The Wing Chun weapons are very practical for realistic combat. However, according to Master Chow Tze Cheun (see Vol. 1, No. 2), Grandmaster Yip Man only taught a selected few the wooden dummy, the 6 1/2 point pole and the butterfly knives. The end result is that the Wing Chun art of the knife and pole is dying out. Few if any of today's Wing Chun practitioners can match the skills of the Filipino weapons artists.
This is not because Wing Chun weapons are no good, but only because there is a lack of emphasis on this aspect of the art. Today, there is a false impression that the weapons take a long time to learn. In some clubs, these aspects of Wing Chun are even said to be a secret. In reality, classical weapons can be quickly learned and are quite effective against weapons from other styles. The reason for this is that Wing Chun is not a style, but a system which consists of the best selected core fighting principles from various Shaolin fighting arts.
Presently, the long pole is generally used as a strength training device. Most versions of the pole set are not practical for fighting, because the weapon used is too heavy and too long. The fighting version of this weapon is the Chinese spear. In the past the spear was the number one weapon against all field weapons. For close range, the preferred weapons in the south of China was the butterfly knife. These were often concealed weapons. From our own experience, the Wing Chun spear can be learned for practical fighting in as little time as a month.
The knife takes longer to learn, but not ten years. We have competed against various styles of combat. One of our Wing Chun students, who had very mobile footwork (because of a fencing background), was able to reach a draw situation against an experienced Escrima teacher. We concluded that thorough training in the Wing Chun knife would make it an effective weapon even against Filipino weapon arts.
The application set that goes with the butterfly knife is a good way to start drilling freestyle Wing Chun knife fighting. The application set is a model for how the knife can be applied.
What if you don't care for weapons fighting? The weapon sets in the Wing Chun system are not just designed for those who want to fight with weapons. The weapons sets are rich with principles for regular hand to hand combat.
If you want to defend against weapons, then you must also understand how weapons are used. The complete footwork required for distance fighting against the kicking styles is contained in the stick and knife sets. Both the pole and knife set contain advancing and retreating footwork. Without this kind of footwork, a smaller person, especially a woman against a stronger male, will stand little chance.
The weapon arts teach the concept of proper distancing and timing through a series of prearranged drills.