Wing Tsun is a concept-oriented martial art. Although Wing Tsun has its very own economical techniques that have a certain structure designed to cut off the long way taken by another fighter or attacker, many of the principals can and often have been used by other styles!

The idea of Wing Tsun is very specific for self-defense. There is no provision for power as the primary emphasis in doing techniques and there is no provision to prolong the fight. Rather we teach the skill of using an attacker’s power to end the fight quickly. That is not to say that Wing Tsun does not consider power as important. Students are instructed to use the three-section wall bag to build power in the punches and kicks.

The truth is, there are quicker ways to develop the most powerful punch on your block than the Wing Tsun way including power lifting and medicine ball work. However, in using that kind of power, like the power of a cannon, one commits all of one’s window of opportunity and energy into a one-punch idea. If one should miss the target, the person punching would be highly vulnerable to a counter-attack. Instead Wing Tsun could be called the art of accurately hitting the target instead of the art with the most powerful punch!

Wing Tsun, being a comprehensive self-defense system, also concerns itself with multiple attacker situations. It is buried in the system’s DNA in the second form! What would you do if faced with more than one attacker and you could not run away? Sparring one individual does not train a student for this situation. All the focus cannot be on this one adversary. Fighting three attackers simultaneously is unrealistic. The name of the game is to escape and survive. Before that can happen, a defender might have to fight his or her way out.

To produce enough fighters for the ring fighting sports entertainment industry, the training routine is less technical and more physical. The training must be that. A fighter must be fit or they won’t survive in the ring. Trainers get a fighter into shape and the strongest most powerful fighter is often the winner. Granted there are many skills and ring strategies that can result in a win. However, most of these have nothing to do with the problem on the street fending off somebody jumping out of the shadows by surprise. It has nothing at all to do with a sucker punch, a mugging, a knife attack, club attack, awkward situation or a domestic violence situation!

In Wing Tsun, the fight duration is shorter. Quite frankly, if a self-defense encounter lasts longer than 15-30 seconds, chances are the defender is in serious trouble. Therefore, we practice the ‘small fight’ or the ‘shortest fight.’ The longer this fight lasts, the less it is a valid self-defense attempt. By this time, our defender will most likely have taken a few punches, kicks, weapon cuts, or other rough treatment. Self-defense? I guess not completely.

In sport sparring, the fighter is being conditioned to last the requisite number of rounds. In addition, the fighter gets to practice the reality of the ring fight itself. It requires conditioning like a long-distance runner. Losing is losing a match or a trophy. The loser may require medical attention in MMA matches. In the case of a Wing Tsun practitioner in a self-defense encounter, the practitioner will require stamina like a sprinter. Exhaustion may come quick. A loss is not the loss of a trophy or a monetary reward but the loss of one’s life or the gain of a long hospital stay.

To end a fight quickly, a Wing Tsun student is taught to hit targets that are not and cannot be allowed in ring fighting. Ring fighting works for the sport because two very strong fighters have a variety of hitting and grappling skills to make it interesting. They are usually evenly matched to provide competition.

Wing Tsun students are taught punching and striking skills specifically designed for targets like the throat, the spine, and the eyes. They could be used against an attacker that is much bigger and stronger and is trying to kill you! Keep in mind that you might have to convince a judge or jury that this was your situation. To this end, Wing Tsun students stage fights of shorter duration (lat sau) that have a beginning and an end. These free-hand fights use all tools available: punches, open hand strikes, knees, elbows, kicks, shins, shoulders, all aimed at targets like lower legs, spine, throat, breast bone, kidneys, floating ribs and so on. Throws and anti-grappling tactics and even ground defenses are included with higher ranks. It is obvious that the practitioners cannot land full power blows on these in these practice fights or risk seriously hurting a fellow student or instructor. The ‘loser’ must acknowledge the hits which are stopped before full impact. To build flow and continuity, the chi sau drill has an outlet called kuo sau which is a sticky hands contest. Two fighters continually attack each other in a clinging arms offense and defense which is not staged or programmed but rather a free exchange. Kuo sau requires a fairly high level of technical skill at intermediate student grades or higher.

In short, Wing Tsun is for those who do not or cannot become an MMA fighter or who are not interested in sport fighting, but want the most effective form of self-defense that they can spend their time mastering. Wing Tsun is fascinating in the bargain and has many side benefits.

If you want to carry Wing Tsun training forward to the higher levels, the training continues through the wooden dummy chi sau and applications where things not specifically covered at lower levels are addressed and all those applications are taught and trained. Do not let anybody kid you that building sophisticated skills is quick and that Wing Tsun is “simple.” The concept is simple. Learning it is just as challenging as another martial art. It takes time. The time to start is now.

-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg