A Brief Discussion of the Training Methods and Procedures of Wing Chun Kung Fu
It is now almost 60 years since SiFu Yip Man 葉問宗師 established and initiated the art of Wing Chun Kung Fu in Hong Kong 香港, and we should appreciate and honor his lifetime of research and perseverance to maintain and preserve this secret Art of fighting. He arduously managed his unknown schools in a tumultuous period on this small island and fortune will not let down a man who does his best to hand down his comprehensive knowledge to his disciples. Under the cultivation of SiFu Yip Man, many outstanding students gained fame through diligent training and successful application of Wing Chun in numerous contests. As a result, the Wing Chun style became famous in Hong Kong. His descendants have since taught this art on all continents including Bruce Lee 李小龍 who single-handedly influenced and changed the way martial arts films were made. Bruce Lee’s fighting movies such as “Fists of Fury” 精武門, “Return of the Dragon” 猛龍過江, and “Enter the Dragon” 龍爭虎鬥, to name a few, continue to capture audiences to this day with his stunning fighting techniques and choreography. These extraordinary fight sequences are a magnificent demonstration of an explosive fighting art that can be traced back to the unique style of Wing Chun. In the years since, Wing Chun has become one of the most popular styles of Martial Arts in the world.
As the Wing Chun family grows larger, it seems that there are many different and sometimes conflicting interpretations of our style in the Wing Chun community, yet I am absolutely sure that SiFu Yip Man taught one and only one Wing Chun to everyone. The causes of this disparity may be that most teachers have their own ideas, prefer to teach in their own way, have misconceptions of the original ideas of the Art, or all of the above. In Wing Chun we have basic techniques like Tan Sau 攤手, Bong Sau 膀手, Fook Sau 伏手, Gaan Sau 耕手, and Kwan Sau 綑手 which every practitioner will perform and in each instance may look alike. 形似 However, if you are careful enough to spend the time to properly explore the ideas and nuances behind these techniques to discover the differences in angles, structure, and position you will gain a better understanding of the ideas and applications of each. It is much better for us to accept and consider each other’s ideas so they can be analyzed, experimented with, and applied to experience what-is-the-difference. This is the way to seek out the truth and improve in what you are doing. This is always my advice - to be more humble and more liberal in your approach to all things. Self righteousness 自以為是, arbitrary deference 武斷, and prejudice 偏見 will only prove to stop or drastically hinder your progress.
With this article I am now trying to express some aspects of my approach and training methods for this style, all of which I have learned from my three SiFus, SiFu Lok Yiu 師傅駱耀, SiFu Yip Man 師傅葉問, and SiFu Duncan Shiu Hung Leung 師傅梁紹鴻. It is the approach and methods that I have determined to work for me. Whether or not you like or agree with it, please take what I have written here into consideration and if possible attempt to accept these different ideas to further your research. With an open mind, you can better further your knowledge and distinguish yourself in the field of Martial Arts. This approach to knowledge is not unique to Chinese philosophy and you will find the same advice in many cultures. As SiFu Duncan said, “I certainly do not claim to speak for the Wing Chun family, and would welcome any correction that is offered. That certainly would help me improve. It is my hope that many Wing Chun members will share their ideas with all of us, no matter who they have learned from.”
If you want to learn something outstanding or special you must perform quite a lot of research and plan carefully to arrange the time, money, man power, and a decent environment (經濟, 天時, 地利, 人和) for your training before you even start to choose the right SiFu (teacher). Then, you have to find a SiFu who will wholeheartedly pass his precious knowledge to you and approach what you are going to learn properly as I have mentioned in my last two articles, “ Wing Chun Syllabus” 詠春課程 and “ Wing Chun Myths” 詠春的誤解. Wing Chun has three empty hand forms, sticky hands training, the wooden man dummy forms, the breakdown and usages of the wooden dummy techniques, Dar Wai 打圍, Sang Jong 生樁, the Tripoles Form 品字樁, the breakdown and usages of the Kicking techniques, and much more training. To fully earn this style will take years of honest study, perseverance, and dedication. Without a doubt, you will need advice along the way and an open mind to accept many different ideas to better yourself. Always remember that you will make many mistakes along the way and that the most important thing about a true quest for knowledge is considering it an endless journey. Accept the ideas you come across, compare them with what you know and try them out. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain through research and discussion. When you are training in the field of Wing Chun, think about what you are learning and do not be afraid to respectfully ask your SiFu, “Why?”, “How?”, or “How can I improve?”. This is not to question his knowledge, but if he can not or will not answer your questions it may be necessary to find another SiFu. There is nothing top secret in Wing Chun because every thing in the art can be explained scientifically or mathematically with physics, geometry, and anatomy. The only secret is to train hard. Every movement in the forms has certain meaning and numerous details behind it. According to the design of Wing Chun Kung Fu, each movement must be played properly and precisely while maintaining the centerline idea of each movement and with an understanding of these underlying meanings. Without understanding its origins, the form will simply be a series of techniques that look like Wing Chun, but lack spirit 有形無實. I touched on this idea in my DVD, Fundamental Wing Chun Kung Fu 基本實踐詠春拳簡介, which will be available soon on the internet. This introductory video is the first of a series in which I will delve progressively deeper into the ideas and theories of Wing Chun. As my SiFu Yip Man told me, ”Who I am is not important. The most important thing is what I teach you. If it works then it counts.” This statement is important to remember in order to make the art work for you. In the words of SiFu Yip Man, ”Don’t believe what I tell you, use your common sense to learn, try it, use it, and find out for yourself.”
In one’s quest to learn a martial art, it is often not only martial skills that are acquired. I make an effort to teach in such a manner as to develop strong problem solving abilities in my students. In Wing Chun, this means that they will use their knowledge of techniques, philosophy, strategy, etc., to most efficiently solve a problem in their training, or in a real fight. Students will learn how to stay calm and dispassionately look at the problem to analyze it as a whole to determine the most logical angle of approach, move on to determining the most efficient method for tackling it, and subsequently developing the most efficient procedure to achieve their goal of solving it. This mental acuity can be applied to anything from building a shed to preparing for a corporate presentation and thus learning martial arts will strengthen many more aspects of a person in addition to their fighting prowess.
Recently, my student published some clips on YouTUBE, and it created some debate. It is always our pleasure to accept criticism otherwise we will never improve, but unfortunately it seems there is some misunderstanding of what we are doing in our practice. While some have understood or attempted to understand our intentions, other viewers simply denied to accept the videos for even a little consideration. For instance, I would like to direct your attention to The Tan Dar and Guan Dar drill 攤打耕打. Our intention in this drill is not to say we fight like that. It is only a drill to help beginner students to build up good habits to respond to incoming techniques like swings to the upper gates or lower gates of their body. These drills should be considered as only the beginning of acquiring a basic understanding of simple techniques which breakdown from the Sil Nim Tao 小念頭. Students begin to learn to feel the area that is under attack and covering that area without looking at, reaching out, or blocking to the attack 睇手,招手, 擋格 (詠春拳訣:追身莫追手). Through these exercises, responding by reflex will be trained as well as performing defense and offense simultaneously. We shift the horse, thus keeping away a little bit to have more time to react, cover, and earn half a body length to reach further with the attacking punch. In an actual fight you don’t have to fight like this and there will be many ways to counter to this type of swing attack 外門手, such as with Tan Sau Dung Gerk 攤手蹬腳, throwing in the body with Taan Ma Tan Dar 標身彈馬攤打 (some people call it Triangle Horse 三角馬), Kwan Sau Dang Gerk 綑手釘腳, or many other options that would be suitable responses. This approach allows the student to train the basic ideas of Wing Chun, get used to being attacked, and to keep in mind that we are always to consider that we are smaller, slower, and less powerful than our opponents. With this in mind, the student will learn to choose the most intelligent and efficient way to conquer their adversary and in the mean time build up good habits, practice correct technique 正當手法, develop coordination 協調, learn to understand and feel proper structure 身形步法, and develop muscle memory 慣性動作. There is no technique better than the other techniques; each technique has a distinct advantage and disadvantage. Additionally, some people have said “we are doing Karate Wing Chun”, or that “we created those kind of techniques”, or even “Wing Chun doesn’t fight like that!”. However, if you carefully inspect those clips again, you will find all my students are doing correctly and clearly the techniques Wing Chun is supposed to require, such as Gaan Sau 耕手, Bong Sau 膀手, Pak Sau 拍手, Kwan Sau 綑手, and more. All of them are utilizing Wing Chun techniques in their training drills and only the attacking person is doing another style’s techniques. In the fighting art of Wing Chun there are many different fighting methods, what you see in the clip is the method I personally prefer, which is called “Counter Attack”. In Wing Chun it’s called Dar Joung Moong 打撞門, or “Crash in the door fighting style”. In addition, we have the usages of “Short Bridge Power” 短橋發力 and “Long Bridge Power” 長橋發力. Normally, in our school we emphasize “Long Bridge Power” and “Counter Attacking”. This maybe something you have never seen before but it does not mean Wing Chun lacks these kind of fighting methods and techniques. To be honest, sometimes I wish I had the kind of ingenuity to invent those techniques because it really takes a lot of talent and fighting experience to do so. The techniques that comprise Wing Chun originate from our ancestors who meticulously developed them over the course of many years and through their successful application in an immeasurable number of contests both for sport and self defense. Finally, the “Circle Fighting Drill” 打圍 is simply a stepping stone in the foundational training before students start learning how to actually fight. They have to earn the ability to protect themselves by using Wing Chun techniques fluently, reflexively, and in a proper and controlled manner so as not to hit their practice partners ensuring the safety of their fellow students. “To hit someone is easy; to fight without getting hit is hard”. Besides these basic ideas there is much more to the circle fighting training included in our curriculum.
Sticky Hands Training, or Chi Sau 黐手, is definitely an extremely important part of the Wing Chun curriculum and it is not only used to train you how to be good in this exercise, but also to refine your skills across the board. Students must learn it in the correct sequence, step by step, to understand the ideas behind it, because it covers many of the integral ideas of the style. A small mistake or misconception at the beginning will end up making a big difference in the future. While training Chi Sau, students can focus on improving the sensitivity 知覺 of their hands in response to contact from an opponent, reflexively reacting to a stimulus, developing the coordination and dexterity required to use both hands at the same time, helping each other to progress, and on resolving other’s mistakes. No matter how good and hard you train, you will always make mistakes. Every mistake presents a possible opening for you to be attacked if your partner knows how to exploit the mistake. Since mistakes are unavoidable, in Chi Sau we train the hands to be mutually dependent, so that when you make a mistake with one hand, the other hand instinctively responds to help close the opening that is created by the mistake. If done properly, when your partner attempts to exploit your mistake you can often convert this into an opportunity for you to penetrate your partner’s coverage and strike. Chi Sau should be done in a reasonable way, maintaining coverage, and with flowing non-stop defensive and offensive techniques. In addition to learning how to be a good training partner to each other, a student training sticky hands will also learn first hand the ideas of proper timing and distance, as well as how to use proper force instead of fighting directly against the force of your opponent. They have to learn how to use the structure of the whole body to their advantage, to advance and retreat at the correct angle and distance, and to understand the direction of power. It will take much explanation during Chi Sau training to achieve proficiency but it is essential to understand one key concept. Chi Sau is not fighting. While the skills that Chi Sau helps to develop improve one’s fighting abilities, nobody is going to play that game with you on the street. Wing Chun is an art of maximum efficiency, doing the most while expending the least amount of energy. In Chi Sau, the most efficient way that we respond to incoming pressure from our partner is to use his power to help you create more power to use for your advantage. Basically, you learn how to use your partner’s power against him and by thoroughly training all of these ideas of intention, you will develop reflexes that are essential to being an effective Wing Chun fighter. On the other hand, if you train with the wrong intentions (i.e., just trying to hit each other, running hand for no reason, or training robotically) your Chi Sau will not improve your senses as a fighter. Ultimately, I have come to realize that it is most valuable to teach Chi Sau to students particularly to empower them with a keen understanding of Wing Chun theory and a sharp feeling of the proper application of technique. With these attributes they will be able to correct their own mistakes and deepen their knowledge far into the future when their SiFu is no longer available for consultation.
Most Styles of Martial Arts have Forms 拳術套路 that are collections of hand and foot movements that define the physical blueprint of the style. Wing Chun Kung Fu has three empty hand forms, which most practitioners are familiar with. However, the construction of the form is such that every hand movement and section has certain meaning associated with them. Without a qualified SiFu, you might misunderstand the meaning of the form, and only guess to the application of the techniques. It may look like Wing Chun, but the spirit, usage, and intention are completely different. Also, the form is a collection of idealized movement. Upon learning them, you must be shown how to take the elements of the form and combine them to create a technique to suit the situation. In fact, the fighting applications of the techniques are totally beyond your imagination from what is seen in the form, and must be taught by the SiFu who has applicable knowledge and experience. After learning the forms students will begin to learn single hand sticky hands, Dan Chi Sau 單黐手, followed by double handed Chi Sau 雙黐手. Training the horse with different footwork 不同之馬步及步法 will typically continue throughout and students will eventually start to learn the dummy form. At these stages one of the goals is to become so familiar with your training attributes that you will be equipped to analyze your own performance. To be able to recognize and correct your own mistakes and truly be able to self-correct without constantly consulting your SiFu for the basics of Wing Chun theory will mean faster progress and aptitude that will last long into the future. Also at this stage, training of basic techniques such as Tan Dar Guann Dar 攤打耕打, Kwan Sau Bong Gerk 綑手膀腳, and Gum Sau Tan Dar 拑手攤打 will begin. Many of these basic techniques can be viewed in the videos on our site and on YouTube. We call it Chark Kuen 拆拳 or Chark Jong 拆樁 - the break down usages of the Forms and Dummy Form.
After relatively perfecting with the basic one on one drills we’ve discussed so far, students will move on to apply those techniques in the simple hypothetical scenarios of “Circle Fighting” 打圍. This training allows the students to develop their Wing Chun skills in a controlled step by step manner but also to become comfortable with being attacked. The confidence will automatically build up, and incoming punches and kicks are no longer a big deal as the circle fighting progresses to deeper and more realistic situations. The attackers will eventually no longer call out which attack is coming. Ultimately, attackers are going for real while the person in the center, who is training Wing Chun, will respond in a controlled manner so as not to injure their training partners. If the students can handle this, they will move forward and learn Wing Chun kicking 詠春腳法, the Tripole form 品字樁, sparring 對練, real fighting 自由搏擊 with different styles, strategy, and much more.
A fully experienced SiFu will teach his students in the proper manner, offering a flexible and adequate curriculum to fit the student’s progress. He will correct all the tiny mistakes whenever they occur to ward off bad habits and answer the myriad of questions that will come up to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and only a firm and clear understanding of all ideas. It is important to understand that in addition to all of the training mentioned so far there are many other exercises designed to develop Power, Speed, Reflex, Agility, Endurance, Timing, and Distance, etc. Without training these attributes you are not actually completely training the whole system of Wing Chun. It can take months or even years to fully explain the entire curriculum of our style in person so please forgive the brevity of this article. My intentions were to provide an overview of the training methods, procedures, and progression of Wing Chun. If time allows, I will continue to share my opinions with you, such as the fighting methods of Wing Chun, in future articles. If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to write to our school email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my best to answer as soon as possible.
In closing, I always advise my students as what SiFu Yip Man advised me -
”Be more open minded, accept the ideas of others that you come across, analyze them and attempt to apply them to find out whether they are true. Do not blindly believe what I say and always use your common sense to learn”.
SiFu Allan Che Kong Lee
慎思 Cautious Thought
博學 Immense Erudition
明辯 Authentic Dialectic
力行 Effortless Endeavour
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