Combat Sanshou: The System, Tiger and Snake

I’m glad to announce that my new instructional video Combat Sanshou: Tiger and Snake is now out. I’m very happy with this new release as I worked extremely hard to make this video. It’s also the one in which my demo partner took the most abuse so a big “Thank you!” to Brian for letting me beat him up.

Paladin Press and I talked about how we could promote this release and we came up with the following: for a limited time only, you can order all my other products at a 25% discount Just go to this page here, order one of my books or videos and use the promocode WIM25 during checkout.

This promotion is valid up to  and including 1/31.


I’ll give some more information now on both Combat Sanshou as a system and the new video in particular. First, here’s a short sample to help you get a feel for what I’m talking about:


Where does it come from?

I’ve been training in several traditional Chinese martial arts for well over two decades now, primarily Hung Chia Pai and Tai Chi Chuan but also Wing Chun, Shuai Jiao and several others. There’s just something in the Chinese styles that works well for me.

When I was 18, I started competing in the Chinese version of kickboxing called Sanda (sometimes also Sanshou; it can be confusing at times.) This competition format allows full-contact striking, kicking, stand-up wrestling and all sorts of throws and takedowns. It has the particularity of taking place on a raised platform called a “lei tai” (imagine a boxing ring without the ropes) and this environmental factor plays a huge part in the strategy and tactics involved. To this day, I still train in and teach Sanda.

Combat Sanshou grew out of the accumulated total of all my training and fighting experience, both on that stage and in the streets. I noticed that when I didn’t try to stick to a specific style, I would systematically use certain techniques and principles. Over the years, this turned into the structured system system it is today.

If I have to describe it, I usually say it is a bridge between traditional Chinese martial arts and modern full-contact competition fighting with self-defense as the only purpose. There are elements of both in the system and I like to think I took the best of both worlds. Traditionalists will most certainly recognize certain body mechanics and techniques. Competition fighters will recognize specific combinations and concepts, along with certain training drills. So it is a hybrid system that draws from multiple sources.

The name is just that, something to call it by. But it also describes the system well enough:

  • “Sanshou” can be translated as “free fighting”. In a broader sense, it means “to apply the techniques from Chinese martial arts in a fight.”
  • “Combat” is self-explanatory. It is the purpose of the system: to use the Sanshou techniques for self-defense instead of sports.

I make no claims of teaching anything new and revolutionary, nor do I believe the system is superior to anything else already available. It’s just what I’ve found that works well for me, my students and clients. My goal in teaching it is that you might find value in it too and can use it for your own safety.



Principles and structure

Combat Sanshou is structured in a specific way with a specific methodology because in my experience, this produces results fast but also in a lasting manner. The structure is comprised of four broad categories:

  • Striking. Using the upper body to attack with fists, elbows, palm techniques and more.
  • Kicking. Using the lower body to attack with different parts of the foot, shin and knee.
  • Clinching and wrestling. This means stand-up clinching, a wide variety of throws, sweeps and takedowns but also how to get up from the ground if an opponent takes you there.
  • Finishing moves. The techniques you use to make sure the fight stops right then and there.

There is overlap between all categories but before you try to combine them, its usually more practical to isolate the techniques within each category so you can perform them to a minimum degree of proficiency.


The methodology is based upon one core concept: Learn skills, not techniques.

Yes, you have to learn techniques first but that’s just the first step. You are supposed to know how to throw a standard straight palm heel to the face or how to do a textbook throw. That’s a baseline level of competency, it’s where you start. The true goal is being able to adapt those techniques on the fly depending on the circumstances.

Every good fighter does just that. Even if he uses only a handful of techniques, he has dozens of variations for them and (often instinctively) knows how to adapt them to changes in distance, timing, angle, etc. As no two violent confrontations are exactly the same, this should be your true goal: to become skillful instead of merely technical.

That is one of the reasons why I emphasize the five types of impact early on in the curriculum. They are both a direct and indirect path to becoming more skillful. At the same time, they give you the tools to use the techniques differently depending on the particular tactical goals you set.

This brings me to another foundation of the teaching structure:

It’s a buffet, not a fixed meal. 

In other words, it doesn’t matter what I can do or where my preferences lie: you are supposed to pick the tools in the curriculum that work for you.

It doesn’t make sense to specialize in kicking techniques if you have bad knees. It also wouldn’t be smart to make ripping techniques your favorite moves if you lack the hand strength to perform them effectively. Instead, pick and choose what is best for you, depending on your body type, temperament, circumstances, etc. The system offers more than enough tools to choose from.



Strategy and tactics

Before you can decide upon a strategy, you need a goal. For Combat Sanshou, this is very clear: self-defense. The system’s sole purpose is to help you survive and prevail when you are confronted with a violent aggressor.  It’s not about going five rounds in a cage with another guy nor is it about upholding ancient traditions; staying safe is the only goal.

To achieve that goal, there are a few strategic assumptions upon which the system hinges:

  1. Get the opponent down on the ground. A downed opponent is usually more easily defeated than a standing one, which brings you closer to your goal of surviving the attack:
    • A downed opponent has significantly less offensive and defensive capabilities than a standing one and is therefor less of a risk to you.
    • A downed opponent has significantly lessened ability to keep you from escaping his attack.
  2. Do not follow him there. Once on the floor, you not only lose the tactical advantage, you also make it more difficult to accomplish your mission of staying safe:
    • All the disadvantages of a downed opponent now apply to you too if your opponent manages to get up before you.
    • You can’t escape and get to safety if you actively grapple and fight on the ground with your attacker. In fact, you only prolong the conflict which increases your odds of losing with every second that goes by.
    • Self-defense means assuming weapons and multiple opponents are always a possibility. In neither case do you want to be on the ground for that.
  3. If you do end up there, get up as quickly as possible. Anything can and will happen in a fight so you should prepare for failure as well. This means that as soon as you end up on the ground against your will, your sole goal is to get back up again and not to stay on the ground a second longer than you absolutely have to.

These three points form the core of the strategy. Everything else derives from it.

Combat Sanshou the self-defense system Tiger and Snake

Click the image to get this video.

The tactics to achieve these strategic goals are also pretty straightforward:

  • Combine different types of impact. Every type of impact has strong and weak points; they’re nothing but different tools for different situations. When you alternate between them, the opponent will have a much more difficult time dealing with your offense than if you stick to just one.
  • Multi-purpose techniques. Every technique has at least one goal but the more skillful you become, the more you combine multiple goals within every single move you make. This is another illustration of the skills vs. techniques concept. The four primary goals are:
    • Cause pain/disorientation. The most common goal of a technique is to hurt the opponent: you give him enough pain so it becomes difficult for him to attack you. This can mean debilitating pain or merely enough to distract him from your next move.
    • Attack his system. You can achieve the previous goal much easier if you aim for vulnerable anatomical targets instead of just throwing techniques in his general direction and hoping they do damage.
    • Attack his structure. The aggressor needs a well-functioning body to attack you. If you twist, push, pull or break his body’s structure, his ability to harm you is greatly diminished.
    • Break his balance. The first step in getting somebody down on the ground is braking his balance. How you get him off balance is less important than the fact that you do. So you try to add this goal to every move you make.
  • Either/or mindset. A common tactical error is to get stuck in a loop and repeat the same technique over and over, despite the fact that it isn’t working. To avoid this, you perform a technique once: either it works right away or you do something else.
  • Sinking. This is in fact a skill in and of itself but as it has immense tactical implications, I mention it here too. In short: you cannot consistently achieve the first (put him down) and second strategic goal (don’t go with him) if you are off-balance. Therefor you should always keep your center of gravity under control.  You do this by lowering your center of gravity to the ground and by adjusting your body’s structure.
  • Absorb and issue pressure. For your offense, your techniques need to put enough pressure on your attacker so it is hard for him to react. For defense, you need to be able to handle the pressure of a committed attacker coming at you. There are purely physical but also psychological aspects to this tactic.



The new video: Tiger and Snake

This video is the first of a series in which I go into more detail on how to adapt Combat Sanshou to your own specific needs. The concept is very simple:

  • How do you use the techniques if you’re a big, strong guy?
  • How do you use them if you’re light and fast?
  • How do you combine both?

No two people are alike so it is only logical they fight with different tactics and techniques as well. This means using your strengths and avoiding that your weaknesses are used against you. In this video, I focused on showing how you can do that from opposite ends of the physical spectrum: strength and mass vs. speed and agility. Neither one is better than the other, they’re just different. The point is that you should pick the sub-system that tailors the most to your needs.

I chose the terms “Tiger” and “Snake” for two reasons:

  • Even though the techniques do not all come directly from those traditional Chinese animal styles, there are many similarities.
  • These animals exemplify the qualities of each sub-system:
    • Tiger: Raw strength, aggression and overwhelming attack.
    • Snake: Speed, precision and viciousness.

Aside of seeing how to use the different techniques for both offense and defense, you’ll also learn the specific mindset for each sub-system. Of course, there are many shades of grey between both ends of the scale so I also demonstrated how, when and why to blend the sub-systems together or go from one to the other.

Another aspect I emphasized was demonstrating the applications as close as possible to realistic circumstances. That’s why I thanked my demo partner in the beginning of this article, because he suffered for it. I made him wear all sorts of protective gear so I could come pretty close to hitting with full power. But I also struck him repeatedly times when he wasn’t expecting it to capture how an attacker actually reacts when you use a technique correctly. Finally, we filmed a couple scenarios outside of the studios in which both sub-systems are used in a hypothetical self-defense situation.

I’m pretty happy with how the video turned out and want to thank the whole Paladin Press crew for all there hard work.



What’s next?

I’ve received numerous questions via email in the last few days, which is why wrote this article; to answer them all in one go. One of the recurring themes is about future plans for Combat Sanshou. Here’s some more information on what’s coming next:

  • Conditioning video. Right before making this video, we shot another one that focuses on both body mechanics and conditioning for self-defense. Even though the information is also applicable to many other styles and systems, it is the heart and core of Combat Sanshou on a purely physical level. In that video, I show and explain the conditioning drills I use to have both strength and speed along with technique and precision. The release date has not yet been set.
  • More sub-systems. Tiger and Snake are only the first of the sub-systems. I have several more video projects in the works that go into more detail about the techniques and concepts from the original three-part video series.
  • Weapons. So far, I’ve only focused on empty-hand techniques. Obviously, weapons will follow.
  • Instructor program. Over the years, I’ve had many requests for some sort of instructor program but the timing wasn’t right for me because of other projects. Now I can finally give this the follow-through it needs and set it up correctly so the candidate instructors get everything they need.


I hope this article answers any questions you might have about both the system and the new video. If not, feel free to get in touch and contact me.


Just as a reminder: the promotion on my other products is valid until and through 1/31/13. Go here and don’t forget to use the code WIM25 to save 25%!


UPDATE: Paladin Press just re-posted this article on their blog. If you haven’t checked them out yet, head over there for a ton of informative articles.

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