Part Two – Self Defence
“Combatives represents a physical manifestation of force — a sledgehammer, not a jeweler’s mallet. Combatives is sometimes denigrated as ‘too basic’ by martial recreationalists because of the simplicity and the intentionally limited number of techniques.
Kelly Mcann – Black Belt Magazine, November, 2016
For those who know or have trained with me they understand that good Self Protection comes high on my personal reason for why I train the way I do. Don’t get me wrong, the main reason I train Wing Chun specifically is because I enjoy it. I enjoy the constant struggle for perfection, the interesting people it attracts and the Chinese culture and language etc. But Self Protection is the reason I changed from Tae Kwon Do to Wing Chun in the first place and good Self Defence is still high on my personal agenda.
So what about Wing Chun for Self Defence?
In my own opinion this is where Wing Chun’s strengths lie and the core focus of my own teachings and practice. If you know anything about good Self Protection (The preferred modern term) or Combatives (see quote above) then you will know the physical aspects of a personal assault begins at very close range, sometimes referred to as Close Quarter. This assault is also explosive and probably won’t last long (this is only an assumption, not a rule or an excuse not to keep yourself combat fit. And don’t give me that, “I only need to train to last less than ten seconds, so why train so hard?” Please….) There is also a good chance it will involve more than one person and have the deathly shadow of weapons coming into play. It will be brutal, fast, bloody and if things go physical it will have a high risk of injury and or even death.
Notice how serious things have got? Notice the emotion.
If you still think that Martial Arts, Fighting and Self Protection are one and the same, then please listen to this podcast by one of my Martial heroes, Iain Abernethy where Iain discusses there similarities, differences and fundamental training methods.
What skills are needed in good Self Protection?
Unbeknown to many is that good Self Protection also has certain rules of engagement or concepts. These rules do not discern what you can or cannot do in the melee of violent combat but simple steps that you can follow to give you a better chance of survival without being arrested or going home in an ambulance or worse. I’m not going to go into massive details about these concepts (I may do in another post) but most good Self Protection or Combative’s instructors will use a similar basic set of ideas. They will usually go something like this, and this is just a very basic outline and each of those steps are huge subjects in themselves:
Be aware of your environment and those in it at all times.
Protect your personal space.
Hit first if you feel your life (or the life of someone else) is in danger.
Keep hitting until you can escape.
If you were to break Self Protection training down into parts, then the bulk of your time would be more wisely spent on numbers 1 and 2. These would be deemed as “Soft Skills.” From fear and adrenal control, to situational awareness and the art of conflict management. Soft skills will always be the first port of call in surviving an aggressive encounter, with the key aim being to escape at all costs. In short it all starts with being assertive.
“Learning to be assertive means learning to recognise and telling others what it is you want. It is essential then, that you know what that is. A habit of automatically thinking of others whenever you are presented with a choice will surely blunt this. You, like everyone else, have the right to have your feelings known, and you also have the right to have those feelings respected. Remember, if you need time to make up your mind about the things that you want, in most situations you can and should take that time.”
Taken from the article – Assertiveness: The First Line of Defence by Sifu Alan Gibson.
The subject of Soft skills are huge in scope and will not only change depending on what country you are in but they also move with the times and attitudes of the current climate.
If you have an interest in this kind of thing then spend some time watching the video below. This an edited excerpt of a workshop given by Urban Combatives founder Lee Morrison at my Wing Chun school. I have trained with Lee and his Urban Combatives group many times and attended many seminars on the same subjects. It is quite a long clip but well worth the watch, and of course if you ever have the chance to train with Lee or any of his team the I would highly recommend it. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite….
I would also highly recommend the following book by Rory Miller. I guarantee if you are a Wing Chun follower you will see that we already have a great deal of the skill sets needed for close quarter protection. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meditations-Violence-Comparison-Martial-Training/dp/1594391181/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525885088&sr=8-1&keywords=rory+miller+meditations+on+violence
If we go back to the list from above, we are now talking about numbers 3 and 4. The shit has hit the proverbial fan and now it has gone physical, your “soft skills” have failed and you now need to employ your “hard skills” to survive and prevail. And know this, if it does “go physical” then no one really “wins”, everyone loses and is left damaged either physically, mentally or even financially. There is no one there to help you if you are losing or have lost and have sustained injuries. (A good reason to have a good understanding of the soft skill of first aid.)
Sparring by its nature of exchanging blows may actually be a hindrance in the combatives or self protection game. Because real world violence needs an asymmetric approach with the aim of instilling a mindset of all out destruction. Not a back and forth idea of play. I believe that Wing Chun fits more closely to this concept of constant forward pressure than the back and forth sparring model. Of course sparring can play its part in everyone’s training especially concerning mobility and learning to take a hit.
I strongly believe that Wing Chun skills and concepts fit better in the above scenario than the sporting based one. I don’t know if it is historically accurate to say that Wing Chun was “designed” for Self Defence or for a fair stand up fight as I don’t know enough about that subject. And the more I look the more I find the similarities between Wing Chun, at least the way i have been taught, and modern Combatives not of course in its training methods but in it’s concepts. I fully understand that Wing Chun doesn’t have all the answers but by training in Wing Chun you are definitely enhancing your Combative skill not hindering it. I intend on posting on this subject more in the future but to highlight a few ways Wing Chun fits with modern day self protection hard skills.
Wing Chun excels at close quarter combat. In Self Protection this is known as “conversation” range. We know how to get good powerful strikes from this range and also how to counter and defend if needs be.
Gross motor skills
In Wing Chun most people would come to believe that what are practising are “fine motor skills” well I don’t agree. Yes in the beginning they may seem fine in nature but the techniques when used correctly become larger. In our way of training we are always encouraged to do the full motion of the action and not to “pull” techniques.
Simple effective strikes and counters that can work reactively and proactively
Again in my understanding Wing Chun is all about the straight punch and how we can execute it without being stopped. We use the concept of attack and defence simultaneously, never looking to simply defend. We have closer range elbows if needs be and low kicks to disorientate.
Skills that can work under stress and disoreintation.
Using sensitivity training we learn to “listen” with our contact reflexes to what is going on as oppose to relying on our, possibly confused visual senses.
Inclusion of dirty tactics
If you apply the concept of “nearest weapon, nearest target,” then all areas of the body can be used to attack with whatever weapon is available.
Here’s a quick clip of how we believe that our Wing Chun striking method is gross motor as oppose to fine motor:
If you want to really take things a step further then it would be wise to research the modus operandi of the modern criminal or your country and understand how he works, why he works, where he works and how to avoid him. And if you can’t avoid him, how to protect your personal space and talk him down. And if you can’t talk him down, how to hit him with a devastating pre-emptive strike. And if he is still a threat, how to change your strikes into a continuous barrage of asymmetrical violence until you can safely escape. You could also look at statistical evidence in relation to your age, gender and location. Artiface or deception are other skills that are essential to the Combatives/Self Protection practitioner. Every little helps. Lastly and probably most important is too have a good understanding of is the law of self defence in your country or one you are visiting
Wing Chun does not necessarily have all the answers though, a brutal ground game is another must have for a good combative skillset. Regular practice with improvised weapons is another. But Wing Chun could contain all these things and more if that is the route you want to take your training.
Of course there is a lot more to good Self Protection then the concepts mentioned above. If you want to become adept at handling violence without actually experiencing any in reality, then you better train very hard and focus on “reality role playing” drills as a massive part of your training and make sure to always be “combat fit” ready to explode into action at any time.
So where does this leave our beloved Wing Chun?
Well there is another huge aspect of Martial Arts training which often gets ignored. This I believe is the reason most people choose the traditional Martial Arts over Combat Sport. They simply enjoy it more! They enjoy the self discovery that Martial Arts bring. The constant striving to be better. The technical and fine details that need to be addressed to get things right. They enjoy the culture of their chosen arts country of origin and enjoy meeting the type of people that the Martial Arts attract. Or they may simply like to let off steam a few times a week in safe and comfortable environment.
If you fit into this category (and I do!) then good for you. Your goals are simple and easy to achieve. If you are enjoying your training then keep on doing what you are doing and keep exploring and refining your understanding of your art or skill. If you are not enjoying your training then find something else to do. This question of enjoyment is such an important one.
Some students may like to take things further and explore some more combative training or some full contact sparring, and this should be encouraged as sparring can be a great way of testing techniques in a real world environment.
So in summary it is really quite simple. If you do train Wing Chun then look deep inside and find the real reason why? If it is for pure enjoyment then great. If it is for Self Protection, then make sure your instructor knows what he/she is talking about and that they include realistic scenario training, combat fitness, psychology of violence, adrenal control and a good understanding of the law in regards to self defence. And if it is sport fighting, then understand that you may need to cross train in other arts to make it work in a rules based scenario. So find a dedicated club that can train you in that arena. But do not underestimate your Wing Chun, I know people in this game who are amazing fighters, explosive, skilful and dedicated to taking control of any situation. And I really do believe that if the Wing Chun community wants to make a name for itself on the MMA scene then they better stop disagreeing on things and let their hands do the talking.
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