Perhaps the dream of every practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu is to own their own Mook Yan Chong (aka Wing Chun Wooden Dummy). To possess one of these opens a whole new world of training opportunities, especially for those (such as myself) who have no living and breathing training partners. To be capable of committing a large part of your personal training to the forms and techniques of the wooden dummy can only increase your skill, motivation, and understanding of Wing Chun. One word of warning: the construction of such a device is by no means an easy task. It requires, like Wing Chun itself, a commitment of time, effort, and patience. But to invest these personal assets shows your seriousness for the art and will give you a finished product that should last a lifetime of training.
Do I Have Space for the Thing?
I suppose the first criteria for constructing such a beast is having enough room to mount and effectively utilize the finished product. You must ensure there is ample room not only for the dummy but for yourself to move in front of and around it so you can perform all techniques properly. You don't want to constantly be worrying about bumping into a wall or tripping over furniture. Common sense (and no doubt your spouse) would object to having it protruding from your living room wall. Although it would make a fine conversation piece, its aesthetics will not be pleasing to everyone's eye. In my case I had a place in mind from the start. Having just purchased a new house, I was yearning for training devices to construct or purchase for my basement recroom. Although my friends would, without exception, say upon entering this large room, "You just *have* to put a pool table down here" I had plans which ran along much different lines. I saw a "home kwoon" in my future, and nobody was stopping me.
So What Are Your Plans?
Plans, ah yes. Without these you are surely lost, for to make a mook by broad approximations of measurements and dimensions is doomed to failure. You will be left with, at best, a wooden dummy which is ill-proportioned for the proper execution of the classic forms. Your stance, technique, and timing will likely be damaged rather than improved upon by training on a mook which has been constructed incorrectly. I received very detailed carpentry plans from a Wing Chun instructor whom I trained under several years ago. You could also take accurate measurements of a completed mook you have access to (like at your kwoon), you could get the plans out of Wing Chun instructional texts, or you could follow Dan Lucas' very detailed diagrams located under the following URL.
Where to Start?
-- Construction Materials --
I Need Some Body!
Well the most obvious part of the Wing Chun wooden dummy is the large foreboding "log" which makes up the body of the mook. The design plans I had suggested this wooden trunk should be 8" in diameter and 4'8" high. It also demanded that the body be made from hardwood, like oak. I put a lot of thought into how and where I could track down a piece of wood with these dimensions. I first went to a lumber yard and asked around for something that came close to what I needed. No luck. Although they all had plenty of lumber to sell me, they either wouldn't or couldn't sell me a plain old log, especially one made from hardwood. My next visit was to a forest, with axe in hand. Aside from the obvious trouble of trespassing on someone's land and stealing someone's wood (forests, although they might look "wild and free", always belong to SOMEONE), there is the trouble of finding a suitable tree. Although oak trees do indeed grow in "my neck of the woods" (no pun intended), I've only seen them on the sides of residential streets, not growing in the wild. I decided to settle on something less ideal but more abundant: birch. The problem here was twofold: every tree I found with the proper dimensions (i.e. an 8" trunk) seemed at least 60 feet tall. I did not feel like downing a 60 foot tree for 5 feet of wood. Also, the trunks themselves did not seem suitable; they had large branches sticking out of strategic spots, or were so gnarled and bent that they could never suit the purpose I had in mind. Needless to say I came out of the forest empty handed. It was at this point that I came closest to giving up altogether my project and dream of owning my own mook.
But then I started thinking. What if I HAD managed to get a hardwood stump from the forest or lumberyard? What would I do with the thing? It would have been filled with sap, having been just cut, and would likely require at least a season of outdoor drying time. I hadn't counted on that. And then how would I shape it to size? Its large dimensions made a lathe out of the question. I could de-bark it and shape it somewhat with a drawknife, but that would require almost endless work and I doubted if I'd ever get it right. And what about all the things I was hearing about preventing cracks in the finished product? Do you really have to keep your mook constantly covered with a coat of vaseline or some carpentry chemical? What about all those holes I'd have to drill through it? I supposed I could use a hand-operated brace-and-bit, but that would drill round holes. The mook designs demanded square ones. And how on earth would I EVER get the angles of the holes right?? They seemed to crisscross through the entire mook body. And I planned to do this by hand?? No, there had to be another answer. And then it came to me. It was so simple, I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before. I would use a regular PVC plastic sewer pipe (an unused one, of course!). With a phone call or two I found I could buy one 6' long and 8" in diameter for about $35. I figured, though certainly not traditional, the plastic would be extremely durable, much easier to work with, would be a bit more forgiving on the knuckles, and I could cut square holes in it rather than drill round ones. And I'd never have to worry about it splitting. I'd use it exactly as I would a piece of wood this size; the dimensions would be the same, all the holes would be in the same place, and it would be mounted the same way. I'd even paint it dark brown so it would look like wood. That was one problem solved. But it was only the first.
Up in Arms
Everyone who's ever seen a wooden dummy knows it has three arms; two set at angles from each other at about chest height, and one which sticks out directly from the body several inches below. The part of the arms which can be seen have a rounded surface, but they are square where they pass through the body of the mook. I was under no delusions as to my handiwork ability in this area; these pieces of the mook obviously required more skill and experience in woodworking than I could ever hope to match. It was here where I turned to a professional carpenter to help in my project. I copied the plans and gave him the parts outlining the dimensions of the arms and told him I wanted them made out of oak. While I was at it, I decided I might as well get him to make the frame as well, which consists of two upright oak boards with notches in them. These notches hold two horizontal oak beams which, in turn, support the mook. He told me he could have everything finished in a week or so. But in the meantime I didn't sit idle -- there were still things to do.
Quest for a Leg
After my first experience in the woods in search of a mook body, I was a bit trepidatious about going in search of a leg. The instructions I had suggested you use a "Y" branch from a hardwood tree and cut off one of the top arms of the "Y". This should leave you with a properly angled leg for your mook. "Yeah, right," I thought. There was no turning back now, however. I had to give it my best shot. My parents live in the same town as I do but had gone away for the summer. I knew my father had a nice collection of tools in his garage, one of which HAD to be a saw suitable for cutting large pieces of timber. I went off in search of such a saw and found it without trouble. I also found something else. During the previous winter snow and ice had caused a great deal of damage to the trees in our area. The huge elm tree in my parents yard was no exception. A large branch had broken off during the ice storms and had become lodged in the upper reaches of the tree. As luck would have it, this branch had finally fallen to the ground a day or so before I went looking for the saw. With saw in hand, I examined this large branch closely. It was obviously very well dried and seasoned after having spent half a year in the treetop after snapping off, and it hadn't sat in the grass long enough for the moisture from the ground to do any damage. At its thickest point it measured about 3" wide, and seemed to have an angle similar to what I wanted. After fifteen minutes or so of sawing and sweating I had a three-foot long piece of very dry wood. I took this home and spent the next two hours or so on my patio with this log and a drawknife. (A drawknife is like a heavy-duty knife blade with a handle on either end which you "draw" toward you to shape wood.) This turned out to be one of the most tedious and time-consuming chores of the entire project. Once I stripped the bark off the thing, I had to trim down all the knots where the branches used to be and try to get it shaped properly. Although the leg which you see sticking out of the mook is round, the part which passes through the mook's body is rectangular, like an ordinary piece of lumber. Shaping one end of this branch into a rectangular piece of wood was no easy task, but it actually turned out alright. Watch yourself with that damn drawknife; I nearly amputated parts of my anatomy on several occasions.
Up in Arms (Part 2)
While waiting for the carpenter to finish my arms, I also made very careful measurements on the plastic mook body. The PVC pipe I'd purchased was a light green color, and marking measurements on it with a magic marker was easy, and since I was planning to paint it I wasn't worried about the mess I was making. (Something you'd never be able to do with a wooden body.) Running down one side of the pipe was a string of small numbers and letters showing dimensions, product code, etc. and this was ideal to give me a "center line" for my mook body. I measured halfway around the diameter and made another line which represented the rear center line. With these lines in place it was easy to calculate exactly where all holes were to be cut. But I did no cutting yet. The carpenter I'd hired to make the arms and frame for my mook didn't look, well, exactly "on the ball". He appeared rather confused as to what I wanted, and didn't seem entirely certain as to how he would accomplish the job. Added to this his ignorance of exactly what I was constructing (I didn't even bother trying to explain what it was going to be), I was more than a bit apprehensive as to what his finished products were going to look like. But was I surprised! He showed up at my door after a few days with a bill for $170 ($120 for the materials and $50 labor) and with the arms and frame made *exactly* to my specifications. I mean they were accurate right down to the millimeter. And the oak seemed as hard as stone. I couldn't have wished for a better construction job. I happily paid him, and even took him downstairs to show him what I was making. He told me to give him a call when it was completed so he could have a look at it. This was, by far, the biggest expense for my wooden dummy, but I feel it was well worth it. Without the help of a professional I doubt I'd ever have been able to construct adequately proportioned arms.
Making the Cuts
After seeing the accuracy of the arms which had been built for me, I was even more inspired to make the holes for the dummy's appendages with surgical precision. After marking the rectangular incision points carefully, I drilled a hole in opposite corners of each rectangle. I then used a jigsaw to cut them out. This is much easier said than done; the PVC was 1/4 inch thick and cutting out all twelve rectangular holes took the better part of an hour (although I'm sure this time frame would be trivial compared to the work I'd have had to do on a *wooden* mook body).
The Hardware Store
Alright, let's get something straight right now: I absolutely, without exception, *hate* shopping. My trip to the hardware store to buy the construction materials to complete my project was an experience from hell. I made the mistake of thinking I could swing by there and pick up everything I needed from memory. I ended up spending an hour in there racking my brain trying to figure out all the parts and supplies that would be required. Take my advice: make a list! If I'd have made a list (like I should have), this is what would've been on it:
- 1 can of wood stain (I chose Dark Walnut)
- 1 can of acrylic indoor varnish
- 1 paint brush
- 2 cans of brown spray-on enamel
- 6 sheets of medium grit sandpaper
- 8 steel L-brackets
- 2 six-foot lengths of grade 1 2x4
- 2 six-foot lengths of grade 1 1x3
- a vast assortment of wood screws, bolts, and nails
All told this cost me about $60.
The first thing I did when I returned from the hardware store (after taking an aspirin) was to spray on the first of many coats of spray enamel on the PVC plastic pipe. Do this somewhere where you don't plan on being for a while because the fumes make the room all but uninhabitable for an hour or so. Then measure everything, pre-drill holes for all screws (highly recommended), then sand, stain, and varnish the whole thing. I won't bother going into the details of every aspect of the construction process, but basically the 2x4's are nailed horizontally on the wall to provide a base for the mook frame, and the 1x3's are screwed onto these to further extend this base. The L-brackets are used to bolt the framework onto these pieces of lumber. Pretty easy, huh? Don't count on it; expect to spend at least two evenings working at this before it's all ready for assembly. The arms and leg, as you might expect, require special attention. Sand these unmercifully, and after staining, apply varnish until you can no longer stand to look at another paintbrush. Keep applying coats of spray enamel to the body until both cans are empty. Measure and drill holes near the ends of the arms and leg for the pins which must be inserted to keep them from sliding out. Take pieces of 1/4" wooden dowel and whittle these down so they slide snugly into these holes. Stain these too. Make all measurements very carefully. Accuracy is the key here. Take your time; rushing the project will certainly mean mistakes, and that oak is damn expensive. Follow the design plans carefully and use common sense when it comes to basic safety (after all, you want to be able to use your mook when you're done, not spend time healing). Get a buddy to help you; this'll make a big difference in time, frustration, and effort. If he isn't already, you might even get him interested in martial arts in the process.
When everything is said and done (and the varnish is DRY) assemble your completed mook. If you've done everything right and haven't scrimped on materials or workmanship it should look fantastic. The PVC plastic will add a bit to the noise you'll make while practicing, and it might bounce around a bit more on the frame, but aside from that it's very practical. You can even give it a surprisingly hard straight punch without really causing any pain (something you should NEVER try with a wooden mook). I found this project very rewarding and I'm sure it'll add even more dynamic techniques to my training repertoire. My finished product is everything a mook yan chong should be, and I have the added satisfaction of having created it with my own hands -- the same hands which will be using it for practice.
My Wing Chun sifu did not own a mook, and my completed project was the first one I'd ever seen in real life. Aside from basic empty-air techniques which I could immediately apply, I had no experience on how to utilize the finished product. I couldn't get my sifu to show me since we no longer live in the same town. I had to resort to (yeah, I know, don't say it) video tapes. I purchased two from Unique Publications featuring Randy Williams and they arrived in the mail just as I was completing my mook. The tapes are Wooden Dummy Training Part 1: Advanced Drills and Part 2: Chi Sau, Lop Sau, and Dummy Theory. I'm getting a copy of the 108 motion form (though it's not with Randy Williams) from my sifu. I found Williams' tapes very helpful and his teaching style unique, informative, and, at times, humorous. If anyone out there wants to trade copies of any of his tapes for the ones I have let me know.
If you attempt this project I wish you all the luck in the world. If you ever need any suggestions or help in construction or materials I will gladly lend my humble input based on my own experience.
Addendum: Although the completed mook seems very sturdy and durable, I had to make one small addition. After practicing for a month or so I noticed that the arms were getting damaged where they passed through the PVC body. Unlike with a solid mook, the arms only come in contact with the body at the very front and the very back. I was finding these edges of the plastic were bruising the oak arms and chipping the varnish and stain. I solved this problem by buying six pieces of brick strapping (these are thin pieces of metal about 6" long and 1" wide). I wrapped these around the arms where they came in contact with the PVC body and secured them with small nails. This modification makes no difference to the practicality of the mook and I've had no more trouble with wear and tear on the arms.