His wing chun works, but yours probably doesn’t.
(And if wing chun doesn’t work, even though it was designed to be simple straight forward and practical, how can any other Chinese traditional martial art like Seven Star Praying Mantis, bagua hung gar, choy li fut, etc. possibly work?)
The above video is of Emin Boztepe, a Wing Chun master, who was one of Leung Ting’s top fighters. He demonstrates some of the Leung Ting anti grappling program, which he is said to have invented at the request of Leung Ting when grappling arts started to be come dominant.
You can see that he is very fast, very powerful, and very skilled. However Emin is a “beast” who would kick practically anyone’s ass even if he had never trained any martial arts at all. One of my former sifus said he saw Emin in person in Germany.
Emin did a demonstration where he had a really big guy the size an shape of a refrigerator, holding and extra big kick shield against his body. Emin stepped in and punched the shield causing the big guy to be physically lifted off the ground into the air and then crash to the floor. Probably what Emin can do has nothing to do what you (or I) can do but it demonstrates that for some people Wing Chun can be a deadly weapon
Between 2005 and 2019 I practiced Wing Chun almost continuously, though there were a few years in there where I was only taking weekly private lessons, and I might have taken a few months off completely. At first, my learning process was slow and frustrating, but after about 3 or so years I started to “get good”. I finished the wooden dummy, took several seminars on the long pole, and one seminar on the knives. For a time I taught a small class at the school, and had some private students.
I was always aware of the haters and naysayers, but for most of that time I believed that my long and sometimes intense training would stand me in good stead if I ever had to use it on the street.
At that school there was one student who stood out. He had very powerful techniques, I remember I once held a pad while he slammed elbow after elbow into it, eventually causing me a severe headache from the impact.
After about a year and a half or two years of training he had become a “beast” in the class, and he was planning on entering various full contact competitions, first with a kick boxer, and then against a Muay Thai fighter. The Sifu, an athletic and very gifted practitioner who had full contact experience, gave him private lessons on how to apply his Wing Chun in the ring.
His first and only full contact bout was against a kick boxer in Long Island, and he was knocked out in the first round.
Then there came a time when I was investigating studying a different art. I had a few classes at a Muay Thai gymn, which I found to be humbling. I learned that being in a class or watching a live class is very different than watching videos on youtube. In the class I could see and hear the impact of the Thai kicks on pads and bags. Even the female students could kick with tremendous power that I doubted that I could handle. The intensity of the workout that every class started with, as well as the level of conditioning of the senior students and instructors was off the chart.
My next stop was a Judo school In the class I could see that the students who were thrown hit the mats with tremendous force. I also looked up injuries in Judo and found that it was a sport with many acute injuries, and that long term practitioners were mostly plagued with chronic injuries to their spines from continuously being thrown to the canvas. Some of the throws were executed by picking the opponent onto the shoulders and throwing him down from a height of up to five feet.
Finally, I spent almost two years studying Wing Chun in a small class located in a boxing gymn. The boxers were mostly young inner city men. Many were built kind of like Mike Tyson or were less bulky but ripped.
Many punched with tremendous power even though they were amateurs. One of the coaches was kind of a nutty but playful and would typically engage me in a few seconds of light sparring. I found that he was almost never able to block any kick or any wing chun technique. However I did not believe for a second that I could survive any length of time against him in any real fight or against any of the testosterone laden amateur boxers.
Meanwhile, the few Wing Chun fighters who fought in the UFC were quickly demolished, and none has achieved any measure of success in K1, Glory, or any of the other kickboxing full contact competitions. The few Wing Chun fighters who have won matches in the small shows, mostly used boxing and kickboxing techniques and did not look like Wing Chun fighters at all. Recently a Wing Chun fighter was trounced by a one armed opponent.
There are several reasons for these poor results. Perhaps the main result is that the very high level Wing Chun men are pretty much all sifus with their own schools, and Wing Chun is mostly marketed as being an unbeatable art. These men know that if they entered a competition and lost, they would probably lose most of their students.
What I notice in watching videos of wing chun fighters against non wing chun fighters is that even the Wing Chun fighters who do relatively well and look halfway decent only use the style’s signature chain punch and front kick. There is no pak sao, lap sao, sticking hands, or trapping. The video above is the best example of a wing chun fighter using the most basic technique, the chain punch effectively against an opponent who is pretty good at a non traditional martial art (kickboxing). The wing chun man has fast hands, effective footwork, and he is using the wing chun strategy of going in aggressively and attacking nonstop. He is not afraid to close the distance with his opponent.
However I do not see him throwing anything with knockout power, and he does not seem to have every actually hurt the kickboxer, but he keeps him busy defending. If this fight took place with bare knuckles, the chain punches would have been much more effective, and at the very least he would probably have cut the kickboxer up pretty bad. It is also hard to do trapping techniques with boxing gloves on.
The video below shows beginners in the Leung Ting lineage going full contact against each other. Some are wearing various protective gear but IMHO the full power knees, elbows, and kicks to the head and spine are way too dangerous even with the equipment. Although their form isn’t that great, and they are using only basic techniques, the deadliness of the techniques and the ferocity of the fighters shows that this style can work in a real life self defense situation.
I have also seen some MMA fighters finding success using the wing chun low side kick and oblique kick in bouts. They have been so successful that there is talk about banning the oblique kick d because, even if it is delivered above the knee joint and not directly to the knee joint, it can hyper extend the knee joint and cause serious and possibly permanent injury.
Some MMA fighters seem to be experimenting with trapping hand techniques, and it turns out that eye jabs (while mostly accidental) are effective in the ring, so much so that the UFC is working on developing new gloves to prevent them.
If Wing Chun doesn’t work in the ring, can it still work in the street?
When I was studying in the Leung Ting lineage, I would look at the websites of other school in the lineage which were located in different parts of the country. I noticed that one long time instructor changed his website to make it look like a karate school. Apparently he hired instructors to teach Karate classes in his school, and taught Wing Chun classes just for self defense.
There was a time in Hong Kong when there were a lot of gangs, and Wing Chun become so popular among gang members that it was called “gangster fist”. The gangs liked it because students could learn it relatively quickly and it was devoid of fancy impractical moves. However these gangsters were using Wing Chun mostly against untrained opponents, or possibly against opponents who trained mostly impractical styles of Kung Fu, and were not training Muay Thai, kickboxing, western boxing, or wrestling.
Nowadays, some of the haters concede that Wing Chun can work on the street against untrained and unarmed opponents. I agree, except that on the street it is more likely that you will be confronting either an armed attacker, or multiple attackers. Wing chun does not work against a knife, but to be fair, neither does any other martial art.
Wing Chun also does not work on the street against multiple attackers, or even against single attackers who are wrestlers, grapplers, decent boxers, or even against the street fighter without any formal training who is much bigger and stronger, or who is very aggressive and has a granite chin.
The reasons for this include the fact that Wing Chun fighters don’t train to develop knockout power, they tend to be “nerds” who have never been in a real fight, they never do full contact sparring, they train to only fight against other Wing Chun fighters and they lack the mobile footwork that is necessary to survive encounters with multiple attackers.
What can you do about it?
In this video the wing chun practitioner is using the traditional wall bag to practice speed and power in his chain punch. This kind of practice is essential to making your wing chun practical. In a real fight you would slow it down just enough to be able to hit with full power. Also notice how he is able to insert elbow strikes just by shifting his weight towards the front foot along with a very slight lean of the upper body. Combining elbow strikes with the chain punch creates a powerful and dangerous attack.
First develop a powerful punch (and kick)
If you can’t hit your opponent hard enough to knock him out, knock him down, or at least hurt him, your wing chun is practically useless for self defense. The traditional methods of developing power are the wall bag and the long pole. Both are good, but should be supplemented by the heavy bag and plyometric training for explosive power.
Another thing you can do is practice your punches and kicks underwater in the ocean or in a pool. You should spend as much time training for power as boxers and kick boxers do, which is quite a lot.
Practice your wing chun against other styles
Leung Ting had the right idea when he started emphasizing in his “lat sao” program having your partner use or at least simulate the most common non wing chun techniques. However there is a world of difference practicing your techniques against a wrestler or boxer versus another student who has never studied wrestling or boxing but is just pretending. You have to get out there and practice with and against other arts in order to be able to fight against them.
Another cool training method is to practice chi sao with one partner using wing chun only and the other switching back and forth from wing chun to non wing chun techniques.
Practice with full contact at least a few times
This is good to do especially if you have never been in a real fight as an adult. You can use head and face protectors and still get most of the benefit. Obviously there are some risks, and you should get a clean bill of health from a physician, you should only fight against someone your own size and weight, and there should be a referee and first aid available.
If you have already been in a number of fights, or are a bouncer, you can skip this part, as you already have experienced full contact. Safer alternatives, which are really good exercises but aren’t as good as the real thing, are to do sparring with light to medium contact, full contact sparring, but wearing full head gear and body armor, just to get used to hitting a moving person full contact.
Train to develop enough endurance to fight at full speed and power for at least 3 minutes
Although most street fights last less than 30 seconds, you have to be prepared for multiple attackers and for the occasional opponent who is either a trained fighter or is a tough street fighter with a granite chin.
The so called “honey badger” exercise develops the exact kind of endurance that you need, and is also a decent substitute for full contact fights. This badger exercise simulates a situation where the wing chun man is being attacked by someone who is on PCP or crack and is impervious to pain. In order to get the full effect of the exercise you have to pretend really hard that this is happening. One goal of the exercise is to bring your adrenalin up to where it would be in a real fight.
The exercise is done using the narrow dimensions of the training room. Starting in the middle of the room, one partner, who is pretending to be the crazy crack head, holds a kick shield. The other partner steps in with as powerful a front kick as he can muster. After landing the kick the other partner raises the shield to shoulder height and continues to step in.
The wing chun man then punches the pad as fast as he can, but with all punches being full power. It is very important for the wing chun man to keep the form of his techniques as perfect as possible, as this teaches him to keep his wing chun techniques clean under pressure. While the wing chun man is punching, the opponent continues to advance, despite the heavy barrage of punches until he has forced the wing chun man against the wall. At this point the wing chun man switches to elbows and throws maybe a dozen full power elbows, then switches to knees and throws maybe 10 full power knees.
All of these techniques are done as fast as possible while still keeping full power and perfect form. Finally,, the wing chun man use both hands on the pad to violently throw his opponent back towards the center of the room.
The action then repeats without any break, except that this time the wing chun man starts the attack by kicking with the other leg. The action continues for anywhere form 90 seconds to three minutes. This is obviously very arduous and you have to have a clean bill of health from a physician and someone in the room should be trained in CPR, but IMHO, this is the best method of building endurance while simultaneously safely simulating a real fight.