Wing Tsun Theories of Self-Defense

The Wing Tsun theories of self-defense really are quite different than other commonly taught civilian martial arts, civilian courses or regimens in the military or para-military environments.

Even so, I still get new students who, after having heard me say this and then taking a few lessons, exclaim, “This really is different!”

Many a Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun (different spellings of what are considered to have come from the same root ) student and lay person has read and studied the story of the origins of Wing Tsun…

They have heard of the Buddhist elder, Ng Mui who was a Siu Lam (Shaolin) kung fu expert. The story goes that she escaped the burning of the Siu Lam Monastery by Ching soldiers along with four others each of whom gave rise to various styles that exist today. Ng Mui eventually taught another female, a teenager named Yim Wing Tsun. The teenager eventually married. Her husband decided that this secret style should be named after her. Wing Tsun was eventually passed down in a narrow family line until the present day.

“Regardless of the credibility of the above story…,” as the narrator in the Authentic Wing Tsun Kung Fu video explains, Wing Tsun was developed to take advantage of Siu Lam Kung fu and use the strength of the other styles against them. The tradition of using another’s force has actually strengthened over time with ideas that seem to come from several different sources. Since Siu Lam (Shaolin) kung fu was supposed to have been a complex set of animal styles, actually several styles under one umbrella family of martial arts, the idea that Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun came from several sources resonates.

Wing Tsun is actually a set of very intelligent ideas. Once the ideas and the drills and forms related to the ideas are firmly in the muscle memory of a practitioner, the system can be interpreted differently by many, rightly or wrongly.

The tradition that Wing Tsun was invented by two females has been called into question repeatedly and yet the legend remains. It is probably because the legend is important to many learners and teachers of the style / system. It is designed to give somebody with less than superb athletic skills a chance against a faster, stronger attacker by being more efficient and being functional at closer distances than the distances used by the majority of martial arts out there.

Because of the above origin story and reason for its existence, it is primarily an emergency self-defense system. Its techniques are not designed by the “Marquess of Queensberry” rules which are the very civilized set of rules governing British boxing, the actual inventers of the sport of boxing we see today as a professional sport. Instead, in order to give a smaller, weaker person a fighting chance in an attack, there are no ‘rules,’ just counterattacks to the legs, the eyes, the ears, throat and other targets not allowed in sporting competition. These targets do not require great strength in order to hurt and stop a fearsome aggressor. Neither, however, can the strike be a weak one.

Sport versus Self-Defense

Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun were not originally evolved as a ring art or a ring sport, for fighting contests. Despite this, many have tried to convert it to a martial art for full-contact sport and octagon-type competitions. To my knowledge, the only place Wing Tsun has succeeded decisively in these situations is in places like Malaysia and other south-east Asian countries when some Wing Tsun practitioners, advanced students of GGM Leung Ting who showed unusually aggressive fighting skills, the ability to train hard and the desire to enter the competitions, did so. These south-east Asian competitions had few of the rules that exist today. Probably as a consequence of this, many of these contests have been outlawed.

The above described competitions require a special physical training regimen which Grandmaster Leung Ting has, in fact, designed for his students. The training regimen can be taken on by anybody who wishes. It is a published work in the book Dynamic Wing Tsun Kung Fu. Unfortunately there is no real outlet for this skill set, even in MMA contests because a great many techniques in the book are not allowed. Techniques from the advanced sections of Biu Tze and wooden dummy are include in the training. The majority of these techniques are designed for a kill.

Please be aware that standard Wing Tsun training which is ideal to counter the stronger, faster attackers in a split instant street encounter does not prepare a student for the mixed martial art competitions we see today. The physical training would have to be more than tripled. More aggressive strategies would have to be learned. Additional, safer techniques would have to be learned to replace the techniques not allowed.

Preparation for a fighting contest is dramatically different than for self-defense. Not only is the physical training different but so is the mental training and strategy. In a contest, the fighters prepare. In self-defense, there is no preparation – only the unknown. In a fighting contest, one is expected to attack. In self-defense, the defender is not, technically attacking, unless in an aggressive defense. In a fighting contest, one’s Wing Tsun attacking might not be the best way to intimidate the other fighter. Wing Tsun is not designed to look ferocious. A participant may have to learn the weak points of the other fighter and do what’s necessary to win the match. In self-defense, there is no time to find out an attacker’s weakest points. Options can be limited. The idea of preserving the life of the attacker is the optimistic way of looking at a bad situation. One should not defend to kill. It is a last resort. An attacker causes this bad situation so there is no reason for a defender to feel guilty about hurting one’s attacker. The dilemma comes in how badly to hurt in self-defense, should it be necessary.

Despite the tradition of a female having invented Wing Tsun, some practitioners have modified their training either by accident or intention into something they claim works for them but uses power techniques, contrary to most traditional ideas of Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun. Some instructors in other lineages talk a good game but often do not produce instructors that understand the beginning, middle and advanced progression of the training. Some insist on teaching techniques to their not ready, lower ranked students that they, themselves, may have only just touched on in the last two years such as Biu Tze and wooden dummy techniques. The misunderstanding is that advanced techniques are better. They are not ‘better.’ They just require more basic skills in order to learn their actual application which is usually for a more narrow set of circumstances. What appears to be a technique’s true use may not be what it appears to be. This is the difference between learning a martial art as a technique collector and one that deeply understands their real application. Normally it comes down to something you cannot see.

Why doesn’t Wing Tsun use grappling?

The short answer is that Leung Ting Ting WingTsun® uses throws, limited grappling, and anti-grappling. Being a hitting and striking art, it is smart to keep one hand free to strike. Grappling arts that range from Aikido to Judo to Ju-Jitsu to wrestling are by definition, focused on only one attacker at a time while potentially turning one’s back on others. Like Wing Tsun, they are specialty arts. Also by definition, they can be moderated to save the life of an attacker. For this reason it has been easier to incorporate them into mixed martial arts competitions. However, they can also be dangerous. In other words, if you, as the defender, throw an attacker to the ground, you have no control over whether he hits his head on a rock, a sharp object or other object. At the same time, arts that use balance and energy (as in our sticky hands) but exclude striking and kicking, take many more years to learn to be effective for a variety of common self-defense applications. Years and years of Judo and Shuai Jiao competitions have shown that larger and stronger persons have a distinct advantage, all skills being equal. This also true in Wing Tsun but in striking arts like Wing Tsun, it is far less of a difference.

In Wing Tsun, we teach that an aggressor must be hurt with strikes first in order to be grappled. An exception might be if you can use an attacker’s momentum if the aggressor is running at you full tilt. If the attacker has not been hurt but merely falls on his rear end, he can still hurt you. Some grappling art instructors can demonstrate hurting an aggressor with an artful wrist twist or arm-lock on the fly. This, in the opinion of Wing Tsun founders, is an unreliable scenario in the heat of an attack.

From the above, a reader might be able to understand why there are so many ‘opinions’ about Wing Tsun, Wing Chun, or Ving Tsun effectiveness and ‘true’ applications on the internet and YouTube videos.
– Sifu Keith Sonnenberg