Training Method vs. Fighting Method: Sorry, Chain Punches Are Not Magic
One of the most recognizable techniques in Wing Chun is the Chain Punch or Lin Wan Kuen. It is overused, misunderstood, over-rated AND you should train it until you can do it in your sleep.
It is easy to find a lot of valid criticism of Wing chun and of the chain punch specifically. I attribute much of these shortcomings to the conflation of training methods and fighting methods. Many practice the training methods but never the fighting methods and don't realize the difference. Compare boxing’s speed bag training to their full fighting method. The former influences the latter but it would be silly to judge the effectiveness of boxing in a fight by looking at speed bag training or rope skipping. Now if a boxer solely trains on the speed bag, then jumps into the ring, and attempts to only and directly transfer what they do on the speed bag into the ring, one would soon decry his fighting skill. However, as a component of training, speed bag work builds skills that can improve overall fighting skill. It is an element of the training method not the fighting method itself. And this should not be news to anyone. However, it does seem to be news to many that Wing chun's chain punch is like this -it is an element if the training method as well as a lesser element of the full fighting method.
If you are training for personal-defense and not sport (or in addition to) it is wise to keep, refine, and adapt responses pre-programmed by evolution. The chain punch is an adaptation and refinement of the hand-over-hand flailing that seems to be ingrained in the self-preservation center(s) of our brains. Following is a non-simian example for your reference and amusement. Watching the hands, I think you will find similarities to some human scuffles.
Polishing and refining what comes naturally is a great survival strategy. Tony Blauer's SPEAR System does this on a broad scale with a similar, naturally ingrained response.
The chain punch best fits into a fight where forward aggression fits. This tends to come down to one of two situations:
One, after earning an opening and landing a strike that gives the opponent pause, one could follow up with chain punches. Don't expect this alone to be a finisher. For example, the last time an associate of mine used chain punches in a bar fight, the bad guy did go down but only to come back up wanting more. (Also preferably, don't use them as your entry against a trained fighter in a sporting context. Just don't.)
Or two, when you don't know what else to do, fill space with chain punches. Subtleties of technique and "if this then that" responses tend to fall apart rapidly under duress. Focused, forward aggression is a better solution than freezing. Having a simple movement related to evolutionary response that is drilled into muscle memory can be an asset. Also remember, open hands can be used in place of closed fists.
It trains these desirable habits:
- centerline focus (Shoot for center mass.)
- keeping your hands in front of you
- hand speed
- cycling of the hands (Reduces instances of your hands getting trapped under your own or opponents arms.)
- repeating/follow-up strikes (Don't count on a one-hitter-quitter.)
- proper arm mechanics for straight punches
In closing, chain punches are both a functional striking method and a fundamental training method of Wing Chun. You should strive to understand and be able to differentiate training method from fighting method and where they do and don't fully coincide. Train your chain punches until they are second nature, but don't let them be the only striking tool in your repertoire. There is no unstoppable technique. If someone can defend against a jab, they can defend against your chain punches.