Any time anyone says that they know kung fu, be sure to ask them what style.
To anyone who actually understands Mandarin Chinese, the term “kung fu” (more properly pronounced “gong fu” or “gung fu”) actually refers to any skill or task that is mastered through hard work.
This doesn’t necessarily have to apply to only martial arts; it could actually apply to anything, from cooking to painting.
The more precise term for martial arts is “wu shu”, which is both a singular style and an all inclusive term depending on its context in a Chinese sentence.
To say that one knows kung fu is most often to say that they have learned a developed fighting skill that is merely one of countless from China.
Figuratively speaking, think of kung fu as an epically giant tree, one with each branch of the tree being a fighting style, and each leaf of the tree being the different family interpretations of each fighting style.
The moss growing on the northern side of the tree would equate to northern kung fu, and the side without moss would equate to southern kung fu.
A style that has recently gained much popularity in mainstream limelight would be one called: Wing Chun.
The History of Wing Chun
No one knows exactly where Wing Chun came from, though there is a legend told by one of its most famous practitioners, named Yip Man, that Wing Chun is a style that was originally invented by a Buddhist nun and named after her student, a woman who sought to defend herself against taller stronger male opponents. The name literally translates to: “eternal spring” (Rousseau, 2015).
However, though it may be true, this story is conventionally just considered to be a legend. Unfortunately, the history of many Chinese martial arts is difficult to track because, according to Yip Man himself:
“Researching the history of Chinese Kung Fu is very difficult. This is due to a general lack of written records. For every Kung Fu clan, clan history was passed down orally from teacher to disciple.
In due course, the disciple himself became a teacher, and taught his own disciples according to what his teacher passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth.
This process involved some who were poorly educated, or had poor memories. There were also those who were not very interested in history, and were half-hearted in passing it down. Much was lost here. Some people borrowed from heroic characters in popular Chinese novels.
They invented and exaggerated, and gave an air of myth and mystery to their founding fathers.”
(Yip & Conner, 1993)
Though, the earliest documentation of the style started with a man called Leung Jan (1826-1901), though he was already a master, which means that someone taught him, and someone taught whomever taught them, and so forth; therefore, the exact origin of is unknown and will likely remain that way.
What is Wing Chun?
Wing Chun can also be called “Ving Tsun”, “Wing Tsun”. It’s known for its incredibly fast strikes delivered at close range.
Because Force = Mass x Acceleration, a basic and widely known formula for physics, the average Wing Chun practitioner derives the force of their strikes from the acceleration of each limb to make up for the lack of body mass that would otherwise be put into any given technique.
That’s not to say that every practitioner has a lack of body mass, but do remember who the style was originally invented for, according to Yip Man: Chinese women of a bygone era.
Despite that though, the style has been adapted, learned, and mastered by members of both genders of all varying degrees of body types, because the principles of the strikes still hold true.
If a male American football player, a 90 kg. (200 lbs.) linebacker were to master the style, then all the more powerful they would be, according to the laws of physics, because they would have both the mass and the acceleration to deliver absolutely devastating damage to their opponents.
The Pros and Cons of Wing Chun
The advantages to Wing Chun are in the fluidity of its movement, how practitioners of the art develop rapid-fire speed with their punches that generates vibrations in their target that can break down bone or damage their enemy’s brain very easily. Limbs are ever kept inward, constantly protecting the artist’s vital organs from damage.
Grappling techniques are utilized in combination with the inner strikes to often suspend their opponent off balance and even cast them to the ground for punches delivered so quickly that it causes the enemy’s brain to bounce back and forth concussively in the skull, making for an easy knock-out, or even death.
Another advantage would be the anaerobic stamina of a Wing Chun fighter. All of the movements are taught to be relaxed and geometrically succinct, following the principle that the shortest distance between two objects is a straight line.
Following this mathematical principle, martial artists of this type are fast and forceful, while burning as little energy as possible, being as fuel-efficient as possible with the lactic acid that builds in muscles as they’re used.
However the aerobic stamina is in question, depending on how the individual martial artist incorporates cardiovascular training into their workouts or not.
The disadvantages to Wing Chun are in the stance. Wing Chun martial artists are taught to stand firm and flexible like bamboo, their training stance comprising of interlocked knees with toes pointed inward like a pigeon’s.
Such a stance, especially in today’s rise in mixed martial arts users, lacks practicality because they can be easily overpowered if an opponent with an aggressive enough strategy and tough enough conditioning can burst through the Wing Chun users defense, absorbing some damage in the process as a utilitarian sacrifice for taking the victory.
Ultimately, whether or not a Wing Chun martial artist wins or loses a fight depends greatly upon:
How well they’re able to maintain their balance while delivering strikes at point-blank range with their opponent. If they are met with a better grappler or wrestler, the Wing Chun martial artist will have a particularly difficult time taking the lead of the fight.
Therefore, it’s recommended that for anyone practicing Wing Chun, to supplement its weaknesses with some skill in ground fighting beyond the traditional techniques taught in the original repertoire.
How much damage their body can take while fighting against a hyper-aggressive opponent. Since the majority of the force of Wing Chun strikes are coming from the acceleration of each limb from a balanced position, the style is designed for people of lesser mass.
To have lesser body mass tends to mean that the person would have less physical resistance toward taking blows, which is why the hands are, at almost all times, kept centerline in defense of the vital organs. This can be supplemented with bodybuilding, bone, and muscle conditioning.
Great Masters and Famous Users of Wing Chun
Some of the greatest masters of Wing Chun are as follows:
Training in Wing Chun
Training in traditional Wing Chun, when segregated from any mixture with other martial arts, utilizes the effectiveness of a wooden dummy with spokes sticking out of it, much in the same way that a western boxer would use a punching bag, with some slight differences.
The wooden dummy acts as an instrument to train the artist’s propioception (or cognitive connection to muscle memory, simplified, an area determined by the cerebellum of the brain) and comfort with using techniques against an actual hard limb, simulating the feeling of actually striking a conditioned opponent.
Forms are practiced countless times in repetition in order to master form and technique, until the point of effortless first-nature reflex mastery.
Knuckles and other striking bones of the body are conditioned for hardness and safety.
If a Wing Chun artist accepts the reality of the aforementioned weaknesses and supplements them by building their body to take more blows while increasing their knowledge of grappling (perhaps with combining it with Aikido, or Brazilian Jiujutsu, or Judo) accordingly, they will make for a highly efficient well-rounded fighter that is an undeniable force to respect.
Rousseau, R. (n.d.). History, Origin and Style Guide of Wing Chun. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
Yip, C., & Connor, D. (1993). Wing chun martial arts: Principles and techniques. York Beach, Me.: S. Weiser.