Ip Chun is one of the two sons of Yip Man, the famous Wing Chun Grandmaster and teacher of Bruce Lee. The video is exactly what the title says. To still be training like this at 93 is very impressive!
I keep hearing talk of current/or current interim/or previous UFC Lightweight champion (it’s such a mess in that division of the UFC at the moment that I lose track) Tony Ferguson and his use of Wing Chun in the UFC.
The following video puts all the different clips of him training on a Wing Chun wooden dummy and fighting in the UFC together, with a bit of Joe Rogan commentary over the top – it’s actually a good watch:
The exercise he’s doing with the metal ball looks a lot like the Baguazhang tea cups drill, as well.
To me his Wing Chun looks kind of self-taught. I get the impression he’s more into innovative training using the wooden dummy equipment, rather than in making a serious attempt to learn and apply actual Wing Chun in MMA.
A lot of the proof that he’s using Wing Chun in the UFC relies on that one elbow he did over the top in the clip above. But the thing is, Jon Jones has been using that for years, and nobody says he’s doing Wing Chun. Watch him doing it against Gustaffson here:
Still, it’s worth noting that Fergason is doing well with whatever unconventional training methods he’s using. If he can find some inspiration in traditional Chinese Martial Arts, then so much the better for everyone.
I’m always looking for ways that the sticky hands-like training found in Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Wing Chun, Praying Mantis, White Crane and Hung Gar, where contact between the forearms or hands is maintained and the practitioner is encouraged to ‘listen’ to the movements of the opponent through this contact, can be used in MMA.
A clip of Bruce Lee showing sticky hands training
The problem with transferring these sorts of skills to MMA is quite obvious: nobody in a ‘real’ fight is going to offer up their arm to you to stick too. Instead, they’re just going to punch you straight in the face, and not leave their fist hanging in the air afterward for you to grab.
Perhaps the most famous MMA practitioner ever, Conor McGregor, is a master of counter-attacking and timing. He waits for the opponent to commit to a strike before throwing his deadly left hand and catching him just as he comes in. He mixes this up with kicking techniques straight from a Tae Kwon Do instruction manual.
Other fighters like Nate Diaz are known for their straight-up boxing style hands and fighters like Gobrandt and Cruz have evolved the MMA striking game into a movement based style.
One of the names you don’t often hear mentioned regarding striking is the UFC light heavyweight champion, and now the new heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Cormier, a former Olympic Wrestler, has a strong background in grappling but has dominated the light heavyweight division (despite two losses to Jon Jones, who keeps getting disqualified and banned for failing drug tests), achieving 10 TKO or KO victories from striking.
Using wrestling as his base he’s developed a style of clinch-based dirty boxing that has been very successful. He doesn’t look like a typical striker, with both his hands outstretched, instead of in a typical boxing guard. When engaging an opponent on his feet Cormier seeks to smother the other guy’s hands, and feed in strikes once they are out of the way, moving into a clinch position, then looking to land a strong hook as either he or his opponent exit the clinch. And of course, once in the clinch, he can use his wrestling to get a takedown. Video here.
If he can catch his opponent with his hands down as he exits the clinch then a short hook can mean its lights out, as the ex Heavy Weight champion Stipe Miocic found out to his cost this Saturday at UFC 226 when Cormier moved up a weight division to challenge for the belt, becoming a two-division champion in the process as Miocic collapsed to the floor following a clean hook to the chin from Cormier.
Cormier’s tactics have a president in boxing. Jack Johnson and George Forman used to smother opponents hands to set up their own fence and draw loopier punches that they could cut inside of.
MMA Analyst Jack Slack has broken down the stylistic punching of Cormier in Clash of Kings: Tactical Guide to Stipe Miocic vs Daniel Cormier, ahead of the UFC 226 heavyweight clash. Slack calls it the “mummy” style of guard, presumably because it resembles a horror movie mummy approaching with outstretched arms.
But what peaked my interest was the idea that this style of fighting could be the ‘way in’ that Chinese Martial Arts practitioners are looking for when transitioning to MMA (or heck, just even real fighting). Cormier’s style makes extensive use of subtle angle changes and sensitivity that push hands and sticky hands training builds up.
If you’ve got a background in this style of sticky hands then read those Jack Slack articles and take a closer look at what Cormier is doing because it could be a style of fighting that would probably work for you too.
I was giving the Tao Te Ching the cursory glance I occasionally give it recently. I’ve got the copy shown above. I usually flick to a random chapter, read it three times and ponder it deeply. Well, as deeply as I am able to. I landed on chapter 61, and the next day I landed on chapter 8. These two seemed to be linked in theme, so I thought I’d say something about them.
Incidentally, I really like the Stephen Mitchell translation. I’ve no idea how accurate it is compared to the Chinese, but all translation seems to involve some interpretation, and I like the way he’s done it.
Here’s chapter 61:
When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.
If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.
and chapter 8:
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
So, firstly let’s look at the imagery of water, one of the classic symbols of the Yin side of the Taiji diagram. Both chapters use water as a metaphor for the correct way of acting or being in the world. It’s a theme that repeats through the Tao Te Ching, and also throughout the history of Asian martial arts, even in modern times. I’m thinking of Bruce Lee in the infamous interview where he says “Be water, my friend!”
I was reading another article about Wing Chun today by Ben Judkins, which also expanded upon this idea of softness overcoming strength, and how this idea has permeated Asian martial arts:
Early reformers in martial arts like Taijiquan (Wile 1996) and Jujitsu sought to shore up their own national identities by asserting that they brought a unique form of power to the table. Rather than relying on strength, they would find victory through flexibility, technique, and cunning (all yin traits), just as the Chinese and Japanese nations would ultimately prevail through these same characteristics. It is no accident that so much of the early Asian martial arts material featured images of women, or small Asian men, overcoming much larger Western opponents with the aid of mysterious “oriental” arts. These gendered characterizations of hand combat systems were fundamentally tied to larger narratives of national competition and resistance (see Wendy Rouse’s 2015 article “Jiu-Jitsuing Uncle Sam”.
but as the author notes, the situation is often muddied
Shidachi appears to have had little actual familiarity with Western wrestling. It is clear that his discussion was driven by nationalist considerations rather than detailed ethnographic observation. And there is something else that is a bit odd about all of this. While technical skill is certainly an aspect of Western wrestling, gaining physical strength and endurance is also a critical component of Judo training. Shidachi attempted to define all of this as notbeing a part of Judo. Yet a visit to the local university Judo team will reveal a group of very strong, well developed, athletes. Nor is that a recent development. I was recently looking at some photos of Judo players in the Japanese Navy at the start of WWII and any one those guys could have passed as a modern weight lifter. One suspects that the Japanese Navy noticed this as well.
But while the idea of the soft overcoming the hard has already fallen to the level of a cliché, especially when it comes to martial arts, and mixed with political ideas, should we ignore it as a way of being in the world? I’d say not. It does point to a truth.
Anyone with any familiarity in martial arts is aware of the feeling of having to ‘muscle’ a technique to make it work, as opposed to executing a clean technique based on good leverage. This points towards what I think these chapters of the Tao Te Ching are talking about.
When it comes to Tai Chi one of the hardest things to grasp about the techniques exemplified in the forms is that they shouldn’t necessarily feel powerful to you as you do them. My teacher often uses this phrase: “…if you feel it then they don’t – you want them to feel it, not you“.
If you can give up the need to control and struggle with a situation, then you can relax and access your own inner power. See what acliché that statement sounds like already? It sounds like one to me as I wrote it, but I guess all cliches were probably based on something real, otherwise, they wouldn’t be a cliché.
In Chinese martial arts that sweet spot between doing and not doing (to bastardize some more Taoist terminology) is called Jin. I’ve written a bit about that before:
After his fight with the “Tai Chi master” Wei Lei, which rocked the contemporary martial arts scene in China, Xu Xiao Dong, the MMA fighter on a mission to expose “fake masters” is back on the scene this time showing his skills against a Wing Chun fighter.
China doesn’t have the sort of government regime which tolerates people who rock the boat, so I’m pleased to see that Xu is no longer under detention, as I feared we may never have seen him again after what happened last time.
Here’s the fight:
It’s a pretty ugly fight. Here are my takeaways:
- Ding Hao clearly lacks realistic sparring experience, as he falls apart pretty quickly. His grappling was non-existent.
- Xu Xiao Dong is pretty much a ‘stand and bang’ type fighter. Or maybe he felt so unthreatened by Ding that he didn’t feel the need to do much of anything else.
- The ref makes some daring saves!
- Why are they wearing such different clothing? Ding has shoes on! Only Xu is wearing gloves. Xu is grabbing Ding’s clothing to throw and control him. It’s a mess.
- Why are they fighting on what looks like a red carpet used for movie premieres or award shows?
- If you watch Ding throughout the fight you can see him try to adapt as he realises what he is doing isn’t working. He starts off looking very much like classical Wing Chun and ends up looking more like Jeet Kune Do. It’s like watching the evolution of Bruce Lee in microcosm!
Here’s some background about Xu Xiao Dong and his fights and detention by police in China:
Fight against Wei Lei:
Looking at Chinese martial arts from our stand point in today’s modern world is very confusing. There are so many styles – so many different approaches and so many different theories of its evolution. In fact, it’s bewildering!
Human beings like patterns. It’s our nature to see patterns in things. So, naturally, we start to classify these myriad arts in different ways – Northern or Southern is a popular way to do it since you can generalise some characteristics about each branch. Internal and External is another way to do it. So is ‘long range’ and ‘short range’. And so on.
Without exception, however, all these classifications ultimately break down. They’re good for talking in the general sense, but once you dig down into individual cases it soon becomes a little murkier. For instance, you’ll find a style that is known as a ‘kicking style’ has a few punches in one of its forms. A style that is ‘long range’ actually contains quite a few short range techniques in one of its obscure forms, and so on.
But perhaps there is one all encompassing thing we can say about the subject. All Chinese martial arts make use of Jin ‘refined strength’ to great or lesser extent. Now, as always, language is a problem. It would be foolish to suppose that what a professional boxer is doing isn’t a highly refined method of punching. Of course, it is. In fact, under boxing rules, it’s obviously the best way to punch. Secondly, which ‘Jin’ are we talking about? A lot of Chinese martial arts have a long list of ‘Jins’ that they contain and practice, so which one do I mean? Also, a lot of them also don’t even use the word at all.
What I mean is using the ground as a path to power, rather than your physical structure or power derived primarily from your local muscle use. This is my definition of “basic jin”.
Obviously we need to use our muscles to stand up at all, but in the case of punching, for example, most punches originate from the shoulder. In contrast, I’m talking about using the power from the ground and bypassing the shoulder as a generator of power completely when punching. Instead, the shoulder switches function to a transmitter. for the power coming up from the ground.
So, how do you do this?
Well, let’s start in the most sensible place – Tennis. 🙂
It should be no surprise that if this method of using force exists and can be done by humans, then its use isn’t limited to martial arts. I’ve noticed recently that sports coaches are starting to catch on to these Tai Chi, or Chinese Martial Arts, concepts these days. Watch the following video:
Now, while he doesn’t explain what’s happening much, he’s getting across the concept of pushing down into the ground to increase the upward force that bounces back. If your body is relaxed (‘Song’) then this is upward rebound of force can be utilised as power.
This is the basic mechanics for the Tai Chi “Push” you see demonstrated so often. Instead of pushing into the person you first push ‘down’ from the dantien into the ground and use the rebound force as the power generation.
It requires a relaxed frame – which is the “Song Jin” of Tai Chi Chuan. The more you can push ‘down’ from the dantien, the more force you can exert back up. Try it!
To return to my subject about Jin in Chinese martial arts. The Tai Chi example above is what I’d call a very ‘pure’ example of using the ground force. Tai Chi specialises in this very relaxed ‘song’ way of doing it. Other Chinese martial arts use different postures and different methods and can augment the pure ground force with specific trained muscle use in various ways – which is one of the reasons you see the characteristic rounded back in Southern Chinese marital arts. You could called these a type of ‘muscle jin’.
I found a video recently that I thought really showed this ground force being very nicely used in Wing Chun. It’s by a master called Chu Song Tin, who is now sadly deceased. I posted it on a discussion forum and it got me in some very hot water, as I’ll explain below.
In the video he says the following:
“now let my force go to the ground,…. don’t fight me by pulling up.”
“now it’s going down to his feet(i.e the ground)”
“if i use strength to push on him and he use strength to fight me.”
“now pull up, and can you feel it in your shoulder? and this way the force can’t go down to his feet.”
Now, it turns out that CST didn’t ever use the word “Jin” to describe what he was doing – he created his own term “nim tao”, and if you suggest that what he was doing was Jin… then people in his lineage will get really upset with you because you don’t have the necessary lineage to comment and it is disrespectful if you do. It becomes a lineage and politics game and there’s no way to really get anywhere once that happens, better to just yield.
According to the next video, CST never felt he could adequately describe what he was doing, which I find really interesting. His students have kept the lineage alive and if the following video is to be believed are still trying to work out exactly how he did it.
I’m happy that they’re continuing the research, and I don’t really have any desire to get involved in the politics of lineage, but my question would be, if it isn’t ground force, then what is it?
Video of Ben Judkin’s Keynote at the 2015 Martial Arts Studies conference. This is a great talk which all martial arts fans should enjoy.