Pugilism and Wing Chun
Pugilism is our indigenous fighting system and is every bit as effective as its oriental counterparts. It also makes up a large part of our martial heritage. The western art of pugilism has also had a huge influence on most other martial arts. One system in particular that was greatly influenced by pugilism is Wing Chun. A look into China’s past reveals that Chinese practitioners had many encounters with westerners due to trade via merchant ships. When they fought, these Europeans kept their heads back, with their weight on the rear leg. They punched straight using vertical fists and took small shuffling steps, with a few low kicks if any. This was totally different from the Chinese methods as they used low horse stances with wide, overreaching punches. Needless to say the Europeans beat many of the kung fu fighters with ease.
There is historic documentation of a Tai Chi practitioner named Leung Jan and his development of Wing Chun by his encounters with Europeans. This means that Wing Chun is heavily influenced by western martial arts concepts and not purely eastern as some would have you think. This is a matter of great controversy among the Asian masters to the point that Wing Chun was given a false history exluding any western influence. The compatibility of Wing Chun and western boxing is nothing new however. Bruce Lee, an early Wing Chun practitioner, found that boxing could fit the principles of Wing Chun better than any of the Asian arts. However, he failed to take note of the pure street aspects of the system and incorporated some sport postures and methods. Armando Sainz' training in Wing Chun was a combination of undiluted Wing Chun as a skeleton with a western boxing expression. The posture was tilted back with the arms extended upon interception keeping the head away from the opponent’s fists. All of Wing Chun’s concepts were in place, but the emphasis was certainly a polished pugilistic articulation.
Pugilism was revived from almost total extinction by Karl Godwin, the author of the book "Omni Pugilism" and his teacher Ken Werner. They both went in-depth into the study of the roots of the world’s martial arts. In particular those of western fighting arts, their development and finally, their compatibility with Wing Chun. To quote Karl, "The principles of both arts combined, form the basis for a more scientific fighting method. The assimilation of western physics, philosophy, and other disciplines into the already effective Chinese Wing Chun creates the potential to develop all of the physical and psychological attributes of an individual. This combination of East and West would allow Ip Man to be joined by Da Vinci, Vesalius, and other great thinkers as the builders of the ultimate pugilistic system.” This vital component of Wing Chun has allowed us to better appreciate Bruce Lee’s efforts to incorporate fencing and western boxing into his system. An understanding of our western self-defense origins and the mentality behind it has unequivocally paved the way to a fighting system that has come of age.