Excerpts From:


(The Wing Chun Way of Self Defense)

Philip Holder PhD.
Copyright Philip Holder PhD., Grandmaster, North American Wing Chun Association 2003 – 2015


Is there really a difference between Martial Arts for actual street defense and Tournament Martial Arts? You Bet there is! In tournament there are rules and protocol designed to promote fair competition and mutual respect between competitors. On the street there are no rules other than those of physics and gravity (If you are hit with enough impact, gravity will cause you to hit the ground). On the street there are no points awarded for grace, speed, or complexity of movement, it is unlikely there will be any level of mutual respect between the parties, and you will receive no trophy for your performance. More importantly, on the street, there are no awards for “second place”. Anything other than first place is a total loss. In a real fight the payoff is your survival.

Wing Chun is simple, to the point, and therefore makes a great basis of training for those interested in practical self-defense. In many respects Wing Chun could be considered an “Art of Street Fighting.”
I was watching a TV program about Martial Arts. The show pretty much typified the image held by the general public about martial arts. Martial artists of many backgrounds and disciplines were jumping, spinning and flying through the air. People were breaking boards, having boards and other objects broken over them, lying across swords, and doing elaborate katas/forms that were admittedly a combination of martial arts and gymnastics. Most of these folks showed great athletic ability, focus, and enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but think about two things as I watched the show. First, I thought about how much more “showmanship” is a part of Martial Arts today than when I started training over 50 years ago. Second, I thought about how totally different martial arts tournament competition is from the combat format in which most martial arts were originally created. It doesn’t really matter if it is Karate, Kung fu or another martial art. Pretty much across the board, the martial aspect is being drained out of martial arts. In China for example, traditional combat Kung Fu systems have in great part been replaced by a modern system of WuShu. WuShu demonstrates amazing feats of gymnastic skill, focus, strength and showmanship, but is far different from its combat ancestors. Karate systems, in an overwhelming number of cases, have followed the same path becoming more recreational and fitness oriented. I’m not saying that this is bad in any way and I am in no way putting down or criticizing people who follow that path. There are many devoted, talented, martial arts athletes that demonstrate tremendous ability in the sport and show tournament venues. Adults and children alike have found this to be a great vehicle to personal discipline, health and physical strength. I do think it important, however, to remember that “Martial” is the operative word in Martial Arts. I am simply stating the fact that there is a significant difference between the two philosophies (not to mention the training methods). As an example… In one street situation that I was in years ago (while working as a bodyguard) an attacker rushed in with his fist drawn back in an attempt to punch me. I dropped him to the ground with a sidekick to his thigh. As he crawled off cursing at me he made a point of yelling that I fought like a girl because I had kicked him. I remember replying, “I may fight like a girl but you are the one on the ground, now go home!”. On the street whatever works is fair game and a weapon can be anything within your reach. In sport, rules, fair play, weight classes, and courtesy, are the rule of the day.


While recreational Martial arts have many benefits, there are still those of us who are combat traditionalists. In recreational tournament competition, the person who demonstrates the ability to execute moves of great complexity with balance, speed, and agility will take home a trophy. In combat keeping it simple is of critical importance. The more one does, the greater the chance for error.

Combat situations are unpredictable. For this reason it is important that you be able to interrupt and alter your movement in the blink of an eye. You must have the ability to change instantaneously and to blend and flow with the needs of the moment. The simpler the movement, the easier and more quickly you can adapt and change your intent.


Wing Chun theory follows the idea that less is more. A Wing Chun practitioner does the least possible movement “within the realm of safety” (contrary to general misconception that Wing Chun practitioners always make the absolute smallest possible move.). Also, Wing Chun advocates low kicks. We believe that it is just as silly to kick a person in the head, as it would be to punch them in the foot. The higher you lift your foot, the more your balance is compromised. Also, the higher you lift your foot, the longer you are immobile. With a high kick it will take you longer to return your foot to the ground therefore the period of time during which you cannot move from that spot is increased. The best way to offset force is with mobility. For greater mobility, a Wing Chun stance is relatively narrow keeping both feet on the ground as much as possible.

Street fights don’t start with a referee squaring off the combatants at a comfortable distance. In a street fight the attacker usually attempts to either sucker-punch you or he or she attacks straight on. Either way the attacker is close and in your face. For this simple reason Wing Chun advocates training for close-in fighting. A Wing Chun practitioner is also aware of the need to take advantage of the best and most vulnerable striking areas on the attacker’s body. It’s important to be a sharpshooter for the most vulnerable target areas. If we assume (as Wing Chun Advocates) that an attacker is going to be bigger and stronger, it is probably not the best plan to hit a six-foot three-inch, two hundred and ninety-five pound man in the stomach or chest… especially if you happen to be a five foot nine and one hundred and sixty-five pound person. Can the smaller person hurt a larger person by hitting them in the chest? Sure, but why chance it when there are so many softer targets available? Wing Chun philosophy says: “get the most out of each movement”, so choose the best target(s).

Wing Chun principles include the idea that if someone attacks you it is probably because they perceive they have a physical advantage. Wing Chun practitioners acknowledge that an attacker will likely be bigger, stronger, faster, have some fighting ability and/or that there may be more than one attacker. After all, it would be stupid for a small, weak, inept person to attack a larger, stronger, faster and more capable person. That being the case, learning to deflect and redirect force rather than confront it is of key importance. It is important to create a situation where the attacker’s movements work to your benefit. In many cases it is beneficial to move first, acting rather than reacting. It is important to rely on skill rather than strength, size, or speed. Most importantly… Keep it simple.


Although Wing Chun has some defensive ground fighting techniques, and many of the conventional principles of Wing Chun will work from the ground, Wing Chun is not a grappling art. My philosophy on ground fighting is this:

(1) Wrestling around on mats is fun. Wrestling around on asphalt or concrete is not. Win, lose, or draw you won’t feel like a winner after banging around on the concrete for even a short time. For this reason it makes more sense not to go to the ground if possible.

(2) Most street fights involve more than one attacker. While you are on the ground wrestling with one person, one of his buds is likely to splatter your skull across the pavement with a baseball bat.

(3) I believe it was Ben Franklin that said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Wing Chun includes training for avoiding being taken to the ground and for countering such attempts. Never try to beat an attacker at his own game. If someone is a competent grappler the last thing you want to do is wrestle with him. Don’t fight his fight. Make the opponent fight your fight.


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