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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

y the time I was 13, Id 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 Id earned tro-
phies for my form and technique, I couldnt bring it all together as a reex response, particularly against larger, stronger
opponents namely, the adults I was matched with in sparring.
The situation worsened when I watched my seniors ght. 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. Dont 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 opponents 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 deects it with a palm block (2). Oram posi-
tions himself on the outside the mans 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 mans 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
range (7).
6 5 4
3 2 1
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 hes a grappler
or someone whos been inspired by the
Ultimate Fighting Championship youll
need to prevent the ght 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
blind side.
What William Cheung refers to as the blind side is the position at which your cen-
ter is aligned with your opponents shoulder line. From there, youve 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-
nents energy as he misses. When that happens, you must attack the most apparent
opening presented by his committed strike. He wont be able to use that limb to block
or attack again because its on the other side of his body, stacked away from you.
Meanwhile, you control the elbow or knee of the limb thats closest.
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 dont 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, its your cue to move where the pressure is not.
Stage 2 Contact: At this distance, you can touch your opponents limbs but not his body or head to effect a
counterattack. Its 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. Dont try to stop the attack; allow it to continue. Just dont let
it hit you as it does.
When he releases his energy and misses hes most vulnerable. Use the touch to help him accelerate during his
follow-through while you move off the line of re. Then pour into where hes not. Now youre 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. Dont 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. Youre
free to use both arms while hes 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 youre using your core and legs properly. From strongest to
weakest, those strikes are the elbow thrust, palm strike, punch and nger 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 youve achieved the
inside position.
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 youre on the inside, get out. Spring
back to the before-contact stage and begin again. Or run. Dont let pride keep you engaged on the in-
side if youre losing the battle.
BRIDGING ON A TAKEDOWN ATTEMPT: Author Eric Oram (left) faces his adversary (1). The man knocks away Orams 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 Orams block (4) and makes contact
for the takedown (5). Oram drives his right
leg backward to break the mans grip and
drops his weight to disrupt his balance
(6). Oram forces his head to the ground to
neutralize him (7). He nishes by executing
a series of punches to the back of his head
5 4
8 7 6
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 reexes more time to respond.
Principle 2: Watch his elbows. Your opponents elbows give away the movement of his arms. His st cannot
reach you without his elbow moving rst. Furthermore, his elbow will move two and a half times more slowly
than his st when he executes a straight punch and four times more slowly when he does a round punch.
Watching his shoulder wont give you enough information because it doesnt move much. Watching his st
will give you too much because its 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 youre 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 deects it with a palm block
while setting up his other arm for his next move (2). Oram threads his arm through from underneath to nish the deection and protect against
an attack from the opponents 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 mans 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
head (8).
trying to counter, youll 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. Dont 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: Dont ght force with force. In other words, dont try to stop, oppose or overpower his strike directly.
Its better to redirect (change the trajectory of the attack) or release it (let it follow its intended course). Even if youre
stronger than he is, dont stop the attack; youll have a better opening if you counter while hes at peak commitment
with a missed strike.
Principle 5: Use touch reexes. Again, distance equals time. At short range, theres less time to detect and
respond to his strikes. You cannot see what hes doing and then respond quickly enough. However, you can develop
your touch reexes 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 its doing at all times.
If the arm youre checking is the source of the next attack, youll feel it change. If the source is the opposite limb, youll
feel the change in the elbow you have contact with rst. The same is true for kicks and knee thrusts.
Note that touch is the primary way to assess pressure. If your opponent is retreating, youll feel a pressure reduction
at the point of contact, signaling you to attack forward. If hes compressing distance to get to grappling range, youll feel
a pressure increase, signaling you to move to the side to avoid his attack.
Obviously, touch-reex 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 opponents pressure while feeling for an opening.
* * *
This straightforward self-defense system continues to work for me and for followers of William Cheungs
system around the world. I hope it will serve you, as well. Whether youre moving in on an opponent or
preventing one from getting inside, understanding distance and using it to your advantage are the keys
to winning.
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