It is often said that Wing Chun has a very small, if not the smallest, syllabus of any of the martial arts style. In a sense this is true and in another sense it is not true. There are two very important considerations to bear in mind when approaching Wing Chun; one is attention to details and the other is applications. It is accepted that Wing Chun consists of three forms, the wooden man form, the pole form, the knives form.
Knowing the first form, for example, may on the face of it appear fairly simple. Indeed it can be learned and memorised in a few days with hard practice. The first form contains most of the blocks and strikes used in Wing Chun. When one combines the first form with the ability to move back and forth and turn, one has the rudiments of a very competent fighting system. Accuracy is not easy to achieve. Timing, distance and power with a combination of hard and soft energies at the same time are difficult. To learn the basic movements which make up the first form is not so difficult. However, to achieve accuracy and pin-point precision with the hand movements and be able to perform these movements instinctively is another story. It takes time to master and become the style.
It requires a teacher who has a detailed and complete knowledge of positions and the art of Wing Chun. Constant correction of the student by a skilled teacher is one of the keys to Wing Chun. Another key is a detailed knowledge of how to apply the techniques encoded in the forms. Without the correct positioning and knowledge of applications, the foundations of further progress will not be solid. This was how my Master Lee Shing taught Wing Chun. The next stage in the learning process is an understanding of the application of energy. Ultimately, knowledge of breathing becomes essential.
Overview of the Form
An important preliminary to learning and applying the forms in Wing Chun is good stance and footwork. Indeed, Wing Chun stance and footwork is fundamental to progress in this style. The most basic stance in the Wing Chun style is the so called goat riding stance. In this stance the feet are shoulder width apart, with the heels and toes in line and the toes pointing slightly inwards. Sink down in the stance until the knees are bent and squeeze the knees together until the gap between them is one fist distance apart. Your pelvis is thrust forward. The neck, head and the body are aligned and the thighs and buttocks are tensed. This stance provides the foundation for all the footwork in the Wing Chun system. It also generates energy for the upper body to fight with from the knees and the tension in the thighs and buttocks furthermore, it allows one to practice trapping and footwork to move and fight. Since the stance involves sinking the body (Cha Ma) one develops a considerable amount of potential energy useful for fighting and defending; a little like the potential energy stored in a coil and compressed steel spring. One can rise up from the sinking position and add body movement to give more energy in the strikes and blocks, combining this basic stance with turning and footwork, prepare the foundations and offers further progress in Wing Chun.
Discipline in the Chinese martial arts is extremely important. The traditional Chinese way of learning is similar to the old craft system of apprenticeship. In order to learn a trade, or skill, a student would find a master craftsman who would be willing to take him on for payment, and train him. Such apprenticeships would last many years, and depend on the student, the master and the trade, or skill, being learned.
A student will often ask a master how to become good. A student asks a master how to achieve insight. The master leads the student to the water’s edge and out into the water at which point the master suddenly pushes the student’s head under the water. Initially the student is unconcerned, but after a while he begins to struggle, and his struggle becomes fierce. Eventually the master allows the student to surface. Later the master tells him, ‘when you remember how you felt when you tried to bring your head up above the surface of the water, when your desire is this great, you will have insight’.
In the end, if you have studied Wing Chun with concentration and dedication under a proper master, I believe that your Wing Chun will be recognised in your practise, sparring, and ultimately in real fighting. Master Lee Shing used to say that in order to learn the style, one must become or look like the style.
The original meaning of discipline is derived from disciple or follower. To excel and become good at Wing Chun takes time, discipline and patience. To become good at anything in life is the same. The biggest problem for any student is always the same person. The student will see this person every time they look in the mirror; you are your own worst opponent.
Wing Chun Kuen is a natural discipline which offers many physical and mental benefits. Students learn the ability to: relax, control and use their energy better, calm their minds, and become stronger and more confident. More importantly, Wing Chun Kuen teaches one how to behave properly, show respect towards yourself and others, and cultivate good manners, the trademark of a proper Wing Chun Kuen practitioner.
The First Form - Siu Lim Tao
This is the first form in the Wing Chun system. It can be translated into ‘little training idea’ or Form’; a reference to the small, at vital movement of the wrist that are trained to strike and block using Inch power. This form is designed to train the Wing Chun practitioner in the following:
* Elbow and wrist energies at short distance to develop inch power. * Straight line/Direct fighting * Centre line positioning of the body * Develop the ability to control two hands with one hand * Centre line theory and handwork guard top, middle and lower gates * Cultivate accurate positioning for each hand movement * Correct breathing whilst fighting * Independent movement of limbs * Mind and Body co-ordination * Promote the generation and flow of internal energy (CHI) in the body for defending and fighting * Develop hard and soft use of energies in striking and blocking
Another important principle taught in Siu Lim Tao is Ye Sil Sau and Ye Dar Sau’. This refers to the practices of interchanging the roles of the hands when attacking and defending. That is to say, attacking hand becomes the defending hand and vice versa. Siu lam tao comprises of 108 movements, and may be divided up into three parts. The first part concerns itself with the build up of energy for fighting. The second part deals with the explosive release of this energy in blocks and strikes. The final part allows one to practice techniques and attain good hand positions, whilst using the energy one has built up in the first part of this form. The last part of Siu lam tao has to be performed with a delicate balance of tension and relaxation at certain points in the form.
For the first few months it is important to practice Siu Lim Tao whilst relaxed, and to concentrate firstly on achieving good positioning of the hands and accuracy with the strikes and blocks. Speed and power must come later, and are no use anyway if one’s technique is crude and sloppy.
The key to making progress with Siu Lim Tao is repetition of the movements with accuracy and precision whilst keeping the body relaxed. The movements which make up this form must become second nature, i.e. Instinctive.
Every single movement in Siu Lim Tao has several practical fighting applications, which must be thoroughly understood by the practitioner. All correct hand positions and the basic Wing Chun stance must be mastered before progress can be made. Siu lim Tau contains most of the blocks, defections and strikes used in Wing Chun, and one must become proficient in their use. The Wing Chun practitioner must be able to apply hard and soft energies, and be confident in using one hand to control two.
Each form has its own particular kind of punch, and it is vital that the student masters the first form punch before moving onto the other (forms and) punches. Power is developed by practising one’s punches on a wall bag. The forms, on their own, are limited in their ability to develop power in the student.
The Second form - Chum Kiu
This form is known as the seeking or searching the bridge form. In this form one learns to reach out and find one’s opponent, i.e. Seek the bridge, in order to fight or defend against them. This form also teaches the Wing Chun student various body movements which are designed to dramatically increase the power of one’s blocks and strikes. Various new blocks and strikes are also introduced in this form, as well as three different kicks and techniques for defending against kicks using the knees and body turning. The key points of Chum Kiu are proper use of the turning stance in conjunction with blocks and strikes and rising and sinking of the body. In contrast with Siu Lam Tau, Chum Kiu concerns itself with using both arms and both legs together. Similar to Siu Lim Tau, Chum Kiu has three parts. However, the distinction between these parts is not as clear as in the case of Siu Lim Tao, where every part has a clearly defined purpose. The most important part of Chum Kiu deals with teaching the student how to: change direction (turn) and defend; combine technique, stance and footwork together; and use sinking and rising energy in blocks, strikes and kicks.
The Third form - Biu Gee
This form is known as the flying or thrusting fingers form. In the old days, this form was traditionally only taught to a select group of closed door students. Apart from introducing a variety of completely new techniques, such as 18 rotating elbow strikes, this form also teaches the Wing Chun practitioner how to recover from mistakes and over commitment in the execution of techniques. Although, only one type of elbow appears in Biu Gee, namely, kup jarn (downward rotating elbow), the form may be performed with many other types of elbows such as: tiu jarn (upper cut elbow); gwei jarn (sitting or sinking elbow); pau jarn (over the top elbow); and all the remaining elbows which are known to the Wing Chun style. Biu Gee deals with the development of striking techniques using fingers, elbows and more advanced methods of fighting. In this form the elbows are not only used for striking, but are also used for trapping. The bent elbow arm may also be used to strike, block or grab with when released. The emphasis throughout Biu Gee must firmly be placed on circling or rotating and fingertip energy.
In Biu Gee, one is concerned with the development and refinement of a certain kind of energy, which must be focused into the fingertips and hands. The main target areas are the vital points of one’s opponent.
The Wooden Dummy Form
The wooden man form is a training tool for the practice of Wing Chun techniques, both hard and soft. As far as I understand and was taught, the wooden man not only allows position and movements to be practised but also allows the application of techniques which incorporate strikes. Wooden man training also improves ones timing, speed of movement, power and accuracy of strikes, arm and leg co-ordination, toughness of arms and legs and flowing movements, another thing taught by the wooden man is the correct fighting distance between you and your opponent. The wooden man may also be used for the soft practices of hands positions and rapid in/out body movement using footwork. However the wooden man will not teach you how to react to a real opponent who is capable of counter attacking you. The wooden man may be regarded not so much as sparring partner but more of a dictionary on which to practices ones Wing Chun techniques over and over again.
There are 116 fighting techniques in the wooden man from. This form teaches the Wing Chun practitioner how to apply the inch power techniques learnt throughout Siu Lam Tau, Chum Kiu and Biu Gee, how to generate energy upon contact with ones opponent. It is not always possible to find a human opponent on which to practices on all day long; the wooden man provides a solution to this problem. The arms and legs of the wooden man are carefully designed to move and absorb the energy due to impact, and thereby protect the hands, arms, feet and legs from damage. Each set of movements in the wooden man form is a sequence of fighting techniques in its own right. One must constantly practice these movements until hey become habitual or instinctive. A complete understanding of the meaning and applications of each set of movements then has to be achieved, in order to use these techniques for fighting in real life situations.
The Pole form - Luk Dim Boon Kwan
The pole form is one of the main constituents of the Wing Chun system. Often the six and a half point pole is misunderstood to comprise of only six and a half movements; a common misconception. However, the six and a half point pole form I learned from my master consists of 108 movements in which both ends of the pole are utilised to their full capacity. The use of the pole as a weapon evolved from the spear. If the spear can be regarded as the king of all weapons, then the pole may be regarded as the prince. All techniques which can be performed with the spear can also be performed with the pole; the only difference being that the pole does not have a sharp point at one end and any red coloured hair from the tails of horses around the base of the point to distract one’s opponents.
Removal of the point from the spear to form the pole however resulted in a slight modification of the techniques which can be used. As the spear has a sharp point it is easy to thrust with it and cause serious damage. However, the pole does not have this point therefore to cause damage when thrusting it has to be thrust in a particular manner which focuses the energy of the thrust into the last three inches of the pole (near the striking) end. This is a very advanced technique which can only be learned from a true master of the pole form. One of the central themes of the pole form is the concept of ‘Yam - Yeun’ which means that one has to be competent in knowing and sensing exactly when, where and how to use soft and hard energies in executing techniques with the pole.
The Knives Form - Pat Cham Dao
The highest form in the Wing Chun system is widely acknowledged to be the knives form. The knives in the Wing Chun system are often called pat cham dao which translates as eight times chopping knives. Sometimes they are also referred to as butterfly knives.
The knives form consists of eight different sets of movements (hence the eight above) which enable the practitioner to defend against various weapons both long and short.
The knives used are especially designed to afford the user maximum protection of the hands, forearms and elbows. This is evident from the shape and structure of the hilt, and the length of the blade which has to cover the elbow when held in a particular way. The design of the hilt of the knives also allows one to rotate the knives very quickly, whilst releasing the handle, which allows one to change the direction in which the knives are cutting very rapidly. All this of course is achieved by swift and smooth movements of the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders which must move with co - coordinated precision. Ultimately correct positioning of the body and good footwork becomes essential if one is to use the knives to their best effect. The correct positioning of the body is crucial for one’s own protection from attack by their opponent. Good footwork is essential to get one within striking range of one’s opponent and also out of their striking range if necessary.
Ways of fighting
The Fight must be conducted without feeling or emotion. One must be merciless even if it might be regarded as cruel. Always use the most devastating technique to finish the opponent and never hold back. Ones power or energy is like a bow drawn back and held in tension with the arrow waiting for release, When the bow string is released, the arrow flies and strikes. This is the way in which one must release ones power or energy and strike with everything. In fighting one must also use the concept of ‘Yam - Ye un’ the soft - hard approach to fighting. Every time you hit with a punch, you must use your whole body to create power for this punch, from the toes through to your knees onto your hips and eventually your hand. In Chinese this is called ‘Yiu Yil Ma’. A punch delivered in this manner, involving the whole length of the body, is very powerful. Often a Wing Chun practitioner will fight over a bridge. A bridge is the contact point between your hand, forearm, or even elbow and your opponent… This bridge may be created when you attack your opponent. And they block your attack. One must be careful not to allow an opponent to use the bridge against you. A Cantonese’s encapsulates the essence of the way in which a fight must be conducted and is as follows ‘Kune Mo Sam Sen’ - The fight is short, Direct and the third strike finishes it’. A similar saying is particular apt in the case of the pole fighting and is ‘Gwun Mo Leung Heung’ - After pole contacts pole, it moves to strikes the opponent and end the conflict’.