As a martial artist, first and foremost, I’m not interested in “Wing Chun,” “tradition,” or “style.” I’m not interested in flashy acrobatics, winning tournaments, or what looks cool. I’m only interested in what works. What keeps you alive in real life and death fight situations? What is the most effective way to defeat one or many opponents with or without weapons? How is the human body best trained to become a master of self-defense? What techniques, drills, and concepts must become second-nature to ensure proper reaction and adaptation during the chaos of real-life combat? How can any system or style cover the literally infinite potential dangers faced? With so many different martial arts from all over the world, how can one separate the wheat from the chaff and discern which is the most effective?
If you get in a fight with someone who is smaller, weaker, and slower than you, then your natural advantages will almost always defeat such an opponent without any training necessary. Therefore, if you are going to learn a self-defense style, shouldn’t it specifically train you to defeat opponent(s) who are bigger, stronger, and faster than you? Wing Chun is the only martial arts system known to be invented by a woman (the “weaker” gender), and was specifically designed to defeat bigger, stronger, faster, and multiple opponents with or without weapons simultaneously.
Most Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) like Taekwondo, Karate or Capoeira are overly flashy and acrobatic slaving to outdated and unusable forms constantly drilling impractical techniques that are not effective on the street. The current trend of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), and grappling styles like Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling, has many people convinced that the pinnacle of effective self-defense is one or a combination of these hard-form, one-on-one fighting styles. While these styles are indeed formidable and have proven themselves in the ring, consider, in real-life when faced with the necessity to fight:
1) You often must defeat multiple attackers simultaneously
In UFC, MMA, and cage fights as well as TMA tournaments, the fighting itself, and thus the bulk of your training, is geared towards one-on-one confrontations of 2 or 3 minute rounds. In real-life however, the average fight lasts a mere 9 seconds, and often includes multiple attackers. Thus the dominance and perceived effectiveness of hard-form/grappling/UFC/MMA etc. is only valid in one-on-one fights when you can afford to spend minutes rolling around on the ground with your opponent trying to get a limb-lock or strangle-hold. In a real fight with multiple attackers, while you’re busy rolling around wrestling one guy on the ground, his buddies are all standing straight kicking the snot out of you.
2) Those attackers are often bigger, stronger, and faster than you
These competition fights are always pre-arranged so to only match two fighters with comparable skills and attributes. This means that these fighters are always training to defeat their mirror-image. In real-life scenarios, however, your opponent(s) will often be bigger, stronger, and faster than you, and only the soft-form martial arts are specifically designed to combat this. Wing Chun is a combination hard/soft style which employs simultaneous attack and defense, yields to all incoming pressure, and diverts it away from your center-line while simultaneously attacking the opponent’s center-line. This advantage allows even novice Wing Chun practitioners to defeat opponents twice their size, strength, and speed.
3) Those attackers often have weapons
Another issue that every martial artist must consider is self-defense against weapons. In tournament fighting styles, the bulk of your training is devoted to one-on-one, empty-hand combat. If any self-defense against weapons is taught, it is usually minimal, difficult to develop, and quite ineffective in real-life. Wing Chun’s movements and concepts, however, are so universally applicable to any fight situation, that empty-hand practice, weapons practice, and empty vs. weapons practice all utilize exactly the same training techniques. This means regardless of the fight situation, you are poised and prepared with muscle-memory to react more effectively to any empty-hand or weapon attack, because all of your training is universally applicable regardless of how many attackers, how strong they are, or which weapons they have.
4) There are no rules, referees, or tap-outs
In all tournament fights there are regulations, referees, points, tap-out or knock-down rules, but in real-life fighting there is no such thing. This means if your martial art caters to tournament fighting, as most do, then your training is not comprehensive, not utilizing every weapon available to you. For example, Taekwondo has no punches to the head or in-fighting techniques. Judo, Aikido, and Wrestling have almost no striking whatsoever. Even UFC and most MMA fighters train with rules in mind like no groin strikes, no eye gauges, no knee stomp-kicks, etc. This may seem insignificant, but consider that the two most vulnerable spots on the human body are the eyes and groin. This means that most tournament fighters are merely training for unrealistic sparring situations in which they cannot even attack their opponent’s two most vulnerable targets! Wing Chun on the other hand is not a tournament style, and practitioners always train to attack their opponent’s most vulnerable targets like eyes, groin, throat, elbow and knee joints.
Most fighting styles (such as Boxing, Kick-boxing, Wrestling, Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Capoeira, etc.) rely on speed, strength, and vigor to overcome an opponent, so unfortunately as you grow older, your effectiveness in using the fighting system diminishes. Wing Chun, however, relies more on philosophy, sensitivity, intuition, and other internal factors which you will continue to improve upon your entire life. Wing Chun is scientific, logical, and concept-based so both your understanding and ability will only increase with age. This is why 80+ year-old Grandmasters like Ip Chun, Jim Fung, and others can still defeat all their students and generate incredible internal energy.
Real fighting is dirty, no holds barred, spontaneous full-force explosive aggression. In actual combat there are no rules, no regulations, no referees, no traditions, no tap-outs and no gloves. So any system which caters to and trains with rules, regulations, and traditions in mind is ultimately not preparing you for actual combat but for unrealistic sparring situations. For example the average UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match lasts almost 9 grueling minutes. The average street fight, however, lasts a mere 9 seconds! Why the huge difference? Is it just because they’re wearing boxing gloves? No. The fact of the matter is that tournament fighting, and martial styles which cater to tournament fighting (such as MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Karate, Jui Jitsu, Judo, Wrestling etc.) all have a huge list of highly effective techniques and vulnerable targets which are completely off-limits! The reason they are prohibited is because they are too effective, will end the fight too quickly, and could severely injure, maim or kill the opponent!
In the interest of clean competitions and good sportsmanship it makes sense that certain targets and techniques be prohibited from tournament fights, but what happens when rules and traditions start to dictate your martial training? Instead of always practicing the most effective techniques on the softest targets, you actually train less effective techniques on harder targets! How can repeatedly drilling less than optimum techniques at less than optimum targets, make you an optimum fighter? As the saying goes, practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.
In Western Boxing, for instance, the extreme limitations are clear for everyone to see. You wear huge padded gloves and almost every fighting technique imaginable is prohibited except punches to the torso and head. No kicks, no knees, no elbows, no head butts, no groin strikes, no eye gouges, no grappling, no throws, just round after round of getting pounded by padded punches. Boxing is a perfect example of a fighting style with so many rules that its practical self-defense applications are very limited. It is clearly a sport, and not a science of self-defense. Boxing’s punches are undoubtedly second to none, but there is much more to effective self-defense than good punching. How does Western Boxing prepare you to defeat an opponent carrying a knife? How does Boxing deal with kicks, takedowns and grappling? How does Boxing handle multiple attackers? The answers are all the same: It doesn’t, because it’s against the rules and not part of the game.
In the game/sport of Taekwondo all punches to the head, kicks to the legs, and grabbing techniques are prohibited so the result is a style full of fast-paced flashy spinning jumping head kicks. These are definitely fun to watch and work during point sparring competitions, but in real-life combat, almost the entire repertoire of Taekwondo’s techniques are pitifully ineffective and leave you off balance and vulnerable. Being a 2nd degree black belt and former Taekwondo instructor myself, I can say from experience that Taekwondo’s kicks are second to none, but there is much more to effective self-defense than good kicking.
Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and MMA are much more dynamic and street-effective than Boxing or Taekwondo making use of knees, elbows, leg kicks, clinches, throws, and takedowns. But once again there are no groin or throat strikes allowed, no eye gouges, no knee stomp kicks, no defense against weapons, and no defense against multiple attackers. These few limitations may seem insignificant, but keep in mind that most street fights involve either a weapon or multiple attackers, and the three most vulnerable targets on the human body are the eyes, groin and throat! This means that Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and MMA are not training or utilizing the most effective targets or techniques when it comes to real life or death combat.
These styles also use a lot of low roundhouse kicks to the opponent’s legs with the intention of wearing them down over time, which sounds good and works wonders during tournament bouts, but the average street fight lasts only 9 seconds and involves multiple attackers, so in actual combat there’s no time to strategize several kicks for wearing down your opponent’s legs. You need more quick, direct, and devastating attacks to vulnerable targets. Wing Chun’s two main kicks, the inside stomp kick to the knee and front snap kick to the groin, are so brutally effective that they are banned in all sports fighting and martial arts tournaments. The inside stomp kick smashing down at 45 degrees onto the kneecap reliably and easily takes down and/or breaks the leg of even very strong opponents. And of course one good swift kick to the groin beats a whole barrage of Muay Thai leg kicks any day. So whether it’s Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Karate or MMA, two of the most devastating kicks are prohibited and so rarely if ever trained.
BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), Judo, Wrestling, and other grappling styles have little or no striking whatsoever which is obviously a severe limitation. No punches, no kicks, no knees, no elbows, no eye gouges, no hair pulling and no biting, yet these styles spend almost all their training time on the ground. How realistic is a ground fight without any striking, eye gouges, hair pulling or biting? Even MMA, which allows ground striking, still prohibits attacks to the neck and spine, eye gouges, groin strikes, hair pulling and biting. This is the only reason UFC/MMA/BJJ fighters spend so long rolling around the mat together vying for position like a couple of entangled homosexual hyenas.
If they were allowed to elbow necks, stomp spines, gouge eyes, strike groins, pull hair and bite, the entirety of their well-developed “ground games,” would be useless. Spending minutes jockeying for a side-mount or trying to pull off an arm-bar is highly ineffective if your opponent is wildly gouging at your eyes, attacking your groin, pulling your hair and biting you! The whole idea of martial artists needing a complex “ground game” as seen in UFC/MMA/BJJ is erroneous anyway because when real fights go to the ground, there’s no springy, soft canvas cushion to roll around on. In the street it’s concrete and the odds are whoever makes the first takedown wins. These styles spend almost all their training time on the ground working on the philosophy that 95% of fights go to the ground. While it’s true that most competition MMA fights go to the ground at some point, this is not the case with street fights. A cursory glance through YouTube’s many fine street fights caught on camera show the majority of fights being won with stand-up striking techniques, not with ground grappling techniques. Besides, when facing multiple attackers, going to the ground simply isn’t a viable option because while you’re busy rolling around wrestling one guy, his buddies will all be standing straight punt-kicking the snot out of you.
Capoeira, Drunken Boxing, Wu Shu, and other overly flowery forms of Kung Fu are beautiful to watch and wonderful for developing strength, flexibility and flow, but when it comes to real life or death combat these flashy acrobatic styles also fail in many respects. Too much emphasis is placed on dancing and feigning the opponent, often leaving the practitioner off-balance and vulnerable to attack.
Most of the fancy offensive striking techniques are indirect, less powerful, and less effective than tried and true quick, direct strikes along the opponent’s centerline (as in Wing Chun). So much time is spent practicing flowery non-combative dancing or acrobatic techniques that proper application and actual fighting often takes a back seat. Karate and several traditional martial arts also have a similar problem incessantly training rigid robotic forms, stances, blocks and strikes absolutely inapplicable and unusable in the street. For example the traditional front stance low, high, inside and outside blocks of Karate are so slow, wide, rigid and telegraphed that they cannot work even against an unskilled opponent. All Karate practitioners realize this and never use the traditional blocks while sparring anyway, but still spend countless hours training these useless forms and techniques regardless.
There are many martial systems which don’t fall into the “irrelevant tradition” or “sport fighting” traps and are thus much more street-ready such as Krav Maga, Silat, FMA, Aikido, Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do. These styles tend to be much more formidable and effective due to the fact that they are always training with actual combat in mind and not slaving to sports rules or ancient irrelevant traditions. To my sensibilities however, Wing Chun stands out and maintains a distinctive edge over the rest with iron-clad concepts and unique techniques such as simultaneous attack/defense, immoveable elbows, three triangles, centerline theory, sticky hands/legs, and chain punching.
Wing Chun is all about whatever works. Arm and leg breaks, throat and groin strikes, eye gouges, finger locks, hair pulling, biting and whatever else works is fair game. The movements and principles are so universally applicable to any fight situation, that empty-hand practice, weapons practice, and empty vs. weapons practice all utilize exactly the same structures and techniques. This means regardless of the fight situation, you are poised and prepared with muscle-memory to react more effectively to any empty-hand or weapon attack, because all your training is universally applicable regardless of how many attackers, how strong they are, or which weapons they have.
Wing Chun has often been called “the thinking man’s martial art” and if you have made it this far through the article you can probably appreciate why. Originally however Wing Chun was not a “man’s” martial art at all, but the only fighting system in the world known to have been invented by a woman. A Shaolin nun named Ng Mui developed the art over three centuries ago by taking only the most direct and effective techniques of Shaolin Kung-Fu and creating a compact martial training system specially suited and designed to defeat bigger, stronger and faster opponents. Ng Mui and her female student Yim Wing Chun used this new style against several men in challenge fights. Both became legendary figures in Kung-Fu history, neither of them ever losing a fight.
So how does a man benefit from training a woman’s martial art? Think about this: If you get in a fight with someone who is smaller, slower and weaker than you, then your natural advantages will almost always defeat such an opponent without any training necessary. Therefore, if you are going to learn a self-defense style, shouldn’t it specifically train you to defeat opponent(s) who are bigger, stronger, and faster than you? Since women on average tend to be smaller, slower and weaker, Wing Chun seeks to compensate for these natural disadvantages by relying on body mechanics and touch sensitivity instead of speed and brute force to overcome an opponent. Having trained this fighting system daily for 10 years now, I can personally attest to its efficacy and intricacies. It is ostensibly a simple martial art with a swift learning curve, but contains incredible depth and complexity enough to spend a lifetime perfecting, always potential for refining and developing to new levels of proficiency. I have researched and trained various martial arts for most of my life, all with their unique pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, and I respect the traditions and practitioners of all martial disciplines, but for me Wing Chun, based on its intelligent scientific principles and sheer brutal effectiveness stands head and shoulders above the rest.
There are thousands of known and practiced martial arts from every country in the world, and though all martial systems are based on human combat, different styles have different focuses and blind-spots, strengths and weaknesses. Some martial styles are based around ancient esoteric forms and traditions, others are more geared towards sports competitions, and some are designed to maim, disable and kill people as efficiently and effectively as possible. Wing Chun is among the latter.
Being a peaceful warrior and vegetarian myself, I aim to never injure or kill any living creature, but if necessary in self-defense or in the defense of innocents, if violence is being committed against me or a loved one, I will use every weapon available to me to incapacitate that aggressor. Wing Chun is such a versatile and superior system, however, that even against deadly aggression, a skilled Wing Chun practitioner can diffuse and re-direct an opponents’ energy indefinitely without ever having to actually physically harm them.
Tai Chi and Aikido masters also train and develop this ability to completely dominate and control an adversary without ever having to hurt them. Only such “soft style” martial arts can develop this ability because only the soft styles train with the principle of “no force against force.” Muay Thai, Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Taekwondo, and Wrestling for example are all hard styles which train brute force against force, conditioning arms and legs for repeated bone on bone hits. If you’re a strong young man with solid bones and big muscles preparing for combat or competition, such hard style bone on bone conditioning is a must, but Wing Chun wasn’t developed by a big strong young man preparing for combat or competition, Wing Chun was developed by a small weak old woman preparing for self-defense.
Wing Chun is in fact the only martial art known to have been invented by a woman. Ng Mui, a Shaolin nun on the run from the Manchu government, created Wing Chun as a system of self-defense that women, or smaller, weaker, slower, older people could successfully use to defeat men, or bigger, stronger, faster, younger adversaries. By allowing the aggressor to lead, the soft style practitioner, like the woman in couples dancing, is completely receptive and responsive to the man’s motions and movements then mirrors him in real-time.
Through sensitivity training like “Chi Sao” (sticky hands) and “Chi Gerk” (sticky legs), Wing Chun practitioners develop the ability to receptively respond, re-direct and diffuse or use the opponent’s energy against them. By “bridging” and sticking to their limbs we receive constant tactile information allowing us to manipulate and stay ahead of attacks.
Looking at human anatomy Wing Chun notices that the eyes, throat, groin and several of our other main vulnerable targets all rest along the body’s centerline. For this and many other reasons we always attack and defend along the center, since both the opponent’s and our most vulnerable targets are right there. Then we extend our longest weapons forward like “Bil Gee” thrusting fingers into the opponent’s eyes and knee stomp kicks into their lead leg.
There is an axiom in geometry that states “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” This is another reason Wing Chun practitioners always strike and defend straight ahead along the center. If the opponent initiates a circular attack like a roundhouse kick or hooking punch, we simply advance straight ahead with a mirrored straight attack which allows our strike to land first. This is known as “economy of motion” and is one of Wing Chun’s main mathematical principles. Instead of blocking first then hitting back as in most martial arts, a Wing Chun man will simultaneously block and hit while the opponent is still mid-strike. This gives us the surprise factor and results in double the damage because the opponent’s forward energy is met head on with our straight forward attack.
There is an axiom in physics that states “no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.” Keeping this in mind Wing Chun practitioners always aim to occupy the centerline with our punches and kicks, yielding to and re-directing all obstacles in the way, but constantly replacing our limbs back across the center. Once we control the center by bridging a bent arm/leg we use sticky hands/legs sensitivity to feel and exploit the opponent’s under and over-commitments.
The triangle or pyramid is the strongest shape in nature and recognizing this, Wing Chun repeatedly uses triangles and 45/60 degree angles in its structure and movements. For example when training we stand slightly pigeon-toed with knees bent in and extend both arms frontwards making three triangles with our arms, legs, and feet. The upper triangle, like a door wedge, allows us to easily control the centerline and the lower triangles allow us to receive incredible amounts of forward energy without having to back up.
When parrying and attacking we constantly use the power of 45/60 degree angles to deflect, re-direct and cut through our opponent’s defenses. The Wing Chun knee stomp kick 45 degrees downward just above the knee-joint is absolutely the easiest and most effective leg breaking technique in existence. If massive force is directed at our centerlines like with a sidekick, Muay Thai teep kick, or a running tackle, we triangle side-step and advance at 45/60 degrees allowing us to overtake their position using not brute strength or muscle, but just the power of angles. If a strong punch comes along our centerline, we pivot 45 degrees and throw our own centerline punch which cuts through theirs allowing us to block and strike simultaneously.
When Wing Chun practitioners kick we don’t chamber our legs first then extend out straight at 90 degree angles like most Taekwondo, Muay Thai, or Kickboxing kicks, because as Newton’s axiom warns us, “for every force or action there is an equal and opposite force or reaction.” If a smaller, weaker person performs a Muay Thai teep kick to the trunk of a bigger, stronger adversary, when that kick connects, instead of pushing back the adversary, that direct force will come straight back and the power of your own kick will launch you straight backwards. If instead front and side kicks are performed Wing Chun style, with no chamber, foot rising straight from ground to target at a 45 degree angle, the equal and opposite force is absorbed and earthed completely by our back legs.
The “immovable elbow” principle of Wing Chun comes from the observation that our arms are at their strongest and most stable when held straight ahead about a fist-distance away from our abdomen elbows bent at 135 degrees. Bent at any more of an angle, strength is quickly diminished, we become unbalanced and vulnerable to being pulled; bent at any less of an angle, strength is diminished and we become vulnerable to being pushed or taken down. By maintaining this bent arm ready stance, hitting and replacing chain punches at 135 degrees along the centerline we maximize balance, speed, power and control.
There are many more examples and reasons why Wing Chun truly is the science of self-defense, but suffice to say, by taking into account aspects of physics, kinesthesiology, geometry, and anatomy Wing Chun is less like a martial art and more like martial science. The art part is in the application, the drilling and training, making the science subconscious and second-nature, embedding the muscle-memory, learning to channel the opponent’s energy, and successfully expressing yours.
What is the perfect way to fight? Is there a “perfect way” to fight or is every martial art, every system and approach just a haphazard shot in the dark with no objective, empirical, measurable advantage? The answer is that there IS absolutely a perfect way to fight and win every opponent, but the difficulty and the beauty is that perfect way is not something set in stone, but a fluid interplay between each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses. The perfect way to fight always completely depends on the person(s) you are fighting and constantly changes based on what they are doing, how they are attacking, defending, and countering, whether there is one, two, or ten opponents, whether they’re striking, grappling, or parrying, whether they’re using edged, blunt or projectile weapons, depending on their height, weight, build, reach, and a host of other factors, the “perfect way” to fight is by training and developing the skills and tools necessary to read, react and adapt to each opponent’s constantly shifting weaknesses and exploiting them in real-time.
In this and many other ways fighting is like the game of Chess: Once you make your move, there is no turning back. You are responsible for every mistake, and the only way out is forward. The stronger player does not always win, because even the strongest players have weaknesses, but a clear hierarchy of ability exists, and the way to succeed is by positioning yourself so as to best exploit the weaknesses of your opponent then attacking as mistakes and imbalances surface. Unlike dice or card games, there is no element of “luck” or “chance” in games like Chess, Checkers or Othello; these games always completely depend only upon the minds and moves of the two opponents Similarly in fighting there really is no element of luck or chance involved. The outcome of a fight or Chess match will always depend on who better trained and conditioned themselves beforehand then better exploited and executed their opponent’s weaknesses in the moment.
The average Chess player can only handle playing one opponent at a time, just like the average person could only handle fighting one opponent at a time, but through diligent practice Chess grandmasters and martial grandmasters are able to successfully defeat several opponents simultaneously. Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen have been known to play and win up to 10 games against 10 different opponents simultaneously while blindfolded! Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher, was also said to have successfully defeated several opponents simultaneously while blindfolded!
Just having martial “knowledge” is not enough though, your body must be trained and conditioned kinesthetically so muscle-memory reacts perfectly and precisely to the opponent. Just having chess “knowledge” is also not enough, you cannot simply memorize every opening, play through every grandmaster game, read every theory book and suddenly be able to win every opponent. The knowledge and skill-sets, the training and pre-game preparedness is only part of it, the gamer/fighter must also have perfect mindfulness and presence in the moment to be able to use the knowledge and training then adapt it in real-time to suit the adversary in front of them. So there is a perfect way to fight, just like there is a perfect way to play Chess, but it’s not static and consistent, it always completely depends on the opponent and our interplay with their weaknesses in the moment.
Both fighters and Chess players will train before a tournament, watching videos or studying games of their opponents looking to find trends and weaknesses. By noticing trends, even ones usually seen as “strengths,” they can become weaknesses through overuse. For instance a fighter with a powerful overhand right he always uses to knock people out is seen as his “strength,” but if his opponent knows ahead of time about his reliance on this attack, even such so-called “strengths” can quickly become Achilles’ tendons to be cut. The opponent can train to always slip outside, to attack and disable the right arm/hand, or to shoot inside nullifying the range. Similarly if a chess player knows trends in his opponent’s games, such as always accepting gambits, never trading down in a sacrifice, castling late, bringing the Queen out early etc. he can exploit those trends.
A fighter’s vulnerabilities are constantly changing based on their position/structure making it like a ballroom dance where the woman, the receptive one, reacting to the man’s lead, sensing, feeling her opponent’s movements and flowing with them, actually maintains positional advantage while the aggressive, overly forceful fighter leaves himself exposed. So by purposely assuming the yin, receptive role of the woman, you gain a distinct advantage. This is the reason fighters always jockey back and forth in and out of the pocket range-finding before committing to an attack, because the person who under or over-commits during these crucial milliseconds opens themselves up to devastating counter-blows. If you commit to a strike, takedown, or whatever type of attack, you are opening yourself to counter-attack. The smarter fighting philosophy is to be patient, feigning while giving consistent forward pressure along the centerline until the opponent shows an under or over-commitment, then exploding to exploit the hole formed. In Chess strategy it is the same; position your pieces to control the center, allow the opponent to initiate exchanges, look for imbalances, weak squares or undefended pieces, then attack and prey upon the opponent’s problem areas.
The game of Othello also beautifully demonstrates this advantage of yin over yang. The average Othello player will quickly, aggressively attempt to turn as many pieces to their side as possible, and continue with this one-dimensional yang strategy until they run out of moves, only to have the opponent flip all their pieces back at the end. Similarly the average fighter will aggressively attempt to attack and finish their opponent as quickly and violently as possible only to gas-out and open themselves up to counter-attacks. The highest level Othello players, however, know that the more pieces you have in the beginning, the less potential moves you have later, and the more pieces of yours on the board, the more pieces your opponent can steal! The highest level fighters know if you over-commit to any attack too early and you are fighting a skilled, adaptive opponent, the over-committed attack, no matter how powerful, will soon become your weakness.
The best Othello players play passively, keeping the fewest amount of their pieces on the board at the beginning so as to maintain positional advantage by having the most potential moves. By having the most potential moves, they are easier able to acquire and secure the crucial border and corner squares. Once a corner square has been acquired, you claim all pieces horizontal, vertical and diagonal to that corner and they cannot be turned back! Similarly, in fighting, the best fighters will not rush in and over-commit to some attack without first bridging along the centerline, sensing and seeing how the opponent reacts, then exploiting any under or over-commitments in their reaction. Pinning your opponent against a wall, fence, car or into a corner is also a highly advantageous move difficult to reverse, just like claiming border and corner pieces in Othello.
This is the esoteric advantage yin will always have over yang. Since yang seems weaker, its strength is deceptive. Like water, you must be fluid, receptive, adaptive and flow around your opponent’s obstacles, remaining calm, relaxed and flexible both mentally and physically until the opponent’s vulnerabilities present themselves. This is not to say that yang has no place, that women are better fighters, or anything of that sort. A moment of yang strength is ultimately what wins the fight, and men are in general far superior fighters to women. Some arts like Muay Thai, Wrestling, or Sumo, however, are overly yang whereas others like Tai Chi, Wu Shu, and even many lineages of Wing Chun are far too “yin,” doing nothing but Chi Sao (sticky hands) and form-work, never training body-conditioning, padwork or sparring. This is just as much a deficiency as the over-aggressive, blunt-headed wrestler type who simply looks to impose his will no matter how well he is defended/countered by his opponent.
One of the main principles in Wing Chun is the centerline concept, where fighters train to attack, defend and dominate along the centerline. In Chess strategy, dominating and controlling the center is a key positional advantage during the opening. Where many average Wing Chun practitioners and many average Chess players fall short is when they don’t train to switch it up during the middle and endgame. Many traditional Wing Chun schools train ONLY straight-line attacks and ONLY ever attack along the centerline. For instance they will always enter with the same straight chain punch/push kick flurry and no matter how well the opponent defends, circles outside and counters, they still keep steamrolling impotently forward becoming an increasingly easier target to pick apart. In Chess, the opponent’s King begins in the center, but as the game progresses, due to castling or other moves, the King will often be situated at either end and not in the center. Once your opponent castles it becomes obvious whether a King’s side, Queen’s side or central attack will best suit the game and the adept player must adapt in real-time. Similarly an adept Wing Chun practitioner must always bridge (make contact) with the opponent along the centerline, but then depending on what they do next when bridged, other curved or non-centerline attacks may become much better suited than the straight centerline approach.
In the entry into the pocket during a fight, just like in the entry during the opening of a chess game, it has been proven that dominating and controlling the centerline is key. You will never see a Chess Grandmaster doing a rook’s pawn opening and you will never see a Wing Chun Grandmaster doing a curved or non-centerline entry. To do a rook’s pawn opening or to enter the pocket with a curved attack is to offer up the crucial advantage of direct centerline control to your opponent for free. If you’re playing/fighting an amateur you may recover from such a blunder, but against a formidable opponent you will not and find that giving away the centerline is a consistently losing strategy. In Chess this has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, though in martial philosophy, the crucial importance of centerline control and straight-attack entries has not yet gained popular approval or understanding outside of Wing Chun.
The basic idea of straight-line entries and centerline control is that the most efficient path between two points is a straight line. If you throw a right jab, while your opponent throws a right hook, your jab will land first, the blow surprises and decreases the power of your opponent’s strike, and the position of your jab effectively blocks the incoming hook. In the case of a kick, imagine a curved Muay Thai roundhouse kick or a Taekwondo spinning kick versus a straight Wing Chun stomp kick, snap kick or side kick. Like the hook punch, the roundhouse, or any spinning circular attack is telegraphed, slower to arrive at the target, and completely exposes the person attacking by opening their guard wide. Curved attacks are also ineffective until they arrive at full-extension to their target whereas straight attacks are effective even before full-extension. For example if you simply step forward when the opponent initiates a spinning heel kick you completely neutralize the technique because his dangerous heel extends well-behind you. If, instead, you step forward into a straight Wing Chun stop kick to the stomach, the kick will still land, maybe at the shin, the knee, the groin or the stomach depending on how close the opponent is when you make contact, but no matter where contact is made, damage will still be done and their forward movement will be thwarted. Straight kicks are simply less risky, more direct, efficient, and devastating. Therefore, as a general rule, fast straight-attack entries are far superior to curved, circular or angular attacks. Once the straight-attack entry has been made along the centerline, THEN the fighter can and should mix various non-linear attacks, based on the tactile information received in the moment as to which combinations and movements will continue to land and defeat the opponent.
In popular MMA cage-fighting like UFC, the importance of centerline control is explicitly obvious but the philosophy is often overlooked. Fighters like Jon Jones and Anderson Silva use their long limbs extending forward, usually in a triangle, like the Wing Chun ready stance, not under or over-committing, shooting straight jabs and straight kicks along the opponent’s centerline. Then when into clinch / chi sao range, they start unleashing various creative circular and non-centerline attacks like elbows, knees, body shots, uppercuts and takedowns based on the tactile and sensory information they’re receiving in the moment, adapting every second to attack the most vulnerable targets with their most powerful weapons. Notice they do not and could not simply chain punch forward and win every opponent as some traditional Wing Chun schools would have you think!
In Chess you always want to be either developing your pieces into better positions, taking your opponents pieces, or directly attacking their King. Likewise in fighting you should always be moving to gain positional advantage, striking to injure the opponent’s limbs/body, or directly attacking their face/neck. Blood or air chokes, eye gouges, palm strikes, overhands and other fight-stopping strikes to the face are like checkmates. All other attacks like arm-bars, toe-holds, leg-locks, takedowns, guntings, etc. are analogous to capturing pawns, knights, bishops, rooks and queens.
Bobby Fischer said of Chess, “Tactics flow from a superior position.” In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu they have the saying “position before submission” meaning it is important to acquire and maintain the correct body position and defensive structure before attempting the finishing offensive submission. If you rush into a submission hold without first securing the necessary and advantageous position, it is likely that the opponent will escape, sweep, and turn the tables on your weak attempt. The skilled grappler will instead first secure a good full, side, back mount or guard, then and only then attempt any submissions. Likewise in Chess, the average player might bring their Queen out early and try any number of one/two piece fast mates, but these will never work against a seasoned player and will only leave you with inferior positioning going into the midgame.
In Chess one popular strategy, known as a “gambit,” is offering a piece as a sacrifice in order to attain better position. In fighting, various “gambits” are also used constantly and effectively. For example feigning when establishing a jab and straight kicks in and out of the pocket, mixing fully-extended power-shots with lackadaisical or abrupt stinted shots, like a gambit helps to gain control of the center, lures the opponent into a false sense of security, and if they “accept the sacrifice” (i.e. block the feign, or not block actual strikes because of good feigning) it puts them in a more precarious position. Another example of a fighting gambit is the Wing Chun Chum Kiu or “bridge seeking.” Wing Chun hands like Man Sao (Asking Hands) extend out along the centerline in a tentative manner like an insect’s antennae looking to bridge with the opponent’s limbs so our sticky hands sensitivity can then manipulate their structure by maintaining perpetual flowing contact and defense. The asking hand antennae are offered up like pawn gambits to lure the opponent into playing into our web of sticky hands training!
Another key tactic in Chess is using pieces in combination to attack. Trying to checkmate your opponent using a single piece, even your strongest piece, the Queen, is futile. She cannot capture the opponent’s King by herself and must be aided by at least one other piece (from your army or theirs!) to prevent his escape. Similarly in fighting, “one-trick ponies,” or “one-hit wonders” are easily defeated. Fighters who fail to attack in combination or rely solely on one preferred technique become transparent and impotent. Wing Chun Kung-Fu boasts having the fastest combination punches in the world known as the “chain punch,” with many practitioners clocked at an amazing 10 punches per second! One standard Wing Chun attack combines the repeated 1-2-1-2-1-2 chain punch with a forward thrusting stomp or snap kick 3-4-3-4-3-4 to the opponent’s knees and groin, so at any moment you have three weapons (2 arms and a leg) attacking the vulnerable face, groin and knees in rapid-fire combination. And since they are all straight, centerline attacks your three offensive weapons all double as defensive barriers effectively blocking many standard counter-strikes in the process.
Wing Chun also has a concept called “the three gates,” which is very similar to Chess. The idea is that your head/neck is the King and your arms extended forward in the Wing Chun triangle ready-stance comprises the three gates of your castle. The first gate is the hinge of your wrists, the second gate the hinge of your elbows, and the third gate is your back Wu Sao (guard hand) resting at your chin. The first wrist gate is purposely left wide open to bait the opponent like a Trojan horse; When they pressure in, our Huen Sao (circling hand) allows them through then Fook Sao (controlling hand) quickly closes and locks the gate shut behind keeping them stuck to our well-developed sticky hands. The second gate is solid and always remains shut; Known as the Wing Chun Immovable Elbow, the second gate’s strongest position is a fist and a half distance from the torso held forward at a 135 degree angle. When pressure is placed upon the second gate we will sooner give up footwork position than allow the immovable elbow gate to collapse. If the opponent manages to get behind/outside our elbow, the third gate guard hand must quickly perform Lap Sao (pulling hand), bringing the opponent back out to the first gate.
In Chess, the first gate often offered as gambits/sacrifices in order to gain position are the pawns. The second gate used to pressure in are the knights, bishops and rooks. The third gate just before reaching the King is the Queen, and both in Wing Chun and Chess, if you bring the Queen (Wu Sao Hand) forward too quickly it can spell disaster. For example in the popular Wing Chun “Bong Sao-Lap Sao” drill students are taught to always defend only with the lead arm leaving the Wu Sao guard hand back by the chin bringing it forward only if/when the second gate has been passed. In Chess strategy students are taught always to develop the minor pieces onto strong outposts before bringing the Queen forward. If the Queen comes out too early she can be chased around the board, giving the opponent positional advantage, and ultimately could be cornered and captured. Likewise if the Wu Sao hand comes forward to block or Lap Sao too early it can be passed by a skilled opponent and they will have direct, unfettered access to your King/Head.
So what is the perfect way to train so as to fight perfect Chess in the moment? How can one best train to read, react, and adapt to each opponent’s constantly shifting weaknesses and exploit them in real-time? First, and foremost you must condition your mind and body in a multitude of ways to prepare for the final moment of confrontation. Like a good Chess student must play thousands of games, memorize thousands of openings/variations, play through thousands of Grandmaster games, and solve thousands of Chess problems before they can compete. You also must do thousands of punches, kicks, elbows, knees, locks, takedowns, chokes, breaks, submissions, and escapes, you must learn proper form, structure, movement, technique, and philosophy, practice sparring, grappling, shadow boxing, chi sao and chi gerk, use punching bags, focus pads, wall bags, and wooden dummies,working always to increase speed, power, accuracy, technique, and non-telegraphy, your ligaments, tendons, muscles and skin must become flexible, strong, loose, and relaxed, the nerve-endings on your shins and arms must become numb, your wrists must become laterally strong, your knuckles calloused, your abdominals and other muscles tough and hard, your mind must be still and responsive, your body completely relaxed before and after every strike, you should even practice deep abdominal breathing and short exasperated breathing to improve stamina, control heart-rate and adrenaline release, increase the time you can be choked, and decrease the chance of having the wind knocked out of you.
Then when the time comes to fight, your mind should be empty and completely present, any strategy or tactics consciously employed will be over-committed, unreceptive, and non-adaptive so you must completely rely on subconscious instinct and muscle-memory. Your eyes should be trained on the opponent’s sternum so peripheral vision can fully watch all their limbs. Your stance should remain fluid and light, constantly moving but able to solidify and immediately plant roots if the opponent shoots. Your guard should be relaxed and moving slightly, just enough to distract and feign, but not enough to open yourself up. Bobby Fischer, the most renowned Chess player of all time said, “Chess is a matter of delicate judgment knowing when to punch and how to duck. It is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind. Concentrate on material gains. Whatever your opponent gives, you take, unless you see good reason not to. Your body has to be in top condition. Your Chess deteriorates as your body dies. You can’t separate body from mind. You have to have the fighting spirit.” And perhaps the most famous Wing Chun practitioner ever, Bruce Lee, said it best: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
One Reply to “The Science of Self-Defense”
My goal in practicing martial arts was self-defense. However, I have come to the realization that the traditional approach of martial arts, which involves arduous, long-term development of skills within the rules, is hardly useful in real-life self-defense situations where one may have to deal with one or multiple aggressors who are determined to cause harm and are physically bigger and stronger. Physical confrontation does not guarantee survival or the ability to come out unscathed in extreme cases.
The closest martial art that I have found to be effective for self-defense is Aikido, as developed by Morihei Ueshiba. Unfortunately, his original teachings have been distorted and are now only presented as physical recreation. Ueshiba’s approach to Aikido was based on the simple observation that when a bowing Japanese man is pushed from behind, he would take a step forward, grab something, or cover his head with his arms in order to avoid falling on his head. Ueshiba had no interest in the attack itself but rather the direction it was coming from because the attack must always miss the target. He established three options to end confrontations: dodging until the aggressor is discouraged, putting the aggressor in a very uncomfortable position without the ability to do anything, or throwing the aggressor on their back or head in case of a deadly threat.
The essence of Ueshiba’s approach is to avoid the attack and neutralize it only if necessary. The key is to make sure that the attack misses its intended target. The Aikido technique involves lifting up the aggressor’s arm, bending it at the elbow and twisting the wrist simultaneously to cause enough pain for the aggressor to climb onto their toes. Depending on the direction of the attack, either the palm of the bent arm is on the side of the breast or the back, putting the aggressor in a very uncomfortable position where they cannot do anything. If the attack is by leg or head, the nearest passive hand is lifted, bent at the elbow and its wrist twisted as described above. Throwing the aggressor is achieved by dropping the hands. The head will follow the elbow, and the aggressor falls on their back, safely as in Judo. The dynamics of the throw should be enough to warn the aggressor.