This is a great quote. The number 10,000 seems to be the magical number associated with attaining mastery in any field of endeavour from martial arts to music. There is some common sense behind it, I think, because the more you do a technique correctly and with intensity the better you become at it. You are in essence burning the technique in your neurophysiology — hard-wiring it into your reflexes so you don’t need to think about it any more. In other words, it becomes a habit.
If you want to train yourself so that you have the wherewithal to fight for real should that unfortunate day arrive, then you must train as you fight. And fight as you train. That is not only one of the mottos held high in Yun Hoi Gwoon, but even Bruce Lee espoused this training approach. In his case, he gave forms practice the flick because he believed it bore no direct relevance to street fighting and was merely a device to carry on and preserve old stuffy traditions. As a Wing Chun practitioner, I disagree with him because, at least in our art of Wing Chun, forms may not be simulations of real fights, but they most certainly train vital combat attributes. (Sifu Yun Hoi speaks about the place of forms and how to get the most out of forms practice in his upcoming book The Thinking Person’s Martial Art so I won’t rain on his parade in this blog post.)
Bruce spent a lot of time on sparring – he was, in fact, one of the first (if not the first) to introduce gloves and protective gear in non-boxing martial arts. He thought he was being practical and training how to fight. If you are of the same opinion, think again… after you have read my guest blogger, sifu Yun Hoi’s, well-informed opinion about the danger of cultivating a habit of sparring and its detrimental mind-set conditioning. In short, if you want to train for real fighting, do not spar!
Just as those who have allowed their minds to be conditioned by the illogical belief that chi sau somehow teaches Wing Chun trainees to fight, some martial artists seem a little incredulous when they’re told that sparring is sport, not self defence. Empty hand sparring is mostly a modern notion. Certainly (often deadly) challenges existed in the past but sparring, controlled, regulated, limited exchanges of selected non-dangerous techniques has its roots in Japanese martial arts (where in some arts it was far more realistic in the past) and has been elevated to cult status by Westerners who like to believe they are training for real world combat. They’re not!
Sparring establishes, develops and maintains a different mindset to that required for real world combat. Sparring develops a number of subliminal beliefs, that: you won’t be seriously hurt, certainly the sparring partner won’t (normally!) be trying to permanently incapacitate or kill you; First Aid is nearby; your training buddies will step in if tempers flare and anger emerges; someone will call an ambulance if there is an accidental injury; there are rules; and, most potentially fatally in terms of preparing for a real fight – you will think about what you’re doing; also you will try to exchange a range of techniques and continue exchanging them over a lengthy period. You will usually be trying to “chop down the tree” – fell the attacker in imagination by sustained, repeated attacks. The person sparring focuses on keeping the action going. In real fight we are trying to stop it as soon as it starts! Our gwoon always emphasises closing, controlling and finishing as soon as possible.
Sparring also gradually develops the mindset that confrontation and violent physical responses are the answers to all real world threats of deadly violence. Who has ever seen training in a martial arts club involving practising running away? Trying to verbally de-escalate the conflict? True, some self defence training coaches have developed programs that simulate a range of such alternative responses and offer some practice in these. Non-physical confrontation responses to violence and employment of environmental weapons have been offered in some self defence seminars. I am aware of this. I am also aware that the participants in such courses don’t assiduously practice these approaches regularly or consistently enough for them to be functional or instinctive. I’m also aware that such courses are very much the exception rather than the rule.
A sparring mindset, if it translates to the targeted victim of a real world attack hopping and dancing around in and out of a square horse stance, with splayed fingers, shaking their head and yowling like a demented cat could, very likely end up exposing the victim to far more risk! A mugger might, for example, try to intimidate the victim to hand over their wallet but, if the victim begins sparring posing the criminal may well pull out a hitherto hidden gun and simply shoot them. Or, their accomplices may. I once witnessed such a scene when I was working as a doorman. A fellow doorman had taken down a drunken troublemaker and was choking him out. The drunk’s girlfriend took off her heel and smacked the doorman on the skull with it, producing a mean little puncture and cracked skull! The doorman had been “sparring” not finishing the confrontation! He should have ensured the fight “went to the ground” by dropping the drunk rather than going down with him!
The goal of real world self defence is to stop the fight as soon as you can. This is, in fact, the meaning of “wushu” when it actually referred to martial art rather than acrobatics. We are not trying to play tag with our attacker, tapping him as many times and in as many different ways as we can – usually on the torso. We are not inhibiting the use of techniques that will produce damage. We are not avoiding targeting those points where our techniques will have most impact! We are trying to hit vital targets! Real world self defence training begins with developing the insight and intuition to avoid dangerous people and dangerous places. It continues by developing your natural weapons, training your impact power and targeting, and training your responsivity. We do this principally through several levels of san sau and, as an auxiliary tool, to a lesser extent through chi sau exercises to develop, touch, feel, sticking and trapping.
Sparring may look macho. It may feed the egos of those who train in it. It also develops false confidence and inappropriate component beliefs of a mindset counterproductive to real world self defence.
~ Yun Hoi