The difference between Wing Tsun and other martial arts is not always obvious. Many martial arts that come from a so-called Shaolin root have a basic set of movements called a “form” which is a pattern of hand movements and steps which might be compared to a dance. However, the techniques have fighting applications. The principals are normally how the style defends and attacks, how to get power, how to turn and fight and so on.
Wing Tsun does have a basic form called Siu Nim Tau. Its meaning is “Little Idea Form.” The techniques in the form teach very basic ideas such as the “Character Sun Thrusting Punch” and the three seed techniques, tan sau, fook sau and bong sau plus two more sections of techniques totaling 108 points.
Wing Tsun is concerned with the physical position, angle and distance between hand and foot positions rather than how powerful you can punch or how high you can kick. This puts Wing Tsun into a category that is focused on whether you can land a technique in a real fight rather than on power, high kicks, or appearance. Finally, if you hit air, it does not matter how powerfully you can hit. This puts Wing Tsun in a category of practical martial arts.
This does not mean that Wing Tsun lacks power. Wing Tsun delivers sufficient power to knock down an attacker without leaving the defender exposed to counter-attack. Wing Tsun uses the wall bag, filled with rice, as a tool to develop power.
In learning Wing Tsun, there are practical, fighting reasons behind every hand and foot position. Wing Tsun is constructed in this way almost like a work of fighting engineering. To make it work, one must practice the soft power in sticky hands. An attacker’s hands and feet come at a defender far too fast to merely intercept it when there is no warning. One must feel the arms or legs of the attack and deal with it based on one’s ability to feel the trajectory of the attack or power or both. Footwork is coordinated with the hands to dissolve or move out of the way for counter-attack or just avoidance.
Dealing with an unexpected attack is far different than dealing with an attack you are prepared for or one in which you have advanced warning. Using sticky hands nullifies the problem of an attacker’s fast hands if you can stick with his hands. The sudden pulsing of a talented fighter’s hands with flicking motions and fake punches becomes less of a threat if you can stick.
Wing Tsun is designed for short duration fights. Its original design and purpose is self-defense against serious threats beyond just a simple punching attack by an unskilled fighter.
Wing Tsun is not just a variation of another Shaolin-based system, it is unique.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg