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Wing Tsun Theory of Self Defense

Many a Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun student and lay person has read and studied the story of the origins of Wing Tsun. They have heard of the Buddhist elder, Ng Mui who was a Siu Lam (Shaolin) kung fu expert. The story goes that she escaped the burning of the Siu Lam Monastery by Ching soldiers along with four others each of whom gave rise to various kung fu styles that exist today. Ng Mui eventually taught another female, a teenager named Yim Wing Tsun. The teenager eventually married her betrothed. Her husband decided that this secret style should be named after her. Wing Tsun was eventually passed down in a narrow family line until the present day.

“Regardless of the credibility of the above story…,” as the narrator in the Authentic Wing Tsun Kung Fu video explains, Wing Tsun was developed to take advantage of Siu Lam Kung fu and use the strength of the other styles against them. This tradition of using another’s force has actually strengthened over time with ideas that seem to come from several different sources. Since Siu Lam (Shaolin) kung fu was supposed to have been a complex set of animal styles, actually several styles under one umbrella family of martial arts, the idea that Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun came from several sources resonates.

Wing Tsun is actually a set of very intelligent ideas. Once the ideas and the drills and forms related to the ideas are firmly in the muscle memory of a practitioner, the system can be interpreted differently by many- rightly or wrongly.

The tradition that Wing Tsun was invented by two females has been called into question repeatedly and yet the legend remains. It is probably because the legend is important to many students and teachers of the style, a.k.a. system. It is designed to give somebody smaller and weaker and possibly with less than superb athletic skills a chance against a faster, stronger attacker by being more efficient and being functional at closer distances than the distances used by the majority of martial arts out there.

Because of the above origin story and reason for its existence, it is primarily an emergency self-defense system. Its techniques are not designed using the “Marquess of Queensberry” rules which are the very civilized set of rules governing British boxing, who are the actual inventors of the sport of boxing we see today. Instead, in order to give a smaller, weaker person a fighting chance in an attack, there are no ‘rules,’ just counterattacks to the legs, the eyes, the ears, throat and other targets not allowed in sporting competition. Any subterfuge or ‘sneakiness’ is allowed because this training is for keeps, not for tag. The above targets do not require great strength in order to hurt and stop a fearsome aggressor.

Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun was not designed for fighting contests. There are no provisions for anything that might not halt an attack in its tracks.

Despite this, many have tried to convert it to a martial art for full-contact sport and octagon-type competitions. To my knowledge, the only place Wing Tsun has succeeded in these situations is in places like Malaysia and other south-east Asian countries when some Wing Tsun practitioners, advanced students of GGM Leung Ting who showed unusually aggressive fighting skills, the ability to train hard and the desire to enter the competitions, did so. These south-east Asian competitions had few of the rules that exist today. Probably as a consequence of this, many of these contests have been outlawed.

These kind of competitions require a special physical training regimen which Grandmaster Leung Ting did, in fact, design for his students. The training regimen can be taken on by anybody who wishes. It is a published work in the book Dynamic Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Unfortunately there is no real outlet for this skill set, even in MMA contests. A great many Biu Tze techniques (the third form) and wooden dummy techniques are included in the training. Many of these techniques can only do one thing.  Kill.

Please be aware that standard Wing Tsun training which is ideal to counter the stronger, faster attackers in a split instant street encounter does not prepare a student for the mixed martial art competitions we see today. The physical training would have to be more than tripled. More aggressive techniques would have to be learned. A great deal more training on the ground would have to be undertaken to accommodate tournament rules. Others would have to be forbidden.

Despite the tradition of a female having invented Wing Tsun, some practitioners have modified their training either by accident or intention into something that they claim works for them but uses strength and power techniques, contrary to most traditional ideas of Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun.

Some instructors in other lineages can talk as though they teach the traditional principals but are not producing new instructors that understand the beginning, middle and advanced progression of the training. Their advanced students go on to teach and then insist on teaching advanced techniques to their new students that they themselves have just learned in the last two years such as Biu Tze and wooden dummy techniques, misunderstanding the fact that advanced techniques are not ‘better,’ they just require more previous training in basic skills in order to use them effectively.

A lot of ignorant statements get made out of sheer lack of knowledge of the complete system. I have heard the one about Wing Tsun / Wing Chun / Ving Tsun only being able to fight off a know-nothing street thug, not a skilled fighter. This pack of nonsense comes from people who clearly did not learn, or if they did learn, did not understand the Biu Tze form and its applications. In fact, Biu Tze techniques are usually not even needed.

There are several things to look for in learning Wing Tsun and one of them is becoming overconfident. Wing Tsun ideas are so sharp and devastating that the tendency exists to be overconfident in one’s efficiency and ignore basic ideas such as physical training. Just because the Wing Tsun Character Sun Thrusting punch has a shorter flight path to its target does not mean that in order to beat the hook punch you can just relax and not practice this vital technique. Wing Tsun trains and relies on the ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibers to launch techniques. Instant explosiveness makes the difference. The fast twitch muscle fibers also have to be trained in the advancing steps and the kicks!

Many martial arts followers believe they are invincible. There is a big difference between self-confidence and delusion. No person is invincible, even with weapons, even with skills.

Wing Tsun does not automatically level the playing field when a small person is pitted against a larger, stronger attacker. It still requires the individual to perform. Wing Tsun does the best job of any martial art, in my estimation, of evening the odds. It does this by the numbers, by the yard stick, so to speak. It still requires the focus of the individual to maximize those technical advantages. Any person interested in self-defense should take stock of one’s abilities and be realistic. Never under estimate your attacker by letting down your guard or under estimating their strength and determination.

Borrowing an attacker’s force requires a student to thoughtfully practice with a partner to maintain sticky, light pressure with your partner’s arms with no breaks in the stick and no variance with the relative pressure. Variance can be felt by an attacker and slips occur.

All of the basic drills, when done with thought, have the right stuff to maintain basic skills such as crab steps, air-chain punches, wall bag punches, etc. The only thing missing is a cooperative partner. Then the step after that is an uncooperative partner to launch increasingly serious attacks at you.

Any physical movement discipline can create an over-confident practitioner. Get the benefits of Wing Tsun. Go practice thoughtfully.

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg