Northern Leg, Southern Fist: Is Wing Chun just a short distance fighting art?
Many people, especially in the martial arts press, like to categorise different skills into those that are suitable for short range fighting, and those that are suitable for long range fighting. They consider long range fighting to consist of big hand movements and jumping
kicks, and short range fighting to consist of short strikes. locks and possibly throws.
Wing Chun, with its direct hand movements, short kicks and use of the elbow, is considered by many to be a style suitable for short range fighting. However, Wing Chun
also contains a kick with a fully extended leg and finger strikes with a fully extended arm. Assuming you remain upright without leaning about, these techniques are the longest you could physically achieve with your body.
The analysis of styles into different distances I think is misleading. I don’t doubt that techniques have a distance that is most appropriate for their application: naturally, your legs are longer than your arms, and your fingers have a longer reach than you elbow. I don’t think this is wrong, I just think it misses the point.
Much of Wing Chun training consists of sticking hands practice. Sticking hands deals with a lot of different things. According to my teacher’s teacher, Yip Chun, sticking hands develops positioning, energy, sensitivity and hand technique. Although sticking hands does not focus on kicking, punching, locking or throwing, in different degrees these activities form part of actual sticking hands practice.
Unlike a lot of people think, sticking hands is not a form of kung-fu wrestling, although sometimes sticking hands can degrade into wrestling. Nor is sticking hands a form of sparing where you are trying to beat your opponent down. although if you get carried away you may lose some control and strike your opponent a little too hard. Sticking hands deals with what happens immediately before your opponent tries to punch you, kick you, lock you down or throw you.
Through sticking hands you learn how your position and your opponent’s position affect one another. You also learn how to use your energy internally. From your position
and the energy you become aware of what techniques are open to you and what techniques are available to your opponent.
The more you practice, the less your opponents should surprise you with what they do. You should be able to understand and anticipate how the situation changes. Because of the emphasis on understanding change, sticking hands concentrates on the area that lies between ‘long range fighting’ and ‘short range fighting ‘. What is the most interesting part
of a fight: is it the long range or the short range? I would say that the long range is not very interesting, since me and my opponent(s) are too far away to hit each other. Conversely, when I am very close to my opponent, things happen very quickly and if I am in a poor position already then it is often too late to change it. Therefore I would also say that the short range is not very interesting either.
When two people fight, the fight is often over very quickly. If we assume that you are closing in on me from a slight distance, then what I would consider to be important is the
time during which we come together, when one of us intends to perform some technique. when long range changes to short range.
When you grab me with the intention of locking my arm, when you pull my wrist with the intention of drawing me onto a strike, when you step forward with the intention of punching me, when you reach out with the intention of strangling me, when you push me to make me lose my balance so that you can follow up with a throw, this is the time when the energy changes the most, and when the outcome of the fight is determined. This is the time covered by sticking hands.
Wing Chun philosophy says that you should look for the centre. Most people interpret this in terms of the ‘centre line theory’. Of course centre line theory is very important. but it only addresses one aspect of fighting. Every thing has a centre. In terms of distancing and range, the centre is the critical point at which you and your opponent become a threat to one another. Where this centre is and how you should catch it can be learned through sticking hands.
Since sticking hands is so important. you should try to get the most out of it as possible. There are many ways of playing sticking hands. When you watch people practising sticking hands, sometimes they will be standing far apart with their hands stretched out, just meeting. Other times they will be very close to each other and almost seem to be wrestling. However, most of the time they will have both hands engaged and be standing slightly apart.
When both hands are touching, you and your opponent are at a distance that is neither completely safe nor completely dangerous. lt is at this distance that you have the widest
scope to play and learn the most. Although this is how sticking hands is most often played. the other ways are also useful, and should be played as well in order to develop different skill.
Written by Daniel Poon
Qi Magazine Issue 8, April / May 1993, Pages 10-11.
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