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"The weakest of all weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire."

- Mark Twain

Traditional Art Modern Thinking

Self Defence with a modern twist

Grappling in Wing Chun

Grappling In Wing Chun

Wing Chun is all about simplicity and efficiency of movement therefore when defending yourself the last thing on your mind is being entered into a grappling scenario, where you may end up on the floor and based on statistics 7 out of 10 fights go to the floor (70%).

So if you are a practitioner of Wing Chun or another martial art that is predominantly a standing Martial Art when you enter in to a fight scenario there is a very good chance that you will end up on the floor.

I have heard students who have experienced such scenarios say

  • "What or where did I do wrong?"
  • "What should I have done?"

And I can guarantee that they were asking themselves:

  • "Was my positioning, energies or technique correct?"
  • "Did I use the correct technique?"
  • "How was my footwork?"

The student then feels that the Art that they practice did not serve them justice so they then loose faith in the art and end up giving up training altogether and or finding something else to train in.

The problem lies with the fact that the student may not have done anything wrong; your opponent just had a greater experience in ground fighting or grappling and had a greater intent.

When entering into a scenario whereby there is an exchange of blows even in Chi Sau I have learnt to expect the unexpected, so in a combat situation I would be expected to be taken to the floor.

Incorporation of Ground Fighting or Grappling

In any Martial Art there is what is deemed to be a weakness, the weakness of that Martial Art could be anything, but the weakest link is by sure the practitioner The practitioner is what uses the art to defend themselves and the problems lie in the fact that some less experienced practitioners do not realise that in a perfect world, the theories and concepts of Martial Arts will always work and they do not take in to account the variables of the practitioner or circumstance, i.e. it's the person that lets the art down and not the art that lets the person down.

The Wing Chun free hand fighting system is a Close Quarter Combative Martial Art (CQC), therefore moving from a free fighting technique in to a grappling position can be done at an amazing speed using any of the Wing Chun entry techniques. As the main points that you learn in Wing Chun when some one attacks is to move your feet, make contact with your opponents and counter attack. As you make contact with your opponent you are using touch as additional sense which you can detect your opponents movement please refer to this article Direct or Indirect Blocking for more details.
As you have counter attacked your opponent from their initial attack you have then bought yourself time (approx 3 seconds) to react to the scenario. Thus you are able to put them in to a very simple grapple, i.e. arm bar or arm lock, figure 4 etc or even put them in to a more complex lock if competent and you feel comfortable to do so.

Ground Fighting

If you find yourself in a fight which has ended up on the floor you need to have a good understanding of ground fighting. Having this understanding could be the difference between a life or death situation, especially as the way street fights have developed over the years. Kids nowadays have a type of pack mentality and attack in numbers where it a free for all to join and put their two-penny-worth in and some victims have been brutally injured or even killed and this applies to both kids and adults

The main rule is that you need to be aware of your surroundings and opponent or potential multiple opponents. Remember that the ground is your friend as you can be used as a leverage point Your opponent maybe bigger and stronger than you, however in ground fighting the use of your whole body comes in to play when ground fighting. You need to ware your opponent down by applying as much of your bodyweight on to them as possible. You can do this by lying across your opponent and spreading your legs and leaving your toes in contact with the ground. In this position you are able to use you arms to battle with your opponent's arms have very little contact with the ground. This then applies your body weight to your opponent which can be very unpleasant not to say draining. If you find yourself dominated and underneath your opponent, you need to try to remain in control of you opponents arms, relax and wait for the right opportunity. As soon as that opportunity you are able to use leverage to turn the tables.

Importance of Mindset

Mindset is the key in any fight situation as this drives your intent. If your opponent has a greater intent than you, then how do you think you will ever win a fight? If in your mind you punch them, they will punch you 5 times, if you punch them 5 times, they will punch you 25 times. Therefore your intent must be of that which I have just described, if I get hit, I will hit them 10 times, if I get hit 10 times, I will hit 100 times.

Advantages of Grappling

If you have an appreciation or trained in a grappling art previously, I believe that this sets you in good stead for any fight situation whether you have one or more attackers. You can use grappling in the following situations:

  • To protect yourself whilst on the ground as you should have been taught how to break fall and protect yourself, if attacked whilst upright then you should have been taught to ensure that your airway is clear and then take any opportunity that presents itself.
  • To escort someone, using control and restraint (C&R) from a situation.
  • To scare friends of your opponent that has rushed to help them.

Grappling may not be traditional within the Martial Art that you study however I believe in today's society it has a wide range of uses. Therefore we incorporate a form of grappling in our style of Wing Chun.

Disadvantages of Grappling

In my experience the mind set of a grappler tends to lean towards: hit first ask questions later after he has grappled you to the floor ripped your arm off. However this mentality is great, providing they can ensure that their strike connects well with their opponent. If the target is missed or the strike is blocked, it could leave them wide open for a counter or worse.

Therefore it is my opinion that a good grappler waits for the given opportunity and then without hesitation takes it, manipulates his opponent to his advantage and ends up locking them up. You have only got to watch the UFC guys.

Sometimes there can be too much emphasis on the initial strike other than the main part of the grapple. Therefore student's technique starts well and ends bad. If you incorporate grappling in to an already established system then you have something to fall back on if it all goes wrong, movements, techniques, blocks or deflections. If you learn a grappling or combative art first and then try to learn a more traditional Martial Art then this is where problems are raised, as the student wants to just hit and grapple, instead of going through the many tedious exercises which make the practitioners of the traditional arts so fast and effective.


Whether you like grappling or not it seems that most Martial Arts have some sort of grappling whether it is a full grappling art or an appreciation.

In my experience and the lightening speed of Wing Chun, gives you the tools to deflect an opponents attack and act on this new position where you have two options.

  1. Just be brutal, direct and to the point, take them out with a blow to the throat, face, eye, groin, knee joint etc
  2. I could maintain the contact strike them and manipulate them in to a simple grapple or take them down to the ground and cause them immense pain???

However in the Wing Chun circles some believe there is grappling, some believe that there is not and this is all dependant on what linage you have studied. I will leave you to make your own mind up.

Chi Sau (the double sticking hand exercise) is what many Wing Chun practitioners tend to focus on, traditionally just uses hands and feet techniques to gain position on your opponent to get a strike in.

When taking part in Chi Sau or techniques there is a lot of wrist grabbing, and striking with the hands which can be easily adopted to move in to perform grappling techniques on your opponent.

Many Wing Chun clubs are now adopting the art of Chi Sau Grappling in order to get the student comfortable to work on the ground.

Experience has shown me that that you are able to adopt some of the more direct striking movements of Wing Chun to enable you to grapple your opponent. Using this mentality you are able to put on joint locks and breaks, use compressions, arm bars, and put people on the floor using control and restraint (CandR) techniques which can inflict serious pain and discomfort.

Wing Chun as other martial arts, are pretty brutal in the fact that you would be aiming to strike areas that would cause maximum damage to your opponent.

Therefore using Wing Chun theory and concepts demonstrates how quickly you can get in, grapple and manipulate your opponent no matter how big and strong they are.

Sifu Neil Sydenham

© Progressive Wing Chun Milton Keynes 2017