Friday, October 14, 2011

WingChun is really effective in a full-contact fight against other styles?

Note: This is a very long article. It will take you some time to finish reading it with full understanding. It took me even longer to write this. If you find this topic interesting or have your own thoughts on this topic, by all mean share it. One thing I want to note though, if you can read this article again after your first read, I promise 
that you will have some different thoughts from the initial one you get. Enjoy!

It's been a while since I wrote, I have been very busy with other things in life. I have been doing a lot of Martial Arts training these days not only because I love it, but it also makes me feel better and more grateful for what I am physically capable of doing. I have felt great and honored to learn from some of the best martial artists in my life, and it enables me to look at martial arts from different perspectives and helps me to find a path suitable for my own growth in this journey.

I trained and competed Muay Thai for 7 years, I was fortunate to have been guided by some of the best masters like Bunkerd and Jongsanan Fairtex, Jasper & Eric Tayaba and Yiaa 'The Bull' Mua. Although my strength and passion are in the art of Muay Thai, I do find all Martial Arts fascinating. Therefore, I got into the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the great School of Renzo Gracie, and Wing Chun under Nicholas Gregory of  the great Sifu Leo Au Yeung (One of the best in HK and Europe). In between, I have studied Judo, Aikido and Eskrima for a very short period of time. 

Like many of the people out there who continuously debate about style vs style, I also can't help comparing all  of the styles I have done. Although I have to admit that sometimes the debates are ego-driven, oftenly it is a healthy and thought provoking discussion intended to search for what's personally true. 

Now we are all well aware of combat sports such as cage fighting that claims to be the closest to a real fight scenario, why not putting these great art forms into the test? Now that we have seen techniques from Boxing, Muay Thai, Karate, Wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu shining through in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, why haven't we seen the techniques of Wing Chun being used and applied there?

Is Wing Chun really effective in the cage, ring or any full-contacted fighting competition? This is a very interesting question. First of all, I am not claiming that I know the truth, I can only speak from my personal experience of the art. Second of all, the topic of whether MMA rule is fair for Wing Chun or not can go out the windows for the purpose of this discussion. Just think of it this way, it's not about allowing striking to the eyes, groins or the back of the head or not, these are just excuses for losers. A real master's skill is demonstrated by the way he moves, evades and attack using what he knows, it is his ability to create the situation where he can choose to strike the eyes, groins or the back of the head or not while keeping himself safe that makes him the elite fighter. Therefore, wing chun can still compete in a regulated fight competition as long as it allows wing chun to apply its principle and theory and utilize most of its techniques. So, why haven't we seen Wing Chun in the sport yet?

In order to answer this question, I am going to look at a few different things about full-contact fights in general and we will go from there.

A lot of the schools of Wing Chun out there will teach you lots of techniques such as rapid chain punching, trapping techniques in Chi Sao scenario and various blocks and strikes. They all claim the techniques will work and you practice over and over until you think you have gotten it. You know that in theory, Wing Chun should work against any styles because this and that, or it will only work in a street fight because of this and that. However, at the end of the day, nothing gets proved. A lot of Wing Chun practitioners even cross-train other styles just to be more 'well-rounded'. This is all too common to see because they over-analyze fights based on the techniques they have acquired. What determines a better fighter and a better style is actually pretty simple. It is about how easy that style is for its practitioners to be good at applying its theory and principle during the fight; and it is also about how good the fighter of that style is at applying the principle as well. If a fighter who applies his fighting style fully, executing his techniques rightly yet still get defeated by an opponent with similar physiques and strength, then we can conclude that it is the flaw of the style that causes the defeat. However, since we haven't seen any Wing Chun techniques being applied in Mixed Martial Arts, we can't say whether Wing Chun will work or not. We will look at a few scenarios in a real fight and analyze the potentials and challenges for Wing Chun to shine. Then it's up to the individuals to want to step up the plate by putting Wing Chun on the map.    

So at the start of the fight where two combatants initiate physical contact, like the picture below:

What have we noticed? 

One person is using his reach to strike the other person while keeping himself out of the reach. This requires quickness, explosiveness and relaxation. 

Now lets look at the Wing Chun's punch:

Those who have practiced Wing Chun will be able to tell you that Wing Chun punch comes from the center line with no shoulder twist. Therefore, the range of attack is much less than the punches from Boxing or kickboxing. Now, the effectiveness of Wing Chun Punch is beyond doubt, due to the way Wing Chun generates its punching power, it can deliver a devastating strike at much closer distance that even heavy weight boxers can't deliver, it can shatter jaws with one strike from angles that is odd and hard to block. However, it requires an even higher level of total body relaxation. Although it can be achieved through hard training, it is the level of relaxation much harder to obtain and to maintain during a real fight. My reason is as follow:

1. Due to the fact that Wing Chun punch is much shorter, it requires the practitioner to battle to close the distance. When fighting against a very mobile boxer, it can be quite a battle itself, needless to say doing it while keeping absolute physical relaxation.

2. Unlike boxers who can throw their punches with relatively relaxed body (but not the level of relaxation required by Wing Chun) as a result of finding their favorite range of attack, Wing Chun practitioner needs much higher level of mental and physical training to be able to adapt to fighting with unfamiliar range while still keeping their total relaxation.

3. Being at that level of total body relaxation in the safe environment such as during Chi Sao is completely different from being totally relaxed in a real fight in front of a big crowd with lots of cameras. If one has ever put himself in such environment before, he will not know what its like to be in there. Trust me, I have fought in ring myself, so I know.

Now lets look at a different situation during a fight, which I call closed-range grappling. Let's take a look at the following situations:


Notice anything in common?

In all 3 cases, the person being pressured against the cage are somewhat relaxed, which enables them to execute their next counter move. However, they are still offering a lot of resistance against the opponents to prevent themselves from being totally taken over.

Now if you ask any experienced Wing Chun instructor about how to fight in this situation, I am sure most of them will offer you great techniques that work, especially those trapping and striking techniques that Wing Chun is famous for. They will even ask you to simulate that situation by grappling them against the wall and then you will be blown away by how easy it is for them to apply Wing Chun principle and knock you out on the ground. Yet still, nobody has ever done it the wing chun way in a real cage fight. So what's missing here?

Again, my personal experience with Wing Chun training has made me believe that the answer is within the ability to maintain that total body relaxation even in this frustrating situation. In technique demos, the instructors can easily obtain that level of total body relaxation from their trusted partners, but can they still maintain that relaxation in a real clinch fight in front of millions of people watching while putting their egos on the line? How to stay with such body relaxation when someone physically forces himself upon you not only to prevent from being taken over but also setting yourself for the deadly wing chun counter move (that requires this type of relaxation)? It may sound easy, but feel free to try it with a partner and you will know how hard it is. When our body is tense even at the slightest, we lose our ability to sense the movement of opponent effectively, it also greatly reduces the effectiveness of wing chun technique.

Then it comes to the situation of take downs and ground fighting. Here are two of the common yet typical ways to take down opponents in MMA -- Double Leg and Single Leg.

If we pay attention to these take-down techniques, it requires explosiveness, correct execution of the movement and great timing. Although it is less about using physical strength to do a take down, it still requires quite a lot of physical struggles when opponents have great balance too. Therefore, you can safely bet that a great wrestler's take down is always going to be quick, explosive and physically strong.

So how is Wing Chun going to fight against a wrestler with world-class take-down skills? Well again, technique for technique, there is always a counter for every attack. Any Wing Chun instructors will be able to counter any single take downs in demonstrations using Wing Chun principle. Yet on the other hand, so can an Aikido master, so can a Taekwando Sensai as long as it is technique for technique demo. However, in a real fight what determines the winner of this battle is the following element:

1. The mastery of the fundamentals of the techniques of both combatants

2. The ability to set up the execution of the technique. In other words, it is not the technique itself that works, it is how you set it up that makes the technique works in that particular exchange.

3. The ability to transition into a different technique when the initial technique is met with counter.

In my opinion, 2 and 3 really separates the elite fighters from the ordinaries. I have no doubt that Wing Chun techniques are effective and deadly, how well they can master point 2 and 3 will determine how successful they are against wrestlers or any other styles. Moreover, point 2 and 3 can't be done without constant practice with full force. The reason why wrestling techniques, Jiu Jitsu techniques and Muay Thai techniques are so effective in a real fighter is because those techniques have been done for years in full contact scenario. In the case of Wing Chun, the truth mastery of its technique is obtained no differently neither. Without going through the process, one can never achieve the total relaxation in all situations and therefore the technique is going to be flawed.

Therefore, the question becomes --Can we be totally relaxed yet remain strong at all time in any kinds of fight?

This question is for you to think about. Having the ability to stay totally relaxed at all time is the key to determine how successful a Wing Chun expert will do against experts of other styles. It is the key reason of how he knocks out the boxer in their first contact; or it is the key reason of how he fails to prevent the wrestler from closing in; It is the key reason of how he delivers that bone crushing, penetrating strike from inches away, or it is the key reason of how his strikes end up like mosquito bites with no damages; It is also the key reason of how he successfully applies the wing chun principle in any stage of the fight; or it is also the key reason of how he fails to even try to display anything he has trained for.

Hence, the answer of whether Wing Chun is going to work or not in a full-contact fight has to depend on whether the Wing Chun expert is able to bring the fight to his familiar territory or not. The only way for him to do so is by being completely relaxed, light and sensitive at all time while staying strong and unbreakable. If he can do that, he will win the fight without even breaking a sweat. If at any moment he loses his relaxation and gets tense, he will be defeated, i mean badly. So in my opinion, if you haven't achieve the mastery of being totally relaxed during the fight, don't even think about using Wing Chun, don't even mix Wing Chun with other styles.

Trust me, it is not easy to obtain such level of relaxation without constantly applying yourself in full contact situation. Only through continuous training that level of physical ability and mental confidence can be obtained. However, you will experience failures, ego-crushing blows and self-doubts, are you willing to face it or rather stay in the comfort of your own dojo and never look further? This is what I think why there has not been much presence of Wing Chun or other traditional Martial Arts in the world of  competitive full-contact fights. The techniques of Wing Chun itself are effective and it can work, but how to make it work in a real cage fight requires training that is geared more specifically towards full contact drills for getting better adapted to fighting opponents that don't chi sao. Unless they are seriously trained to fight other styles in full contact situation and evolve, it will be a long way for them to compete against those arts at the highest level, especially when the techniques of other styles are evolving as the result of constantly putting themselves to the test.

I believe any skills and abilities can be learned and trained for. First of all, it is up to the person to recognize what makes sense or not before he even starts training for it. Therefore, you can either keep telling yourself what your ego whats to hear and not progressing, or put yourself out there to get beaten up but learn and grow.

Thank you!

PS: I wrote this because I have been training a lot of wing chun lately. It is hard and unnatural for me, therefore it requires a lot of hard work. I want to present my thoughts on Wing Chun fighting out there for more discussions. This is purely on Wing Chun techniques in a full-contact cage fight environment against other styles, it has nothing to do with the discussion of street fight vs regulated combat sports. I have written a second article about which styles should you choose, if interested, please continue reading here!


  1. This is a thoughtful treatment of wing chun's applications/applicability that does not degenerate into a "wing chun is the best, and if it doesn't work it's because your wing chun sucks" diatribe. The relaxation of which you speak is very very hard to achieve, whether in martial arts or in any endeavor. For that reason, wing chun is still deeply Chinese in its emphasis on cultivation and perfectibility in expression (like in calligraphy), and is temperamentally at odds with the kinds of mechanically more straightforward training and styles that cage fighters tend to gravitate towards. Thanks for taking this time to pen your analysis.

  2. Excellent post and an enjoyable read.

  3. Thank you for the comments. The topic of relaxation is very interesting and worth investigating. Can this level of relaxation be achieved? Well, we don't know yet. The only way to find out is by putting the style to the test and develop training methods for it.

  4. Very insightful. I hope to one day train with you and Nico. Take care.

  5. Hmm.. AFAIK, wing chun have many grappling techniques as well along with kicking techniques which can help in a street fight or a full contact fight. The thing is that you need to learn when to execute which move smartly and beat the opponent.

    P.S.: This blog is awesome. I really appreciate the effort you put into creating this blog and writing articles.

  6. Wise words and logical. Trancends method from style.

  7. "However, you will experience failures, ego-crushing blows and self-doubts--"

    Indeed. This isn't new to some of us at all. Doing alive training with other styles from more restricted to less restricted sparring types, it is indeed difficult.

    I'd like to mention that every single time one trains Wing Chun, it's important to work the fundamental skills that make up the possibilities of understanding fighting and getting it to work: timing, distance, generating power and the like. Of course, if you have the sense from other systems already, it isn't as big of a deal. For total beginners it is. It prepares one for the moment when you face someone from another art later on. Preferrably a hobbyist for the first encounter and probably many more times to follow.

    Nice thoughts in any case. Experience against others is what I think we mostly lack. Even though I can hit a hook or a straight that hurts quite a bit, one of the biggest differences is that I don't use it like a boxer or a kickboxer, since I'm not one. That's why eventually one has to step to get used to other tactics. How the opponent tries to lure you into his game. Then, as I am practicing myself, one has to learn the tactics of the opponent, see the strengths and weaknesses in general and in specific in the fighters you train with.

    Going a bit off the tangent, so I'll end it abruptly right about here. Nice text.

  8. Hi, EXCELLENT article. You just wrote exactly what is missing in Wing Chun....getting dirty, training and drilling the moves against non compliant partners. I really beleive Wing Chun works and can be applied (and has been by Alan Orr's team) in the ring, out of it or wherever. But to achieve that...we need more sweat. Congratulations for the article.

  9. Very insightfull article. You call the main reasons why wing chun is so dissapointing in full contact fights.
    I agree with you the state of mind for succes with WC is extremly difficult to get. I believe it is only for a few.
    In my opinion wing chun people tend to be sometimes very rigid in their fights. This is also due to the fact that it is important to stay in the typical bodystructure. I know this has many advantages (body allignment strong structure etc) but it has also some disadvantages against a non cooperative opponent. Interesting in this field are the inqueries from to persons from Singapore. . Maybe interesting to watch.For example the dummy form gives you good posture etc. but there is a cadenz in the movemnts . In between these motions a good boxer can punch you. If the movements are more natural they are more easy to do under pressure. Even punch power will increase. The style will become a lot more effective for a greater number of peolple. Sorry for all the orthodoxy masters.
    a former kyokushin karate practioner and now wing chunner

  10. I know this article is a little old but have you tried or looked at Duncan Leung's Applied Wing Chun? Every student and school teach differently. Duncan Leung's was a student of Ip Man and teaches a version that is more practical in real life situations.


Post Your Comment Here

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...