Four hundred years ago, there lived a man named Yim Say Koan who had trained for many years in the Shaolin Temple. His bean cake store was the means by which he supported his only child, a girl, named Yim Wing Chun. Mr. Yim started his daughter training in the martial arts under his tutelage while she was still very young. As she reached her mid-teens, she began attracting many suitors. One was a gangster who tried to force Wing Chun into marriage. In order to prevent this, Mr. Yim sent his daughter to Pot Hok Kwoon, a temple where she could continue her boxing training under the nun, Ng Mui.
One morning while walking, Ng Mui was reflecting on her teaching at the temple. She was not totally satisfied with the low horse stance and power-oriented punches and felt they were not particularly suited for a woman. Lost in thought, she was startled by the noise of an ongoing battle between a snake and a crane. She was particularly impressed by the crane’s ability to simultaneously block the snake’s attack and retaliate.
Later, Ng Mui began to modify the methods she already knew. She incorporated some of the snake and crane movements and altered the horse stance and punch. From this she developed three forms: Sil Num Tao, Chum Kiu, and Bil Gee. She also instituted Chi Sao training. She called the new system Wing Chun, after her first disciple Yim Wing Chun.
The History of Yip Man
Most forms of Wing Chun Kung Fu that are practiced and taught today come from the Yip Man Lineage. Some of the more popular practicitioners in the Yip Man lineage include: Bruce Lee, William Cheung, Francis Fong and Jason Lau. In fact, 90 percent of Wing Chun schools in the world can be traced directly to his efforts.
Yip Man was born in October 1893 in the town of Fatshan in Namhoi County, Kwangtung Province, in Southern China. He was the son of a wealthy merchant named Yip Oi Doh and his wife, Madame Ng. The Yip family lived in some 20 old-style Chinese estates which lined both sides of Happiness and Scholarship Avenue. On one side of the avenue, in the centre of the estates, stood the Yip ancestral temple. Inside the temple, the Yip family permitted Wing Chun master Chan Wah Shun to live and teach a small group of disciples, since Chan’s local reputation as a fighter discouraged thieves and highwaymen from attacking the family business.
When Yip was about nine years old he approached Chan and asked to be accepted as a student. Chan did not take the boy’s request seriously. To spare the boy’s feelings, Chan diplomatically told Yip that he would admit him as a student as soon as he could pay the tuition price of three taels of silver. Chan did not think that a nine year old boy, from a wealthy family or not, could produce that much money anytime in the near future. When Yip Man returned the next day, he went up to Chan Wah Shun with 300 pieces of silver.
Chan Wah Shun did not simply accept the money. Instead he thought that this little kid had just pinched 300 pieces of silver to give to him. So he took Yip Man to his parents to try to find out where the silver had come from.
They soon realized that the 300 pieces of silver were his whole life savings. Once they saw that this boy had such a strong desire to learn Wing Chun that he’d given away all his money, his parents agreed to let him study. And Chan Wah Shun accepted him.
Wing Chun incorporates 3 main principles into it’s design, including: Practicality, Efficiency, and Economy of Movement. Wing Chun techniques emphasize practicality and efficiency to maintain its ideals on effectiveness. Strikes are intended to injure or disrupt the target. Efficiency in Wing Chun is based on the concept that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Likewise its primary targets all lie along the “centerline” of one’s opponent.
Wing Chun believes in using the least amount of required force in any fighting situation. It believes properly timed positioning and movements can and should be used to defeat an opponent. 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, correctly applied, can deflect a powerful attack.
Wing Chun uses deflection and counter-attack in the same motion or will intercept the opponent to nullify an attack, rather than blocking then attacking in two separate motions. Further on interception the punch can act as a block as a consequence of the structure and the position of the arm traveling along its triangular “power-line” pathway to the opponent’s “Core”. This means that the opponent’s attack is automatically deflected by the arm-structure of the Wing Chun practitioner as the counter-punch is delivered.
Most Wing Chun attacks take the straightest possible path to the target (usually a straight line) to break the opponent’s structure. Wing Chun theory focuses on the opponent’s centerline, 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.
In Wing Chun training, several key techniques are used including Chi Sao, Forms, the Wooden Dummy and Butterfly Swords. The Muk Yan Jong form is performed against a “wooden dummy”, a thick wooden post with three arms and a leg mounted on a slightly springy frame representing a stationary human opponent. Although representative of a human opponent, the dummy is not a physical representation of a human, but an energetic one. Wooden dummy practice aims to refine a practitioner’s understanding of angles, positions, and footwork, and to develop full body power. It is here that the open hand forms are pieced together and understood as a whole.
Both the Way Yan (Weng Chun) and Nguyễn Tế-Công branches use different curricula of empty hand forms. The Tam Yeung and Fung Sang lineages both trace their origins to Leung Jan’s retirement to his native village of Gu Lao, where he taught a curriculum of San Sik.
The Siu Lien Tao (Little First Training) of Cho Ga Wing Chun is one long form that includes movements that are comparative to a combination of Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu, and Biu Jee of other families. The other major forms of the style are Sui Da (“Random Striking”), Chui Da (“Chase Striking”), Fa Kuen (“Variegated Fist”), Jin Jeung (“Arrow Palm”), Jin Kuen (“Arrow Fist”), Joy Kuen (“Drunken Fist”), Sup Saam Sao (“Thirteen Hands”), and Chi Sao Lung (“Sticking Hands Set”).
Butterfly swords are used in several Chinese martial arts, notably Wing Chun. In Wing Chun, one notable aspect of butterfly sword combat is that its principles are the basis for all other weaponry. In theory, any object that can be held in the hands of a Wing Chun practitioner will follow the same basic principles of movement as the butterfly swords. This is because the use of butterfly swords is simply an extension of empty-handed combat.
Butterfly swords are regarded by many Chinese martial artists to hold the most versatility and balance of offensive and defensive capabilities of any other Chinese weapon, with many more capabilities than just a weapon.
Chi Sao or “sticking hands”. Term for the principle, and drills used for the development of automatic reflexes upon contact and the idea of “sticking” to the opponent. In Wing Chun this is practiced through two practitioners maintaining contact with each other’s forearms while executing techniques, thereby training each other to sense changes in body mechanics, pressure, momentum and “feel”. This increased sensitivity gained from this drill helps a practitioner attack and counter an opponent’s movements precisely, quickly and with the appropriate technique.
Chi Sao additionally refers to methods of rolling hands drills (Luk Sao). Luk Sao participants push and “roll” their forearms against each other in a single circle while trying to remain relaxed. The aim is to feel forces, test resistances and find defensive gaps. Other branches do a version of this where each of the arms roll in small separate circles. Luk Sao is most notably taught within the Pan Nam branches where both the larger rolling drills and the method where each of the arms roll in small separate circles are taught.
In some lineages (such as the Yip Man and Jiu Wan branches), Chi Sao drills begin with one-armed sets called Dan Chi Sao which help the novice student to get the feel of the exercise, each practitioner uses one hand from the same side as they face each other. Chi Sao is a sensitivity drill to obtain specific responses, it should not be confused with sparring/fighting, though it can be practiced or expressed in a combat form.
Sources: Wikipedia, FrancisFongAcademy.com, CheungsWingChun.com