History of the Wing Chun Kung Fu Fighting System
The history of Wing Chun is a subject of much controversy, and since there are no written records of the early beginnings the truth may never be known. This being said, most historical evidence points to the legendary Shaolin Temple of Southern China as the birthplace of Wing Chun; indeed many of the techniques and philosophies of Wing Chun coincide with those of Shaolin. For the purpose of this thesis I will not delve into the legendary stories of Ng Mui, the Buddhist nun said to have created Wing Chun after watching a fight between a snake and crane, nor the secret societies who claim to have invented Wing Chun in secret to use as a weapon against the oppressive Qing government. Instead I will tell about the earliest recorded history.
The earliest documentation of Wing Chun that can be verified begins with China’s Red Boat Opera. The Red Boat Opera was a group of entertainers who traveled up and down the Pearl River putting on shows. Chinese opera records tell of the great martial art skill of a performer named Cheung Ng, who was also nicknamed Tan Sau Ng -- an obvious reference to one of Wing Chun’s most famous techniques. Also among this group was a man named Wong Wah Bo, who was said to have been taught the fighting art of Wing Chun by a man named Leung Lan Qui. While working on the Red Boat, Wong Wah Bo became friends with Leung Ye Tai, an expert at the long fighting pole which he learned from Gee Sim, one of the “Five Elders from Shaolin.” The two men trained together and taught each other their fighting techniques. This is where Wing Chun gets its Six and a Half Point Pole Form, the Lok Dim Boon Kwan. It was Leung Ye Tai who would go on to teach Leung Jan, one of Wing Chun’s most famous fighters.
It was through his legendary fighting skills that Leung Jan would bring Wing Chun into the public eye. Leung Jan was a pharmacist by trade and only had three students, his two sons, Leung Chun and Leung Bik, and a street vender named Chan Wah Shun. Chan Wah Shun was known as very good man who would always help those in need. Although he had only 16 disciples, it was his last one that would go on to become the most famous master of Wing Chun ever that was -- Ip Man.
Great Grandmaster Ip Man began training in Wing Chun at the age of 13 under Chan Wah Shun and stayed with him until his death. As a young man attending school in Hong Kong Ip Man had a chance meeting with Leung Bik the son of Leung Jan and it was from Sifu Bik that Ip Man learned the advanced levels of Wing Chun. Ip Man is credited for being the first man to openly teach Wing Chun to the public, and it was his famous student Bruce Lee who would bring Wing Chun worldwide recognition.
Grandmaster Ip Man had two sons who he also taught Wing Chun. His youngest son, Ip Ching, has taught many well-known Wing Chun teachers. One of his private students, Master Hing Fai Chan, taught Master Taganashi.
An Overview of the Wing Chun System
Wing Chun is an advanced martial science. The entire system is made up of only six forms; three empty hand forms, two weapon forms, and a form practiced on a “wooden dummy” designed to perfect the skills learned in the three empty hand forms. Its forms are short and simple but their underlining principles and fighting theories have a proven history of being a highly effective form of personal combat. It is possible to learn the entire system in as little as three years but it can take a lifetime to master. It is said of Wing Chun Kung Fu that many know the system, but very few will master it.
Wing Chun's Six Forms
1. Sil Lim Tao (Little Idea)
2. Chum Kiu (Searching Bridge)
3. Bil Jee (Thrusting Fingers)
4. Mook Yan Jong Faat (Wooden Dummy Form)
5. Lok Dim Boon Kwan (Six and a Half Point Pole)
6. Bak Jom Dao (Eight Chopping Swords)
Wing Chun’s Seven Main Theories
1. Centerline Theory
The centerline is an imaginary line that runs straight down the center of the body. The theory of protecting one’s own centerline and attacking the opponent’s centerline is the core of most of Wing Chun’s fighting strategy -- but it goes further than that. The centerline theory also represents the state of mind in which a Wing Chun man seeks to be undisturbed mentally and remaining focused (centered) during a fight, while at the same time forcing his opponent to lose control mentally and become un-centered.
2. Theory of Facing
The theory of facing is another of Wing Chun’s most basic fighting principles which works together with, and interdependent of, the centerline theory. Unlike many other martial arts that fight with one shoulder or fist acting as the lead facing the opponent, a Wing Chun man chooses to face his opponent squarely. By facing squarely it is easier to react with either hand with an equal range of motion and by default it is easier to defend one’s centerline.
3. The Gates Theory
Wing Chun divides the body into three “Gates” to easily define which tools should be used to defend a given area. There is the upper gate, middle gate, and lower gate (as well as a variation of inside and outside gates). Generally speaking, the upper and middle gates are defended with the hands and the lower gate is defended using the legs or feet. The proper method of defending these gates is one of the most important aspects of the mastery of Wing Chun and is heavily connected to the Immovable Elbow Theory.
4. Immovable Elbow Theory
The basis of Wing Chun’s theory of defense can be found in the Immovable Elbow Theory. In the Wing Chun on-guard position, the lead hand elbow is held in a fixed position approximately one fist distance from the body on the centerline. From this position a wide variety of defensive and offensive movements can be made with little waste of energy. Continuous practice of the Sil Lim Tao will develop sinking elbow energy (Jern Dyk Lik) and will also train your reflex action to fight from this fixed elbow position without overreacting and losing your centerline defense.
5. Economy of Movement Theory
Wing Chun does not waste time or energy on large, fancy movements. Instead Wing Chun movements are small and simple. Specializing primarily in close range fighting, Wing Chun uses very quick short-range movements with an emphasis on a burst of energy at the last few inches to generate enormous power with little movement.
6. Two-Directional Force Theory
One of the most devastating ways to create power at close range and with minimum movement is through the use of two-directional force. The theory of two-directional force can be described best using the Lap/Fak technique. In this technique the Lap Sau is pulling in one direction while the Fak Sau is striking in the opposite direction. These two movements should be done in unison (not like a one-two). The advantage of this movement is that it actually jerks your opponent into your strike so you are not only moving your hands in two directions but you are also enhancing this power by striking your opponent as he is moving.
7. Lin Sil Die Dar (Simultaneous Defense & Attack)
Lin Sil Die Dar or the theory of simultaneous attack and defense is one of the reasons Wing Chun men have the reputation as being so fast. The principle works just as it reads; the attack is met or intercepted at the base of movement with an attack and defense of your own, bringing into play all of the previous six theories. It can be as simple as using a straight punch to dominate the centerline or it could be a using combination of techniques like the Tan/Da or Lap/Da.
Wing Chun’s Code of Conduct
1. Conduct yourself ethically; obey and appreciate the role of Gung Fu spirit.
2. Practice courtesy and righteousness; respect all human beings and living thing.
3. Be united and avoid any unnecessary conflict; respect your fellow classmates.
4. Practice self-restraint of bodily pleasure and be conservative; keep the proper martial spirit.
5. Constantly refine and retain your skills; practice and improve your level.
6. Learn to enrich your soul and avoid unnecessary conflict; learn spiritual tranquility, avoid arguments.
7. Be humble and treat matters in a harmonious manner; be conservative and gentle in your affairs.
8. Be kind to the weak, young and elderly by showing good faith; use your martial arts skills for the sake of humanity.
9. Brighten and preserve what the ancestors have shown you. Pass on the tradition, art and rules of conduct.
The Movements of Wing Chun
Wing Chun's Stances:
1. Sil Lim Tao Ma
2. Chum Kiu Ma
3. Modified Fighting Stance
4. Cat Stance (Long Pole Form)
5. Horse Stance (Long Pole Form)
Wing Chun's Gaurding Hands:
1. Mon Sau (Asking Hand)
2. Wu Sau (Guarding Hand)
Wing Chun's 5 Level Punches:
1. Chain Punch
2. Turning Punch
3. Turn Around Punch
4. Long Bridge Punch
5. Short Bridge Punch (Inch Punch)
Wing Chun's 16 Hand Techniques:
1. Chun Chui (Sun Fist)
2. Bon Sau (Wing Arm)
3. Tan Sau (Spreading Hand)
4. Fook Sau (Covering Hand)
5. Bil Sau (Thrusting Fingers)
6. Huen Sau (Circling Hand)
7. Quan Sau (Rolling Hand)
8. Gan Sau (Dragging Hand)
9. Gum Sau (Pinning hand)
10. Pak Sau (Slapping Hand)
11. Lop Sau (Grasping Hand)
12. Fak Sau (Whipping Hand)
13. Jom Sau (Sinking Hand)
14. Jut Sau (Jerking Hand)
15. Lan Sau (Barring Hand)
16. Jeung (Palm Strike)
Wing Chun's 8 Kicking Techniques:
1. Bil Gerk (Thrusting Kick)
2. Tay Gerk (Lifting Kick)
3. Jut Sun Gerk (Side Kick)
4. Chai Gerk (Stomping Kick)
5. Soo Gerk (Sweeping Kick)
6. Dung Gerk (Snap Kick)
7. Huen Gerk (Circle Leg Sweep)
8. Tep Sun Gerk (No Shadow Kick)
Wing Chun's 4 Elbow Techniques:
1. Pyk Jern (Turning)
2. Kup Jern (Downward)
3. How Jern (Rear)
4. Wen Jern (Side)
Sil Lim Tao (The Little Idea)
The Sil Lim Tao is the first and arguably the most important form of the Wing Chun system. Grandmaster Ip Man referred to Sil Lim Tao as "Stance Training" because of the heavy emphasis place on the basic stance and the development of rooting energy. Contained in this form are nearly all of Wing Chun's hand techniques and some of the most important fighting theories. There is no footwork in this form aside from the opening to the Sil Lim Tao Ma ("ma'" meaning stance). The primary purpose of this form is to teach the beginning student proper techniques, develop power, and rooting energy. In an interview with Ip Ching in Black Belt Magazine, when asked which elements of Wing Chun his father Ip Man practiced the most, he said it was the Sil Lim Tao and Punching. This serves to verify that the essence of mastering Wing Chun lay in perfection of the basics.
One of the most important aspects of practicing the Sil Lim Tao is the concentration on the release of energy. The movements should start out slow and gradually building speed until the last six inches of the technique at which point you exploded with a burst of energy, this bursting energy is the key to Wing Chun's close range power. Through out the form there is a continuous flow on and off of tension and relaxation at the moments of power and release. This can only be learned through constant practice.
Chum Kiu (Searching Bridge)
It is not by coincidence that the forms of Wing Chun are organized in such a maner as to teach the student in a progressive manner. In the first form we are taught the proper structure and all the foundatioal techniques of Wing Chun. In the second form we are taught to generate power through body shifting, the use of footwork, and the theory of two-directional force.
Chum Kiu varies greatly from the Sil Lim Tao in that in the first form all of the hand techniques are done at one time or in the manner where each hand makes the identical movement at the same time as the other. In Chum Kiu, the hands will indepently of each other in a supporting role as well as being coordinated with body shifting and stepping. The first two kicks of Wing Chun, the Bil Gerk (Thrusting Kick) and Tay Gerk (Lifting Kick) are also introduced in this form.
Bil Jee (Thrusting Fingers)
Bil Jee is the third hand form taught in the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. For years this level of training was kept as a highly-guarded secret of the Ip Man Wing Chun School, and it was only taught to a few select “closed door” students. Today there quite a few variations of Bil Jee form amongst the different branches of the Ip Man Lineage Wing Chun school. It would seem that each Sifu has his (or her) own personal interpretation of the applications and true purpose behind the movements of this form. Perhaps it is due to the secretive nature this form had for so many years, that the interpretations vary so much.
For the most part all contemporary Wing Chun teachers seem to agree that this form contains the most advanced concepts and techniques of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. Contained in this is form are the techniques used to develop explosive energy through concentration of the mind and body unity. This form also contains the concepts and movements of some very special techniques that the Wing Chun man could use to recover the dominant position if he finds that he has lost the advantageous position in a fight.
Mook Yan Jong (Wooden Dummy)
The Mook Yan Jong (translated Wooden Dummy) is probably the most recognized trade mark and training apparatus of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. Although the Wing Chun system is only about 350 years old the history of the Wooden Dummy can be traced much further back in time, to the Shaolin Temple in Southern China. Legend has it that towards the completion of their training, the warrior monks would have to pass a test by fighting their way down a hall of 108 wooden men. The Wooden Dummy was practically unknown in the west until it was made famous by Kung Fu Superstar Bruce Lee, who was a student of Wing Chun’s Great Grandmaster Ip Man.
There is something about training on the Wooden Dummy that gives one a sense of fulfillment. Perhaps it is knowing that for centuries the Wooden Dummy has been used as a tool to perfect the movements of one of the world’s most effective systems of personal combat. Training on this special apparatus combines all the fighting concepts of Wing Chun’s three empty hand forms into one. Continuous practice will develop the proper footwork, positioning, and energy release so crucial to the Wing Chun System.
Lok Dim Boon Gwan (Six and a Half Point Pole)
Traditional Wing Chun training will involve learning to use two special weapons, the Lok Dim Boon Gwan (Six and a Half Point Pole) and the Bak Jom Dao (Eight Chopping Swords). As with everything involved in the Wing Chun Kung Fu System, there is definite thought process and reasoning behind training with these particular weapons. The pole is a single, long weapon and the swords are double, short weapons. Thus, as you train with each weapon you are learning alternate movements, theories, and applications that can be applied with to a variety of other weapons, without having to spend the additional time training. Like all the other forms in Wing Chun, the Six and a Half Point Pole form looks deceptively simple, but the underlining principles and straight forward techniques are devastatingly affective when applied in personal combat.
Bak Jom Dao (Eight Chopping Swords)
The Bak Jom Dao (Eight Chopping Swords) is the most advanced form and highest level of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System. For many years this form was held in reserve as a secret weapon of the Wing Chun Clan. In modern times the passing down of this form is still held in high regard. Even the most famous Wing Chun Sifu of all time, Great Grandmaster Ip Man, only taught this form to a few select disciples. Similar to the Bil Jee there are quite a few variations of the Bak Jom Dao form among the many modern Wing Chun schools, all with their own unique interpretations of the movements and applications this form.
Chi Sau (Sticky Hands)
Chi Sau is a special training exercise unique to Wing Chun; it teaches sensitivity and provides a realistic platform for the Wing Chun man to practice his techniques. There are three basic forms of Chi Sau practice: Dan Chi Sau (single hand), Poon Sau (two handed “rolling hands”), and Sheung Chi Sau (free flow practice). The goal is to be able to affectively apply all the movements from the three empty hand forms. In advanced stages Chi Sau is practiced while standing on a table or blindfolded.
A lot of people practice Chi Sau as a sort of tag game where the one who gets the most hits wins, but this is not the true way to practice. In reality, at the close range in which Chi Sau is practiced striking or "tagging" is the easy part—not getting hit is the hard part. The concentration during Chi Sau should be on sensing your opponent’s energy and controlling his movements, a difficult task when you are spending all of your energy on attacking. A good Wing Chun man will turn this energy against you. The best way to practice Chi Sau is at a moderate speed with short bursts of energy and intervals of fast movement.