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Eric Oram Shows You How to
Fight Someone Bigger Than You
Using Wing Chun Techniques
by Eric Oram
Photos by Peter Lueders
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By the time I was 13,I’d been studying the martial arts for three years and was feeling increasingly inept.Assembling
the techniques into combinations and making them work in random sparring was challenging.Although I’d earned tro-
phies for my form and technique, I couldn’t bring it all together as a reflex response, particularly against larger, stronger
opponents — namely, the adults I was matched with in sparring.
The situation worsened when I watched my seniors fight. They mostly resorted to games of high-speed tag, utiliz-
ing only basic techniques, albeit in a very rapid manner. My father, an avid martial artist, caught wind of my frustrations
and, while picking me up one night after practice, asked my instructor,“What do you do against a bigger opponent?”
Without hesitation, my instructor answered,“Stay away from him and keep to the outside. Don’t get caught by
his reach.”The next day, my dad removed me from the school. Less than a year later, my dad arranged for me to
begin training under the man who taught and inspired Bruce Lee: William Cheung. This 5-foot-10-inch living
legend was the head of a lineage out of Hong Kong known as wing chun kung fu, and he taught a form of
close-quarters combat unlike anything my father had seen.
The 300-year-old system was engineered to enable a smaller person to defeat a larger one by avoiding
the opponent’s strengths and pouring into his weaknesses.
For 30 years, wing chun has helped me close the distance and handle larger opponents. It can do the
same for you.
BRIDGING ON A LEAD JAB: Eric Oram (left) and his opponent square off in the before-contact stage
(1). In the contact stage, the opponent jabs, and Oram deflects it with a palm block (2). Oram posi-
tions himself on the outside — the man’s blind side — and counterpunches low to illustrate the
exchange stage (3).The wing chun expert continues with a reverse palm strike to the head, which
the opponent blocks (4). Oram uses the block to cross the man’s arms and trap them (5), then fol-
lows up with a high palm strike (6) and an elbow thrust,which generates maximum power at close
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BRIDGING THE GAP
If you must engage an opponent who
has a reach advantage, the only way to
equalize things is to get in tight so you
can reach him. Functioning at close quar-
ters will probably be unnerving for him
and cause him to pull back into a more
comfortable zone. Follow him relentlessly,
keeping him on the defensive.
Should your adversary want to be
close to you — perhaps he’s a grappler
or someone who’s been inspired by the
Ultimate Fighting Championship — you’ll
need to prevent the fight from turning
into a grappling match. In essence, you
must obtain and then maintain prop-
er distance. You need to get close
but not too close.
Ultimately, the game is about
controlling the distance and
achieving superior position-
ing. In wing chun parlance,
that position is called “the
THE BLIND SIDE
What William Cheung refers to as“the blind side”is the position at which your cen-
ter is aligned with your opponent’s shoulder line. From there, you’ve stacked his arms
and hips, allowing only one limb from his upper body and one from his lower body to
reach you at a time. Stay out of the middle toe-to-toe position and stick to the blind
side,where his elbow and knees are stacked.
The timing of your move to the blind-side position helps you release your oppo-
nent’s energy as he misses. When that happens, you must attack the most apparent
opening presented by his committed strike. He won’t be able to use that limb to block
or attack again because it’s on the other side of his body, stacked away from you.
Meanwhile,you control the elbow or knee of the limb that’s closest.
FIVE STAGES OF COMBAT
Stage 1 — Before Contact: At this distance, your opponent cannot reach you with his hands or feet unless one of
you moves forward. If you don’t want to engage him, stay here. Or run.
Your objective is to make it to the next stage.You need to get in to have a chance at the position you want.By touch-
ing — or feeling — your opponent before doing so, you can sense where his movement and energy are headed.When
you feel where the pressure is, it’s your cue to move where the pressure is not.
Stage 2 — Contact: At this distance, you can touch your opponent’s limbs but not his body or head to effect a
counterattack. It’s known as “blocking distance.”You want to connect with his limb (in the form of a block), feel where
the pressure of the limb is directed and help it go there. Don’t try to stop the attack; allow it to continue. Just don’t let
it hit you as it does.
When he releases his energy — and misses — he’s most vulnerable. Use the touch to help him accelerate during his
follow-through while you move off the line of fire. Then pour into where he’s not. Now you’re loaded and ready for a
near-simultaneous counterattack with your other arm, which is the transition to the next stage.
If he backs up during this part of the encounter, be ready to move forward to stay with him. Don’t allow him to ex-
pand the distance. Consider using low kicks to the knees and body to help bridge the gap and keep him on the defen-
sive. Meanwhile, set him up so you can pounce into the exchange stage and the blind side.
If he attempts to drive forward — perhaps for a takedown or a grappling hold — repeat the above-mentioned pro-
cess:Feel, move to either side, release the pressure, shift to the blind side and prepare to counterattack.
Stage 3 — Exchange: At this distance, you can make contact with your block and counterattack into the opening.
That means you can switch the roles of your arms — going back and forth from blocking/checking to striking. You’re
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free to use both arms while he’s forced to use one at a time because of your position on his blind side. (His rear hand
cannot reach you to block or strike.)
You have a variety of counterstrikes at your disposal. The principle of leverage teaches that the closer the strike is
to your body, the greater the power potential — provided you’re using your core and legs properly. From strongest to
weakest, those strikes are the elbow thrust, palm strike, punch and finger strike. If you enlist your lower body, you have
the option to throw kicks as counterattacks to bridge the gap, then knees and sweeps once you’ve achieved the
Your goal is to establish and then maintain your distance and your position at the blind-side angle while un-
leashing a barrage of attacks into the opening your block/check has created.
Stage 4 — Pursuit:Because your objective at the exchange distance is to maintain your relative position-
ing, you must thwart any attempt by your opponent to get closer or move away. If he tries to close the gap,
adjust your footwork. If he attempts to back up to create distance, pursue him.
Stage 5 — Retreat: If, for any reason, things get too “hot”while you’re on the inside, get out. Spring
back to the before-contact stage and begin again. Or run. Don’t let pride keep you engaged on the in-
side if you’re losing the battle.
BRIDGING ON A TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT: Author Eric Oram (left) faces his adversary (1).The man knocks away Oram’s lead guard hand to open up the
middle zone in preparation for his shoot (2). Oram immediately launches a strike aimed at his eyes, but the opponent blocks it (3). He then pushes
under Oram’s block (4) and makes contact
for the takedown (5). Oram drives his right
leg backward to break the man’s grip and
drops his weight to disrupt his balance
(6). Oram forces his head to the ground to
neutralize him (7). He finishes by executing
a series of punches to the back of his head
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In addition to using and controlling distance and exploiting the blind-side position, you should know a handful of
other concepts to bring everything together:
Principle 1: Guard your center. Because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and distance
equals time,you must protect the shortest path to your vital areas.Force your foe to take a longer path to reach you — it
will give your reflexes more time to respond.
Principle 2:Watch his elbows.Your opponent’s elbows give away the movement of his arms. His fist cannot
reach you without his elbow moving first. Furthermore, his elbow will move two and a half times more slowly
than his fist when he executes a straight punch and four times more slowly when he does a round punch.
Watching his shoulder won’t give you enough information because it doesn’t move much.Watching his fist
will give you too much because it’s so fast and it bridges the distance more quickly than your eye can follow.
Watching his elbow enables you to control the elbow,and controlling the elbow enables you to control the
arm. Food for thought:The knee is to the leg as the elbow is to the arm.
Principle 3: Use two arms. For maximum effect, use both arms at the same time for attack and
defense. At close range, everything is sped up. If you’re blocking as a single beat or moment and then
BRIDGING ON A JAB-AND-LOW-HOOK COMBINATION: The attacker (right) confronts Eric Oram (1). He jabs, and Oram deflects it with a palm block
while setting up his other arm for his next move (2). Oram threads his arm through from underneath to finish the deflection and protect against
an attack from the opponent’s other
arm (3).The opponent opts to launch a
low hook instead, causing Oram to in-
tercept it with a low splitting-arm block
(4). He releases the hook and positions
himself to the outside, where he effects
a second block (5).The wing chun mas-
ter jams the man’s elbow and counters
with a straight punch, which the oppo-
nent blocks (6). Oram grabs the block-
ing hand and traps his arms (7), then
counters with a straight punch to the
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trying to counter, you’ll probably miss the opening and have to deal with his follow-up attack. The end of your block
should overlap with the beginning of your counter. Don’t give him the breathing room he needs to launch another
attack. Once you begin countering, put him on the defensive and keep him there.
Principle 4:Don’t fight force with force. In other words, don’t try to stop, oppose or overpower his strike directly.
It’s better to redirect (change the trajectory of the attack) or release it (let it follow its intended course). Even if you’re
stronger than he is, don’t stop the attack; you’ll have a better opening if you counter while he’s at peak commitment
with a missed strike.
Principle 5: Use touch reflexes. Again, distance equals time. At short range, there’s less time to detect and
respond to his strikes. You cannot see what he’s doing and then respond quickly enough. However, you can develop
your touch reflexes so you can feel and respond more quickly than you can see or think. Once you get inside, position
yourself near his leading elbow and away from his opposite side, all while keeping in contact with his nearest elbow.
That will guard the line against the limb and permit you to feel what it’s doing at all times.
If the arm you’re checking is the source of the next attack,you’ll feel it change.If the source is the opposite limb,you’ll
feel the change in the elbow you have contact with first.The same is true for kicks and knee thrusts.
Note that touch is the primary way to assess pressure. If your opponent is retreating, you’ll feel a pressure reduction
at the point of contact,signaling you to attack forward.If he’s compressing distance to get to grappling range,you’ll feel
a pressure increase, signaling you to move to the side to avoid his attack.
Obviously,touch-reflex training is crucial in wing chun — so much so that an entire aspect of the system is dedicated
to it.The exercises are collectively known as chi sao.The goal of chi sao training is to transform your limbs into pres-
sure antennas, assessing the degree of the opponent’s pressure while feeling for an opening.
* * *
This straightforward self-defense system continues to work for me and for followers of William Cheung’s
system around the world. I hope it will serve you, as well. Whether you’re moving in on an opponent or
preventing one from getting inside, understanding distance and using it to your advantage are the keys
Learn how the Chinese fighting art of wing chun kung fu can enhance
your ability to defend yourself in Modern Wing Chun Kung Fu: A Practical
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Modern Wing Chun Kung Fu: A Practical Guide to Combat and Self-Defense
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WING CHUN KUNG FU
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William Cheung teaches you the intricate details of wing chun kung fu. This deluxe edition
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HOW TO DEVELOP CHI POWER
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WING CHUN KUNG FU
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STREET FIGHTING APPLICATIONS
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William Cheung recalls some of his most dangerous street fights and deconstructs the
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