Sifu Mullen - Texas Wing Chun in Arlington Texas and his students have an open door policy where anyone from any martial art or none can offer a challenge. Sifu Mullen has taken and given Challenges for over 25 years.
Challenges are one of the most misunderstood aspects of Wing Chun Kung Fu. Most perceive it as a testosterone driven aggression to dominate others. While that certainly can be an aspect of the challenge it is not accurate, nor desirable for leaning.
The reason Challenges are so important in Wing Chun is that they serve the function for testing theory to weed out the BS , mistakes , misunderstandings that pile up through time. It basic function is to refine skill. This is vitally important in an art you bet your life on. Scientifically you FIGHT LIKE YOU Train; so if you train with the goal of fighting efficiency a challenge is the " natural selection " process. This also removes unqualified teachers through time. In my opinion the lack of challenges in the Wing Chun World has diluted the fighting efficiency of most Wing Chun I have encountered.
A real fight or hard challenge is VERY different than winning trophies, metals or tiles. Simply put you fight like you train. If you train to win trophies then you get better at wining trophies. This is not my opinion it has been studied acadmically for decades at places like Harvard and Yale for sports training. In the REAL world there is NO second place, forget this at your peril.
This idea of challenges is in accordance with the Wing Chun philosophy of Leung Sheung, our progenitor Ip Mans number 1 student is that no theory can stand without testing it in practical application. Another HUGE problem with trophies is you generally fight someone about your size to be “fair". Well people, life is not fair neither are actual fights. In my school we assume the worst which is you have to fight someone who is 3 times your size or more if you are a child, more than 3 times your strength and in large numbers with weapons.... After my experiences in security in the graveyard shift in New York and Nightclub security across the country including many people from Sing Sing prison and Rikers Island. These ex cons were not there to win trophies. Luckily neither was I...
If you want to win trophies train under someone who is successful at that . If you want to survive a real fight to the death train under someone who has done that successfully and repeatedly.
This does not mean a challenge HAS to be to the death or serious injury. Under most circumstances, I fight to whatever level my opponent chooses and I generally give fair warning before I am forced to stop their irrational behavior. If you lose your temper and really are out to seriously hurt me, then I may have no choice. I have a excellent reputation as a polite boxer in most knowledgeable circles. Part of my problem roaming around looking for challenges to test my skill is, at 6’6”, 290 pounds with very little body fat. I was built like a yield sign. I was also ridiculously fast and strong even for my size. I was also very tough, as my Karate school used me as a live kicking and punching dummy for years because of my size. I always respected the teachers who did take my challenge, regardless of my size.
Rules for a Wing Chun Challenge:
The only rule is, I will not fight by anyone’s rules. No protective gear is allowed and we fight on concrete. If you leave your eyes exposed, I will stick my thumb in them; leave your spine exposed, I will dislocate it; groin exposed, I will twist and pull like I’m starting a lawn mower. If by some miracle, you manage to cover all of those, I will bite.
Outline of a hard Wing Chun Challenge:
Also known as rooftop boxing from its time in Hong Kong. The purpose can be anything from testing theory in combat, to defending the honor of the school or teacher. In the past it was used to shut down inferior schools and unqualified teachers which kept up the integrity of the art. In the past it could be up to and including death. Today it is generally to unconsciousness or submission. Although this is rare these days in the past 20 years fewer and fewer schools have given or accepted challenges. The main reason expressed is legal consequences. While true to some degree the Hold harmless agreement is usually sufficient to protect the participants short of outright murder.
Outline of a soft Wing Chun Challenge:
A soft challenges purpose it to gauge relative skill and to improve it. In general a prospective student who believes they have some fighting prowess will challenge an instructor to determine if they have anything to teach them. There is an agreed upon power level and sometimes speed level. The problem is Wing Chun power is very different to most martial arts. Many of my "soft" challenges went hard unexpectedly. A soft challenge is NOT point fighting. Because even in a soft challenge the rules of hitting apply.
The rule is as follows: You STOP a body in motion or move a stationary target 6 inches minimum.
Anything else is just point fighting. Akin to modern fencing using the sword as a whip to make the buzzer go off. In a real sword fight that would have gotten you run through if you used actual swords. The problem in my experience is people lose their minds. The issue is martial artists spent years of time, lots of money and physical and emotional pain. The problem arises when in 6 seconds or less they realize it does not work. They will blame you for this emotional pain and react with malice. You now have a bad choice to make. They are now trying to really hurt you. What to do? Usually I give them 2 warnings and if they don't disengage and calm down I turn them off. Another issue is power. Wing Chun power feels VERY different from other martial arts so they accuse you of hitting them full power when you agreed to low power. My solution is to tell them I will hit you twice as hard every time from now on until you agree that the first hit was not full power, tends to work well. My overall solution is to agree to fight to the power level the opponent gives to me.
To be clear a even a hard challenge is NOT a real fight. It is but an approximation. In a challenge you are generally safe after one person is the clear victor and if you are down they probably won’t curb stomp you, shoot you or stab you. Usually..
Another clarification, EVERYONE gets hit, yes even me. Any teacher who tells you they don't is a lying sack of S##t. Run don’t walk out of their school.