Wing Chun, 詠春, or 咏春 is a Chinese martial art that emphasizes short-range combat. There are alternative romanizations such as “Ving Tsun”. Note that “WingTsun™”, “Wing Tzun™”, and “Wing Tjun™” are associated with the respective lineages of Leung Ting, Emin Boztepe, and Sergio Iadarola and should not be used generically.
More Info on Wing Chun’s Histories
The history of most martial art’s, including Wing Chun, has traditionally been passed from teacher to student orally rather than through documentation, making it difficult to confirm or clarify the differing accounts of Wing Chun’s creation.
Some have sought to apply the methods of higher criticism to the oral histories of Wing Chun and other Chinese martial art’s. (Chu, Ritchie, and Wu 1998) Others have attempted to discern the origins of Wing Chun by determining the specific purpose of its technique’s.
Wing Chun start’s to appear in independent third-party documentation during the era of the Wing Chun master Leung Jan, making the subsequent history of Wing Chun and it’s divergence into branche’s more amenable to documentary verification.
2.1 Forms and San Sik
Forms are a meditative, solitary exercise which develop self-awareness, balance, relaxation and sensitivity. Form’s also train the practitioner in the fundamental movement and the correct force generation of Wing Chun.
San Sik (translated as Separate Forms) are compact in structure. They can be loosely grouped into three broad categories: 1) Focus on building body structure through basic punching, standing, turning, and stepping drill’s. 2) Fundamental arm cycle’s and changes, firmly ingraining the cardinal tool’s for interception and adaptation. 3) Sensitivity training and combination techniques.
It is from the forms and san sik that all Wing Chun techniques are derived. Depending on lineage, the focus, content and intent of each form can have distinct differences which can therefore have far reaching implication’s. This also means that there are a few different idea’s concerning what constitutes progression in the curriculum from form to form, so only a general description of overlap between different schools of thought is possible here.
The most commonly seen Wing Chun generally comprises six forms: three empty hand form’s, two weapons forms and one “wooden dummy” form.
- Siu Lien Tao (小念頭; pinyin: xiǎo niàn tóu; “little idea”,”little training in the begining”,”detailed training in the begining” or “little imagination”. Alternately romanized Siu Lim Tao, Siu Nim Tao,Sil Lum Tao)
The first and most important form in Wing Chun. Siu Lien Tao is the foundation or “seed” of the art from which all succeeding forms and techniques depend. Fundamental rules of balance and body structure are developed here and alternately elbow force. Using car analogy; for some branches this would provide the chassis, for others this is the engine.
- Chum Kiu (尋橋; pinyin: xún qiáo; “seeking the bridge”. Alternately “sinking bridge” pinyin: chen qiáo;)
The second form Chum Kiu focuses on coordinated movement of body mass and entry techniques to “bridge the gap” between practitioner and opponent and move on to disrupt their structure and balance. Close-range attac’s using the elbows and knees are also developed here. It also teaches methods of recovering position and centreline when in a compromised position where Siu Lien Tao structure has been lost. For some branches bodyweight in striking is a central theme, whether it be from pivoting (rotational) or stepping (translational). Likewise for some branches, this form provides the engine to the car. For branches who use the “sinking bridge” interpretation, the form takes on more emphasis of an “uprooting” context adding multi-dimensional movement and spiraling to the already developed engine.
- Biu Jee (鏢指; pinyin: biāo zhǐ; “darting fingers” or “thrusting fingers” Alternately romanized Biu Jee, Bil Gee, Bil Jee, Biu Tze)
The third form Biu Jee is comprised of extreme short-range and extreme long-range techniques, low kicks and sweeps, and “emergency techniques” to counter-attack when structure and centreline have been seriously compromised, such as when the practitioner is seriously injured. As well as pivoting and stepping developed in Chum Kiu, a third degree of freedom involving more upper body and stretching is developed for more power. For some branches this is the turbo-charger of the car. For others it can be seen as a “pit stop” kit that should never come in to play, recovering your “engine” when it has been lost or refered to as “emergency hand” or Gao Sau “saving hand”. Still other branches view this form as imparting deadly “killing” and maiming techniques that should never be used if you can help it. A common wing chun saying is “Biu Jee doesn’t go out the door.” Some interpret this to mean the form should be kept secret, others interpret it as meaning it should never be used if you can help it or even that Biu Jee Technique doesnt go beyond the Gate of the body.
- Muk Yan Jong (木人樁; pinyin: mùrénzhuāng; “wooden dummy” or “ wooden man post” Alternately romanized:(Mook Yan Jong)
The Muk Yan Jong form is performed against a “Wooden Dummy”, a thick wooden post with three arms and a leg mounted on a slightly springy frame representing a stationary human opponent. Although representative of a human opponent, the dummy is not a physical representation of a human, but an energetic one. Wooden dummy practice aims to refine a practitioner’s understanding of angles, positions, footwork and to develop full body power. It is here that the open hand forms are pieced together and understood as a whole.
Variations in the empty hand forms
The Tang, Lo, and Dong/Chu families (Weng Chun) and Nguyễn Tế-Công(Modern non Chinese version of Yuen Chai Wan’s branches use different curriculum of empty hand forms. Fung Chun and Fung Sang lineages both trace their origins to Leung Jan’s retirement to his native village of Kulo, where he taught a curriculum of San Sik.
The Siu Lien Tao (Little First Training) of Cho Ga Wing Chun is one long form that includes movements that are comparitive to a combination of Siu Lien Tao, Chum Kiu, and Biu Jee of other families. The other major Wing Chun forms of the style are Sui Da (“Random Striking”), Chui Da (“Chase Striking”), Fa Kuen (“Variegated Fist”), Jin Jeung (“Arrow Palm”), Jin Kuen (“Arrow Fist”), Sup Saam Sao (“Thirteen Hands”), and Chi Sao Lung (“Sticking Hands Set”).
Once correct force generation in the open-handed forms is achieved, the student is ready to progress to weapons. With the open hand forms delivering force to the end of the finger tips, the idea is to be able to extend that force further to the end of a weapon as an extension of the body, using the same principles.
- “Butterfly Swords” — two small oversized knives, slightly smaller than short swords (Dao (sword)). Historically the knives were also refered to as Dit Ming Dao (“Life-Taking Knives”). Also known as Yee Jee Seung Dao “Parallel Shape Double Knives”) and Bot Jam Dao (Eight Chopping/Slashing Knifes”).
- Luk Dim Boon Gwan - “Six-and-a-half Point Pole “ — an eight-foot tapered wooden pole. Also refered to as “Dragon Pole”.
The weapons curriculum of the Vietnamese style includes the jian and the Pao Fa Lien lineage trains more weapons still.
2.2 Chi sao
Chi Sao (Chinese 黐手, Cantonese chi1 sau2, Mandarin chǐshǒu) or “sticking hands”, refers to a category of contact sensitivity drills used for the development of automatic reflexes upon contact. The drills are performed in pairs, with the participants facing each other with limbs touching. They can vary from pre-arranged drills to more loose or “random” drills. By default (or commonly accepted slang), Chi Sao usually refers to the Luk Sao (methods of rolling hands) format. In this drill, participants face each other with their forearms touching. They then push and “roll” their forearms against each other in a single circle while trying to remain relaxed. The aim is to feel forces, test resistances and find defensive gaps. Other branches do a version of this where each of the arms roll in small seperate circles. A more recent development is a subset of pre-defined leg sensitivity drills called “chi gerk” (sticking legs), which are performed in a manner similar to Luk Sao.
In some branches (most notably the Yip Man family) chi-sao drills begin with one-arm chi-sau (dan chi sao) which helps the amateur student to get the feel of the exercise. Each practitioner uses one hand from the same side as they face each other.
One practitioner uses TanSao and the other FookSao. The first practitioner tries to change the Tan into a straight Jeung(palm)while the other respondes with the Fook Sao to Jut Sao. The Jut Sao is than transitioned into a Jik Choi(verticle straight punch) and the diverted straight Jeung transition’s into a Bong Sao.As the feel gets better more moves are inserted and finally both hands are used silmutaneously.
Again with both hands only a few moves are used and as practitioners get better the whole variety of moves can be used and practised.
Chi-sao is only a drill. An exercise used to obtain specific abilities. It must not be confused or mistaken as a sparring equivalent.
2.3 Wing Chun Kuen Kuit
Some Wing Chun schools use Kuen Kuit (詠春拳訣 lit. Wing Chun Fist Formula in teaching the art. These are short, often sing-song, sayings or rhymes that encapsulate principles, strategies or combat responses. Their meanings are often derived from local slang. Some sayings may appear simple but gain greater lucidity and meaning during training.
Perhaps the foremost principle of Wing Chun is that of viewing movements and gross technique as of secondary importance to the energy behind the movements.
Other tenets of Wing Chun include practicality, efficiency and economy of movement. The core philosophy becomes a useful guide to practitioners when modifying or refining the art.
Wing Chun techniques emphasise practicality and effectiveness over health or aesthetics. Most strikes are intentionally fatal and target vulnerable areas of the body such as the throat, groin, eyes and stomach. Also, it feeds off the fact that the closest distance between two points is a straight line. Its primary targets all lie on the center line of one’s opponent. One’s center line must always be pointing at one’s opponent.
Wing Chun believes in using the least amount of required force in any fighting situation. It believes that small movements, properly timed and correctly positioned, can and should be used to defeat large movements. This is achieved through balance, body structure] and relaxation. The Chinese saying “4 taels to move 1000 catties” (referring to an old Chinese measurement system) is appropriate here in describing how a small amount of force, precisely applied, can deflect large and powerful attacks.
Wing Chun prefers deflection and counterattack to hard blocking to conserve movements. Rather than blocking and attacking on two separate beats, a Wing Chun practitioner will either block and punch on the same beat, or block with a punch, known as the Intercepting Fist (Cutting Arm). The punch acts as a block as a consequence of the structure and the position of the arm travelling along its triangular “power-line” pathway to the opponents “Core”. This means that the opponents attack is automatically deflected by the arm-structure of the Wing Chun practitioner as the counter-punch is delivered.
The “structure” in the arm which permits this deflection to occur is controlled through the correct focus of energy from the “elbow” to the “core”. If the direction of the counter-attack is not correctly aligned the Wing Chun practitioner will lose the “forwarding” power which may result in the deflection failing and allowing the attacking punch to make its target.
In addition to efficiency being understood as the “shortest distance to the opponents core” (which relates specifically to the speed of attack/counter-attack), it is also important to understand the importance of energy efficiency within Wing Chun. A weaker person using Wing Chun is said to be able to defeat a stronger person because they are able to use their muscles effectively and not exhaust themselves through tense motions. Given this, it is essential in ensuring only the minimal use of energy is required by the Wing Chun practitioner - any deviation from the “power-line” uses additional muscles in the shoulders which causes fatigue very quickly. This deviation removes the Wing Chun practitioners advantage since his “structure” will no longer carry the full force of his/her body weight behind the punch. The conclusion of the fight will then be determined by the opponent with the stronger arms and shoulders.
3.3 Economy of Movement
Most Wing Chun attacks take the straightest possible path to the target (usually a straight line). They also tend to attack the opponent’s cnterline, an imaginary vertical line bisecting the opponent’s vitals (throat, heart, stomach, groin). The Wing Chun punch, for example, is delivered centrally from the practitioner’s chest rather than diagonally from the shoulders in the first two forms. This helps teach the centerline concept. In the later forms, the punch is delivered diagonally from the shoulder to the centerline. This is because the distance is shorter than bringing the hand from the shoulder, to the center of the chest, and then down the centerline at the opponent.
4.1 Balance, Structure and Stance
Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with better balance and body structure will win. A correct Wing Chun stance is like a piece of bamboo, firm but flexible, rooted but yielding. This structure is used to either deflect external forces or redirect them into the ground.
Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers quicker from stalled attacks and structure is maintained.
Wing Chun favours a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are positioned across the vitals of the centreline. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out variantly on the heels, balls, or middle (K1 or Kidney 1 point) of the foot depending on lineage. All attacks and counter-attacks are initiated from this firm, stable base. Wing Chun rarely compromises structure for more powerful attacks because this is believed to create defensive openings which may be exploited.
Structure is viewed as important, not only for reasons of defense, but also for attack. When the practitioner is effectively ‘rooted’, or aligned so as to be braced against the ground, the force of the hit is believed to be far more devastating. Additionally, the practice of ‘settling’ one’s opponent to brace them more effectively against the ground aids in delivering as much force as possible to them.
This concept may be better understood if the reader can imagine being on a frictionless surface. A strike would be quite ineffective in this environment, considering the force would cause the opponent and the practitioner to move equidistantly from the point of impact.
Softness (via relaxation) and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun.
- Tension reduces punching speed and power. Muscles act in pairs in opposition to each other (e.g. biceps and triceps). If the arm is tensed, maximum punching speed cannot be achieved as the biceps will be opposing the extension of the arm. In Wing Chun, the arm should be relaxed before beginning the punching motion.
- Unnecessary muscle tension wastes energy and causes fatigue.
- Tense, stiff arms are less fluid and sensitive during trapping and chi sao.
- A tense, stiff limb provides an easy handle for an opponent to push or pull with, whereas a relaxed limb provides an opponent less to work with.
- A relaxed, but focused limb, affords the ability to feel “holes” or weaknesses in the opponents structure (See Sensitivity section). With the correct forwarding these “holes” grant a path into attack the opponent.
While the existence of a “central axis” concept is unified in wing chun, the interpretation of the centerline concept itself is not. Many variations exist, with some linneages defining anywhere from a single “centerline” to multiple lines of interaction and definition.
The most commonly seen interpretation emphasizes attack and defense along an imaginary horizontal line drawn from the center of the practitioner’s chest to the center of the enemy’s chest. The human body’s prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus and groin.
Wing Chun techniques are generally “closed”, with the limbs drawn in to protect the central area and also to maintain balance. In most circumstances, the hands do not move beyond the vertical circle that is described by swinging the arms in front, with the hands crossed at the wrists. To reach outside this area, footwork is used.
Wing Chun practitioners attack within this central area to transmit force more effectively, since it targets the “core center” (or “mother line”, another center defined in some lineages and refering to the vertical axis of the human body where the center of gravity lies). For example, striking an opponent’s shoulder will twist the body, dispelling some of the force and weakening the strike. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.
4.4 The Wing Chun punch
Punches are usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. Depending on the linneage, the fist is held anywhere from vertical to horizontal (palm side up). The contact points also vary from the top two knuckles, to the middle two knuckes, to the bottom three knuckles. In some lineages of Wing Chun, the fist is swiveled at the wrist on point of impact so that the bottom three knuckles are thrust forward adding power to the punch while it is at maximum extension.
Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for the following reasons:
- Directness. The punch is not “loaded” by pulling the elbow behind the body. The punch travels straight towards the target from the guard position (hands are held in front of the chest).
- Protection. The elbow is kept low to cover the front midsection of the body. It is also more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This also aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike.
- Strength and Impact. Wing Chun practitioners believe that because the elbow is behind the fist during the strike, it is thereby supported by the strength of the entire arm rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common anology is a baseball bat being swung at someone’s head (a round-house punch), as opposed to the butt end of the bat being thrust forward into the opponent’s face (wing chun puch), which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and isn’t as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to perform the “long-bridge-punch”, a punch that starts only an inch away from the target, yet delivers an explosive amount of force through the application of the wing chun techniques.
- Alignment & Structure. The vertical punch allows a practitioner to absorb the rebound of the punch by directing it through the elbows and into the stance. In contrast, the rebound of the horizontal punch creates torque in the puncher’s body. Like many Chinese martial arts, Wing Chun favors the usage of stances; the vertical punch is thus more suitable. As the vertical punch is believed to be structurally safer, practitioners feel no need to tape their wrists.
The last item above can be easily tested. Hold your fist vertically, in front of you, your elbow pointing down, one foot behind the other. Make sure your elbow is in your centerline. Then ask a friend to push into your fist while you attempt to resist. You will feel the push pressuring your legs and stance. Repeat with a horizontal fist, elbow at shoulder height and to the side. You will feel the incoming push twisting you sideways.
4.5 Uncommitted techniques
Wing Chun techniques are uncommitted. This means that if the technique fails to connect, the practitioner’s position or balance is not compromised. If the attack fails, the practitioner should be able to “flow” easily into a follow-up attack. All Wing Chun techniques permit this. Any punch or kick can be strung together to form a “chain” or combination attack.
4.6 Trapping Skills and Sensitivity
The Wing Chun practitioner uses reflexes and sticking hands to probe for holes in the opponent’s defense through touching.
The practitioner controls an opponent by contacting through a block or a strike and maintaining contact or “sticking” to the opponent. If the opponent attempts to withdraw or redirect the hand, the practitioner follows, often using the motion to facilitate a trap or a strike.
A common Wing Chun saying is “greet what arrives, escort what leaves and rush upon loss of contact”, regarding the importance of trapping incoming force and advancing quickly when an opening is sensed.
4.7 Close Range
Wing Chun teaches practitioners to advance quickly and strike at close range. While the Wing Chun forward kick can be considered a long range technique, many Wing Chun practitioners practice “entry techniques” - getting past an opponent’s kicks and punches to bring him within range of Wing Chun’s close range repertoire. This means that theoretically, if the correct techniques are applied, a shorter person with a shorter range can defeat a larger person by getting inside their range and attacking them close to their body.
This theory can be tested by examining various distances of range with a partner. Standing two metres away from your opponent, you are both out of each other’s range. A full arm’s length away, you are within a range typical of most martial arts; round house punches and most kicks are effective at this range. Now stand close to your opponent, your arm slightly bent, your elbow a hand’s width from your chest, and your fingertips just touching your opponent. This is the wing chun range. While wing chun punches, hand strikes and low kicks are highly effective at this range, it is too close for an opponent of the same height and using a different style to counter-attack with a roundhouse punch or any kicks. A taller person will find it even harder to defend themselves if attacked at this close range, as any typical forms of counter-strike will be ineffective without room to gain momentum, and once their hand extends past their opponent, they have no means with which to protect their centre line. A saying much-relished by smaller wing chun practitioners is “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”.