Do we have to strengthen our forearms for blocking? If yes, what type of exercises should we do?
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Answer: The quick answer is, No. To clarify… I don’t feel you need to have very muscular, Popeye-like forearms to properly protect yourself as a Wing Chun practitioner.
This is the fundamental offered by my sifu:
The position and location of the forearm determines which gate is being protected: high gate, middle gate, or low gate. That’s it.
Simply stated, if the attacker wants to hit you in the face, and you defend yourself with a low-gate block, you’ll get hit in the face.
For effective Wing Chun blocking you need proper deflection
As you improve your training, the effectiveness of the forearms as a defensive body structure actually comes from your footwork, hips, and forward energy (extension) from the elbows.
In Wing Chun, we prefer NOT blocking, but rather deflecting. As an example, blocking a strike or kick in most other martial arts is like swinging two baseball bats at each other. The harder, stronger, heavier, and faster moving bat will most likely win. In this scenario, you’d probably want very strong and “numb” forearms.
Wing Chun applies deflections. You could call them parries. We allow the attacks (strike or kick, even tackles) to glance off, while counter-attacking at the same time. In this case, you don’t need forearms made of steel. But, you do need to have the proper structure and position.
Think of it like skipping stones. If the stone has the incorrect structure when it reaches the water’s surface, it will dive into the water, not skip on it. If you throw the stone at the wrong angle (position), the stone will cut into the water and not skip over it, either. When done correctly, you could skip almost any size stone.
Wing Chun attempts to do the same with it’s defensive moves. When done correctly, a smaller person can effectively deflect an attack by a much stronger person.
A Wing Chun defensive drill
One defensive drill I like doing is closing the hand into a fist, and apply the defensive blocks against my attacker-training-partner. Sometimes I over-use or over-depend on my hands to deflect and protect me from attacks. Do you have the same habit?
However, good Wing Chun defense doesn’t come from the hands or the forearms, it comes from good footwork, hips, and forward energy (extension) from the elbows. This is not easy for most practitioners to pick up and learn; I still have challenges after four years of training.
This drill is a great tool to refine your defensive moves because it forces you NOT to rely on your hands. It actually forces you to rely on your forearms, and you can’t do that properly (safely) without the appropriate footwork, hips, and forward energy.
How do you do this drill?
It’s very simple. Close your hands into a fist. Your training partner throws attacks at you (determine the speed and fluidity based on your comfort level). Apply the same blocks you normally use, but now with hands closed: pak sau, tan sau, etc.
You should notice that because you lose the dexterity of your hands, you have to move your body quite a bit more (footwork and hips) in order to keep yourself safe. And, in order to give your forearms more dexterity and make them more useful, you must have proper extension at the elbows.
Give this drill a try and leave a comment below about your experience with it.
Other Wing Chun Tips you’ll find useful:
More about Wing Chun blocks and defensive moves.
How to break arms with Wing Chun.