" Our techniques are direct and devastating. They target the weak spots of your opponent and allow small people to take down larger opponents." This is another thing they may promise you. The reality is that techniques cannot work if they are not learnt properly by the person. It will not work if the person does not have the dexterity, speed and strength to carry it out.
That’s the problem with commercialized self-defense courses, people treat it like a service more than training. They are too used to massage, facials and Pilates, they have an impression that self-defense courses are also a similar kind of service. Pay the bill, have the skill.
Sadly for these believers the truth is YOU protect yourself, not your self-defense course which you have purchased. If you are not strong, hard and fast enough you cannot handle another person on the street.
Let’s be practical and not talk about empty promises, let’s talk about credible believable truths.
The elbow. Many martial arts preach that the elbow is the hardest weapon in the body. It is the trump card of a small man in a David versus Goliath encounter.
I have taught friends, family and students to use elbow for self defense. It doesn’t work, even I can’t make it work with my speed and fitness. The elbow is really damn short, you can’t utilize it if you cannot move into the range. You need to get rid of any obstruction which may be your opponent’s arm or hand. If you are short, you will need to move a longer distance into the range because your upper arm is short. Please, and please be aware that your legs are shorter and your stride is narrower, so your footwork has to be worked to its maximum to put you in the elbow position.
In Chinese Kung Fu we need to be aware of anything our opponents might put in the way of our attack, like a punch, a guard, etc. We need to be constantly aware and not making wild guesses and just being creative with your combo permutations. This is called the bridge hand principle; our arms are interacting with each other to get to the other person’s head or body.
In Hung Gar Kung Fu we use the other hand to position the obstruction away while hitting with the elbow with the same momentum. This is called ‘lin siu dai da’, neutralizing an attack and attacking at the same time. It is not just limited to elbows, it encompasses punches, palm strikes, kicks and joint locks all the same. This requires good limbs and joints coordination and reflex memory, taking a longer time to pick up and become good at.
Non-Chinese or modern martial arts hardly have this concept, it’s usually one-by-one. These one-by-one flow techniques are like this example, cover, tap, grab, twist, press, pull… and can involve up to seven steps. Especially those self-defenses courses teach one-by-one techniques if you notice. If you do things one-by-one, your opponent will certainly be attempting to stop you from doing things one-by-one. However if you do two things at once, your opponent will most likely have enough attention for one.
Lin Siu Dai Da is actually 3 things in one instead of two in one. The other one is the footwork and body movement. Examples are you stepping towards your opponent or to the side, or turning your body on the spot. This changes your position, giving you driving force for your defense and attack at the same time.
Those fanciful elbow techniques do not have this element of movement like in Chinese Kung Fu. It’s just one, it’s easy to read and prevent. If you want it to work you need to have all the functional components. This is why people see these techniques as having ‘something missing’ in them.
A most common misconception is that the smaller person has more speed. It’s not really a misconception, given similar skill level and coordination abilities, a smaller person will find moving at speed slightly more sustainable. It is easier for a smaller person to learn many techniques because they have less weight and get tired less easily. When a smaller person learns faster than his classmate, he will surely seem faster as his technique and flow is smoother. Executing techniques on a person will be a different case, especially techniques which require strength to carry out. Even a light parry will take some strength, if you are thinking along the line of soft styles, be it internal or external.
Some say that techniques are enough. These people preach to their small sized friends, ‘Fighting is all about technique, brute strength doesn’t matter.’ Over the years it has developed into a trend that many small martial artists do not practice their strength and conditioning as much as they should. These guys believe that having cheap feints and smooth locks will pave their way to victory in any physical conflict.
Given my own experience, I have almost never seen a smaller man beat a bigger man with the same skill level or slightly less seasoned, that is in modern martial arts. Remember these sparring matches are limited by rules, being grabbed in the hair, ears or throat by a big man is a nightmare in real fights in which these rules are non-existent. You will not see the smaller man being much faster at footwork or throwing punches, he may be active with swaggering and taunting outside contact, but these does not serve any purpose compared to the speed when in contact with each other.
It’s not just my experience, those of you reading my article would’ve watched many real street fighting on youtube which involves a bigger man and a smaller man. You won’t see much difference in speed. Even if the smaller man is slightly faster, it won’t give him enough advantage in a fight.
There are fights which involve a small but sharp looking fighter going against a bigger but dim-witted fighter and the small guy emerged victorious. Sure, this is true. But if you want to stand toe to toe with someone whose skill level is more on par, it will be a very tough and painful fight even if you are to win. In this sense, being small offers insignificant advantages compared to disadvantages.
For people who sincerely want to learn real effective martial arts, it’s a sad thing that commercial gyms and studios are constantly educating their customers that a small man has a speed advantage. It also causes their larger built customers and instructors to develop the mentality that smaller people are faster than them.
This tactic is called mental conditioning. Lie enough and it becomes a truth. Well, do not expect every big guy in the outside world to be mentally conditioned.
It’s not hard to find videos on youtube of big martial artists who are as fast and agile as their more compact counterparts. You will see that as long as a person does his due diligence in practice and revision, he will not be limited by his physical parameters. It doesn’t mean that big people will get complacent about their security and not bother to pick up martial arts. Come on, everybody loves Kung Fu fighting, be it big or small people. Big people also want to be fast and technically efficient.
As for the sharpness of the fighter, it depends on whether the fighter is in good shape or not. Of course an obese person will have poor concentration, poor awareness and dull reflexes. Due to the constriction of blood vessels by fat tissues and lack of physical activity, the blood flow, lung capacity and nervous signals are poor. Obese does not mean the person has to weigh more than 200 pounds, there are many people who weigh less than 60 kilos, shorter than 1.65m and they are obese, meaning they have more than 30% body fat for males, and 45% body fat for females.
It’s about getting into good fighting form. There are many Hung Gar Kung Fu heavyweights in the world who are lean and sharp, you do not want to think they will lose to lightweights in terms of technique and precision.
On the other side of the spectrum, a small man will find it hard to end a fight quickly, and he cannot afford to get hit. Whenever you see a small man getting hit by a bigger man he’s most likely going to be shaken and vulnerable to follow up attacks. Once is enough to take away all the fortitude of the small man. Strikes from a small man will most probably be peanuts to bigger people, and it will be fair trade against people of the same size. That is if the small man does not do any strength and conditioning exercises. Many small martial artists tend to be more complacent than their larger classmates, which is very bad for them.
Although landing light hits your opponent dozens of times in sparring can show that you are technically superior and whatnot, IRL(in real life) not being able to shake your opponent in under 10 hits is very demoralizing. You have many things to fear, if you are not able to end the fight quick, your opponent’s gang mates will surround you and team up on you. If you have any friends around who is incapable of combat they will be attacked by your opponents. You will run out of stamina too.
Although many of us can see in ring sports that the ring fighters can take up to 5 minutes to slowly size up their one and only opponent, IRL if you corner them with a barefisted opponent with no referee, a seemingly bigger opponent or multiple people it’s a totally different story. Their muscles and heart will be so tensed up their endurance will shrink to 30 seconds or lesser, compared to 10 minutes in the ring. Many ring fighters actually own up about the fact that they have never fought outside the ring and never intend to.
Disadvantages of being small: plenty and terrible.
Reach is the worst drawbacks of small size. Doing techniques on his own, yes a small person looks tight and fast. The problem is: Will your technique even connect with your target? Even if you can deliver 2 punches in the same time your bigger opponent deliver one, if his arm connects with you while both of you are throwing the first punch, the result will be that your opponent will land the punch and you will not land half a punch out of your potential speed of 2 punches. As soon as the arm of the bigger man connects with the smaller man, the smaller man will be thrown back or stalled at his position unable to even trade blows.
A common move used by people with longer reach is to extend their arm and hold on to their opponent, and the opponent will be free game for punches from the other arm. The opponent will not be able to reach his target as the arm is preventing him from getting closer. In this case for a Chinese Kung Fu practitioner he would’ve easily used a bridge hand parrying technique to remove the obstruction. The bridge hand parrying technique is very important to put you into counterattacking distance because even if your footwork is very fast, the obstructing arm will keep you out of range by pushing you back if you are weaker, or pushing the opponent back if you are stronger. You have to close the relative distance to get into your counterattacking distance.
Oh yes when I talk about reach, it means not just your arms but your legs too. The stride of a taller man is longer, it will be easy for him to cover the distance to land hits. Taller martial artists have an easier time moving around and learning how to move around. If their stances are stable and they have reasonable speed, the movement ability of tall opponents can be really troublesome.
Reach is really everything that will spoil a small man’s day. No matter how fast, how much stamina you have or even how hard you can hit, it is all invalid if your opponent touches you first and prevents you from getting into range.
The only way to overcome this disadvantage is blistering quick footwork to close the distance. This is provided you can parry to the side the initial resistance your opponent will throw in your way. Having longer reach your opponent will most likely act first.
The other terrible disadvantage of being small is that a small person will find it very hard to develop enough strength. Because small people have light bodies they have lesser work done (lesser kilojoules) every time they do the same amount of repetitions as their heavier classmates. Even if they do more repetitions until it is equivalent, they are developing muscle endurance instead of blasting strength and explosive power. Explosive strength is what they need to balance the scales. Small people will need training aids to increase their training load, such as dumbbells and wrist weights.
Many small martial artists learn the techniques quickly as they do not have to fight their body weight as much. However they tend to take it that they have mastered the technique when they have actually not. To successfully use a technique you need to have enough strength to plow through your opponent’s resistance. Your blocks and blows need to be heavy, hard enough to knock your opponent’s arm or leg out of the way so you can have your way.
A good example will be when a novice Wing Chun fighter attempts to ‘invade the center line’ of a kickboxer, he fails because the kickboxer rounds his arms and resists the Wing Chun fighter. The Wing Chun fighter didn’t manage to get into the center line because he is not strong enough to pry his opponent’s guard open with his Tan Sao and Lup Sao; his opponent’s arms are too strong and hard. He ended up getting roundhouse kicks multiple times over in the thighs and wrestled to the ground.
This is the reason why authentic Kung Fu teachers always make students do conditioning and build up internal strength such as doing horse stance and upper body exercises with weights first, before teaching techniques. So when the student actually has enough core strength, body mass, explosive strength and internal strength support, picking up the techniques will be much easier, they will not feel that ‘something’s missing’ in learning the technique.
I always tell my smaller built students, ‘Okay boys you need to make this very clear in your mind: Whatever your big classmates do ten times, you have to do thirty or fifty times to equal up to it. And you better put every ounce of your heart and soul into every repetition in your practice.’
In fact I nag at them about this much more than I nag at my big students for being slow in moving and slow at catching techniques. I am more worried about whether my small students can realistically hold themselves against opponents of all sizes. My morals will not allow me to patch up their shortcomings with make beliefs.
Speaking about realism, I have realized that almost all fight promotions these days only allow fighters of the same weight class to fight each other. The closest fight promotions came to reality will be the earliest UFCs and pre-UFC no holds barred cage fights.
In Chinese Kung Fu, small and big practitioners are treated equally. Small practitioners will have to practice with big practitioners. Going toe to toe with bigger people is what they do all the time. This generates confidence in them which combat sports will hardly offer. They have a realistic feel of how it is like to fight with bigger people, thus they know where they are lacking.
Back then when I was just only a beginner, I was sparring with a small man in a MMA gym. He was around 60 kilograms, 25 kilos lighter than me at that time. He was grappling me with his BJJ techniques, but due to my far superior strength I lifted him up and slammed him on the mats. He should be more ready for the differences sparring with a stronger opponent will make.
Well, that’s that. Back to Kung Fu training, we make sure smaller practitioners are conditioned enough to hold their own against bigger opponents before they even try. Even if small practitioners do not wish to do sparring, we want to make sure they get a feel of it by doing techniques and contact drills with their bigger classmates.
Despite the serious drawbacks of lacking mass, there are some qualities which are equal whether you are big or small. A small Kung Fu practitioner should work on these.
Hardness is a factor which does not depend on size. The level of hardness conditioning simply depends on the amount of effort the practitioner puts into his training. Hardness means the hardness of the striking parts of the person and the resistance to impact. People who achieve a body of hard lean muscle through muscular aerobic exercises can take more direct impact on their muscles. They are also more sturdy and resistant to pushing and pulling forces as they have strong muscles pulling on their bones keeping their body in place. Although having lean and hard muscles really helps to put on a sort of ‘armor’ on a fighter, Kung Fu has many ways to overcome this armor. This is what internal force is for. This is what the unique techniques of Chinese Kung Fu such as the Tiger claw and the Dragon claw are for.
Having hard fists and a strong grip also contributes to edgy hardness which provides an edge for a small man vs. big man encounter. Hard and heavy fists have to come from pounding striking bags barefisted and other conditioning exercises. A strong grip comes from wrist and finger training which Chinese Kung Fu emphasizes very much. Not to mention that having a strong grip helps in daily life too.
Small Kung Fu fighters should invest good effort in hardness conditioning, it will pay off by making every strike you land more painful, and allow you to take hits better. Being hard also has better benefits for small Kung Fu fighters as the point of impact is small, the pressure on the point of contact will be much bigger compared to a big man. This means more pain, and more precision, less likely to slide off your opponent.
Initiative is another thing which is equal for both big and small fighters. It means to take the first move to lead the fight. Many small fighters simply start with a defensive strategy, knowing they can’t defend very well against heavy hurting blows. To make it worse, they can’t afford to get grappled by a bigger man. Well, it’s true because modern martial arts teaches to fight from guard up position, it naturally puts small guys in a defensive position, making them vulnerable to opponents with longer reach and bigger swing. No matter how hard they try to deny that, the disadvantages of the conventional modern fighting methods are evident in open weight fights.
Acting first will allow you to control the way the fight goes instead of merely reacting passively. However to be confident enough to act first, you need to be confident that you can do enough physical and psychological damage with your initial attacks to extinguish your opponent’s ability to resist. This goes back to hitting power; even speed alone is not enough if you want to be confident enough to be a pro-active fighter. Being able to take hits will build up your confidence to charge in for the beatdown. Many times martial artists fail to charge in when presented with opportunities; soon after the fight turns in their opponent’s favor as they failed to maintain their lead.
Despite reach being a major problem for smaller martial artists, they can still enforce control in the fight. In Hung Gar Kung Fu, we use the concept of space occupation to restrict the options of our opponents and lure them into traps which involves joint locking, retaliation strikes and leg trips. As the Hung Gar system closes distance upon contact, it immediately brings the smaller fighter to close combat distance.
With good spatial awareness a small fighter can use the space around him and his opponent to his advantage, evading attacks and obstructing opponent’s techniques. There are two ways to obstruct your opponent’s techniques: one is by putting your stance in a position which is either too far, too close or at a wrong angle for your opponent to deliver your attacks, the other is by deploying your bridge hands to cover your opponent’s direction of attack. Our Hung Gar single finger bridge hand is just like a sniper aiming closely at a window and putting the bullet into the enemy the moment the enemy emerges.
Besides Hung Gar Kung Fu, there are many people who are considering picking up soft arts like Wing Chun and Tai Chi as they think it may be useful for small people. My opinion on this is: if they are able to apply the same principles as Wing Chun and Tai Chi practitioners, then it will also work. The same laws of combat still applies though, such as having enough firepower to damage the other guy, and having quick footwork to cover the lack of reach.
You can try these styles, but do make try your techniques on larger people who do not practice under your school to make sure these techniques are functional. Do not think that you will certainly be able to generate penetrative force and divert away force with the soft power if you just join the group. Such internal force can be hard to grasp and too ambitious to make it work as a beginner. Success cases for Tai Chi usually take 10 years or more to reach the level, so you should be prepared to keep yourself within closed doors till you attain nirvana.
Speaking about internal arts, I do not care whether internal martial artists consider Hung Gar Kung Fu to have internal elements, but I do encourage my smaller students to grasp and master nei gong in the earlier stages of their martial arts development to make them more on par with more muscular opponents. These come in the form of combination of mental intent with physical force, as well as learning the ability to imbue their strikes with qi.
For Wing Chun, you should consider having enough hitting power to end a fight rather than score points. I believe many of you have started to realize by watching the cross discipline sparring videos the drawbacks of not having enough striking force and bridge hands strength. What I can say is most seasoned Hung Gar fighters (not form practitioners) will have no problem tearing apart the boxer’s guard with their bridge hands force. Do not be surprised that some Wing Chun seniors actually use Hung Gar’s internal strength and bridge hands conditioning to bolster their combat capabilities. There have always been exchanges between different styles of Kung Fu.
To round it up, smaller built Kung Fu fighters should have these attributes to stand on equal ground with larger opponents:
1) Striking power. Plus hard conditioned strikes. 2) Footwork to close and control the distance. 3) Solid defense with blocking, bridge hands and the ability to take some hits just in case.