THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE: The Single Best Functional Wing Chun and Self Defense Training Headgear for 2020

 

There can be no room for “what-ifs” or error when deciding on the right headgear for dedicated Wing Chun or close-quarter self training. Fortunately , the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard, shown above, wraps them all up and ties them with a pretty bow.

Wing Chun system of close quarter combat and self-defense is unique amongst martial arts as it is predicated on close-in fighting in the very lethal range of trapping.  The right headgear, therefore, is essential for our training Wing Chun in an open, honest and no-bullshit way not only for self-defense and close-quarter combat but for the functionalization of Wing Chun’s basic techniques and principles (which can be translated into productive combat sports training as well). 

It behooves you, therefore, to select the best headgear for the very specific needs of functional Wing Chun training as well as being able to apply your Wing Chun skillset for both self-defense training and combat sports such as MMA, kickboxing or tournament competition.  

Wing Chun is unique amongst arts in that it lives in what is known as “trapping range.”  Trapping range is, for purposes of this review, defined as the range of combat inside of punching range and outside of grappling range.  This is a range few arts focus on: most martial arts can either be classified as “stand-up” (karate, boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo, etc.) or “ground fighting” (submission or “catch” wrestling, brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, sambo, etc.)

In order to properly train this range called “trapping,”, we need the right equipment to do so since if we didn’t we would either run out of people to train with in about 15 minutes or be missing an eye and have to drink our food through a straw for 6 to 8 weeks.  

Before I give you my personal choice for such a piece of equipment, let’s look at why trapping range is so important and how it relates to us as Wing Chun folk and in order to do so we need to borrow Doc Brown’s DeLorean for a minute, fire up the flux capaciter and head back in time…

Bruce’s Big Secret

Bruce Lee (right) belting Ted Wong in a backyard, closed-door full contact sparring session. Lee understood the value of proper equipment since, at a time when karate training and tournaments were non-contact affairs,  Lee and his crew were suiting up in headgear, shin guards, groin cups & mouthpieces and going at it to discover what worked and what didn’t.

According to world-renowned self-defense authority and former exclusive hand-to-hand combat instructor for Naval Special Warfare Command (i.e. SEAL Team 6) Paul Vunak, who also happens to be my jeet kune do instructor’s teacher, back in the mid-1960’s Bruce Lee gave the martial arts and self-defense world one of our biggest revelations when he presented what he called the 4 Ranges of Combat: 

  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • TRAPPING
  • Grappling

What Bruce discovered through his backyard, closed-door full contact fighting sessions with some of the top practitioners in the world like Joe Lewis, Mike Stone and a pre-Walker, Texas Ranger Chuck Norris – all of them world karate champions- was that any art on Earth must fall into one of these 4 ranges. 

This revelation formed the backbone of his personal system of jeet kune do, the “way of the intercepting fist,” allowing him to develop a hack for neutralizing any art he fought against by understanding instantly the range each art fought in and was most comfortable with, thereby allowing him to formulate a strategy and plan for countering that particular range. 

Truly next-level stuff since, at the time, most folks thought that merely practicing your reverse punch or fingertip “death touch” more or harder would assure victory, no matter the opponent.

Ha!

Where We Live

Now most martial arts out there fall into more than one of the 4 ranges listed above, Wing Chun included, but what makes our system of Wing Chun so effective is that it is designed specifically for use in trapping range.

What that means for us is that this is where our most potent and lethal tools come into play. Short-range strikes, headbutts, knees, toe stomps, shin scrapes, eye gouges and elbows are the tools of the day. While this makes for a very effective art it also poses a unique problem in how one trains it effectively.

Most gear on the market is “sparring gear,” meaning that it is designed for kicks and punches (click HERE for my detailed breakdown and review of the best sparring gear on the market today to enhance and optimize your sparring skills).  While it is true that Wing Chun is a striking art, it has more to do with the manner of striking and the range you will be striking in that can make or break your training’s effectiveness.

Pulling punches has no place in effective and efficient Wing Chun training either for sport or for self-defense.  Choosing and utilizing the right headgear is therefore essential for maximizing your Wing Chun training to allow you to develop the tools necessary should you ever need to call upon your art for real world application.

How To decide Which Type of Headgear Is Best for You

Headgear is sub-categorized by usage. There are several different styles of top-shelf boxing headgear, for example, that will serve you well in any kind of full contact combat sports training. The dipped foam gear of point karate-style sparring is designed not for contact but for protection.

This puts us as practitioners of Wing Chun in a rather unique position insofar as no headgear out there adequately addressed the needs of Wing Chun practitioners to be able to honestly and diligently practice and apply their art – until now.

Out of my 25-plus years training, both in traditional martial arts and reality-based self-defense combatives, only one piece of headgear has not only satisfied but exceeded my expectations for my personal contact-based approach to Wing Chun training for self defense training and that is the ProForce Thunder Padded Combat Head Guard, shown here.



What Makes It So Effective?

For starters so let’s look at the structure and design of the headgear itself. 

  • The shell of the headgear itself is durable and high-quality, and is designed specifically to withstand years of abuse.  In fact, I have only used one such piece of headgear since around 2006, and I beat the hell out of my stuff. 
  • Next, this purpose-driven style of headgear includes both cheek pads and a chin cradle/ guard such as you would see in in boxing headgear. This not only aids in protecting the face as well as the chin but also keeps the headgear snug and secure on your head. What this means for us is that the headgear is designed to withstand heavy blows by cradling your head and not sliding around on it.
  • The ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard also includes a fully removable face cage. The design of the cage itself is what makes this headgear so versatile.

I cannot tell you how many times I have worn ill-fitting headgear that moved every time I was popped with a good shot.  This is not only ineffective for training but also dangerous as it can impair vision, and In the heat of an exchange not being able to see is perhaps the most frightening aspect of it all.  I have always said that the punches I see aren’t what hurt me; it’s the punches I don’t see coming that inflict the most damage.

Why The ProForce Thunder Stands Above The Rest

Plexiglass headgear is designed for light contact, point-style tournament sparring…which for us is damn near useless.

There are 2 other main styles of protective” headgear on the market today.  The first uses a plexiglass shield for protection-no thanks.

I have used such headgear and have both had the plexiglass crack on me when I was wearing it as well as cracked a few face shields myself in the heat of a hard training session, and don’t want shards of plastic jetting into anyone’s face or eyes, mine or otherwise.

The other main type of protective headgear is designed for full-contact training but has a thick, plastic protective bar reminiscent of a 1930’s baseball catcher’s mask.  Durable and dependable, yes-but for self-defense training a bit lacking.  In a self-defense scenario as well as in Wing Chun training, the fingers can find their way into one’s eyes, and palm strikes a re a preferred striking method-both of which are hindered by using this type of protective headgear, seen in the video below.

The former is used for light-contact point sparring (which I have about as much use for as an Aramaic to Portugese dictionary), while latter is designed for maximum visibility and protection for full-contact sparring such as lei tai kickboxing seen here:

Yep, as you can see that style of headgear is perfect for full-contact competition but for close-quarter self-defense training, hands will be shot at your face “open palm” style, which can allow for an errant thumb or finger to your eyes.

Full contact competition headgear: dependable, durable and built to last-but not ideal for self-defense training.

No headgear can prevent all injuries from occurring- that is incumbent upon the practitioner to have the proper skill level to be able to deflect or avoid such an attack, with headgear being an “insurance policy” of sorts – however, having the right size and type of protective cage on the front of your headgear can greatly influence of the effectiveness and scope of your training.

I have found the style of cage used on the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard to be the most effective and easy to use for Wing Chun’s need for full-contact self defense training.

The small size of each square in the cage’s design pattern not only makes controlled striking with an open palm possible (unlike the catcher’s mask face bar-style headgear shown in the above clip) it also dissipates the force from a closed hand strike so Wing Chun sparring with MMA gloves gets a hell of a lot easier as well.

Add in a set of elbow and knee pads and you can take things a notch further with controlled knee and elbow strikes to the attacker’s head; just be careful and exercise the proper degree of control since too hard a shot can not only hurt the person wearing the mask, it can cause yourself injury if a strike lands the right way on the cage.

 


 

All of the shortcomings of the previous 2 styles of headgear discussed above are addressed by the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard.


Silly Rabbit!

One of the most useful features of the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard the back of the headgear is also fully padded and employs and extra-wide velcro strap to hold the headgear securely in place and to minimize any shifting or rattling around of your head inside.

There is also an added pad in the back to not only protect against the occasional strike from behind (also known as “rabbit punches” to any boxer-a big no-no that will get your ass D.Q.’d )that will happen in the heat of a scrappy exchange or chaotic self-defense scenario but also serves as another layer of material to securely hold the pad in place on your head.

Protect Ya Neck!

  

My favorite feature of this particular headgear are the padded flaps that hang down on the front and sides, which guards the throat and sides of the neck where the carotid arteries lay.

Any student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Judo knows full well that the carotid arteries are the targets of any choke since they carry oxygenated blood to the brain.  This is why a choke is so effective; it seals off blood flow to the brain, rendering unconsciousness in 4 to 6 seconds.  

Many people (undoubtedly due to movies and TV) believe incorrectly that a “choke” is compressing or crushing the windpipe; that can take minutes and will produce lasting damage.  In reality, a properly applied choke is one of the quickest, safest and most humane ways to deal with an attacker. 

The bonus for us as Wing Chun folk is that we do not need to train in judo or jiujitsu for years to glean the benfits of the choke.  How?   By attacking the carotid arteries on the sides of the neck, we can perform what is known as “stun and run” techniques to disable an attacker momentarily in order to either follow up and take them out of commission or escape to a safe place.

Try This Technique Next Time You Train…

An attack to a carotid artery can stun your attacker in his tracks when not two seconds prior he charging at you like a mad bull.

An example of attacking the carotid arteries and a self-defense scenario can be seen in the following photos this is what is known as a “cow catcher,” after the old cow catcher on a locomotive, or “dive entry” whereby the defender positions his hands in a triangular fashion and then “dives” into an attack cutting off the attacker’s momentum and space making him feel like he literally ran into a light post.  Follow the photos below:

Employing the “cow-catcher” or “dive entry” against an attack from the right and the left.

  

Note the triangular structure and forward pressure utilized as an adapted application of Wing Chun structure.  We attack the base straightforward against a looping or circular attack.  Note how the forearms slide right into the groove of the neck, which will stun the attacker and stop him in his tracks.  Believe me this is one technique that, if practiced without the proper equipment, can lead to injury.

I have played the attacker too many times to know that drilling this without neck protection just plain sucks, and there has not been any effective training tools to drill this particular drill with any degree of realism until now.  The padded flaps on the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard protect exactly the area impacted in the drill. Make no mistake- you will feel the impact.  However, the padded flaps provide you with just enough padding to drill this technique realistically without cumulative damage taking place. This one feature separates the this piece of headgear from all of its competitors.  


Hammering It Home

Wing Chun is a contact-based art and training realistically is therefore of the highest importance. The fact remains that there is an acute lack of any self-defense equipment designed specifically for close-quarters training outside of a fully padded suit that, though ideal, can run upwards of $2,000 putting it out of reach of the vast majority Wing Chun practitioners.  That doesn’t mean we just say, “screw it” and disregard training this stuff for, as the old saying goes, “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

The ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard satisfies all 3 parts of that last statement completely.

It’s durable structure, padded protection of the throat and neck, reinforced closure system and uniquely designed protective cage allows you to extract the most opportunities for training out of any headgear I have personally use.   

Using this piece of equipment allows you to begin filling in the gaps of your personal regimen with the one thing that is missing from most folks’ training (to their detriment): CONTACT.  With this headgear you can get it – and lots of it.  You will become better for it, and your training partners and students will as well.

Through personal experience and years of instruction I have come to rely on the versatility and durability of this particular headgear for the vast majority of my Wing Chun, self defense and close quarter combat training.  

It can be used for Wing Chun sparring but I do not recommend it (click HERE for my top picks on headgear for sparring-both Wing Chun and full-contact kickboxing/boxing).  Why?  Simply because many aspects of Wing Chun will blend together, and at times you will find yourself donning a different piece of headgear for a different application:  you may, for example, don boxing headgear when training Wing Chun structure so that your opponent can attack you wearing boxing gloves so you can handle aggressive pressure and power punching with minimal risk of injury. 

To any Wing Chun student who “gets” the right way to approach training, they won’t be married to only one style of headgear-they’ll use what they need, when they need it.

Where this particular piece of equipment shines is in its protective capability for self-defense and applied close-quarters Wing Chun training which, as far as I’m concerned, should be your #1 reason for training.



The Bottom Line

My experience as both a practitioner and an instructor the ProForce Thunder Combat Padded Head Guard presents the best and most versatile training option for headgear that any student serious about functionalizing his or her Wing Chun skills for real world close-quarter self-defense training should have in their training toolbox.

The bottom line is this: if you are serious about making your Wing Chun work for you, either in the full-contact combat sports arena or especially when seeking to apply your art in a realistic, practical and effective manner, invest in this headgear and put it to use. 

You will be shocked at the amount of applications you can find within your Wing Chun training when you can engage in when properly protected scenarios and drills.  Remember, Wing Chun only works if YOU do.

 

Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

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