Wing Chun has many spellings, including Ving Tsun. The name Wing Chun I have heard and read translated many times. Often it is supposedly the name of a woman, who legend has it was one of the first, or the first, user of Wing Chun. The words can mean beautiful springtime or hope for the future. The difference between kung fu and karate is easy to define: karate is Japanese, and kung fu is Chinese. The difference between Wing Chun and other kung fu styles is a bit harder to describe.
The stories of the origins of Wing Chun are many and varied, and some strike me as little more than fable. The most convincing are those which tell of how the system was designed by masters of a few other systems, who came together to develop a new fighting style. The motive for this was generally to defeat the oppressive rulers of the time, many of whom were expert kung fu fighters. These were using Shaolin styles of kung fu, of which there are very many indeed, and which were studied at such places as the famous Shaolin temple, which is still there today. Practitioners of Shaolin learned hundreds of moves, many of which were very difficult, very obscure, or required tremendous strength or flexibility of body.
Wing Chun was developed to defeat Shaolin style. What was wanted was a fighting system which could be taught quickly to people who were of ordinary physique. A Shaolin practitioner might take fifteen years to master his art. One of Wing Chun's great strengths is that five years of good training can give a man the ability to defeat a skilled opponent, and Wing Chun does not require the user to be built like a shit brick-house, nor even a brick shit-house. For this last reason, Wing Chun is often recommended to women.
One reason that Wing Chun is quite as well-known and widely taught as it is, is that a movie star, Bruce Lee, studied it.
There are very few forms in Wing Chun. The principal ones are:
- Sil Lim Tao, or "little imagination" first form. This is practised standing still, on the spot, while the arms go through the basic strikes and parries. One section in particular is practised very slowly. Most training sessions will start with a run-through of this form (a karate man might use the word kata), which emphasises the build-up and discharge of force, and the accuracy of the most important arm positions.
- Chum Kil, or "bridging the gap" second form. This form involves footwork, and deals with an important aspect of Wing Chun: getting to the correct fighting distance with an opponent. By and large, other styles have longer-ranged attacks, such as big leaping kicks of which Wing Chun has none, and so a Wing Chun fighter has to get close to an opponent in order to benefit from the short-range attacks in which Wing Chun specialises. The tricky bit is getting in close without getting hurt.
- Bil Jee, or "flying fingers" third form. This form includes various thrusting finger attacks, and is sometimes thought of as the offensive form, but the real purpose of it is to teach the Wing Chun student what to do when things go pear-shaped, and how to get out of a fix by whatever desperate means. It is not taught to beginners.
The above are empty-hand forms. Also there are two weapon forms. In kung fu, only dedicated students get taught weapon forms. This contrasts with karate where students traditionally started with weapons training, and then moved on to empty hand techniques.
- Pole form. Wing Chun includes the use of a long (usually nine foot) pole. Supposedly this was added to the style by one practitioner who used to pole along a barge for a troupe of travelling performers. There are many instances of cross-over between performance of gymnastics and theatre, and kung fu. This form is very simple indeed, and gives Wing Chun a long ranged attack.
- Bart Jarm Dao, or "eight slash knife" form. This uses two very short swords, sometimes called "butterfly" swords, and uses much of the same footwork and arm moves from the empty hand forms. The user does not typically attack the foe's head or torso first, but aims early blows at the opponent's weapon and arms, later following up with attacks to the body, once having closed. The problem of getting close to an opponent with a longer range attack is similar to the situation of the second empty hand form.
While there are some other minor practice forms, some of which were developed very recently, such as the punch-bag form, the last of the major forms is:
- The wooden dummy form. The dummy is a peculiar device, which very vaguely resembles a man. A thick cylinder of wood represents the line of a standing body, and from this stick forward one bent leg, and three short straight arms. The wooden dummy form is a chance for the student to practice the moves learned in the first three empty hand forms, against something solid. The footwork has to be correct, as the student steps around the forward leg of the dummy, and the blows from foot and hand connect with something harder than air.
I suppose that now might be a good time to mention the fabby video I have made: The Way of the Wooden Man.
There is one major aspect of Wing Chun which I have not yet mentioned: Chi Sao, or "sticking hands". In training sessions with other students, a lot of time is spent practicing this technique in pairs. This is often the aspect of Wing Chun which impresses users of other martial art styles.
Sticking hand technique involves feeling what an opponent is doing, and reacting accordingly. When practicing, students will hold their arms out in front of them, touching the arms of their partner. From here, they make various movements, being careful to keep themselves defended. If either one feels a weakness in the defence of the other, he will thrust a hand forward into the gap, perhaps hitting his partner in the chest. After a while, a student might find that he can shut his eyes, and still defend himself against whatever his partner throws at him. In a real fight, this technique is very useful, since it means that the instant contact is made, a Wing Chun man can feel what his opponent is trying to do, and react that bit more quickly to that movement. It would also be pretty handy were he to be attacked in a pantry with the lights out.