A few months ago, I made a blog about barriers and how they contribute to safety. In that post, I emphasized that martial arts techniques should only be used as a last resort. Before I begin, I would like to restate that the best defense is to distance yourself from harms way using the barriers mentioned previously! But there are occasions when you must defend yourself or your family members. With that in mind, I would like to explore the Man-Sau and how it is used for self-protection.
The man-sau is formed by placing one arm extended towards the attacker and the other hand in the wu-sau or “waiting hand” position. In this manner, the arms become the final “barrier” protecting the body from trauma.
When faced with an assailant, the use of the man-sau is the last line of defense. Flinching is an instinctual response which include shrinking back, or covering up to protect the head or torso using the arms. This is effective for defense incoming threats, but it doesn’t offer much in regard to stopping the assault. In Wing Tsun, we want to capitalize on our instinct to protect the body, while creating an opportunity to mount a counter-attack. To do this we activate the man-sau.
In your first few lessons of training Wing Tsun, I teach students two movements that use an active man-sau. One is applied against a punch towards the face, and the other a defense against a mid-level punch, each move begins with the same seeking (reaching forward) arm but adapts depending on the incoming force-or lack thereof. In this way, the new student begins reinforcing her approach to incoming attacks; rather than flinching and recoiling, to spring forward and seek.
Some Wing Chun styles treat the man-sau as passive- waiting for an attack. This approach is a mistake in fighting! The word “Man” translates as “Inquisitive” or “seeking”. This is exactly what your lead arm should be doing- seeking a target.
In Wing Tsun, the guard appears unique. In MMA, boxing and Kick boxing, training is done with gloves which can become tools that can help to protect and deflect incoming attacks effectively. Without the benefit of gloves, pressing your hand across your temple as defense is not nearly as effective. In using the Man-Sau, we train the arms to spring toward our opponent while protecting the head and body, and seeking to hit a target. Our goal is to end the altercation as quickly as possible.
The Man-Sau is the last line of defense. With practice, the man-sau becomes a way to simultaneously protect your body, while attacking. Learning to correctly apply the man-sau technique coupled with solid footwork is the difference between success and failure in a physical altercation. Stay diligent and keep practicing it.
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