I am a gregarious and loquacious fool, I’ll talk to anyone about anything. In particular, I love talking about the combative arts, the length and breadth of the subject fascinate me. A regular topic of conversation at UTKM (and likely anywhere humans train in punch-kickery) is the always engaging chat about individual prior experience. This is a excellent opportunity for everyone to share a bit of their uniquely sordid life story, as this prior experience comes in the many and varied forms of past military service, the boxing someone tried for 6 months in university, the rough neighbourhood a student lived in that forced them to get tough fast, and so on and so forth. I often probe a little further with the folks who proclaim “I have no martial arts experience,” as there is no doubt in my mind that your decade of competitive dance will absolutely translate into the fluidity, balance, and overall physical literacy that makes one’s technique more effective.
When I discuss snapshots of my time training Wing Chun (詠春) style Kung Fu (among several other styles) the logical question often follows: “Does Kung Fu help with Krav Maga?” It does and it doesn’t, here’s how…
- Centreline Theory – The line from the centre of your body (midline or sagittal plane) outward is the most direct path of attack and defence, every other path is longer and therefore slower. Your ability to move on that line to attack, and to redirect incoming attacks off that line, or move yourself off the path completely, increases your efficacy in the style. This directly correlates to the Krav Maga use of the “vertical sweep” and “body defence” (turning to evade attacks) versus a straight line knife attack. As the attack comes in, the vertical sweep blocks/redirects the attack off your centreline, body defence then removes your torso from the centreline, and, finally, you step 45° fully off the aforementioned line. We also see the logic of stepping off the centreline in the boxing/kickboxing strategies we apply during sparring and the training of combos. You don’t want to fight in a straight line (only punching bags do that), you want to parry, bob & weave, slip, etc., to move in such a way that undermines your opponent’s hopes and dreams.
- Softness – “Be like water, my friend.” Staying relaxed and flexible is essential to proper Wing Chun; rigidity is the enemy of fluid movement. Tension in your arms or legs will slow your reaction time, as the muscles must relax before engaging in the movement you desire. In addition, the superfluous step of relaxing is a form of telegraphing that is easily spotted by experienced opponents. Worse, you may move directly into the technique with stiff, statue-like limbs and lose any advantage/adaptability you may have gained from a more supple block or shift in balance. Let’s not forget the simple fact that holding your muscles taut is TIRING. Furthermore, the softness of your form, the fluidity of your movements, allows you to roll with the punches as your opponent strikes you. A more advance application of softness is the (seemingly contradictory) advice, “swing softly, but hit hard” that you will hear in many Kung Fu schools. This idea of reflects the desire to keep your strikes relaxed until the moment of impact, at which point you close the fist like a snap/whip motion in order to rapidly transfer the energy of your strike into the target.
- Stickiness – Chi Sao (黐手), the (in)famous “Sticky Hands” training of Wing Chun is probably the most useful takeaway from the style. A highly developed somatosensory system affords me the ability to assess how you are moving, and possibly what you are about to do, by means of tactile input, much faster than I could with visual input (for me anyway). I am feeling for input such as force, rigidity, position, collapsing structure, etc., so that I (hopefully) know what to do next. This “stick” is an application of controlled pressure from my arms/hands onto my opponent’s body/limbs after I have made contact; just enough that I am firmly connected, but not so much that I would shift forward if they moved. Finding the sweet spot takes practice. This lends itself to a larger philosophy of “meet what comes, follow what retreats, strike when it leaves your hand.”
- Bridge Seeking – The concept of Chum Kiu (尋橋), “seeking the bridge,” lends its name to the second of three Wing Chun forms wherein close attacks, kicks, and shifting/stepping movements are learned. If you have ever trained drills with me, you may notice that I sometimes throw in extra hand movements or points of contact; I always want my hands on you, both hands ideally, connecting me to your hands or arms whenever possible. I also have a hard time not blocking in drills where I am playing the attacker (sorry, I know it’s annoying). I’m not being clingy, Wing Chun teaches you to seek a connection (“bridge”) to your opponents, with arms or legs, and then maintain that connection as long as possible, drawing information as you fight. This builds upon the philosophy of “meet what comes, follow what retreats, strike when it leaves your hand” (see below)
- Kinetic Linking – This refers to the idea of not throwing strikes with raw muscular strength, but rather using the physical alignment of your ankle twist, leg power, hip rotation, shoulder structure, and arm extension in a chain to drive your strikes with your entire body. The concept of “kinetic linking” is part of the mechanism behind the famous “one-inch punch.” The more efficient your kinetic linking the easier it is to apply “short power” or “one inch power” in other techniques, as a large amount of power can be generated in a small space or over a short distance with abrupt movements (see also “compactness” below). Any prior training in this, from martial arts or sport, will improve your Krav-ing.
- Avoid Force vs Force – Resisting someone’s strength with your strength is foolhardy (and exhausting), not to mention that if you aren’t stronger you are losing regardless. You defeat stronger opponents by way of technique, angles, and clever trickery. Someone is pushing you? Step off the centreline and redirect. Your wrist has been rudely grabbed? Roll your arm to break out from the weakest point (the thumb side of the hand) and assess for continued sass. It is often the tragic case that powerful individuals kick ass vs weaker, inexperienced training partners, then suddenly discover their form is lacking when a more powerful or more experienced opponent neutralizes their muscling of a technique by means of better technique (don’t worry, we all learn the hard way at some point).
- “The dead hand comes back to life” – This isn’t unique to Wing Chun, but it is where I had it hammered into my subconscious. The mystical phrasing is a fancy way of saying, “Keep your hands moving freely and keep your guard up.” In the most obvious example, once you throw a punch, cycle that hand back up to guard or to punch again (pretty sure this is called “tracking” in Boxing, straight in and straight out). As one of my Sifus once rephrased it; “Don’t punch and stand there for a photo op.” A more complex application of this is continuing movements with your arms/elbows/fists/forearms when you encounter a block or trapping; your attack is stopped and it immediately flows into a different attack or control in order to stay useful. This made Retzef a very easy concept to adapt to for me; start and don’t stop! Grasping “continuous effective action” is a huge plus in self-defence.
- “Meet what Comes, follow what retreats, strike when it leaves your hand” – This mantra pulls several concepts together and communicates three relatively self-explanatory pieces of advice; block, apply stick, hit gap. Not sure what else to say here beyond, “refer to the above point.”
- Chain Punching – Lin Wan Kuen (連環拳), the famous “Chain Punch,” is a sort of parallel to the Krav Maga principle of Retzef, in that once you hit, you want to keep hitting… with some caveats (discussed below.) And before you ask; yes, “chain kicking” is a thing too.
- Pak Sao (拍手) – “Slapping hand” is a simple parry technique. Counter to what the name suggests you aren’t slapping away an incoming strike, you want to “meet & push.” Not only does this apply almost directly to the boxing style parry we learn at UTKM, my experience with it brings the added benefit of understanding required force and not “over blocking”, ie. blocking past the threshold at which the strike wouldn’t hit you anyway. (see “Compactness” below)
- Structure/Balance/Movement – There are a multitude of balance and movement related benefits that transfer to Krav Maga from Wing Chun, though most of these are not exclusive to said martial art.
- Smooth shifting direction on your feet or adjusting the weight distribution of your stance (this is something I utilize in daily life).
- Maintaining your balance and stepping to keep your posture solid is useful in general, but also directly applicable to techniques such as vertical sweep and 360 blocking, as well as grounding yourself after bursting or kicking.
- Chain punches are used to attack as you move, to keep moving forward.
- Blocking structure at the core of Wing Chun is 90-95° (and ~138°). This is comes up in the naturalistic structure we rely on in Krav Maga.
- Compactness – Unlike some styles, Wing Chun Kung Fu doesn’t include flourishing or “windmilling” movements. All extraneous movement is discouraged; you block as far as you need to block, you attack down the centreline, and rarely do your elbows move outside of the width of your shoulders. Being compact also means only dealing with actual threats to your person, similar to how a goalie doesn’t reach to block shots outside of the net. You could fight in a phone booth. Staying compact also allows the Wing Chun practitioner to get inside the guard of most opponents, where their soft targets are hidden (but not for long!).
- Double-sidedness – If you look at any of the Wing Chun forms, it will be immediately obvious that all actions are mirrored, thus giving equal repetition of techniques with the right and left hands. My Sifu’s logic that “most people are right handed, so we need more practice with our left” led to us always start drills with our left side, to balance out those neuropathways. As a result I’m pretty comfy fighting “South Paw,” in fact, some of my techniques are way better when “goofy foot.”
- Biu Jee (鏢指) – “Darting fingers” is the third of three forms used to progressively teach/practice Wing Chun. As the name indicates, you start jabbin’ opponents with your fingers. Which leads directly into several targeted strikes that we love so much in Krav Maga, namely the eye flick, throat strike, and “educational” block. This form introduces methods of generating power in short distance strikes as well; useful when paired with compactness or ground fighting.
- Simultaneous Block & Attack – As you advance in your Wing Chun training, you will eventually encounter most of the basic blocks with Da (打), “strike,” tacked on the end in place of Sao (手), “hand,” to create a block+strike version. Pak Sao becomes Pak Da, Tan Sao is Tan Da, and so on. As the nomenclature implies, you are now applying a strike in conjunction with the block, thus destroying foolish enemies who would never expect to be blocked and struck concurrently. This is a concept we leverage in Krav Maga, becoming essential to develop for scenarios such as our 360 knife defence. (If my speed and timing were still rocking at 25-year-old-me levels, I could apply this logic liberally in sparring.)
- The Kicks – Ironically, the high kicks I employ to often-mediocre-but-sometimes-stunning effect are not Wing Chun techniques. The saying “Southern Fists, Northern Kicks” sums up the popular understanding that, in general, most Southern Kung Fu styles rely on hand techniques, whereas the Northern traditions exhibit more leg mastery. While I did hone some of my kicks within the context of other styles, I learned and practiced my kicks under Wing Chun sifus. Wing Chun traditionally only contains three kicks: the “Slant/Side kick” and the “Front thrust kick” (Push kick), both of which come up in the Chum Kiu form, and the “Stomp kick” (Oblique kick), encountered in the Muk Yan Jong (木人樁), “wooden dummy” form. However, as luck would have it, my Sifus saw fit to round out the style with a handful of additional kicks, and thus high/low roundhouse, hook, inside/outside crescent, front snap, axe, and stepping side kicks were added to my toolbox (My “back-spinning-jump kick with a fake” was added for exercise purposes). The important Wing Chun element layered over all of these was the concept of being “shadowless”, a mystical way of saying “non-telegraphing.” In the case of kicks, the goal is to execute the attack with as little movement in the rest of the body as possible; hence why my front snap kick is so “snappy.”
The Not-So-Useful Stuff:
- All Those Animal-Inspired Fancy Punches – Wing Chun isn’t entirely to blame for this one. Across the multiple Kung Fu styles I’ve trained in I have been taught a plethora of what I’ll generously call “application specific fist configurations” (less generously, “hand breakers.”) Among them are mystery evoking techniques such as Phoenix Knuckle, Leopard Paw, Crane Strike, Cow’s Horn, Tiger Claw, Eagle Claw, Dragon Claw, Mantis Claw (claws are très chic in Kung Fu). The names are varied, but what they all have in common is the isolation of certain parts of the hand, often fingers, to utilize different points or types of impact, usually creating a smaller surface area to increase the force of your strikes. These can be very effective if you have decades of focused training and the mental agility to switch between them in the chaos of a fight (best of luck with that fine motor movement), but most will result in a less effective punch at best and broken fingers at worst. With self-defence goals in mind, it is better to spend your time on scenario-based training rather than context-dependent-hand-shape-minutia. The exception here is the Ox Jaw strike, which I do use for its speed in certain situations, often out of panic or exhaustion (and I forgive myself due to the fact that bending the wrist is a gross motor movement.) I’ll also make an allowance for certain types of Tiger Claw strikes, as at their heart they are simply palm strikes… just with a pull or clothing/flesh grab added in for fun.
- Machine Gunnin’ Chain Punches – Yes, I admit it looks GREAT when Donnie Yen busts out a comically long string of punches on the big screen. However, in reality, two problems occur: 1) When you are proudly building your infinite-punch combo, rude (read: smart) opponents will move/block/flail in whatever ways necessary to stop you at punch three or four. 2) By the time you reach punch number 23.5, you aren’t delivering the same power as you were earlier in this punching career (time to retire from the Fist Factory and throw an elbow). Chain punches were meant for blasting two or three additional strikes after a solid punch finds an opening in your opponent’s defenses. We must also consider that this technique evolved in a world of Kung Fu versus Kung Fu, so the expected flow of your opponents’ techniques were notably different than in modern pugilistic endeavours. That is, facing a Changquan (長拳)(Long fist) practitioner meant you could expect certain gaps to appear as they attacked with their style’s strengths; you see these gaps coming, you blast forward with a multi-punch chain. These days, Boxing or MMA fighters will “chain” combinations involving sequences of strikes that vary in type/angle/direction/etc.
- This “Sorta-Calf-Kick/Hook Shin/Knee Lock” Thing – The less said about the “Sorta-Calf-Kick/Hook Shin/Knee Lock” thing, the better. Suffice to say, it is a Southern Dragon (龍形摩橋) thing, not Wing Chun, it is equal parts odd and rad, and while it should be amazingly effective, it usually isn’t. I’m not ruling out the distinct possibility that I am simply no good at it.
- Dim Mak (點脈) – Yes, THAT Dim Mak. The notorious Touch of Death, Quivering Palm, Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, or what-have-you, applied dramatically in cinema and much maligned in reality. Sadly, striking someone in the right spot so that they drop dead days or weeks later due to internal disruption of qi, is not a real thing (as investigated by modern science and lay inquiry). Historically, that which became known as the “Death Touch,” was most likely internal bleeding, from good ol’ punches and kicks, left undiagnosed until it was too late, or perhaps the surviving students of renowned “Masters” saving face by claiming magical defeat of their sifu rather than admitting he had been physically beaten. Regardless, the “dim mak” I learned was more of a theory comprised of two principles: First, the idea that you can jab people in certain pressure points to cause a lot of pain, sometimes. Second, adding “cane” or “shift” to your strikes transferred the impact force from the outside of the body to the inside, rupturing internal organs rather than bruising the skin (à la Van Damme’s “Bloodsport“). Sure, maybe there exists a lifelong practitioner who can stop your heart with two fingers, but it is far wiser to spend your time developing the footwork, power, and accuracy to increase your liver shot success percentage. (Bonus: Enjoy this dude’s “dim mak demo” in which he just liver shots a bunch of other dudes.)
So all this should provide me with an unbeatable advantage in Krav Maga, right? Here’s the catch; I was engaged in the above training over a decade ago. Sure, much of this knowledge IS like riding a bike, it works into your neuro-pathways and becomes intuitive movement, however, nuance and reaction time diminish with age, and gaps start to form in what was once a fluid motion (the ravages of time are merciless, but the roguish charm remains.) More importantly, the schools I trained at did not engage in sparring, to my great misfortune, and thus my technique was never hardened in the crucible of battle. (Plus let’s not forget John’s and Petra’s passionate dedication to ridding me of certain Wing Chun habits, like punching with a vertical fist, striking with the bottom three knuckles.)
If you have any questions about the above or want me to demonstrate certain concepts for your clarity, perhaps to use my secrets against me, feel free to ask (I am coarse and irreverent, but very approachable!)
Written by: Corey O. – UTKM Orange Belt
Audio by Jonathan Fader