Characteristics and Methods of Wing Chun Kuen

Wing Chun as Boxing Art

As a fighting style, Wing Chun is known for a blitzkrieg offense that overtakes an opponent and delivers finishing blows in rapid fashion. The genius of the style, however, is that it teaches the practitioner to use trained tactile reflexes to guide their attack and defense rather than solely relying upon sight, as most fighting systems do. The tactical reflex system is many times faster than the sight-decision process. To this faster neural processing the Wing Chun Boxer adds techniques that emphasize:

  • Structural speed (efficiency) over physical speed
  • Defenses that do not require strength
  • Flexible attacks that cannot be stopped by normal defenses

wing chun kungfu
wing chun

The fighter who is relying on just strength, speed and aggression soon finds that the Wing Chun fighter can react faster than he can and deliver blows that penetrate his defenses and rain upon him in an unending stream of strikes and kicks. In addition, the close-range defenses of the Wing Chun fighter neutralize the offense of his opponent in ways that take little strength and leave the attacker in a vulnerable position. Because of this, the Wing Chun style is well-suited for the smaller or slighter built individual; however, it also works well for the strong, as it teaches the use of strength at the most advantageous moments to greatest effect.

Overview of Wing Chun


Chinese martial arts record tactics and techniques in solo routines that in English are referred to as sets. Wing Chun Kuen has three sets around which the system is taught. These sets represent three distinct ideas about combat. Neither is superior to the other and all are essential for the art to work properly.

The first is Sil Nim Tao or the Little Idea Form. In this set the practitioner learns to perform the techniques of the art with the proper energy, positioning of limbs and posture to make the style effective. The training associated with the student at the Sil Nim Tao level is the fundamental of the style, if the techniques are not grasp correctly at this phase of training it is like an error in an angle; the longer one goes the greater the deviation. Ultimately if one does not correct himself soon, the practitioner will find the errors preventing progress.

The second form is Chum Kiu or “Seeking the Bridge”. A bridge in Chinese martial terminology is the arm or leg of the opponent. One secures the “bridge” in order that the troops can cross and attack the enemy. Wing Chun uses sense of touch to guide its tactics in close combat. Because of this, arm on arm contact or “bridge” is preferred while fighting. As unusual as this may sound, one has simply to look at the mixed martial artist of today to see examples of “bridge contact”. Whenever they draw close, both will grab or clinch to secure the arms of the other while attempting to continue to attack. They grab each other because sight reactions are too slow at this range to be of use. They hold on for an instant in order to keep themselves safe, then engage in further attacks knowing that the opponent has little chance of reacting properly. However, for the Wing Chun practitioner, it is precisely at this range that his finely-honed contact reflexes give him an overwhelming advantage.

The Chum Kiu level of technique teaches striking and kicking from various angles as well as active deflecting and countering techniques. It also teaches, as the name suggests, methods of gaining or regaining contact with the opponent's bridge arms so that the trained tactile reactions of the Wing Chun fighter can be used to greatest advantage.

The third form is Biu Jee or “Thrusting Fingers”. At this level, the training of the Wing Chun fighter focuses on expressing force through the fingers or a single knuckle to attack vulnerable points. The Biu Jee level practitioner has developed his reflexes through Chi Sao, (see below) and many other gradual training processes that defending himself is not in question. The Biu Jee level practitioner’s skills are such that he can hit any one of many dime-sized vulnerable points on a violently-attacking opponent and cause disabling or more serious damage.

Mook Yat Cheong-The Wooden Dummy

This apparatus has wooden arms and a single angular leg extending out from a central trunk which is suspended on a frame. The arms are set at precise angles, as is the leg and it can move a limited number of degrees laterally.

The Wing Chun practitioner learns a routine of 116 movements around this tool. The movements are performed in an exacting manner utilizing most of the hand techniques, kicks, stepping and angling theories of the system. When a practitioner can perform the techniques of the dummy correctly he will find that the precise angles, lateral reaction and intervening limbs of the dummy further refine the practitioner’s actions even as a protractor corrects the angle of line.

For the Wing Chun practitioner, the dummy teaches methods of achieving precise angles of entry on an opponent wherein one can attack with relative safety. It also teaches subtle use of force that unbalances and topples an opponent with surprising ease. The aggressor who attacks an exponent of Mook Yat Cheong training will find that the Wing Chun practitioner is inexplicably past his attack and has already struck him with a damaging strike.

In movies one sees the practitioner moving around the dummy with blinding speed, executing a barrage of strikes and kicks. Nothing could be further from the real use of the Mook Yat Cheong. Many styles have adopted the dummy into their training but without the techniques of Wing Chun and an understanding of the subtle angles and lateral variances, it is little more than beating a piece of wood while dancing around it.

Specialized Training

Wing Chun is famous for its “Sticking Hands” practice or Chi Sao. In this exercise the Wing Chun student is trained to interpret the movements of his opponent and react to them appropriately using his sense of touch.

First, the student must have spent months learning to perform the fundamental movements of Wing Chun with the proper structure, energy and timing both solo and with a partner. When the fundamental movements can be performed with an acceptable degree of accuracy Chi Sao begins. Initially one arm is used in contact with an opponent’s bridge arm. Various attacking motions are performed while the student learns to feel and interpret the difference and how to counter.

Over time a student will begin to use both arms in contact with an opponent and finally even kicking techniques at close range. All of these the Wing Chun practitioner will learn to interpret and respond to correctly using his sense of touch. Ultimately the Wing Chun fighter will face an opponent blindfolded, make contact and attack or defend as needed with great accuracy.

It must be said that while Chi Sao training is progressing, the student is learning more sophisticated fighting techniques with a partner. Chi Sao is a major part of the Wing Chun fighters training but the Wing Chun fighter has an arsenal of combat techniques to learn and master.

Along with the unique neuromuscular programming of Chi Sao, the Wing Chun fighter undertakes a systematic program of physical conditioning. Stretching exercises and muscular development are for certain part of the program but there are unique training regimens that the fighter must undergo if he is to master the art.

First and foremost the body must be conditioned to be able to deliver powerful blows. This is done over years as the fighter strengthens the tendons and bones through gradual conditioning. Any attempt to hasten this process results in damage that will ultimately prevent progress to the upper levels. Great care is taken and supervised by both the instructor and senior students to ensure that this training is done correctly and with the correct long-term effort.

Secondly, at more advanced levels, the body is conditioned to resist damage from the blows of an opponent. This training also is only begun after an extended period of physical strength and breath-control training. Over time though, the body toughens, bones become stronger and the Wing Chun fighter, though trained to deflect the attacks of an opponent, finds that he can weather the storm of an attack if necessary.

The Wing Chun fighter develops unique skills and finds the training as much an inward journey of discovery as much as it is fascinating study of a distinctly Chinese art form. For the person who masters Wing Chun, the powerful self-defense skills ultimately are a result of this journey not the goal, because the journey of discovery, in fact, never ends.