Never kick in a street fight?

Self Defense teachers often tell the student “never kick in a street fight”.
Wing Chun, however is a style designed for real world no rules combat, and it has kicks.

All lineages, to my knowledge, while they do use kicks, don’t kick above the waist, and use kicks sparingly. Why? Because when you kick you are momentarily standing on one leg, which means that there is always a risk of slipping and falling, being knocked down, or having your leg grabbed and being tripped or thrown to the ground. While this be OK in sport fighting, it is usually fatal in a street fight, so all wing chun lineages minimize that risk by kicking low, and also by only kicking when there is a good chance that the kick will land.

Some lineages will use kicks very rarely. Wong Shun Leung, who did hundreds of rooftop challenge fights with other kung fu fighters, said that in all of these encounters he only once “had to kick”. “had to kick” means that he would only kick if absolutely necessary. Moy Yat, one of Yip Man’s most well known and traditional masters, did a video about kicking where he explained that the Wing Chun kick is extremely powerful and effective, if you train it enough. He said that because of its extreme power and destructiveness the kick should be reserved for the most serious situations, such as an armed attacker. Leung Ting, on the other hand, liked to kick, was good at it, and so students in his lineage tend to kick more often that other Wing Chun fighters.

I was taught not to kick at all in multiple attacker situations, because in addition to the risk of being taken down, when you kick and are on one leg, you have no mobility, and survival in multiple attacker situations is all about mobility, and hopefully escape from the dangerous situation.

The video above shows the skills of Jeet Kune do Expert Octavio Quintero, top student of the late Jerry Poteet, famous first generation student of Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune do has a different strategy than Wing Chun. Wing Chun’s basic strategy is to force the opponent to take a preparatory step to get close enough to hit you, and then intercept him while he is taking that preparatory step with overwhelming attacks. Jeet Kune do has a strategy derived from fencing. in fencing you would never close the distance with the opponent and trade lunges and stabs because it is way too dangerous to do this with stabbing weapons Instead the fencer will stay out of range, and has trained to be able to close the difference lightning fast for an attack, and back up out of range to defend. Timing is also obviously crucial. JKD which is derived from wing chun, boxing, and fencing, uses a strategy of staying just out or range, either waiting for the opponent to commit by stepping in, and then attacking the knee of his lead leg, or using the pendulum step footwork shown in the video to come in with a low kick and pendulum right back out again. Although I haven’t seen enough actual jeet kune do fighters (as opposed to videos), I believe it is possible that JKD fighters, with their very advanced mobile footwork could possibly use this same strategy even against multiple attackers.

Paul Matthews

The chain punch is the technique most associated with Wing Chun. It is also the favorite target of Wing Chun “haters” who claim that it is lacking in power and ineffectual. But even Sifus disagree about the effectiveness of the technique. Some Sifus think of the chain punch as a technique which is suitable mostly for beginners. On the other hand Leung Ting, a well known student of yip Man called the chain punch the “attacking masterpiece” of Wing Tsun. So which is it, weak and ineffectual, good for beginners, or a powerful and deadly technique?

The chain punch has certain advantages. Because the punches are all on the center line and are absolutely straight, the chain punch has speed, economy of motion, and occupies the center line, all very good things. While some experts can punch up to 10 strikes a second (some exponents claim even more), it is possible to execute five punches a second with significant power, but only after considerable training. Beginners can learn the basic technique in a few hours, and it is possible to develop significant power after six months of intense training. Beginners sometimes misuse the chain punch by trying to enter with the technique, but starting to throw the punches even when out of range. The chain punch is probably not a good entry technique because it lacks range. In Europe the EWTO used to teach (and may still teach) something called the “Universal Solution” which was an entry made by a straight front kick, followed up by chain punches. It is also possible to use a long range boxing jab to enter into a chain punch attack, if you don’t mind borrowing a technique from another style.

The enemy of the chain punch is the boxer’s hook punch. A good boxer with react to a chain punch attack by stepping to the side slipping or ducking while coming around with one or more hook punches. If the Wing Tsun fighter keeps blasting in a straight line after his opponent is no longer there, he will almost certainly be caught with a hook punch and probably be knocked out. The wing tsun fighter must use his chain punch in a flexible way so that it adapts to what his opponent is doing. If the opponent ducks or moves, the Wing Tsun man must track the opponent, preferably the opponent’s head.

For beginners and intermediate Wing Tsun students/ fighters, it is a good idea to train them to default to a chain punch when they can’t think of anything else to do. Advanced fighters don’t have to think, but they may choose to use the chain punch as a finishing technique rather than as an opener.

personally, i like to use the technique for “bursts” of 3 punches. One way to train for speed in punching is to throw punches in groups of threes, with each three punches being one “count”. The goal is to throw three punches almost as fast as your opponent can throw one punch. If you come close to this goal you can get in three punches before the opponent has time to figure you out and come up with a counter move

The chain punch is normally applied with all of the punches aimed to strike the same spot on the opponent’s body The idea is that, like a battering ram taking down a door, the successive punches will eventually destroy whatever they hit. However, in the video above, Sifu Vik uses the punches in a more flexible manner, which I believe is more practical against more skilled opponents.

Paul matthews

The video above is a demo from the early 1980’s by Sifu Albright, where he demonstrates his amazing skills at Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu in free sparring against another Sifu who appears to be using Hung Gar. When I first looked at the video for a minute or so I thought that Sifu Albright couldn’t be that good because he always had his hands down. Then I figured what was going on. If you know anything at all about Martial Arts you will likely be as impressed as I was by this practitioner. If, like me, you end up watching the video several times, I suggest you watch it once just looking at his masterful footwork. Another interesting aspect about the video is it shows the Praying Mantis style can be used for self defense from a total relaxed natural position, without posing any stance or even any guard

Northern Praying Mantis is a style that dates back over 300 years when a monk was supposedly so impressed by the fighting skill and ferocity of the insect that he captured one and tested its reactions with chopsticks, and adding movements taken from 17 other styles. Northern Mantis is completely different from and should not be confused with Southern Mantis. Sifu Albright explains in a recent video that Southern Mantis is actually not Mantis at all, but because at one time all Southern Kung Fu styles were outlawed by the government, founders named a new style, which was somewhat similar to Wing Chun and White Eyebrow, “Mantis”. Allbright claims that much later Southern Mantis adoped some of the hand postures of Northern Mantis.

Northern Mantis shares the characteristics of other Northern Kung Fu styles in that kicking, long range hands, and quick, mobile footwork are all emphasized. There are numerous sub variants of Northern Mantis, including Six Harmonies, Tai Chi Mantis, Eight Steps, but the most popular is probably Seven Star Mantis which emphasizes lightning fast hand strikes, bridging and seizing of the arms, joint locking, and throwing techniques, as well as a complete repertoire of kicks. One of the biggest distinctions of Seven Star Mantis is the fact that it uses footwork from Monkey Kung Fu. Supposedly, the founder of Seven Star was eventually able to get his hand strikes to be so fast that the old footwork couldn’t keep up with the hands so he had to borrow the quick agile steps from Monkey Kung Fu styles. Interestingly Eight Step Mantis was supposedly developed because the founder of that style was getting older and wanted to remain formidable but felt that Seven Star footwork, which includes athletic jumping and hopping, was no longer do-able for an older person.

Seven Star is similar to Wing Chun in that sticking is emphasized and even has its own version of chi sao, or at least chi sao like drills It also has its own version of the Wooden Dummy, but with two arms instead of three. However Mantis practitioners do a lot more grabs,joint locks, arm breaks, and throws than any lineage of Wing Chun. Also the footwork, many of the hand techniques, the method of power generation, the use of Iron Palm training, and the large repertoire of kicks make Northern Mantis very different from Wing Chun. When I was studying under Sifu Lee Moy Shan, many years ago, I was told by senior students that Mantis was the only Kung Fu style that gave Wing Chun fighters trouble, but they were probably talking about Southern Mants.

Seven Star emphasizes forms practice, both solo forms and 2 man forms. Unlike Wing Chun which has only 3 solo forms, Mantis has over a hundred forms, although according to Sifu Albright few people learn more than 30 forms. The solo forms contain large numbers of lightning fast hand strikes and quick intricate footwork and are practiced at top speed.

Paul Matthews

Alleged weaknesses of Wing Chun

Queens self defense class

“Wing Tsun punches lack power”
At the junior level, yes. Also even at a senior level punches contained in a chain punch flurry, delivered as fast as humanly possible, will likely not be too powerful, but can still be effective, in the same way that a boxer’s jab is effective.

The wing tsun beginner’s punches are all “arm punches’, still powerful enough to do damage if they hit the right spots, but probably not powerful enough to knock anyone out. As the student progresses, he adds the motion of the spine, the snap of the wrist, some waist motion, and above all the momentum of a forward step to the punch, making it potentially a very powerful punch, even at close range. Wallbag training conditions the fists, potentially to the point that punches can be delivered with bare knuckles at full power. Bare knuckle punches are potentially very damaging.

When the student has advanced to the Biu tze level, he will use more open handed fak sao’s and “throat cutting” hands, to vital areas, as well as deadly close range elbow strikes anyway, and is no longer dependent on just using punches.

“Wing Chun has no long range game”
It is true that the main range for Wing Tsun is bent arm range. The Wing Tsun fighter fights mostly square to his opponent, and doesnt throw his shoulder or lean in like other styles do. As a practical matter, someone trying to mug you or hurt you on the street is unlikely to dance around out of range throwing punches. He will almost certainly come into close range.

In any event, Wing Tsun does have some very effective kicks which can be used to bridge teh gap and safely get close to the opponent. In Europe they have or at least used to have something called the “Universal Solution” which consisted of a front kick, then the fighter steps in close and chain punches. This is still an effective tactic if it is done with enough speed and power.

“Wing Chun has no footwork”

Many lineages do not teach much footwork until the advanced levels. Furthermore, Wing Tsun was developed as a close quarters fighting art, especially useful in an alley or elevator type situation. Consequently, the art relies on turns and shifts of body weight, supplemented by short range steps which allow the fighter to get out of the way of the attack but still be close enough to counter immediately. Advanced footwork, such as is used in the Knife Form is rarely taught except to the most senior students. The way I was taught was that in a multiple attacker situation to just move as quickly as possible, without worrying about classical steps.

There is nothing to stop the Wing Tsun student, once he or she has mastered all the basic steps, from adding footwork from arts like Jeet Kune Do, or possibly Bagua.

“Wing Chun has no ground game”

Most self defense street encounter situations unfortunately involve multiple attackers. In a real world multiple attacker situation if you are caught on the ground you are essentially screwed. The name of the game is to keep from going to the ground, and if you do go to the ground, get up immediately if humanly possible. Some lineages of Wing Tsun have developed methods of applying the wing tsun strikes and techniques on the ground in a 1 on 1 situation. These techniques will work in upwards of 90% of situations where you are not being mugged by a BJJ expert or the like.

Just my 2 cents.

Paul Matthews

wing chun fighters

I recently came across a youtube video by Lyte Burly which piqued my interest.

Lyte Burly is a controversial and (to my view) charismatic practitioner and proponent of the Martial Arts Style called “52 blocks”.

He has been putting out a series of videos which are critical or largely critical of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. In particular he criticizes the CMA’s for their lack of a “long range game”, as opposed to boxing and “52” (which is largely derived from boxing). Burly claims that Bagua (also known as Baguazhang) is one of these Arts that doesn’t work in real life, however he says that if you have mastered another art, Bagua concepts and techniques can add to your “game”.

Before watching the video, I had heard of Bagua but had never paid much attention to it. Some research revealed that Bagua is a completely Taoist based martial art. It is one of the 3 so-called “internal arts” of Kung Fu. The other internal martial art that we have all seen is Tai Chi (although Tai Chi, originally a true martial art with fighting applications but these have fallen by the wayside). Bagua is a relatively new CMA, dating back to the 19th century, when the founder combined the Taoist circle walking meditation principles and Taoist energy principles to his own (unknown) style of Northern Shaolin to create a completely new and uniue style. At one point in time, all of the Emperor’s guards were required to be Bagua experts. Baguazhang is a fighting art which combines striking techniques with grappling techniques, including throws, takedowns, joint locks, and submissions. The style is based upon circular movements, circles within circles, and spiral movements within the circles.

Interestingly, Baguazhang is the only fighting art I know of which was specifically designed to fight against multiple attackers. Like Tai Chi, there is a primary form, which is variously called the “single palm change” and the unique exercise of “circle walking”. This form and the circle walking exercise are designed, among other things, to train circular evasive footwork, the ability to change directions unpredictably, and the development of the peripheral vision. There is also a mental training component to the form, which is supposed to train the student’s ability to “remain calm in the midst of motion” (interestingly enough one of the sayings of Wing Tsun).

The bagua fighter never stands still, even for a moment which is vital for survival against multiple opponents. The complex circular footwork, based upon circles within circles and spirals within circles, along with constant movement and the ability to change directions quickly and unpredictably, makes it difficult for the attackers in the group to track the bagua fighter. Experts in this art claim that they can strike with power even while in the middle of a step, because the power comes from the Dantien, not from the ground.

Because multiple attacker situations are even more chaotic than one on one fights, the ability to remain calm in the midst of a chaotic multiple attacker confrotation is an absolute necessity for survival. The Bagua fighter trains his peripheral vision as part of the circle walking exercise and never actually looks directly at any one attacker. The style correctly points out that, because of the distribution of rods and cones in the human eye, peripheral vision reacts much quicker to moving objects than does “central” vision (when you are looking directly at an object).

The first video below shows techniques from the Cheng lineage, in which the grappling aspects are emphasized. At least to my eye, these techniques look graceful, fluid, and effective. I especially note the quick precise steps and their timing with strikes, and the instructor’s use of “fa-jing”, or short range shock power. The video also shows how spinning techniques, not used in Wing Chun, can be pulled off using positioning and timing.

The second video is from the movie “The Grandmaster” and is a fight scene between Yip Man and a female BaguaZhang stylist. I think what the actress is doing is very beautiful and at least some of it looks like it might be effective in a real life situation.

The last video shows how Bagua uses their own version of chi sao to train throws. Throws can be effective in real fighting because if you are skilled very few people know how to defend, even more so with the unconventional throws shown here.

Paul Matthews