Wing Chun Illustrated special feature 2016
MARK HOBBS TALKS ABOUT WING CHUN IN MMA
Mark Hobbs has more active fighters in the cage than any other Wing Chun school and probably even more than most U.K MMA clubs. Mark’s students regularly compete in professional and amateur MMA, Boxing, K1, Muay Thai and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu competitions, which surely makes Mark Hobbs a leading authority on how to get Wing Chun working in the cage. WCI finds this subject fascinating and controversial, as this is an area where most Wing Chun guys have had very little success. What makes Mark’s approach different? Why is his Fight Team so successful? We wanted to find out, so we asked him.
Q: Hi Mark, thanks for letting us interview you
Hi, no problem and thanks for asking me to talk about this subject. You’ve asked me to write a feature article for the next issue so I thought I’d give you a brief overview and some background this time and then provide more technical info on the skills we use in the feature.
Q: Ok, sounds good. Can you please start by giving me a bit of background information about your previous training in Martial Arts
Yeah sure. When I was young I started learning the discipline of Judo, which I still train. This was the start of a life-long passion for the Martial Arts, including my love for Wing Chun! I have learnt and trained Wing Chun with a lot of people but my Masters would be Lun Gai, who was Yip Man’s first student in Foshan, China, and Hung Nguyen, who was a student of Vu Ba Quy in the Yuen Chai Wan Vietnamese Wing Chun lineage from Fung Siu Ching.
Being A Martial Arts geek I want to know the workings of everything, so at every stage I always believed there must be more to learn, more to understand. This led me to train in Tai Chi, Hsing-yi and Pak Mei. I trained with some very renowned masters in these arts and tried to take whatever was useful and integrate it into my fighting. However, I found the power signatures in these arts didn’t mix as each was different from Wing Chun’s engine. But it wasn’t wasted time – I still enjoyed learning about them, and the experience helped me understand the beauty of the Wing Chun approach.
I must also give recognition to Shaolin Ancestor fist and a close friend and training partner of mine, Suikee Wan. We have discovered so many truths within Teng Sau “Chi Sau” together over the years.
Given Judo was my first Martial Art, I’ve always been interested in the sport combat arts, and my constant desire to understand more led me to learn striking sports, such as Boxing and Muay Thai, and freestyle Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I now train and teach under my good friend and professor Ricardo da Silva.
Inevitably, when you have such a breadth of experience, you can’t help but want to mix up and link the different disciplines and skillsets to develop a coherent method of mixed martial arts.
Q: Can you tell us more about how you got into MMA?
I own Pagoda Imports, the original Wing Chun Company. I love Wing Chun and I was frustrated by the shortage of quality Wing Chun equipment available in Europe. I saw an opportunity to provide top quality, reasonably priced equipment for everyone to use, and Pagoda has now been going for over 15 years.
I had a similar idea for MMA and created a fight wear brand, but I didn’t enjoy this angle of business within MMA so I sold it. It meant, however, that I ended up with lots of contacts in the MMA industry.
Next I started a Boxing promotion with my business partner, Ross Minter. It became very successful, but Boxing wasn’t for me; I find it too one-dimensional. Being a Mixed Martial Artist, I wanted to own a MMA promotion not a Boxing promotion, so I left Queensbury Boxing League and started up Fusion Fighting Championship with Ricardo da Silva, my current business partner. Fusion Fighting is now one of the biggest events on the MMA calendar in the UK, and I love it!
Q: How about your gym and team? Tell us more about that.
My gym is Kinetics Fight Academy, “KFA”. It’s a full-time professional gym, with a variety of classes running all week as well as private lessons through each day.
We all train hard in each of the disciplines that make up Mixed Martial Arts, namely striking, takedowns and groundwork. The fighters also do strength and conditioning on top of all their skills work. It’s hard, intensive training!
The fact I have a full-time fighting gym and my guys compete at a professional level means I have no choice but to stay at the top of the game. I have to work hard sparring with and developing my students and fighters in all aspects of their training to give them the skills they need to win.
Q: This is great, but what makes your MMA different from other MMA schools?
This is simple: understanding Wing Chun is what makes us different from every other MMA club. Wing Chun is our core engine. It drives all the stand-up skills I teach my guys.
Q: OK so what makes your Wing Chun different from other Wing Chun Schools?
The opposite: MMA is what makes my Wing Chun different. Our skills are constantly tested under pressure against other skilled fighters in a modern battle arena, against many variables. This means that our system of Wing Chun has to be able to cope with any attack from any range, including clinch and takedowns. This constant pressure testing is uncommon in the Wing Chun world.
Q: What do you use for your ground fighting approach, as this is a big part of MMA?
I use Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is built upon the principle of levers so it fits perfectly with the understanding of kinetics in our Stand up fighting system, underpinned by its Wing Chun core.
There’s a saying in Jiu-Jitsu: “position before submission”. A different expression of the same principle is “control before strike”, and “control before strike” lies at the heart of our Stand up fighting system. I’ll unpack exactly what I mean by this in the next issue’s feature article as I think this is what will be of greatest interest to the Wing Chun community.
Q: Ok, the ground fighting is not so relevant to a Wing Chun audience so lets quickly discuss how you use Chi Sau in MMA and how you make it fit?
Ok, the simplest way to think about it is that if your opponent hasn’t got balance he can’t start. Our approach is therefore about controlling the opponent first, before striking or taking them down.
For this reason, Chi Sau requires BALANCE, Teng “LISTENING” and Internal POWER to be effective.
If we are going to Control the arms (“bridges”) first we need to base (“root”) ourselves, then we need to float our opponent. This can simply be a pull or a push which will control the their center of balance.
A lot of Wing Chun styles use a Linear structure with the elbows held in, which in an MMA environment would not be effective enough to cope with the range of attacks that are normally presented. We therefore require free, non-linear elbow movements, which are circular. This way we can create the angles we need that are required for the bridge control.
Our Wing Chun system relies on Spiral Flow as the method of Attack and Defense. This Flow is Internal and the type of power that is generated is known as Spiral Force. Spiral Flow is unique in that it distorts while penetrating and is therefore is a very effective method by which we can control the opponent.
Q: Can you lead us into what you are going to talk about in the next feature on how you use the Wing Chun core in MMA?
Sure. I want to talk more about how we use our Wing Chun and keep it functional in MMA, so there will be lots of technical information about the system we use. We’ll cover things like:
BALANCE, TENG, INTERNAL POWER, SPIRAL FORCE, SPIRAL FLOW, YIN YANG SEPARATION, STRUCTURED FLOW, SPIRAL ENERGY, BRIDGING, PULL PUSH, FLOATING, DISTORTION, PRIMARY BRIDGES, BOW STRUCTURE, TRIANGUALAR STRUCTURE, BRIDGING CYCLES, FREE FLOWING. FIGURE ‘8’ BRIDGING CYCLE, TRIANGULAR DEFENCE STRATEGY, TORQUE POWER, and more…
Q: Thanks Mark look forward to finding out about how the system works, thanks for the interview
No worries, I looking forward to sharing and thanks for the interview, it was my pleasure. In the meantime, to find out more go to www.teamkfa.co.uk. Thanks again.
Wing Chun Illustrated special feature 2017
MARK HOBBS: MODERNISING WING CHUN
Mark Hobbs probably has more active fighters in the cage than any other Wing Chun school. His students regularly compete in professional and amateur MMA, Boxing, K1, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions. He is recognised as a leading authority on how to get Wing Chun working in the cage, an area where most Wing Chun guys have had very little success. WCI finds this controversial subject fascinating and engages Mark to write a regular column to challenge the mindset of Wing Chun practitioners worldwide. Mark’s on a crusade to modernise Wing Chun for the 21st Century so it can hold its own against all fighting systems, old and new, reality and sport. We wanted to find out more, so we asked him.
Q. Hi Mark, good to speak to you again.
Hi, good to be here again and thanks for the platform.
Q. Let’s jump straight to it. Why do you think Wing Chun needs modernising?
I run Fusion Fighting Championship, a leading UK MMA promotion, and I’m often asked by people in the industry why I do Wing Chun. They ask me quietly, conspiratorially, like Wing Chun is an embarrassment. They know I have a black belt in Judo, a black belt in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, they know I raise MMA champions in my gym. They can’t marry up success in modern sports combat with their idea of traditional Kung Fu.
They don’t understand what Wing Chun is, of course. They’re showing their ignorance and I try to educate them. But you can understand why they think that, and it’s a crying shame. Wing Chun’s reputation in modern sports combat is poor. You only have to look on YouTube to see why.
To the outside world, Wing Chun is the one with flapping arms, people leaning backwards with no base, an awkward stance and chain punching. When it’s pitted against other styles, in a real fight, not controlled chi sau, the fight is sloppy and rudimentary and doesn’t resemble the forms or the training. It looks like the tools don’t work in a live environment and are quickly abandoned or overwhelmed. None of it looks functional or convincing like any sport combat art has to be in a high-pressure competitive environment, whether it’s boxing, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling.
And then next to these videos showing Wing Chun’s ineffectiveness in a competitive environment, you get videos of Wing Chun guys telling the world how deadly they are, how they are too ‘street’ and lethal to be tested in a cage or fight where there are rules. It’s laughable, really.
So yes, it frustrates me and has turned into my crusade. Wing Chun is so much better than that. But I don’t think we’ve just got a PR problem. I think the problem is much more in our control, in how we practice, why we practice and what we practice.
Q. How so?
Once, when it was created, Wing Chun was fit for purpose. It was designed for a specific time and context. Since then, the world has turned and the context has changed. But Wing Chun hasn’t changed with it. Compare it with MMA. MMA came from traditional arts which were pitted against each other, and so, being tested, each was trimmed back, added to and adapted. In MMA competitions, you can see skills getting better every year, because the art is being constantly tested and refined. The standard of fighters is so much better now than it was back in the first UFC in 1993. The art is evolving.
But for Wing Chun, it’s the opposite. You see it in clubs, you see it in the online forums. They role play so much, they say they’ll do this, do that, but they don’t drill enough, or they do drill but they’re drilling in a false and conditioned environment. Or worse, they’re drilling against someone who’s not a trained athlete in a different style, so they’re guessing at how a practiced fighter would, say, do a take-down, and they’re guessing at how you should counter it.… It’s role playing, removed from reality.
Some people train Wing Chun for health, fitness or for fun with basic self-defence in mind but for those who are serious in wanting to develop fighting ability that can deal with other MMA and kung fu styles then you need to do something more.
Q. Why does that happen, do you think?
I’ve explored this a lot in my articles in WCI over the last couple of years. As humans we’re all prone to Cognitive Biases, or ‘Thinking Traps’ as Craig Heaven calls them. I’ve mentioned him before when I’ve talked about brain sciences, how we think, how we learn, how we practice. Some of these Thinking Traps seem especially rife in the Wing Chun community.
Traps like the Superiority Bias, where people overestimate their own knowledge and skills. And the Authority Bias, with our tendency to focus on lineage proof rather than test. And the Bandwagon effect, where you believe things because other people believe them, rather than validate. And the Availability Cascade – repeat something long enough and it will become true…
People don’t seem interested in pressure-testing or adapting the art to make it more effective and relevant today. Instead they spend their time defending their own Wing Chun, arguing to protect what they’re doing. They’re more interested in being right and proving other people wrong than in challenging and refining the effectiveness of what they’re doing.
Q. What’s missing then? What can we do about it?
Functional Testing and evidence-based Deliberate Practice rather than role-play and blind faith. By Functional Testing I mean pressure-testing in a live environment that assesses the ability of a fighter to get a technique working effectively against a non-compliant opponent. I believe this is the only way to grow individual Wing Chun excellence reliably and also, collectively, evolve the art.
Q. I know you’re often asked how you get your Wing Chun functional in the cage. Do you think every Wing Chun fighter should think about cage fighting?
No! Not at all. I don’t think most Wing Chun guys would want to. It’s a sport arena and it’s not what they’re interested in. I get that, it’s cool.
And don’t think you need to be a full-time professional fighter to get the benefit. That’s not what I’m saying. The guys in our club who only train once a week, who train for fun, know that even the small amount of training they’re doing will give them a degree of real self-defence, against an opponent, even though they know they can’t match a professional. A little of the right sort of training will take you much further than a lot of the wrong sort. They’re not kidding themselves, though, they’re being realistic. After that, it’s all about the time you can devote to practice. Time, hard work and dedication pays off to the degree you can put it in.
Q. Why do you think there’s so much interest in what you do with Wing Chun in the cage?
I think it’s not so much about the cage but about what being successful in the cage demonstrates. There’s an unvoiced insecurity that every martial artist shares about how good their fighting actually is. Will their techniques work against any other method of fighting under pressure? Are they training the right things in the right way? Would they be able to handle themselves in a real fight?
In other words, even if you don’t ever want to set foot in a cage, you want to know if the Wing Chun you’re training will let you deal with a fighter from any other discipline. Do you feel secure enough in your Wing Chun to be able to handle another fighter at any range? Someone who’s hands-on and pressure tests all the time? And more importantly, should you feel secure?!
In Wing Chun, we have hands-on in the chi sau, don’t we, so within chi sau we should be fine. But when we go past or outside chi sau, outside the kil sau range, what do you have left? Be honest. How expanded is your Wing Chun?
I like to play chi sau, for its own sake and also because it teaches certain skills which I can use in, say, dirty boxing. But how useful is traditional chi sau at teaching me how to deal with someone kicking me out of range, or pushing me into a wall and working for a take down, or shooting low as I go into their bridges and suddenly picking me up in a judo throw or wrestling takedown, then working me over on the floor. How do I recover? How do I attack? And if I take them to the floor, am I just going to stand back and let them get up? Or do I follow them down? And how do I follow them down with control?
Q. I know your fighters regularly train with people from different clubs. Tell me about that.
Yes, from different clubs, from different fighting arts. We have fighters who trained with the Iranian Olympic wrestling squad when they were in London for the Olympics. We have fighters who go over to Black House in the US which is where some UFC fighters go for their fight camp.
My guys will go into a cage and fight someone from a boxing gym, or a Thai boxing gym, or Jiu-Jitsu. You don’t know what you’re going to get so you need to be able to deal with everything.
One of my fighters, Jimmy, fought an ex-professional boxer in his last cage fight, and the time before he fought the World Number 4 Lightweight Bare Knuckle Champion.
With the professional boxer, he went toe-to-toe, matched him as long as he could, and then put him down in mount position. He also won against the bare knuckle boxer using a similar strategy. I’m sure he wouldn’t have won in a bare knuckle fight, but in the cage the striker wasn’t expanded enough and he couldn’t stop Jimmy putting him on the ground and taking him apart.
Here’s the point: the reason our fighters can do this is that we don’t get lost in role-playing scenarios. We test our skills by going in the cage and fighting a pro.
Q. How did you evolve your game?
I had to expand past what is normally thought of as Wing Chun. Remember, traditional Wing Chun tools were designed for a purpose, mainly for the kil sau, as it’s a Southern kung fu art. This means that when Wing Chun fighters get smothered, they basically lose their tools.
I had to put in a long range game, I had to put in a clinch game, I had to put in a wrestling game, I had to put in a ground game, all while staying true to Wing Chun concepts…
Q. So you’re doing this everyday with your fighters, bringing Wing Chun concepts into the different ranges?
Yes. Much of the time I don’t really teach Wing Chun as traditional Wing Chun as I learned from Lun Gai (Yip Man’s first student in Foshan, China) and Hung Nguyen (a student of Vu Ba Quy in the Yuen Chai Wan Vietnamese Wing Chun lineage from Fung Siu Ching). I do with some people, but with most of the guys I expand Wing Chun so they’re doing MMA. But it’s MMA with a powerful Wing Chun core. If you strip it back and look from a concept point of view, the whole fight is Wing Chun.
I’m a Wing Chun fighter who’s moved into MMA. And to do that I had to modernise it to allow it to handle fighting systems in the modern era.
Q. Once it’s modernised, do you think it’s still Wing Chun?
Yes, for sure. You can use the concepts of Wing Chun to build the expansion, so that at its core, it’s all still Wing Chun.
I’m a Wing Chun fighter thinking past Wing Chun. From the outside, you might not recognise the Wing Chun. But it is all Wing Chun.
It’s like a Mixed Martial Artist could be predominantly Muay Thai, or predominantly boxing, or predominantly Jiu-Jitsu, depending on his background.
A fighter whose main core skill is boxing might expand his boxing to be able to throw his knees or execute take downs or grapple. So, the resultant style is not boxing per se, but his MMA will definitely have a boxing flavour. You know he’s going to stand and bang on you, not try and take you down…
Similarly, if an MMA fighter’s skillset is predominantly Jiu-Jitsu, then he’ll still have to learn to strike and do take downs, but you know he’s mainly going to try to get you on the floor. Like Demian Maia. He’s a Mixed Martial Artist but his Jiu-Jitsu is amazing, so in the cage, everyone refers to him as a Jiu-Jitsu fighter.
Whereas Whittaker, or someone like that, even though he has to be able to do Jiu-Jitsu, they’ll say that he’s a stand-up fighter.
Look at Machida. He’s expanded his karate, and his guys move really well. Tom, one of my fighters, was recently over at Machida’s gym, training in LA. He says it was really interesting to see how differently they move. Everyone in Black House has a Thai orientated stand-up game in MMA. But in Machida’s gym, it’s karate based, and the foot patterns are different, the movement is different, they hit from different angles. If you watch Machida moving then it’s not at all like traditional karate, but you can see it does have that flavour, in comparison to the fighters who expanded Thai boxing.
In the same way, I’ve expanded Wing Chun. I’ve evolved the game. Our fighting is based on core Wing Chun concepts: where the centre line is, how to change the angles, what the levels are, inside/outside, how to turn and face, how to wedge, how to float or press, press or pull… All these different concepts you learn to use at different ranges. What structure is, what flow is, where base is. You use the Wing Chun tools or you expand the Wing Chun toolset to fit the range and context, but the Wing Chun concepts are consistent throughout.
Q. If you’re a Wing Chun student reading this, how can you expand your game?
Start with an open mind. Empty your cup. Accept you have something to learn!
Then you could do what I did. You could go to different clubs – one for boxing, one for Thai, one for Jiu-Jitsu, one for Judo, one for wrestling. Then you’ll need to work out how to tie them all together and create a clean connection.
Then you’ll need to test that connection – functional testing and pressure testing, in the cage, in BJJ competition, in the boxing ring – to find out what actually works and what doesn’t when you connect certain things in certain ways. It’s easy to overlook that part, but bad connections create fault lines, and you’ll come undone.
If you’re like me, that will mean a lot of years working fulltime as a martial artist!
Or you can take a shortcut.
You can take what we do and bolt it on to your existing Wing Chun. We’ve done all the hard work! It’s already functionally tested, it’s already cleanly connected, it’s all actually Wing Chun, just expanded. So it’s designed to bolt-on to what you already have.
In person, in my classes in East Grinstead in the UK. Or you can learn it all online on my site – MarkHobbsWingChun.com. We’re making it all accessible. I told you, I’m on a crusade! I want to spread the word and evolve our art!
Q. Sounds good. Well, thank you, Mark. As always, it’s been interesting talking to you. As a last word, what future would you like to see for Wing Chun?
Thank you, I appreciate it. Well, I love Wing Chun. It’s the foundation of everything I do. I’d like to see it less marginalised and more centre-stage, as it should be, recognised as one of the world’s greatest fighting arts.
For that to happen, we’ll have to have the courage grab reality and modernise so Wing Chun can hold its own against all fighting systems, whether they are old or new, whether they are ‘street’ or sport. I hope we do.
Interviewer Siukee Wan