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Wing Chun perspective from a Correctional Officer

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Wing Chun Kung Fu "The Sawed-off Shotgun of martial arts"

Author: Master Michael Nedderman

Why Study Wing Chun

After training in a medium to long range martial art for five years and earning a black belt, and after investigating a variety of other martial arts, Officer Omega (not his real name) discovered the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu. "It doesn't take much investigating to see that the theoretical and tactical basis of Wing Chun perfectly matches the reality faced by correctional officers," states Officer Omega. "This unique martial art and my instructor's teaching ability are what enabled me to successfully defend myself against a dangerous inmate at San Quentin. Because of Wing Chun's simple yet devastatingly effective techniques, the inmate was carried away on a stretcher instead of me. There was also a dramatic improvement in respect from inmates."

Wing Chun is a highly sophisticated, scientific method of street fighting. There are no fancy movements to impress the audience. Each of us has known a "naturally" gifted street-fighter. However, such a person is the exception quite simply because effective fighting does not come naturally. The primary reason for our awkward ineffectiveness is that the basic human instinct is to defend when attacked. Incomprehensible as it might seem at first, that basic instinct (defending) is the least effective response to an attack, yet it is what most martial arts spend all their time trying to perfect!

Attack when Attacked!

The aggressive street fighter’s aberrant instinct to instantly go on the offense works best quite simply because it is simultaneously a physical, emotional, and mental shock. This "attack when attacked" tactic embodies the well-known military adage: "the best defense is a good offense." While most martial arts give lip service to that well-known doctrine, and some might even have a few techniques which demonstrate it, this author is not aware of any but Wing Chun that embody it as t! he "cornerstone" of its foundational principals. "Attack when Attacked" describes Wing Chun, and, in combination with its other fight theories, defines the reason for its combat effectiveness. Even its most defensive techniques have an aggressive offensive component.

Wing Chun has a proven method of instruction that develops such unnatural yet effective skills and instincts in any individual who dedicates himself to the task. Actually, Wing Chun is probably the simplest of martial arts in terms of the actual techniques and the effort needed to implement them. In Wing Chun, simplicity usually means techniques that are direct and therefore offensive because they immediately attack the opponent’s balance. Therein lies a large part of its effectiveness—sophistication resulting from simplicity and economy of motion rather than from complexity and "big", powerful movements.

However, because Wing Chun technique embodies the principle of simplicity does not mean it’s easier to learn than other martial arts. It has its own difficulty. The difficulty is that simplicity isn’t natural. It therefore requires regular practice, or to give it a 21st Century linguistic spin: it requires regular mental, emotional, and neuro-muscular conditioning.

Created from a woman’s perspective?

Best known to the public as Bruce Lee's original martial art, Wing Chun is different than all the others because it may be the only martial art originated and first developed (about 300 years ago) by women, a Buddhist nun and her first female student. That is probably the reason it takes such a radically Different approach to fighting.

The combat reality faced by those women (in fact, by all women) is very similar to that faced by correctional officers every day. They are confronted by adversaries who are usually bigger, stronger, probably younger and quicker, trained or at least experienced street-fighters, and who are by definition desperate. Also similar! to each group (COs and women) is the degree of vulnerability, and the fact that often there is little or no warning of an attack before the first contact is made. That first contact must be met with an instant attack, and that isn’t natural.

While it is true that many inmates are trained in martial arts, it must be remembered that Wing Chun's theories and techniques were specifically designed by women to defeat men who were trained, experienced martial artists in a culture (China)

that developed martial arts to its highest level. In other words, Wing Chun was specifically designed to defeat the practitioners of some of the most advanced fighting systems in the world. How does it do that?

Wing Chun's female founders correctly reasoned that they would lose most contests with male attackers simply because they lack size and strength. I’m sure those women concluded that it would be a mistake, or not even an option, to fight from a distance while striking at transient openings, hoping to eventually pummel an opponent into submission.

The other possibility involves wrestling down and chokes out a larger and stronger man. Wing Chun’s female founders must have reasoned that the only sensible tactic would be to instantly move in very close and end the fight quickly and decisively (in seconds) while always preserving "maximum defensive integrity" (this is an especially good idea against multiple opponents).

"Maximum defensive integrity" and an explosive offense?

Difficult to communicate in writing is that the preservation of "maximum defensive integrity" does not in any way compromise or blunts the "sawed-off shotgun offense" of Wing Chun. Remember, a Wing Chun fighter attacks when attacked (but always within the paradoxical context of preserving "maximum defensive integrity").

The only way such a tactic could work for the physically disadvantaged fighters who originated Wing Chun was to employ means that did not require athletic prowess (power, strength, speed, etc.), but which were scientific or biomechanical in nature (based upon the body's natural fulcrums and levers). Those women concluded that they needed an "edge." They developed Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Wing Chun has just one fight tactic: attack immediately by moving in very close and staying there until it’s over—striking the opponent's "soft spots" such as the eyes, throat, abdomen, groin, and knees, to name a few. Because these areas are often well guarded, control of one's opponent is essential, and therein we find the art.

The need for control of what happens during a fight led naturally to each of Wing Chun's surprisingly effective theories. They are surprising both because of the means developed to achieve control, and because the control achieved is dynamic rather than the static control of a wrestling hold or a joint lock which requires much greater strength to successfully execute.

Self-control, or the preservation of "maximum defensive integrity," is a prerequisite to offensively controlling an adversary. This critical element is seen in Wing Chun's concept of never over-committing when moving, punching or kicking, and in its highly defensive posture, which is used, paradoxically, in a very offensive manner--like an army battle tank.

The reason Wing Chun strongly emphasizes the preservation of "maximum defensive integrity"" is to eliminate, or at least minimize, the effects of an adversary's inevitable counter moves. Remember, a woman originated this art, and she couldn’t risk getting into an "exchange" with a presumably bigger, stronger male opponent. Therefore, compromising defense integrity for an offensive opportunity violates Wing Chun theory.

THE KEY: A Calm Mind

Self-control begins by learning Wing Chun's unique techniques that do not sanction the shifting of the center of gravity forward by lunging and/or over-reaching, and is ultimately! Defined by the calm or neutral mental and emotional state that is acquired. It is this neutral mental and emotional state that is really the key to making all of Wing Chun's components function together properly. In other words, a Wing Chun fighter also does not over-commit his mind or emotions which gives himself the self-control that enables him to trap his opponent’s mind and emotions, and therefore control his opponent’s energy (sometimes without even fighting).

"Sensitivity" and the "fear of falling"

Control of an opponent can be observed first in Wing Chun's tactic of constantly invading that opponent's "personal space." Doing that keeps the opponent mentally as well as physically off-balance and creates a panic-like, "fear of falling" mind-set with each technique (offensive or defensive) that is applied with machine-gun like rapidity. Such control is implemented through a highly refined sense of touch that has been developed into an amazing martial skill known as "sensitivity" (sensitivity to the opponent’s movement and energy flow). The Wing Chun fighter "sees" with his hands. It is that sensitivity which directs the art’s effective "trapping hands" techniques that work so effectively due to the style's incredible biomechanical facility.

Wing Chun "sensitivity" enables a practitioner to "stick to" an adversary's every move, thus neutralizing each, and to know (without seeing) when and where to strike (a well known drill for developing "sensitivity" is actually called "sticking hands"). This unique skill allows any slight change in balance, direction, or energy flow to be readily detected through the sense of touch, and properly and instantly dealt with.

"Sensitivity" unifies Wing Chun's theories and techniques into a lighting quick, highly aggressive means of fighting--cutting off attacks and striking at vital areas with Wing Chun's abrupt, explosive power that derives from its theories of "borrowing energy,! " and "simplicity and economy of motion."

Visualizing the "Dummy Within"

Because Wing Chun's female founders had to be faster than their opponents, they developed the theory of "simplicity and economy of motion," which manifests as direct movements that defend and counter-attack simultaneously, often with the same movement. In combination with Wing Chun’s peculiar energy, the techniques derived from this theory shock an opponent’s equilibrium because they are short, sudden, and very explosive. That explosive energy is directed at the central cylindrical core of the opponent—-at his "dummy within" (referring to the shape of a Wing Chun training aid, the "Muk Jong" or "wooden dummy" which students visualize within their training partners).

Mind Ttrapping

That kind of energy, manifesting in every technique in the "shotgun blast" of the Wing Chun offense, and directed at the opponent’s "dummy within", disrupts anything the opponent tries to do (defense) while simultaneously disrupting his balance (offense). That causes a panic reaction that instantly puts him on the defensive. That defeats him mentally even before the actual "coup de grace" can be delivered. Remember however, this is a "shotgun blast", and so there is no more emphasis or intent on any single technique over another. But each technique is instantly followed up upon with a driving staccato rhythm that seems akin (psychologically if not physically) to the effect of the multiple pellets, and even multiple blasts, of a shotgun.

Obviously the above statement is hyperbole, but it is used to convey a reality. That reality is the physical, mental, and psychological shock with which a Wing Chun practitioner disrupts his opponent’s equilibrium, creating a panic reaction to the "fear of falling", thus trapping his mind, controlling his energy and, ultimately controlling all of his movements in a dynamic manner.

INSTANT KARMA: just add aggression!

Often, much of the power for a strike is "borrowed" from the opponent's movements or from his very resistance or reaction to the Wing Chun fighter's technique. Known as "borrowing energy," this aspect of most Wing Chun techniques also adheres to the simultaneous defense/offense concept.

What in fact happens is that the opponent actually supplies the very power used to defeat him by loading "springs" with the energy of his reaction which the Wing Chun practitioner releases and directs back into him. In other words, the harder he tries, the harder he gets hit until he actually beats himself up using your hands! This author likes to call it "instant karma"-—just add aggression.

Officer Leash is fond of saying, "we train to fight in a darkened phone booth" (no light and little space required). He also points out that a Wing Chun practitioner's skills do not diminish with age because the critical factors are theoretical comprehension and the ability to relax in the very stressful circumstances of a fight, thus allowing "sensitivity" to direct the now ingrained techniques in an almost magical, precognitive manner.

"All I need to do is stick one finger in your eye or throat and the fight is over. How much strength does that take?" It doesn't, it takes skill. And the skill is primarily in the control of both oneself and the opponent, not necessarily in the act of striking. That is a dimension of training that is not present in other martial arts.

How Wing Chun transcends mental and neuromuscular limits

To maximize the effectiveness of Wing Chun's approach to fighting a practitioner must maintain a consistent state of mental, emotional, and physical calmness that not only enhances application of the style's theories and techniques, but enables him to become aware of many things at once. This is known as "situational awareness," and is quite the opposite of the concept employed by many martial arts which advocate intense "focusing" of physical, mental and emotional energy (often by yelling), in order to enhance power (one of the primary goals of most martial arts).

Focusing in this manner causes one to lose awareness of all except the point focused upon, and is only useful when fighting at a distance, and when fighting one opponent at a time. "Situational awareness", derived from a calm mind, is critical to officer survival--especially against multiple opponents.

It is important to remember that successfully defeating multiple opponents demands the kind of mind-set developed by the Wing Chun system as well as its technical facility to dispatch an opponent in mere seconds (that’s all you’ll have) so the next attacker can be timely met and dealt with (look out--he’s right behind you). A Wing Chun fighter does not fear the contact---he seeks it, he welcomes it! And once contact is made, his offense instantly flows over, under, around, or through any obstacle much like a wall of water flowing downhill. This is the only realistic way of successfully defeating multiple opponents: that is to instantly and decisively so the next one can be met without fear of the last one "popping up"!

Beneficial "side-effects"

The mental and emotional calmness developed by a Wing Chun practitioner is a prerequisite to truly effective fighting and has certain positive "side-effects." First, the calmness that eventually pervades can lessen the stress in other areas of one's life. Second, because calmness facilitates clear thinking, it maximizes the possibility of defusing a confrontation non-violently. In other words, rational thinking and effective conversation are possible only if your mind and body are not tense with fear, anticipation, and adrenaline.

If calmness is the response when an inmate "gets in your face," concerns (fear) will naturally rise in his mind because yours is not a normal reaction. This calm demeanor is rooted in confidence in skills acquired and tested by long hours of training. It is also based in the knowledge that the closer he gets, the better you like it.

But where’s the Power?

Because Wing Chun was invented and developed by women does not mean it is a weak martial art. Power is not emphasized during the early stages of training because to do so would inhibit the ability to relax and develop Wing Chun’s special method of transferring "heavy" energy and developing "sensitivity."

Power training becomes part of the program (though always a secondary goal) once a student has learned to efficiently direct his innate power with precisely executed, sensitivity-guided techniques. In this martial art, a small person can develop and apply unbelievable close-range power that does not originate in muscular strength but from Wing Chun's unique techniques, relaxed musculature, and sensitivity-based timing (as opposed to timing based upon the eye-hand reflex which ! is slower, diminishes with age, and requires space).

Wing Chun power is more analogous to the force generated by a whip than to that generated by a hammer. And, each technique is instantly and repeatedly followed up upon until the opponent cannot be held up any longer and the fight is over.

Some of the power training is accomplished using the Muk Jong or "wooden dummy" which weighs about 100 pounds and is mounted on hardwood slats that act as springs (see photo). This ingenious training aid teaches a student, among other things, how to use proper technique to develop and direct Wing Chun's explosive, close-range power which is delivered without shifting the center of gravity forward (risky in terms of defense).

"With diligent study, the practice of Wing Chun Kung Fu will develop the confident presence needed to calmly face down hostile inmates," observes Officer Omega. "And," he concludes, "if they attack, officers so trained will have the ability to deal with them just as a chainsaw wielding logger deals with a stand of trees."

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