Martial Arts Training Dummy

One of the most interesting pieces of training equipment in the martial arts is the martial arts training dummy. It almost seems like an obvious training device but there were few such training dummies in existence in the 1960s and 70s when I started in the martial arts!

Along came Bruce Lee and his modified Wing Chun wooden dummy with the metal leg and the rush was on. Numerous manufactures tried making similar devices. Some were just a set of arms coming out of a mounted plate on the wall. Others were full dummies.

Today we have the soft plastic torso and head with which students can visualize their target and practice punches and kicks for students of karate and kick boxing. Dummies are being sold for jeet kune do and wing chun made out of numerous different artificial materials in addition to wood. Even a grappling dummy is available from certain sites for the grappling arts and self-defense classes. One can still find numerous devices which are sets of arms mounted on a wall for personal training regimen at home. They seem very popular.

A martial arts training dummy offers a trainee a more realistic alternative than air punching or air kicking – which, by the way, have their place – for those without a training partner.

As early as the 1950-1960s, the wooden dummies used by the late great Grand Master Yip Man were modified to a certain extent over the traditional designs of earlier years. When late Grandmaster Yip Man lived on the mainland, the ‘dead’ wooden dummy was used (meaning it had no live movement and was therefore called ‘dead’) which was a post sunken into the ground which, of course, had the traditional arm and leg positions. Then, when Yip Man fled China for Hong Kong during the ‘cultural revolution’ the urban environment did not allow a place to install a ‘dead’ wood dummy. Most people lived in ‘flats’ on an upper level in the city.

The craftsmen making the dummy along with Yip Man had a solution. They mounted the dummy on a wall with horizontal slats. It is essentially the same design that you see today on a lot of web sites.

In most Yip Man lineages, the wooden dummy form is only taught to advanced students. One cannot normally walk into a school and expect to learn the wooden dummy techniques without a few years of intensive training on the first three forms, chi sau, footwork and the like. However certain drills, at the discretion of the instructor, are often taught to lower student grades to help the student with problems areas and to prepare them for more advanced training.

Many wonder what the origin is of the martial arts training dummy. One such suggestion is the story of the Shaolin Monastery which says that in order to ‘graduate’ from the training, the trainee had to make their way through a training hall of 108 mechanical dummies which would come out of the walls to attack the trainee. There is no verification of this legend of course.

Wing Tsun (or wing chun) are not the only martial arts that use a wooden dummy. Many branches and versions (southern and northern styles) of Praying Mantis kung-fu, Bak Mei kung-fu, Choy Li Fut and others which trace their origins to the Shaolin Monastery have their own designs which lends some credence to the above story. Of course careful research indicates a lot of inaccuracies in the stories of the Shaolin Monastery in a general sense.

Another kind of dummy is the Wing Tsun tripodal dummy. The tripodal dummy is simply three posts about 3 ½ to 4 feet high arranged in a triangle. This device is used to practice the sophisticated advanced kicking techniques of WingTsun.

The tripodal dummy can be seen in the book Wing Tsun Kuen by Leung Ting, 10th Level MOC at:

… and in actual use by Grandmaster Leung Ting on the DVD, Authentic Wing Tsun Kung Fu at:

Some good values in high quality wooden dummies can be found at:

The only video of the late Grandmaster Yip Man performing the wooden dummy set is part of the above DVD!

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg