I wasn't happy about donning the head guard and gloves again. The last time I had worn them, I was partnered with someone who insisted on delivering punches at something approaching full force. As I'm currently studying for some qualifications which will help me in my quest to find paid employment, it's important that I keep as many brain cells as possible.
To my relief, this time I was partnered with someone who used more control when connecting with the head. To my despair, I didn't give a good account of myself in the exchange. I could use many excuses, of course - I'm disabled; it's been at least three years since I have done any freestyle sparring; the head guard was so restrictive that I had barely any peripheral vision, so it was like fighting from inside a postbox. The reality is that I didn't keep the pressure on my opponent, I waited for the fight to come to me and I was so focused on practising particular defences that my counters rarely hit their mark. I don't agree with much of Bruce Lee's philosophy, but his assertion that the hands should be allowed to act in the way your training has conditioned them to act is accurate. Don't think. Act. Unfortunately, when I started to react instinctively, the session was halted by the instructor, who noticed I had just thrown a finger strike which narrowly missed my opponent's eyes.
If there is anything positive about the experience, it confirmed some of my beliefs about training. It's a shame that it took me so long to start using my own theory, though, and I have no excuse for that. Freestyle sparring is exactly what the name implies, not a place to be rigid. What about the head guard? Doesn't the head guard restrict and force a fighter to use techniques under circumstances that are unfamiliar? I'm sorry, but I can't see that as a bad thing. Wearing a head guard, being up against a wall in an alley, having to cope with an opponent who has already grabbed you - these are all difficulties, and we must learn to act decisively when facing adversity.
There is also the question of distancing, or range. It is in sparring that you realise how difficult Wing Chun is to counter, because it is a very close range fighting system. Once you see an attack coming, it is already too late, especially when the emphasis is put on speed and delivering numerous blows in quick succession. I would suggest that there are two ways to deal with this: either you study something like a long fist system of kung fu, so that you can stop a fighter closing the distance, or you learn another art which works at a similar range, like Filipino pangamut/panantukan/suntukan, to improve your close range game.
Interestingly, we went back to training without head guards or gloves in the latter part of the lesson. My training partner, being more experienced in Wing Chun than I, insisted that he should throw attacks, so that I could practice my defences and counters. I must give credit to the instructor, for saying that we should throw both hands out, and that they will automatically adjust to what they meet. Without thinking, I threw out both hands to meet the straight punches, blows to the midsection and round punches that came towards me. Taan sau, bil sau, gaan sau, bong sau, jum sau and pak sau all went out without conscious thought, combined with either a punch or a palm strike.
During this exchange, the instructor came to stand beside us and watch. Thinking he was about to speak, I momentarily lost concentration as my training partner came at me with a right hook punch. The left bil sau and right side palm I threw were as perfectly timed and executed as anything I have ever thrown, though they were thrown at speed because I had been momentarily distracted. When the palm connected a little too heavily with my opponent's cheekbone, the instructor, still watching, let out an involuntary "he he he". Fearing anger and retaliation, I quickly apologised to my partner, who waved my apology away, explaining that it was a perfect demonstration of how it should be used. The instructor agreed, adding that he would rather his students are forced to apologise to each other in the class than to freeze or throw an attack which barely makes contact in a live situation. At that point, I understood his involuntary glee: I am usually very careful to avoid hurting a training partner, and he had seen the first evidence that his student can effectively connect a technique under pressure.
What did I take from it? The hook punch is undoubtedly the most common attack I have come across on the street. The untrained street fighter will always go for a quick knock down. The hook has the power and, aimed at the right target, is the easiest way to produce a knock out with a single punch. Given that the bil sau/side palm counter came as an automatic, or panic, reaction to a hook punch and worked effectively under those circumstances, I will be training that combination fervently. An alternative, possibly more effective, is to combine the bil sau with a straight palm to the underside of the chin, pushing the head of the assailant backwards. However, it makes more sense to me that I train what comes most naturally.
To sum up, the following principles of my self defence theory were confirmed:
1. Defences (blocks, parries, evasions, footwork, etc.) should be trained to the point where they are automatic, so the focus can be on delivering an effective counter and maintaining that attack.
2. Whatever you train, it should be done in a way that is as relaxed as possible. The effects of adrenaline will add the necessary power, but will also potentially make movements tense and slow. Learning with as little muscular tension as possible will reduce this unfortunate side effect of adrenaline.
3. Palm strikes rock! I have always preferred operating open handed to using a clenched fist to punch. An open hand can more easily be changed in structure to check, or control, movement of an opponent's arm. I am also wary of packing the bones of my hand so tightly together before subjecting them to a hard impact.
I haven't had much time to train recently. If I get the time to train more, that will make a huge difference. I have made the decision to add Arnis to my training regime, should I have the time to do so. Improving my close range game is what it is all about.