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


Listen to your intuition about certain places, people or things: it’s there to serve you, not get in your way or f*** you over!

The Emotional realm of any self defense encounter is where people are most often attacked first, many times without knowing it.

This manifests itself in the “gut feeling” one gets when in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar environment. Many times you’ll hear someone say, “I just have a bad feeling about this place” or words to that effect. This should be your first indicator to increase your awareness, for a bad situation will beget an emotion.

Often times you will feel a certain emotion before you formulate a clear thought about why a person, place or situation is cause for concern.

To experience the power of emotion, I invite you to try this simple exercise: ask a training partner, close friend, sibling, spouse, etc. to get right in your face, eye-to-eye, and hurl insults at you, screaming and staring intently into your eyes like a Drill Instructor. Even though you know in your mind this person is your friend and will never cause you harm, you will feel uncomfortable, your heart rate will increase, you will get fluttery.

That is the fight-or-flight response initiating itself, bypassing your mind and activating based solely on your emotional reaction to a perceived threat.

The Emotional Factor also tends to affect the reasoning process. For example, you might in your head know what action you must take but you will freeze and be unable to actually follow through-this can be traced back (almost always) to feelings of FEAR.

An example illustrates my point:

While working at a country club just out of college I received a call over my pager that a member had collapsed on the basketball court. I was the first staff member on site and, for a second, I froze. I had taken the CPR and First Aid courses many times before; HOWEVER, when faced with the real thing, I did not know how to react.

“What if I screw up?  What do I do? Am I doing this correctly?”

All of these thoughts flashed across my mind in the matter of one or two seconds. Fortunately I snapped back into the proper mindset and began to perform the necessary steps but in reflecting on the event later I could not help but realize that had that been a self-defense scenario that it may have already been too late for me.

I realized further that my hesitance stemmed from feelings of INADEQUACY, SELF-DOUBT and ultimately FEAR, as I had never drilled these skills realistically. The actual mechanics of performing CPR were overshadowed by the chaos, hysterical sobbing of bystanders and the ultimate reality that this was an actual emergency.

And so it is (or should be) with our Wing Chun training.

Shaking Up the Ant Farm

Once in a while, as we line up for class to begin training, without warning I will pick a student to lead the class in first or second form.

I do this when I can sense that he or she is starting to get a bit lax in his/her training: not holding the fist in chamber during the form, dropping the wu sau in rolling, letting their structure sag a bit, stepping without inward tension on the thighs or elbow forward pressure and so on.

I get such a kick out of their reaction: their eyes would get glassy, their mouth would drop a bit and you could almost hear them say “oh, shit…” in their heads.

Tee-Hee!  Hilarious!

In one second I shook up the ant farm of their brain and filled in all of their comfortable routes and pathways of doing things the same way over and over and forced them to dig themselves a new path out of their routine.

The reason for my having a wee bit o’ fun at their expense is a good and necessary one: the biggest trap in terms of stagnation is not to progress in your ability to venture outside of your comfort zone.  We are training Wing Chun for self-defense and personal combat.  Our responses to any attack on the street will depend on our training methods and the spirit in which we approach this task.  Simple, effective and practical are the orders of the day concept-wise; simple, direct and efficient are the work orders for our technical toolbox.  The enemy of self-defense preparation in any way, shape or form is the comfort zone.

Beware the (Dis)comfort Zone

Let’s say you’ve been training for a few years, and are moving up the ranks of your pecking order within your class or school-but you have never taken on any mantle of instructorship or even senior status.  You are content to come in, fall in line, train and call it a day.

Suddenly you are called upon to lead the class in a form-and what begin to feel a bit nervous; acutely aware of all eyes on you.

You start to feel self-conscious and your mind begins to blank.  What happens?  You mess up a section of a form you’ve done hundreds of times.  So why does this happen?  Easy.  You did the form hundreds of times-AS A PARTICIPANT.  You didn’t ever have to be in the center of attention.  This is a classic example of one way to put yourself in a microcosm version of the fight or flight response.

Demonstrations can be a valuable training tool for overcoming such fears as self-consciousness, self-doubt and anxiety. These translate directly into confidence in asserting oneself in self-defense.  Here I am doing the second form in front of a large crowd at the Chicago Chinatown Summer Fair, one of the busiest days in Chinatown of the year.

So what to do if you’re not yet at the level of instructing?

Let’s say you come in to class and there’s someone you don’t know who wants to chi sau with someone in class.  If you have been training on “auto pilot” for some time, you may feel a twinge of nervousness.  Why?  You know everyone in class, you know their pressure, their movements, their ticks.  No surprises.  Then all of a sudden this monkey wrench gets tossed in your gears and jacks up your whole security blanket.  Sound familiar-even a little bit?  No, huh?  BULLSHIT. Sure does to me.  I felt all of these at one point.  It wasn’t until I began instructing a small group of my own that I understood the value of putting yourself out there to be challenged, not just in class but in environment.

Try this one on:  the next time you do your forms, imagine yourself on second base at Yankee Stadium or some other baseball/football/whatever stadium for a special demonstration of Wing Chun.

The announcer tells the crowd they are in for a special demonstration-and then announces YOUR NAME.

The crowd goes silent; the music shuts down.

45,000 people are watching YOU do your form-and there’s no other distraction-just YOU.

If you do this right, and really imagine, you will get some butterflies or tingles as you do it.  This is the point-find a way to put yourself in an uncomfortable spot to fight your way out of one.  Allow those feelings of insecurity, doubt and fear come up and stomp them out by training through them.

Doing a 180

Years ago, I hated sparring-I mean hated it.  I was so afraid of being in the position to get hit that the very idea of sparring at a tournament or even  in class made me literally feel wobbly in the legs.  No joke.  So I stuck with forms.

Fast forward 20 years…now, the idea of doing forms at a tournament gets me a little jittery-not nearly enough to shut me down, mind you, but it definitely ramps up the flightiness a bit.  Sparring on the other hand, no problem.  I couldn’t care less if I’m part of a halftime demonstration at the Super Bowl (which would be a damn sight more interesting than the halftime shows as of late-hey, I’m not hatin’ I’m just keeping it real), once I put my gear on and glove up I’m ready to go.

That’s not to say I have no fear during sparring.  If someone says they have zero fear in sparring they’re either a liar or they’re a moron.  I merely learn how to channel it into energy.  The crowd doesn’t bother me when sparring-the person trying to punch my face in gets my attention!

This took me a long time to get to and is deeply tied to my evolution as a martial artist; as such itwill be elaborated on in future posts to give you a much more comprehensive and clear picture of my journey through the Emotional aspect of training, but hopefully you get the idea.

That’s me on the left sparring Keith, one of my instructors, in front of a bloodthirsty crowd down in Chinatown. You might think this would be more nerve-wracking than doing a form in front of such a large crowd…Nope.

Long story short: it is that ability to function under duress with a calculating mindset is what one must incorporate into their personal Wing Chun training program if one expects to call upon these skills should they ever be needed for self defense, personal protection or even combat sports; it is not something that can be taught, although the framework can be passed on in class.

Rather, each person must begin to take a mental inventory of all phases of their training, from doing forms in front of the class solo to rolling with someone they may be intimidated by , to gloving up and getting their junk knocked around a little now and again.

Try These On For Size

  • The next time you do your forms work, imagine with full feeling that you are doing your form in front of a packed auditorium or sports arena, complete with ESPN or news cameras on you.  Set the tone for a few minutes, then do the form.  Pay attention to how it makes you feel, and work through it. Getting a handle on your mental game is key.
  • Get hit.  Yeah, that’s right.  GET HIT.  Overcome your natural human fear of being hit by progressively upping the intensity.  Get a pair of boxing gloves, a mouthpiece and a groin cup and begin slowly devising scenarios where a training partner will attack you and you must retaliate by being direct, aggressive and efficient in your response to this self-defense scenario.  Do yourself a favor: gear up and get hit.
Taking a hard shot to the face in training. You know what? Good. Better to take one here than out there, plus it made for a cool pic.
  • Never forget WHY you train.  I train for combat effectiveness.  I know that this includes constant refining and improving every aspect of a self-defense or combative encounter.  Engaging in training that allows for a “total immersion” experience in a self-defense scenario is the best and only real way to get this aspect of your training in line.  By staying in tune with my motivation for why I do what I do, it keeps my head in the right place and that directs my actions.  In the immortal words of Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross, “Go and do likewise!”

Remember, we are all training (or at least should be) to improve ourselves a little each day.  It is therefore up to to each of us to look deep within ourselves, to seek out, identify and ultimately confront all of those demons we carry with us: feelings of being not good enough, feelings of shame or embarrassment, lack of self-worth, doubt, insecurity and the mother of all of them: FEAR.

Once we have done that, what do we do now?


Action cures fear; inaction feeds it.


Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

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