What Style is Best?
By Herb Borkland
What is the best style? Once I asked Duncan Leung. Do you know about
"the dark genius of wing chun"? Quick story...
Duncan's street-fighting pal Bruce Lee came over one day; and Duncan
told him, "I've got a new technique." And since they were always
swapping moves, just like guitarists swap licks, scar-faced Duncan and
young Bruce squared off informally in Duncan's parents' living room.
And Bruce couldn't counter Duncan's new move, so Bruce said, "It's
too cramped in here."
The two teenagers went up on the apartment building's roof, surrounded
by the Hong Kong skyline of half a century ago; and still, Bruce couldn't
stop Duncan's technique.
But you know Bruce; he said, "No, not enough room. Let's go up on
On a hill overlooking the city and the harbor, Bruce finally dropped
his fists. "Where did you learn this?"
So Duncan introduced the Little Dragon to his future sifu, the father
of modern wing chun, Yip Man.
"But what was the technique?" I prompted Duncan.
"Battle fist" is an explosive, continuous, one-fist-replaces-the-other,
center-line punching to the face; and it is off-putting, the first time,
because it's happening too fast to counter, only to defend against.
So, anyway, when I asked Duncan, "What is the best style?",
he said something rather profound. "The best style is... the one
that gives you confidence."
Obviously, what we both meant was "for street fighting." But
the question can be asked in three different ways: "in the street,"
yes, but also "at a tournament," or "in combat." Meaning:
"To knock cold," or "to out-point," or "to kill
The work horse of unarmed fighting (aikido aside) is punching. Traditional
martial artists, whether at school or rolling around in the parking lot
outside the bar, can and do hit each other in the face. It's just that
martial artists also learn an encyclopedia of other ways to take out an
The existential difference (as Norman Mailer'd say) between bare-knuckle
warriors in an East LA backyard and prize fighters in a ring isn't that
one contest is somehow not a sport or is more serious than the other.
It's a matter of training in how to hit and avoid being hit. Street-king
Slice on You Tube, trying to go pro, got the snot beat out of him by a
journeyman British boxer.
Inside the Octagon, heavy-fisted pummeling splatters crowd-pleasing blood.
Unfortunately, most MMA fighters not only couldn't go the distance with,
say, a Golden Gloves amateur, they'd never land a solid blow. Which is
why I sometimes say, not entirely joking, that MMA is fighting for people
who don't know how to fight.
Perhaps because of MMA's popularity, head-hunting has also become the
sine qua non of various amateur, controlled-contact martial sports. I
can even predict – you read it here first – Olympic-style
taekwondo will soon permit head-punching.
But in war, if you are luckless enough to end up at close quarters without
your weapon, even trained fists may be too slow. Soldiers fight really,
really dirty. Today's popularized military styles have to be toned way,
way down. What remain behind, however, are some solid underlying martial
Combat-veteran Mike Kanarek's Haganah, like Krav Maga, derives from the
Israeli Army. His concept of "funneling" the opponent's attack
directly into your counters is a useful simplifier which reduces the need
to learn how to deal one-by-one-by-one with a gazillion possible modes
The Navy SEALs' SCARS, created by combat-veteran Jerry Peterson, centers
on the autonomous nervous system, the not-under-conscious-control reflexes
that pull fingers out of fires and bare feet off sharp sea shells.
From the first strike to legs, torso or head, SCARS knows in advance
exactly how the opponent will react; knows, too, that he is helpless not
to react in this way, not even if you did it to him ten times in a row,
and he knew it was coming every time. That to me seems ideal.
So I salute Duncan, who's back in Hong Kong now, and repeat his sage
advice to all newcomers shopping for a way to make 'em mourn like Jason
Bourne: "The best style is the one that gives you confidence."
But always be sure whether, beyond fists of fury, you want the skills
of a traditional martial artist, a street fighter, sportsmen or the soldier.
About The Author:
Washington, D.C. native Herb Borkland has been called "a
martial arts pioneer" because he was an original student at the first
taekwondo school in the United States. After taking his degree at The
University of Virginia, Herb went on to become a closed-door student of
the legendary Robert W. Smith, author of the first English-language book
about tai chi. An Inside Kung-Fu Hall of Fame writer, he was the first
journalist ever invited to train in SCARS, the Navy SEALs fighting system.
Herb scripted "Honor&Glory" for Cynthia Rothrock, featured
on HBO, as well as winning the first-place Gold Award at the Houston International
Film Festival for his Medal of Honor soldier screenplay "God of War."
For three years he hosted the national half-hour Black Belts cable-TV
show. Herb and his wife, the Cuban-American painter Elena Maza, live in