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Wing Chun

Wing Chun (詠春 in pinyin: yong3 chun1; in Jyutping: wing4 ceon1), according to legend, was a style of Chinese martial arts technique designed by the Shaolin monks for the smaller stature of women fighters. Although there are many legends about the origins of what have become traditional Cantonese martial arts, one legend avers that, after escaping the destruction of the Fujian Shaolin monastery, a nun named Abbess Ng Mui (五枚大師 wu3 mei2 da4 shi1; ng5 mui4 daai6 si1) taught her own style of Kung Fu to a young woman whom she adopted named Yim Wing-chun (嚴詠春 yan2 yong3 chun1; jim4 wing4-ceon1), whose name means "Eternal Spring," from whom the style gets its name. Wing-chun was being bullied into marriage by a local warlord but, by learning from Ng Mui, was able to defeat the warlord in hand to hand combat and marry her own chosen fiancé. The style was then passed down their family line. Martial arts historian please confirm.

Unfortunately, the legendary history cannot be confirmed and has been the subject of debate for decades. The only historical figure generally agreed upon is Leung Jan (梁贊 liang2 zan4; loeng4 zaan3), an herbal doctor who lived in the Chinese city of Foshan in the 19th century. Among his handful of students were Leung Bik (梁碧 liang2 bi4; loeng4 bik1), Chan Wah-shun (陳華順 chen2 hua2 shun4; can4 waa4 seon6) (aka "Money-changer Wa"), and his son Leung Chun (梁? liang2 ?; loeng4 ?). Of these, Leung Bik and Chan Wa-shun were the primary teachers of Yip Man.

Leung Jan is said to have learned from two people, Wong Wah-bo (黃華寳 huang2 hua2 bao3; wong4 waa4 bou2) and Leung Yee-tai (梁二娣 liang2 er4 ti4; loeng4 ji6 tai5), both of whom are said to have been experts at different aspects of Wing Chun, and at least one of whom (Leung Yee-tai) was a traveling performer with a Chinese opera troupe which moved from place to place by boat.

Other alternative histories for Wing Chun typically involve connections to the Triads, revolutionary groups, or the Hakka people of southern China.

Table of contents
1 Forms
2 Characteristics and Principles
3 Weapons
4 Training
5 Personalities


The central principle is developing a skill called "Chi Sao" (literally, "sticky arms") which comes from developing a sensitivity in the arms and legs (Chi Gerk, "sticky legs") to "stick" to an opponent's limbs, preventing them from penetrating your defense, and then using quick, direct attacks once the way forward becomes clear.

Although initially developed as an unarmed form of combat, the Wing Chun system also incorporated the use of the pole and butterfly swords during its evolution.

As the style is taught conceptually, rather than with emphasis on techniques, there have been several interpretations of the art over time. This is reflected in the separate schools established by in later years, as listed below.

There are 3 main empty hand forms typically found within the system, each of which imparts and builds on foundational concepts:

A fourth empty hand form uses a training aid: Commonly, the wooden dummy form is said to encompass the three sets, while the three sets are said to encompass the wooden dummy form.

The "six and a half point" pole form and the "eight chopping" knives forms are primarily used to develop and condition the empty hand movements.

Characteristics and Principles

Wing Chun has managed to retain its focus as a practical fighting art. It has avoided being modified into a competitive (rule based) point-scored sport or demonstration art. Wing Chun tournaments are rare or unknown.

The more effective Wing Chun strikes (eyes, throat, knee) are too dangerous even for freestyle competitions. Wing Chun is therefore rarely seen in competition.

Wing Chun is not just a collection of unrelated techniques. It has a core set of guiding principles which allows practitioners to decide what is correct or incorrect Wing Chun. This keeps the art a pure and integrated fighting system, while allowing direction for growth that is consistent with its principles.

Since one of Wing Chun principles is simplicity, 'growth' should be understood as 'refinement'.

These guiding principles are strictly practical and is part of the reason for Wing Chun's uniquely scientific and logical approach to fighting. It is likely that Bruce Lee managed to develop Jeet Kune Do from Wing Chun because Wing Chun trained him to think about fighting in a scientific way.

All Wing Chun techniques have a practical purpose. There are no flowery moves or graceful techniques that mimic animal movements. To the uninitiated, Wing Chun can appear less effective when compared with more dramatic styles. Like Hsing Yi, another linear style, Wing Chun practitioners pride themselves on plain-looking but effective techniques. The crowd-pleasing elaborate moves used by Bruce Lee in his movies are not real Wing Chun or Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee consciously choreographed more flamboyant moves to entertain his fans. His actual fighting style was simple, direct and effective.

Following this utilitarian approach, the names of Wing Chun techniques are purely descriptive. For example - bounce hand (tan sau), wing arm (bong sau), slapping hand (pak sau). Wing Chun terminology is traditionally rendered in the Cantonese dialect of Chinese.

External Style

Wing Chun is an external style (relies on body mechanics), not an internal style (nei chia) that makes use of Qi or internal energy.

While there have been claims to the contrary, any use of internal energy in Wing Chun is peripheral or supplemental at best.

This is not to say that Wing Chun relies on brute strength. On the contrary, softness (via relaxation) is fundamental to the style, and essential to deflect, negate, and use an opponent's power against him.

Classification as a "hard" style is therefore misleading. While some say that, even tense, it is possible to use Wing Chun, such an unsophisticated approach is easily defeated by a skilled Wing Chun practitioner.

Even Chi Sao can be misused if too much force is used. Yip Man did not lose to his young students in Chi Sao even during his later years, when he was weaker. He used his superior sensitivity and body structure to control their power.

Skill does not come automatically. The difference in the application of techniques can be subtle. Proper instruction is crucial.

Close Range

Wing Chun is one of the few styles that emphasizes non-grappling close range fighting. Ideal Wing Chun fighting distance is fist, elbow and knee range. While the Wing Chun forward kick can be considered a long range technique, Wing Chun practitioners concentrate on "entry techniques" - getting past an opponent's kicks and punches to bring him within range of Wing Chun's rich close range repertoire.

Other styles reason that you should aim to strike at maximum range - which means kicking. This is because if you do not, your opponent will be able to hit you before you can hit him.

Wing Chun teaches that it is always possible to get past an opponent's long range technique and close in to fight on Wing Chun's terms. A kick can be jammed before full extension, before it develops full power. A kick can also be jammed when it is being withdrawn, as all kicks inevitably have to be. A Wing Chun practitioner will rush in during these times, using quick footwork to close the distance.

A favorite Wing Chun saying is "stay as he comes, follow as he goes" to emphasize its close range and stick-to-your-opponent approach to fighting.


Wing Chun values speed over power. A weak fast punch that is too fast to be avoided is better than a powerful slow punch that can be dodged or deflected.

Striking inevitably opens up part of your own body to attack. A fast strike reduces the exposure time.

A punch is faster than a kick, so punches are emphasized over kicks. Punches are also safer as they do not disrupt the body's centre of gravity as much as kicks do. Kicks are kept low, below or slightly above the waist, so as to not to be grabbed by your opponent's faster hands.

Wing Chun's emphasis on speed arises naturally from its close range fighting focus. At close range, a punch has less distance to travel and so will arrive more quickly. At close range, hand positions can be difficult to see because of this heightened speed. This is why Chi Sao is used to train a Wing Chun practitioner to sense his opponent's hand position and probe for holes in his defense, from touch alone.

The Wing Chun stance is also designed for speed. The feet are kept about a shoulder's width apart, forming a good balance between speed and stability. A wider stance would be more stable but would slow down kicks and footwork.

A highly trained Wing Chun practitioner achieves maximum speed by acting reflexively and instinctively to his opponent's moves. Chi Sao training will help in this. He does not think "if my opponent does this I will counter with that". Instead, he just reacts.

The speed at which Bruce Lee fought in his later movies is not an accurate representation of the speed at which Wing Chun or Jeet Kune Do is conducted. Bruce Lee slowed down to make his movements easier to see. His earlier movies such as Chinese Connection are more realistic in this regard.

Vertical Punch

This is the defining technique of Wing Chun. Punches are thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. The fist is held vertical and the contact points are the bottom three knuckles. The fist is twisted on impact for maximum effect.

The advantages of the vertical punch are speed, protection, hand strength and force redirection.

The last item above can be easily tested. Hold you fist vertically in front of you, your elbow down, one foot behind the other. Ask someone to push against your fist and you will feel his force being redirected into the ground. Repeat, but with your fist horizontal and your elbow at shoulder height and to the side. You will feel his force twisting you sideways, leaving you with nothing to push back against.

The vertical punch is so effective that Bruce Lee kept it unchanged, in Jeet Kune Do.

The vertical punch is the basis for the Wing Chun chain punch - alternate left and right vertical punches thrown in quick succession, resulting in a fast flurry of punches of a few punches per second. The chain punch is simple, effective and difficult to counter.

Wing Chun students are taught that when in doubt as to which technique to use, they should attack with the chain punch. This avoids the "analysis paralysis" that can occur when an overly-trained martial artist gets into an unstructured street fight.


Wing Chun emphasizes attack and defense along an imaginary vertical line drawn along the nose, throat, navel and groin. The human body's prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line.

A Wing Chun practitioner will strive to protect his centerline and attack his opponent's. Footwork is used to move your centerline away from an opponent's attack and to position your hands and feet to attack his centerline.

Wing Chun techniques are "closed", the limbs drawn in to protect the centerline. The hands should 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.

Linear Movement

Strikes are linear. This is in the belief that the fastest path between two points is a straight line. Some blocking movements however, can be circular.

Note that the vertical punch is linear - only straight line movements are used.

Simultaneous Attack and Defense

Whenever possible, an arm will be used to block and strike in one movement. This allows for fast counter attacks, compared to the conventional block with one hand followed by a counterpunch with the other.

Independent Movement of Limbs

A Wing Chun practitioner should be able to punch and kick at the same time, thereby confusing his opponent. Any combination of punches and kicks can be used, so that his attack will be difficult to predict. His opponent cannot hope that punch A will always be thrown together with kick X as any punch can be used with any kick.

Even the arms are trained to move independently of each other. This is one of the purposes of the Siu Nim Tao.

Risk Aversion

A life-or-death combat situation is no time to take unnecessary risks. Wing Chun is conservative in this regard. Equal emphasis is placed on offensive and defensive measures.

Most hand techniques place one hand close to the chest, to ward off punches that manage to get past the lead hand. The elbows are kept low, to protect the body. The head is tilted forward and down to protect the throat with the chin.

Proper balance is always maintained. Wing Chun practitioners will not risk their balance by over-reaching to attack an opponent. Strikes should be launched from a solid base. All-or-nothing gambles are not worth the risk.

Feints are discouraged as these are seen as opening up your body to attack, with no possibility of hitting your opponent in return.

Balance and Body Structure

Overall body balance is emphasized as this affects speed. A well balanced body can move more quickly. The trunk is always kept upright for this purpose.

A Wing Chun practitioner will not lean sideways in order to throw a high kick to an opponent's head. Changing your body's center of gravity so radically brings grave speed penalties, aside from opening your groin to attack and your foot to grabbing.

Bobbing and weaving is not used to dodge punches. Footwork is considered faster for dodging, and does not endanger stability or body structure.

Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with the better body structure will win.

Proper body structure is used to redirect horizontal force from a punch, vertically into the ground. This allows more powerful punches to be thrown.

Proper positioning of arms will close holes in your defense, allowing no avenue for your opponent to strike.

For example, the forearm in the bong sau should be kept high so as to deflect punches upwards. The bong sau forearm is also kept forward because having it too far back weakens the leverage of the triceps and allows the forearm to be pushed back.

Wing Chun students are taught how to test each technique against specific attacks so that they can assume the correct positions from actual feedback and not from blindly following their instructor. Proper stances are checked by having someone push against you to check your stability.

Chum Kiu, the second form, consists of techniques to destroy you opponent's structure and balance, leaving him open to attack.

Biu Tze, the third form, consists of techniques to counter attack when you are in a disadvantageous situation, when your structure and balance have been compromised.


Wing Chun techniques are performed in a relaxed manner, during both training and in actual combat.

The mind should also be relaxed when fighting. The gritted teeth, bulging neck muscles attitude of The Incredible Hulk is not the correct Wing Chun fighting attitude.

This relaxed approach is extended into the training itself. It would be difficult to teach students to relax if the training atmosphere itself was tense. Wing Chun classes are commonly relaxed and light hearted affairs. Sifus are friendly and open, far from the Hollywood (and Hong Kong) caricature of sadistic inscrutable taskmasters.


Whereas primarily an empty hand style, weapon training has been added to the style. Such a training is considered dangerous/secret and is thus only tought at master level.

The two weapons of Wing Chun are


Wing Chun students are taught the reasoning behind each technique that they learn. This avoids them going through the motions without knowing how to apply them. This theoretical grounding also allows them to analyze other styles for strengths and weaknesses.

Wing Chun as taught by Yip Man was in some ways a socially revolutionary art. There were no ranks or titles in the art. One's standing in the wing chun did not come from "time in grade" or "age"; instead, the "hands did the talking" and made clear who had superior skill. Indeed, one of the first things that one learned was to look straight at the instructor, which could be difficult as Chinese social mores placed emphasis on respect for elders, for example by avoiding direct gaze. A wing chun kwoon ("training hall") could be likened to a wolf pack rather than to a hierarchical military-style organization.

Wing Chun also makes use of a number of kuen kuit to teach the art. These are short, often sing-song, sayings or rhymes that indicate principles, or strategies, or even particular responses. Although these can be written in chinese characters, they are actually Cantonese (so have no real written equivalent). In many cases, their meaning rested on slang that was not necessarily widely known. In others, although the meaning might be "clear", the actual meaning for the art would require that you physically learn something.


Yip Man was the first person to teach Wing Chun to a wider public. After his death, many of his students formed separate schools. In some cases, instructors developed more systematic methodologies of teaching Wing Chun -- however, there is probably no substitute for direct hands-on transmission of the feel of the art. This has lead to varying interpretations of the art.

Yip Man was well-known for having a very quick wit and an acid tongue. His teaching style, along with the very direct nature of the art and its despising of superfluous talk, infuses the art with a certain edginess. This is probably why Wing Chun is well-known for being split into many factions, each of which feel that they are the holders of the true transmission of the art.

Yip Man's lineage is not the only one that exists and there are several different histories which confirm and contradict Yip Man's histories. Yip Man had many peers who passed on the art of Wing Chun resulting in, to name a few, the Yuen Kay San Gu Lao and Pan Nam branches. It is said that there are 7 main Wing Chun families in mainland China. Some other branches are found in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

Bruce Lee trained in Wing Chun and later incorporated some of its moves and philosophy into the Jeet Kune Do style he later personally developed. Jeet Kune Do differs greatly from Wing Chun as taught by Yip Man.