Wing Chun Kung Fu - Theories & Concepts

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Many of Wing Chun's theories and concepts can be difficult to explain without visual aids. If you get confused by the content of this page yet want to learn in more detail, revise the Schools & Teachers page of this website. Remember that the theories and concepts here are described as perceived by the author of this website, so they could validly be labeled as debatable opinions - some more technical and some more personal.

I hereby disclaim liability incase you are surprised to notice that this page has now officially evolved into a blog, in ascending chronological order.

Laos, South East Asia (Image 3)

The Centre Line Theory

The Centre Line is an imaginary line down the centre of your body. Striking to the Centre Line causes maximum reaction and damage.

As the Centre Line runs vertically through the body's centre of gravity, and the force of gravity runs vertically downwards in the direction of this line, the body's balance is most affected by the bending of this line. As soon as one part of this line is displaced, the rest of the line must simultaneously move in order to keep the line straight, which is unlikely to happen. In order to effectively attack and defend the body must be gravitationally well-balanced. Therefore in Wing Chun we target the Centre Line to displace part of this line, making the line bend to disturb the opponent's balance, causing maximum reaction to the opponent's ability to fight back.

When striking to anywhere but the Centre Line, the opponent's body can rotate to disperse the force with minimal reaction, reducing the damage of the strike. When striking to the Centre Line though, the opponent's body cannot rotate so easily to disperse the force and reduce the reaction, so the opponent's body must absorb more of the force and therefore more damage is caused.

Most of the vital striking points of the opponent's body are located on or between the vertical planes that join your main weapons (hands) to the opponent's Centre Line. Therefore, when striking to the Centre Line to cause maximum reaction, with straight techniques for maximum speed, you are simultaneously striking to the key target areas including the eyes, nose, temples or head in general, the windpipe or neck in general, the solar plexus, spine or ribs in general, and between the legs, depending on which direction the opponent is facing.

This is why striking to the Centre Line causes maximum reaction and damage, and this is why Wing Chun emphasises the importance of attacking the opponent's Centre Line whilst simultaneously defending your own.

The Triangular Formation

By using antagonistic muscular tension to lock the skeleton into alignment, Wing Chun utilises the strength and rigidity of the bones in conjunction with the pivotable, deflective and penetrative qualities of triangular skeletal structures to send any oncoming forces into the ground. This prevents indirect forces from rattling the brain, and also enables rock solid structures (literally).

Relaxation

Beginners should not use tension.

While dynamic tension can compensate for time in the development of muscle memory, it doesn't compensate for awareness of full-body position. Tension would therefore cause beginners to muscularly memorise their unrefined positions.

Also, a slow and relaxed warm-up with a gradual, non-violent introduction to tension is recommended for preventing injury during training.

Forwarding

The concept of forwarding in Wing Chun Kung Fu is to place the mind in a state where it is most prepared to shoot a hand forward immediately upon finding a gap. Forwarding is not pushing though. When forwarding, there is not necessarily any physical force being applied - you're simply sticking but well prepared to move forward incase a gap presents itself. This concept is summarised in the Cantonese phrase 'Lut Sau Jik Chung' - half of a well known Wing Chun Kuen Kuit (idiom) which summarises sticking in general - 'Loy Lau Hoi Sung, Lut Sau Jik Chung'.

Learning and Teaching vs Feeling the Truth

It's not possible to pass knowledge from one generation to the next, then to the next, then the next, without losing something along the way. Documents can be used to preserve teachings but contradictory documents will always appear. It's not even possible to retain knowledge pristinely within one person's mind without decay.

It may therefore be necessary for people to think for themselves - to feel the truth - to see it for themselves without needing to be told of it. Great knowledge has no origin - it's not one person's invention nor another's - it's simply observed by anyone with a clear enough mind - a mind free from unnecessary knowledge - a mind that appreciates the value of memory loss. Those who know, know you can too without needing to hear their words. Those who know don't profess. That's a good guess.

Using and Countering Minimally Committed Techniques

Many a thug is likely to throw a rather heavy punch, attempting to cause maximum damage to the victim. These heavy punches are often over-committed and therefore easy to counter. A simple block or deflection with Pak Sau or Bong Lap (Bong Sau followed by Lap Sau) is likely to leave the attacker stumblingly defenseless.

Bearing this in mind, as Wing Chun practitioners do not want their strikes to be easily countered, Wing Chun punches are minimally committed. Movement is initiated by tension of muscles and this tension is counterable, so Wing Chun movements are sharp, on-off actions. A punch is thrown from the shoulder, driven by a thrusting movement of the elbow, and targeted at the opponent's centreline. If the punch misses or hits an obstacle, the momentum dissolves; the reactive force is absorbed by the Wing Chun practitioner's stable body structure, which is anchored to the ground by the rear leg, allowing minimal slipping or stumbling forward.

So how does a Wing Chun practitioner counter an opposing Wing Chun practitioner's minimally committed punch? Well, even a low-commitment punch is committed to some extent. It's not committed enough to cause stumbling on it's own accord, but if the opponent were to instantaneously grab and pull the fist toward himself, using the Lap Sau technique for example, then the Wing Chun punch can be countered and the punching person may stumble forward. Of course, as the Wing Chun punch is so short, fast and untelegraphed, it's not easy to counter. And if the punching person feels the opponent pulling the fist, then the punching person can pull back his own arm, as in the Jut Sau technique, causing the counter to be countered itself, leaving the punchee stumbling defenselessly into a new punch.

As Wing Chun uses minimally committed techniques to avoid being countered, Wing Chun similarly utilises the most sophisticated methods of countering such techniques as its own. Indeed, the best way to counter a Wing Chun technique is often to use another Wing Chun technique in defense, and Wing Chun can counter any attack, including any of its own. In this way, Wing Chun can be 'self-defeating' - using minimally but always partially committed techniques in both attack and defense.

Based on this concept, there is no such thing as a useful attack except one which is used in defense. Any unnecessary attack is an over-commitment and an unnecessary vulnerability in one's own defenses. Similarly, there's no such thing as useful fronting, nor useful pride, nor useful competition. Stillness is the master of passion and the source of sense.

Excessively Practicing Muscularly Demanding Techniques vs Training With Energy-Efficient Techniques

As muscles are heavy, they require tension to support their own weight. A well built physique requires more energy to power itself than a slighter physique. Excessively practicing muscularly demanding techniques is unnecessary bodybuilding, creating a tense and rigid body to the detriment of flexible and energy-efficient mobility. The softest thing in this world constantly rides roughshod over the stiffest and strongest. Everyone knows this, nobody attains it.

Overgrown muscle memory remembers the inevitably compensated movements of excessively muscularly demanding training sessions.

But more muscle means more static strength and this is desired by many Martial Artists.

Kung Fu means 'hard work', but how hard is 'hard'? There is no greater problem than not knowing what is enough.

Serious, Fun or Neutral?

I'm not doing Wing Chun to be confused - I'm doing it to understand simplicity of movement. So when teachers encourage me to be dedicated, I just ignore it, because that's not what I'm doing Wing Chun for. I'm dedicated to what I am there for - and that's evident in the way I tolerate my teachers' encouragement of things I don't like.

Talking, Practicing, or Simultaneously Both?

I don't like too much talk without practice - especially when I know that the person talking and teaching has learnt his best stuff through practice and more practice. And I prefer to practice personally with the best available teacher; rather than learning from the main teachers' words and other people's examples. Ideally I'd master all techniques by training directly with the best teachers I can find. Bearing this in mind, if I were to be a teacher I must remember to spend a few minutes drilling directly with each student in every session. I could be lazy, but If I didn't enjoy it then I wouldn't be in the biz.

If I were to be a teacher

I consider myself to take a quietly interested approach to Wing Chun. I don't intend to establish a huge organisation like those of my teachers. If I set up a club it will probably be nearly all about chi sau. I will try not to encourage the ambitions or over-assertiveness of my students. I will teach sensitivity before tension, aggression or determination; blocks before punches; friendliness and backing down before fighting and fronting. Classes would be casual with no official tests. No holding back of further information. No enforced wearing of belts or logo-ridden uniforms. Free choice would prevail but recommendations would be ample. Some classes may even be free of monetary charge; maybe a free hour of casual chi sau, a second free hour for those interested and/or most dedicated to learn forms and repetitive drills; with maybe a third hour for paying students who just can't get enough (I don't want to keep them waiting and wanting).

For many questions I've been asked, the questioner already knows the answer but just wants confirmation - so my job is just to help them trust what they feel, and to feel no limits.

Stable Stumbling Ability vs Dramatic Shifting of Centreline Location

A good Wing Chun practitioner is probably able to be pushed and pulled in any direction, causing some stumbling, without actually losing much balance. This is controlled stumbling and requires two bent legs at all times, with a straight and upright back, and no leaning in any direction. Rapid turning between stances whilst maintaining this level of balance does not displace the personal centreline much. Dramatic displacement of the personal centreline may be a useful skill though; so practicing with a state of 'on-edge' balance may be useful. But in application, one should stay centred as much as possible, just as one should avoid violence generally.

Tensing in Thin Air vs Tensing on Impact

Wing Chun techniques cannot be tensed much in thin air using only the same tension as used in application, because in application the only tensed muscles are delicately tensed positional muscles which hold the body parts inline, plus some 'one-way' muscles but not their opposites. The tricep, for example, may tense well in a punch directly before impact and the bicep would only tense enough to hold the arm up. If you try tensing the tricep in thin air though, you'll probably end up tensing most of the muscles in the arm, including many that would be less tensed or relaxed in application, like the bicep.

If you want to tense up in thin air for that extra bit of aggression during training, don't call it Wing Chun. If you ever need to use more strength than you already have, you're probably doing the wrong techniques. So I look sloppy in solo practice? Test me in application before you criticise it. Bruce Lee's wavey hands were nearly always fixed in the right places. Try tensing up in chi sau against a more experienced practitioner... you can expect the tension to be used against you. Chi sau is the most important part of Wing Chun, and it's the best place to test your skills. If it doesn't work in chi sau, ditch it for something that does. A tense hand is not a sticking hand.

Range and Consequential Angles

In some schools I have been taught to practice at stretched range in order to safely throw full power at the training partner. I feel like a liar by doing this because it is at the sacrifice of true Wing Chun angles. Not only am I teaching my body the wrong movements in order to develop power (which is totally against Wing Chun's concept of technique over power), but I feel like a liar when doing this because my training partner is also moving prematurely and using inappropriate angles to trigger his premature defences. I'd rather sacrifice full power, and use the dummy for practicing power. Is this not why the dummy exists?

Personal & Relative Centrelines

In 1-on-1 combat, Bong Sau should always involve both the Bong Sau's wrist and the Wu Sau's wrist being placed on the 'personal centreline' (the line perpendicular to the line between the shoulders), as it is practiced both in authentic Chum Kiu (in Turning Stance) and the authentic Dummy Form (in Basic Ready Stance); and Tan Da should also see both the Tan Sau and the strike on the personal centreline, as in Chum Kiu and the Dummy Form. One of the few cases where the 'relative centreline' (the line between your neck and your opponent's neck) should be different from the personal centreline, is when there are multiple opponents; though even with two opponents you may like to try grabbing one for use as a shield and thus you've got both opponents on the personal centreline!

Further, the turning punch's wrist should always be on the personal centreline; and the punching arm should never be left fully extended (like a Mun Sau) without proper support by either a triangulated ready stance (Yi Ji Kim Yeung Ma), or a proper arrow stance (Biu Ma / Jeen Ma) whereby the rear foot gives full support from being pushed or pulled in a way that the arms can't absorb. If you must strike somewhere not on your personal centreline (perhaps because of multiple opponents, or because you're trying to run away) then use a Fak Sau, which has an out-turned elbow and a structure similar to the inquisitive Mun Sau and the collapsible Bong Sau.

However, when practicing under stretched range, these angular ideals are often neglected. If you're thinking "Well, I can do it!", bear in mind that there's people who think the same about Bushido and Tao Kwon Do.

I often feel disgusted with myself for being critical about others, and this brings me ever closer towards "no learn, no teach". Or teaching by example, not words. Learning and teaching, only without trying, just naturally. I'm thinking of emigrating to South East Asia, not far from where Wing Chun was born. Maybe Laos. I hear it's peaceful there.

Laos, South East Asia (Image 1)

Teaching aggressive students

I've since considered teaching my own style of Wing Chun to large classes, and now realise that it's going to be extremely difficult to encourage random people to hit each other softly. This explains why some teachers prefer to sacrifice the quality of techniques in order to provide a safe training environment. Maybe my solution will be to only teach very cautious people who have no desire to punch hard even in a real fight? Maybe if I find myself with students who're a bit aggressive, I'll give them sensitivity drills and solo forms (including Wooden Dummy practice) until I can trust them to be more cautious about the possibility of hurting a training partner.

Maximal Damage Infliction vs Minimal Commitment

My Wing Chun style is not about maximum damage to the opponent, it's about minimally committed techniques. Through these minimally committed techniques, Wing Chun creates an awesome defense. It's important not to get sidetracked though, because Wing Chun has some attacking techniques, but Wing Chun is nevertheless founded on defense and the attack is just a thin coat of cherry-topped icing. It's the sponge which makes the food, even if the eye is focussed on the cherry.

If Wing Chun is good for the world

WC only has a place in this world where it preserves peace. There's no such thing as fighting for peace.

Fighting crime just airs the flames. War on terror is deadly and faulty. How will the government learn a better way if the people don't practice one?

My WC is not a style of fighting; it's a tool to endorse 'calm restraint', by defending without unnecessarily attacking, as non-violent resistance to attack, to preserve life in a situation where being severely attacked is unavoidable. The definition of 'severe' is open to interpretation, which is fine, but please don't compromise on the meaning of 'unavoidable'.

What makes a good teacher?

A good teacher has enough personal ability to teach by example. A possible extra is to have enough theoretical understanding and communicative skill to directly cure specific problems of students.

Chi Sau: Circular vs Linear Motion

There's two ways to dominate chi sau. There's circling to keep as many hands on top (in fook sau) as possible at all times; and there's pushing straight forward (forcing energy into the opponent's vertical centreline). Each is the counter of the other. Circling can counter pushing and pushing can counter circling, all depending on timing. It's the classic kung fu concept of linear vs circular motion. From Fook Sau, you're ready to pull (Jut Sau), which is the ideal time to push/strike with the other hand. You can pull against a tense arm, and a punchin arm is a tense arm; so Fook Sau is the ideal position to be in when preparing to counterstrike a forthcoming punch. If they circle rather than punching straight, then it's time for you to either go straight forward or circle their circling hand.

While writing this I've noticed that simply pushing forward with one hand while not pulling back with the other hand is not good Wing Chun. There must be a balance. This is why I have a problem with Tan Da! The Tan Da pushing/punching/striking hand must be accompanied by something like a Lap Sau rather than a Tan Sau, at least at the point of striking. Notice on the dummy, the Tan Da striking hand is just placed on the dummy's hip while the stance does the forwarding. Now if this striking hand were to push, if it were to extend into a proper pushing-arm (rather than pushing stance with static arm) I think the Tan Sau would simultaneously become a Lap Sau. I've not yet thought this through much so I could be wrong.

Misc

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