Wing Chun Kung Fu
Wing Chun is one of the Kung Fu styles that is very well-known across the world. It is the style that Bruce Lee originally trained in before he developed his own style (Jeet Kune Do), and the style that was popularized through the Ip Man movies featuring kung fu action movie star Donnie Yen.
But what is Wing Chun Kung Fu and why is it so effective? Who can learn it? Continue reading to find out.
What is Wing Chun Kung Fu?
Wing Chun Kung Fu is a fighting style that focuses on taking out an opponent as fast and as efficient as possible. In order to do so, the attacks in this style aim at the centerline of the opponent: the vertical line from the crown of the head straight down to the crotch.
This centerline shows all the vital points to attack for maximum impact with minimum force: the eyes, nose, chin, throat, solar plexus, naval, groin, and knees. Next to the fact that these points are all very painful for an opponent to receive an attack against, they also cover the vital organs behind them. Repeatedly punching the centerline will deliver internal damage as well as pain.
Furthermore, if you strike an opponent on the centerline, you ensure that the body of the opponent absorbs the full force of the attack. You can see this principle in motion when you punch a boxing bag: if you hit the bag to the side, some of the impact is redirected and makes the bag spin. If you hit the bag exactly in the middle, the impact cannot go anywhere else and the bag will absorb the full impact of the blow. The same is true for a human body: if you hit the opponent’s body off-center, some of the impact will make the torso turn or spin. Hit your opponent in the middle of his body along the centerline, and their body will absorb the full impact of the blow.
Who can learn Wing Chun Kung Fu?
The great benefit of Wing Chun is that it is all about technique – not brute force or strength. This means that a Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioner with superior technique can beat a larger opponent.
Wing Chun Kung Fu is therefore perfectly suitable for anyone interested to learn, regardless of physical appearance.
Is it difficult to learn Wing Chun Kung Fu?
As mentioned, anyone can learn Wing Chun Kung Fu. There are no physical requirements to become a good practitioner, other than generally good health. That does not mean it is easy.
As with any skill, it takes time and dedication to first learn, then understand and finally master the techniques. This also involves a certain amount of repetition.
Sometimes, the idea of doing the same thing many times discourages beginners. But think about this: during a street fight, your system is flooded with adrenaline. You cannot think straight. If you have to think about your next move, you will hesitate, which means you will be too slow. That is why it is important that you do not only know the techniques, but that they are part of you. Repetition makes sure the techniques become part of your muscle memory. When your eye catches an advancing punch, your arm will have blocked it before you even fully registered the imminent attack.
As with any Kung Fu fighting style, Wing Chun requires time, effort and dedication. With these ingredients, it is not difficult to learn Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Can I use Wing Chun Kung Fu in a street fight?
Yes, wing chun is highly effective in street fights. It is designed for this sole purpose. There are no (competition) rules that prevent the Wing Chun practitioner from using any move if it is effective. All techniques have one goal: to take your opponent out.
The extreme efficiency of its techniques is one of the reasons that Wing Chun Kung Fu does not exist as a competitive sport.
Of course, during training, you will be considerate towards your training partner. You practice the techniques, but you do not not take your sparring partner out or down. Beginners start learning techniques without partners, and on wooden dummies.
Wing Chun Kung Fu basics
Wing Chun Kung Fu has several recognizable characteristics: the centerline (as explained earlier), the stance, and the emphasis on balance.
A correct Wing Chun stance is “like a piece of bamboo, firm but flexible, rooted but yielding”. It is a stance in which the feet are at shoulder width with the toes pointing inwards. Bend your knees somewhat and push the thighs as if you are trying to squeeze something between them. Hold your fists to the sides and tuck your elbows in close to your body. You can see what the stance should look like in the image below.
This stable, firm stance forms the basis of every attack and counter-attack.
It is important that you stand up straight. This creates a strong balance and a ‘rooted’ stance. When you stand “rooted” or aligned, braced against the ground, any punch you throw will have more force and a much bigger impact. A strong balance will also help you recover from an attack faster.
Wing Chun practitioners are more likely to use footwork to get closer to an opponent, than a strike or kick that could compromise their balance. Attacks such as high kicks force a fighter to expose vulnerable areas and that is the last you want during a (street)fight.
The emphasis on balance is also underlined by the centerline theory. If you understand the concept of the centerline, you can use it to throw an opponent off balance or even to the ground.
Wing Chun Kung Fu philosophy
Wing Chun Kung Fu has a rich and deep philosophy which a student learns while (s)he learns the martial art. The following poem summarizes the basic ideas of the philosophy:
He who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable.
One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger.
He who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues.
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven.
This documentary explains more about the principles and philosophy of Wing Chun Kung Fu:
The origins of Wing Chun Kung Fu
There are many stories about the origin and originator of Wing Chun Kung Fu. The most widespread story involves the nun Ng Mui teaching the art to a young woman named Wing Chun. Wing Chun could then use the art to defeat a man who wanted to marry her, but whom she did not love. You can read the full story below.
The founder of the Wing Chun Kung Fu System, Miss Yim Wing Chun was a native of Canton [Kwangtung Province] in China. She was an intelligent and athletic young girl, upstanding and forthright. Shortly after Miss Yim’s mother died, Miss Yim’s father, Yim Yee, was wrongfully accused of a crime. Rather than risk jail, they slipped away and settled down near the border between Yunan and Szechuan provinces. Here, at the foot of Tai Leung Mountain, they earned a living by running a shop that sold bean curd.
Around this same period of time, Kung Fu became very strong in the Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province. It’s power and unfluence grew during the reign of Emperor K’anghsi of the Ching Dynasty (1662-1722). Then the Manchu, a non-Chinese people from Manchuria in the North, gained control over the country. The Manchu government started to fear the Shaolin monks and sent troops to attack the Monastery. Although the Manchu were unsuccessful, they did not give up.
A man named Chan Man Wai, a recently appointed civil servant seeking favor with the government, suggested a plan. He plotted with Shaolin monk Ma Ning Yee and others, who were persuaded to betray their companions by setting fire to the monastery while soldiers attacked it from the outside. The Shaolin Temple was burned down, and the monks and disciples scattered. Buddhist Abbess Ng Mui and Abbot Chi Shin were among the people that managed to escape.
Ng Mui, the Buddhist Abbess Head, took refuge in the White Crane Temple on Tai Leung Mountain [also known as Mt. Chai Har]. It was there that Ng Mui met Yim Yee and his daughter Wing Chun, from whom she often bought bean curd on her way home from the market.
At fifteen, with her hair bound up in the custom of those days to show she was of an age to marry, Wing Chun’s beauty attracted the attention of a local warlord. He tried to force Wing Chun to marry him and his continuous threats became a source of great worry to her and her father. Ng Mui learned of this and took pity on Wing Chun. Ng Mui agreed to teach Wing Chun fighting techniques so she could protect herself. Wing Chun followed Ng Mui into the mountains, and began to learn Kung Fu. She trained night and day, until she mastered the techniques. Then she challenged the warlord to a fight and beat him.
Ng Mui would travel around the country extensively, but before she left she told Wing Chun to strictly honor the Kung Fu traditions, to develop her Kung Fu after her marriage, and to help the people working to overthrow the Manchu government and restore the Ming Dynasty.
Wing Chun later married a man called Leung Bok Chau, a salt merchant. After her marriage, Wing Chun taught Kung Fu to her husband. When Wing Chun died, her husband named the style after her, to honor her legacy.
Wing Chun Kung Fu lineage
After Wing Chun taught her husband, he took on a student as well. The student taught it to another student, and so on. The picture below shows the lineage of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Wing Chun’s husband passed the techniques on to Leung Lan Kwai. Leung Lan Kwai then passed them on to Wong Wah Bo. Wong Wah Bo was a member of an opera troupe on board a junk (a certain type of boat/ship): “The Red Junk”. Wong worked on the Red Junk with Leung Yee Tei.
It so happened that Abbot Chi Shin, who fled from Siu Lam, had disguised himself as a cook. The disguised Abbot was working on the Red Junk as well. During their time together, he taught the Six-and-a-half-point Long Pole techniques to Leung Yee Tei. Since Wong Wah Bo was close to Leung Yee Tei, they shared what they knew about Kung Fu. Together, they improved their techniques. And this is how the Six-and-a-half-point Long Pole found its way into Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Leung Yee Tei passed his Kung Fu on to Leung Jan, a well-known herbal doctor in FoshShan. Leung Jan grasped the innermost secrets of Wing Chun, attaining the highest level of proficiency. Many Kung Fu masters challenged him over the years, but all were defeated. It was in FoshShan that Wing Chun Kung Fu came to flourish. Leung Jan became very famous.
Grandmaster Leung Jan passed his detailed Kung Fu on to his two sons (Leung Bik & Leung Chun) and to Chan Wah Shan, a money changer and the only non-family member he taught. When Grandmaster Leung Jan passed away, it would have been logical that his sons would become his successors. However, Chan Wah Shan was a man of big posture, always willing to help anyone in the neighbourhood, and older than both sons. As a result, when Grandmaster Leung Jan passed away, people gravitated to Chan Wah Shan. Leung Chun, the son of Grandmaster Leung Jan, never took on any students.
Chan Wah Shan taught multiple students, including Sifu Ip Man. His ohter students were Ip Man’s his elder Kung Fu brothers, such as Ng Siu Lo, Ng Chung So, Chan Yu Min and Lui Yu Jai.
Leung Bik, the other son of Grandmaster Leung Jan, heard about Ip Man after he defended a person in Hong Kong. He invited the young Ip Man to demonstrate his Wing Chun Kung Fu. Eventually Ip Man became the only student Leung Bik ever took on. Leung Bik showed him the key version and gave him written History Texts. Ip Man was the only one that learnt these and many other finer details from Leung Bik.
Ip Man looked after Sifu Leung Bik for many years, until his Leung Bik’s death. he was the only one to receive the special knowledge of Wing Chun not taught to any other lineage, such as special Swords and Wooden Man keys. The young Bruce Lee became one of the students that Grandmaster Ip Man accepted to teach Wing Chun Kung Fu.