Perhaps the foremost principle of Wing Chun is that of viewing movements and gross technique as of secondary importance to the energy behind the movements.
Other tenets of Wing Chun include practicality, efficiency and economy of movement. The core philosophy becomes a useful guide to practitioners when modifying or refining the art.
Wing Chun techniques emphasise practicality and effectiveness over health or aesthetics. Most strikes are intentionally fatal and target vulnerable areas of the body such as the throat, groin, eyes and stomach. Also, it feeds off the fact that the closest distance between two points is a straight line. Its primary targets all lie on the center line of one’s opponent. One’s center line must always be pointing at one’s opponent.
Wing Chun believes in using the least amount of required force in any fighting situation. It believes that small movements, properly timed and correctly positioned, can and should be used to defeat large movements. This is achieved through balance, body structure] and relaxation. The Chinese saying “4 taels to move 1000 catties” (referring to an old Chinese measurement system) is appropriate here in describing how a small amount of force, precisely applied, can deflect large and powerful attacks.
Wing Chun prefers deflection and counterattack to hard blocking to conserve movements. Rather than blocking and attacking on two separate beats, a Wing Chun practitioner will either block and punch on the same beat, or block with a punch, known as the Intercepting Fist (Cutting Arm). The punch acts as a block as a consequence of the structure and the position of the arm travelling along its triangular “power-line” pathway to the opponents “Core”. This means that the opponents attack is automatically deflected by the arm-structure of the Wing Chun practitioner as the counter-punch is delivered.
The “structure” in the arm which permits this deflection to occur is controlled through the correct focus of energy from the “elbow” to the “core”. If the direction of the counter-attack is not correctly aligned the Wing Chun practitioner will lose the “forwarding” power which may result in the deflection failing and allowing the attacking punch to make its target.
In addition to efficiency being understood as the “shortest distance to the opponents core” (which relates specifically to the speed of attack/counter-attack), it is also important to understand the importance of energy efficiency within Wing Chun. A weaker person using Wing Chun is said to be able to defeat a stronger person because they are able to use their muscles effectively and not exhaust themselves through tense motions. Given this, it is essential in ensuring only the minimal use of energy is required by the Wing Chun practitioner - any deviation from the “power-line” uses additional muscles in the shoulders which causes fatigue very quickly. This deviation removes the Wing Chun practitioners advantage since his “structure” will no longer carry the full force of his/her body weight behind the punch. The conclusion of the fight will then be determined by the opponent with the stronger arms and shoulders.
Economy of Movement
Most Wing Chun attacks take the straightest possible path to the target (usually a straight line). They also tend to attack the opponent’s cnterline, an imaginary vertical line bisecting the opponent’s vitals (throat, heart, stomach, groin). The Wing Chun punch, for example, is delivered centrally from the practitioner’s chest rather than diagonally from the shoulders in the first two forms. This helps teach the centerline concept. In the later forms, the punch is delivered diagonally from the shoulder to the centerline. This is because the distance is shorter than bringing the hand from the shoulder, to the center of the chest, and then down the centerline at the opponent.
Balance, Structure and Stance
Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with better balance and 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 into the ground.
Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers quicker from stalled attacks and structure is maintained.
Wing Chun favours a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are positioned across the vitals of the centreline. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out variantly on the heels, balls, or middle (K1 or Kidney 1 point) 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.
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.
This concept may be better understood if the reader can imagine being on a frictionless surface. A strike would be quite ineffective in this environment, considering the force would cause the opponent and the practitioner to move equidistantly from the point of impact.
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 (e.g. biceps and triceps). 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 sao.
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 opponents structure (See Sensitivity section). With the correct forwarding these “holes” grant a path into attack the opponent.
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 linneages defining anywhere from a single “centerline” to multiple lines of interaction and definition.
The most commonly seen interpretation emphasizes attack and defense along an imaginary horizontal line drawn from the center of the practitioner’s chest to the center of the enemy’s chest. The human body’s prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus 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.
Wing Chun practitioners attack within this central area to transmit force more effectively, since it targets the “core center” (or “mother line”, another center defined in some lineages and refering to the vertical axis of the human body where the center of gravity lies). For example, striking an opponent’s shoulder will twist the body, dispelling some of the force and weakening the strike. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.
The Wing Chun punch
Punches are usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. Depending on the linneage, the fist is held anywhere from vertical to horizontal (palm side up). The contact points also vary from the top two knuckles, to the middle two knuckes, to the bottom three knuckles. In some lineages of Wing Chun, the fist is swiveled at the wrist on point of impact so that the bottom three knuckles are thrust forward adding power to the punch while it is at maximum extension.
Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for the following reasons:
Directness. The 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 also more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This also aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike.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 arm rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common anology is a baseball bat being swung at someone’s head (a round-house punch), as opposed to the butt end of the bat being thrust forward into the opponent’s face (wing chun puch), which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and isn’t as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to perform the “long-bridge-punch”, a punch that starts only an inch away from the target, yet delivers an explosive amount of force through the application of the wing chun techniques.Alignment & Structure. The vertical punch allows a practitioner to absorb the rebound of the punch by directing it through the elbows and into the stance. In contrast, the rebound of the horizontal punch creates torque in the puncher’s body. Like many Chinese martial arts, Wing Chun favors the usage of stances; the vertical punch is thus more suitable. As the vertical punch is believed to be structurally safer, practitioners feel no need to tape their wrists.The last item above can be easily tested. Hold your fist vertically, in front of you, your elbow pointing down, one foot behind the other. Make sure your elbow is in your centerline. Then ask a friend to push into your fist while you attempt to resist. You will feel the push pressuring your legs and stance. Repeat with a horizontal fist, elbow at shoulder height and to the side. You will feel the incoming push twisting you sideways.
Wing Chun techniques are uncommitted. This means that if the technique fails to connect, the practitioner’s position or balance is not compromised. If the attack fails, the practitioner should be able to “flow” easily into a follow-up attack. All Wing Chun techniques permit this. Any punch or kick can be strung together to form a “chain” or combination attack.
Trapping Skills and Sensitivity
The Wing Chun practitioner uses reflexes and sticking hands to probe for holes in the opponent’s defense through touching.
The practitioner controls an opponent by contacting through a block or a strike and maintaining contact or “sticking” to the opponent. If the opponent attempts to withdraw or redirect the hand, the practitioner follows, often using the motion to facilitate a trap or a strike.
A common Wing Chun saying is “greet what arrives, escort what leaves and rush upon loss of contact”, regarding the importance of trapping incoming force and advancing quickly when an opening is sensed.
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 him 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.
This theory can be tested by examining various distances of range with a partner. Standing two metres away from your opponent, you are both out of each other’s range. A full arm’s length away, you are within a range typical of most martial arts; round house punches and most kicks are effective at this range. Now stand close to your opponent, your arm slightly bent, your elbow a hand’s width from your chest, and your fingertips just touching your opponent. This is the wing chun range. While wing chun punches, hand strikes and low kicks are highly effective at this range, it is too close for an opponent of the same height and using a different style to counter-attack with a roundhouse punch or any kicks. A taller person will find it even harder to defend themselves if attacked at this close range, as any typical forms of counter-strike will be ineffective without room to gain momentum, and once their hand extends past their opponent, they have no means with which to protect their centre line. A saying much-relished by smaller wing chun practitioners is “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”.