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Wing Chun Sparring, Chi Sau Training and Self-Defence

I’ve just been watching some clips of Wing Chun Kung Fu Blocks and it reminded me how I’ve changed my opinion on the importance of Wing Chun sparring, Chi Sau training and self-defense training.  I know a lot of people would see that as a bad thing and a weakness but let me explain…

BUT I bet if you asked any Wing Chun instructor or student what they taught about their training or teaching 5, 10, 15 or more years ago I bet they’ll happily admit it was no where near as good as it is today.  When I think back to my first year teaching — my knowledge was appalling — but then we all have to start somewhere.

I know boxing coaches who look back and laugh at themselves.  When their first few fights came back to the corner at the end of the round all they could do was dab a wet sponge on the fighter and say “Yeah, er, good keep hitting him!”.  Maybe I’m being a little sarcastic BUT that’s how you learn — unfortunately.  Watching is never the same as doing.

Do You Need Sparring for Self-Defense?

This is a biggie and like I said — my opinion has gone back and forth over the years.  Ultimately it comes back to what you believe self-defense and self-protection is.  Lets take the extreme example and look at the close protection (bodyguarding industry).

Their job is solo to protect the client.  Essentially the client has “outsourced” their self-defense and self-protection to someone else.  Having spoke to a many bodyguards over the years do you want to know what they think everyone should learn is?  First Aid!  Not fighting, not causing injury but being able to deal with injury.

Self-defense is way down the list and planning, preparation and awareness are the biggest things they work on.

That my friend is where self-defense should focus.  For us Wing Chun fans we like the idea of training for a confrontation but the reality is if we’re really interested in self-defense then 4 minute mile training is much more important.

What is Avoidance is Impossible and It Goes Physical?

Now you need your ‘hard skills’ now you need the ability to hit hard, hit fast and — if necessary — hit first.  Then guess what… you do a 4 minute mile and get the hell out of there.

This is where awareness is critical and if you can’t avoid the confrontation it’s about taking control and destroying the opposition first.  With speed, aggression and surprise.  You’re not playing with distance, you”re not circling around the ring and we’re not moving in — punching or kicking — then getting back out of range.

What you are doing is assuming there are weapons, assuming there are multiple attackers and taking hard, fast action — then getting the hell out of there.

So is Wing Chun sparring necessary for self-defense?  If we’re speaking strictly about self-protection then I’m thinking it’ s not the highest priority.  Having a plan of action and learning to deploy a heavy, pre-emptive shot (maybe several) and move definitely is.

Where Wing Chun Sparring Helps

Personally I believe you can 90% of the self-defense training required without sparring.  The reason is sparring tends to focus around ‘a one on one fight’ where you stalk, move and apply ring-like tactics.  Cornering your opponent, using shots to test their defense and then going in for the kill.

IMHO sparring fills in that last 10% for when things go physical.

  1. You learn timing
  2. You learn distance
  3. It builds character

Three key components you can replicate using drills, scenarios and physical conditioning (character) but three key characteristics you can only really get from live training.


It’s not just about seeing other people’s attacks and learning to move out of the way, it’s about seeing someone coming towards you and hitting them in the right place, with the right strike and with maximum power.  If you can do this in sparring — against a non-compliant partner — lining up and hitting one person threatening to kill you is easy.  Plus if you have muliple assailants, you have multiple targets likely to be moving.


How many students (and how many times) have you thrown punches out of range and missed?  The biggest and best examples of these have been in novice Boxing, Muay Thaiboxing and MMA bouts where the attacker tries so hard to hit the person their legs have trouble keeping up.   The end result?  Both fighters fall into a grapple and punches fail to connect.  If that were self-defense – the punch that should have been a fight finisher may end up with you going to the ground.

Character Building

The toughest people aren’t always fighters — they’re the people who push through pain and adversity.  I can’t think of many people mentally tougher than polar explorers and iron men athletes — so it’s not really about fighting.

So while you can build character through hard exercise and pushing through pain — there’s nothing like being in a ring when you’ve got little left in the tank and someone else is trying to hit.  You have no other choice than to digg deep and fight back (or in this case spar).

What About Chi Sau?

Well chi-sau is an exercise it’s part of the puzzle and the best thing about it — like sparring — is that it is live.  Your training is against a non-compliant partner and you have to hone skills, reactions and sensitivity.

Chi Sau is an important part of Wing Chun but it’s important to remember it’s only a part of Wing Chun

It’s a great way to play (something you should also do in sparring — you don’t have to beat each other black ‘n blue) have fun and hone close range skills.

It’s place is self-defense is particularly useful at ‘talking-range’ where most fights take place — after a quick push, a shove and exchange of words.  It’s keep your hands up, moving forward with drive and pressure.  It’s opening a door with a strike and then finishing the fight.

Like pad and bag work — it’s a tool you use to get to where you want to be.

It’s a great starting place to practise Wing Chun blocks and attacks (which incidentally I hate saying — IMHO Wing Chun is aggressive, it’s doesn’t block and everything is a deflection or cover of sorts).

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below — maybe you can change my mind, open my mind and don’t forget to sign up for my email newsletter above!

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Filed under Fights, Self Defense, Sparring