The best self defense martial art might be the one that has viable applications for self defense being taught regularly to the students which are based on its traditional techniques. If the martial art being taught is for tournament application and an entirely different, unrelated program is presented for self defense, it is hard to call that martial art the best self defense martial art.

Many schools have a large program being taught specifically for point-style non-contact sparring. Students are told something like “sparring is the only way to learn how to defend yourself” or words to that effect. Sparring has the give and take aspect of a real sport, the scoring aspect of a real sport, and the sportsmanship required in order to maintain order. For a self-defense encounter, sparring has some of the nervous tension encountered in real situations. It allows a student to practice timing, defense and offense in motion, and the continuous action as a real situation is likely to have. A student has to deal with the fear of getting hit and losing as real possibilities.

The things that point-style non-contact sparring does not offer for self-defense skill development is the very same distance and timing as a real encounter. Wing Tsun works in two ways. In chi sau free hand fighting, great control is possible since the combatants sticks with each other’s limbs. This gives each combatant the ability to decelerate a strike before it hits. Full speed is possible with a spirit not possible with longer range non-contact point sparring. In non-chi sau fighting (lat sau), light contact is possible with protective gear on covering the correct vulnerable areas on the body used in Wing Tsun. Light contact gets a student used to the distance and timing unique to a real situation. All target areas and techniques like elbows, knees, open hand strikes are possible, even low kicks with the right protective gear. If one does not practice going after the target areas that work in real encounters at the speed and timing required, one’s training is not useful for self-defense.

Wing Tsun also has anti-grappling, knee, elbow and ground fighting techniques which are not a part of point-style non-contact sparring. All these are used in regular lat sau. To use them skillfully, it takes longer to learn this many ranges and aspects of self-defense but it is more realistic than limiting the tools and the targets.

Wing Tsun lat sau means “free hand sparring” but each fight is not like ring fights. Lat sau is like a small fight. They last only as long as there is an apparent winner. At the same time, the students are using safety gear.

In actual self-defense, there must be a conclusive finish in the first one or two minutes. Actual self-defense is escaping unharmed. Running is a form of self-defense. The best self defense martial art school should teach these principals as well.

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg