What Is Wing Chun? How do you do it? Why is it not well known?
Wing Chun (sometimes known as “eternal springtime”); is a concept-based Chinese martial art and form of self-defense utilizing both striking and grappling while specializing close-range combat.
The earliest known mentions of Wing Chun date to the period of Red Boat Opera. The common legend involves a young woman Yim Wing-chun during the period after the destruction by the Qing government of the Southern Shaolin and its associated temples.
Having rebuffed the local warlord’s marriage offer, Yim Wing-Chun said she’d reconsider the proposal if he could beat her in a fight. She soon crossed paths with a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui, and asked the nun to teach her to fight. According to legend Ng Mui taught Yim Wing-Chun a new system of martial art that had been inspired by the nun’s observations of a confrontation between a Snake and a Crane. This then-still nameless style enabled Yim Wing-Chun to beat the warlord in a one-on-one fight. Yim Wing-Chun thereafter married Leung Bac-Chou and taught him the style, which was later named after her. It is believed that because the system was developed during the Shaolin and Ming resistance to the Qing Dynasty, many legends, including the story of Yim Wing-Chun, were spread regarding the creation of Wing Chun in order to confuse enemies. This is often given as a reason to explain the difficulty in accurately determining the creator or creators of Wing Chun.
Balance, structure and stance – Some Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with better 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.
Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers more quickly from stalled attacks and structure is maintained. Wing Chun trains the awareness of one’s own body movement derived from muscular, tendon, and articular sources. Performing Wing Chun’s forms such as Chum Kiu or the Wooden Dummy form greatly improve proprioception. Wing Chun favors a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are positioned across the vitals of the centerline. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out valiantly on the heels, balls, or middle 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.
Relaxation – Softness and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun. (a) 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; (b) Unnecessary muscle tension wastes energy and causes fatigue; (c) Tense, stiff arms are less fluid and sensitive during trapping and chi sao; (d) 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; (e) A relaxed, but focused, limb affords the ability to feel “holes” or weaknesses in the opponent’s structure. With the correct forwarding these “holes” grant a path into attacking the opponent; and (f) Muscular struggle reduces a fight to who is stronger. Minimum brute strength in all movement becomes an equalizer in uneven strength confrontations. This is very much in the spirit of the tale of Ng Mui.
Centerline – 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 lineages defining anywhere from a single “centerline” to multiple lines of interaction and definition. Traditionally the centerline is considered to be the vertical axis from the top of a human’s head to the groin. The human body’s prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, stomach, pelvis 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. A large emphasis and time investment in training Chi Sao exercise emphasizes positioning to dominate this centerline. The stance and guard all point at or through the center to concentrate physical and mental intent of the entire body to the one target.
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 referring 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, as well as compromising the striker’s position. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.
Punches – Due to the emphasis on the center line, the straight punch is the most common strike in Wing Chun. The punch is the most basic and fundamental in Wing Chun and is usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. Depending on the lineage, 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 knuckles, 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. The punches may be thrown in quick succession in a “straight blast” or “chain punching”. When executed correctly, it can be used as a disorienting finisher.
When executing the punch, you must relax and use your shoulders. The punch comes from the body and not the arm. Like most other punches in martial arts, Wing Chun punches with the body.
Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for several reasons: (1) 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); (2) Protection. The elbow is kept low to cover the front midsection of the body. It is more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike. Also with the elbow down, it offers less opening for the body to be attacked while the forearm and punch intercept space towards the head and upper body; (3) 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 body rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common analogy 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, which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and is not as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to generate “short power” or large amount of power in a short space. A common demonstration of this is the “one-inch punch”, a punch that starts only an inch away from the target yet delivers an explosive amount of force; (4) Alignment & Structure. Because of Wing Chun’s usage of stance, the vertical punch is thus more suitable. The limb directly in front of the chest, elbow down, and vertical nature of the punch allows a practitioner to absorb the rebound of the punch by directing it through the elbows and into the stance. This is a desirable trait to a Wing Chun practitioner because it promotes use of the entire body structure to generate power. Whereas, the rebound of a horizontal punch uses only the arm to strike. In this elbow-out position the hinge-structure directs force outwards along the limb producing torque in the puncher’s body.
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 them 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.
Chi Sao – or “sticking hands” is a term for the principle and drills used for the development of automatic reflexes upon contact and the idea of “sticking” to the opponent (also known as “sensitivity training”). In reality, the intention is not to “stick” to your opponent at all costs, but rather to protect your centerline while simultaneously attacking your opponent’s centerline. In Wing Chun, this is practiced by two practitioners maintaining contact with each other’s forearms while executing techniques, thereby training each other to sense changes in body mechanics, pressure, momentum and “feel”. The increased sensitivity gained from this drill helps a practitioner attack and counter an opponent’s movements precisely, quickly, and with appropriate techniques.
Chi Sao additionally refers to methods of rolling hands drills. Participants push and “roll” their forearms against each other in a single circle while trying to remain in relaxed form. The aim is to feel force, test resistance, and find defensive gaps. Other branches have a version of this practice where each arm rolls in small, separate circles. Chi Sao is a sensitivity drill to train and obtain specific responses and should not be confused with actual sparring or fighting though it can be practiced or expressed in a combat form.