Kung Fu Fighting; Self-Defense?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
21 Nov 2009


As a well traveled woman, you feel safe at your beach front resort in one of Mexico’s beach cities. After a while you decide to take a walk to the cantina for some cervesas! The sun warms you in your bikini as you think about that gentleman that said he would meet you at the cantina today.


All of a sudden you notice some unsavory characters in your path through the alley shortcut. Being a worldly woman you realize that the time to act is before you are attacked. You warn them off as you take another path. The guys move quickly to intercept!


In this post I will examine self-defense as a concept in its own right! I mean many enlightened people will take kung fu or karate for the goal of self-defense, but really – how good are the martial arts for self-defense? I will explore one kung fu master, Bruce Lee, with his views about martial arts as they apply to fighting and oh yes – I will finish the story about this soon to be accosted woman in a foreign country.


Flickr.com/Squeezyboy  CC By 2.0


Here is part of an interview with Bruce Lee to set the stage for this conversation. Martial arts are discussed at about 3:11 of this interview.



Bruce Lee, as most martial artists will agree, was a man ahead of his time. I remember when I visited the Bruce Lee exhibit at San Francisco in 2001, being amazed by some of his writings and lifetime accomplishments. As you can see from this video, Bruce Lee was a man that thought about the martial arts and their practical applications.

Bruce Lee learned Wing Chun and then created his own style called Jeet Kune Do (JKD). The funny thing about JKD was there were not a set of kata and such to learn but rather philosophies to apply to fighting. While JKD was interesting to me, I stayed with Kenpo as it allowed me as a beginner a lot of structure to learn martial arts.

Now that I have stayed with Kenpo for 35 years I now understand more of what Bruce Lee was saying about styles tend to hold to a static model of fighting. Not that open tournaments really did, as fighters adopted whatever seemed to be working but styles did and do tend to teach one philosophy or methodology of doing kicks and punches.

Here is what I like about Master Lee’s teachings. I like the view that fighting is fighting (my words) and styles do not matter. I mean there are only so many ways to throw a kick or punch and there is no right way of doing it – only better and worse ways for given situations.

Mr. Lee first taught Joe Lewis direct angular attacks. I know many martial artists understood the value of critical distance, as did Bruce Lee. What I learned in sport fighting about critical distance and direct angular attacks is all I need for self-defense. Before I explain – lets look at Bruce Lee’s advice on the Longstreet TV show (where he taught a blind man to fight).


So in this instance Longstreet is training for an upcoming “honor” fight in which he cannot back down. Ignoring the faulty reasoning for getting in a fight – the training and mental preparedness is good.

If one has to fight, it is not related to sport fighting. I mean eye pokes, kicks to the groin and knee and yes, even biting are all ways to fight for self-preservation (the only reason to use self-defense techniques).

Also accepting that you might lose your life by trying to defend yourself should allow you to overcome paralyzing fear! A fight of last resort is a fight for survival! There are no rules. If you are not trying to stop your opponent by any means possible – seriously consider just giving up because it is not worth it.

There is no other reason to fight than self defense and as dangerous as fighting is… why risk life and limb for any reason other than survival!!!

The study of marital arts are ideal in one sense for learning how to apply self-defense methods because one learns how to kick, knee, elbow, punch, palm, eye gouge and such. You will become acquainted with all of the tools of the trade.

Sport karate, MMA, Kick Boxing, Muay Thai and such will also teach all of the tools of the trade but will not include the purely self-defense techniques. These illegal techniques will be included in any self-defense classes.

Now for what I do. Since I have trained in traditional kenpo karate (the original way Parker taught the Tracy brothers), I have a good background in self-defense techniques. I have also competed in sport karate. I have picked up some wrestling, boxing and kick boxing over the years too.

Because of my preferences in sport karate, self-defense for me has taken on that flavor. I mean I have kicked people in the head and use spinning kicks while disposing my duties as a door man at the bar I used to work. None of this fighting was purely self-defense as I was working for an employer and had to stay away from deadly techniques.

Working at the bar I put myself in danger but luckily came out ok. But what I am saying is for pure self-defense as taught in formal styles, one is taught to avoid fights like the plague but if it comes down to it – use all tools at your disposal to decisively win and stop the attack. If that means breaking a knee cap or poking an eye – so be it.

So what should our vacationing woman about to be accosted do? My first choice would be to have her throw her dummy purse one direction and run the other. So far as you recall other than taking a shortcut (bad move), the woman warned the guys and took some evasive action. Say the purse ploy did not work… what are some options?

Yes non-lethal weapons are always good if the country you are in allows them as this video shows. You would have to be ready in advance for this to work. Say you had studied martial arts of some kind and could free your minds to respond appropriately like the woman in this next video.

 I liked krav girl’s reaction but she picked some of the harder counters. The palm is a very effective strike but at least one eye gouge would have been a little more effective. As men are stronger than women – you don’t want to let them recover.

Why she responded with knees to the body instead of kicks to the groin I don’t know. That might give the stronger guy a chance to recover some and give this gal a real run for her money (without the element of surprise).

I applaud this girls tenacity but I would have urged her to use more lethal counter attacks in a real situation.

To finish the story about our bikini clad lady in the alley, she did throw her purse when the two guys came at her. One guy went for the purse as the other approached fast! The lady saw a stick and scooped it up quickly. The guy lunged at her.

The gal took a half step back and faked a swing to his head with the stick – stopping the guy in his tracks for a moment. She took advantage of this by kicking him full on into the nuts! Just as she was swing for his head (on his way over) the other guy came at her from the side. She stepped out of the way and smacked him on the way by and ran!

Our woman winded up outside the bar screaming Ayudeme! Ayudeme! A crowd including the gentleman of the previous day ran outside and while some were calling the police, a group of men apprehended the two robbers!

This was a nice example of how just using critical distance and initial movement is all one needs in self-defense (assuming one knows the kicks and punches). The woman has a working knowledge of using a commanding voice, deception, distance, direct and indirect angular attacks and flight.

If you have ever seen a cat defending itself against a dog, you will realize that a smaller cat can often times defend itself against a medium sized dog by the loud meows, raising the fur to look bigger, spatting at the dog and if it comes to a tussle, the cat will jump, claw, run, hide and do whatever it takes to get away. Pound for pound  cats are tough to beat.

Given the choice between fighting a wolf or a bobcat – I think I’d choose the wolf… I’d have a better chance. :)

So can Kung Fu fighting help in your self-defense? I say a resounding YES!!!

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10 Responses to “Kung Fu Fighting; Self-Defense?”

  1. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    John, you are so right on, again.
    It’s true: Fighting is fighting.
    I don’t believe that the style
    is necessarily what it’s about.
    And I think that this was also part
    of Bruce Lee’s thought process.
    Years ago, I attended a seminar
    with Guro Dan Inosanto and man,
    did he have stories to tell about
    Da Man. He really was ahead of his time.
    Anyway, I appreciate your posts.
    Keep up the great work.
    Have a great weekend!

  2. Dr. J Says:

    Great post, John!

    I’ve been inches away from a bobcat! Fortunately, he was in a cage, but he was agitated enough to give me a full display! He would have gone through me like a hot knife through butter!!

    I have a small female friend from Brooklyn. She was telling me proudly one day, that she has never been mugged in New York! The thing was, even though she was little, she had a very self confident way about her, and I think martial arts training can contribute to that and be helpful, even if you don’t have to use the physical side!

  3. SueC Says:

    Hi John,
    I’m starting to appreciate that there are often more similarities between styles than differences. I have noticed that between my jujitsu club and karate club, apart from a few stylistic differences in stances, the blocks, kicks and punches are pretty much the same and the strategies used to deploy them are also pretty much the same.

  4. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    The interview with Bruce Lee never gets old.
    Thanks again for posting it.
    Happy Thanksgiving, John.

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Tiger, I’ve always shared your view about martial artists. Bruce Lee was a man that was the real deal. He was always seeking execelence.
    Hey Dr J! Yep those bobcats are tough. I had a house cat jump up, twist around and claw me once and escape into my step-daughters room! I had to back off of the chase but I had a new respect for stealth and surprise after that.

    Your friend sounds like she learned early on that self-confidence is apparent. Great example!
    Hi Sue! Great example of how very different styles can have more similarties than differences. I really do think the person makes or breaks the fight.
    Happy Thanksgiving All, Tiger, Dr. J, & Sue.

  6. Krav Maga Versus Self-Defense: Two Perspectives Says:

    […] by John Zimmer’s post on Kung Fu and […]

  7. Tara Says:

    This is great stuff Bruce Lee is a Classic

  8. Self Defense Store Says:

    Bruce Lee learned Wing Chun and then created his own style called Jeet Kune Do (JKD)……………guy great inspiration………..

  9. Larry Rivera Says:

    Great post!

    I always felt that Bruce Lee didn’t create a style, rather he clued the western world to the reality of mixed martial arts.

    I believe that media has taken credit for something that the chinese have known for hundreds of years.

    Just take the styles, Wing Chun, Tai chi, Chi’na within those three systems alone answers all the different fighting range questions.

    The best self defense is knowledge.
    Larry Rivera recently posted..Have We Really Made Progress In The Martial Arts World?My Profile

  10. lyle Says:

    I think martial arts training can contribute to that and be helpful, even if you don’t have to use the physical side!