Tips for learning how fight using Kung Fu

JowGaWolf

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One of the most difficult things to in Kung Fu is learning how to actually use your Kung Fu system, applications, and techniques in actual sparring. Share your insight and tips on what works for you. Remember if you study a Kung Fu but your sparring looks like kick boxing then you aren't doing Kung Fu.

I'll start with this simple fact about learning Chinese Kung Fu. Learning forms your forms + Sparring time is vital to learning how to use Kung Fu. The sparring isn't just any type of sparring. You have to actually use your martial art style in the sparring, this means that you'll have to accept that you'll get hit while you are learning how and when to use techniques. Start with the simple techniques and work your way up to the more complex techniques.
 
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JowGaWolf

JowGaWolf

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Become more comfortable with your techniques. Can you create your own combination attacks outside of the form? Fighting is fluid and constantly changing so your attacks and defense techniques aren't going to follow the order that you learn them in the form. After practicing your form learn how to take the form apart and create new combinations of 2, 3, and 4 attacks. Your final test is to try these combinations during sparring so that you can identify what works, what doesn't work, and why.
 

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Play.

Some people, I think, tend to do only rigid technique/application/form practice, or sparring, and not much in-between. But I think the in-between -- "playful sparring," or open-ended flow drills, where the pressure is low enough that one can experiment with new ideas, is where the learning takes place. If you're always practicing all or nothing in intensity, I think you tend to only develop a small and narrow focus and number of techniques and principles that you can apply, because you don't have that combination of a resisting partner and a low-stress environment where you can play and figure out how things do and don't work.

The other thing I would recommend is diversify your practice, and don't approach sparring with a competitive mindset. Approach it as an experiment, and be willing to try things that might not work. You learn more when things don't work -- just be careful not to judge the value of the technique or principle that you weren't able to apply in the moment. Rather, try to look at the whole picture -- there are a whole myriad of reasons why something works or doesn't work -- you may have been using it inappropriately, at the wrong height or on the wrong line or against the wrong kind of stimulus. Or, you may simply have an opponent who instinctively or otherwise knows how to counter or shut it down, and you need to be able to flow to the next position. Failure often shows us how and why something works, and by being careful about our analysis and withholding judgement, we can develop a more complete and solid understanding of how things work and when they're appropriate.

I also really encourage people to practice with people from other martial backgrounds. You'll learn a lot about yourself and your art by experiencing other martial arts, and touching hands with people who practice different systems, based on different principles -- or even, people with little or no experience in martial arts at all. They will do things differently that catch you off guard at first, and you will need to learn to adapt to them.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep track of the bigger picture -- the principles and concepts that your system aims to apply. People often overlook the most basic of principles in sparring, and begin to just act instinctively as opposed to purposefully learning to apply this or that concept or principle. Don't get so lost in the trees that you loose sight of the forest. When I evaluate myself from a Wing Chun perspective, I ask myself: Was I adhering to centerline theory? Was I chasing center, or chasing the hands? Did I have sufficient forward pressure to sense the gaps in my opponent's defenses, and did I stay close enough to him? Was I comfortable enough with my own skill to maintain a distance that suits my style, or did I keep backing up because I wasn't comfortable?

I really believe that you have to be willing to fail, and you should approach "sparring" as nothing more than an experiment, each and every time. Try out different things and stick to your hypothesis each time, and care less about your performance as a result. In order to really learn to apply something, you have to be willing to fail plenty, and you have to "stick to it" even as you fail. If you can approach it as nothing more than an experimentive learning process each time, and you take the time to form, isolate, and test your hypothesis, you'll learn a lot.

Make your development in sparring a conscious one, and not an unconscious one. Don't just "fight" or "play" instinctively. Carefully and consciously develop what instincts and what habits you form through your sparring, as opposed to letting them develop haphazardly.
 
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JowGaWolf

JowGaWolf

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playful sparring," or open-ended flow drills, where the pressure is low enough that one can experiment with new ideas, is where the learning takes place. If you're always practicing all or nothing in intensity, I think you tend to only develop a small and narrow focus and number of techniques and principles that you can apply, because you don't have that combination of a resisting partner and a low-stress environment where you can play and figure out how things do and don't work.
My school does this as well and it works really well for students. It allows us to make learning mistakes without getting our heads knocked off.
 

DaveB

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Play.

Some people, I think, tend to do only rigid technique/application/form practice, or sparring, and not much in-between. But I think the in-between -- "playful sparring," or open-ended flow drills, where the pressure is low enough that one can experiment with new ideas, is where the learning takes place. If you're always practicing all or nothing in intensity, I think you tend to only develop a small and narrow focus and number of techniques and principles that you can apply, because you don't have that combination of a resisting partner and a low-stress environment where you can play and figure out how things do and don't work.

The other thing I would recommend is diversify your practice, and don't approach sparring with a competitive mindset. Approach it as an experiment, and be willing to try things that might not work. You learn more when things don't work -- just be careful not to judge the value of the technique or principle that you weren't able to apply in the moment. Rather, try to look at the whole picture -- there are a whole myriad of reasons why something works or doesn't work -- you may have been using it inappropriately, at the wrong height or on the wrong line or against the wrong kind of stimulus. Or, you may simply have an opponent who instinctively or otherwise knows how to counter or shut it down, and you need to be able to flow to the next position. Failure often shows us how and why something works, and by being careful about our analysis and withholding judgement, we can develop a more complete and solid understanding of how things work and when they're appropriate.

I also really encourage people to practice with people from other martial backgrounds. You'll learn a lot about yourself and your art by experiencing other martial arts, and touching hands with people who practice different systems, based on different principles -- or even, people with little or no experience in martial arts at all. They will do things differently that catch you off guard at first, and you will need to learn to adapt to them.

Lastly, and most importantly, keep track of the bigger picture -- the principles and concepts that your system aims to apply. People often overlook the most basic of principles in sparring, and begin to just act instinctively as opposed to purposefully learning to apply this or that concept or principle. Don't get so lost in the trees that you loose sight of the forest. When I evaluate myself from a Wing Chun perspective, I ask myself: Was I adhering to centerline theory? Was I chasing center, or chasing the hands? Did I have sufficient forward pressure to sense the gaps in my opponent's defenses, and did I stay close enough to him? Was I comfortable enough with my own skill to maintain a distance that suits my style, or did I keep backing up because I wasn't comfortable?

I really believe that you have to be willing to fail, and you should approach "sparring" as nothing more than an experiment, each and every time. Try out different things and stick to your hypothesis each time, and care less about your performance as a result. In order to really learn to apply something, you have to be willing to fail plenty, and you have to "stick to it" even as you fail. If you can approach it as nothing more than an experimentive learning process each time, and you take the time to form, isolate, and test your hypothesis, you'll learn a lot.

Make your development in sparring a conscious one, and not an unconscious one. Don't just "fight" or "play" instinctively. Carefully and consciously develop what instincts and what habits you form through your sparring, as opposed to letting them develop haphazardly.

Yes, this is definitely it. I can't express how right I think this is.

Developing a complete understanding of how and why your art's techniques work, when tof use them and how they fit together has to come before anything else.

All I would add is to get out of the goldfish bowl and swim in the ocean once you have a good level of knowledge. Training with people who all do the same thing can only get you so far.
 

Flying Crane

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People make this stuff way more complicated than it needs to be. In my experience, learning Kung fu is more about developing principles, and the techniques are vehicles that express the principles and not necessarily what would come out in a fight. Basic techniques rule the day and it looks what it looks like; as long as you are using the principles, you are using your Kung fu, even if it looks like kickboxing. But maybe the stuff I train is different in that way, I dunno. I don't worry about stylized techniques.

And accept the fact that sparring is not fighting, and they will look different.
 
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JowGaWolf

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And accept the fact that sparring is not fighting, and they will look different.
For me sparring and fighting are the same with the exception of the intent that I do them. I'm only speaking as it pertains to me so it will differ from what others will say. When I'm sparring I'm practicing and learning how to use techniques that I would use in a real fight. Fighting works the same as training for a sport. The more I train using my tennis skills, the better I'll be on game day. The more I train using actual kung fu techniques (basic or advanced) in sparring, the better I'll be able to use those techniques when it comes to the real fight.

My sparring and training is based on self-dense which is different than someone who is training for point sparring. Sparring that is designed to win point sparring competitions is not the same as sparring for self defense. I just wanted to add my 2 cents because there are different purposes when comes to sparring.
 

Flying Crane

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For me sparring and fighting are the same with the exception of the intent that I do them. I'm only speaking as it pertains to me so it will differ from what others will say. When I'm sparring I'm practicing and learning how to use techniques that I would use in a real fight. Fighting works the same as training for a sport. The more I train using my tennis skills, the better I'll be on game day. The more I train using actual kung fu techniques (basic or advanced) in sparring, the better I'll be able to use those techniques when it comes to the real fight.

My sparring and training is based on self-dense which is different than someone who is training for point sparring. Sparring that is designed to win point sparring competitions is not the same as sparring for self defense. I just wanted to add my 2 cents because there are different purposes when comes to sparring.
I understand and appreciate your point of view. I do see things a bit differently than most people do regarding this issue. The method I train works to engage the entire body when delivering a technique, in order to deliver with full destructive power. The power comes from that full body engagement. When sparring, even sparring with somewhat "heavy" contact, the intent is to not actually destroy your training partner. This fundamentally changes how you deliver your technique, and you then have changed your training so that you DO NOT deliver technique with full destructive power. You are actually practicing to NOT hurt your enemy.

In this way, sparring can be detrimental to your fighting and self defense skills.

I understand that sparring can be useful, but people put more emphasis on it than it deserves, and often fall into the trap of believing it is the most important aspect of training. It CAN have a viable place in ones training schedule, but not if it becomes the primary focus of training and essentially the only thing that a club does in a training session.

I know a lot of the folks will disagree, and I can predict who many of them will be. That's ok, to each his own. Find what works for you and do it, until you find something that works better. Then do that.
 
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JowGaWolf

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I understand and appreciate your point of view. I do see things a bit differently than most people do regarding this issue. The method I train works to engage the entire body when delivering a technique, in order to deliver with full destructive power. The power comes from that full body engagement. When sparring, even sparring with somewhat "heavy" contact, the intent is to not actually destroy your training partner. This fundamentally changes how you deliver your technique, and you then have changed your training so that you DO NOT deliver technique with full destructive power. You are actually practicing to NOT hurt your enemy.

In this way, sparring can be detrimental to your fighting and self defense skills.

I understand that sparring can be useful, but people put more emphasis on it than it deserves, and often fall into the trap of believing it is the most important aspect of training. It CAN have a viable place in ones training schedule, but not if it becomes the primary focus of training and essentially the only thing that a club does in a training session.

I know a lot of the folks will disagree, and I can predict who many of them will be. That's ok, to each his own. Find what works for you and do it, until you find something that works better. Then do that.
What are you hitting when you are delivering a technique with full destructive power?
 

greytowhite

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Play.
I also really encourage people to practice with people from other martial backgrounds. You'll learn a lot about yourself and your art by experiencing other martial arts, and touching hands with people who practice different systems, based on different principles -- or even, people with little or no experience in martial arts at all. They will do things differently that catch you off guard at first, and you will need to learn to adapt to them...

Make your development in sparring a conscious one, and not an unconscious one. Don't just "fight" or "play" instinctively. Carefully and consciously develop what instincts and what habits you form through your sparring, as opposed to letting them develop haphazardly.

This is so true. I regularly spar with a friend who practices Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun. He has trouble with the different footwork and my xingyibagua structure. While we both have a centerline focus in some aspects of our arts his applications are suffering. It helps both of us quite a bit. I need evasion more than strength and I make him work on his mobility and adaptation to change.
 

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Another point that came to me is understanding the environment you are in. So for example, duelling is a little different to self defense. Self defense in a pub is different to self defense on the street. Duelling in a full contact tournament with trained fighters is different to duelling in class with a beginner, semi-contact.

I call the general understanding of this field the rules of combat, because despite the apparent differences it is all just a continuous spectrum of violence. The rules don't change but the ones that you apply do per situation.

If you go into a bar fight expecting the guy to dance around like a boxer you may be overwhelmed when hemail charges with a bottle in hand. If you try to catch a swing and go into a takedown during a duel with a fighter, you may be unable due to the superior balance of a trained fighter.

(Please don't nit-pick the above examples, they are just what came to mind). Where this all ties in is in knowing what your techniques are for. The large forearm blocks of karate are often maligned as only usable if applied as strikes or locks, but if you use the full, large technique against equally large attacks; the kind of over-committed power shots people fire when they are angry and trying to take your head off, then those techniques work fine and the traditional reverse punch counter from the hip fits nicely in the space the block creates.

Conversely the short whipping backfist found in some naihanchi kata works very well on the back of a softer parry as a means of interrupting a more skilled fighter's rhythm.

So you develop the ability to use the right technique in the right environment by using controlled and semi free drills. The same way you teach/learn about your techniques in the first place, but this understanding of when to use what must be expressly taught (or at least thought about by the student).
 
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MKR

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My question is how do you use the specialized strikes when sparring without hurting your classmate? Examples of specialized strikes are tiger claw rake to the face, spear hand to the throat, monkey grabs peaches (groin grabs), etc..... These can be painful and hard to pull when sparring. I try to pull them as much as possible but you don't get the same effect as if you do it for real.
 

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My question is how do you use the specialized strikes when sparring without hurting your classmate? Examples of specialized strikes are tiger claw rake to the face, spear hand to the throat, monkey grabs peaches (groin grabs), etc..... These can be painful and hard to pull when sparring. I try to pull them as much as possible but you don't get the same effect as if you do it for real.

You don't really train on the idea that your shot has killed the guy. You train on the idea that it hasn't and now you need to support it with something else. Another attack. An exit,a defence whatever.

So you are applying all of these layers of attack.
 
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JowGaWolf

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My question is how do you use the specialized strikes when sparring without hurting your classmate? Examples of specialized strikes are tiger claw rake to the face, spear hand to the throat, monkey grabs peaches (groin grabs), etc..... These can be painful and hard to pull when sparring. I try to pull them as much as possible but you don't get the same effect as if you do it for real.
For me I look at these attacks as 2 parts:
1. How do I get into position to do the technique in a free sparring scenario
2. Do the technique up to to point before impact.

If I can't do #1 then there's no way I'll be able to pull off the technique in sparring or in an actual fight. #2 validates that I can use the technique at a high success rate during a real fight or during sparring. The more skilled your sparring partner is the more difficult it will be to do #1.

If you want to get the full effect then you need to focus on conditioning which is actually striking a sand bag with the spear hand, claw, or groin grabs. Your biggest challenge with these is going to be putting yourself in a position where you can actually pull it off.

I also agree with Drop Bear. You need to train on the idea that your strike hasn't landed true or solid which means you have to have a follow up. A tiger claw can fail if the person moves to the side, or if they drop for a shoot at the same time you try to strike. Tiger is fighting close up so a sparring partner that likes to fight you from a distance is going to make it really difficult for you to rake the face.

I would be curious to see a video of how you spar.
 

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This is a great discussion! So many good ideas. I really like the ideas of playing with techniques and being willing to fail.
I really believe that you have to be willing to fail, and you should approach "sparring" as nothing more than an experiment, each and every time. Try out different things and stick to your hypothesis each time, and care less about your performance as a result. In order to really learn to apply something, you have to be willing to fail plenty, and you have to "stick to it" even as you fail. If you can approach it as nothing more than an experimentive learning process each time, and you take the time to form, isolate, and test your hypothesis, you'll learn a lot.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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One of the most difficult things to in Kung Fu is learning how to actually use your Kung Fu system, applications, and techniques in actual sparring. Share your insight and tips on what works for you.
I had used this technique in the following clip (It's from Gong Li Chuan). I jumped in from 12 feet away (My opponent didn't believe I could attack him from that distance). 1 punched on his face, and ended a challenge fight. It's 100% pure Chinese Kung Fu.

My opponent was a TKD guy who just got his 1st degree black belt. He had never sparred against any Kung Fu guy. When he attacked me with side kicks, I blocked all his side kicks with left palm while dropping my right elbow straight down onto his instep. When I had hurt his foot and he could not kick me any more. that jump in with one punch on the face was the "only" attack that I did in the whole fight.

That was the 1st time that I sparred against a TKD guy (back in 1972). Since I didn't know what TKD was, I played 100% defense in the beginner and concentrated on my "metal - knife cut through wood" strategy.

 
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oaktree

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We don't spar we practice drills, and responding to attacks. We start slow to build proper technique and increase the speed until it becomes more of a free form of exchange and response similar to how escrima knife and stick drills. A lot of times when people don't train drills and build the technique and concepts slowly and go straight into sparring, fundamentals and applications are thrown out the window and then what is being used is some form of boxing or kick boxing in a crude fashion.
On the other hand those who are stuck in a plateau of drills with out increase of speed and more freedom of exchange between the partners do not know how to handle the stress of something with more power and speed.
An example, when I first learn to block in another martial arts I did it at a slow speed no problem but then when full force and speed came I was not use to it and though I blocked and moved out of the way the technique was done poorly executed the reason was the speed and power was not gradual.
 
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JowGaWolf

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I blocked all his side kicks with left palm while dropping my right elbow straight down onto his instep
my son who is 13 did this to me but on the outside of my foot. We were just drilling and even a light version of this was painful to me. I had a slight limp for about 2 days and was thankful that it wasn't harder than what he did.

As for that video. Awesome. That's one of my favorite techniques from the form. I'm not surprised that you were able to get someone with that one. It comes at you in a strange manner and it's really difficult to see what's coming next after that downward punch.
 
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JowGaWolf

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A lot of times when people don't train drills and build the technique and concepts slowly and go straight into sparring, fundamentals and applications are thrown out the window and then what is being used is some form of boxing or kick boxing in a crude fashion.
Agree

An example, when I first learn to block in another martial arts I did it at a slow speed no problem but then when full force and speed came I was not use to it and though I blocked and moved out of the way the technique was done poorly executed the reason was the speed and power was not gradual.
I just realized that I have the opposite of this problem. The faster the punch the better. My sparring partner punches fast but today I tried with a partner that punches slower and I couldn't block a thing. The good news is that I don't have to change anything. If I discover that I miss blocks because I'm too fast, then I'm just going to skip the block and punch him in the face before he punches.lol
 

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