The First Moment
Had a great question from a student who came to visit from another town last night. After a fairly tough class workout (monkey boxing) and then an hour of applications from Drunken, Monkey and Snake he asked “Would you say Kung Fu is mainly used for defense?” A great question that pointed right at the heart of the applications I was showing, because like most beginners class applications everything starts with being attacked in some way. This assumes that everything has already escalated and you can not only not avoid fighting but they have already launched an attack at you. This is seen all the time in martial arts schools, including mine and implies that our art is built for self defence (they have already attacked you first).
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe you should only use your martial arts in the most dire of circumstances where you cannot verbally avoid or physically run away, no matter how skilled you are. Fighting always leads to someone being hurt in some way, usually both parties. This injury can be of course catastrophic and life altering physically (or life ending) or it can even just be having to live with yourself for harming another human being. Even in the case of being so skilled that you did not need to harm the enemy badly to control the situation there is still the mental anguish of having been thoroughly controlled in a physical way or having to deal with doing that to someone else. There is always damage when combat takes place.
But, back to the question last night.
Fights are won or lost most often in the first moments of the confrontation. The Chinese Saying is that a fight should last three heartbeats, no longer. This is a time frame of only a second or two and while it may seem like myth, this is exactly what they mean. Fights begin the moment it can no longer be avoided. The first moment when you both know it is about to take place is when everything begins. The moment hands start to rise to guard positions, the moment legs begin to flex and stabilize the body, the moment the mind decides that violence is necessary, that is the first moment of combat and it is the most often ignored one in martial arts training.
This is in part due to the modern way of looking at fighting and fight sports. In a competition, be it full contact MMA or Point sparring in a local tournament it was decided decades ago to make sure that neither person had an advantage in the first moment. So fighters are started at a safe distance from one another with a referee telling them to prepare and then when both are set a command to begin is given. The entire first moment where fights are won or lost has been sanitized to create a fair and safe environment to compete in. Makes good sense, it is not life or death in these matches, but what it does do is affect the way everyone trains and thinks about violent confrontation. We think this is the norm since it is the way the “professionals” do it, like we see on tv. But lets take a step back and look at things in the past for moment.
Unless a formal challenge match was taking place things were not fair nor were they meant to be. Ambush was and is the most effective way to destroy an enemy, attacking from behind, in the dark, silently without their foreknowledge is the easiest way to win. Yes it is “dirty” or Guerilla tactics but it is the reality and works and has worked from time immemorial. The Biaoshi (Literally: Dart throwers) or Chinese Body Guard company members would escort people or merchant trains from one city or town to the next to protect them from being attacked by bandits. Banditry is a lucrative profession, especially when there is little to no policing or government interference. A good solid ambush, everyone dies and the bandits get the cargo. The biaoshi were there ready to take on these ambushes at any time during the journey. So why is it that an ambush is so effective? Lack of preparation. Simple as that. Letting your enemy get properly prepared for battle makes no sense whatsoever unless you are engaging in some form of ritualized combat for the sake of honor or reputation etc etc. Seize the initiative and the opponent has to try and recover it, which is usually the beginning of the end for them.
Seizing the Initiative
Seizing control of the first moment is the smartest way to ensure you have an advantage from the get go. Allowing an enemy to put up their defenses and find their balance etc is simply allowing the opportunity to win to pass you by. The Gong Fu family method I teach uses “If your not Cheating, your not trying hard enough” as a motto. Find every advantage and take it for yourself. If the opponent begins to pick up his hands attack him. Steal his balance, batter his body and head and make his defenses a heartbeat slower than your attack. Use your martial arts to secure control of the fight from the first moment and never give the initiative back to them. This is why I teach all my students methods of entering the opponents defenses and once they have the eight methods (Beat, Cross, Sleeve Release, Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Horse, Shadow) we work on making them faster and closer to the start of the opponent picking up their hands until at full speed they can seize initiative instantly from someone as things start. The rest of the fight is up to your training, a grappler will take them to the ground and work from the advantage, a striker will try to hit as hard and as many times as possible once they have initiative and in the case of something like Traditional Chinese Martial Arts, they will try to kill the opponent as quickly as possible. Yes I know it sounds brutal but training with this in mind changes everything in your martial arts. It is easier to decide not to kill an opponent than it is to try and go through with it.
So is Kung Fu a self defense art? I say no. Self Offense is a better summing up of its mind, avoid violence at all costs but when violence presents itself as unavoidable take every advantage you can and win as quickly as possible.
“In times of war a prolonged battle does harm to both sides.”
– Sun Tzu : Art of War