Wooden dummies in Chinese martial arts have a long history. Some think the idea goes back to the Shaolin monastery where they designed a series of spring-loaded dummies for the “Shaolin wooden dummy hall.” This was the final graduation site for a “fighting monk.” The person being tested was to move through a hall with the dummies hidden in the walls. Steps on the floor would cause the spring-loaded dummies to fly out with limbs attacking the person being tested. Nice story. Who knows the truth, however?
A running argument on the internet goes something like this: Is Wing Chun practical? Wing Chun is no good in a street fight. MMA fights prove Wing Chun is not practical. False.
Possibly an individual that has the incorrect mindset is no good in a street fight. The art is above average and maybe the best for street self-defense.
MMA fights do not prove that a martial art lacks a practical application for the street since streets fights are totally unlike a ring fight that has rules, time-limits, limits on legal targets and techniques. Of course, any fighting practice prepares a student in certain areas of person-to-person combat.
Any beginner is bound to struggle at first, with learning new material. It is true of any new activity. I have a question for you. Does the struggle have to do with just learning your new movements or does it partly have to do with your ability?
Regardless of athletic skills or physical learning abilities, anybody can learn Wing Tsun movements. Practice begets insight. Insight begets solutions.
I think the simple answer is yes. Traditional training, if it also involves conditioning, can be a great start toward training for ring fights and cross training in other arts if your goal is the octagon type of fights we see today. Traditional martial arts offer basic principals of the individual style that could be overlooked in a mixed martial arts setting in the interest of “getting through it” so you can move on to another martial art.
At first, you, as the beginning student cannot usually understand why these basic movements are so important unless you have had good grounding in another traditional martial art. The truth is, the basics also train the smaller muscle groups that, again, are overlooked in faster training methods. They can strengthen and condition joints that work to prevent injury and increase efficiency.
Once a layperson who has an interest in martial arts also becomes acquainted with Wing Tsun (or wing chun) techniques, the fascination often begins. Due partly to online videos, tons of chatter, posts, blogs, and YouTube stars, many “wing chun fans” become obsessed. All the internet surfer wants to do is be like the guy in the videos or the star of the movie about Yip Man. It is a shame that the obsession doesn’t include an obsession with the ‘secret’ of Wing Tsun.
The legendary founder of Wing Tsun is supposed to have analyzed the techniques of her native martial art, Shaolin and found it impractical to learn and impractical to use in a real encounter against her stronger male adversaries. She reduced the repeated movements in the forms and reduced the total number of choreographed forms. It is doubtful that the full transformation in developing her own method took place in one generation. She taught another female, a teenager named Yim Wing Tsun and it was passed among a series of family members and “Red Boat” opera performers over a 250-year history.
Have you ever dropped something and failed to catch it? Probably everybody has at one time or another. However, if you are a student of Wing Tsun for long enough, you might notice yourself catching those fallen items a bit more often.
The primary training that increases your reaction time is sticky hands, known in Wing Tsun circles as “chi sau.” Chi sau is pretty much confined to the art founded by Yim Wing Tsun. However, we do not know if sticky hands were a part of her repertoire. There are other Chinese martial arts that have similar drills, but it is most highly developed in the later years of the art.
Have you sparred with others in your martial arts school and seem to be outclassed in in speed, kicking abilities, and sheer strength? It doesn’t have to be a contest in athleticism. Everybody has natural gifts. Some people are fast. Some have explosive speed. Some can jump higher than others. Some spend a great deal of time lifting weights.
It is often unrealistic to consider beating a gifted individual at their own game. Smart instructors will suggest that you do not “play their game.” Their game is usually a way to mesmerize you with techniques that always work for them. The solution is to play your own game. The question that arises then is, What IS your game?
Wing Tsun applies five ranges in actual fights and self-defense. They are the kicking range, punching range, knees and elbows, anti-grappling, and ground. In an encounter, a Wing Tsun practitioner does not choose a range. The range is what is appropriate based on the attack. Elbow techniques are a close-range method of striking.
If the attack starts at kicking range, a Wing Tsun practitioner might have to kick. If the attacker retreats or dodges after a kick, the kick is often followed up with a step and a series of punches. If the attacker tries to close-in, knees or elbows might be used.
A prominent feature of Wing Tsun kung fu training is defending and attacking at the same time. Wing Tsun’s hands, located at the center of the chest, go out to meet the attack simultaneously in some long-range applications. In other applications, a bridge is established microseconds before the fight is underway to establish the direction, the power and speed of the attack, as well as the posture, tension and even the attitude of the attacker.
In some instances, a simple straight-line thrusting punch is all that is needed. This is the ultimate in simultaneous defense and offense.
The backup to this approach can be bong sau (wing arm) which is an arm which bends like a green branch of a sapling tree, followed by the punch, pinning hand-punch (gum dar), or edge of the hand strike (fak sau).
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg
Wing Tsun AZ
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm