East meets West

KPM

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Hi Guys!

In addition to Wing Chun, I've done a lot of training in HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) over the years. I've gotten away from my HEMA studies over the last year or so to concentrate on Wing Chun and get a training group started. But I decided to dust off some of the old weapons this afternoon and came up with some thoughts to share.

My favorite "western" weapon is the Saber. Not the flimsy Olympic Fencing or Sport Fencing Saber that people in HEMA often refer to as the "Fairy Saber." No, I'm talking about the heavier military saber that was issued as a sidearm in armies throughout the world for about 200 years and was in use in some places as recently at the early 1900's. It is still used as part of the dress uniform and in ceremonies in modern armies.

To me, the Saber is a natural counterpart to Wing Chun, which is why I like it so much. Saber uses a centerline theory and divides things up into 4 quadrants, just like Wing Chun.

Here is a little thought experiment for you. Imagine you have lost one of your arms at the shoulder, but still want to use the Wing Chun you have trained for years. How would you do it? You wouldn't want to stand in a squared facing position anymore, because you only have one arm to use. It makes more sense to stand sideways to put your arm out in front for good use and make your body a narrower target and harder to hit. Since you aren't standing "square" you can't maintain a "closed Kwa" position or a good adduction stance. So you have to open the Kwa if you are going to stand sideways and end up in a "fencer's stance." If you are standing this way so you can put your lead (and only) hand out in a Man Sau position on the centerline to defend yourself you will have to parry and strike in a 1,2 count rather than being able to do them at the same time. If something comes inside high...you Pak Sau and Punch. Something comes outside high...you Tan Sau or Biu Sau and Punch. Something comes inside low....you low Bong and Punch. Something comes outside low...you Gan Sau and Punch. Something comes overhead...you Bong Sau and Punch. You don't pivot side to side, because essentially you only have one side to use! So instead you have to step forward and back, sidestep, and "cross-step" to flank the opponent. Just put one hand behind your back and try it and you will see what I mean. I think this is a very legitimate way to do "one-armed Wing Chun."

Now consider the Butterfly Knives. They are not very practical in the modern world. When would you ever have two big knives on hand? Now one could argue that in a pinch you could grab a large kitchen knife and make do. But two kitchen knives? Not likely! One could also use a good sized Bowie Knife. But how many people will have two? And actually have them BOTH at hand when you need them? Not likely! So training with ONE knife is far more practical. But Wing Chun Butterfly Knife technique is designed to mimic the hands and you always use both hands. Trying to substitute an empty hand with one knife when doing standard Butterfly knife technique just doesn't work. You would lose that hand pretty quickly! But just consider what I wrote above. If you only have ONE big knife, how are you going to use it with Wing Chun technique? Wouldn't you resort to a method similar to what I described above? Put the one knife out in front on the centerline to defend and then parry in the 4 quadrants as described. Just try it. Grab just one knife and play with applications. Remember, if you put the other hand up in typical two-handed Wing Chun techniques, that hand would quickly get injured. So keep it back out of the way and see what you come up with.

My friends, this IS western military saber! Bayonet technique was also based on a similar structure, so guess what? Bayonet technique and Wing Chun long pole have a lot of similarities. This is one of the reasons that Bruce Lee liked western fencing and ended up incorporating some of its fighting tactics and theories into his JKD.

Western Saber fencing uses a center-line concept and divides things into four quadrants. A lot of the terminology is either French or Italian, but I will stick with English terms:
Defending outside high: outside parry = Biu
Defending inside high: inside parry = Pak, or hanging guard = high Bong
Defending outside low: low parry = Gan
Defending inside low: half hanger = low Bong
Defending an overhead blow = hanging guard = high Bong
Defending a straight thrust = hanging guard = middle Bong, or parry in seconde = Huen Sau

Good Saber structure uses a very upright posture with a straight spine leaning neither forward or back. The legs are bent into a strong stance but not spaced so wide or bent so deep that one cannot move freely in any direction.

The basic "ready position" is typically either a "middle guard" which is the equivalent of putting your Man Sau out on the centerline, or a "hanging guard" which is essentially a Bong Sau. We don't do that one in Wing Chun, but think back to pictures in Bruce Lee's "Tao of JKD" where he shows a ready position with a low Bong out in front and the rear hand in Wu Sau near the face.

And best of all.....Saber fencing with a training weapon, fencing mask, gloves, jacket, and some elbow pads is a lot of fun!

 
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Argus

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From my limited practice of / exposure to HEMA, I'd have to agree!

The only thing I would argue is that Rapier is probably a much better comparison than Military Saber, as Military Saber tends not work from the bind as much, and is more parry-reposte, as opposed to the binding, simultaneous attack and defense, and concept of "lat-sao-jik-chung" that you find in both WC and Rapier.

Conceptually, I feel that German Longsword is a very good comparison too, but it uses completely different body mechanics and techniques due to the nature of the weapon.
 

Eric_H

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To me, the Saber is a natural counterpart to Wing Chun, which is why I like it so much. Saber uses a centerline theory and divides things up into 4 quadrants, just like Wing Chun.

True, but it's not the same. As you mention, JKD takes more of the fencing style approach to gate theory, it's not as applicable to the hands IME.

But Wing Chun Butterfly Knife technique is designed to mimic the hands and you always use both hands.

I think you've got that flipped. Weapons had to have come first, most arts came about that way.

In my line at least, we have a saying that the nature of Chi Sao was born from the knives. I've heard in the past from outside my line that gate theory came from the pole, but haven't ever discussed it with Sifu. Anyone have any data/anecdotes on that?


And best of all.....Saber fencing with a training weapon, fencing mask, gloves, jacket, and some elbow pads is a lot of fun!

Indeed it is :) We broke the guard of one of our wasters last night in Wudang Saber training, hoping I can fix it so it's not another $100 hardwood sword down the drain!
 
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KPM

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KPM,
Just curious as to how you believe a dual wielding saber style might look?

You don't really see that historically. The lines with the saber are pretty tight. Trying to swing two long blades around would just end up with one getting in the way of the other. Unless you were using very wide looping motions, in which case it would like rather like the Chinese Dao methods and not at all like western saber! ;-)

This is also why it was far more common to see Rapier and Dagger rather than Case of Rapiers (two Rapiers).
 
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