Offense, defense, and hurting your opponents?

How much force is too much? Do we really have to maim our opponents? How proactive or reactive should we be in a sparring match or a fight? Is showing mercy to an opponent a worthwhile endeavor? How did past masters react?

The question of the day on the LinkedIn Martial Artists forum was the relative amount of offense and defense used in various arts and how much was “too much” force.

"Bail Moon From Sea Bottom," a potentially fatal and combat ending grip to the groin.  Image taken from www.shaolin.org

“Bail Moon From Sea Bottom,” a potentially fatal and combat ending grip to the groin. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

There is a long tradition amongst kung fu masters of demonstrating their superiority without hurting their opponent. To use a few classical examples, Dong Hai Chuan and Cheng Ting Hua (both of Baguazhang fame) often demonstrated the superiority of their footwork and agility by simply circling and threading away opponents’ attacks until their opponent collapsed of exhaustion. Yang Lu Chan often “sealed” an opponent’s arms or legs using his incredible sensitivity and flowing movements and was also known for pushing and uprooting his opponents, sending them flying many feet away without hurting them seriously (someone who has enough control over his force to send you flying away often also has enough control over their force to have it penetrate into their opponent’s body as well for internal injury, in my experience).

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit uses his skills from Taijiquan Pushing Hands and Wing Chun Sticking Hands to "seal" both of his opponent's hands. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit uses his skills from Taijiquan Pushing Hands and Wing Chun Sticking Hands to “seal” both of his opponent’s hands. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

Many practitioners of Tiger systems (including Hoong Ka/Hung Gar) and other systems that emphasize qin-na (holds and gripping), at the higher levels, learn to disable an opponent with a simple-seeming grip to the shoulder that inhibits the opponent’s fighting ability. Yet others, especially in Southern Shaolin, would show that they could have really ruined someone’s day by ripping their opponent’s clothing just above a vital point (for example, slashing the shirt just above the heart or ripping the opponent’s pants just below the genitals). I’ve met a few very high level practitioners of Southern Shaolin kung fu who just tapped me with their index finger and sent a pulse that felt like an electric shock across my body as a light demonstration which stopped me in my tracks; I can extrapolate pretty easily what sort of damage they could do if they really wanted to ruin my day.

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit uses the Double Tiger Claws to disable the assailant's arm at the wrist and elbow. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit uses the Double Tiger Claws to disable the assailant’s arm at the wrist and elbow. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

Granted, these demonstrations and exhibits of force and skill were done in a different cultural context where fighters weren’t all about “win at all costs, even if my own head and bones get broken.” In good kung fu schools, the notion is on “safety first,” not “win at all costs.” I don’t honestly know if they would work on the average fellow in, say, the United States today, where you might have to do something drastic like break their bones, dislodge their muscles to get them to stop, or, as Mr. Corral mentions, deliver a noticeable blow to a vital area like the groin or throat, as opposed to a more “subtle” demonstration of skill like uprooting them many feet away or ripping a hole in their pants.

In my own sparring with non-kung fu people, I’ve noticed that I had to do something “drastic” to get them to recognize a combat-ending hit, like grip their groin or choke them out. Most of them absolutely refused to recognize a hard kick to the side of the knee, an uprooting push that sent them about five feet away, or my fingertips at their eyelashes as a combat-ending strike or something to make them re-evaluate their approach. Two of them refused to acknowledge a kick to the groin as well, saying they could “fight through it.” I have my doubts, but I didn’t press the point there. 

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit demonstrates "Yellow Bird Drinks Water," a double-attack to the eyes and groin.

Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit demonstrates “Yellow Bird Drinks Water,” a double-attack to the eyes and groin. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

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