The Question I Always Get: Weight Training?

When I began Leung Ting WingTsun® training under Great Grandmaster Leung Ting, one of the first big points he made was that I was to avoid weight training because it would tighten my muscles and I would not learn the “force borrowing” skills or the “soft power” skills of WingTsun™.  Although it was controversial in many circles at that time, I followed his instructions.

All these many years later, I realize why he gave me those instructions.  Followers of many physical disciplines and sports can #benefit from a concurrent program of weight training.  However in WingTsun it is very difficult to mentally and physically reconcile the two training programs and get full performance at the same time …

… One discipline pumps up muscle and the other tries to avoid flexing it.  This is why many WingTsun sifus and trainers tell their students not to weight train or wait until two or three years pass before starting or re-starting a weight training program.  By that time, the WingTsun concept would start imbedding itself into mind and body.  I’ll have more about topic this later.


Actually WingTsun involves a very different kind of physical discipline.  First, the act of lifting and flexing muscle is taught at a very early age in order to build tone and make the body work well with skeletal muscles and joints fastened together at the bone and activated for a variety of uses from shoveling snow, fixing one’s auto, pushing a broom as well as participation in school sports.  Some competitive forms using muscle strength require going well beyond this.  Power lifting is one.  Wrestling is another.  Strength turns out to be an advantage in many, many activities.

Some physical pursuits do not emphasize strength but rather explosive speed such as sprinting and pole vaulting.  Others emphasize aim and steadiness such as marksmanship, archery, billiards and bowling.

In Great Grandmaster Leung Ting’s one hour classic video produced in 1984, “Authentic WingTsun Kung Fu,” the narrator states, “If two opponents both resort to physical power, the one that has the stronger physical power will always defeat the other one.  But there are too many people who are strongly built.  Therefore a WingTsun practitioner would have to find another way to defeat his opponent, not by crashing his power with his opponent but to borrow the power from the opponent.”

In the case of an attack by an enemy, stalker, mugger, or any violent encounter, one will most likely not know how strong the attacker is and therefore it was judged best by its inventor to dispense entirely with a concept based on strength and go in another direction.  This means that according to the intent of the WingTsun concept, WingTsun is a martial art for defeating an attacker in real life and not designed as a sport.  Winning is surviving, not gaining points.

The first step in learning #force borrowing and #soft power is to get rid of your own force.  This means that the arm must be soft and springy, not like a wet noodle but like rubber.  The first exercise is the single air punch done repeatedly, usually with a wrist circle at the end to train the arm to be flexible and to train the mind to be flexible as well.  Therefore the first form was designed to get rid of pre-conceived ideas and be open to the new idea that one is about to learn.  For example, if one has trained the bicep muscle extensively, it is possible that that muscle and joint have never been really stretched.  In this case it would not be able to fully release all the power in a punch, particularly if associated muscle groups have been trained more for size and appearance than for function.

The next step is more types of wrist circle training, and arm positioning skills of the first form, Siu Nim Tau which stretch all the upper body muscles.  Then the continuous chain punches are taught which exercise the arms for explosive energy with no restrictive pumping of muscles.  The arm joint and muscles are trained in a certain way.  Five hundred punches per day is a common number of punches and one thousand is also common for normal training outside of any preparation for a contest (sport).

All technique sets in any activity have #range of motion requirements.  If a practitioner has built up such a large set of upper body muscles, the range of motion that a practitioner is expected to achieve in WingTsun may not be possible or else would require a tremendous amount of time and effort to regain the range of motion by stopping the building of large masses of muscle and to regain a start point level of flexibility.  We see this range of motion requirement difference and a difference in build between a shot putter and a javelin thrower.  This range of motion requirement becomes very true when learning chi sau (clinging arms exercise).  Chi sau is the classic training program that teaches a student how to cling to an attacker’s arms in order to feel the direction, power and the flexibility of an attacker.  This is the most key exercise that develops springy energy in a practitioner’s arms.  With the addition of more technical movements, it teaches a broad scope of upper body movement skill in coordination with the footwork to match.

If a practitioner wishes to start or re-start a #muscle training program after a couple of years of WingTsun training, it is important to know what the #purpose of the muscle training will be such as appearance, toning or ring fighting.  WingTsun has its own #strength-training exercises that will not contribute to rigid action but instead, enhance certain WingTsun movements such as footwork and the durability of joints in ring fights where the fighters are usually evenly matched and there are rules restricting the use of strikes to the neck, knee strikes, eye strikes, etc.  WingTsun does have a training program for ring fighters but fights are not actually seen in the west due to their violent nature, even compared to mixed martial arts events here in the USA.  Some countries are banning or already have banned these kinds of fights many of which have continued in secret as seen on some cable TV shows.  More information and photos of WingTsun fighters in the ring with other styles can be seen in the book “Dynamic WingTsun Kung Fu” by Grandmaster Leung Ting.

©Copyright 2012 Keith Sonnenberg, All Rights reserved.