DaiSifu Dr. Oliver König has examined this topic very extensively, therefore I have asked him to present his thoughts in the form of a guest editorial.
Your SiFu/SiGung Keith R. Kernspecht
A few years ago my SiFu, GM Prof. Keith R. Kernspecht, completely revised our entire teaching programme on the basis of his research work, and specifically his dissertation. He used the method of reverse planning to analyse the extent to which our style is appropriate for the actual threat situation.
The result of his research was that traditional WingTsun, like most other traditional styles, does not really take the actual threats encountered in the street into consideration, but instead for the most part creates artificial situations in training where the object is either to defend against attacks typical of our own style or attacks from other styles which are delivered as in combat sport.
The system completely lacked behavioural training which takes into account the actual pre-fight phase, although this is probably the most important phase in a real confrontation. (More about this topic in the following books: Prof. Keith R. Kernspecht: “Fightlogic – Practical Volume”1, “Coursebook: Inner WingTsun”2)
Neither was any attempt made to graduate the relative danger arising from situations, and the appropriate responses.
When we consider the real threat situation, there are two worst-case scenarios
1. Being kicked by one or more opponents when on the ground
Such a situation can lead to extremely severe injuries and even death. In our modern WT programmes we already practice for it from the 1st student grade, and continue to do so in subsequent programmes.
2. Being confronted with bladed weapons
In this editorial I will address the second of the two. In past articles I have already written about improving the “Big Seven Capabilities” in WingTsun “with the help of” practice knives.
Whenever the subject of “knife defence” comes up, a storm is whipped up on the internet forums, Twitter, Facebook etc. and numerous “experts” suddenly appear with their blogs and videos to abuse, tar and feather me, my colleagues and if possible the entire EWTO …
Again and again we hear the assertion that an unarmed person has no chance against a skilled knife attacker …
More than 30 years ago, when I was a beginner in WingTsun, we were always told that we “only have a small chance” against a knife-wielding attacker – but that we must use it!
But it is not just a skilled knife attacker who can inflict enormous injuries – anyone who hysterically waves a blade around can do the same!
Nonetheless we cannot simply skirt around the subject on the principle that if we do not train for it, we cannot be criticised either.
For this reason the “Threat of bladed weapons” is a fundamental and fixed part of our student grade teaching programmes. The form of words is quite deliberate, rather than calling it e.g. “Knife Defence”, as the risk minimisation spectrum in such cases is much wider than appears at first sight.
These are the individual areas covered in our training
• Awareness of the danger presented by bladed weapons
The student’s awareness is heightened, and he learns right from the start not to proceed incautiously in a confrontation with someone wielding a knife. Various methods of attack are practiced, as someone who can attack is better able to assess an attack by others. We also try out unsuitable defences against knife attacks, so that the student understands what works and what can never work.
• Advance mindfulness
In his book “Psycho-training in WingTsun, TaiChi and Budo Sports”, Prof. Horst Tiwald clearly describes the difference between contact and touch. Contact is already made when we perceive the opponent. The opponent may still be some distance away, therefore the time between contact and actual physical touching can certainly be used strategically. We can e.g. increase the distance, make our escape or use the time to grab an improvised weapon (see point 3).
Mindfulness in advance can save lives! Many knife attacks are not recognised as such, or only when the attack has already taken place.
Training our mindfulness is therefore a fixed part of our programmes, e.g. either partner in ChiSao can draw a practice knife at any time. The other partner must already react when he reaches for the knife, or if he fails to do this, he must rapidly withdraw and show preparedness.
• Use of improvised weapons
To bring a certain equality into a threat situation, there is also the option of arming ourselves as well, e.g. with an improvised weapon such as an ashtray, beer mug, broomstick, chair or some other everyday item.
Practice with improvised weapons is also a fixed part of our teaching programmes. As the BlitzDefence programmes are anyway derived from weapon attacks, the student is quickly able to adapt to the use of improvised weapons.
• Dexterity for evasive action
Learning to move so that knife attacks are very specifically avoided, withdrawing and removing the target. By this I definitely mean movement in general, not specific movements or techniques!
Exercises designed to improve these capabilities are already performed at a very early stage in our modern EWTO programmes. It is also very important for the student to have enhanced his visual response capabilities.
• The defence itself
This brings us to the knife defence itself: if point 4 has not been mastered, we can forget about knife defences per se anyway.
However, if point 4 has been well developed, the aim is now to stop the opponent with hard, well-aimed attacks (e.g. eyes, genitals, knees …), to lay traps (long-pole concept), try to disarm the opponent etc.
It goes without saying that this involves enormous risk of being injured ourselves, but constant practice will minimise this risk.
It is a bit like somebody taking a survival course in case he is e.g. stranded in the desert. The skills he learns are no guarantee that he will indeed survive in the desert, but his chances are far higher than those of someone who has not learned these skills!
Dr. Oliver König
1 Prof. Keith R. Kernspecht: “Fightlogic – Practical Volume”
2 Prof. Keith R. Kernspecht: “Coursebook: Inner WingTsun”
3 Prof. Horst Tiwald: “Psycho-Training in WingTsun, TaiChi and Budo Sports”