Developed in southern China approximately 300 years ago. Wing Chun is a relatively young concept-based (real world) traditional martial art and form of self-defence, utilising both striking and grappling specialising in close-range combat. Softness via relaxation and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun.
According to legend, Wing Chun was created by the Buddhist nun Ng Mui, who was a master of Shaolin Kung Fu. Using her martial training and personal experience, she created a compact form of Kung Fu to exploit weaknesses inherent in the other combat styles of her time and give an advantage to smaller fighters like herself. This new system was well-guarded and passed on to only a few, very dedicated students. Her style became known as Wing Chun, after Ng Mui’s first student, a woman named Yim Wing Chun.
Wing Chun began to quietly spread throughout southern China, evolving as it was adopted into various groups. It gained popularity when Grandmaster Ip Man began to teach openly in China and Hong Kong in 1949. His students continued the evolution and spread Wing Chun all around the world. Today, many people have learned of Wing Chun through the late martial arts superstar Bruce Lee or through the popular Ip Man series of movies.
The main reasons why Wing Chun is popular and effective:
- Practical modern world applications.
- Can be learned in a relatively short period of time.
- Suitable for people of all sizes, shapes and degrees of athletic ability.
Wing Chun’s origins and development comes from the crowded urban environments such as cities most people live in today. It is a close-quarters system that can be used even when assaulted in a confined space like a cramped hallway, stairwell or elevator. It is primarily an empty-hands system, allowing someone to defend themselves even when unarmed. It is based on reflex movements, training you to respond instantly and instinctively to any surprise attack, eliminating any techniques that are not needed.
While many systems require a decade or more to learn, Wing Chun was designed to be learned in the shortest time possible. With regular, consistent practice you can learn the entire core system in about two years. Mastery of the system, of course, takes a lifetime.
Wing Chun can be practiced by people of all ages, sizes, shapes and degrees of physical ability. It is equally applicable to both men and women, although there is a trend for women to make progress much faster. Wing Chun uses structure rather than strength, timing and speed. It is also based on natural human anatomy rather than mimicking the movements of animals, so it does not require extraordinary flexibility or athleticism.
A Holistic System of Training
Proper training in Wing Chun does, however, build both a high degree of physical fitness as well as mental focus. Consistent practice develops extraordinary sensitivity, balance, endurance and coordination. Through the ‘forms’ training you will learn to quiet your mind and focus your attention. Perhaps most importantly, you will learn to relax and unwind tension from the body, bringing yourself into a natural state of structural stability and strength.
The emphasis on structure and relaxation is what allows a normal-sized person to effectively defend against a bigger, stronger attacker. As you learn to use the concepts and principles, Wing Chun trains the body for a simple reflex response to interrupt the incoming attack, get the attacker off balance, and put the fight on your terms.
Other systems block and then attack, chamber their punches before they strike, wind-up to generate force and trade strikes back and forth until one fighter is either knocked out or takes sufficient cumulative damage. Wing Chun defends and attacks simultaneously, hits without warning from any position, uses the structure of the entire body to create power in a small space, doesn’t stop delivering strikes until the assault has been effectively ended.
The majority of the training is not spent punching heavy bags, because structural positioning will overcome sheer strength, much of the student’s practice time is spent training the body to move efficiently and with great precision. Wing Chun uses a unique training exercise called Chi Sau (sticking hands) to develop this precision and economy of movement. The principle is simple physics: use the minimum amount of effort to create the maximum effect.
Softness via relaxation and performing techniques in a relaxed manner are fundamental to Wing Chun.
Yip Man quoted during an interview:
“Wing Chun is in some sense a “soft” style of martial arts. However, if one equates that work as weak or without strength, then they are dead wrong. Chi Sao in Wing Chun is to maintain one’s flexibility and softness, all the while keeping in the strength to fight back, much like the flexible nature of bamboo”
The empty hand forms:
Siu Nim Tao (Little Idea or Small Thought)
The first, and most important form in Wing Chun is not only for beginners but to be practiced throughout the practitioner’s lifetime. This form teaches you how to build your internal and external structure and achieve a relaxed state, which is necessary for proper force generation. It is the foundation or “seed” of the art from which all succeeding forms and techniques depend. Fundamental rules of balance and body structure are developed here. This would provide the chassis of a car. It serves basically as the alphabet for the system. The symmetrical stance is the fundamental fighting stance, training stance and is used in developing technique.
Chum Kiu (Seeking the Bridge)
The second form, Chum Kiu, focuses on coordinated movement of body mass and entry techniques to “bridge the gap” between practitioner and opponent and move in to disrupt their structure and balance. Close-range attacks using the elbows and knees are also developed here. It also teaches methods of recovering position and centreline when in a compromised position where Siu Nim Tao structure has been lost. Bodyweight in striking is a central theme, whether it be from pivoting (rotational) or stepping (translational). Likewise this form provides the engine to the car.
Biu Jee (Thrusting Fingers)
The third form, Biu Jee, is composed of extreme short-range and extreme long-range techniques, low kicks and sweeps, and “emergency techniques” to counter-attack when structure and centreline have been seriously compromised, such as when the practitioner is seriously injured. As well as pivoting and stepping, developed in Chum Kiu, a third degree of freedom involving more upper body and stretching is developed for more power. Such movements include very close range elbow strikes and finger thrusts to the throat. This is the turbo-charger of the car. It can also be seen as a “pit stop” kit that should never come into play, recovering your “engine” when it has been lost. A common Wing Chun saying is “Biu Jee doesn’t go out the door.” Some interpret this to mean the form should be kept secret, others interpret it as meaning it should never be used if you can help it.