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Elbows: Their Role in Self-Defense

Wing Tsun applies five ranges in actual fights and self-defense. They are the kicking range, punching range, knees and elbows, anti-grappling, and ground. In an encounter, a Wing Tsun practitioner does not choose a range. The range is what is appropriate based on the attack. Elbow techniques are a close-range method of striking.

If the attack starts at kicking range, a Wing Tsun practitioner might have to kick. If the attacker retreats or dodges after a kick, the kick is often followed up with a step and a series of punches. If the attacker tries to close-in, knees or elbows might be used.

If an attack starts while the two persons are at close range, elbows or knee strikes might be used as the first line of defense instead of knee strikes. The Wing Tsun attitude about kicks or knee strikes is that the kicks “help the hands.” This also applies to knees. Lifting a foot off the ground is a risk and Wing Tsun practitioners take few if any risks in an encounter. The risk is that with one leg in the air, one’s mobility is stopped until that foot lands on the ground again. In addition, one’s balance and stability are at serious risk.

A Wing Tsun practitioner prefers to use upper body weapons. At such close distances, the elbows are a serious choice. The power of the elbow strike is very effective, and few persons have any training in defending an elbow strike. The Siu Nim Tau form has the reverse (rear) elbow strike as one draws one’s hand back to chamber it on the side of one’s body. This strike is directed to an attacker that is grabbing you from behind. Another elbow strike in the Siu Nim Tau form is part of the “whisking arm” movement. The point of the elbows can be engaged to targets on the head or neck. These are called the “butting elbows” (ding jarn).

In addition, Wing Tsun uses the hacking elbow (pai jarn) as seen in the intermediate form, Chum Kiu. The arm, including the forearm is used in “hacking” in a forward or reverse direction to the attacker in the head or targets on the body according to opportunity.

In the advanced form, Biu Tze, a sharper, more deadly type of elbow strike is used in three different formations. These strikes are counters to actions that, otherwise would not be defendable. The speed and ease with which these techniques are used demand a high level of control when working with a partner.

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg