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Understanding The Scientific Art of Wing Chun Kung Fu

by Alexander McGregor

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Directly translated into English, Wing Chun (or Wing Tsun) means “an ode to spring”. However, despite its pleasing title and deflective approach to force, Wing Tsun is a direct, destructive and fearsome martial art when dealing with an attacker. 

As a martial arts discipline that uses touch, relaxation and body control to deflect energy and balance, Wing Tsun is a martial arts discipline that prides itself on allowing a practitioner of any height, weight or body type to be able to defend themselves against any attacker, no matter how imposing.

In this article, we will discuss what Wing Tsun is, what has made Wing Tsun so popular, why you should practice it and how it can benefit you.


What is Wing Chun or Wing Tsun?

two men practicing wing tsun

Wing Tsun, also known as Wing Chun, can have many different variations to how it is pronounced.

From the Mandarin translation of “Wing Tsun” to the Cantonese pronunciation of “Wing Chun”, even variations such as Ving Tsun or Ving Chun have been used.

Since it first came into the public view through the Cantonese Bruce Lee’s “Wing Chun”, many different variations of this discipline try to separate themselves from other systems in their approach by using a different name from a different dialect of the Chinese language. This can be to show that they are different from the mainstream, or more traditional or progressive depending on the school’s stance or principle.

In this article, I will use the pronunciation of “Wing Tsun” as it is the term and variation most familiar to me.


What has made Wing Tsun so popular?

ng mui inventor of wing chun

Although it’s exact history is unknown, it is said the creation of Wing Tsun started with the Buddhist nun Ng Mui. According to legend, Ng Mui was a great Kung Fu master in her advanced years in the Shaolin South Temple at Fukien. That is when the Manchurians, helped by traitor monks, destroyed the temple and Ng Mui had to escape.

Ng Mui designed a new combat system aimed to defeat the traitor monks, who were experts in Shaolin Kung Fu. She then taught this system under the name of Yin Wing Tsun, so the style was named after her “an ode to spring”.

Whether or not this legend is true, the style of Wing Tsun has gained popularity through its reliance on technique over strength – allowing anyone regardless of sex or age to overcome an aggressor.

This can be seen in the 4 main features of the Wing Tsun system.


A popular representation of Yin Wing Tsun

robert downey jr training in wing tsu

Robert Downey Jr. during Wing Tsun training

1. Short steps and movements

Wing Tsun is a close distance martial art, aiming to use the shortest and quickest movements to the opponent’s vital points, as soon as the opponent enters the practitioner's range. Wing Tsun does not rely upon feints or difficult strenuous movements. Rather, it focuses on awareness of the opponent’s movements by sticking close to him and attacking in some key moments to end the fight.

2. Attacking

Instead of relying upon a single “knockout punch” built on strength and muscle, Wing Tsun uses a continuous burst of attacks to overwhelm the aggressor.

3. Sensitivity

Ng Miu realized that to fight strength with strength against a stronger opponent would be futile. Instead, she developed a system based on the sensitivity of touch (Chi Sao) to divert the energy of attacks away from the practitioner and use that same energy against the opponent.

4. Economy of movement

In her older years. Ng Miu could not be as active and strenuous in her movements. So, to maximize the effectiveness of every motion in Wing Tsun, she created a close quarters system. This system was designed to attack using the shortest routes to the opponent's exposed areas, by borrowing the energy of the opponent to evade attacks rather than using your own.

This style of combat allows the practitioner to be able to use the abilities and skills learned all the way into old age. This had lead to many celebrities to be drawn to the style. The examples include Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and even Robert Downey Jr., who has said when commenting on his battle against addiction that Wing Tsun “grounded me, and its primary purpose is to promote a sense of spiritual warrior-dom and to respect your society and to be prepared to defend yourself and your society if necessary.”


The Principles of Wing Tsun

ip man training with wooden dummy

Wing Tsun retains the core values from its design hundreds of years ago. However, there have been many interpretations and disagreements made over how to teach the art. Eventually, the fundamental core values of Wing Tsun have been streamlined into 4 main principles:

1. If the way is free, go forward

This principle may seem to be simple, but it is not easy. The idea of this principle is for the practitioner to keep in mind that when you are in danger you should not stop until you know you are safe. It is easy to freeze up or give into panic, but countering and seizing the opportunity your opponent gives you when attacking is a surefire way to win the fight.

2. If the way isn’t free, stick

Charging forward blindly, however, will not solve all your problems if your opponent offers no gaps and no opportunities. You must be aware and use the aggression your opponent gives you to your advantage. By using the technique of sticking (Chi Sao), you disperse the energy of the opponent away from yourself while keeping close for the right moment to strike.

3. If your opponent is stronger, yield

Sometimes your opponent's aggression may be overpowering and uncontrolled. In many other forms of self-defense that may be unnerving and intimidating. However, in Wing Tsun that works to our advantage. By sticking to our opponent and guiding his energy to our advantage, we can unbalance an opponent leaving him vulnerable to a myriad of strikes.

4. If your opponent moves back, follow

Still, you must remember that when your opponent is off balance, this is not the end of the fight. You must not give him a chance to recover or counter-attack otherwise you put yourself back in danger. You must keep close, taking the opportunity to end the fight and ensure your own safety.

Following these principles has been the base of Wing Tsun, not only as a fighting style but as a philosophy of life. To not hesitate when facing challenges, to keep close and stick to your goals, to not fight against what you cannot change but to find another way and keep following until you succeed.

Because of this, Wing Tsun has been seen by many as more of a lifestyle than just a martial art, and a path to success in whatever challenges a person may face.

In addition to the rewards of understanding your own body on a deeper level, and gaining the knowledge of self-defense, Wing Tsun offers other benefits as a lifestyle.


The Benefits of Wing Tsun

group of men practicing wing tsu

Focus: Through learning to use your body and mind in unison. You can learn to strengthen your focus on tasks that require both physical and mental energy.

Fitness: From stress training drills to burpees in class, a martial arts class is a great way to get fit without having to deal with the tediousness of a gym.

Confidence: Through personally making yourself and others around you safer, you build confidence in who you are as a person, and challenges in life become easier to manage week after week

Community: You are able to join a group of people looking to better themselves just like you, with similar goals and lifestyle. This gives you the chance to build friendships and relationships that can last for a lifetime.


How to get started with Wing Tsun

Ready to jump into Wing Tsun? There are many ways to get started!

Books/DVDs – Many books are available on Wing Tsun, from traditionalists like Sifu Leung Ting to more of a modern take from Sifu Keith Kernspecht

Social Media/Apps – Wing Tsun has become more influential from year to year. Due to this, there’s plenty of apps to be found on apple and android regarding Wing Tsun forms, techniques and more!

Take a class/ Join an organization – Classes for Wing Tsun can now be found all over the world. However, due to this many teachers can boast of training and titles they may not actually have. It’s better to check that the school is indeed associated with a trusted organization such as EWTO to make sure that what you are learning is the real deal. 

Go on a specialized Wing Chun / Wing Tsun camp where you can train with the pros (but beginners are also welcome). It’s better to get started with a few days of intensive focus under the guidance of masters. 


Want more from Alex? Find more of his work at The Martial Practice!

Want to learn the basics of Wing Tsun so you can be on your path to a better version of you? The best place to get started is a Wing Chun training camp, under the guidance of a master. 

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