Saturday, 10 October 2015

If it doesn't work in the octagon...

This morning, I came across the following gem on YouTube:

"Wing Chun suits people who cant fight to save their lives, and never want to get better at fighting. Its for lazy cowards and pretend, wannabe fighters."

It's hard to be entirely sure, with someone who so carefully guards their online anonymity, but I'm pretty sure there are no videos of them fighting a wing chun practitioner.  This is important, because their profile picture states that they are exposing wing chun.  It seems to be more than a little disingenuous to claim they are personally exposing an art, when all they are doing is sharing videos from the relative comfort of where they sit.

I can understand why their anonymity is important.  Traditional martial artists tend to be reasonable people, but the danger is that you may stumble across the one who slipped through the net.  Replying to every comment on the thread marks this person out as a troll, and a brief scroll through their profile reveals that they have also attacked aikido and krav maga.  Of course, they champion MMA, as is usually the case, but I question whether this person has ever stepped inside the octagon or taken any other lessons in combat arts.

Still, the internet trolls will never change.  Where I've spoken to people who actually compete in a ring or octagon, some give traditional martial arts a lot of respect but, I have to say, some have no respect for anything other than what they practise.  A criticism I've heard, again and again, is that wing chun, and other arts, have been proven ineffective through many losses in the octagon.

What is a fight in the cage?

I'll tell you that I could no sooner win a fight in the octagon than run a hundred metres in less time than a professional sprinter.  Would losing the race mean that I can't run at all?  Obviously not.  By the arguments I see repeatedly about cage fighters versus traditional martial artists, however, losing to a professional, or semi-professional athlete, in their preferred environment, under their preferred rules, means you can't fight, or your art is ineffective.  Your experience, relative to that of the cage fighter, does not matter.  If you lose, so does your chosen art.

The ring, octagon or cage is an environment where a sporting contest is taking place.  I'll accept the argument that MMA provides an environment that is close to a street fight but, when I see claims that it is essentially the same as a street fight, I believe that someone is suffering from a dangerous and irresponsible delusion.


I'm not here to disrespect any art, unlike the trolls that litter YouTube.  Let's not forget that the arts which are used in the mix of cage fighting are descended from arts which were proven in battle.  The question is, for what environment are you training?

Where does a competition fight, in the ring, cage or octagon, begin?  Are the fighters one metre, two metres or three metres apart?  Do they have to close the distance?  Is the distance closed for them?

If you're attacked on the street, the answer is clear.  With few exceptions, the attack will come from within a metre.  Arts like wing chun do not focus on close quarters combat for no reason.  A competition fight will start from a distance; a street ambush may start with both fighters within an arm's length of each other.  Already, we can see that they aren't the same.


I've heard it said that it takes courage to step into a ring, a cage, or an octagon.  I agree.  Both fighters know that a fight is taking place, and voluntarily take part in the encounter, knowing they may be badly injured.  I'm not a fan of those fights, as regular readers will know, but I have to respect the courage that is displayed by choosing to fight in that environment.  Here, I will highlight that it is a choice, however.

Unless you are the aggressor, or have fundamental flaws in your character, you will not choose to fight on the street.  This links to the point about distance.  You will be an unwilling participant in a fight.  Your attacker does not want you to be prepared for the attack, so it will happen at a range where you have a greatly reduced chance of reacting in time.


Ring, cage or octagon canvas?  Quite forgiving.  Concrete and tarmac?  Hard and unyielding.  I can't make it any clearer than that.  Walls, lampposts, parked cars and other objects are similarly unyielding.  How about rolling around in broken glass, dog faeces and other nasty things?  No?

What if they're carrying a weapon?  Even if they didn't come equipped, there may be items lying around that could easily be used for the purpose.  In this case, you don't want to swing your arms wildly, but you want to gain control of that weapon.  It sounds like something that has been taught in martial arts classes since long before cage fighting arrived on the scene.

I'll ask the question again: are you training for a competition, or training to survive?  They are two very different things.


The rules of responding to a street attack are the laws of a country, which the attacker has chosen to break, but within which you may or may not choose to remain.  Each country has laws governing the use of reasonable force.  These will vary from place to place.  One which is particularly relevant here is the issue of fighting on the ground.  In most places, choosing to fight on the ground, when escape was a possibility, is not considered to be reasonable.  Actually, if any opportunity to escape is not taken, and you choose to continue fighting instead, this is not considered reasonable.

Ending a fight quickly, and escaping, is the aim.  If escape is possible without a blow being landed, that is preferable.  The highest aim is to prevent an attack without needing to fight.  If the attacker draws a weapon, a more brutal response may be easier to justify, within limits.

Competitive fights prohibit a large amount of the arsenal of traditional martial arts.  It is not reasonable, in that environment, to deliberately cause permanent injury to an opponent.  Accidents happen, but the rules are there to lessen the likelihood of these kinds of accidents.

Do I really need to cover this one in more depth?  The rules of competition severely limit arts which were developed for dealing with life threatening situations.


The use of gloves in competitive fighting is quite a recent innovation, and it has fundamentally changed the nature of the competitions.  To be clear about this, gloves protect the hands.  When I look at the forms of wing chun, for example, and see no punches to the head, I know that the art was not developed with any consideration to gloves being worn.

The first thing I noticed, wearing gloves while sparring in wing chun, was how they restricted the motion of the wrist.  Palm strikes suddenly became impossible, meaning I had to go against the basic nature of the art and punch to the face.  It would be possible to land a fak sau or use a jum sau as a strike, but those are more than a little dangerous for using in a friendly sparring session.  I should point out that they're also outlawed in competition.

I'm uncomfortable with sparring, because it reduces wing chun to competition rules.  Elbows?  Well, the way they are implemented in wing chun, it wouldn't be a good idea.  Essentially, we find ourselves limited to straight line punches, and it's amazing how quickly those with experience of boxing or other martial arts revert to what they knew before.  I would argue that, as soon as you put on a pair of gloves, wing chun becomes something other than wing chun.

The skull is designed to protect the more delicate matter within.  The bones of the hand are designed to be more flexible, so they don't have the same structural integrity.  Arts like baguazhang focus on open hand strikes, maybe realising that maintaining the flexible nature of the hand minimises the possibility of injury, whereas compacting those delicate joints into a ball makes them vulnerable.  Punches to soft targets are fine, however, and the wing chun forms seem to hint at this.

Can you tell that I'm getting bored with this now?  I think it's laughable that I have to explain these things.  Wing chun is not a sport.  Judging it within that environment is wrong.


I'm not saying that traditional arts can't be used in competitions, nor am I saying that competition arts can't be used for self-protection.  If I suggested either of those things, I would be no better than the trolls on YouTube and Bullshido.  What I'm saying is that your success will depend on your training.  If you only train for sporting competition, your relative strength and fitness may be enough to see you surviving a street attack.  The arts you practice were once battlefield arts.  You should expect, however, that you may have to step outside the rules of the competitive environment and improvise.  Do not, under and circumstances, underestimate your attacker.

If you are learning a combat art that is focused on self protection, then competing is probably not your aim.  You will find yourself up against fighters who are probably better adapted to that environment, just as your own art is adapted to dealing with an ambush attack.  If you're not training to deal with an ambush, you're doing your art a disservice.  You are limiting your art, and that also happens as soon as you put on a pair of gloves.

It saddens me that some are not so open minded.  I believe that we can learn from each other.  If competition fighters were to train alongside traditional martial artists, both might benefit from the experience.  Unfortunately, the exchange is being derailed by teenagers who have watched a few videos of fights, and feel they are experts in every aspect of combat known to man.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Thought for the day: does more thought equal less speech?

As luck would have it, I've met a lot of new people recently, and one thing that keeps coming up in conversation is that I'm very quiet, I don't talk much, and other variations on the theme.  It's something that I've always had to endure.

The alternative, however, is having nothing to say and talking anyway.  I think there's too much of that going on in the world.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

I'm there with you

When all around you is darkness,
and you just want to find your way home,
I'm there with you.

When you have lost your faith,
even when I have little faith in myself,
I'm there with you.

When you just want to lash out,
at whoever and whatever is closest to you,
I'm there with you.

When you feel all alone in this world,
even if you once abandoned me for the company of others,
I'm there with you.

When you have lost someone you love,
and all you want to do is talk about how much you miss them,
I'm there with you.

When you doubt yourself,
even if you have caused me to have doubts of my own,
I'm there with you.

When you can't face the day ahead,
and wonder if you will ever be able to face another,
I'm there with you.

When you feel that no one wants to listen,
even if you were not there when I needed you,
I'm there with you.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

A closed book opens

Earlier this week, someone referred to me as having hidden depths.  After hearing from another person that I don't talk much, and it's difficult to get to know me, I've decided that maybe I should write a little about myself.  The majority of people reading this will have no idea who I am, anyway.

To put it simply, I'm more of a listener than a talker.  If you have any understanding of personality types, you may understand what I'm saying if I tell you I'm an introvert.  It is the nature of the introvert to be introspective, and to often find themselves quickly feeling exhausted when drawn into a conversation.

Perhaps one of the nicest things that was ever said about me was said by one of my English teachers, who said that I don't say much but, when I do say something, it is something that is worth hearing.

There are benefits to me being more of a listener, of course.  One of the things I know instinctively, through experience, is that a lot of people feel that no one listens to them.  Well, I listen to them.  Unfortunately, some just believe I am unwilling to engage them in conversation, because I don't want to talk or listen to them, but that's simply not true.  The people I trust most, who have become the best friends I have, all possess one quality which unites them: they have lots of patience.

I was born and raised in Greater Manchester, England.  It was there that I took my first steps, learned to talk, first made friends and formed most of my personality and view of the world.  To my mind, this means that, no matter where I go, no matter what anyone says about my ancestry, I will always be an Englishman.  What's more, I am forever a northerner.

It's fairly obvious, to anyone who reads these pages regularly, that I am a bit of a martial arts fanatic.  That started at seven years old, when my parents sent me to a judo class.  I've been practising a southern Chinese martial art called wing chun for the past five years: as with most Chinese martial arts, it can more generally be labelled as kung fu in the western world.  I also practise a Filipino martial art called arnis, though it's more difficult to say exactly when my formal practise of arnis began, because it has been a mixture of personal research, classes and private lessons.

I've recently started learning modern jive.  Part of my reason for doing this is I'm not a great dancer, though I have to admit that a lack of confidence may be at least partly responsible.  Having to interact so closely with people is, as a well worn phrase would have it, well outside my comfort zone.  I should feel at ease with it, in theory, after so many years of martial arts lessons, but it doesn't seem to get any easier.

Why the focus on physical pursuits?  I was never seen as the sporting type as a child.  I was a maths whizz, and this later led to an interest in computer programming, which in turn led to a career in Information Technology.  Later, I judged myself to have something of a one-dimensional personality, which needed to be filled out, and saw that my parents had maybe sent me to judo classes for reasons other than protecting me from the school bullies.

An interesting thing I've noticed, when I take part in physical pursuits, is a tendency to improvise and, more specifically, to simplify.  My mind seems to rebel against the repetition of set sequences, and introduces variation.  It's said that our minds crave novelty, so maybe it's just basic human nature, and not something specific to me.

In my counselling class last year, it was noted that I don't seem to like talking about myself.  That's true, so I hope you appreciate the effort which goes into a piece of this nature.  I always reason that people will ask about me, if they're interested.  Generally, people seem more interested in talking about themselves.

If I ever give the impression that I'm a saint, then I have misled you.  Everyone has a darker side, and I'm no exception.  There is always a lot about ourselves that we repress, in an effort to present an acceptable version of who we are to the world, and some of us choose to inhibit ourselves more strongly.

If you want to know my basic nature, think Zen.  In my interactions with others, in what I say, I am restrained.  I value sentiments which are expressed in few words.  I like art that makes use of few colours: my favourite style is duotone comic art (black, white, and a third colour).  My favourite musical genre is indie rock.  I like watching and reading science fiction, especially anything from the 1950's.  I greatly respect those who feel comfortable with silence.

Well, there it is.  I really don't know how to close a piece like this, so I'll just leave it there.  If you've read, and understood, thank you.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Thought for the day: everything is temporary

Every now and then, I'll catch a glimpse of something that reminds me of how things used to be.  A recent example is the demolition of an old hotel on the seafront near where I live, which has exposed the side streets beside the hotel.  On one of those side streets, which travels uphill from the promenade, there is a smaller hotel.

Something about that little hotel on the side street, its Victorian styling and its situation, brings to mind memories of childhood holidays.  I wonder if the hotel maintains a steady income, or whether it will become a thing of the past, like the larger hotel that was hiding it from view.

I visited a local club recently, and the internal and external look of the place reminded me of similar places which existed when I was a child.

It's all too easy to see the past through a filter, to romanticise the way things used to be.  I'm at an age where many of my friends and acquaintances can be heard to say that things were better in "our day".  I, on the other hand, would say that things haven't got worse, nor have they got better.  On the whole, all we can say with certainty is that things have changed.

I realise that I'm speaking only from my own point of view, but I would say some things are better now, some are not so good and it all essentially balances out.  Why can't we keep the good things, and simply change the bad?  Well, think about it.  Are we all able to agree about what was good, and what was not so good, in years gone by?  No, we're not.  What was good for one person was a terrible thing for another, and vice versa.

This is how I choose to look at the world.  There is no better or worse, because those concepts are entirely subjective.  All that is certain is change, and I try to embrace it.  I'm much happier that way.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Five years of wing chun

August the 18th went by unnoticed this year, and yet it marks an important milestone for me.  As of that date, I have officially been studying and practising wing chun for five years.

I was going to share some insights but, right now, I feel like holding back would be the wiser course of action.  I don't know whether it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but people I have known for years have made it clear that they don't respect what I do.  It's not just that they would question whether I have any insight or ability, in wing chun or anything else, but I have come to realise that I am underestimated, undervalued, and basically not respected for anything that I may accomplish.  I've had a lifetime of this.

It's a timely reminder that, although few people are truly evil, there are those who are so misguided that they don't realise the hurt they cause.  Would I risk sharing my acquired wisdom with such people?  No.

I've spent about fourteen years, on and off, obsessively honing my ability as a fighter.  When I started along that path, I was in a situation where I was convinced that my survival was dependent on learning the most effective combat arts, so that is what I set out to do.

I'm going to mark five years in wing chun by practising more and practising smarter.  I know where I have to improve and how to achieve my stated goal, but knowing is only a part of the battle.  It's time to practise those skills.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The reality of wing chun

When it comes to fighting, most people are cowards.  Certainly, the guy with whom you were arguing earlier in the evening is a coward.  That's why he wants to make sure the right hook he's throwing at your jaw comes as a surprise.  He probably said something which diverted your attention or made you think he was walking past you.

Of course, he's close enough that he has a good chance of landing that punch, and that means he's practically in your face.  The roundhouse kick you've practised again and again - forget it.  If you duck and try to take him down, it'll just result in him hitting you on the cheek or higher on the head.  In a fraction of a second, you're down.  Just like he wanted, it's lights out before you even have a chance to respond.  He might decide to kick you in the head while you're down.  That's the nature of anger.  He'll probably think about the consequences later.

If only you'd trained to fight at this range, where the distance has already been closed and an ambush attack is on its way.  There isn't time to think at this range, so you want a collection of valid responses, you want to have trained them to the point where they are instinctive, and ideally you won't have to think about them.

Life isn't a ring or an octagon

I apologise if the opening of this piece is more aggressive in tone than usual.  It's the only language the keyboard warriors of the internet understand.  Most of them don't actually train in a martial art, but they love watching the UFC and other mixed martial arts competitions.  They also consider themselves experts in every conceivable combat system known to man, and feel qualified to say that systems whose development time can be measured in centuries are useless.

The situation I opened with is a situation for which wing chun was designed.  An ambush attack is measured in fractions of a second, and has to be dealt with in the same time frame.  If the whole cage fighting thing has taught us anything, it's that people are surprisingly reluctant to fight, if both parties know a fight is about to happen.  Not many have the courage to step into an octagon, a ring or onto a competition mat, so instead they attack through deception and at close quarters.

There's the primary difference between competitive fighting and the type of situation for which wing chun was created - knowing that a fight is going to happen would be something of a luxury in the environment within which wing chun was created.

If you train for competitive fighting or self protection, and you think that either environment has the same rules as the other, it is better that you get a wake up call right now than when you have to test your theory.

Range (I may have to get technical here)

Wing chun is known as a close quarters combat system.  If you look at videos on the internet, though, you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise.  Watch the videos where wing chun students are sparring with karate students, for example, and you'll see them maintaining a range at which the karate practitioners are happy to fire off their arsenal of kicks.  It's the same when they are faced with muay Thai, taekwondo and other kicking arts.  So, what's going on?

Remember wing chun's focus.  From the very start, the assumption is that we are facing a surprise attack, and the distance has already been closed.  If we are to use the greater part of our training, we risk walking into a kick or another longer range attack on our way in.  Notice how most competitive fights involve the fighters moving into range of each other.

Wing chun sucks at a longer range, right?  Wrong.  We have ways of getting into range.  If we use the example of a kick coming at us as an example, the prescribed response is to cover with a block and kick the supporting leg, taking the power out of the kick and disturbing the opponent's balance long enough for us to move in and use our hands.  Why isn't it used in all those sparring and cage fighting videos?  Well, one of the targets for the standard front kick is the knee.  Another one is the hip.  Or, there's a downward kick aimed at the lower leg, designed to break the ankle.  If you can't understand why the forward thrusting kick of wing chun, aimed at these targets, might be a problem in a competitive environment, then I don't think any amount of explaining wing chun will be enough for you.

Let's also consider the level of wing chun we are seeing in these fights as well.  I've seen many videos of a Steve someone-or-other fighting in an octagon or on a competition mat.  In one fight, he was introduced as one of the top wing chun fighters in the world.  Apart from the videos, I've never heard of him.  In one particular fight in an octagon, an eastern European fighter takes him to the ground, and he offers no reply.  We have ways of dealing with attempts at taking us to the ground (shuai jiao, the predecessor of Japanese jujutsu, is a Chinese art).  I'm not going to reveal what they are, but we have them.

My point is that a lot of these fighters don't seem to have much experience.  Their form is wrong.  Some of them dance about on their toes.  Kicks don't even appear in the first form, so it's fair to say that a few years of training is needed before a wing chun practitioner will become proficient at kicking, unless we change the way we practise.  Using kicks sparingly is good wing chun; not using them at all may be a sign that someone hasn't learned much wing chun yet.

A lot of wing chun schools don't spar, and students don't test themselves.  I applaud any of the videos that represent a student's first steps in sparring or testing themselves against another combat discipline, but let's not misinterpret what's going on.  If you are going to label it as martial art X versus martial art Y, at least ensure that both fighters are experienced in what they claim to represent.

Here's a short video to illustrate my point about correct range.  Notice the strike to the eye occurs at a range which suits wing chun, when he is able to close the distance.

Here's a potentially more contentious video about fighting range in wing chun...

The gloves are off

I've heard it said many times that the gloves take away a lot of wing chun's effective techniques.  That may be true, but the problem is a lot more fundamental than that.  Gloves change the nature of a fight, because they protect the hands.

I noticed a long time ago that the wing chun forms, which are our reference to how this stuff should be used, contain no punches to head height.  The punches go out roughly at chest height, maybe as high as the neck as well (not recommended, unless you want to run the risk of killing someone).  The lineage I study has removed Ip Man's palm-up punch to the abdomen, but I have restored it in the second form for my own practice, because I consider it useful.  Anyway, the point is that open hand strikes are used to the head.

How easy is it to perform a palm strike with gloves on?  Not at all easy.  Still, a lot of videos show wing chun students punching to the head, which is going against what we are shown by the forms.  Essentially, this is changing the art to suit a different environment.

As a side note, I'm disappointed to see Samuel Kwok supporting bare knuckle boxing, as shown in the video below.  Aside from the ethical issues I have with him supporting competitive fighting, it is quite a different skill set to that which is needed when dealing with an ambush attack.


There's a lot more I could say about this issue, but it's probably an exercise in futility, and it is for the good of humanity that certain people do not understand combat arts.

You'd be right to question my own knowledge of martial arts.  I'm happy to be judged on what I write here, because it's an honest representation of my thoughts.  Am I able to put my knowledge into practice?  Well, that's another question entirely, and one I feel is answered only by fools.