About Wing Chun Concepts

About WING CHUN Kung Fu

WING CHUN (詠春) is a concept-based Chinese martial art and form of self-defense utilizing both striking and grappling while specializing in close-range combat. It is a relatively young martial art, with most historians agreeing that it developed in southern China approximately 300 years ago.

According to legend, Wing Chun was created by the Buddhist nun Ng Mui, who was a master of Shaolin Kung Fu. Using her martial training and personal experience, she synthesized a compact form of Kung Fu to exploit weaknesses inherent in the other combat styles of her time and give an advantage to smaller fighters like herself. This new system was well-guarded and passed on to only a few, very dedicated students. Her style became known as Wing Chun, after Ng Mui's first student, a woman named Yim Wing Chun. (See the next section to read more about Wing Chun's history.)

Wing Chun began to quietly spread throughout southern China, evolving as it was adopted into various groups. It gained popularity when Grandmaster Ip Man began to teach openly in China and Hong Kong. His students continued the evolution, and spread Wing Chun all around the world. Today, many people have learned of Wing Chun through the late martial arts superstar Bruce Lee or through the popular Ip Man series of movies.

The main reasons that Wing Chun has grown in popularity is that (1) it is very practical in the modern world, (2) it can be learned in a relatively short period of time, and (3) it can be practiced by people of all sizes, shapes and degrees of athletic ability.

Wing Chun originated in and was developed for crowded urban environments such as the cities most people live in today. It is a close-quarters system that can be used even when assaulted in a confined space like a cramped hallway, stairwell or elevator. It is primarily an empty-hands system, allowing someone to defend themselves even when unarmed. It is based on reflexive movements, training you to respond instantly and instinctually to a surprise attack as opposed to a consensual fight or sport combat match. Finally, Wing Chun is simple, direct and efficient, eliminating techniques that are not needed so much in the modern world, such as high-kicking an enemy off his horse.

While many systems of martial arts require a decade or more to learn, Wing Chun was designed to be learned in the shortest time possible. With regular, consistent practice you can learn the entire core system in about two years. Mastery of the system, of course, takes a lifetime.

Wing Chun can be practiced by people of all ages, sizes, shapes and degrees of physical ability. It is equally applicable to both men and women, although in my experience women seem to make progress much faster. Wing Chun uses structure rather than strength and timing rather than speed. It is also based on natural human anatomy rather than mimicking the movements of animals, so it does not require extraordinary flexibility or athleticism.

Proper training in Wing Chun does, however, build both a high degree of physical fitness as well as mental focus. Consistent practice develops extraordinary sensitivity, balance, endurance and coordination. Through the forms training you will learn to quiet your mind and focus your attention. Perhaps most importantly, you will learn to relax and unwind tension from the body, bringing yourself into a natural state of structural stability and intrinsic strength.

This emphasis on structure and relaxed, intrinsic strength is part of what allows a normal-sized person to effectively defend against a bigger, stronger attacker. The other part of that equation is that Wing Chun cheats.

As you'll learn as you dig into the concepts and principles, Wing Chun is sneaky. It assumes that you are being assaulted without warning, at high speed, and with shocking violence. Wing Chun trains for a simple reflex response to interrupt the attack, get the attacker off balance, and put the fight on your terms.

Other systems block and then attack; Wing Chun defends and attacks simultaneously. Other systems draw back or chamber their punches before they strike; Wing Chun hits without warning from any position. Other systems require a wind-up to generate force; Wing Chun uses the structure of the entire body to create power in a small space. Other systems trade strikes back and forth until one fighter is either knocked out or takes sufficient cumulative damage; Wing Chun turns on like a chainsaw and doesn't stop delivering damage until the assault has been effectively ended.

The bulk of your training is not spent punching heavy bags, though. Because structural positioning will overcome sheer strength, much of the student's practice time is spent training the body to move efficiently and with great precision. Wing Chun uses a unique training exercise called Chi Sau (sticking hands) to develop this precision and economy of movement. The principle is simple physics: use the minimum amount of effort to create the maximum effect.



This guide is called WING CHUN CONCEPTS to emphasize the importance of understanding the underlying concepts, theories and core principles of Wing Chun. Many Kung Fu styles teach movement and application, or technique, alone. The idea is that over time, the student will begin to draw conclusions based on all the techniques they have learned, and this will lead to insight into the underlying principles.

Grandmaster Moy Yat had the opposite approach. He would focus on the seed idea or the concept within each movement. Instead of teaching an application, he would teach the principle behind the technique. This leads you away from traditional, linear thinking – if opponent does "A," then do "B" – and guides you more towards reflexive problem solving. The principle or seed idea can then grow and branch into many different and varied applications.

When applications are shown in this guide, try to keep in mind the underlying principles rather than just the technique itself. For instance, a single move from one of the Wing Chun forms may have multiple applications or techniques that can be drawn from it, but even very different techniques will likely be illustrating a single core principle. This idea will be much less "abstract" as we begin working through the application phase of the curriculum.


Modern Wing Chun traces its roots to Hong Kong where the predominant language is Cantonese. Unfortunately, there is no official method of translating written or spoken Cantonese into English, so romanization of terms will vary. For instance, Wing Chun is alternatively spelled as Ving Tsun or Wing Tsun, and the names of individual forms and techniques also have many different spellings. For simplicity, I will attempt to use the most common spellings in current use.

To make matters worse, I'm also going to mix languages. For example, I will use the much more common term Yin and Yang — which is a Mandarin term — rather than the more authentic, but much less well known Cantonese Yum and Yeung terminology. The purists among you are likely going to have a heart attack.

The goal is simply to have a working vocabulary of common terms. Whenever possible we are going to use simple, English names for techniques, concepts and tactics. Although you are neither required nor expected to learn the original Cantonese names, they will nearly always be provided for your reference. Knowing the basic Wing Chun vocabulary will allow you to visit and train with different Wing Chun schools and be comfortable "speaking the same language."

A Paradigm Shift

You may find that this WING CHUN CONCEPTS guide approaches Wing Chun differently than many other published works. Just so there are no surprises, I would like to be clear about three key differences in this approach that may represent a significant paradigm shift from what many people may have experience with.

One difference is that we will fully embrace and explore the science behind the art of Wing Chun. We will draw from the realms of sports medicine, psychology, geometry, physics, anatomy and physiology to offer insights into the Wing Chun concepts.

We will also apply Wing Chun as a self-defense system ONLY. This is going to influence both the type of training we select, as well as the language we use to describe it. For example, most other published works explain techniques in terms of you and your "opponent." This term, and the examples most often shown, is based in the realm of consensual fights or sporting competition. The examples in this guide will be based on violent criminal assault where physical self-defense is morally, ethically and legally justified. The language will shift accordingly, so instead of an "opponent," you will be defending against an "attacker," a "threat" or a "bad guy."

Finally, we are viewing Wing Chun as a living, breathing and evolving system, rather than a "written in stone" tradition that must never be changed. As you'll see in the section on Wing Chun History, the concepts of Wing Chun have always grown and evolved as the early masters shared techniques and tactics with masters of other systems of Kung Fu. We will continue that tradition in this guide, both being faithful to the origins and the founding principles of Wing Chun, and comparing, contrasting and learning from other ways of self-defense developed by other cultures.

A Work in Progress

This preview edition of WING CHUN CONCEPTS will be evolving over time, and I invite you to participate in the process. Please join us on Facebook to discuss content, ideas and conclusions. Hopefully we can rise above petty politics and cooperate to allow each of us to further our knowledge and understanding of Wing Chun.