Wing Chun Training for Simple, Effective and Practical Self Defense: The PHYSICAL Aspect


Wing Chun full contact training
Putting the work in at a demonstration of Wing Chun, self-defense and Chinese sanshou (full contact kickboxing) on a sweltering July day. Can you tell I’m channeling some “inner aggression” due to the triple digit heat and damn near 100% humidity? Good, I wasn’t trying to hide it.

The Physical factor is the most-often focused on aspect of self-defense and any system or style of martial arts.

Many might read the previous sentence and think to themselves, “no shit!” I agree that it sounds so obvious it’s insulting but just work with me for a second.

It is obvious that physical techniques are going to form the largest component of training, as one obviously needs to learn specific techniques and be able to execute them effectively. That’s like going to handyman school and learning how to hang a shelf by watching a power-point but not picking up a hammer or actually changing the head of a drill.

I am not implying that the Physical aspect of self-defense training is the least important – quite the contrary. What I am saying is that the Physical aspect of training is all too often done incorrectly or, at the very least, much less effectively than it could be.  At the end of the day, repetition really is the mother of skill – so long as the repetitions are done correctly. with the proper mindset and mentality and in the proper scenario or situation for self-defense and personal protection.

Excuse Me, You’re Doing It Wrong!

Among martial artists of any discipline there are several flaws in the physical component of training.  Some of the biggest include the following:

  • Too scenario-specific- i.e., “If someone grabs you HERE then you do THIS….If someone grabs you THERE then you do THAT.”  Wrong.
  • Too many sequences per self-defense technique- Example: “Against a wrist grab, do this…and then this…and then this…” Bullshit.
  • Training does not include an element of danger-  If scenario training has no intensity to it, it has little value to elicit a proper response.  Scenario-based training against an armored assailant is the only way to rectify this gaping hole in our training matrix.
  • Emphasis on unrealistic/sport techniques for self-defense- I remember being in a style relying heavily on kicks, and for self-defense training we were doing classical forearm blocks with high side kicks against an armed attacker! Call me overly analytical but I had my doubts even then as to how well someone the size of my mother (5 foot nothing and 110 lbs AFTER hitting up a Golden Corral buffet) would be able to incapacitate an attacker if he or she were forced to use this…
  • Last, but certainly not least, the emphasis on all too many systems and styles of martial arts for purposes of “self defense” (I hate that term for reasons I will discuss in future posts) relies almost exclusively on reactionary mindset, rather than a proactive one. ..i.e., don’t wait for someone to invade your “good touch, bad touch” space before you decide to be proactive about improving your situation!
Back in 1996 at yet another sweltering July demonstration. Fun stuff to practice but for simple, effective and practical self defense about as productive as pissing on an electric fence.

Less Talk, More Work: Don’t Pay Lip Service!

Many of us who have chosen Wing Chun as our system or style of choice often quote the buzzwords of SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT when declaring our art’s superiority, but let’s just stop and think about that for one second.

How many of us really, I mean really adhere to those tenets when we approach our training? If you are honest in your assessment of your training, as I try to be, you will most likely have no choice but to concede that we all fall short at certain times and in certain areas insofar as the reality of personal protection is concerned (which, after all, is the ultimate litmus test for the merit of any system of combative training).

No worries, though. As that sadistic priss Lucy said to that poor loser Charlie Brown in his famous Christmas Special, “the fact that you recognize you have a problem indicates you are not too far gone.”

In order to rectify this structural tension between theory and practice, proper training in Wing Chun for self defense and personal protection (which in my opinion should be the prime mover for your pursuit of martial skill) must do the following:

  • First and foremost, Wing Chun training must be done in the proper mindset, i.e., for personal protection and self defense. Now this is just my opinion (and I could be wrong-but I’m not), but if someone begins training in Wing Chun for purposes other than self defense and street survival or does but doesn’t start from the point of view of getting the proper mindset and mentality down first, don’t expect this stuff to serve you if you need it to. You’d be better off building a ship in a bottle or taking up shuffleboard.  That doesn’t mean you approach every drill or technique in a “balls-out” way.  That is a sure-fire way to deviate from the basics in short order and, as catch wrestling icon Karl Gotch said, the further you get from the basics the more junk you see.
  • Any technique training should be done progressively. Take your time to get the technique down properly. First slow, then faster; first light then heavier in pressure. As the saying goes, “slow is fast.”  Always train with end goal in the back of your head, not at the forefront.  This way, your subconscious will connect the dots and link things together for personal protection while your conscious mind actively processes the task at hand.
  • Know WHY the forms were created and train them accordingly. Unlike other arts whose forms and katas mimic fighting multiple opponents, the forms of Wing Chun have a muti-tiered purpose (actually the forms of other arts do as well but since their movements are seemingly more one-dimensional in execution most practitioners never progress into the deeper lessons locked in each one). For example, the first form of Wing Chun, Siu Nim Tao, literally translated means “small idea.” This means that you are to focus on one aspect of the form to pay attention to each time you do it. This way, you can never repeat a training session in exactly the same way. Inward tension of the thighs, constant forward elbow pressure, proper alignment of the shoulders, sinking into the stance, the list goes on. In any endeavor, one needs solid basics to build on and a library of instructional materials & resources to draw from.  Work on amassing both as soon as possible.
  • Once every few weeks it is a good idea to don masks and gloves and engage in contact-based training. Note: this is not “scenario training;” this is progressively heavier contact-based training.  Proper scenario training requires a very specific set of equipment and circumstances in order to be as effective as possible.  Contact-based training such as sparring is much more broad in its application and is, as Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “a small play-but played seriously.” Have a training partner put on a face cage and pair of boxing gloves; all you need is a mouthpiece and pair of MMA gloves.  Grab the right gear and get busy.  You will figure it out pretty quick that assertiveness is your best friend.

Get in, Get Out & Get On With your Life

Research shows that most if not all conflicts are less than 30 seconds in length from initial contact to the end of an altercation (for better or for worse). More specifically, the effective execution time of any self defense scenario is between 8 and 20 seconds in length.

Make it a point to engage in scenarios that are short and intense; use these sessions as an opportunity to not merely try to apply a tan-da or a bong sau; rather, seek to preserve your structure and impose your will to escape harm. Forward pressure, angle cutting, forward stepping, retreating stepping; let your situation tell you what to do, and let your attacker tell you how he wants you to hit him!

As your “flight time” so to speak increases, your understanding of the concepts and principles of Wing Chun will gain deeper root in your mind. Only then can you apply techniques in the according-to-Webster sense.  Remember, situation dictates principle; principle dictates target; target dictates technique. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can alter or circumvent any link in this chain. You can’t.

These are just some of the near infinite ways to hone your training in on the ultimate goal of training in the first place.  The good news for us as practitioners and devotees of our art for purposes of personal protection and self-preservation is this: Wing Chun as a system of combat is structurally and purposefully designed for just this goal. Approaching your training in the spirit of stacking your training time against the principles  I touched on above will very quickly align your drills, technique work, chi sau and forms training into the proper lane for victory.

Something tells me that at this point, a trophy or belt would be the last thing on her mind. I can tell you that if this were a real scenario the only thing on my mind would be getting away from her…followed by wondering where I can find a white cane and pair of sunglasses.

It won’t happen overnight, nor should “reality” training come at the expense of sound technical foundations…but it must be done at some point, otherwise your training will make about as much sense as trying to learn how to drive a car by looping around the WalMart parking lot but never getting on the streets.

Wing Chun training takes time and merits the respect and due diligence afforded to any skill; just remember to always keep in mind both in and out of training that it is NEVER a bright idea to ignore the reality of conflict because Murphy’s Law is a real cold-hearted bitch who always likes to show up when training is the last thing on your mind.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe NOW for FREE training tips. No bullsh*t, fluff or nonsense-just 100% simple, effective & practical hacks, tricks and other useful info!
A WORD OF WARNING: I tend to speak and write how I think, so some of what I say may come across as insensitive, rough around the edges and maybe even a bit arrogant. If sarcasm, political incorrectness and occasional "naughty words" offend you, you may want to move on - but if you're serious about making your Wing Chun WORK, then fill out the fields above and let's get started!