Often it is said that what makes Wing Chun different than other arts is that we don’t block, but we cover instead. Well, nowadays, very few martial arts advocate blocking in a fight, everyone covers. When was the last time you saw someone do an overhead Karate block or an outside block to the side? So, why's covering a big deal? What is Wing Chun covering and what makes it different than covering in other styles like Muay Thai and Boxing?
First of all let’s define blocking. Blocking is moving a limb, typically your arm, to meet or stop and incoming attack. Covering is moving a limb and allowing the attack to meet it. There is a difference. Blocking chases and goes toward the attack. Covering just moves to the targeted area and waits for any inbound attack. In boxing, Muay Thai, and mixed martial arts, blocking’s just not that common. What is more common is that these fighters will cover the area that is being targeted, they will bring their arm close to their head to cover that area, they will bring their elbows toward their ribs to guard, etc. So, why do Wing Chun folks love to say “Wing Chun covers, it doesn’t block?”
In the 1960’s and 70’s, covering was revolutionary; so was simultaneous attack and defense. Nowadays, everyone covers; it’s not that big of a deal. Boxers simultaneously attack and defend when they slip a punch to deliver a counter at the same time. MMA fighters simultaneously attack and defend when they duck under a punch for a take down. Thai fighters simultaneously attack and defend when they lean away from a punch while delivering a leg kick at the same time. Simultaneous attack and defense doesn’t mean your defense always has to be a block or cover. This stuff is not rocket science, everyone is doing it. So, what makes Wing Chun covering and simultaneous attack and defense different?
What makes Wing Chun simultaneous attack and defense different from modern combat sports is that we typically will use both hands simultaneously. This is both good and bad. First, this is bad because we extend two hands to perform Tan Da or Pak Da, for example. In this case, both hands must retract at least a little before you can punch or do anything else with your hands. If you can defend by moving your body and punching with one hand (boxing slip and punch), then your other hand is ready to deliver a faster follow-up blow or defend. This is why you cannot Pak Da every punch when someone is chain punching you at full speed. You see, as his punch is retracting, his other punch is already inbound at the same time. When your hands are retracting from Pak Da, you can do nothing until both hands reach some bend in the elbow to allow them to go forward again. By the time your hands retract, his first punch would have also retracted with yours, but his second punch will hit you because it was coming as you were retracting your hands.
So, what’s the advantage in Wing Chun’s simultaneous attack and defense? We know Wing Chun’s simultaneous attack and defense works against a single attack, but in combinations, both hands at the same time cannot move as fast as both hands alternating. However, Wing Chun has two advantages. First, our simultaneous attack and defense works great if you land the attack. If you land the attack then there will likely not be a second punch or attack from your opponent…at least not right away. He will need to recover from the blow first. The second way to nullify a combination attack is to trap. Simultaneous attack and defense works best when one hand can control two of your opponent's hands. If you can control your opponent’s structure or at least 2 limbs, then you can hit him. In fact, this is typically the best time to hit, when your opponent has fewer weapons to use. When both of your opponent's hands are retracted, this is the riskiest time to hit since he can punch with either hand. It’s better to hit when one or both of his hands are occupied doing something else. However, if you cannot trap your opponent and your strike misses, then you’re immediately on the defensive after a missed simultaneous attack and defense.
Now, on the subject of covering. We know Wing Chun is based around the theories of science, math, and geometry in particular. You may never have heard it described this way before, but Wing Chun covering relies on mostly probability theory. What does this mean? What is the most likely attack to be thrown based on the previous attack or defense? For most opponents, the next attack is always the fastest attack assuming your opponent wants to hit you as soon as possible. It means if my opponent throws a jab, what is the next fastest attack he can execute after the jab? Typically another jab because his jab hand is still the closest weapon to his target (you). The next fastest attack is not always the most probable, but is always the most imminent threat. What’s the next fastest after jab? A lead hook. Why? Again, same reason, until another hand or limb is closer than the jab hand, the jab hand will be the most immediate threat. What’s the next fastest? The cross. With the lead jab hand retracting back, the next fastest attack would be a punch with the other arm since arms are faster than the larger muscles in the legs. And we know a straight punch is faster than a hook since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Maybe a rear hook would be the fastest after that, then a lead leg, then a rear leg attack. We can go into the reasons why, but the point is there is always a next fastest attack based on what your opponent just threw. Note that the above example assumes you're in a punching range. If you're at long range, the most probably attack will be a kick as it will reach you sooner than a punch since a punch would require closing the distance first before striking.
Knowing this, you can predict with greater probability what the next attack will be assuming he wants to hit you as soon as possible. This also works if you initiate the attack. For example, if you and your opponent are in matched leads (both orthodox stance or both southpaw), you execute a Pak Da, Paking with your rear hand, trapping his lead arm, punching with your lead hand, and trapping his lead leg with your lead knee. Now, let’s say your Pak was successful and you trapped his lead arm, but you missed the punch because he dodged? What next? What’s his fastest and probable movement to score? His lead arm and leg are temporarily trapped, he’s leaned over a bit to avoid your punch, so his rear hand won’t be much good and he’s too close to kick you. What would you do if you were him? Probably step back to create space, free up you lead weapons, then re-engage. Or maybe you would try a spinning elbow to get out of the trap and also hit. Or maybe you would go for a grab or take down since you’re close. Whatever, the responses, what elements do they have in common?
In the ones I listed here, the common element is that they are all relatively slow (my definition of slow is anything slower than a jab or punch). What is a good target of attack in all the scenarios? If he spins, steps back, or goes for a take down? He’s hunched over, so the upper body is out. Can we attack the lower body? His rear leg is too far away, but his lead leg is here and it’s temporarily trapped. So, why not kick his lead leg? In order to do so, you much create space by pulling your lead leg away and swinging your rear leg around for a low Soh Gerk (hook kick). If he steps back, his lead leg is still the closest target, if he spins, his lead leg will still remain in place. If he goes for the take down, he’ll miss because you would have moved your lead leg back and kicked him on the other side with your rear leg. This is pretty detailed and technical. The point is this is called a set up. You execute one move in order to set up another based on your opponent’s likely response. It’s just we prefer the set up to work on a number of different responses and the most probable responses.
When doing set ups, always assume you’re going to miss the initial attack. If you don’t miss, then the set up will work much easier and you’ll hit the follow up with less effort required. However, if you assume you will hit and base your set up on that assumption, when you miss, you’re likely going head first into a counter. Remember, when you see professional fighters, what percentage of their punches actually land? Even the best fighters land anywhere from 30% to 40% of their punches which means most of them miss. Hence, there is a good probability you’ll miss more than you land.
Boxers and Thai fighters typically cover the head when they punch or kick, but does this always work? No, they still get hit in the head because they can’t cover everywhere. By covering the most probable areas against the most imminent and fastest attacks, you’ll improve your chances of success…probably…
Thank you for reading.
Wishing you peace and compassion.
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