I have been practicing Wing Chun (WC) on and off for several years and I was lucky enough to be exposed to 4 different lineages of this art, each of them slightly different and each of them asserting to be the best. My deepest knowledge is in the Austin Goh system that I have practiced regularly for nearly 4 years. I consider myself an intermediate practitioner of WC and I enjoy training it occasionally and using some of its basic principles in everything I do when practicing martial arts.
When I first heard of WC, in the early nineties, I was at the beginning of my exploration journey in different martial arts. Growing up in a small provincial town with just a Judo, Karate and Kickboxing school there wasn’t much to learn about other martial arts. And while videos were simply not available (or unaffordable) there was no Internet that allowed having a look around.
In 1991 while speaking to a colleague from another town I found out about the existence of WC. The description I received about this martial art was somehow confusing and the concepts described were just not possible to be visualized, at that time. The fact that many school teach to their students to avoid giving demonstrations or in depth explanations of what and how they practice doesn’t really help, does it?
If you have experience in various styles of Kickboxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Tang So Do and Kung fu you will realize that, more or less, kicks are kicks, punches are punches and stances are stances. More emphasis here or there but you can see a common line of evolution and many commonalities. Discussing WC you hear concepts like sensitivity, touch reflexes and central line and that can be a bit disorientating. The guards and the stances are initially awkward but every makes sense once you get used to it and you have a full grasp of the whole picture.
A fundamental concept of WC is contact training: the average distance of two people practicing with each other is about the one of their elbows extended forward and when practicing you are always in contact with your partner. You always work with both hands keeping in touch with your opponent’s arms and each technique is always meant to strike: even when certain moves are erroneously classified as blocks they can always be used to attack.
WC is ideal for short distance fighting and for this reason the expert practitioner will seek the short distance by bridging the gap (distance when opponents cannot touch each other) and get to a distance where kicks would be difficult to use. Being a martial art orientated to fighting and self defence kicks are minimally used and limited to the waist and below (groin, knee cap, leg in general). Depending on the style there is more or less emphasis on kicking techniques but literally negligible compared to other styles.
History (inspired from the WC Federation site)
WC is a subtle and complete system of Chinese Kung Fu, developed over hundreds of years, with its roots in the Shaolin Temple tradition. Legend has it that in 1645 a Bhuddist nun by the name of Ng Moi devised the system and taught it to a young girl called Yim WC, who successfully used her newly learned skills to defend herself against a local bully who attempted to rape her. Originally a very secret system, the sophisticated art of WC was only passed on to family members and close, trusted friends. It was only when the legendary Grandmaster Ip Man (now sadly passed away) arrived in Hong Kong that the style was taught more openly. Ip Man happened to teach to the early Bruce Lee that started to teach WC as soon as he arrived in USA and then it used it as the basis for his Jeet Kune Do and he depicted the art in several famous movies.
What I like about WC
Here are the main points on which I advocate WC to be a great martial art:
- WC is a no frills, very immediate and direct martial art: it can be practiced effectively by people of any shape, body shape and size and it can be very useful ad a practical self defence system.
- The contact training allows metabolizing the adrenaline and stress of fighting at a very short distance: you learn to cope with fear and minimize your reactions to any kind of attacks.
- The way techniques are usually taught help relaxing and most muscles in a position and status that allow maximum reactivity at fast speed while instinct would suggest stiffening and becoming slow.
What I don’t like about WC
There aren’t many things I don’t like about WC as a martial art but, to keep my tradition in “My Thoughts about …” I will list a couple:
- The level of fitness required to practice WC is substantially lower that other more physical styles: this means that while it will keep your body in decent shape you will have to integrate WC with something else if you want to be super fit.
- I also dislike and disapprove the too many political actions between the various schools, driven by mere personal interest of a few top guys.
WC is a great martial arts; it teaches very clever concepts that can be applied to the practice of many other martial arts. I would suggest to anybody, whether she is a total novice or an expert black belt to give it a try, with an objective view. Make sure to find the right school though. Some of them are not too friendly and they have a very arrogant way of positioning themselves: I was lucky enough to meet some of the good ones but I heard of some very bad…