The Martial Art of Wing Chun
A lot of people will ask about martial arts as if it’s a competition – which one is the best, which one is better for winning fights, and so on. But one of the best things about all martial arts in general is that they are all different expressions of the same underlying philosophy: that through training, discipline, meditation, and practice, anyone can become more in tune with themselves and their environment, and live a better life. And when we’re talking about styles as different as kung fu and wing chun, that distinction makes a big difference.
Wing chun (which you may know as the style practiced by stars like Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva, and even Robert Downey, Jr.) is a martial arts discipline that is characterized by lightning-fast arm strikes and blocks, strong leg support, and a prioritization of hits and defense along the vertical centre of the body. The main stance is high and narrow, allowing the arms to easily block hits and counter-attack in return.
One of the most important concepts highlighted by Wing Chun is the idea of “softness” – not at all in the sense of weakness, but in the flexibility and adaptation of a fighter’s movements. This core idea means that when defending, there is the ability to manoeuvre around incoming hits, but all the strength of training is ready to be used at all times when the opportunity arises. Teachers of the art liken it to a shoot of bamboo: steady and firmly rooted, but able to easily sway in the wind.
Wing Chun is also more simple with its forms than many other martial arts, especially ones like karate or tae kwon do. Organized by accessories – “empty hand”, “weapon”, and “wooden dummy” – almost all lessons in the discipline take place within just six forms. These all have derivatives as well, but the majority of concepts can be expressed using this methodology.
There are three empty hand forms, emphasizing different techniques and skills. The basic form, Siu Nim Tau, is the basis of all the others across the whole martial art, and teaches fundamentals of balance and body structure. The next, Chum Kiu, highlights movement, initial strike and recovery techniques, and ways to “bridge the gap” between one fighter and another. The third, Biu Ji, is more advanced, teaching short- and long-range techniques like kicks, sweeps, counter-attacks, and emergency techniques when the main ones are no longer possible.
Traditional weapons in Wing Chun include dual short butterfly swords of 11-15 inches as well as wooden poles ranging from 8-13 feet long. Requiring advanced footwork, power, strength, and training in strike ability, they are a developed skill that many students no longer train on, focusing instead on the breathing, flow, and movement of the empty hand forms.
Lastly, the wooden dummy (seen in the image at the top of this blog) form is an intermediate style that helps train students on strikes against another person. There are many different versions of this, and it is only a guide meant to instill confidence and expectations as a Wing Chun fighter moves up in their ability to execute strikes.
Another interesting idea of Wing Chun is the practice of “sticking hands”, Chi Sau. These drills are meant to develop automatic reflexes and to feel – and eventually, anticipate – how opponents move before striking. In training, students maintain forearm contact with each other while practicing, learning to sense pressure, momentum, muscular mechanics, and so on, with the idea of getting to the point where they can precisely predict and respond to attacks based on sight alone.
So with all that said, what is the same about Wing Chun? At its root, it does the same thing that kung fu does: it teaches patience, mindfulness, oneness, and confidence. It makes students more balanced, both physically and emotionally. It creates wellness and peace where there were often scattered thoughts. Overall, they are both martial arts here to make students healthier, happier, and more aware of all that they are capable of!
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