You are hereWing Tzun / Never Wrestle a Wrestler

Never Wrestle a Wrestler


In the days when I gave Wing Chun (WC) and (from 1975 onwards) WingTsun (WT) instruction at the Budo Circle in Kiel, I used to end each training session with 15 minutes of groundfighting.

As a teenager I had begun my own martial art carrier with freestyle wrestling followed by Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and Aikido. My uncle instructed me in wrestling techniques, and a neighbour who managed a catch-as-catch-can team occasionally allowed me to appear in the ring as "Keith the Strangler" to supplement my student grant.

The name was highly appropriate, as strangling techniques both standing and on the ground were my speciality. I never lost, and all my victories on the mat or on the street were won with strangleholds. At the time I tipped the scale at 97 kg and was capable of moving up to 200 kg with my arms during daily weight-training. No wonder I never had to apply a stranglehold for long!

Occasionally I would take on up to three opponents on the ground, beating them with a combination of e.g. body-scissors, pressure on particularly vulnerable spots and strangling techniques.

All this had very little or nothing at all to do with WingTzun, borrowing strength and giving way, however. My students in Kiel usually ended up frustrated, as they neither had the years of wrestling experience nor the exceptional strength to copy my example. Some times later I was in for a big surprise when I tried to apply a wrestling hold to my Si-Fu Leung Ting. Using Chi-Sao techniques, he frustrated every attempt to gain a grip from the start. My younger Kung Fu brother, an Iraqi who had also once been a wrestler, weighed more than 100 kg and was a personal student of the bull-slayer Masutasu Oyama, was equally unsuccessful when he thought he had managed to get the better of Grandmaster Leung Ting with a semi-serious surprise attack in the form of a bear-hug over the arms - until Sifu Leung Ting`s elbow struck his face, that is.

While abroad years later, when my own WingTsun required less and less strength to be effective, I had numerous friendly bouts as well as less-than-amicable encounters with "grapplers" of various kinds. To my amazement and satisfaction they were never really able to get a firm grip. Not once was I obliged to continue the fight on the ground.

Both Sifu Leung Ting and Bruce Lee also won all their fights with punches while standing upright.

WT's anti-grappling methods also removed any doubts on the part of those attending an international police training course, who witnessed the almost playful ease with which Grandmaster Leung Ting thwarted a combined "armlock and throw" attack by a highly-graduated, enormously strong police Jiu-Jitsu instructor, who must have weighted at least 110 kg, by borrowing his strength and turning it against him while already falling. The spectators' breath stood still for several seconds.

When my master student Emin Boztepe challenged and defeated the Yip Man student William Cheung in Cologne in 1986, the fight began in a standing position and ended on the ground, where Emin gained 200% control over the original Yip Man student, who was unable to free himself after falling (See the Video "Dynamic WingTsun").

This awakened an interest in groundfighting amongst many EWTO members, an aspect which is experiencing a resurgence 10 years later, with the less-than-realistic-cage-contests.

In fact the advanced WingTsun programme has numerous techniques that are quite capable of taking the fun out of grappling methods.

Althrough I express the view that wrestlers have significant advantages over boxers and karateka in my book "On Single Combat" (Vom Zweikampf / Het duel), my faith in WT is such that I am sure a good WT-fighter who is well-versed in anti-grappling methods will easily frustrate a wrestling attack by means of Chi-Sao reactions plus punches, thrusts and kicks. At the same time we should always call the old motto of Escrima Master Bill Newman to mind: "Never box a boxer, never wrestle a wrestler!" This would be just as futile as Jiu-Jitsu or Karate people trying to use so-called WingTzun "tricks" which they have learned during a crash-course against experienced WT experts.

In order to defeat an experienced wrestler on the ground using wrestling techniques, a WT-follower would need to devote as much time to the dissimilar and strength-intensive sport of wrestling as a wrestler. We are WT-people, however, and we neither wish to become wrestlers nor to falsify our WT by mixing it with wrestling techniques. And neither is there any reason for doing so.

Let us remember the three distances and weapon types that occur in a real fight, and which I have described in "On Single Combat":

  1. Long distance (feet)
  2. Medium distance (hands)
  3. Short distance (elbows, knees, head-butting, grapples, throws)

In this respect the groundfighting may be seen as a continuation of the 3rd distance, possibly as a result of a throw.

This means that a grappler must first get past your kicks to the knees and genitals. To do this he needs first-class footwork to bridge the distance, i.e. up to the standard of a WT-expert.

Secondly he must get past your chain-punches, eye jabs and strikes to the throat. Only a WT-expert who has mastered the 3rd form or the wooden dummy techniques can do this systematically.

As a third hurdle, the grappler must also successfully avoid you "clinging arms", elbows and knees in order to apply a hold and execute a throw. Then he must overcome the WT-anti-armlock and counterthrow techniques contained in the three Chi-Gerk programmes. By this time I have to conclude that you are not dealing with a normal "grappler", but with a follower of the Leung Ting system whose nationality (Turkish, Iranian...) gives him a strong affinity for his national sport. Quite obviously you will be unable to cope with someone like this even if you spend two extra sessions each week rolling around the floor. And anyway, this man was only playing cat and mouse with you, for he could have downed you at the first or second distance.

But seriously, it might make sense for the 200% combat-freaks amongst us (the EWTO both has and needs these!), or for those who want to measure their prowess in unrealistic cage-contests, to devote 10 additional hours per week to the last and statistically most improbable combat distance while accepting the risk of serious wrestling injuries (just show me one of our groundfighting specialists who has never required a shoulder operation or similar...!).

As WT-followers, the rest of us should sensibly do what we are good at, namely WT. Renowned Chinese strategists (e.g. Sun Tsu in "The Art of War") repeatedly point out that a wise general should deploy his troops in such a way that his strength opposes his enemy weakness. This is the very essence of WT.

We can only match a wrestler on the ground if we possess the requisite physical strength and talent and devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to appropriate training. A wise general will select the battlefield and determine the weapons which suit him best, however.

When dealing with a groundfighting specialist we are therefore well-advised to stick to the first two distances and decide the encounter in our favour according to WT principles. Our Chi-Sao techniques will frustrate any attempt to gain a hold from the start.

Nonetheless, just in case we do end up on the floor or are surprised in our sleep, we should still be sure to have a few surprises in store for our opponent. In doing so we need have no recourse to extraneous techniques, for in this case too, the WT principles offer solutions which require little strength and are in keeping with the WT concept. Here too, suppleness combined with elbow and knee techniques is our traditional weapon.

Let us make sure that alien influences do not cause our WingTsun ship to stray from its only correct course as defined by the WT concept of borrowing the opponent's strength etc. Perhaps then we shall still be practising WT successfully at the age of 80.

In conclusion, let me quote the introductory words of Emin Boztepe during his anti-groundfighting seminar held on 2nd/3rd October 1995:

"As the 4th and last distance, anti-groundfighting is absolutely the least important aspect of WingTsun. In approx. 300 real fights, I have not once been obliged to fight on the ground."

[Additional notes from Sifu Frank Schäfer (75 kg): The same can be said about my own fights and also about the 26 street-fights of my wife, Lady-Sifu Petra Schäfer (55 kg).]

By Si-Kung Keith Kernspecht