Broadly speaking, why do so many wing chun practitioners we see online appear to be ineffective and frankly incompetent when attempting to spar or fight?
If you’re not a wing chun practitioner, then you may be unfamiliar with the premise of my question. Just do a Youtube search for “wing chun vs,” and you will see a litany of videos where the wing chun guy gets taken down, punched, kicked, and otherwise manhandled by their opponent. Or conversely, you’ll see videos posted by wing chun supporters which shows the wing chun practitioner overpowering a clear novice of xyz style. These videos are then used to prove wing chun beats xyz style.
I’m a big believer that martial art style is largely irrelevant with regards to fighting. To see videos like xyz style vs abc style, to me, is pointless. What matters is how you train whatever style you adopt. So, instead of looking at a style and saying “Which style is the best,” rather ask yourself, “Which school trains the best and most realistic in their respective styles?” As a wing chun practitioner, I will speak mostly about how wing chun is trained and taught. I’ve studied under three different Ip Man lineages of Wing Chun and visited numerous schools. The common theme I find among wing chun schools, compared to say boxing or muay thai, is that wing chun schools train their students to be reactive vice pre-emptive. Wing Chun theory states to maintain forward pressure (not force) against your opponent and where there is no obstacle, go forward, attack. Wing Chun is intended to be a very aggressive, forward moving, attack focused system. So, when in a fight or sparring, why do so many practitioners just stand in the classic wing chun stance with arms and fingers extended waiting for their opponent to attack? Why are we reactive instead of pushing the attack?
Again, this goes back to how wing chun is trained. Typically, in most schools, students drill over and over responses to incoming attacks, but rarely how to press the attack. Pak sao/da is in response to an incoming straight punch, tan da in response to a wild hook, gum sao in response to a low line attack, on and on it goes. Combat science tells us that anytime you are reactive and reacting to your opponent, you’re at a disadvantage and one step behind your opponent. Essentially, if you must react to your opponent then he’s started the race first and you must now catch up. You will always be one step behind because in order to react, you must see the attack first, interpret it, then signal your brain to react and react with the proper response. Hence, this was the impetus behind Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do to intercept, to stop, to pre-emptively attack. In reality, this is not an unfamiliar concept within wing chun, but unfortunately most wing chun schools do not practice pre-emptive striking, especially in combinations.
Any boxing gym you go to will typically train you to be both pre-emptive and reactive depending on the situation. Yes, sometimes your opponent catches you off guard and you must react or get hit. It’s too late at that time to be pre-emptive. However, typically these gyms will train you to be pre-emptive with your jab to set up your cross or some other combination. They will also teach to you to react to your opponents attack with a slip and hit or bob and weave. Conversely, wing chun schools don’t typically teach student to pre-empt with their attack. The only combination punching that is typically practiced is the classic chain punch (a series of short straight punches). The purpose of pre-emptive striking is not to just hit your opponent once, but also to anticipate his response, so you can hit him again. The pre-emptive strike is intended to end the fight, yes, but if that doesn’t happen, it must set up your follow on attack. So, pre-emptive striking must be practiced in real combination and mix ups. It’s not pre-emptive if your opponent knows it’s coming. If all your punches are coming in a straight line down the center and your opponent knows you’ll continue to punch in the same manner, then how can you pre-empt his response? You must confuse and bewilder your opponent so he doesn’t know what to expect next. This is pre-emptive striking.
In addition to pre-emptive striking, practitioners must also be aware of the rules of sparring or whatever the competition and the disadvantages therein. What I mean is if you’re sparring or fighting with boxing gloves on, then that poses certain limitations to your utilization of wing chun. Effectively attempting to use boxing gloves with wing chun is like playing baseball with a football. They just don’t work together. Boxing gloves are designed for boxing. The rules of boxing such as legal and illegal blows are designed for the sport of boxing. If a wing chun practitioner attempts to fight a boxer under the rules of boxing, he puts himself in an overwhelming disadvantage. Obviously, with boxing gloves, the wing chun man can’t grab (lop sao), pak sao will be more difficult, visibility reduced due to seeing between the gloves, your punches naturally must be wider to get around his gloves, punching power and speed are reduced (which matters if you’re throwing short range punches), and most importantly sensitivity of the hands. It’s impossible to feel an opponent’s energy under the layers of your boxing glove and apply trapping unless they are using excess force. Most trained boxers will only use the amount of force necessary.
Mixed martial arts is very similar. Although, in a MMA competition, the wing chun man would have a better chance than in boxing. However, he would still be at a high disadvantage. Before I continue, let me say I’m not one to make excuses or explain away legitimate faults in anything. If wing chun doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. I won’t try to justify it, but like I said before it’s not the style that doesn’t work, but how we train it. So, in a MMA competition, again, I would say the wing chun man is at high disadvantage. First of all, 90% of his kicks are illegal as wing chun kicks are primarily to the knee joint and groin. So, now he’s left to utilize round kicks and mid front kicks as in Muay Thai. Secondly, most wing chun systems do not teach an effective defense against a takedown and if one is taken down, how to either get up or fight on the ground. This is generally just left out of the curriculum altogether. So, now we have wing chun losing in kicking range and grappling range. Regardless of how great wing chun punching is, it will be nullified either by an opponent utilizing long range kicking or short range grappling.
So, I would say, if you want to do wing chun, do wing chun, if you want to do mma, then do mma, if you want to do boxing, do boxing, but don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, stop trying to use only wing chun within the rules of combat sports. I’ve been guilty of it too and it’s tempting. Don’t get me wrong, competition and sparring are important to improve and get better, but there is a smart way to do it.
Wishing you peace and compassion.
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