Wing Chun is a Chinese Boxing system. But it would seem that many branches have moved away from the heart of the art. It is often said the problem is the solution. So let’s look at the problem!
What we see a lot of today is Chi Sao becoming the main training of Wing Chun. Now I am not saying Chi Sao is not important – we will cover Chi Sao in more articles as it is very important and integral to Wing Chun’s deeper skills. But many times now I have seen that a lot of clubs only train set applications and Chi Sao. Is that enough?
I remember teaching at an open Wing Chun seminar a few years ago and I asked who brought boxing gloves and a gum shield – only my own students had. I then ask how many spar and the answer was very low indeed.
If you look at Wing Chun on you tube you will find clips of guys ‘sparring’ with head guards that have face grills or full plastic covers, using MMA gloves. They take turns chain punching at each other and trying the odd Pak Sao attack. I’ve had guys email these clips asking for opinion. What do you say when you see something which has no link to an application in the real world. The funny fact is they think these are more real as the gloves are small and they are hitting the face. No it’s not real it is very different being hit in the face without a head guard.
They will say “but boxing gloves are not real as Wing Chun has other tools that can be used.” Others will talk about fingers in the eyes and biting and all sorts. Now I am not saying these things do not count in a real fight. Of course a finger in the eye by mistake is not nice at all. So an eye attack would be bad. But we are training high level skills in the martial arts. It takes no training to poke someone in the eye. It takes a lot of skill and training to stop and control someone. It takes a lot of training and skill to beat someone stronger or bigger than you. That’s why the martial arts in about training solid basic skills.
Other will say Wing Chun is just for the street so competition is not a true test. Well, of course in the street you have no gloves and fewer rules. This makes it a more dangerous situation. So who do you think will be more prepared for this? The guy trained in drills and Chi Sao with no pressure or the guy trained with drills, Chi Sao with different levels of pressure and lots of clinch sparring with gloves and sparring in and out of ranges?
I think the more conditioned guy with the glove time is in a better place to deal with stressful pressure.
I often post fights on Wing Chun forums of my Iron Wolves fight team who have won many Boxing . K1 and MMA bouts. Some Wing Chun branches still say that it can’t be Wing Chun as they can’t see movements from the forms! Crazy to hear that limited thinking. They then post clips of their teachers doing compliant Chi Sao. It may look nice but it is not real. That is just training a skill, which I agree is important but it does not develop the full skill required. They are missing the end game. I’m not saying they must all fight, but they must all spar to develop true understanding. Otherwise you start seeing applications that would never work as they are not tested with some form of pressure.
You don’t walk into a boxing ring with a speed ball or heavy bag over your shoulder! People know the difference between training and fighting. In training you use things to develop your skills – training equipment, forms, drill, Chi Sao, sparring and so on. Then you fight.
The point is we all know that Boxing gloves do change a few things but they do not limit your growth, they only add to it.
You can see lot of schools doing Wing Chun by rote i.e. we do it like this and that’s what I was taught and the master did this and so on. Then you have Chi Sao practised in a controlled and drill like format. The opponent does this then you would do that and so on. This may be okay for beginners learning of course. But it is only the start. I have seen guys with 10-15 years training and they are still training like this! Why? Well it’s because that’s what they were taught. This is very common in Wing Chun circles.
But how does that make you a good fighter or martial artist or give you the skills to defend yourself? What is the bench mark of a good teacher? Telling people to call you grandmaster? Dressing in Kung Fu uniforms? Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a master or grandmaster to your own students /grand students and to hold traditional values within the martial arts. But this is often used as a way to gain control of students. You are only a master to your own students in your branches of the art.
Of course older teachers should not have to fight everyone to prove the skills they teach. You have lots of great old boxing coaches. Also some good teachers may not be the best fighters. But you must be able to play the game. That means you should be able to put the gloves on and do a few rounds. Otherwise you can never develop the timing or conditioning to deal with the basic punches anyone would throw at you.
Sparring is not about winning or not getting hit. You don’t even have to go hard to learn. In fact you learn better when you go at a medium pace and play with it more. Then sometimes put in a good tear up to test out the holes in your game.
Some will say that’s not Wing Chun as it’s about personal growth etc. Look its martial arts. The personal growth comes from knowing you can look after yourself and your family. What happens if one day you have to defend yourself and you find out you can’t do it as your training never prepared you for it correctly. What do you think that will do to your personal growth?
If you look at the famous boxer Jack Dempsey’s 1950 book ‘Championship Fighting’ – you may think you were reading about Wing Chun punching skills. Lots of the principles he talks of hold true in good Wing Chun. Modern boxing changed as the gloves and rules developed and it grew away from its bare knuckle fighting roots. But reading old boxing books you can see all the principles were required when punching with bare knuckles as in Wing Chun. Elbows down, vectors to the hip, vertical knuckle alignment and much more.
So did modern boxing improve boxing techniques? No in my mind it did not, it merely changed as with the environment of the sport and the contents of the rules and addition of gloves.
Bigger gloves and hand wraps meant one would not break a hand so easily and with scoring based on landing strikes it would take boxing in a different direction than in the old bare knuckle days where if you hit a badly landed punch you would be sure to break your hand. Also bare knuckle fighting included basic throwing, elbow control and head locks! Looking a bit more like a boxing style for the street, looking a bit more like Wing Chun should be!
I cannot agree more, excellent article!
Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun Singapore