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.
What is Wing Chun?
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 line 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.
Some of the most famous and acclaimed martial arts movies ever made feature wing chun at their heart – 2008’s Ip Man, about a legendary instructor and founder of the Ip Man branch, and 2013’s The Grandmaster are just two examples.
Branches of Wing Chun
There are nearly a dozen different branches of wing chun practice, each with differing interpretations, traditions, and relationships to each other. They are all based in the same discipline of “soft” movements and flexibility, though over many decades they have developed in different ways.
Some of the most well-known branches are Ip Man (named after the man mentioned above), Yiu Choi, Pan Nam, and Fut Sao – a branch that specializes in close quarters combat (CQC) within the larger discipline of the martial art.
Different Forms of Wing Chun
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.
Siu Nim Tau ("Little Idea").
The most basic form, this is the basis of all the others across the whole martial art, and teaches fundamentals of balance and body structure. It is practiced throughout the student’s whole life, forming a foundation on which to build the others.
Chum Kiu (Seeking Bridge").
This form highlights movement, initial strike and recovery techniques, and ways to “bridge the gap” between one fighter and another. This can take the form of rotational movement, stepping movement, “uprooting” movement, and others.
Bio Ji ("Thrusting Fingers").
The third form 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. These may include elbow strikes, throat hits, quick recovery and escape, and other last-resort techniques that are generally otherwise frowned upon.
Using Weapons in Wing Chun
Wing chun uses several traditional weapons and tools in its practice, too. These forms include:
Baat jaam dou (butterfly knives).
Using dual short butterfly swords of 11-15 inches, students learn advanced footwork, power, strength, and stance.
Luk dim bun gwan (dragon poles).
Wooden poles ranging from 8-13 feet long, with an attack and defense style usually based on 7 principles of movement.
Muk yan jong (wooden dummy).
Seen in the image at the top of this blog, this 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.
Requiring expert footwork, power, strength, and training in strike ability, these styles are a developed skill that many students move into only after mastering the breathing, flow, and movement of the empty hand forms.
Wing Chun Training
One interesting practice of wing chun is that it doesn’t just focus on sparring or fighting with every exercise. There are specific training drills that build up things like reflexes and sensitivity, and in turn, they can be used in combat situations as well as many others.
Sticking Hands (chi sau):
These drills and training teach students how to both protect their centerline while attacking that of their opponent. Through a specific form of grappling and constant contact with each other’s forearms, students learn to gauge changes in momentum, pressure, muscle movements, and other skills necessary to master quick reflexes and anticipate opponent motion.
Sticking Legs (chi geuk):
Similar to chi sau, this is the lower-body equivalent that helps students anticipate and respond to kicks, sweeps, jumps, and other movements performed by the legs. It also helps practitioners to be more aware of their own muscle movements, and fully relax when necessary.
Interested in Learning Wing Chun?
So that’s a lot about how wing chun is different from other martial arts – but with all of that said, at the root, it’s a different expression of the same thing. Wing chun and other disciplines like kung fu, karate, and tae kwon do all aim for the same outcome: teaching patience, oneness, mindfulness, confidence, balance, tranquility, and health for body and mind. The effects that these arts have on physical and emotional well-being is documented to great length, and many students find that they have increased focus and dedication to success. You can even say that what these exercises, drills, and disciplines do best is unlock the full potential of their practitioners.
If you are interested in exploring more of what martial arts offer, let us know and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. Once you experience all the incredible benefits, you’ll wish you had started years ago!
Kung Fu For Life
Learn something new from us each and every month!