By Ray Van Raamsdonk
Wing Chun is the name of a Kung Fu style passed on in southern China by a woman named Yim Wing Chun. According to legend, Yim Wing Chun learned this art from a Buddhist Nun Ng Mui, famous for her skill at fighting on top of the "plum blossom poles."
Today it is difficult to verify the legends of Wing Chun. Its origin has been attributed to Yim Wing Chun, Ng Mui and even to a committee of Shaolin monks looking for a quicker way to develop advanced Kung Fu skills in order to overthrow the Ch'ing government. It is generally believed that Wing Chun is more than 200 years old.
Over time various branches of Wing Chun have arisen. The best known today is referred to as the "Yip Man Style" or "Hong Kong Style" of Wing Chun. However, even under Yip Man, many differences have been introduced by his students. Yip Man himself changed his teachings during the course of his lifetime. Some students preferred his early teachings and stayed with these, while others have done their own research and thinking and prefer what they themselves have discovered. Thus today there are many styles of Wing Chun. Other non-Yip Man branches also exist with quite different lineages. Some of these other known branches are Yuen Kay Shan Wing Chun, Red Boat Wing Chun, Po Lai Fa(?) Wing Chun, Pan Nam Wing Chun several others in the Fatsan region of China, as well as some in other parts of China.
According to master Wang Kiu, an early first generation student of the late Grandmaster Yip Man, Wing Chun is called "Orthodox Shaolin" in Northern China and "Wing Chun" in the South because Yim Wing Chun introduced it there. "Orthodox Shaolin" means that Wing Chun is basically the good movements from various Shaolin arts. Master Wang Kiu also believes that Preying Mantis and Hsing I are related arts of Wing Chun, since many of their principles are quite similar.
Grandmaster Yip Man taught several groups of students and various private students. Recognized seniors from the first lot of students he taught are Leung Sheung, the first student, Lok Yiu, the second student, and Tsui Shan Tin, the third student. Leung Sheung, Lok Yiu and Tsui Shan Tin helped teach many others. Yip Man's most famous students were Wong Shun Leung in Hong Kong and the legendary Bruce Lee, who moved to North America in 1959. Bruce Lee was influenced the most by two senior students of Yip Man whom he admired. One was Wong Shun Leung, and the other was William Cheung. Both still teach around the world. Wong Shun Leung was perhaps the most influential student of Wing Chun because of the many challenge matches he engaged in against many popular Kung Fu styles.
When Yip Man died, there was no logical successor named to head up the art. Many of his students had made great achievements in the art so, for political reasons, a committee was formed to oversee its future development. Some people split and formed their own organizations. The Leung Ting Wing Tsun organization is probably the largest separate Kung Fu organization, while William Cheung's traditional Wing Chun organization is close behind. After much political rivalry between various Wing Chun students during the late 1960's, 1970's and 1980's the Hong Kong Wing Chun committee and a few Sifu around the world are again trying to unite the Wing Chun family.
About the Art
On the surface, Wing Chun is one of the simplest looking systems of Chinese Kung Fu. Three empty hand forms cover the complete essence of this art. Wing Chun also uses the long pole (some use a spear), and the popular Southern Chinese Butterfly Knives. Training consists of forms, sticking hands, the wooden dummy, sand bag training and finally freestyle sparring.
Behind the deceptively simple look to the Wing Chun forms is a vast amount of knowledge. The first form is called the "Little Idea Form." This form includes almost the entire theoretical basis for the art. Later forms enhance or add to the concepts of the first form. However, the first form contains the roots for all later techniques. The meaning of "Little Idea Form" is that it is like a seed which contains all the knowledge to make your Kung Fu good. When a seed is properly nourished it should grow into a healthy plant. Likewise when the first form is nourished by means of plenty of thought and hard work, your Kung Fu will be strong.
Why the Popularity of Wing Chun?
According to master Wang Kiu, Wing Chun is a jewel among the martial arts. There are other good martial arts but among these Wing Chun stands out. It is both simple, elegant, effective and enjoyable to practice.
Wing Chun's appeal is due both to its simplicity and to its depth. The Chinese game of Go, chess, music and math enthusiasts are all aware of how a few well chosen concepts can produce a wealth of expression which can take a lifetime to explore. Such is the case in Wing Chun. Some dismiss it as too simplistic while others find enough depth for a lifetime of study.
Economy of action implemented through the centerline theory, is a key idea in Wing Chun. If it is simple and effective, then it is good Wing Chun. Flowery, showy actions are not part of Wing Chun. However, the one-inch punch, blindfolded sticking hands, and the wooden dummy are impressive enough to influence many to join the art.
Wing Chun literature stresses that Wing Chun is a woman's art. This idea emphasizes that brute strength should not be used. Correct positioning, feeling, timing and strategy are relied on instead. There are women today who are 5' 2" and weigh 105-115 pounds who can best stronger men 6' 2" tall weighing upwards of 200 pounds. This demonstrates that a difference in skill can make up for a difference in size. This was the original intention of the art.
Many innovative training ideas help make the Wing Chun practitioner effective in a relatively short period of time. These include wooden dummy training and Chi Sau or "sticking hands" training. Today many martial arts have incorporated some of these ideas within their own styles.
What is Chi Sau?
Chi Sau is the trademark of Wing Chun, which literally means "sticking hands" or "clinging arms." In a way this is a misnomer since Wing Chun practitioners don't try to chase or stick to arms. Instead Chi Sau gives a heightened sense of awareness which makes contact reflexes better and sharper than those of people unfamiliar with such practice. Many arts opt instead for a sort of hit and run practice. The idea in Wing Chun is to maneuver into close range and handle whatever, once there, might come. Wing Chun nicely fills the gap between hit and run and grappling tactics.
Other arts try to incorporate a sort of Chi Sau into their training. However, from a Wing Chun point of view they often miss the purpose of the exercise. Just having two arms in contact with a partner, and to stick no matter where their arms go, is not a good idea. This loose kind of hand play does not lead to correct results. The purpose is rather to sense for centerline mistakes which are then met with short abrupt shocking counters.
Wing Chun Training
Training in Wing Chun proceeds in a logical step by step way. The first form of Wing Chun gives all the fundamentals for the art. The second form teaches how to bridge the gap between you and your opponent. The Wooden dummy teaches how to proceed the instant contact is made. Sticking hands training teaches what to do if contact remains or comes apart.
People often ask, "Does Wing Chun have this or that movement?" Wing Chun practitioners are not artificially restricted to only use certain movements. The achievement of an effective result is what matters most. Wing Chun uses punches, palms, pokes, chops, kicks, elbows, shoulder attacks, head butts, knees and hips. Sweeping, and other forms of off-balancing are also a part of the art. Short range non-telegraphed hits provide the arsenal of Wing Chun. Wing Chun is characterized by short explosive hand attacks, low kicks and simultaneous attack and defense.
What is not apparent from this description is the ease with which it is possible to apply control techniques rather than hurting and hitting techniques. Sticking, trapping, smothering, deflecting and evading are all products of Chi sau practice.
About the Different Branches of Wing Chun
All branches of Wing Chun have in general the same type of forms and the same tactical and strategic principles. Differences occur in the applications of these forms and principles, in the angles of the techniques and in the type of feeling and power used. Some schools believe a rough and tough approach at the start, and a refined softer approach later, is the way to go. Others disagree and prefer the soft approach right from the start. Kenneth Chung has written a good article for the Internet regarding this soft approach. In a way, "soft" is also a misnomer because Wing Chun actions are not just powerless and limp. The Wing Chun touch can be soft or firm but is always sticky, sensitive and connected. Arm actions are minimal though short range power is quite substantial. All branches stress these latter ideas.
What is Wooden Dummy Training For?
The wooden dummy represents a person to train with. The design of the wooden dummy is such that nearly all Wing Chun techniques can be drilled on it. First and foremost, the dummy is a positioning tool. Because the wooden arms are at fixed angles to the dummy body, the practitioner's movements become quite exacting and precise. All the ways of making contact with an opponent and the follow-up movements can be practiced. A formal set of wooden dummy techniques is taught by most Wing Chun schools. After this, a student is free to improvise. While wooden dummy techniques can be practiced with a partner, the usefulness of the dummy is for training when you have no partner. Chi Sau and sparring are also needed to develop sensitivity and timing.
The dummy is also used as a conditioning device to supplement the sand bag for training short range punches, palms, chops and kicks. The dummy's advantage over the sandbag is that the deflecting movements of the system can also be practiced on it. Ideally, the dummy is constructed according to the dimensions of the user. A proper dummy reinforces correct stance, correct arm angle, correct stepping and correct power generation. Other martial arts cannot get maximum benefit from the Wing Chun wooden dummy design without an understanding of these concepts.
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