Similarities between safe driving and WingTsun

In November 2006 Sifu Thorsten Elge, 4th TG, took part in a driver safety training course held by Germany’s largest motoring organisation (ADAC). From the start he was struck by the similarities to WingTsun, as he reports below.

Correct seating position

First of all, a WingTsun beginner learns the correct posture, e.g. the Siu-Nim-Tao with the IRAS (Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma). One motto for the first form is: “Support the sky with your head“, i.e. stand upright with the back straight, neither leaning backwards nor forwards.
Driver safety training begins with the right seating position. Here too, you are supposed to sit up straight and adjust the seat backrest accordingly. This both gives a good view when driving and allows corresponding force to be applied when braking (more about this later). Instead many drivers tend to lie in their seats, which means that under emergency braking, they literally force themselves out of the seat – just like a WT student who pushes himself away from an opponent during a punch or kick, because his incorrect posture does not allow him to transfer the energy fully.
The head restraint is intended to support the head, so it must be adjusted to head height.


The right seating position also means sitting at the right distance from the steering wheel and pedal cluster. Just as the distance from the opponent can decide victory or defeat in single combat, an accident can be made more likely in a critical situation if the driver of a car is at the wrong distance from the pedals (or steering wheel).
All the participants in the driver safety course I joined (including myself!) sat too far away from the pedal cluster. Every one of them was amazed when the instructor moved the seat slightly forward for each in turn.
If the distance is too large, not enough force can be exerted on the brake pedal. In this context it is important to realise that the power assistance provided by a brake servo unit is proportional to the pedal force.
In my case the seating distance set by the instructor took some getting used to. I related this to a friend who takes part in such driver safety courses for professional reasons (he is a fireman, and therefore drives large vehicles that need to negotiate obstacles at high speeds), and he confirmed the importance of having the right safety distance. He too was amazed when he first saw that Porsche racing drivers adopt a sit-up-and-beg position behind the wheel. Anybody who needs to brake from very high speeds within fractions of a second knows how much strength this takes (despite servo assistance), and why we talk about motor SPORTS.

Exterior mirrors

Once we had found the right seating position (or posture), the instructor showed us the best angle to which the exterior mirrors should be adjusted.
The driver’s mirror of a left-hand drive car should be adjusted to that you can still see a tiny bit of your own car. The right angle is most easily found if another person holds his hand at the rear of the vehicle, and at the height of the mirror (see photo). The mirror is then adjusted so that the hand can be seen.
The setting can be checked with the help of a partner who stands behind the vehicle and walks slowly along the left side, like a car passing on the left in right-hand traffic. As soon as the partner can no longer be seen in the mirror, you should have him in your own line of vision. No so-called ”blind spot“!
The instructor told us that many drivers have a blind spot because they are too much in love with their car. They adjust the mirror to a position where they can see too much of it.
Once again this mirror adjustment lesson reminded me of the Siu-Nim-Tao. Once we have adopted the right stance, we need to find the right angle e.g. for the Gau-Cha Tan-Sao. For protection the elbows need to be at a certain distance from the body (like the exterior mirrors of a car). This can be illustrated by e.g. a reaction with a Tan-Sao and weight shift (turn). See photos!


Naturally it is expected that the vehicle is well maintained. In the same way you should not attend WT classes if you are ill, and of course it is very advantageous in a fight if you are physically fit.
There should of course be enough fuel in the tank, just as a fighter needs to have certain energy reserves in order to fight.


As a first exercise the instructor familiarised us with the layout and route, with the aim of practicing our steering.
The hands should stay (stick) where they are on the steering wheel whenever possible. According to our instructor,  changing the grip is only necessary in exceptional cases. This exercise strongly reminded me of Chi-Sao (sticking hands). 
I also noticed something else though: at the moment when the arms begin to cross when steering, the movement is dominated by the upper arm and the lower arm is moved upwards.
In a tutorial GGM Leung Ting once said that one should avoid crossing one’s own arms, as otherwise there is a risk of being trapped. However, this motto does not apply if the opponent’s arms are below my own arms, as I can trap him instead. Here too, the upper arm dominates (I literally have the upper hand).

Emergency braking

WingTsun has another motto: ”The first punch must be a kill.“
When the chips are down in a self-defence situation, there is no room for half measures. A half-hearted punch is easily countered, and a hesitant punch is less likely to put the opponent out of the fight than a determined forward defence.
Initially this sounds obvious, but one often sees something quite different happening (particularly with beginners). The first punch e.g. goes into thin air before the second one eventually lands on the (stationary) focus-mitt.So this is certainly a motto that should be taken to heart during training.
During the driver safety training we practiced emergency braking, which becomes necessary in a critical situation. This means that the brake pedal is suddenly operated with full force to brake the vehicle as quickly as possible. As I have already mentioned, it is necessary to sit upright to transfer the necessary power to the pedal. Power is most effectively transferred when the leg is at an angle of 135 degrees – exactly as in the case of a punch or kick (when it connects). The seating distance from the pedal should be accordingly.
As when kicking, the whole foot incl. the heel should be employed when braking. Platform heels are therefore not a good idea when driving a car. During the emergency braking exercises, I once again thought it could not be that hard to perform well. What was the point of practicing?
I could not have been more wrong. Not one participant in the driver safety course was able to brake with full power. Many only braked hesitantly or took their foot off the pedal much too early.

Avoiding obstacles

Prior to a further exercise in the course, the instructor sprayed water onto a smooth stretch of road and put down a number of traffic cones as fixed obstacles.
The exercise was to drive towards the cones at a set speed and then avoid hitting them. Braking was only allowed after a certain point, making it impossible to stop in time. The speed was increased after each run. All the participants found that the higher the speed, the more difficult it was to change direction. At this point the reader might shrug and say that this is pretty obvious. Despite ABS, all the participants interrupted their braking action as soon as they steered to avoid the cones. What are the similarities with WingTsun in this case? ABS (anti-lock braking system) ensures that a vehicle remains manoeuvrable when braking by applying intermittent brake pressure at frequent intervals. The car therefore continues in very small ´stages´ while slowing down. Without ABS the braking distance is slightly shorter under emergency braking, however the car is no longer steerable and continues to ´slide´ in the current direction. WingTsun footwork is something like ABS. Numerous small steps make it possible to change direction in an instant. A large step or a jump is akin to a car without ABS under emergency braking.


One might think it obvious to look at the target – both when fighting and driving a car. In my experience, however, many WingTsun beginners look at the hands during partner training. The hands are not the target of course. When we practiced avoiding obstacles during the safety training course, I have to admit that my eyes were hypnotically drawn to the obstacle, rather than looking where I was going. There is a remarkable difference between (incorrectly) looking at the obstacle you want to avoid, and looking in the direction you want to travel.


The final exercise was to negotiate a wide bend at the highest possible speed. At least with my car and my seats, it was not so much my arms as my body that I used to ´steer´. While I do not know much about the long pole, the body tends to move more than the arms. Waving one’s arms to and fro leads to excessive movement (loss of time), and is also far more tiring.

Redundant safety

Both in a car and in WingTsun, there are several safety systems in place to protect us. In a car there are a crumple zone, a passenger cell, airbags and seat belts which combine to protect us in the event of an accident.
In WingTsun too, there are always several safety systems to protect us, e.g. Tan-Sao, turns (shifting weight), (counter) punching. A Tan-Sao alone may not give adequate protection against an attack. Naturally everything combined provides much more safety.


I hope these few lines have revealed some interesting aspects. If they lead readers to give a little more attention to their safety, they will not have been in vain.