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I've been practicing Wing Chun (Wang Kiu lineage) for over a year now. Now problem that I find myself running into is my ingrained reactions to incoming kicks or hits. I find that I am afraid of pain and reflexively move back or out of the way, which is actually likely to cause me more pain. Similarly, having just been introduced a little to sparring with kicks allowed, I tend to try to automatically block kicks with my arms.

I would appreciate any insight into overcoming the fear of pain so I can receive kicks and hits in a more appropriate manner instead of cringing or hiding. Secondarily, it would be helpful to change the automatic reflex reactions that are not helping me at all and actually put me in danger rather than using proper technique.

Is it possible to lessen the experience of pain so that I can concentrate on Wing Chun instead of avoiding hurt?

  • Welcome to the site. This is an interesting question! – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Nov 26 '14 at 16:27
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    force yourself to move in. If you practise it in one step sparring first you will train the reaction. Wing Chun is close range, so close the range. Also stepping in closer takes the momentum and power out of the kick. But beware of Thai fighters as they are also good at close range and give powerful knee attacks. – AquaAlex Jan 13 '15 at 9:28
  • And please please please do not kick trees :'( In kung fu we believe in gradual progress toughen your legs and arms over time in a gentle manner without damaging/breaking things. GLASS HEAD, BEAN CURD BODY, IRON BRIDGES – AquaAlex Jan 13 '15 at 9:30
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This answer makes the assumption that you're talking about reaching down to block low kicks with your arms, which your question seems to indicate. In Wing Chun, the rule of thumb is that the hands address anything above the waist, and kicks anything below the waist, with some overlap in the groin region. If the kick is coming at your head you should be blocking with your hands.

Main way to get over the flinch response is by desensitization with two components: physical and psychological. Desensitizing physically involves banging shins against inanimate objects or training partners. Be careful when attempting any kind of desensitization. In other words, do it a little at a time and don't overdo it.

Conditioning Shin

Take an old-fashioned rolling pin of the kind used to roll out dough, and roll it up and down your shins increasing pressure gradually. You can achieve a similar effect with any kind of stick or cylindrical object, though of course these don't roll as well. You may also directly strike your shins with a stick. Make sure you do this with very light strikes, gradually building up intensity over time, and spread the strikes as evenly as possible along the length of the shin.

Kicking Trees

Once you're comfortable with that, you can move on to hitting your shins against inanimate objects like trees. I don't know if your lineage has a round kick, but you can steal one from Muay Thai or Karate. This is the kick you'll be doing against the inanimate object. Make sure the inanimate objects are not exceptionally narrow like a beam or post as this may concentrate the impact on a small portion of your shin, making it more prone to injury. I emphasize this again, go lightly and make very little penetration of the target. You do not want to wind up unable to walk from over-training this.

Partner Exercises

  • Find an interested training partner, and deliver simultaneous low-power round kicks to each other's shins. This will probably do the most to desensitize you psychologically from receiving kicks on your legs since now a kick is actually coming at you. Both of you will be training to receive and accept pain on that part of the body. And you'll be training yourself not to reach down and try to block it with your hands.
  • Now that you've conditioned yourself to take the pain, try training yourself to do the smart thing and let the kick miss. Have your buddy throw those same round kicks at your shin, but this time pick your leg up and let his kick miss. Your sifu will be able to show you how to counter a kick with a kick. this video has a decent demo of this technique. Once you see that in Wing Chun hands address hands and feet address feet, maybe you'll stop trying to karate low block a kick to the legs.
  • Wonderful answer. I can confirm from my experience that desensitising lowers the fear you have. Don't overdo it and it will get better over time. – reggaemuffin Nov 26 '14 at 21:22
  • Accepted for usefulness. We do practice kicks on each other's legs. Moving back to avoid the kick tends to hurt more and we are instructed to move the leg into the kick a bit instead. It feels counter-intuitive, but over time I suppose I'll get better at it. – Thaurin Nov 27 '14 at 21:49
  • except for the kicking trees bit not a bad answer. Do not kick trees or walls. toughening the bone structure and skin is important but do not desensitize yourself completely and do not cause serious bruises, hairline fractures, etc. – AquaAlex Jan 15 '15 at 8:59
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I've been practicing Wing Chun (Wang Kiu lineage) for over a year now...having just been introduced a little to sparring with kicks allowed, I tend to try to automatically block kicks with my arms.

Emphasis mine. This is your problem.

Flinchy reactions to normal attacks is caused by either A) not knowing what to do or B) not sparring enough under realistic conditions. You have not been sparring enough under realistic conditions.

Having trained for a year and only now getting into sparring with kicks is a bit of a red flag. It's not unheard of to not spar as a beginner in boxing, if someone is only hitting the bags and doing conditioning, but if you're training to fight then sparring should be a matter of course. Have you been sparring hard without kicks, or just doing chi sau? The latter would be another red flag that you have not been given serious productive training.

Wear gloves, a mouthguard, and shinguards and spar several times a week--not full contact, but hard--and you will overcome your flinches.

  • The past year, we have regularly trained without kicks. I'm pretty sure they want us to first learn proper foot work and kick technique before throwing us into full on sparring with kicks, like how they sometimes let us spar with just chain punches, then chain punches with bong sau or lap sau, etc. instead of having us beginners widly flailing our arms and legs in a frenzy/panic, not knowing what to do. :) Thanks for your answer! – Thaurin Nov 27 '14 at 18:57
  • "instead of having us beginners widly flailing our arms and legs in a frenzy/panic, not knowing what to do" —- isn't this exactly what your question suggests their approach has in fact caused? 'Learning' footwork and kicking technique for a year without sparring (or only sparring with an extremely limited set of techniques, like chain punches/bong sau/lap sau) is like 'learning' to swim by moving your arms standing next to the pool. – Dave Liepmann Nov 27 '14 at 20:10
  • I tend to increase my "flailing wildly in a frenzy/panic" (it's a bit of an overreaction, of course :)) when I get confused or overwhelmed, which happens when I don't know what to do. Focusing on six different techniques that I am still struggling with exacerbates this, I've found, so I think I know what they are trying to do. I think it's about figuring out different applications in different situations for the techniques yourself. – Thaurin Nov 27 '14 at 21:56
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Fear is the point here. On the same line of pain and fear which you've already experienced, if you go on you will need to cope with rage, adrenaline dumps, loss of confidence or willingness to surrender, bleeding, inability ot breathe normally, extreme fatigue and not being able to fight back properly. Even losing consciousness or having some bone broken are possibilities, but they almost inevitably end the fight so they are outside the scope of this answer.

One side of the matter is addressing fear, the other side is dealing with all the nasty bodily side effects of the above conditions. Understand also that body and mind talk to each other and the effect is tangible, and it can happen that there is a nice way to fix a mind problem with body practice (or vice versa).

Fear is a real threat as it makes you slow, weak, sloppy, dim-witted. Surprise, shock and panic in real life situations can be a death sentence as affected people often fail to accomplish tasks that could save their lives - even the most basic ones. On a couple of occasions in my life I have been frozen still by fear.

Will to fight (or to live) is also crucial, as many people caught in disasters just let themselves die (see Survival Psychology by John Leach); if you let that happen in a fight you're in real trouble. It does not take a disaster to experience it, I know it first hand.

As it has already being pointed out, a good way is to experience these states of mind, get familiar with them and their effect slowly will start to weaken. How to trigger them is a matter of choice: hard sparring is a way, bungee jumping also is. Afraid of water, spiders or blood? You might have an opportunity right there.

I've found Yoga to be beneficial in this regard, as you try to be comfortable and relaxed in an uncomfortable situation. Yoga also provides you a deeper knowledge of your body and a more intimate body-mind connection, which provides confidence and control.

Controlled Breathing is very important: it is both beneficial as it empowers athletic tasks, as the Valsalva maneuver or Kiai, but it also can be used to affect your parasympathetic nervous system (see here). It also helps to manage fatigue and pace during a fight. Many discplines practice controlled breathing exercises, Yoga and Qi Gong surely do.

Toughen up your mind by realizing that all the following troubles are just inconveniences, they do not have to affect your performance: blood just stains and it doesn't kill, pain is a trick to make you rush and make mistakes and at most will weaken your muscle contractions, surrendering is never an option, raging gets in the way of proper form, getting choked means you still have time to react, if your nose gets broken that's why you also have a mouth. Busted lips? You're handsome anyway!

Stay positive and sharp: keep your form good, work your techniques, keep on trying. Just be mindful and wise; to make it easier, set a clear limit: when sparring for example if you need to tap out, tap out; in case of injury, stop immediately.

I think the body-mind connection is important to you right now, just the keep in mind that other approaches exist: the conditioning aspect has already been addressed in another answer. As an added bonus, just practicing conditioning also helps your confidence in your capability to withstand painful blows (via placebo effect).

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    Another useful answer. I am aware of the role the mind has in how we experience and perceive things and how much of a role that actually is. I am in fact afraid of spiders; they are fascinating animals, but the response of my mind is automatic and immediate when it decides there is one near--even when there isn't. These sorts of automatic (and often incorrect) responses are frustrating and, as you said, potentially dangerous. Will keep training. – Thaurin Nov 27 '14 at 22:14
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I once was a Muay Thai practitioner for seven years. My humble opinion is that fear should not be eliminated. Fear should be conditioned as you condition your shins, your elbows, your knuckles. I stepped against opponents more expert and more strong than me. I went against those fanatic kind of practitioners taking the full contact nature of my martial art as an excuse to always hit full strength. There was no single time where I was not afraid...still I stepped against them. Initially I did not even manage to hit back, I just avoided and -rarely because the pain scared me- blocked. At one point, I'm sure it was my perseverance that had made, without me knowing it, my spirit and inner strength more conditioned. It changed over an afternoon. During the usual sparring where I was backing off circular shin kicks, full of bruises, that suddenly I felt a surge inside. It did not eliminate the fear, it embraced it. And suddenly I was (and my companions looking the sparring noted it and started to encourage me, making me feel proud) not going back, but forward against the opponent! I don't know how! I was very aware and accurate but at the same time absent, my mind following and "dancing" with my body at the timing of the music we traditionally play in fights. I started to push forward with my previously insecure shin blocks in a hard way. I was kicking my opponent's "weapons" with mine. And I was countering hard. It was not a beating anymore. It was an exchange. Since that session, I go AGAINST the blows when I must block. My fighting style is quite passive, avoidant, but when I block, then I see the block as an attack against the incoming attack. And it's not pain anymore. It's just impact. The fear never went away and I never would want it to go, because it became the emotion that turned into my internal source of KI (note: before the above mentioned change I did not use to vocally, or with the breath, exteriorize the KI. I began to firmly scream whenever I kicked, while pressing my diaphragm hard while loosely turning my hips and by the way gained an impressive increase in kick power). To conclude, the important is to have an opponent who, whatever his character is, is willing to SAFELY make an exchange of "KI" with you. It's pure, beautiful energy work performed through the ascent towards perfect battle! In Italian, fights are literally called "encounters" (incontro); I think it's a beautiful subtlety, because someway this brings you to a state of mind where your opponent/sparring partner is cooperating and thus teaching you, together with your higher self, to not give into this initially difficult, yed imho fundamental fear.

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The same way you overcome your fear of getting into a cold swimming pool: let it happen. Allow yourself to get kicked. It will get better and better until soon getting kicked or punched doesn't trigger your automatic panic reflex.

Experience is the best teacher. There is no meditation, focusing technique or kamehameha wave that you need to study. Just experience it until it becomes boring.

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There are a lot of guys that don't like to fight. They don't like pain either. I am one of them also and the smart man learns the internal Martial Arts. The internal is all about healthy inside your body. There are forms that concentrate on you're organs and developing you're QI. The best self defense is not to fight. That's the ultimate.

  • -1. This is a confused answer and needed editing. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jan 12 '15 at 9:37
  • "internal" martial arts refers to chinese martial arts that originated inside China, as opposed to "external" martial arts that e.g. have roots in Buddhism (Buddhism originating in India). – Captain Kenpachi Jan 12 '15 at 10:30

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