Wing Chun is a concept-based Chinese martial art and form of self-defense utilising both striking and grappling while specializing in close range combat.
Many Wing Chun lineages emphasize fighting on the outside of the opponent rather than facing them head on. Such a position could be described as standing at an angle where the Wing Chun practitioner can strike with both their arms, while their opponent can only strike with one of their own arms due to poor positioning. This is often referred to as "taking the blindside" or "fighting on the outside gate".
Balance, structure, and stance
Some Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with better body structure will win. A correct Wing Chun stance is like a piece of bamboo, firm but flexible, rooted but yielding. This structure is used to either deflect external forces or redirect them.
Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers more quickly from stalled attacks and structure is maintained. Wing Chun trains the awareness of one's own body movement derived from muscular, tendon, and articular sources. Performing Wing Chun's forms such as Chum Kiu or the Wooden Dummy form greatly improve proprioception. Wing Chun favours a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are generally positioned across the vitals of the centerline with hands in a vertical wu sau position to readily placed block fast moving blows to one's vital striking points down the centerline of the body--neck, chest, belly and groin. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out variantly on the heels, balls, or middle of the foot depending on lineage. All attacks and counter-attacks are initiated from this firm, stable base. Wing Chun rarely compromises structure for more powerful attacks because this is believed to create defensive openings which may be exploited. As described more below, some Wing Chun styles discourage the use high of kicks, since this creates an opportunity for counter-attacks to the groin. Structure is viewed as important, not only for reasons of defense, but also for attack. When the practitioner is effectively "rooted", or aligned so as to be braced against the ground, the force of the hit is believed to be far more devastating. Additionally, the practice of "settling" one's opponent to brace them more effectively against the ground aids in delivering as much force as possible to them.
Softness (via relaxation) and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun.
- Tension reduces punching speed and power. Muscles act in pairs in opposition to each other. If the arm is tensed, maximum punching speed cannot be achieved as the biceps will be opposing the extension of the arm. In Wing Chun, the arm should be relaxed before beginning the punching motion.
- Unnecessary muscle tension wastes energy and causes fatigue.
- Tense, stiff arms are less fluid and sensitive during trapping and Chi Sau.
- A tense, stiff limb provides an easy handle for an opponent to push or pull with, whereas a relaxed limb provides an opponent less to work with.
- A relaxed, but focused, limb affords the ability to feel "holes" or weaknesses in the opponent's structure. With the correct forwarding these "holes" grant a path into attacking the opponent.
- Muscular struggle reduces a fight to who is stronger. Minimum brute strength in all movement becomes an equalizer in uneven strength confrontations.
While the existence of a "central axis" concept is unified in Wing Chun, the interpretation of the centerline concept itself is not. Many variations exist, with some lineages defining anywhere from a single "centerline" to multiple lines of interaction and definition. Traditionally the centerline is considered to be the vertical axis from the top of a human's head to the groin. The human body's prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, stomach, pelvis and groin.
Wing Chun techniques are generally "closed", with the limbs drawn in to protect the central area and also to maintain balance. In most circumstances, the hands do not move beyond the vertical circle that is described by swinging the arms in front, with the hands crossed at the wrists. To reach outside this area, footwork is used. A large emphasis and time investment in training Chi Sau exercise emphasizes positioning to dominate this centerline. The stance and guard all point at or through the center to concentrate physical and mental intent of the entire body to the one target.
Wing Chun practitioners attack within this central area to transmit force more effectively, since it targets the "core center". For example, striking an opponent's shoulder will twist the body, dispelling some of the force and weakening the strike, as well as compromising the striker's position. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.
Due to the emphasis on the centerline, the straight punch (straight left / straight right) is the most common strike in Wing Chun. However, the principle of simultaneous attack and defense suggests that all blocking movements should be accompanied with a simultaneous strike when possible. This allows for the opponent to be put on the defensive faster, and thus allowing the Wing Chun practitioner to defeat the opponent quicker by countering as soon as possible. Other explicit examples of punches can be found in the Chum Kiu and Biu Ji forms (both uppercut and hook punches), although these punches may appear to be superficially different they are simply the result of the punch beginning from a different origin position while following the same fundamental idea, to punch in a straight line following the shortest distance between the fist and the opponent.
The punch is the most basic and fundamental in Wing Chun and is usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. Depending on the lineage, the fist is held anywhere from vertical to horizontal. The contact points also vary from the top two knuckles, to the middle two knuckles, to the bottom three knuckles. Punches do not turn at the wrist as a primal directive is economy of motion and this would create two distinct motions for a single movement.
When executing the punch, one must relax and not use the shoulders or activate the trapezius muscles. The punch comes from the center, Kyun Yau Sam Faat. This maxim is used primarily in training, however in application the punch can originate from any location.
Wing Chun primarily encourages using both "low elbow power", along with "hip power". The combination of these two methods of power generation results in a powerful strike
Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for several reasons:
- Directness: he punch is not "loaded" by pulling the elbow behind the body. The punch travels straight towards the target from the guard position (hands are held in front of the chest).
- Protection: the elbow is kept low to cover the front midsection of the body. It is more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike. Also with the elbow down, it offers less opening for the body to be attacked while the forearm and punch intercept space towards the head and upper body.
- Strength and Impact: Wing Chun practitioners believe that because the elbow is behind the fist during the strike, it is thereby supported by the strength of the entire body rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common analogy is a baseball bat being swung at someone's head, as opposed to the butt end of the bat being thrust forward into the opponent's face, which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and is not as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to generate "short power" or large amount of power in a short space. A common demonstration of this is the "one-inch punch", a punch that starts only an inch away from the target yet delivers an explosive amount of force. This is a principle example of a coiled strike in which multiple abdominal muscles can contribute to the punching power while being imperceptible to the attacker. It is a common misconception that "one-inch punches" utilize a snapping of the wrist.
- Alignment and Structure: because of Wing Chun's usage of stance, the vertical punch is thus more suitable. The limb directly in front of the chest, elbow down, vertical nature of the punch coupled with a snap twisting of the waist requires a practitioner's body to naturally untwist or release before the rebound of the punch. This effectively demonstrates an understanding of the equal and opposite force reactions attributed to Newtonian Physics. This is a desirable trait to a Wing Chun practitioner because it promotes the use of the entire body structure to generate power and prevents wrist injury or being pushed away by the high degree of forward power being reflected.
Kicks can be explicitly found in the Chum Kiu and Muk Jong forms, though some have made interpretations of small leg movements in the Siu Nim Tau and Biu Ji to contain information on kicking as well. Depending on lineage, a beginner is often introduced to basic kicking before learning the appropriate form. Traditionally, kicks are kept below the waist. This is characteristic of southern Chinese martial arts, in contrast to northern systems which utilize many high kicks.
Kicks in Wing Chun are mostly directed at the lower half of the body. Wing Chun kicks are designed to knock an opponent off balance, break their leg, or to bring an opponent on their knees; a smart strategy to level the playing field somewhat for a smaller person fighting off a larger, stronger attacker.
Variations on a front kick are performed striking with the heel. The body may be square and the knee and foot are vertical on contact (Chum Kiu), or a pivot may be involved with the foot and knee on a plane at an angle (Muk Jong). At short distances this can become a knee. A roundhouse kick is performed striking with the shin in a similar manner to the Muay Thai version with most of the power coming from the body pivot. This kick is usually used as a finisher at closer range, targeting anywhere between the ribs and the back of the knee, this kick can also become a knee at close range. Other kicks include a stamping kick (Muk Jong) for very close range and a sweep performed with the heel in a circular fashion.
Every kick is both an attack and defence, with legs being used to check incoming kicks or to take the initiative in striking through before a more circular kick can land. Kicks are delivered in one movement directly from the stance without chambering/cocking.
Types of Kicks include: Front Kick, Side Kick, Roundhouse Kick, Shovel Kick, Spinning Back Kick and Sweep.
Elbows and Knees
Wing Chun relies heavily on elbow strikes at close range. Common targets for elbows include the chest, chin, head, and face. Elbow strikes are delivered in a manner similar to Muay Thai, using the whole body and turning of the hips to generate power.
Elbow strikes include: Rising elbow Horizontal elbow Kneeling elbow Reversing elbow Spinning elbow strikes
Elbows can also be used, at a more advanced stage, to control and restrict the opponent's range of movement by exerting forward elbow pressure on his elbows and forearms. This allows Wing Chun practitioners to trap more effectively at a very close range.
Knees are delivered also, usually in a clinching position, but some Sifus also teach entering with flying knee strikes to bridge the distance.
Wing Chun techniques are uncommitted. This means that if the technique fails to connect, the practitioner's position or balance is less affected. If the attack fails, the practitioner is able to "flow" easily into a follow-up attack. All Wing Chun techniques permit this. Any punches or kicks can be strung together to form a "chain" of attacks. According to Wing Chun theory, these attacks, in contrast to one big attack, break down the opponent gradually causing internal damage. Chained vertical punches are a common Wing Chun identifier.
Trapping skills and sensitivity
The Wing Chun practitioner develops reflexes within the searching of unsecured defenses through use of sensitivity. Training through Chi Sau with a training partner, one practices the trapping of hands. When an opponent is "trapped", he or she becomes immobile.
Wing Chun teaches practitioners to advance quickly and strike at close range. While the Wing Chun forward kick can be considered a long range technique, many Wing Chun practitioners practice "entry techniques": getting past an opponent's kicks and punches to bring them within range of Wing Chun's close range repertoire. This means that theoretically, if the correct techniques are applied, a shorter person with a shorter range can defeat a larger person by getting inside their range and attacking them close to their body.