“Chi Sau should teach us how to hit and not stick endlessly to our opponent’s arms. It should teach us to take the balance of our opponent while we preserve our own balance.”
John Smith and Greg LeBlanc, “Get Out of the Chi Sau Bubble.” WC Illustrated
I recently had a discussion with Ben, an SvC reader, and he included a link to the sparring match below and said “It’s this kind footage that adds to the bad reputation of WC.”
I agreed and thought it was a good subject for an article. I started off writing “Why Wing Chun Sparring Sessions Suck,” but then I caught myself and watched the video a few more times.
I realized its easy to fall into the thought process that this fight explains or is an example of the general Wing Chun versus the general Boxing. But really, no one person can represent their whole approach to fighting!
So I started looking at this as two fighters in a bout. First off, although they call it boxing, I am pretty sure the tall guy is Muay Thai. How many boxers wear those instep guards? He’s not kicking because he doesn’t have to – he has a six inch reach advantage (at least). Plus he is much taller. His opponent can barely reach his head!
Lets start with kudos to anyone who wants to fire test their skills. So lets give the “Wing Chun” guy an A for effort. Of course, in this fight, he clearly does many things wrong (like getting knocked out). But, in all fairness, when you put yourself in a position to be punched in the face, even with gloves and rules, many people will lose half their skills. This goes for real fights too. You will forget half your skills and gas out in a tenth of the time. Adrenalin gives and takes away.
Fighters who spar as part of their training (Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, etc) are naturally more relaxed and manage their energy better, because they are just doing what they do. They have been here before.
I’m pretty sure the Wing Chun guy has been mostly doing Chi Sao. He is trying to figure out, on the fly, with punches coming in, how to transfer his Wing Chun to this situation. He is walking up to his opponent’s guard and trying to figure out how to get a bridge. How to clear that guard. How to avoid those counter punches. How to deal with that reach. He obviously doesn’t have a clear plan.
OK, having praised him a little, lets critique this guy.
Wing Chun is a bare knuckle bone-on-bone (as Hawkins Cheung said) system. Wing Chun strikes are not the hardest possible way to hit (pretty sure the hardest possible punch is a cross from the rear hand with good leg support and body weight shift with some torque). Jab Jab Cross. Wing Chun sacrifices power for other attributes (two handed simultaneous attack/defense and chained attacks, etc).
But to work, you must get into a particular range and then punch elbow done on a clean line. All the CHi Sao is to help you develop reflexes to find or make that clean line. This guy never gets a line.
Gary Lam said that the number one most important element of Wing Chun is taking position. This is where Wing Chun derives its striking power. Taking position means stepping in with your body weight (when you have found a clear line of attack via your other skills) and punching into and through the opponent’s head. This guy never takes position or affects his opponent’s balance.
You have to mow them down!
The WC guy doesn’t ever deliver any power because he does not control the distance. The other guy keeps the fight in his comfort zone.
Wing Chun works by eating the opponent’s position (Seg Wai), throwing them off-balance, and forcing them to defend, rather than continue their attack at their leisure. This is why you’ll often see in my videos or illustrations, I mimic this situation of my whole body being canted at a 20 degree angle on the end of a punch, the hitter stepping in.
Wing Chun is the science of in-fighting! This is our specialty and this is our goal. Like the alligator which pulls the victim from the land into the water, dragging it down to the bottom where it has the advantage, Wing Chun skills are largely designed to be used inside our range and finish it there quickly.
You have to get into your chosen range (bent elbow distance) and stay there until the fight is over. If the guy is dancing away, you need to chase his center and stay close. Chase his back leg.
PS — this isn’t easy!
This WC guy mostly stays outside, occasionally rushing in and trying to grab the guys arms and throwing overhand rights and lefts at his head (so far above him!). He blades his body on each strike, leaning forward, almost falling forward, on his toes. All these things are the opposite of structure. So its no wonder his strikes are ineffectual.
How do you deal with a taller opponent with a big reach advantage? Your footwork has to be really good. Step (or shuffle) in. Chase aggressively. You need to hit the body if you can’t reach the head. You need to get a bridge and keep a bridge and lap hard. Strip that guard! Yank that guy so his neck snaps! Don’t wander in tentatively! Your punches should be hard and grounded and knock that guy back. He shouldn’t be able to be so casual against the forces your are bringing to bear on him.
The biggest two problems with the WC guy’s actions are he stays at boxing range (the preferred range of his opponent’s technique) and he keeps dropping his hands. He does a sort-of Man Sao / Wu Sau guard, but keeps dropping that lead hand. In Geoff Thompson’s parlance, he drops his fence. Eventually, the tall guy throws an overhand right over the top of his dropping hands (after a few missed attempts) and clocks the WC guy, who is waiting at the exact perfect range for the boxer’s punch, and stepping forward. Its like a boxing demo. Stand here — bop!
My Sifu (Greg LeBlanc) and my Sisuk (John Smith) wrote an article in this month’s Wing Chun Illustrated called “Get Out of the Chi Sau Bubble” where they address the training issues which lead to performances like this one.
We must recognize the moat zone, between being out of distance and getting a bridge. All our training is from the bridge (Chi Sau gives you two bridges!). Many styles of fighting exploit this entering the zone moment. Boxers counterpunch. Boxers range find. Muay Thai looks for the leg kick followed by the punch or elbow. BJJ hits or kicks then shoots.
This all happens in the no-man’s land between the start of the kicking zone and our bent elbow zone of in-fighting. We need to spend a good amount of time learning to get from here to there without getting taken out of the game!