ever emerge from your kitchen. A keeper of recipes is not qualified to cook for his guests, and under-qualified when adopting or adapting the recipe in question, or criticising for that matter an experienced baker.
I hope the work in my gym contributes to the further development of Wing Chun as a credible, long-standing fighting method. Let’s all be responsible for carrying Wing Chun forward and placing qualified skill at the top of our agenda.