Thursday, October 29, 2009


Having weighed the merits of various martial arts for women’s self-defense, the author of this article enthusiastically endorses Wing Chun. (Or Wing Tzun. Or Wing Tsun. No matter how you spell it, you’ll offend someone. Much like the Communist Party, Wing Chun is filled with splitters and deviationists, and the spelling signals factional loyalty.)
Actually invented by a woman only a few hundred years ago, Wing Chun is a principle-based system, and a rather scientific one at that. A kind of ‘scientific street-fighting,’ Wing Chun lends Jeet Kune Do a lot of its principles (i.e. the simultaneous block and attack, the centre-line theory). This is probably not surprising as Bruce Lee started off learning Wing Chun and drew from its strengths. Strength and size isn’t [sic] an issue in Wing Chun, as the way the techniques are set up are to allow you to negate the attackers strength, flow round it and unleash your own attack. It’s often said that if you can’t make a technique work in Wing Chun without using your strength, then you’re not doing it right. It’s a very short-range system, allowing you to do some serious damage if a guy gets to close to you, before you run away. It has lots of nasty surprises for attackers; eye and throat jabs, knee stamps, neck breaks … that’s why it isn’t a sport, but a last resort for when you genuinely believe your life is in danger. But hey, it’s your life you’re saving, right? Seriously though, as with all these arts the best form of defence will probably always be a quick, vicious knee to the unmentionables, and then run as fast as you can ...
Now consider this response:
The martial arts with “deadly moves” have a serious flaw: you can’t practice them realistically. As you say, “when you’re under extreme pressure, you fall back on what you know.” And chances are that when it comes to the crunch, you’ve gouged no eyes in your life, crushed no throats, stamped no knees and broken no necks. Miming doesn’t prepare you for the real thing.

Sports and arts that improve your conditioning and balance, ensure you get manhandled and hit very hard in training and competition, and include ungraceful all-out struggles with opponents of any and all relative skill and size differences will train your gross motor skills and positional instincts much better than eye-gouge katas could.

By all means incorporate dirty tricks into your fighting, but without real practice those are academic. In a rumble between a boxer/wrestler/muay thai bruiser and someone who’s practiced poking ping-pong balls out of a dummy, who would you put your money on?

The real essence of self-defense for women is to stay as far away from potential trouble as you possibly can. Change your life if you must. Move out of the crappy neighbourhood. Dump the wife-beater. Plan your walking routes. Travel in groups. Teach your kids respect for others. Make the world a better place.

The last point, I think, is inarguable. The others are arguable ad infinitum, and I have to listen to them being argued ad infinitum all the fucking time. If you hang around martial artists, you will inevitably suffer through a great many debates about which martial art is the best, and these debates tend to go on and on at great pointless length. I say “pointless” because the question itself is incoherent, just as the question “which car is the best?” is meaningless. We can rule out the Ford Pinto, but beyond that we won’t get far until we ask, “best for what?”

The Wing Chun-versus-Muay Thai debate is particularly noisy at the gym where I do Muay Thai. It is not unknown for the denunciations of Wing Chun to become so protracted and emotional that everyone forgets to train. It’s rumored there that I’m engaged in a dangerous flirtation with Wing Chun (or at least, a dangerous flirtation with a Wing Chun instructor), so the proselytizing efforts tend to involve a lot of meaningful stares in my direction. My conversion, I assume, will be complete when I publicly declare my loyalty to Muay Thai, assert my belief that it is the superior martial art, and denounce Wing Chun as being about as useful in a real fight as the mambo.

I hear over and over that Wing Chun is not realistic—and exactly the same charge, by the way, is made by practitioners of Wing Chun about Muay Thai, particularly because Muay Thai a sport as much as a martial art: That is to say, there are rules, there are gloves, and there are referees to stop a fight before someone gets killed. In the real world, I am always reminded by Wing Chun loyalists, you don’t get a chance to say, “Hold on a moment there, Mr. strung-out psycho with a broken-off beer bottle. Let us put on our gloves, step into the ring, and settle this like men, no punches to the groin.”

I preface what I’m about to say with a disclaimer: What do I know? I’m not qualified to speak about any of this. I’ve never even been in a real fight. This isn’t exactly Ramon Dekkers speaking. Most of my wisdom about the martial arts comes from watching fights on YouTube.

I love Muay Thai: There’s a reason I keep showing up at that gym. Quite a few of its techniques seem to me simple, effective, and possibly useful in a real emergency. But let’s also admit that some of these Muay Thai techniques are entirely inaccessible and impractical for anyone who isn’t a world-class athlete.

Consider, for example, this Muay Thai video. These are athletes of almost preternatural strength, grace and ferocity. Particularly consider the clinch with left and right knees followed by the flying knee-to-the head at approximately 52 seconds into the video. This doesn’t look easy, and anyone who has ever tried to do what they’re doing will know that it’s even harder than it looks. That the fighter in the video was able to execute that move with such exquisite timing is an athletic miracle.

That could not be a remotely practical or realistic maneuver for street self-defense—you’d have to be insane to think trying that would be your best bet in an emergency. I experimented with that flying-knee trick on a stationary punching bag the other night. Stationary, as in, not a moving target. Out of about twenty attempts, I managed to hit the thing with reasonable force maybe one time in four, and I damned near fell on my face without anyone even trying to hit, grab, choke or kick me. It’s a lot of fun as a game, but in reality? Leave that one to the professionals, kids. Practicing that move is probably no better an investment of anyone’s time than poking ping-pong balls out of dummy—not, at least, if the goal is to have a few simple, practical self-defense reflexes deeply engrained in your brain.

If your goal is glory at Lumpini Stadium, though, there’s your ticket.


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