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ralph haenel, hänelwingtsun, wing tsun kung fu instructor, author, publisher, self-defense expert Sifu Ralph Haenel, learning and teaching Wing Tsun Kung Fu since 1984
Changing lives, one punch at a time.
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Wing Tsun Kung Fu Vancouver Blog
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
When does Self-Defense start? or The very first line of Defense! (part 1 of 3)
In order to answer the question of what the very first line of defense is, I must first explain some details, leading up to the conclusion. So, please bear with me and also consider that some readers may require a little additional insight while others are familiar with certain aspects of this topic.

1. When being asked at what point a self-defense action typically starts, or at least should start, the most common reply is: “When one is attacked.”

2. The educated answer of a Wing Tsun Kung Fu student is more complex and states that one first of all must try to avoid the situation altogether. If you couldn’t avoid it, try to get away, even run away, and make also all attempts of using verbal skills to talk your way out of a potentially harmful situation.
Only if you couldn’t avoid the situation, couldn’t run away, couldn’t talk your way out of it, now it is time for action. If all that has failed and an actual physical attack is imminent, even if the launch of this attack is hardly visible to the untrained eye, then the skilled Wing Tsun practitioner attacks, in many cases very aggressively, the attacker. The solution to defending yourself successfully is aggressive and continuous forward attack in order to combat a violent thug.
The objective is not to allow the attacker to even finish the first attack, not to leave any space or even time for a second attack, but rather to force the attacker into a helpless situation.

3. For the bona fide answer to our question “When does Self-Defense start?” we have to explain the term self-defense in more detail. So, stay with me while we look at the subject of Self-Defense from a few different angles: the law, the potential victim, realism versus perception, the training. How does the law view Self-Defense? Please read up on our 3-part mini series “Canadian Law and Self-Defence” by Gary Hughes.

The explanations about the law and self defence can also show us,  that the atrocious and unfair scenario of realistic Self-Defense has very little in common with what is typically practiced in many martial arts schools, which leads us to the next point as to why some students, while looking for self-defense, choose to train other martial arts, realism versus perception.

Certain practices in other martial arts can potentially lead to problems for the average person to be able to defend themselves in a real life scenario. Here are some examples:

Practitioners feel good due to of successful 2-person exercises in other styles.
Problem: If the exercise is exactly choreographed, it has to work, but what about Reality?

Other styles train many, if not dozens of katas (forms performed against imaginary opponents).
Problem: Knowing more techniques doesn’t equal better performance in reality. In fractions of seconds one has to choose the right defense “Less is actually More!”

Students enjoy martial arts training, where techniques “work”.
Problem: It is often difficult to admit that a sport-oriented martial art cannot deal as efficient with a scenario without rules. Then there is also the comfort of a previously acquired skill, whether or not it will be beneficial in a real life situation.

Going to other martial arts, where the system of rules and regulations protects and promotes the theory that a “collection” of techniques equals self-defense skills.
Problem: In short, since there are no regulations whatsoever in the martial arts business, many schools claim to deliver everything to everyone, also self defense skills. Think about the “pill that cures it all.”

Going to other schools, because self-defense techniques work there, without any physical contact.
Problem: Yes, I’ve even heard this one: … “In the new school I finally learn something, since we are not allowed to make contact. The techniques are too dangerous.” … does this make any sense or need further comment?

Going to other schools, because no talking is allowed during training
Problem: Just imagine, no physical contact, no communication, what can go wrong?

Training Wing Tsun Kung Fu. - Are we really better? Is Wing Tsun truly the best? Well, let us start with the statement: We are DIFFERENT! As our slogan says, we are committed to deliver Complete Self-Defense for Real People! No sport, no trophies, no competitions, well other than with ourselves to continuously strive for improvement and growth.

I, personally, dislike the assumption of being better. Have you ever seen a famous boxer who did not at one point in time or another get knocked out? Martial arts practitioners, masters, are also just people who can have a bad day.
But on the other hand, professional teaching and learning methods plus a self-defense system that focuses 100% on self defense, gives you the edge you need to face reality.

The following training sample is integral to illustrating how & why Wing Tsun is different when it comes to self-defense. Over time, in subsequent program blocks, Wing Tsun training includes:
- Lat-Sau (fight) programs that focus on types of problems which occur in reality, rather than specific series of techniques or drills
- very few forms (4 to be exact), which we see as “toolboxes” of the system, manifesting concepts and strategies of the Wing Tsun Kung Fu system
- intuition, reflexe-like responses, rewiring the way we move and respond to certain scenarios
- dealing with the acceptance of “no rules”, the harsh realization that anything can happen
- medium contact to arms, legs and upper body, which should be based on a mutual agreement of both training partners
- moderate talking is encouraged to support the exchange of information during partner training while helping each other to improve their training efforts

A real-life attack does not include the referee, time-outs, rules or fairness that people become accustomed to when approaching martial arts as a sport. Sifu Keith R. Kernspecht, founder & chief-instructor of the European Wing Tsun Organization with over 2000 schools, published two easy to understand ‘BlitzDefence’ guides about selected Wing Tsun responses, one for men and one for women; yet a few key-points are valid for any group: 
1. define your borders (know your personal space, and be aware of obstacles “on the street”) 
2. watch your borders (be aware of the intentions of people around you) 
3. defend your borders (be ready to respond to threats in an instant)

Keep reading tomorrow!

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