Sometimes spelled as Wing Tsun or Ving Tsun, Wing Chun is a traditional southern Chinese martial art that is known as one of the only martial arts to be developed by a woman. The style is very direct, fluid, and economical in energy as compared to the other southern arts known for being more aggressive and high power. However, in my honest opinion, it is by the far one of the best forms of self defense or at least the foundation for it.
A Brief History
Wing Chun came about from the legendary Fujian White Crane style and as such involves a lot of forward strikes and circular movements, akin to a crane pecking or flying. By way of legend, Ng Mui of the Five Elders created this art after fleeing the destruction of the Shaolin temple by Qing forces. She fled to the White Crane temple where she met a young girl named Yim Wing-Chun who needed to defend herself against an aggressive suitor. Ng Mui, being a master of many martial arts, believed that Yim couldn’t obtain much of the power needed for other martial arts in time and thus developed Wing Chun as a means for her to defend herself without power.
This story became popular through the teachings of grandmaster Ip Man, another legendary figure. Through his teachings and indomitable spirit, Ip Man was able to aid in the spread of Wing Chun to new heights not just throughout China but throughout the world. One of his most famous students, Bruce Lee, was also a major factor in developing and spreading Wing Chun; as well as other southern arts. His elder son, Ip Chun, was also fundamental in the rise and international fame of the art. Though Bruce Lee would go on to develop his own martial art, he based much of his style on Wing Chun. As such, his super effective Jeet Kune Do, places a lot of emphasis on centerlines, versatility, directness, and self defense.
But the pinnacle of Wing Chun’s global presence came in 2008 when the world famous movie series, Ip Man, began. These movies dramatize Ip Man’s later life from the beginnings of China’s World War II occupation by the Japanese to the end of his life. I highly recommend these movies not just for the display of Wing Chun or my favorite martial arts actor but for a bit of history and education about the disregard and disrespect for Wing Chun and other Chinese martial arts.
What Sets Wing Chun Apart
Wing Chun places heavy emphasis on a strong centerline and the negation of your opponent’s. Simply put, the head of the practitioner is aligned with the shoulders and heads to create a straight posture while also having an angle against the opponent to open up better circular movement and multiple limbs striking at once. A philosophy within Wing Chun is to be as bamboo; strong and rooted yet flexible and versatile. All training in Wing Chun focuses entirely on the centerline and the idea of relaxation. The centerline allows for a more balanced and structured positioning and a relaxed or soft body and tone allows for easier escapes and movement than a tense or hard body.
Due to maintaining the centerline, strikes of Wing Chun are generated faster and more efficiently because all techniques go in and out without affecting defensive posturing or balancing. The art is not just considered a form of close range combat but is also one of the shortest. It was designed for a smaller, weaker person to be able to defeat a larger, stronger attacker without any advantages other than timing, positioning and precision. Just like Filipino Kali, the economy of movement is very important as to not waste much-needed energy. With an efficient economy, a practitioner would more easier flow in and out of strikes and traps as well as counter much more effectively.
Though Wing Chun is known as a type of Chinese boxing, kicks are also trained as well as knees, elbows, and weaponry. There is also the aspect of trapping where much of it is meant to throw off the balance of the opponent by disrupting their centerline; specifically changing the position of the head. This is similar to the style of clinching in muay Thai where a lot of the clinch is over how to affect the opponent’s head position and thereby their body position. The most common weapons associated with Wing Chun are the butterfly knives and the long pole because hand techniques can be applied to both thereby allowing for more efficient training.
The infamous Wing Chun dummy was designed to simulate all of the various strikes an attacker would throw at you as well as opening up a vast amount of techniques that can be applied. Sparring is also a very important piece of training as it is just about the only way to simulate timing and accuracy as well as softness in strikes and the idea of peaceful endings. There are no formal ranks nor is there a proper name for practitioners of Wing Chun. Also, it is the most famous of the ‘Three Great Schools of Southern Martial Arts’, the others being Hung Ga and Choi Lei Fut.
Wing Chun For Self Defense
There are a lot of martial artists in the world and throughout history that think Wing Chun isn’t as effective as other martial arts; that is a very foolish thought. The majority of striking-based martial arts will fall prey to Wing Chun because many of its techniques revolve around a fast, continuous entrance that is meant to create angles and openings for further attacks. Counters are very important and nothing is off limits, in fact, sensitive areas like the eyes, groin or throat are highly recommended to end an opponent quicker. Grappling will also meet a similar fate because of the fact that the centerline can be vertical or horizontal, though there would be a necessary amount of training involved. But a seasoned master of Wing Chun could adapt their techniques for the ground in an instant and then return to the more standard vertical position.
Wing Chun is also effective against armed attackers because of the need for fast, blitzing entrances and the concept of economic motion and multiple counters. The art places a lot of its self defense techniques around not just maintaining your own center but diverting your opponent’s. Once on the inside, many of the techniques don’t just stop but instead flow to the next constantly. This flow doesn’t start with just the practitioner but also the opponent, meaning the first strike an attacker throws will always lead a response from the defender; it is up to the defender is they wish to continue their attack or not. Another powerful teachings is the idea of attacking an opponent’s greatest strength directly such as the hand holding a weapon, the fingers of a grappler or the arms of a boxer.
The major fall of Wing Chun is the centerline; akin to a double-edged sword. It aids in self defense and fighting very well but also makes the entire body completely open if an opponent is able to counter or time their attacks correctly. Also the stance is very noticeable to a trained eye; if the fight were to go longer than necessary, a knowledgeable fighter could easily begin countering Wing Chun by aiming directly for the head and using more unpredictable and variable attacks. That being said, Wing Chun is an adaptable style as shown by legends like Bruce Lee and Donnie Yen. Much of what Wing Chun is involves and revolves around self defense and as such is very tough to beat when mastered. To fight a master of Wing Chun in a street fight is sure to lead to your defeat, unless you intend to cheat with protective gear for your entire head, groin, and joints.
Wing Chun has a long history of being disregarded because of the fact that it was developed by a woman as well as the soft and closed nature of it. But that is the pure beauty of the art, the fact that it is so underrated and disregarded leads to the overconfidence of any arrogant opponent. But the principles of Wing Chun are so fundamental to self defense and martial arts as a whole that just about any other art could benefit from cross-training with it. The concepts of centerlines, counters, and economy of motion are all keys to being an effective and efficient fighter in just about any realm of combat. It’s hard to argue against the need to end fights quickly by any means necessary, especially street fights or self defense situations. Wing Chun encourages attacking sensitive or vital parts of the body without hesitation and insists on breaking an opponent’s posture and balance till their submission.
If one wanted to learn the versatility and effectiveness of Wing Chun, simply look back at famed practitioners like Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Ip Man, Jackie Chan and many more. If one wanted a good representation of Wing Chun, I suggested watching the Ip Man movie series. Those movies show a very real and true side to the style of Wing Chun, albeit at that a master’s level. I have been a life-long martial artist and I truly believe Wing Chun to be one of the best forms of self defense with the very important caveat that it must be supplemented with a complimenting art just as I suggest with all martial arts. Regardless Wing Chun is incredibly efficient and effective and I highly recommend taking a look at it and incorporating some of its teachings and techniques into your repertoire.