Is Wing Chun a powerful art? Most would be led to believe that the system is fast, yes, but not powerful. This could not be further from the truth if you understand what we term ‘Body Structure’ in the Chu Sau Lei Wing Chun system. This is a myth that I would like to put to rest. The best way to truly appreciate Wing Chun is to understand the training forms of the system with the correct Body Structure.
I hear a lot of people say that Wing Chun is good in a street fight if you finish it quick, but not if the guy gets hold of you or if the opponent is stronger; then you will have trouble. Frankly, I would have to agree with a lot of the people’s comments if they have never seen Wing Chun with the correct Body Structure. With the correct structure of body alignment and understanding of how to make the structure work, then you have the Wing Chun art as it has always been, a powerful, fast and effective fighting system which allows you to control your opponent like a cat with a mouse.
So, why has such an effective fighting art been overlooked in modern times? A few reasons come to mind. Number one is that in the past we have seen a lot of low-level understanding being taught within the system from so-called instructors that just repeat what was taught to them without a real understanding of why, when and how Wing Chun can be a superior art. I have lost count of the number of times that I have met guys and taught them who have said to me ‘now it makes sense’. Unfortunately this has been all too common in Wing Chun. I tell all my students if you don’t understand it then if will not work for you. You must know why, when and how. Question everything! Then after questioning ‘testing’ is the most important part of correct development. If you have never tested what you have been taught then how can you be sure it works? Test your structure with our structure methods, look at your forms and the applications, really think about the progression of the principles and ask yourself ‘does it make sense?’ Test your Chi Sao at different ranges, spar with different people, different styles and so on.
Why can I say this? Well, many years back I started grappling and found that my Wing Chun at the time didn’t hold up well against takedowns and also it didn’t allow me to use punching power when under attack. Of course I saw this as a problem. As I had trained in Wing Chun for many years and seen most styles I at first thought this was the weakness of the system. Therefore like many others including Bruce Lee before me, I cross-trained more. I boxed, Thai boxed looked at JKD and so on. But in my mind Wing Chun was still my first love and I had not solved the problem of the system. Now, those who know me well will know I never give up. But in the mean time I continued with my grappling training as I knew it would be a great time of learning for me. I always look at life in a positive way, so the good that came from all this is that years later I still love grappling and have continued to train and develop it as much as my Wing Chun, re3cieving my Black Belt in BJJ after 12 years and now coaching wrestling as well.
It was when I started training with Robert Chu in LA that all the pieces of the puzzle came together. The first thing he taught me was the correct understanding of the forms. He said ‘Without the correct body structure within the forms, your Wing Chun will have no power and it will not flow as an art’. We started on form correction and with each movement he corrected I could feel the art awakening in front of me. For the first time in many years of training I understood the form at a whole different level.
Wing Chun has a perfect system of progress within the forms in terms of understanding its use of power development and application. Often what you see being taught in Wing Chun are applications of techniques from the forms. Yes the movements in the form do relate to some technical applications, but this is only the very basic understanding of the form. At a deeper level each movement is a principle or concept as to how the system generates power within movement or neutralizes the opponent’s power within movement. This gives you a much clearer understanding of how you use your own body in any given situation, as opposed to: ‘this technique works against this technique’, style of teaching. Once you have that mental link within the system then you can fully express your power and be relaxed at the same time.
What determines the power of a martial art? Real time striking power coupled with real time body power. Real time striking power is the ability to deliver the power of your punch or kick to an opponent who is not just waiting to be hit. It is no good being able to break bricks if you can’t hit a live target as effectively. Real time body power is the ability to use your body movements and skills under pressure not just against set moves. These are my key tests for everything I teach and train. ‘Aliveness’ was the term my teacher Robert Chu used when first teaching me. It’s a term that some other groups are also seeing as an important term when testing their art. It is a very important component to truly knowing your art.
The first thing people attach to about Wing Chun is trapping. I wrote an article about this subject in which I basically explained what trapping is and isn’t, as it is the most common reason people use to question the usefulness of Wing Chun. Wing Chun is a Chinese boxing art, therefore we really want to strike our opponent, be it a punch, kick, knee, elbow, chop or whatever. But that’s the bottom line, striking. Trapping is an idea, not a pure technique. If I pin you in a grapple and trap your leg with my arm, it’s not a technique to finish, it just stops you from doing what you are doing and gives me control to make a technique happen or set up a technique. The same is true in Wing Chun. I punch, punch, punch and you start to defend; I control you and punch, punch, punch. Now the control can be the punch itself if you understand body structure. I can use a cutting punch that pins the opponent, but to make if really work, the punch must destroy the opponent’s balance at the same time. To do this you must have a full understanding of how your chosen system works.
Most people will say that Wing Chun is unproven in the ring and is therefore not an effective art, and that it is hiding behind the ‘it’s too dangerous to use’ excuse. I personally both agree and disagree. I think that if the art is strong within its basics of structure it should have the power to be able to hold its own within a ring / gloved sparring environment. It is true to say that Wing Chun is an art that, if all its tools are used, would be dangerous within real no rules fighting, as we would hit the throat, eyes, groin and so on. But who would like to really have to do that? I would rather have the skill that I could control my opponent with the power of my basics, being strong stance, body control and punching / kicking striking power. If it were a matter of life and death then yes the other things may come into play, but on the whole your main training should be robust enough to deal with the raw power of any opponent whether in the street or the ring. That’s what I also would say would be the difference between martial arts and just plain fighting.
In my school I have a small percentage of guys (Maybe 10%) that fight in competitions with their Wing Chun. The guys I have taught the Chu Sau Lei system too have had no problem in the ring. In fact due to the fact they have our Body Structure methods they have had an advantage when striking. The Chu Sau Lei system of Wing Chun develops excellent core body power from its structure, which improves striking power without a loss in base control on impact of the strikes. Normally when striking with your whole body you will leave your body open for takedowns. This is not the case so much within the method we use. I say ‘so much’ as nothing works every time. This in turn means you can punch with more power as you have less to worry about. I do feel that in the ring without Body Structure you will have problems.
Wing Chun is indeed an art, but what is art without expression? Great art is not number painting. Paint by numbers is just learning. The real art comes from within; formed from the seeds of ideas you have planted with time cultivating your skills. Sometimes art is not understood at the time it is presented. Often it is not until later that it is seen for what it is, ‘Pure’. What is pure? You hear the phrase ‘Pure of Heart’: an intention to do what you believe in your heart to be right. Having the martial art skills of a system, which grows from within, is exactly that to me. Your confidence in your skill is much higher if you know in your heart that it works!
The Root of Wing Chun power – First form – (Siu Nim Tao).
The first Form (Siu Nim Tao) is the method of generating power within the Wing Chun System. This is achieved by the internal and external factors of the form. Without the correct structure of body alignment you do not have the mechanics to produce and store power. This is an area of Wing Chun that is often misunderstood. The form has many layers to it and must be refined in order for it to unlock its power. The First form is the frame of the system and the battery of Wing Chun’s energy.
Wing Chun has Qi Gong (Internal Training) and Gung Lik (Trained Strength) within the first form. Within the system I teach we have six stages of internal training at this level.
Key points within the form are the correct principles of the basic centreline theories. Development of stance and structure (Centre) – Shen Ying (Body Posture /Alignment) which gives you forward ‘spring’ power, a key component of power when used with correct rooting and borrowing pressure control. Development of a sense of mind intention and Chi flow with the body and mind relaxed. Iron body skills are developed via correct control breathing and tendon control. Proper elbow position for power and economy of motion, which is often misunderstood in Wing Chun, is an important part of learning the first form. You will also learn the basic offence and defence motions within the first form although these are ideas rather than techniques.
The Functional Power of Wing Chun – Second Form – (Chum Kiu).
The Second form (Chum Kiu) is the motor of the system as the real use of the power developed within the first form is shown and released via the second form. It is vital to have correct understanding of this form in order to master the Wing Chun system. Chum Kiu is the most advance form in the Wing Chun system in terms of combat application.
Key points within the form are now learning to step through the opponent also correct body shifts, footwork and kicks. How to explode power with coordination between torso, waist and stance Then within the second form you learn to Lou (Flow), which adds upon the skill of the first form. An important key to good structure in Wing Chun is that Bong Sao must face the opponent squarely, not angled. This is all learnt in the second form.
Also you find many of the concepts and principles Chin Na – (Seizing and Controlling Techniques) are within the second form. This is an area which is often not understood or known within Wing Chun, but it is a key area to understand because ours is a close range art. At this level you are learning about the clinch. When you clash with your opponent you must have the structure to hold and control your position. Often I have seen Wing Chun being trained in the incorrect range therefore when they get in close range they have not really trained the correct skills. All this means they lose control of the opponent. This should not happen in Wing Chun as close range should be where we are happiest!
Energetic Aspects of the System – The Third Form – (Biu Jee).
The third form teaches you to become one with the system. You learn too that the key points within the form are further development of breaking and / or regaining the centreline. This teaches an understanding of the emergency techniques, which can help you to regain your structure. Then pressure point striking becomes crucially important as you have total body control giving you a much higher level of accuracy. From an energetic point of view the third form with the accumulated power from the first and second form will start to develop your release of power for striking with internal energy and focus. This is to me why the third form is within the system.
The first form is the battery power and frame of the system. The second form is the controls and functional application. The third form is the higher application of the energetic aspects of the system. All a deeper level elements of each form are in fact in all the forms. Just the focus is changed to help develop understanding and skill.
Without a deep understanding of the structure of the forms you cannot understand Wing Chun. Each form adds to the next in terms of understanding of the system and use of your body power, therefore this addition is what subtracts what you don’t need, because your mind is much clearer on what needs to be done.
I have just given you a few ideas to the other side of Wing Chun’s training that’s mostly overlooked when people look at the system. I hope it gives you some areas to explore and work with.
Training Tip: Listen to yourself. When I first started martial arts every time I was told something that didn’t make sense, I would feel it was wrong straight away. But, I got into the trap of not questioning things, as the teacher always would tell us ‘when you’re good enough you will understand’ Well, that’s not how anything works. You may not be able to do what you learn at first, but you should always have a good idea of why you are trying to do it! So, again, listen to yourself. You are right more than you think!