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?
The first movements in the first form are really the most effective techniques in self-defense, however, and define simplicity. More complex movements are less reliable. Learning the early footwork makes it all work. Without moving well, one cannot evade the force of our attacker or use the force of our attacker. Real wooden dummy techniques require refined footwork. In addition, wooden dummy techniques are for more rare instances of self-defense.
Wing Tsun or Wing Chun are not the only martial arts with wooden dummies. Choy Lee Fut kung fu has several designs and Jeet Kune Do uses Bruce Lee’s designs. Hung Gar kung fu has some designs.
Leung Ting WingTsun® has a full, exclusive wooden dummy program which starts at the instructor levels. The movements of the dummy form are learned and applied in sticky hands programs.
Prior to this, some instructors including myself, find it effective to show a more basic movement on the dummy to speed understanding.
Power development becomes a byproduct of wooden dummy training. I would call use of force in Wing Tsun is only in the moment of a clear strike to a vital area of the attacker. The emphasis is on skill and so hitting the dummy with an “external” force is counterproductive. Structure is what the wooden dummy refines. Structure imparts power. A skillful Wing Tsun practitioner can borrow force and therefore great power is often taken advantage of.
Si-fu Keith Sonnenberg