What is Behind Wing Tsun’s Close Range Techniques?

Legend has it that Wing Tsun was invented by a woman named Ng Mui who later taught it to a female teenager named Yim Wing Tsun. There is some dispute among historians about this story. However the techniques give substantial evidence that it could be true. At every turn there is some technical reason to believe that a woman developed Wing Tsun. Only a woman would give such great consideration to design every technique to not clash with an attacker’s force, but rather to borrow the force. At no point does a Wing Tsun trainee have to lift, push, or otherwise resist an attack by direct force.

Many attacks on women are grabs. A man knows that he is generally stronger and therefore seeks to control her arms and legs. This kind of attack is by nature, performed at close range. To defend, it requires somebody schooled and skilled in close range defenses to dissolve and defend such attacks. Wing Tsun teaches not only punches, kicks and hand strikes but also a full range of elbow and knee striking methods and anti-grappling (anti-grabs) techniques.

One can logically assume that Wing Tsun is a close range system because it was developed during a long history in a more urban setting than many other martial arts. Self-defense had to take place in close quarters. There was no way to back up and throw long-range kicks or spinning kicks in a narrow corridor or even a narrow alley. A defender would knock over a barrel, chair, a table, three wine glasses and a vase in delivering a kick – which would inevitably miss. Without luck and expert timing, the high kicks have a hard time landing on an attacker except in controlled tournament situations. This author knows about high kicks because he earned his black belt in a high kicking style, Tang Soo Do, in 1970.

Kicks are much slower than any hand technique but they are a valuable additional tool because of their power. In Wing Tsun, we do not lift a leg to kick unless we are CERTAIN of hitting the target. Kicks do not rise above the waist.

If a woman or any person is cornered, literally, in a rest room, in an alley, in small space in a back room, office, bedroom, etc., there is no room to take a wide stance and use a ‘reverse punch,’ high kick or use the standard rigid defenses taught in so many martial arts schools. These techniques require more space to gather power. As well, rigid movement has no chance against a stronger form of rigidity, male strength. The only defense is the opposite (yin-yang), soft power.

Many people make the mistake of believing that soft = weak and hard = strong. Actually something hard can mean brittle. Glass is hard but it can shatter. Rubber is soft but also very strong. Wing Tsun aims to train the limbs to be like rubber.

Wing Tsun’s close-range technique completely nullifies the longer range attacks and prepares a man or woman to defend and borrow the force in very close proximity to an attacker.

Sifu Keith Sonnenberg