Personal Protection (Part 3)

Fear Control
The methodology of Fear Control which is presented below is based on experience and research, and we would encourage the reader to research their own experience, and that of their peers, openly and honestly. Central to any discussion of the response to a perceived threat is to understand the physiological responses that the body has when a potential menace is recognised. One of the first things to realise is that your thinking stimulates the physiological reaction, and that it is your own thinking which can therefore control and harness this response. “Fear is in the mind of the beholder.”

Fear is experienced as a sudden release of adrenaline (a combination of two chemicals, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine), followed immediately by the associated physiological responses. If left uncontrolled, these responses can have a devastating effect on both the body and the mind. Most of us have been conditioned to associate the effects of these adrenalines with fear, rather than as a means of providing a biological “overdrive”, commonly referred to as the “fight and flight syndrome”.

Fear can be thought paralysing, causing one to act irrationally, or not to act at all, thus giving the attacker a devastating advantage, ie. the ability to attack you without fear of reprisal. To learn how to control fear, one must confront fear, to move outside of one’s comfort zone. This can be done through the creation of a Fear Pyramid, whereby you confront your own fears, starting with the mildest at the bottom of the pyramid, and working up to your worst nightmare at the top.

The idea is not to rid yourself of fear per se, but to get used to or desensitised to its harmful effects on you and instead learn how to harness their effects and make them a useful tool. As already mentioned, fear is merely a biochemical reaction to a perceived threat. It can in fact heighten your awareness as well as prepare your body for action. These are useful reactions to have under control. A requirement of a more complete training regime would be to acclimatise its participants to the effects of adrenaline, and if structured correctly, slowly condition the students to make effective use of it’s effects, some of which are:

1. Vasoconstriction, causing diminished blood supply to the non-fight or flight organs, eg. the skin. This enables more blood to be pumped into skeletal muscle
2. Increased heart rate and force of contraction, leading to subsequent increased blood supply to the muscles
3. Dilation of lung airways, enabling increase in oxygen uptake
4. Increase in brain sugars (glucose)
5. Dilation of the pupils, increasing depth perception
6. Increased mobilisation of liver carbohydrate stores and the stimulation of the production of lactic acid from glycogen in the muscle. The lactic acid produced can be used in the liver to manufacture new foodstuffs (glucose and glycogen)
7. An anaesthetic effect reportedly associated with its release.

The effects that the release of adrenaline can cause, that are usually associated with fear are:

1. Constriction of vessels in the skin (pallid complexion), mucous membranes (dry mouth), and kidneys
2. Uncontrolled high levels of adrenaline may cause to excessive carbohydrate metabolism, leading to hypoglycaemia (the feeling of weakness often associated with moments of fear)
3. Lactic acid produced at the muscle site enhances the feeling of weakness and the loss of endurance capability in the muscle.

It is the ability to recognise adrenaline’s effects that is our greatest ally when dealing with what the celebrated Chinese strategist Sun Zi called the “Inner Opponent”, and he advocated learning as much as possible about this so as to overcome the negative responses that are created by it in battle. The release of adrenaline should therefore be seen as a positive response to the perception of a threat, and therefore encouraged in training. There is not an elite fighting force in the world that does not duplicate the pressures of combat whilst training. Sparring, and in the case of Wing Chun, ‘Chi Sau’ practise, are usually too regimented and controlled, and both are too bound by protocol to successfully reproduce the emotional pressure that occurs when a threat is not generated at our choosing.

March 1998
As a professional Fire Fighter you come to expect the unexpected. You might be “turned-out” to a yard fire and on arrival find a house fully involved with fire and people trapped inside. And so it was in March of 1998 when, at approximately 1.00am, the crew of Canning Vale Fire Station’s Pump and Light Tanker were turned-out to a grass fire on Chapman Way in Canning Vale. I was the passenger in the Light Tanker, which is a Toyota Landcruiser fitted with a rear-mounted 650 litre water tank specifically designed to suppress grass and scrub fires. The Light Tanker follows the larger Pump, a 12 tonne Scannia, in which sit an officer and driver.

When we arrived at Chapman Road we found a street party taking place, involving some 1600 people, mostly young men, most of whom appeared intoxicated. The Officer in the leading vehicle decided that we had best leave the area as the partygoers were clearly upset by our presence. It was quickly obvious that we would be ill advised to attempt to reverse or u-turn in order to quit the area, the road being too narrow and lined with partygoers cars, plus the ever increasing presence of the now agitated partygoers, so we came to a halt.

Some 50 metres in front of us was the main body of the crowd who were, as yet, unaware of our presence, despite the fact that our vehicles were slowly being surrounded by a gathering crowd which was decidedly unfriendly. With no police present, our options were severely limited, so the Officer in Charge communicated over the radio that we should push gently forward through the crowd to escape the area. As the Pump started to move forward a small fire was lit in the grass next to our vehicle. The summer had been long and hot, with many days reaching temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Centigrade, and even small fires had the potential to quickly develop into something that threatened life and property. There was no way that Phil, my driver, and I could ignore the fire, so we stopped and exited the Tanker.

The fire was indeed growing in size, and people had started to push back from the fire’s edge. The hose-reel for the Tanker is attached to the rear of the truck, so Phil and I had to push and shove through the crowd to get to it. A small band of men had taken the branch (ie. the nozzle) and were running the hose down the road. Up until now the crowd had done no more than hinder our progress and be slightly abusive, but at this point I felt that they now believed that we were going to interfere with their fun, and their behaviour became noticeably more aggressive. I looked back towards the fire, which had now grown to a threatening size, and with an increased sense of urgency, I began to pursue the group with the branch and hose up the road, leaving behind the crowd around the Tanker.

A small group of young men stepped out from between a row of cars and blocked my path. I had no time to waste so my intention was to push through them in an effort to regain the hose. They did not break ranks as I neared, but instead stepped towards and around me. Without a word they started throwing punches, some of which landed, but most of which bounced off harmlessly. My only reaction was to remain calm, show no fear, and make a determined effort to regain the hose and branch. After the initial onslaught of blows, a couple of the guys stepped back. I could not tell you what they were thinking, but they did look surprised. I told them to move out of the way and pointed back at the fire, which had now started to cross a paddock and run towards a house. I asked them if it was their intention to let the house burn down. This had the desired effect as I was then able to force my way through their tight cordon.

There was much the same reaction and action when I got to the group with the branch, but I did finally manage to retrieve it, run back to the fire and extinguish it. Whilst doing that I was assaulted twice more, but my only real concern was to make sure that the house and the people inside it were not placed in any further danger. The crowd gathering around Phil and me had swelled to a point where I could no longer see the Pump’s position. A few of them now started to throw bottles and Phil had to take cover in our vehicle. I was cut off from the Tanker by another group who “got stuck in”. At least when that was happening, no one threw bottles at me.

As I forced my way back to the Tanker, I saw that there was a large number of people pulling equipment off the Pump, some of which is extremely expensive, most of which is essential to our job. I yelled at Phil to follow me to the Tanker, and on foot I pushed towards the people with the equipment. I managed to wrestle some of it back, but by now there was a veritable storm of bottles raining down on the Tanker and myself. This forced most of the crowd back when a couple of them were hit by “friendly fire”. It was definitely time to get out. Phil had a broken bottle pushed through his window, narrowly missing his face, but he remained calm and drove at a pace that matched my walking. We forced a way through the crowd to the other side of the party, not wanting to stop and present a stationary target, and finally passed through this gauntlet which was some 200 metres long. We returned to the station and I was then off to hospital. Thankfully the rest of the crew were physically unharmed

Why didn’t I retaliate? Why hadn’t we turned our hoses on the crowd? Why didn’t we drive our vehicle into the densely packed people? Discipline! I was mentally aware through the whole affair but at no stage did I behave or think recklessly. I controlled and used the adrenaline rushing through my body. I remained calm so as not to provoke any retaliation from the partygoers and further expose Phil or myself to danger.

Had we not behaved in such a disciplined fashion, it is my belief , and that of the men I work with and the police investigating the incident, that the repercussions and retaliation we could have suffered would have been far greater. Phil later told me that he had been terrified, but had taken strength from my apparent calm and control, both of which I have developed within the confines of a martial arts club. By training in a realistic manner, which is pressure filled, my ability to cope is constantly strained and tested. It is because of this that I have been able to master some of my demons and am now on the long path to beating my “Inner Opponent”.

Andrew Williams

If you allow your attacker to initiate the action then he will usually dictate your response. This will allow him to determine the distance at which the altercation will take place, and this may not be the distance where you can best apply your protective principles. Many arts now talk of “bridging the gap” or “making distance”. This may be relevant in a match fight or an organised competition, but in the street, if your attacker wishes to truly hurt you, he will have to close the distance to where he can best dictate the terms of the altercation. Thus it is imperative that you know how to deal with your attacker at kicking or punching range because if you cannot, the fight may then go to grappling range and once there it would be almost impossible to return to any other range. The implementation of a decisive posture will help to maintain your preferred distance and enable you to position yourself whereby you can launch a pre-emptive strike. Given the right sort of training, this tactic will finish the fight instantly. You need to place yourself in a position that offers little option of attack for your opponent, yet allows you to “line up” on him, positioning yourself so that you can achieve your objective without exposing your intention.

Your “line up” will influence:

1. the attacker’s perception of you;
2. ranges and tools (fighting ranges occur at kicking, punching and grappling distance);
3. targets, both yours and your attacker’s.

A Decisive Posture
How you can, and will respond, will very largely be dependant on your posture when confronted by your attacker. To effectively “line up” your opponent requires a decisive posture. Whether the fight is won or lost may well be determined by the posture (physical and mental) taken in the lead up to the altercation. Effective components of a decisive posture, that allows for the option and delivery of a  pre-emptive strike, include all of the following:

1. it is deceptive in its martial intent;
2. it allows for effective mobility and distance control;
3. it is based on the ability to deliver an extremely powerful blow from a short distance without a perceptible “wind-up”;
4. it allows for the application of techniques that are simple, direct and efficient;
5. it enables your hands to be positioned to appear innocuous, yet provide for a distance management arm, which can also serve as a tactile reference with regard to your attacker’s movements and intentions;
6. it enables either or both arms, from whatever their position, to strike effective targets without “telegraphing”;
7. it facilitates the option of the acceptable tactic of the pre emptive strike;
8. it is trained to be a trigger for action, ie: by adopting the correct posture, you are putting into operation, a sequence of flexible movements designed to enable you to protect yourself efficiently;
9. it is designed to be utilised in most situations. You should not require a different stance for each different confrontation, as all that would achieve is the inclusion of yet another variable into an already complex calculation;
10. most importantly, it is a trigger for psychological action (the discipline of your training will be pivotal in your ability to act decisively)

When deciding on a decisive posture, one should avoid the notion of being able to block and then counter or control the opponent. If you accept the idea that your attacker will try to gain a position where he can launch his own pre-emptive strike, then you will be at a distance that would suggest you would lack the reaction speed to block a punch. The Wing Chun maxim that “Attack is the best form of defence” is most definitely the method that serves our purpose, and is the cornerstone of the “Wong Shun Leung Method”, whereby every combination of movements involves at least one attacking technique, never only defensive actions.

Condition Red - Action!!!!
The threat is unavoidable, …it is now “the moment of truth“. Using a “trigger for action”, which might be a verbal prompt, or even your own decisive posture, and given the opportunity, you should apply the acceptable option of the pre emptive strike. For the pre-emptive strike to be pursued successfully, one would need it to be applied with what is commonly described as “extreme prejudice”. In training the emotional wherewithal to do this, it may help to keep in mind this mantra:


It is absolutely essential that you totally overwhelm your opponent and that you deliver your attacks with the sort of venom which will ensure this aim. If the fight is on, if not totally committed to the attack being launched, you are destined to become the victim rather than the victor. Is there a component in your training that achieves this? Do you train in a fashion that places you in the frame of mind that allows you to feel the discipline and commitment that encourages you to “win at all costs”, lest you suffer the consequences? To this end, it is crucial that you make all drills, including striking practice, take on a reality that approximates the realism of the street. While attacking the striking pad or punching bag, role play the scenario, get into the right frame of mind, and EXPLODE when the strike is launched. In addition to the above, make sure that your practise sessions only make use of techniques that are:


Multiple Attackers
Just as every attacker should be dealt with as if he were armed, so too should every attack be dealt with as if it has the potential to become an attack from more than one aggressor. This reason alone would determine that grappling or “going to the mat” should be avoided at all costs on the street. Psychological tactics, decisive postures and emotional control should still be employed, but you must quickly recognise the attacker who presents the greatest threat to you. He is the person you should deal with first. It may not always be the largest of your attackers who represents this threat. It is the person who can strike you the quickest and with the least amount of potential resistance or reaction from you. This again illustrates the need to develop devastatingly powerful blows, and a system to deliver them. If you do not drop your man quickly, no amount of ‘Chi Sau’ will enable you to cross arms with multiple attackers. Thompson and Consterdine refer to their management of this situation as dealing with the “red letter syndrome“. The bill that represents the greatest threat to you, eg. to cut off your electricity supply, is the one printed in red. It is the red one you deal with first.

Having between them over 50 years of traditional training, tournament fighting (both national and international), and professional “hands on” security work under their belts, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine hold the view that “90% of what is taught and practised in traditional martial arts today will not work on the street“. They therefore advocate the need to re assess training methods and self protection concepts and to start putting reality back into martial arts training, to apply a proven handful of reliable techniques to combat situations based on an understanding of training theory and methodologies, coupled with a sound knowledge of biomechanics and psychology.

Just as one cannot expect reasonable levels of improvement in the haphazard application of a physical training regime, one cannot expect credible results from the random implementation of emotional training. The instructor needs to consider the emotional needs of each student and construct and implement a flexible training model. Students of the martial art of Wing Chun are uniquely placed to take advantage of the concepts of Personal Protection. They are already practising a martial method dedicated almost exclusively to fighting. The followers of the “Wong Shun Leung Way” of Wing Chun have a distinct advantage in having, as their mentor, a man who pioneered a method based upon his experiences in countless real life fights. He brought these experiences into every aspect of his Wing Chun teaching, advocating the injection of a great deal of realism into his training sessions and seminars. Most importantly, sifu Wong advocated the natural application of internalised physical concepts and a flexible approach to “in-fight thinking”, rather than the rote learning of set techniques or responses, as is in evidence to anyone lucky enough to have trained with him. Thus, his teachings easily lend themselves to the Personal Protection concept, and vice versa.

Martial artists of other disciplines would do well to look at their own approach to self protection and ask themselves what they could do to make their methods more street effective. It takes more than flashy techniques to survive a street encounter. What is needed are sound concepts, effective and realistic training methods, and a complete understanding of the psychology of the attacker, as well as oneself. We need to conquer, or at least begin to recognise our fears, to gain control of our emotions, to develop threat awareness and how to deal with it effectively. As Sun Zi wrote in his celebrated “Art of War” over 2000 years ago,

“Know the other and know yourself:
One hundred challenges without danger;
Know not the other and yet know yourself:
One triumph for one defeat;
Know not the other and know not yourself:
Every challenge is certain peril“.

It is, or should be, the goal of every sincere instructor to equip his or her students with the skills to survive. It is the wish of the authors of this article to encourage, at the very least, a discussion of the protective methods now employed in your school. We would hope that the concept of Personal Protection presented on these pages will lead to a return to reality and practicality in the martial arts, regardless of style. Good luck in developing your potential, and that of your students!

About the authors: Andrew Williams has trained extensively in two different Wing Chun systems, had his skills tested in numerous real life encounters, and is fast being recognised as an innovative Wing Chun instructor. Williams is currently assisting Rolf Clausnitzer of the ‘Wing Chun Academy of Western Australia’. Clausnitzer was the late Sifu Wong Shun Leung’s first foreign student and co-author (with Greco Wong) of the first ever English language introduction to Wing Chun. David Peterson, principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’, has been publicly acknowledged by Sifu Wong as one of his outstanding overseas students/instructors, acting as Sifu Wong’s personal translator during five seminar tours to Australia. Peterson is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many Australian and international journals, and more recently, on several Internet sites around the world.