July 16, 2019

Wing Chun A Close-Range Science of Self-defense

Excerpted from Jason’s upcoming book, Wing Chun for the Modern Warrior

It’s well noted from the writings of self-defense and dueling experts of the past few centuries that there were a particular group of fighters to be avoided.  These less than esteemed, but highly feared men were called rough-and-tumble fighters.  Indeed, the highly skilled and cultivated of the day, including the great Colonel Monstery, that renowned duelist and warrior of the 19th Century, were less than enamored with these fighters, considering them barely above the ranks of savages.  But feared they were.  Monstery himself advised against ever fighting these men.  

This should draw our attention because the masters of the past, unlike today, were not dealing with sport rules for the most part.  These were men that fought with bare fists, with knives, swords, and sticks.  These were the type of men that make contemporary manly men look like sissies.  Many of today’s so-called fighters are, for better or worse, sport fighters and they are conditioned to fight according to rules.  These duelists, quite naturally, sometimes died from their competitions so it’s fair to say, in the very least, that they had a view of combative things that should speak truth to us across the decades and centuries as we face an ever more violent society.  

So, what was it that engendered such fear amongst the highest and best of the warrior elite from these uncouth barbarians?  Well, simply put, they were savage in-close fighters by all accounts.  They were eye-gougers and head-butters; they were foul inside warriors that attacked the jaw, the eyes, the neck and throat.  They held and hit.  And they hit low.  They had no regard for decency.  They would even bite whenever and wherever they could.  Yes…this was a class of fighters in that day.  Ruthless, savage and in your face.  As was noted, to win a fight against these men often still relegated the victor to some sort of serious injury.  They were best to be left alone.  Think of the famous fight between Bill “The Butcher” Poole and John Morrissey in New York in 1854.  No one wanted to fight such men.

Well, my friends, as we seek to engage contemporary threats it’s best that we live in the real world.  We should note that these past duelists were often concerned with honor in combat.  Those men were living in a time when people had a code and that code effected even the way men behaved in combat.  Incidentally, it was noted in newspaper accounts of the day that some Chinese immigrants, when fighting, fought a very “dirty” game too – much like the rough-and-tumble group.  We can have a debate on the reasons for the West’s collapse of virtue and morality some other time, but it’s unthinkable for the modern warrior to insist it isn’t happening.  When I was growing up in a poor town in Upstate New York where there were plenty of fights among the young men, myself included, it was unthinkable to hit a downed opponent or someone who said, “Uncle.”  The witnesses were sure to intercede – they would police themselves, if you will – if one party continued to put it on a boy unable and/or unwilling to defend himself.  

Those days are, sadly, regrettably, as gone as most of the vestiges of old America.  Like I said, you can say what you want about the changes of this country in the last 20-30 years.  You can say that we are stamping out injustices by eradicating the old moral codes.  You are welcome to that opinion but there can be no denying that this is a more dangerous place than it was when I was a child.  This isn’t the same land where an 8-year-old boy could go off from home for the entire day, come home only when the street lights came on, and the parents not worry.  That would get most parents arrested today.  It’s unthinkable.  Because everyone is doing what’s right in their own eyes, pornography, violence, and lack of respect for authority rule the day.  People seem to have confused liberty with anarchy and, thus, they’ve replaced rule of law with lawlessness.  All of this, quite naturally, means that if you are in a fight, you are much less likely to be in a fair fight than in the past.  

It’s in this world that we live and it’s in this world that a person must consider his or her self-defense method.  

And it’s here that I wish to tell you that Wing Chun should be your choice. It should be your choice exactly because it’s a science of infighting, which is to say that it’s a logical and comprehensive system very much like what the rough-and-tumblers were doing a century ago.  This alone should make any warrior stand up and consider Wing Chun over other systems.  

A number of years ago a martial arts teacher from a nearby school paid me a visit.  He identified himself as a grandmaster.  This was because, as he explained, he had modified the original Karate system he’d learned so much that it was an entirely new system, thus granting him the coveted title grandmaster.  For the next several days afterwards, incidentally, I identified myself, and expected to be addressed by one and all, as “Your Worshipfulness-ship.”  That was, of course, something like what Hans Solo called Princess Leia in his first go-round with her on the big, bad Death Star.  We all had lots of fun.  

Sorry. I digress.  

Anyway, aside from delusions of grandeur, my erstwhile visitor told me all about his vaunted system and how thorough it was in dispatching one and all.  It was a complete system, he said.  How complete?  Well, he counted some 1200 techniques.  But then, without any prompting at all from me, he declared, “But don’t get me wrong…in a real fight I wouldn’t mess around – I’d poke him in the eye and break his knee.”


Now, naturally, one wonders what all the other 1,198 techniques are that he won’t use or, in his own words, mess around with.  One wonders how much free time a man has when he can devote his life to the mastery of 1,198 techniques that are “messing around”.  Perhaps he could have devoted such time and energies to other endeavors more productive – like carpentry or landscaping or winning and holding Euro-Asia in Risk.  Or, if he really wanted to waste time, he could have become a writer.  But I digress again.  Quite sorry.  

This seems to be the majority report, however.  Every conversation I have with martial artist, boxer, MMA dude, and civilian alike, there is the same refrain: “If I’m in a real fight…I’ll go after the eyes and all that stuff…”  This seems, in my humble estimation, as ubiquitous as the proverbial, “the check’s in the mail” or, when I’d ask a girl for her phone number, “…just give me yours…I’ll call you.”  (That only happened once or twice.  Seriously.)  

The truth of the matter is, though, that men and women hardly ever rise to the level of their challenge – especially in a violent encounter.  You’re only as good as your practice.  And if you never practice something, there’s little to no chance that you’ll pull it off effectively in a fight.  And this is exactly where Wing Chun should interest everyone and anyone interested in seriously protecting themselves.  I mean, if you want to break boards, go break boards.  That’s fun.  I get it.  Plus, the school makes money from you having to buy all those innocent, never bothered anyone pieces of wood.  And if you want to roll around on a mat (and streets and parking lots are full of nice padded mats, right?) then go do that too.  It’s fun.  I understand.  But if you’re thinking of maximum self-protection then don’t kid yourself.  What you master in practice is what you’ll do in a fight.  Wing Chun is a science of the very stuff everyone else says they’re going to do.  It’s that simple.  

Some Basic Facts

When I’m asked about Wing Chun the first thing I tell people is that it’s a fighting science.  Generally, I’m asked this in environments like the office at my school or at a convenience store where someone asks me about the shirt I’m wearing.  You’ll note that you’re hardly ever in a nice, safe, padded environment; you’re generally surrounded by stuff – and hard stuff at that, like counters, tables, windows, cars and pavement.  Besides, if you’re in a padded environment all the time, you’re either insane or a sport fighter.  But I repeat myself again.  

So, we have limited room to move.  That’s very important to understand.  And the room you have to move is wrought with potential dangers.  For example, falling on a mat or getting slammed against a cage doesn’t quite compare to falling down a flight of stairs or striking your precious noggin on the edge of a table.  Wing Chun, therefore, is a science of close-range footwork, pivoting and shifting.  It’s a transportation system designed for the urban jungle, not the ring or cage.  Imagine vintage Tyson moving, coming in fast and using angles – very aggressive but smart too.  Wing Chun footwork is designed to take the fight to the enemy while not letting him face you directly.  It’s a system of angle stepping, shifting and pivoting that seeks to nullify the other guy’s offense while setting up your own.  

Next, it’s a system of attacking and defending the body’s center-mass and most vulnerable targets.  

For example, I often explain Wing Chun to new students with a little demonstration.  I tell them that I’m going to grab their eyes and that they should try and stop me.  Well, this isn’t the garden-variety way most people think to start a fight.  People are generally quite taken aback by this as it seems particularly barbaric.  But to the Wing Chun fighter, dying or being maimed by a criminal is what’s barbaric.  Therefore, any means at our disposal to avoid such is a rather good idea.  Anyway, as I shoot forward, untrained people are rarely quick enough to block or get out of the way of the rapid and economical attack and, in short order, I have thumbs on both eyes (not hurting them, of course…we don’t do that until after they sign up).  If they do manage to avoid the initial burst, they do so with poor mechanical structure. They lean back or pull to the side awkwardly, leaving them off balance – easily pushed or pulled in that unsafe environment of hard objects.  Or they get an arm in the way.  But this is momentary because Wing Chun’s unique in-fighting training drills teaches one to instinctively clear obstructions and move on to the target with minimal fuss.  Perhaps at this point I don’t get the eyes, though.  Maybe it’s the throat, or neck, or driving the jaw back.  Whatever.  Wing Chun teaches you to let them help you hit them.  Indeed, by not fighting force with force, you go where the openings are.  

Anyway, in short order you have an example of why Wing Chun is so effective.  Unlike the rough-and-tumble guys of the past, where they often traded blows, and everyone was injured (kind of like a modern Presidential election) Wing Chun teaches you to control the enemy while hurting him, thus obliterating his ability to respond in kind.  It’s simple, but not easy.  There’s a clear system that’s more comprehensive than just gouging an eye.  After all, if you think you’re just going to poke a guy in the eye, what happens if that’s his plan too?  We remember that this seems to be everyone’s stated goal.  That being the case, our system of self-defense should assist us in not only attacking the enemy’s weakest targets but also in simultaneously defending our own.  This is no small point, incidentally.  If we both walk away maimed and/or blind, I can hardly count that as a victory.  An eye for an eye is hardly a good fighting tactic – in fact, it works once and only once.  

Wing Chun, therefore, is a brilliant close-range system that teaches the simultaneous nullification of your enemy’s attack and the delivery of your own.  It does this with an ingenious methodology that is logically structured and tactically brilliant.  With all due respect to the great Wong Shun Leung, who once remarked that the best form of self-defense would be to become invisible, but if you can’t do that, learn Wing Chun – I’ve always preferred a more effective way of dealing with enemies if possible.  Remember the first Terminator movie?  Now that’s how you deal with an enemy!  Send a life-like homicidal robot back in time to kill his mother.  That’s the ticket!  Of course, that’s rather hard to do considering that you need both a time machine and a homicidal robot.  More still, that whole shebang would likely be rather cost prohibitive too and only rich people would have them (look out Bernie Sanders!!).  Sadly, that being the case, I think Wing Chun is your go-to self-defense method.  

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