What is the perfect way to fight? Is there a “perfect way” to fight or is every martial art, every system and approach just a haphazard shot in the dark with no objective, empirical, measurable advantage? The answer is that there IS absolutely a perfect way to fight and win every opponent, but the difficulty and the beauty is that perfect way is not something set in stone, but a fluid interplay between each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses.
The perfect way to fight always completely depends on the person(s) you are fighting and constantly changes based on what they are doing, how they are attacking, defending, and countering, whether there is one, two, or ten opponents, whether they’re striking, grappling, or parrying, whether they’re using edged, blunt or projectile weapons, depending on their height, weight, build, reach, and a host of other factors, the “perfect way” to fight is by training and developing the skills and tools necessary to read, react and adapt to each opponent’s constantly shifting weaknesses and exploiting them in real-time.
In this and many other ways fighting is like the game of Chess: Once you make your move, there is no turning back. You are responsible for every mistake, and the only way out is forward. The stronger player does not always win, because even the strongest players have weaknesses, but a clear hierarchy of ability exists, and the way to succeed is by positioning yourself so as to best exploit the weaknesses of your opponent then attacking as mistakes and imbalances surface.
Unlike dice or card games, there is no element of “luck” or “chance” in games like Chess, Checkers or Othello; these games always completely depend only upon the minds and moves of the two opponents. Similarly in fighting there really is no element of luck or chance involved. The outcome of a fight or Chess match will always depend on who is better trained and conditioned themselves beforehand then better exploited and executed their opponent’s weaknesses in the moment.
The average Chess player can only handle playing one opponent at a time, just like the average person could only handle fighting one opponent at a time, but through diligent practice Chess grandmasters and martial grandmasters are able to successfully defeat several opponents simultaneously. Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen have been known to play and win up to 10 games against 10 different opponents simultaneously while blindfolded! Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher, was also said to have successfully defeated several opponents simultaneously while blindfolded!
Just having martial “knowledge” is not enough though, your body must be trained and conditioned kinesthetically so muscle-memory reacts perfectly and precisely to the opponent. Just having chess “knowledge” is also not enough, you cannot simply memorize every opening, play through every grandmaster game, read every theory book and suddenly be able to win every opponent. The knowledge and skill-sets, the training and pre-game preparedness is only part of it, the gamer/fighter must also have perfect mindfulness and presence in the moment to be able to use the knowledge and training then adapt it in real-time to suit the adversary in front of them.
So there is a perfect way to fight, just like there is a perfect way to play Chess, but it’s not static and consistent, it always completely depends on the opponent and our interplay with their weaknesses in the moment.
Both fighters and Chess players will train before a tournament, watching videos or studying games of their opponents looking to find trends and weaknesses. By noticing trends, even ones usually seen as “strengths,” they can become weaknesses through overuse. For instance a fighter with a powerful overhand right he always uses to knock people out is seen as his “strength,” but if his opponent knows ahead of time about his reliance on this attack, even such so-called “strengths” can quickly become Achilles’ tendons to be cut. The opponent can train to always slip outside, to attack and disable the right arm/hand, or to shoot inside nullifying the range.
Similarly if a chess player knows trends in his opponent’s games, such as always accepting gambits, never trading down in a sacrifice, castling late, bringing the Queen out early etc. he can exploit those trends.
A fighter’s vulnerabilities are constantly changing based on their position/structure making it like a ballroom dance where the woman, the receptive one, reacting to the man’s lead, sensing, feeling her opponent’s movements and flowing with them, actually maintains positional advantage while the aggressive, overly forceful fighter leaves himself exposed. So by purposely assuming the yin, receptive role of the woman, you gain a distinct advantage. This is the reason fighters always jockey back and forth in and out of the pocket range-finding before committing to an attack, because the person who under or over-commits during these crucial milliseconds opens themselves up to devastating counter-blows. If you commit to a strike, takedown, or whatever type of attack, you are opening yourself to counter-attack.
The smarter fighting philosophy is to be patient, feigning while giving consistent forward pressure along the centerline until the opponent shows an under or over-commitment, then exploding to exploit the hole formed.
In Chess strategy it is the same; position your pieces to control the center, allow the opponent to initiate exchanges, look for imbalances, weak squares or undefended pieces, then attack and prey upon the opponent’s problem areas.
The game of Othello also beautifully demonstrates this advantage of yin over yang. The average Othello player will quickly, aggressively attempt to turn as many pieces to their side as possible, and continue with this one-dimensional yang strategy until they run out of moves, only to have the opponent flip all their pieces back at the end. Similarly the average fighter will aggressively attempt to attack and finish their opponent as quickly and violently as possible only to gas-out and open themselves up to counter-attacks. The highest level Othello players, however, know that the more pieces you have in the beginning, the less potential moves you have later, and the more pieces of yours on the board, the more pieces your opponent can steal! The highest level fighters know if you over-commit to any attack too early and you are fighting a skilled, adaptive opponent, the over-committed attack, no matter how powerful, will soon become your weakness.
The best Othello players play passively, keeping the fewest amount of their pieces on the board at the beginning so as to maintain positional advantage by having the most potential moves. By having the most potential moves, they are easier able to acquire and secure the crucial border and corner squares. Once a corner square has been acquired, you claim all pieces horizontal, vertical and diagonal to that corner and they cannot be turned back!
Similarly, in fighting, the best fighters will not rush in and over-commit to some attack without first bridging along the centerline, sensing and seeing how the opponent reacts, then exploiting any under or over-commitments in their reaction. Pinning your opponent against a wall, fence, car or into a corner is also a highly advantageous move difficult to reverse, just like claiming border and corner pieces in Othello.
This is the esoteric advantage yin will always have over yang. Since yang seems weaker, its strength is deceptive. Like water, you must be fluid, receptive, adaptive and flow around your opponent’s obstacles, remaining calm, relaxed and flexible both mentally and physically until the opponent’s vulnerabilities present themselves. This is not to say that yang has no place, that women are better fighters, or anything of that sort. A moment of yang strength is ultimately what wins the fight, and men are in general far superior fighters to women. Some arts like Muay Thai, Wrestling, or Sumo, however, are overly yang whereas others like Tai Chi, Wu Shu, and even many lineages of Wing Chun are far too “yin,” doing nothing but Chi Sao (sticky hands) and form-work, never training body-conditioning, padwork or sparring. This is just as much a deficiency as the over-aggressive, blunt-headed wrestler type who simply looks to impose his will no matter how well he is defended/countered by his opponent.
One of the main principles in Wing Chun is the centerline concept, where fighters train to attack, defend and dominate along the centerline. In Chess strategy, dominating and controlling the center is a key positional advantage during the opening. Where many average Wing Chun practitioners and many average Chess players fall short is when they don’t train to switch it up during the middle and endgame. Many traditional Wing Chun schools train ONLY straight-line attacks and ONLY ever attack along the centerline. For instance they will always enter with the same straight chain punch/push kick flurry and no matter how well the opponent defends, circles outside and counters, they still keep steamrolling impotently forward becoming an increasingly easier target to pick apart.
In Chess, the opponent’s King begins in the center, but as the game progresses, due to castling or other moves, the King will often be situated at either end and not in the center. Once your opponent castles it becomes obvious whether a King’s side, Queen’s side or central attack will best suit the game and the adept player must adapt in real-time.
Similarly an adept Wing Chun practitioner must always bridge (make contact) with the opponent along the centerline, but then depending on what they do next when bridged, other curved or non-centerline attacks may become much better suited than the straight centerline approach.
￼In the entry into the pocket during a fight, just like in the entry during the opening of a chess game, it has been proven that dominating and controlling the centerline is key. You will never see a Chess Grandmaster doing a rook’s pawn opening and you will never see a Wing Chun Grandmaster doing a curved or non-centerline entry. To do a rook’s pawn opening or to enter the pocket with a curved attack is to offer up the crucial advantage of direct centerline control to your opponent for free. If you’re playing/fighting an amateur you may recover from such a blunder, but against a formidable opponent you will not and find that giving away the centerline is a consistently losing strategy. In Chess this has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, though in martial philosophy, the crucial importance of centerline control and straight-attack entries has not yet gained popular approval or understanding outside of Wing Chun.
The basic idea of straight-line entries and centerline control is that the most efficient path between two points is a straight line. If you throw a right jab, while your opponent throws a right hook, your jab will land first, the blow surprises and decreases the power of your opponent’s strike, and the position of your jab effectively blocks the incoming hook. In the case of a kick, imagine a curved Muay Thai roundhouse kick or a Taekwondo spinning kick versus a straight Wing Chun stomp kick, snap kick or side kick.
Like the hook punch, the roundhouse, or any spinning circular attack is telegraphed, slower to arrive at the target, and completely exposes the person attacking by opening their guard wide. Curved attacks are also ineffective until they arrive at full-extension to their target whereas straight attacks are effective even before full-extension. For example if you simply step forward when the opponent initiates a spinning heel kick you completely neutralize the technique because his dangerous heel extends well-behind you. If, instead, you step forward into a straight Wing Chun stop kick to the stomach, the kick will still land, maybe at the shin, the knee, the groin or the stomach depending on how close the opponent is when you make contact, but no matter where contact is made, damage will still be done and their forward movement will be thwarted. Straight kicks are simply less risky, more direct, efficient, and devastating. Therefore, as a general rule, fast straight-attack entries are far superior to curved, circular or angular attacks. Once the straight-attack entry has been made along the centerline, THEN the fighter can and should mix various non-linear attacks, based on the tactile information received in the moment as to which combinations and movements will continue to land and defeat the opponent.
In popular MMA cage-fighting like UFC, the importance of centerline control is explicitly obvious but the philosophy is often overlooked. Fighters like Jon Jones and Anderson Silva use their long limbs extending forward, usually in a triangle, like the Wing Chun ready stance, not under or over-committing, shooting straight jabs and straight kicks along the opponent’s centerline. Then when into clinch / chi sao range, they start unleashing various creative circular and non-centerline attacks like elbows, knees, body shots, uppercuts and takedowns based on the tactile and sensory information they’re receiving in the moment, adapting every second to attack the most vulnerable targets with their most powerful weapons. Notice they do not and could not simply chain punch forward and win every opponent as some traditional Wing Chun schools would have you think!
In Chess you always want to be either developing your pieces into better positions, taking your opponents pieces, or directly attacking their King. Likewise in fighting you should always be moving to gain positional advantage, striking to injure the opponent’s limbs/body, or directly attacking their face/neck. Blood or air chokes, eye gouges, palm strikes, overhands and other fight-stopping strikes to the face are like checkmates. All other attacks like arm-bars, toe-holds, leg-locks, takedowns, guntings, etc. are analogous to capturing pawns, knights, bishops, rooks and queens.
￼Bobby Fischer said of Chess, “Tactics flow from a superior position.” In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu they have the saying “position before submission” meaning it is important to acquire and maintain the correct body position and defensive structure before attempting the finishing offensive submission. If you rush into a submission hold without first securing the necessary and advantageous position, it is likely that the opponent will escape, sweep, and turn the tables on your weak attempt. The skilled grappler will instead first secure a good full, side, back mount or guard, then and only then attempt any submissions.
Likewise in Chess, the average player might bring their Queen out early and try any number of one/two piece fast mates, but these will never work against a seasoned player and will only leave you with inferior positioning going into the midgame.
In Chess one popular strategy, known as a “gambit,” is offering a piece as a sacrifice in order to attain better position. In fighting, various “gambits” are also used constantly and effectively. For example feigning when establishing a jab and straight kicks in and out of the pocket, mixing fully-extended power-shots with lackadaisical or abrupt stinted shots, like a gambit helps to gain control of the center, lures the opponent into a false sense of security, and if they “accept the sacrifice” (i.e. block the feign, or not block actual strikes because of good feigning) it puts them in a more precarious position.
Another example of a fighting gambit is the Wing Chun Chum Kiu or “bridge seeking.” Wing Chun hands like Man Sao (Asking Hands) extend out along the centerline in a tentative manner like an insect’s antennae looking to bridge with the opponent’s limbs so our sticky hands sensitivity can then manipulate their structure by maintaining perpetual flowing contact and defense. The asking hand antennae are offered up like pawn gambits to lure the opponent into playing into our web of sticky hands training!
Another key tactic in Chess is using pieces in combination to attack. Trying to checkmate your opponent using a single piece, even your strongest piece, the Queen, is futile. She cannot capture the opponent’s King by herself and must be aided by at least one other piece (from your army or theirs!) to prevent his escape. Similarly in fighting, “one-trick ponies,” or “one-hit wonders” are easily defeated. Fighters who fail to attack in combination or rely solely on one preferred technique become transparent and impotent.
Wing Chun Kung-Fu boasts having the fastest combination punches in the world known as the “chain punch,” with many practitioners clocked at an amazing 10 punches per second! One standard Wing Chun attack combines the repeated 1-2-1-2-1-2 chain punch with a forward thrusting stomp or snap kick 3-4-3-4-3-4 to the opponent’s knees and groin, so at any moment you have three weapons (2 arms and a leg) attacking the vulnerable face, groin and knees in rapid-fire combination. And since they are all straight, centerline attacks your three offensive weapons all double as defensive barriers effectively blocking many standard counter-strikes in the process.
Wing Chun also has a concept called “the three gates,” which is very similar to Chess. The idea is that your head/neck is the King and your arms extended forward in the Wing Chun triangle ready-stance comprises the three gates of your castle. The first gate is the hinge of your wrists, the second gate the hinge of your elbows, and the third gate is your back Wu Sao (guard hand) resting at your chin. The first wrist gate is purposely left wide open to bait the opponent like a Trojan horse; When they pressure in, our Huen Sao (circling hand) allows them through then Fook Sao (controlling hand) quickly closes and locks the gate shut behind keeping them stuck to our well-developed sticky hands. The second gate is solid and always remains shut; Known as the Wing Chun Immovable Elbow, the second gate’s strongest position is a fist and a half distance from the torso held forward at a 135 degree angle. When pressure is placed upon the second gate we will sooner give up footwork position than allow the immovable elbow gate to collapse. If the opponent manages to get behind/outside our elbow, the third gate guard hand must quickly perform Lap Sao (pulling hand), bringing the opponent back out to the first gate.
In Chess, the first gate often offered as gambits/sacrifices in order to gain position are the pawns. The second gate used to pressure in are the knights, bishops and rooks. The third gate just before reaching the King is the Queen, and both in Wing Chun and Chess, if you bring the Queen (Wu Sao Hand) forward too quickly it can spell disaster. For example in the popular Wing Chun “Bong Sao-Lap Sao” drill students are taught to always defend only with the lead arm leaving the Wu Sao guard hand back by the chin bringing it forward only if/when the second gate has been passed. In Chess strategy students are taught always to develop the minor pieces onto strong outposts before bringing the Queen forward. If the Queen comes out too early she can be chased around the board, giving the opponent positional advantage, and ultimately could be cornered and captured. Likewise if the Wu Sao hand comes forward to block or Lap Sao too early it can be passed by a skilled opponent and they will have direct, unfettered access to your King/Head.
So what is the perfect way to train so as to fight perfect Chess in the moment? How can one best train to read, react, and adapt to each opponent’s constantly shifting weaknesses and exploit them in real-time? First, and foremost you must condition your mind and body in a multitude of ways to prepare for the final moment of confrontation. Like a good Chess student must play thousands of games, memorize thousands of openings/variations, play through thousands of Grandmaster games, and solve thousands of Chess problems before they can compete. You also must do thousands of punches, kicks, elbows, knees, locks, takedowns, chokes, breaks, submissions, and escapes, you must learn proper form, structure, movement, technique, and philosophy, practice sparring, grappling, shadow boxing, chi sao and chi gerk, use punching bags, focus pads, wall bags, and wooden dummies,working always to increase speed, power, accuracy, technique, and non-telegraphy, your ligaments, tendons, muscles and skin must become flexible, strong, loose, and relaxed, the nerve-endings on your shins and arms must become numb, your wrists must become laterally strong, your knuckles calloused, your abdominals and other muscles tough and hard, your mind must be still and responsive, your body completely relaxed before and after every strike, you should even practice deep abdominal breathing and short exasperated breathing to improve stamina, control heart-rate and adrenaline release, increase the time you can be choked, and decrease the chance of having the wind knocked out of you.
Then when the time comes to fight, your mind should be empty and completely present, any strategy or tactics consciously employed will be over-committed, unreceptive, and non-adaptive so you must completely rely on subconscious instinct and muscle-memory. Your eyes should be trained on the opponent’s sternum so peripheral vision can fully watch all their limbs. Your stance should remain fluid and light, constantly moving but able to solidify and immediately plant roots if the opponent shoots. Your guard should be relaxed and moving slightly, just enough to distract and feign, but not enough to open yourself up. Bobby Fischer, the most renowned Chess player of all time said, “Chess is a matter of delicate judgment knowing when to punch and how to duck. It is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.
Concentrate on material gains. Whatever your opponent gives, you take, unless you see good reason not to. Your body has to be in top condition. Your Chess deteriorates as your body dies. You can’t separate body from mind. You have to have the fighting spirit.” And perhaps the most famous Wing Chun practitioner ever, Bruce Lee, said it best: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”