Practical Self-Defense: The Importance of Stance and Structure

As a martial artist, I have tried different styles of training throughout my journey with most of my time being in traditional (Korean style) TaeKwonDo and traditional (Chinese style) Wing Chun Kung Fu. I spent 10 years, beginning in college and continuing through my early 30’s, studying, competing and progressing through the facets of TaeKwonDo. Having devoted a significant amount of time to my training, I felt confident I had a strong base of skills that would successfully allow me to protect myself. However, after walking into the Sifu Och Wing Chun Kung Fu studio, I quickly realized—at the end of just my second day of training—that I had totally deluded myself about my ability to protect myself with in any practical self-defense.

Practical Self-Defense Starts with the Stance

Fortunately, Sifu Och didn’t belittle or condemn my TaeKwonDo or the art itself. Truth be told, I was desperate to see what I could use from my TaeKwonDo background that would be successful in a real self-defense situation. On the first day, I heard a lot about Wing Chun stances and structure and a thing they called “rooting.” At that point I didn’t really understand what “rooting” was, but I was fully confident my traditional TaeKwonDo fighting 80/20 T-Stance would keep me in good balance.

Note on the TaeKwonDo 80/20 T-Stance
An 80/20 T-Stance has 80% of the fighter’s weight on the rear leg and 20% on the front leg. The stance allows for fast front leg kicks while being able to lean back on the rear leg and keep your head out of your opponent’s range.

PRACTICAL SELF-DEFENSE – Take Two

I asked Sifu Och why I couldn’t just use my TaeKwonDo T-Stance. He politely asked, “May I demonstrate?” (I would later learn to love those words because it means he wants to show me something—not just tell me why something was correct/incorrect, stronger/weaker, or better/worse, etc.) I agreed to let him demonstrate. He asked me to take my T-Stance and cross my hands over my chest. He also had 2 people stand behind me. Sifu pushed me evenly at my shoulders and the next thing I knew, I was totally off balance going backward into the waiting arms of the 2 students behind me. He told me to reset and we tried it a few more times with the same result. I was honestly shocked and a little disappointed that I couldn’t keep my footing against a simple push. However, I’d never had to defend against a push in TaeKwonDo because pushing was an “illegal” technique.

Pushing happens ALL THE TIME in real-world street combat situations. I had no idea practical self-defense had so much to do with my stance.

Next, Sifu had me put my hands up in a typical fighting stance and keep my TaeKwonDo T-Stance to see if this would improve my balance against the push. My fists collapsed into my body, and I still went backwards. Next, he said to try to come forward and attack him in any way I wanted. Since my main arsenal from TaeKwonDo was kicking, I attempted a round kick from the front foot to the ribs. Before my kick even came out to its full extension, Sifu had gently swept my rear leg, and I was again on my back. I reset and threw a side kick from my back leg. This time Sifu stepped forward, caught my kicking leg and just pushed forward with his body, and I was off balance and on the floor.

How could something so simple as a push destroy the TaeKwonDo foundational stance I’d been taught and used religiously? Even worse, if this was my chosen stance for fighting, what would happen if I was really attacked on the street? How could I use my kicks against an attacker, if my stance made me vulnerable? All my attacker would have to do is shove me and I’d be knocked on my behind.

Obviously, I found this realization disturbing and knew I had to learn a more practical form of self-defense than what TaeKwonDo had offered me. I began my journey into the study of Wing Chun almost two years ago and have seen its effectiveness—not only in its stances but also in many other areas. If you would like to learn more about Wing Chun, I encourage you to contact Sifu Och Wing Chun Kung Fu!

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