Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wing Chun: Izzo Tactical Combat Martial Arts: Schaumburg, IL

Background: “Wing Chun Kung Fu is ineffective and a waste of time.” Joe Rogan, 2010. This comment came out as part of an interview he gave and it set the Martial Arts world on fire. Google that quote and you will find a divided community that spewed more vitriol at each other then at almost any time. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) have been at each other’s throats since the first Pancrase and UFC tournaments. As an MMA fan since I saw UFC 2 and Joe Rogan when he called his first fight at UFC 12 I have loved the sport. Arguably he influenced me to start doing Martial Arts again. I decided to get involved in Traditional Praying Mantis Kung Fu and later compete in MMA, Sanda, Grappling and Sambo amongst other tournaments.
Dominick and I touching hands practising Chi Sao.

Now I was torn, I loved Joe Rogan as a fight commentator because he was a Martial Artist. He knew what was going down and why it was important. Yet, I practised a Traditional Martial Art and part of the ineffective arts. Having been a competitor it was easy to see were Mr. Rogan was coming from. I have seen my share of “Water Dancers” and “Flower Pressers” who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag even if they wanted to. But I also saw a group of fighters that were great and applied their Martial Arts to the fullest despite being "traditional."

As I travelled and explored I came to realize that Martial Arts exists in two worlds. The clearest distinction can be seen on within the sword fighting community. You have LARP (Live Action Role Playing) & HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) which dominate the scene. LARPing requires only a foam sword and a sense of fun. Now there are some very serious LARPers that consider themselves “bad asses” because they dress up and their armour can take 3 hits because it is steel or chain mail or whatever. Conversely you have a much smaller HEMA crowd that love to fight with steel and synthetic weapons. These guys & gals would cut the LARPers community to pieces in a heartbeat. I have done both and they are both immense fun. However, one group strives for accuracy and techniques that win and the other is lost in a mythical, albeit enjoyable, fantasy.
Practising the Wing Chun chain punch.

Traditional Martial Arts is no different. As a former competitor I am acutely aware of my own weaknesses and interested in patching my own game. I am a great striker and have a solid clinch game with takedowns to go with it. My biggest stand up weakness is that I don’t have the best technique to bridge in between striking and the clinch. With Wing Chun being the “bridging art” I thought what better place to patch this hole. However, I wanted to make sure I was going to train with someone that understood combat without living in fantasy. Enter Dominick Izzo. I found him in a forum I participate in and immediately saw he is a short, boisterous man, actively preaching the merits of Wing Chun. His Youtube channel had thousands of subscribers and he seemed to know what he was talking about. But I wasn't sold yet because I had a few more boxes to check off.

I wanted someone with fight experience because fighters have an intrinsic desire to peel back the myth and find effective techniques. Dominick is an active duty police officer and has several merits to his name plus a wrestling background. This was someone who had to deal with angry, violent individuals often bridging in with takedowns to subdue people. He couldn't just punch them in the face or claw their eyes out. However, what sold me was one of his blog posts where he described the fear of combat. People that haven’t fought romanticize the experience. They are always brave and are never scared because they know they could take that guy across the bar. People that have fought know the fear that grips you and turns your bowels. The nervousness before a fight and thrill of victory happen because you have a huge endorphin dump at having made it through the challenge. Dominick wrote about this and I knew he had experience with real combat situations. A phone call later and I was on my way over.
Proof Dominick Izzo does in fact use kicks. Every video on Youtube that he doesn't throw one it becomes a question.

What did I learn: I have touched hands with Dominick on several occasions now and it has always been enlightening. One of the things that he brought up to me was to focus on driving in on my opponent’s centerline. Now this sounds impossibly basic for an experienced Martial Artist to forget to apply but it was rarely part of my game. As a big guy I rarely bother with the centerline and focus on my opponent’s limbs. Why? Because I am really good at patterns and timing. I subscribe to the “bunches of punches and punches in bunches” theory. I hammer my opponents with several good combos and get that get my opposition to chase my hands. As soon as they do I have my opening. It has been a hugely successful strategy in the ring for me. However, Dominick was quick to point out that I was applying the same theories in my bridging.
Dominick coaches me through a bridging exercise. 

I was so used to manipulating hands and reactions that I was falling victim of my own success. I wanted to grab onto wrists or I was reaching for a clinch. This left me opened to counter striking and takedowns. When Dominick had me start working on bridging he had me tighten up my defence. Chi Sao is often derided as a waste of time because it isn't fighting. It isn't even close to how a fight will take place in any real circumstances. However, Dominick was entirely honest about this and never claimed that it would be. Instead he uses the Chi Sao to show how you aren't being efficient when you fight. He would call out to me, “why are your arms so wide?” and “do you need to move him out that far?” In an extremely simple exercise he showed me how to be a more efficient and effective fighter.

The other thing Dominick works with me on are kicks and penetrating theory. Because of how I fight tend to pull back after my kicks especially in the clinch. The reason I do this is to drop my bodyweight on them and crush them down. Since most people will bend at the waist to relieve the pressure it opens them up for knees or upper body throws. Yet, I need to take into account that I am not always able to crush people down and have met other people strong enough to resist me. By not driving through I am not penetrating enough to engage lower body takedowns like single legs and sweeps. I really enjoyed that some very simple exercises have helped me become a better fighter.
Dominick shows the dangers of pushing a hand to far out.

What was similar: I ask questions whenever I have the opportunity to train with Dominick because Wing Chun is so similar and yet so different from what I have done in the past. The thing I respect about Dominick is that he takes the questions without hesitation or complaint. If you look at his Youtube channel you will see that he regularly has people in from different styles to teach his class and validate the lessons he gives. Any time an instructor will stand up to outside scrutiny is a blessing for their class and the Martial Arts community. He is constantly pushing to make Wing Chun better. Not by altering Wing Chun’s core principals rather by seeking to understand how other people see Wing Chun and attempt to exploit its weaknesses. As someone who travels around the country and trains with Martial Artists from different backgrounds it is great to meet people with a similar philosophy. This builds a sense of community and broadens your horizons.
I work at chaining blocks together. 

The other thing I really like about Dominick’s classes is how he breaks down his drills. Very often he will stop and ask his class if they think this is how a fight would go down. More often than not the answer is “no.” Having had to use Wing Chun on a regular basis Dominick is cognisant of how a fight will happen. It will be sloppy and lack the precision that you see in training. Instead of technical perfection Dominick has his students learning concepts and theories. When you spar you should be applying concepts not trying to remember if your arm is at a perfect ninety degree bend with your fingers flexed in the proper direction.

Conclusion: One of the images that will stay burned into my mind is watching Dominick suit up after class. The police equipment while protective was also somewhat restrictive and heavy. Watching this I could see the value of Wing Chun. Short, sharp movements designed to close distance on an offender that seemed to work well in conjunction with his equipment. Boxing versus Wing Chun is hotly debated and after seeing Dominick work I think the question is a very poor one. As a police officer he can’t simply haul off and smash everyone who resists in in the face. Instead, swarming and controlling them with the option to throw heavier hits if the situation turns ugly is much more functional for law enforcement. With his opened attitude and real world experience the students at Izzo Tactical Combat Martial Arts are better prepared for the world outside the Dojo than those who refuse to see what else is out there. 
Dominick runs a great school and a great program. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. On Facebook: Youtube: out Izzo Tactical Combat Martial Arts: 


  1. Awesome article Martin! Dominick is doing great things for the WC community with his videos and no BS approach. Be sure to check out my Wing Chun kwoon as well! Peace

    1. Thank you very much Eric! I would love to come visit you.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Martin! Sifu Izzo has certainly made a splash and it's great to hear about your experience. Keep punching!

    1. Thank you Ando. Sifu Izzo has certainly shaken the boat up and he is a fantastic guy to learn from. I appreciate the support.