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I was introduced briefly to Wing Chun from my Jujutsu Sensei some years ago. He felt it was very effective for situations where you were in close and had to deal with strikes. He gave an example of prison, where you may be cornered and had to fight in a closed in space with little to no room. He also felt it was extremely functional and practical much like Jujutsu (Small Circle specifically).

Fast forward a few years and I have the opportunity to study Wing Chun. In looking at videos it sure seems that practitioners were standing at a very odd angles while practicing the hand techniques. Essentially leaning backwards while their feet were angled and pointing inwards. It sure didn't seem very practical but I can't really judge based on some cursory research.

What are feelings of others on Wing Chun? Not for MMA or competitions but for self defense. Is it for show or are the techniques really effective? Is this something you can utilize as you get older and perhaps less flexible?

Clarification: I do not consider MMA self defense. It is organized brawling with lots of rules where you cannot perform certain techniques.

  • Note that this stance (called Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma) is a training stance and not a fighting one. – Leopoldo Sanczyk Jul 21 '16 at 23:36
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The stance with the feet pointed inwards is known as Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma & may be referred to as the "Pigeon-Toed" or "Goat riding" stance.

It is a stance that is developed under the foundational form called Siu Nim Tao. This form is typically found in the Yip Man heritage schools (note there are other Wing Chun variations) which was popularized by Bruce Lee. This stance is supposed to build the legs & structure. It is also supposed to have a Qigong or meditative benefit. Another theory though was the root of the stance was designed to provide solid balance when fighting on a boat due to the Red Opera history of Wing Chun (boats rock left and right hence flaring the heels outwards & toes inwards).

But this stance is only at the introductory level (note it does though get trained all the time by the life long practitioners). The stance eventually adapts to other stances as found in the other two empty hand, wooden dummy and weapons forms. The modifications are more mobile with a focus on advancing, retreating, height changes and cornering footwork.

Regarding it's combat use - much like all the arts this is dependent on the student and learning environment. But Wing Chun does contain a lot techniques that are designed to be practical. The kicks tend to be low hence don't require any stretching, are fast (direct) and with shoes on can be painful. This is mixed with close quarter trapping and control methods. When mixed with punches, elbows and knees up close they can be devastating. They also can be applied even as people age but that does not mean an elderly person wont need to keep chain punching, kicking, practising reaction drills and sticking hands/legs methods.

In an mma competition using Wing Chun is trickier. In a cage/ring/matt there is a lot of room to dodge & the style does not focus much on ground work or long range attacks. There is a sweet spot for Wing Chun but a broader fighter will avoid the close quarter range or move to a take down. In mma the recommendation would be for Wing Chun people to also practise longer range kicking, grappling take downs & ground submission methods. This is exactly what Bruce Leee did.

Wing Chun techniques can also be beneficial in mma as they provide great close quarter methods which are good glue between long & close range. But there is also an additional limit - Wing Chun moves are hard to see and judges who are not aware of the techniques will not value them or even miss seeing them to award points. This is the nature of competition.

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  • Even in some competitions, the Wing Chun punch does not count as a point because of is short path: not matter how many you connect or the damage you do. – Leopoldo Sanczyk Jul 21 '16 at 23:33
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As with most things like this, you get out what you put in. There are no simple answers to what style is best. Some are more practical than others, but mechanically they almost all have more in common with each other than they have different. There are only so many ways that a human body can move, and thus there is necessarily a lot of overlap in martial arts curriculum. I honestly think it is more important to find a style that you enjoy practicing (for whatever reason) than to scrutinize its nuances for effectiveness in real-world combat. The chances are slim that you will ever be in a self-defense situation (YMMV), but training in a martial art is going to take a considerable amount of time. So, it's best to spend that time doing something you enjoy. Most schools offer a free demo class, and that can give you an idea about the curriculum, student body, and chemistry with your prospective instructor(s). Don't be afraid to shop around for a 'good fit,' and don't sign any long term contracts unless you are sure you are in for the long haul.

Wing Chun does focus on close range striking. It tends to focus kicks on the lower body, rapid hand strikes, and hand trapping/sticky hands techniques. The effectiveness of these technique preferences depend greatly on the practitioner's fitness, size, strength, and technique (exactly like any other martial art). It should be relatively low impact enough to be fairly friendly to an aging body, and certainly more so than something like Sambo or pankration.

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You might want to take a look at what I wrote about the subject in my answer here:

Defence against Wing Chun

In the link above, I explained what the original purpose was for Wing Chun, why it was invented, and what its weaknesses are. I think you can apply that article as a partial answer to your question.

You also mentioned self-defense vs. MMA fighting. For that, I would direct your attention to another article I wrote here:

Are there any effective Kung Fu fighters in MMA?

In the article linked above, I talk about why kung-fu in general doesn't appear very often in MMA. Change "kung-fu" to "wing-chun", and it still applies.

I also expound on what I consider "realistic" self-defense training at the answer below. Just ignore the top part about Taekwondo and jump to the part where I say "Moving right along...":

is Jun Chong TKD a legitimate TKD dojo for self defense?

Okay, now having gotten that out of the way, I just want to say some things about the legitimacy of Wing Chun as a self-defense style.

You can train in any martial art and use it for self-defense, even a martial art that has just one punch, and that's all. That one punch could work if you do it just at the right time and the right way.

The problem is that you won't know what the right time is, unless you've spent a lot of time practicing it against partners that are trying relentlessly to do everything they can do to beat you. They get to do anything to you: punch you, kick you, grab you, lock your joints, throw you down, choke you, pin you to the ground, etc. And you just have your one punch.

If you train that way, you're going to do just fine, even with that one punch. Well, you're going to do a lot better training that way than if you just punched to the air or practiced on a compliant partner who lets you do stuff to him.

It's how you train that matters.

What MMA does is to remove the "model" about how a martial art thinks a fight "should" look like. It replaces dogma with something that has no model, just rules for what you can't do. Outside of those rules, you can do anything. And that's very useful, because it very closely approximates what you're going to deal with in an actual self-defense situation.

And by the way, the rules of MMA (or Gracie JJ) allow you to practice day after day without getting badly injured. That's important. It means you can go all-out in your training, and it's still more or less safe. If it wasn't safe, you would spar maybe once or twice a year. And then you'd head to the hospital afterwards. How good do you think you'll get sparring twice a year? How much better would you be if you could spar every single time you train?

Wing Chun can work for self-defense, like anything else can work. And it actually does do sparring on occasion (some places more than others), which is better than just practicing forms, chi-sao drills, wooden-man dummy, and so on.

The problem is how Wing Chun people train. If they train with MMA people using MMA rules, they're going to figure out very quickly what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately, most Wing Chun groups don't do that. They train using traditional methods.

As for performing Wing Chun as you get older, it's one of the least physically demanding styles out there. You're not going down into any splits. You're not doing high kicks. Your not doing back arches. Yes, you do lean back in most styles of Wing Chun, but that's going to be a muscular limitation, rather than a limitation on your flexibility. People who do T'ai Chi actually have to go through a much larger range of motion, in general, than Wing Chun typically requires. And an awful lot of elderly people do T'ai Chi.

Where I think older people will have problems with Wing Chun is in its hardness. If you have an instructor who demands you hit the wooden-man dummy hard, or he has you hitting each other hard during chi-sao or sparring, that's a problem. The older you get, the less able to do hard training you will become. It really depends on the person and the instructor.

My general advice is: Do what you think you're able to do. Your instructor may insist you go harder. Don't if you think it's going to hurt you. At age 50, for example, your joints and tendons will be a lot less forgiving than at age 20.

Hope that helps.

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To add to these really well researched answers a personal experience:

I learned wing tsung at a fairly practical school and after some years training and sparring (we trained with shoes on hard floor and often had mostly unlimited fights) I found that the biggest thing I got out of it are reflexes.

You can train the Wing Tsung forms in training situations, get a feel for it, develop reflexes over time and you will feel your body to move automatically in extreme situations.

I cannot talk about other arts/styles but I found that WT gave me:

  • an eye for movement
  • controlling tge others arm with reflex
  • not getting hit yourself

I personally combined that with a bit of judo/juo jitzu for anti ground and some training against boxers, as tgese two are some of the weaker points.

But if you are looking for a martial arts which can be used for self defense (depends on the SiFu's focus) and feels more like you are the defender, using the enemy against itself, WT could be for you.

On the topic of age, we had many people over 60 training at our school. Most things seemed to work really well.

Remember, like others here already said. Try out every school you have around you. Find a style you feel fits you. Find a dojo with a trainer whom you can respect and with students who you can train with. And most importantly, have fun doing it.

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As Zen-Hydra already said if you would like to find a Martial Art to train there are other factors than how effective it is in self-defense. Since you are asking specifically about the effectiveness of Wing Chun though, I assume you want to train for these specific situations (maybe because you enjoy exactly that) and I would like to share my thoughts on it.

Among many people in the martial arts community there seems to be the misconception that it is the same thing as self-defense. In my opinion the two are quite distinct things that deal with a variety of situations.

Martial arts is usually (of course your interpretation of the word may differ, but that is semantics) meant to describe sports like Karate, Judo, Aikido, greko roman wrestling etc. and their modern partners like modern wrestling etc. Most of them have a traditional or philosophical side, some are more adapted for a competitive sport (MMA, boxing etc.). Note that of course if you are a master in either of these arts you will do relatively well in self-defense to. But neither of the ones just listed devotes to self-defense, they are not specialized self-defense systems.

But such specialized self-defense systems exist. My personal favorite is Krav Maga as taught by Krav Maga Global. Other forms include Systema and military forms. Ninjutsu is also worth naming, but focusses on offensive use of weapons rather than defensive. Self-defense situations are qualitatively different from fighting (although they can transition into it). They usually come as a surprise, are shorter and nowadays often involve a weapon. I will make an example to demonstrate how they are different using a common case in the UK, specifically London: knife crimes. Imagine you are walking a lonely road towards the evening and a person passing by suddenly draws a knife and presses you against the wall, an arm-length away from you with the knife to your throat asking for money. Any of the other forms I listed under "martial arts" is not going to help you here and that is the difference between a self-defense sport and a martial art. To prepare for such situations you need to train strategies, do psychological pressure drills and prepare specifically for weapon attacks/threats from every angle and in any situation/environment.

Now after this relatively long prologue I can try to answer your question about Wing Chun in particular. It is a bit of an intermediate, they do train weapons defenses etc. but in my opinion it is rather adapting some techniques to these situations rather than having a thought through self-defense system. As an example you can see that already from the stands: it is unnatural and you would not stand like that in real life. When someone walks up to you and you are not sure wether he is going to attack you, you would like to prepare for it. But you are not going to adopt a Wing Chun stance because then the grandma passing by is going to identify you as the aggressor in the situation. To fit this in the argument I gave above: Wing Chun teaches some self-defense, but is not a dedicated self-defense system. This is of course my opinion and you may disagree.

EDIT TO ADDRESS THE CRITICS

I will give another example concerning knife attacks demonstrating why Wing Chun is not a self-defense system, although it might teach some defenses against knives. In interviews with people (see for example this book for sources on that) it has become clear that in a surprising attack (i.e. someone just starts stabbing you on the street) with a knife it is rare that people realize the other person has a knife. They think they are just getting punched and defend accordingly until they notice their wounds. This is the reason why Krav Maga Global teaches basic punch defense techniques (the "inside defense" and the "360 defense") that work equally for punches and for knives, in particular try to control the opponent as fast as possible instead of throwing wild punches (note that this is also good from a legal perspective, since in some countries, e.g. Germany, you can be held accountable for wounding your attacker if the defense was not appropriate to the situation.). What is the most basic Wing Chun technique? Keep your elbows in and low, punch fast and move in... good luck when there is a knife!

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  • Thank you for your response. I am afraid I will have to disagree on your assessment of Wing Chun. From what I have seen it is very much a self defense system. I cannot speak to Krav Maga as I have never studied it. Ninjitsu is a not a martial art nor a fighting style. It is the study of assassination and deception. – webworm May 1 '16 at 19:06
  • @webworm i'm sure not everything in my comment is correct. all i was trying to say in the first part is that you should study a dedicated self-defense system, not some kind of hybrid pretending to teach self-defense. with regard to wing tsun: it might teach some self-defense, it is most certainly not a thought through self-defense system – Wolpertinger May 1 '16 at 20:47
  • @webworm I edited my answer to clarify my concerns particularly with Wing Chun. – Wolpertinger May 2 '16 at 8:25

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