“The other major thing that gives these limited sports martial arts a huge edge over Wing Chun is pure athleticism.”
A few years ago, I did an extended email interview with a guy I’d trained with for a little while. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to train with him too much as this was around the time I had to take a year off due to a shoulder injury.
His was an interesting perspective because he’d trained extensively in MMA before switching to Wing Chun plus he’s a very smart, articulate guy. Because so many online voices are critical of Classical martial arts versus the “MMA style,” I was really curious about why he’d switched and his perspective on Wing Chun’s training methods.
My questions are in red italics.
>>>Beginning of Interview<<<
At the novice level of training, the classes would spend about 45 minutes teaching you basic techniques: the mechanics of a jab, cross, hook, round kick, etc. At the end of the class we’d do some very simple one step sparring for 15 min or so. Similar to what you see in Kung Fu classes. I throw the cross, you slip and counter hook/cross. Something like that.
Students usually only stayed in this foundational phase for a month or two. Then you’d move to the regular classes. The regular classes were structured similarly. We’d spend about 30 minutes going over some combinations or ideas for attack/defense strategy and then we’d spend 30 minutes doing some sparring.
The class would be generally split in half. The people with less experience going to one side of the room and their sparring would still be a sort of one step sparring but random. For example, you launch some combination of attacks. I defend and let you finish, then its my turn. Similar to what we do (in Wing Chun). The more advanced side of the room would be free sparring at 50% – 75% power.
I think the beauty of this gym’s approach was that they designed their classes so that everyone had contact EVERY SINGLE CLASS. It made people good fast. It took away all the pent up desire to go balls to the wall that I’ve seen in other schools where they spar once a week and everyone can’t wait to throw down. It was nice, steady, and progressive.”
During your training, how often did you spar all out? Like, full power.
“We only went all out when we were preparing for fights or competitions.”
What was the nature of your in-between training? That is, did you spar at 75% power or what?
“I’d say 50% – 75% depending on your partners willingness.”
Did you wear head gear? 8 oz gloves?
“16oz gloves for boxing and Muay Thai and I’m pretty sure the MMA gloves were 8-6oz.”
What percentage of your training would you say you did where you were actually getting hit, with or without head gear?
“25% at least. Headgear was personal preference. I’d say less then half wore it. I wore it mostly.”
Jiu Jitsu was structured pretty much the same.
I think sport or not the most effective art is the one that’s tested regularly under high pressure. That’s the one that will work and that is the problem with Kung Fu.”
I’m very interested in this question of whether its necessary to get hit in the head to prepare for fighting. On the one hand, its sort of obvious, but on the other, its clear that its not too good for you, especially considering how unlikely or infrequent the event you’re training for is, plus police and the military successfully train for killing without killing (although there is a “rookie syndrome”.
“Those are really great follow up questions. I wonder if by “rookie syndrome” your referring to the phenomenon of soldiers who make it through the initial combat die off having an extremely fast learning curve and much higher rate of survivability?
I would point out that while soldiers do not kill in their training they are training all day everyday which means two things. One, they are professionals, and two, they are athletes. That takes the conversation to a different place. Wong Shun Leung was a man who understood how to actually train like a fighter and he also happened to be a genius for understanding the sophistication of Wing Chun.
To sum it up, I think that if you took two twins and hand had one of the train MMA and the other Wing Chun in equal amounts and we had them fight each other every year, I’d guess the MMA twin would win the fight for the first three or four years because force vs force and athleticism are easier concepts to swallow. But I do believe they are inferior concepts.
I have been knocked out 3 times. Two of those times were in training circumstances and once was due to getting hit in the back of the head with a fire extinguisher. After the fire extinguisher situation I did end up with some complications to my hearing that persist today. Ultimately that is the reason I decided to pursue other martial arts. I’m not a professional and it’s not worth it for me to be hit in the head a lot more.
Greg (LeBlanc) is the only person who’s force has ever truly terrified me. Even during an extremely light demonstration of Tan Da for example, I’ve felt his force travel into my bones and stomach. He is in a class of his own.
It seems that WC gets better and more refined with time while MMA will bring you to a point of diminishing returns and decline later in life.”
>>>End of Interview<<<
His answers pretty much lined up with my observations and conclusions, even though I haven’t had the MMA/Boxing/Muay Thai experiences. There is a very widely shared Chinese martial saying: “Yet Daam, Yi Lik, Saam Gung Fu.”
“Courage first, then power, then skill.”
I think many student of Classical Martial Arts don’t want to think about this idea too much! But it doesn’t bother me – I want to be a realist and I’m also OK with my training choices. We are all always making many compromises due to available time, money, energy, location, and so on.
For instance, many classical martial artists want to argue about Brazillian Ju Jitsu. Street fights don’t go to the ground. You don’t want to fight there, etc. I’ve said it myself. But the fact is, if I had all the time and money in the world and I knew I was going to be in a fight with an unknown opponent in five years, I would put in some time studying BJJ. It has many advantages and if you go up against someone who is really good, they are super dangerous – no question!
But I don’t have all the time and money in the world and I’m not a big fan of rolling around on the ground. I did 6 months of Jujitsu and it wasn’t for me. So I don’t train it. Is it possible I might find myself in a situation where I might regret this decision? Sure!
I think we should have the confidence to say, this is how I like to train. And I’m OK with the odds if I get into a real fight at some point. How many highly skilled BJJ guys are picking fights with peaceful citizens? What are the odds I’m going to run into one of these guys? Plus, lets not discount the danger of tangling with a well-trained striker!
Basically, we should also admit that we are amateurs! Semi-pro at best.
There is this fetishizing of our skills that gets to people’s heads. If you are training 3-6 hours a week and go up against a professional fighter of any discipline, you are going to have your hands full! Most of us do not have the stamina to go for long in a full-blast fight. If your opponent has been hit in the head many times in training, he’s inured to it more than most. If he’s been sparring 3 minute rounds full blast with one of those masks on, there is a good chance you’ll gas out!
But fortunately, there are not that many of those people walking around.
We need to rein in our flights of fancy.
Kung Fu is not magic. Done properly, it is a science (a skill) that can put some weight on your side of the scale in a conflict, but it doesn’t make you bullet proof or punch proof. And if your training is always pretty light, if you never break a sweat, if you don’t seriously condition your hands, if you don’t condition your mind to fight aggressively, if you don’t train your cardio, then you better hope your opponent didn’t either.
It is all a matchup between your capabilities and those of your opponent. You train and develop skills and attribute which add little bits of weight on your side of the scale. The opponent is doing the same. Skills, attributes, experience.
On the day of the conflict, it all comes together and is weighted and assessed. And the best fighter on that day in that moment wins.