Shaolin Combat Application

A normal free sparring session in Shaolin Wahnam


Can techniques be directly taken out of forms to be used in real life situations or must they first be modified?

Adam, United Kingdom


Yes, kungfu techniques can, and should, be directly taken out of forms to be used in real combat. In fact, this was how kungfu techniques developed. At first there were no techniques. Combatants fought freely, like what untrained persons do today.

Gradually over many centuries those who had to fight frequently discovered that certain manners of fighting were advantageous. Throughout many centuries kungfu masters, i.e. specially trained people who were good at real life fighting, stylized these advantageous manners of fighting into kungfu forms. At the same time throughout many centuries these masters of real fighting also developed various methods to train force and other combat skills to enhance their fighting efficiency.

Please remember that throughout the centuries kungfu was meant for real life fighting. It was never meant as a competitive sport with safety rules, or a demonstrative art to please spectators. Kungfu was meant for real life fighting where the outcome was not trophies or price money, but often life or death. Kungfu exponents diligently practiced and religiously used their kungfu forms in real life combat not because the forms looked nice or the forms identified them to certain styles, but because the kungfu forms gave them the best chance to stay alive.

Just some common sense will make one realize that if traditional kungfu forms with appropriate stances were not effective for fighting, kungfu exponents in the past would not have spent so much time and effort training them. If bouncing about and throwing punches and high kicks as in Western Boxing and Kickboxing were most effective for real life combat, the kungfu exponents would have diligently practiced and religiously used bouncing about, throwing punches and high kicks instead.

Then, why in today's free sparring do those who bounce about and use punches and kicks as in Western Boxing and Kickboxing generally beat those who use traditional kungfu forms? It is because the latter have never been trained to use kungfu forms for free sparring. The kungfu forms which would be an asset for those who are properly trained, become a liability for those who are untrained.

If kungfu was effective, why didn't people in the West in the past practiced kungfu for fighting? In my opinion the main reason was connected with the Shaolin Temple in China. Before the Shaolin Temple, ways of fighting were haphazard, similar to present day butting, wrestling, boxing and kicking, or what is often called freestyle fighting. There were no proper systems or styles. Since the Shaolin Temple, ways of fighting first became institutionalized into particular styles, with systematic and coherent development over many centuries, first at the Shaolin Temple, then all over China. The West did not have this history of institutionalized fighting arts.

Shaolin Combat Application
Eugene and Anton practicing free sparring during an Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Course in Toronto. Although Eugene learned kungfu forms from Sifu Wong's books, he could perform the forms reasonably well.

Reproduced from Question 1 in Selection of Questions and Answers -- March 2003 Part 3

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