top of page
Featured Posts

The Art of Parrying

One of the primary things I learned in my JKD training was that, when it comes to investigating or looking at other combative arts, one should look for the similarities rather than the differences, because those similarities are the common threads or common denominators that run between all arts. This is what Bruce Lee did as part of his martial research.

It is well-known that Lee’s initial development of JKD was built primarily upon three things: Wing Chun Gung Fu, Western Fencing, and Western Boxing (before he shifted away from the idea or notion “style” completely and moved into personal development and the ‘art of the individual’). With this is mind I’d like to examine the art of parrying.

There are four basic types of parries; lateral, semi-circular, circular and vertical. In lateral parries the motion goes from left to right or vice versa, and can move from the outside line to the inside line (towards the center of the body), or from inside to outside (away from the center of the body). In semi-circular parries, the hand moves in a semi-circular motion (from low to high or vice versa) while usually remaining on the same side of the body. Circular parries describe an elliptical or circular motion that usually brings the opponent’s hand back to the same position. In an empty hand context, circular parries are used much less frequently (if at all, really) due to the increased time factor, plus the fact you end up back where you started. Vertical parries primarily move from a high line position to a low-line.

Okay, so he we go –

A) Lateral Parries

Wing Chun uses what could be seen as lateral parries. A rear hand woang pak (cross slap block) that moves from left to right would be one example. A rear hand tan sao that moves from the centerline outward could be considered another form of lateral parry.

Western Boxing uses lateral parries with both the lead and the rear hand against straight punches aimed at the head. In addition, one could say that when a boxer uses a low forearm deflection against a straight blow aimed at the body, he is, in effect, using a form of lateral parry. (I’m not talking about placing the forearm directly in the path of the blow, which would actually be a block).

Western Fencing likewise uses lateral parries with the blade against the opponent’s straight thrusts.

B) Semi-circular Parries

Wing Chun uses a form of semi-circular parry when they use a goang sao (low outer wrist block) against a low blow to the body. If their hand moved from such a low position back up to deal a blow a curved blow aimed at the head with a tan sao it might also describe a semi-circular arc.

Boxers sometimes use what is called a “scooping parry” in which their arm travels in a semi-circular arc down to deal with a straight blow to the body. In the classic boxing book, “The Naval Book of Boxing,” from which Lee drew extensively, it is referred to as the “brush away.”

And fencers use a semi-circular parries from high line to low line and from low line to high line also, their blades describing a small arc.

C) Vertical Parries

Vertical parries are used primarily from the high line to the low line, and, as the name suggests, move in a vertical line.

Wing Chun Gung Fu uses this type of parry in the form of a ha pak (low slap).

Western boxers will also sometimes use a lead or rear hand vertical slap against a low punch, although in the majority of cases it will be accompanied by a counterstrike with the opposite hand.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Can you see what Bruce was looking at, the similarities between all three combative arts, the common denominators? The idea is to understand and have the ability to apply various types of parrying actions as the situation demands, not to concern yourself about whether the action comes from Wing Chun, Western Fencing, or Western Boxing.

Now, we need to keep in mind that, when it comes to such things as sparring, the use of such things as boxing gloves prohibit or limit the usage of certain types of parrying actions which finger gloves or bare hands allow. For example, when using a lateral parry you might decide to use a light, easy parry, a hard “beat” parry, a gliding controlling parry, or a grabbing parry.

With regard to parrying, one of the main things you should do in your training is to examine how you can make your parries most efficient and effective through the use of such things as:

· Proper distance

· Correct timing

· Body displacements

· Footwork

· Economical motions

In the end, where something comes from is much less important than how well you can use it. As Bruce himself said, “I don’t care where it comes from; if you understand it and can use it, it belongs to no one, it’s yours.”