Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Bent-arm Beauty

While practicing punches last week, Si-Fu Shoellhammer mentioned that it was better to hit an opponent with the lower knuckles than with the upper. When I asked why that might be, he grinned his boyish, cockeyed grin and challenged me to figure it out for myself. (Is it just me, or are all Si-Fus required to have this cryptic, all-knowing grin?) I’ll be honest, I still haven’t come to a conclusion. I’m open to suggestions, if any of you know the answer to this one, Si-Hings!

However, there is one thing I’ve learned this week that doesn't require homework: how to be a Bent-arm Beauty.

In Wing Chun, punches are practiced with arms slightly bent. If you've been practicing another martial art for a while, this may look to you like it’s not “full-out” or it’s improper form. In some martial arts—karate, for example—the punch is fully extended when practicing. But, while it looks good and, yes, it could possibly hurt the other guy, the danger in real combat is that you may not hit your target.

The very first thing I ever learned about punching, I learned as a teenager. You don’t try to hit your target, you try to hit THROUGH it. Don’t aim for the other guy’s teeth—aim for the back of his throat. Through his teeth. When you practice a fully-extended punch, you don’t leave yourself any room to push through your target.

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you’re trying to hit something and you just can’t connect? Practicing with straightened arms puts you in danger of hitting air when push comes to shove. What if your opponent pulls his chin back? Perhaps you do hit him, but it won’t be with much force, which means your fight is going to be a lot longer than you may have stamina for, especially if your opponent picks an inopportune moment to land you on cement (you have a bad cold, your kids are close at hand, you're carrying a backpack and an armload of books, etc.). One of my good buddy Si-Hings says, “If the fight lasts a full minute, you’re going to get hurt.” So it has to end as quickly as it starts.

Perhaps because your punch is just out of serious damage range, you lean forward to extend your reach. This, of course, throws you off balance. Remember, you’re going to have an adrenaline rush propelling you further than anything you did on the mat. It’s not going to be perfect--it's probably going to be ugly. Who cares, as long as you're winning? But if your balance is compromised, you could really be screwed.

It seems to me (neophyte that I am) that the whole basis upon which Wing Chun rests IS balance, the foundation upon which all other principles can be built. It’s hard enough to maintain proper balance when dealing with an opponent who is trying to jackhammer that foundation out from under you. You certainly don’t want to sabotage yourself in the first round.

In Wing Chun, then, punches are practiced with a slightly bent arm, allowing for an extension through the target, allowing for the possibility of a backward-moving target, and allowing you to maintain your balance. As an added bonus, you’re also less likely to painfully hyper-extend your arm during practice--like I did back when I was a sashless newb. There are so very many benefits.

Si-Fu tells me when I’ve done 10,000 punches, perhaps I’ll have the answer to my knuckle question. I’ll probably have an adequate amount of practical experience with those bent-arm punches, too. I’ll let you know what I discover when I’m through.

Yut, yee, sarm, say, ng...

I guess I do have homework afterall. Mm. Beauty has it's price, right?

Luk, chut, bart, gou, sub…

Monday, 7 December 2009

Wing Chun Training: What Are You Looking At?

What are you looking at? WHAT are you LOOKING at?

I’m not looking at your ugly face, that’s for sure.

But isn’t that where most people look in a fight? They get in the other guy’s space, they stare him down, they bounce around with fists at the ready, they look at shoulders, body, legs…everywhere but at what really matters. And that’s okay with me. You go ahead and stare at my gorgeous baby-browns, boys. I’m watching the part of you that interests me the most.

Your elbows.

The elbow has to move past the plane of the body in order for the hand to reach out, right? And the closest elbow will indicate the closest possible weapon my opponent can use on me. So that’s the one I’m going to watch. The shorter the distance between the weapon and the target, the faster it can arrive. In simple terms:
Distance = Time
Maybe your opponent decides to throw a punch with the rear arm. If you’re watching the forward elbow and a punch arrives from the rear, you will see it, peripherally. And you’ll have more time to react because the distance is greater between that far weapon and you. But you won’t know what your opponent will do until he or she commits to something, so you must be prepared for the closest weapon, first.

Actually, let me rephrase that:
You should be watching the closest elbow that you’re not touching.

Not only do you want to watch that elbow, it’s the primary body part to get under control. Let’s suppose your opponent throws a lead-arm, straight right at your chin. You block his arm with a left-handed pak-sao and simultaneously punch over that pak-sao with your right. Now what? Assuming your opponent is still standing, you want to immediately follow up. Let’s say your first punch was effective, so you roll punch to his face. But what if he throws up his right elbow to block me? you suggest. Yes, potential problem. Solution? Don’t let him move that elbow.

As long as you’re touching it, you know exactly where that arm is. As you roll punch with one hand and then the other, you lay down “cover fire” with the opposite hand in a continuous pak-sao/lop-sao trade-off while your opponent’s head is being repeatedly rocked. If he steps away, you’re touching him. You know exactly where he’s going. Wherever he goes, he’s going to pull you along with him, punching his head while pounding down his arm, all the way. You should be able to close your eyes and always know where your opponent is, letting his movements drive where your center goes.

Okay, save the closed eyes for practice. Let’s get back to the real thing.

If you’re touching that right arm, maintaining constant contact, do you need to watch for that right arm to be hitting you? Of course not. You’ll know if it’s getting anywhere near you because you can feel it. And your reaction to touch is faster than your reaction to sight. So where should you be looking, if not at that closest weapon?

I repeat:
You should be watching the closest elbow that you’re not touching.

You’re hitting this fool on one side, but you’re always watching that other, free elbow, lest it attempt to rise to the occasion and swing around after you. (And when it does, you’ll be ready to take it on, right Si-Hings?)

What about my opponent’s feet? you ask. Or his head? Both are weapons of destruction in and of their own right. You’ll be watching them peripherally, of course. But from what I’ve learned so far, controlling the elbows is a key component in Wing Chun combat. No, not the be-all-and-end-all, but important, nonetheless.

So go ahead and laugh when I put my guard up and stare at the middle of your arms, oh enemies dear. I may look stupid, but it’ll only be for few seconds. After that, you won’t see me at all.