London Wing Chun Goes Grappling

There is great division amongst Wing Chun practitioners over the worth of cross-training between different arts. Equally controversial are the questions thrown up by brazillian ju-jitsu, commonly known as 'grappling'. Wing Chun is an art which avoids fighting on the floor at all costs. Staying on your feet, and disposing of your opponent as quickly and energy efficiently as possible is fundamental. For this reason, Wing Chun practitioners and students largely frown upon the idea of wrestling with an opponent on the ground.

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However, with the meteoric growth of UFC, grappling has fast become the art to analyze and understand. No-one can deny the fact that those UFC boys fight hard, they give and take punishment in huge portions, most of which takes place on the mat with strangleholds and joint locks aplenty. See the video below for an example of UFC action.

Video: Wanderlei Silva vs Tito Ortiz - UFC 25 ( press play to watch)

But street confrontations are a different matter. In a streetfight it makes clear sense that remaining upright is highly desireable, after all nobody wants to end up cracking their head open tussling around with someone on the pavement (sidewalk for our US readers). But whether this is actually possible is an entirely different matter, as street-fights are unpredictable beasts that do go to the ground/ pavement/ sidewalk without warning or regard for the strategic strengths of your chosen martial art.

Indeed, in response to the popularity and apparent threat posed by grappling, some Wing Chun Sifus have started taking Wing Chun to the mat. Kevin Chan, the man behind the vastly popular Kamon Wing Chun school franchise, has developed Kamon Ju-Jitsu. Sifu Chan explains the rationale behind taking this step:

"I believe that one must be familiar with all possible fighting arenas. You simply cannot guarantee that you will be able to remain on your feet in a fight. By training in the acknowledged and proven best style for ground fighting I am able defend myself in the event a confrontation goes to the floor. When fighting in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu I am able to utilises my Wing Chun skills of relaxed use of energy developed in Chi Sao and the raw close range power developed in many hours of basic drills."

Video: Kevin Chan Seni 2007 Brazilian Jujitsu Demo (press play to watch)

Sifu Gutierrez of the Ving Tsun lineage has created an entire DVD dedicated to using Wing Chun to counter grappling based attacks...

Video: Sifu Gutierrez Ving Tsun Anti-Grappling Techniques (press play to watch)

Click here to watch more anti-grappling Wing Chun techniques.

Whilst Sifu Alan Orr, who cross trains Wing Chun with highly effective martial arts such as Eskrima and Grappling, is pioneering a new generation of integrated Wing Chun fighters who are taking Wing Chun Chinese Boxing skills into the ring and winning. The below video shows one of Sifu Orr's recent fights.

Video: Alan Orr Fighting At The 2005 Combat Sports Open
National NHB championship Finals (press play to watch)

Aware of all of the above, I figured I should investigate grappling, and see how much it complimented and contradicted my Wing Chun training. I booked a series of one-on-one sessions with a local submission wrestler to get condensed introduction to grappling.

Session One: The Guard, The Mount and The Side Mount

My grappling trainer figured that the best place for a stand-up fighter to begin getting to grips with groundwork would be by learning basic positioning and some fundamental techniques including:

The Guard:

As shown in the below video, in the guard position you are on your back, your legs are in the air- ready to wrap around your opponents mid-section. Once this is achieved, your secondary strategic action in the guard is to pull your opponent close-in, covering the arms, shutting down their ability to strike and move. The guard can either be closed, with feet locked into each other, or open with feet unlocked. In competition grappling, the guard is a strong position to be in, as the opponent must come to you and overcome your defence/ attacking strategy. Grapplers spend a great amount of time working out the best way to close-in and restrict movement of their opponent.

If you are a Wing Chun practitioner and you end up with a skilled grappler, you are going to have to repetitively strike hard and fast and do everything possible to ensure that the grappler has no opportunity to cover your arms. This may in theory sound easy, however, if you are a stand-up fighter on the ground, you are a long way out of your combative comfort zone. Though with all this said, while the guard may be a strong competition position, my submission wrestling coach explained that in street-fighting, going to the ground on your back is not advisable, as it leaves you open to taking a stomping and exposed to attacks to the groin.

Video: The Guard Positioning and Techniques (press play to watch)

The Mount:

As shown in the video below, in the mount, you are on top of your opponent legs straddling their waist. This is a strong position to be in, as it gives you a great amount of control over your opponent and allows you to unleash some good old fashioned ground and pounding on them. This position could work well for Wing Chun practitioners, as it would enable them to effectively apply their skills of sensitivity (developed through Chi Sau), arm covering and rapid chain punching.

Video: Armbar From The Mount (press play to watch)

The Side Mount:

As is shown in the video below, in this position the dominant attacker is lying on top of their opponent near horizontally. The opponent is lying face up. The side mount can applied from either the right or left side. There are a few key elements to this position. Firstly if you have side mounted them from the right, your left knee will be positioned close to your opponents hip, while your right leg will be extended outwards. Whilst doing this you must push your groin in the direction of the ground. Secondly, place as much body-weight as possible on your opponents upper chest and jaw- this should be helped by the positioning. Thirdly, you should aim to slip your right arm under your opponents left armpit (the one closest to you) to restrict their movement as much as possible. The side mount does not really give Wing Chun practioners much to work with. There is little room to manoevre in either position, thus reducing striking opportunities.

Video: Side Mount To Reverse Arm Bar (press play to watch)

Additional Techniques and Conclusions:

In addition to the key positions explained above, I also drilled a few basic grappling techniques such as the figure four leg lock, the figure four arm lock, and the figure four strangle hold. I admit, I wasn't particularly graceful or fluid when drilling these, mainly because the fighting whilist lying on the ground was so alien to me. However, with a little more time and practice I know I could really get the hang of this grappling stuff, and maybe even enjoy it.

After my first session I came away with a few key learnings:

I strongly believe that martial arts is about testing oneself, breaking comfort zones, and challenging preconcieved ideas and set patterns of behaviour. My first grappling session forced me to do all of this, and as a result I believe I walked away from that class wiser. I would never quit wing chun for grappling, because Wing Chun has become a way of life to me. However I am seriously considering attending a couple of grappling classes a month just to know a little bit about working the floor.

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Special thanks to Sifu Alan Orr and Kevin Chan- Click Here Find Their Wing Chun Classes In London Now!