Thanks to the Ip Man movies, Wing Chun is now the most well known Kung Fu Style. But for most of its 250 year history, Wing Chun was a little known style, which was taught in secret behind closed doors in private lessons or very small classes.
The style was probably created from White Crane and one or two other styles. However the founder or founders created a new style which was stripped down and also very different from other styles.
All of the flowery and impractical movements and techniques were eliminated, the number of forms was drastically reduced, and instead of basing movements and techniques on animals, as was done in traditional Shaolin based styles, the style’s techniques were based upon the human body and the forms and shapes of geometry such as the circle, triangle, and straight line, as well as principles such as center line theory, facing, economy of motion, and simultaneous attack and defense.
Wing Chun Forms
While all the other Kung Fu (and also Karate and Tae Kwan Do) styles have dozens or even hundreds of forms, Wing Chun is revolutionary in that it has only three empty hand forms, plus the wooden dummy form.
The First Form is called “sil lim tao” or “little idea”. This form looks most unusual to martial artists familiar with other styles. This is a stationary form with no steps or weight shifting. The form is designed to illustrate the most fundamental principles of the style, as well as to demonstrate some of the most common hand techniques. It also begins the process of training the brain to use both arms independently of each other.
The Second Form, “chum kiu” or “searching for the bridge” looks more like the forms from other Martial Arts. The second form introduces stepping and kicking, as well as pivoting. The most common technique, repeated multiple times during the form, is the “bong wu”, or bong sao and wu sao used in combination as a defensive technique.
The Third Form,”Biu Tze” of “shooting fingers” is taught to advanced students who have been training for some years. It contains several advanced elbow techniques, as well as finger jab strikes and, depending on lineage, emphasizes either the most deadly techniques of the style, or emergency techniques to use in special situations, such as if you are injured, trapped against a wall, or have made a serious mistake.
The Wooden Dummy in some lineages is only taught at the very end of the student’s having learned the rest of the unarmed system. In the Wong Shun Leung lineage, it is taught after the student has developed some proficiency in the second form. The wooden dummy trains footwork and angling, recovery techniques, the simultaneous use of three actions at once, and also teaches the student how to strike using his whole body, not just the arms.
The kinds of training in Wing Chun are heavily influenced by lineage. Some lineages place a heavy influence on drills, while all lineages focus on the forms and the wooden dummy, and all lineages have weapons training using the long pole and double knives.
The two videos at the beginning of this post show the different techniques used in two of the most popular lineages. The first video is from the Leung Ting lineage, and it showcases many of the signature moves of that lineage, including their use of the hook punch, compression strikes where they grab the back of the head and strike the face with an elbow, the double punch, and various trips, take downs, and joint locks. It can be seen that the instructor has also incorporated a few throws from Judo in his repertoire.
This video shows how effective this style of wing chun can be when used by a practitioner with a high level of skill and athleticism.
The second video is of a Wong Shun Leung master from Germany. His skill is so high that he looks to me like some kind of machine that reacts perfectly and instantly to every stimulus. His Wing Chun is simple yet profound.
The Wong Shun Leung lineage emphasizes a strong stance and power in the punch, mobile footwork which appears to be influenced by boxing footwork (Wong Sheun Leung was a boxer before he took up wing chun) and a very tight structure. This lineage uses a different type of chi sao, and emphasizes a lot of drills rather than memorizing sections and routines. Elbows, knees, joint locks, and throws are not trained much, if at all, in some schools.
Chi Sao Training,
All lineages practice “chi sao” or “sticking hands”. However some lineages have different understandings of chi sao, and there are many different ways to practice chi sao. The majority of the lineages believe that “sticking” or maintaining contact with the opponent’s arms is one of the main principles of the style, so that the chi sao exercise is based upon maintaining stick while learning to react to the opponent’s movements using tactile ( touch) reactions while using the wing chun techniques.
This approach is based upon the founders’ discovery that tactile reactions were three or more times faster than reactions based upon sight. The average bully or mugger will find it almost impossible to hit a wing chun expert who has been able to achieve stick to both arms. However in this position the wing chun expert can still hit the attacker.
Chi sao can be done in many different ways. It can be done with only one hand, it can be done fairly slow, it can be done cooperatively, and it can also be done non-cooperatively at very high speed where it looks very much like real fighting, except that only light contact is used.
In some of the Wong Shun Leung lineages, there is a different approach. These schools believe that the goal of wing chun is to unbalance and hit the opponent, not stick to his arms. In this approach chi sao is also useful to avoid the opponent’s grabbing your arms, or if, despite your attempt to just hit him, your arms have come into contact with those of your opponent. Because of this different approach, along with their slightly different footwork, the Wong Shun Leung lineages teach a style that works better for fighting in slightly longer ranges than are emphasized in the other lineages.
Some lineages and/ or schools do not train free style sparring. The late Hawkins Cheung said that in Ip Man’s school only chi sao “sparring” was taught, but no distance fighting was taught in the school. However, he also claimed that Ip Man encouraged the students to get into challenge fights outside of the school in order to learn how to apply their wing chun in real world situations.
Many schools don’t have sparring because of concerns about injuries, and because, quite frankly, most Wing Chun students , especially at the bigger, more expensive schools, are more or less on the “geek” side and have little or no desire to do anything where there is even a small chance of getting an injury.
Schools that do have full contact sparring mostly spar with protective equipment such as head “cages”, shin and elbow guards, and sometimes with some form of body armor. This definitely prevents injuries, however you can still get knocked out even with the head gear and some schools allow sparring between fighters from different weight classes, which in my opinion, is pretty dangerous. The type of gloves used is obviously very important. The only kind of gloves that remotely work for wing chun are MMA gloves.
The Leung Ting lineage has several interesting sparring variations.
“lat sao” or “free hand” is similar to pre-arranged single attack and defense drills in Karate. However in Wing Tsun the attacker uses common non-wing chun techniques, while the defender uses wing chun. After the students have become proficient the attacker comes in with any random non wing tsun attack.
Advanced students practice fighting against two opponents, and there is an interesting version of chi sao sparring where one partner uses a combination of wing tsun and non wing tsun techniques and the other partner uses only wing tun techniques in a very fast freestyle spar.
Wing Chun, like other forms of Kung Fu, has weapons training. Although the weapons used were weapons that were actually used in ancient times, today weapons are trained either by wing chun geeks, for historical purposes, or in order to enhance power. Weapons training is usually only taught at the advanced level.
The Wing Chun Long Pole
The Long pole is made out of high grade wood, and is around eight feet long, and is shaped like a giant pool cue. There is a very short pole form, and there is also sparring training with pole against pole and pole against knives.
The stances used in the long pole training are quite different than the normal wing chun stances. There is a low horse stance, and a stance very similar to the karate cat stance. There are also strength training exercises using the pole. The pole increases wrist and forearm strength, and the power of the punch, as well as the ability to accelerate one’s first footwork step.
The Wing Chun Butterfly Knives
Ip Man is said to have taught the knives to a mere handful of students. They are actually small swords, not knives. Wing Chun schools often have vastly different knife forms, raising the suspicion that many of the forms were “made up”.
In the Leung Ting Lineage the knives are taught only to the very high level students who have “master” grades. The knife form has its own footwork which is used to cover ground very quickly against the 8 or 9 foot long pole. The knives further develop wrists and forearm strength, important in punching.