Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Get Thee Behind the Block

Until recently, I still felt like someone throwing a serious flying punch my way would break through my defenses. It worried me enough that whenever Si-Fu would tap out my partner and take his or her place, I'd panic and lose focus. (Although he is always cognizant of his power and trains carefully with his students, Si-Fu is 6-foot-somethin'-else and his bicep is probably as big around as my thigh. You'd be nervous, too.) That's when I'd fall apart. Mushy lop-sau. Yuck.

Something's different, this week. Maybe it's because there have been so many students who have continued through several 8-week sessions in my Wing Chun class that Si-Fu ordered us long-termers t-shirts and started calling us "seniors". Maybe it's because the class is now large enough that these seniors are being given more advanced sparring combinations to learn, which (if you've read any of my earlier posts) makes me supremely happy. Or maybe it was because I finally had the chance to train with my husband in the class, when normally Si-Fu pairs us by gender, and this afforded me the opportunity to spar with someone I knew would give the kind of energy that would challenge me.

Whatever the reason, I feel like I've reached a new comfort zone. I don't mean "comfort" as in "kick back and relax". I mean that Si-Fu's instruction on getting behind the block sank in a little further. And when it did, it felt like I might just survive a fight long enough to make a run for it.

Last night, Si-Fu showed me how to turn my body such that my body almost directly faced my hand and straightened arm. The energy coming at me was jammed up my arm and stopped at my shoulder--a much stronger joint than my wrist. My arm felt solid. And I was right behind it.

For the first time ever, I felt like I would really be able to stop a round-house punch. When he tapped out my husband and took his place, I felt like I could (maybe) even stop Si-Fu.

If your opponent isn't successful with the first punch, it's unlikely s/he'll stop there. A second roundhouse from the rear hand isn't an impossibility. So what do you do when you've made contact with the first limb to come at you? IMMEDIATELY look at the one you're not touching. Si-Fu had me focus on that second arm the instant I touched his arm with the incoming first punch. As the first arm pulled back, I felt it. And when the second punch started moving in, I was watching it. Turning 90-degrees, I got behind my lop-sau and again stopped the punch. And I remembered to watch the other elbow as soon as I blocked that arm.

Si-Fu gave me a silent thumbs-up and moved on.

Hot damn. I got it right, for once.

The full combination was this:
YOU: Guard up. Left side-neutral stance (feet pointed 45-degrees to the right on the same lateral line, left guard arm forward).
OPPONENT: Fists up. Right front stance (both feet pointed 45-degrees to the left, right foot in front of left foot along a line roughly 45-degrees to the right, feet about shoulder-width apart with just enough room to run a toy truck between them from straight ahead toward the wall behind).

OPPONENT: Throws lead (right) arm round punch
YOU: Turning feet 90-degrees to the left (a quick step-step, right than left foot--never slide the feet) to face the oncoming punch, lop-sau with lead (left) arm while simultaneously throwing a punch to your opponent's face with your right fist; pak-sau at the elbow with right arm as you step forward just enough to push your opponent backward and off balance; step-step (left foot/right foot) to face your opponent's side; punch with the left over the top of the pak-sau; rapid-fire roll punches with both hands, always watching the elbow of the arm furthest away from you

OPTIONAL: Opponent throws the first round punch (you block with lop-sau and punch, as before), then pulls right arm back before your pak-sau and immediately throws a rear (left) arm round punch (you again block with lop-sau/punch combo, following up with pak-sau and punches). Opponent randomly chooses when to throw one round or two. You can also train with your opponent throwing continuous rounds, while you lop-sau/punch repeatedly.


  • Use touch reflexes to tell you when your opponent is moving or pulling back a punch in preparation for throwing another.
  • Use visual reflexes, always watching the elbow of the arm you're not touching; you want no surprises!
  • When changing the direction you're facing so that you get your full body behind the block, be sure to actually pick up your feet and put them down facing the new direction (it's a quick one-two rhythm, like clapping your hands, 1-2, in quick succession). Sliding or dragging your feet, a common technique of some forms of Kung-fu, causes friction to slow you down. On uneven terrain, you could even trip. This is one Traditional Wing-Chun basic that Bruce Lee never learned before he died (not his fault...but that's another story for another day) and one of the reasons why his Wing Chun Master could beat him every time, much to Lee's consternation.

Pity he never had my Si-Fu.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Kid-Fu: Defending Against A Wrist Grab

Swift and Safe

Occasionally, I'm taught a street survival self-defense technique in my Wing Chun class that translates easily into a kid safety skill. It's hard to know where to draw the line between teaching my daughters how to avoid being attacked or abused and letting them just be kids. However, in light of so many abductions (and attempted abductions), especially of small girls, I'm erring on the side of caution. So last week I taught my kids how to answer this question:

What do you do if a stranger grabs you by the wrist?
All of the following motions should be completed in quick succession and with decisive force. Of course you're going to scream and shout for help, too!

1. Flick the back of your free hand into your attacker's eyes. (His stinging, watering eyes may give you just enough of an advantage to get away.) NOTE: Make sure during practice that your opponent covers his or her eyes with a free hand, so you can practice your eye flick at full force without hurting your partner.

2. At the same moment, drop into side neutral stance, with your center facing you attacker's grabbing hand. Your drop and turn into side neutral utilizes the power in your legs and hips to provide torque (the power of a turning motion). As you're turning, quickly twist your hand over, palm up (into a tan-sao). This loosens and may even break the attacker's hold on your wrist. (You can see from this photo that the attacker has an awkward grip. He's holding on tightly, but this twisted grip will be difficult to maintain in a struggle.)

3. If your attacker's hand is still touching you, pak-sao the grabbing hand, hitting his wrist with the heel of your hand, using all of the force you can muster.

4. Run like a cheetah! (Some of my fellow students call this the "run-sao". Not pretty, but effective.) Don't tell a kid to stick around for some Spy Kid-style butt kicking. The longer the confrontation lasts, the more likely a bigger person might find a way to overtake a smaller one. Running and shouting for help should be priority one.

Who is controlling who?

Keep in mind, if someone is holding your wrist, you have just as much control over that person as they have over you. If the attacker's grip is tight, you can easily jerk your attacker off balance as you're breaking their hold.

Practice this with an opponent grabbing one hand repeatedly, then switching to the other, first predictably (the same hand 10 times, for example), then at random. Then try a random grab with your eyes closed.

Work slowly and methodically, increasing your speed over time. Ultimately, you want your reaction to be reflexive. You won't have time to contemplate I do this, then I do this, then I do this, as you're being dragged toward a waiting vehicle or into a building. Speed will also work to your advantage as a weapon of surprise.

Again--train slowly and methodically. If you are ever grabbed, adrenaline will kick in and give you the power you need to move quickly. It may also make you sloppy, so the more accurately you perform the motions in practice, the more likely you are to get them right when it counts most.

There are so many other things kids should know when facing "stranger danger". It's a good idea to have them take a self-defense course, even one that only lasts a day. The more you arm them with survival skills, the less likely you'll have to suffer the horrific pain of a lost or assaulted child. I'll be honest with you, it's the one thing that scares me most about being a parent. Nothing else even comes close to the amount of sleep I've lost over nightmares of this kind.

Protect yourself. Protect your kids.

Wishing you and your children peace and safety always.