Wing Chun is arguably the most famous single style within the Shaolin
system. It was made known to the west by Bruce Lee and James Lee in the
late 1960s in what was the single most influential introduction of Chinese
Kung Fu outside China (one might equate Bruce Lee's bringing of kung fu to
American television in 1964 with the arrival of the Beatles in America two
years earlier). Despite Lee's rapid evolution of a personal style away
from traditional Wing Chun, his association with that style was a major
factor in its continued success over the years. More recently, the style
has received new publicity following the death of long time grandmaster
Yip Man as at least three of his senior disciples have waged an
acrimonious conflict over who would inherit the supreme mantle for the
Despite the ongoing politics of the "upper echelons" of the
style, Wing Chun remains an efficient, popular form of martial art.
Novices mistake the small amount of material of the style (three unarmed
kuen, or forms) for ineffectiveness, but seasoned martial artists
appreciate the streamlined and highly simplified combat material offered.
There are three major origin stories connected to this style, the most
famous of which will be added to this web site at a later time. All three
agree that the style was developed by (or with the input of) Shaolin
"nun" Ng Mui, a senior kung-fu practitioner who was interested
in combining the best techniques from the broad array of traditional
Shaolin kung fu into a simple, master style. Within Wing Chun techniques
will be seen numerous elements from Snake, White Crane, Dragon, and Tiger
(the former two mainly as offensive techniques, the latter two defensive).
Eventually, the style was taught to a young woman named Wing Chun
(translated as Beautiful Springtime), for whom Ng Mui named the art.
The three forms of Wing Chun begin with Sil Lum Tao (or Siu Nim Dao).
The name means "little imagination", and refers to the need for
the practitioner to use his or her imagination in the practice and
application of techniques. Most moves are repeated three times, the
primary attack is a sun fist (thumb facing upward on impact), and a
variety of arm parries/blocks employed. There is no footwork. This form is
well-illustrated in a variety of books (see the books
section), though each technique has several applications, most of which
The second form is Chum Kil (or Chum Kiu), meaning "
bridge-seeking". Chum Kil adds a few new moves to a skeleton of
techniques from Sil Lum Tao, but adds more sticky-hands and bridge
techniques. Bridge techniques are extended arm moves that intercept and
redirect incoming attacks without using the brute power required in
blocking. These techniques take advantage of the physics of swinging
objects, in that there is very little force generated by an object the
closer one moves towards the point of origin (e.g., it is much easier to
stop a kick by intercepting it above the knee than below) of the
attack. Additionally, this form introduces the three basic kicks, all
aimed at the knees or lower, of Wing Chun.
The last form is called Bil Jee (or Biu Gee), "thrusting
fingers". This is a primarily offensive form, using finger
thrusts/spear hands in a variety of ways. There is more footwork,
including a sweep, low kicks, and stance shifts. There are several
versions of this form being taught, with each instructor claiming that his
is THE authentic version. In reality, Wing Chun has evolved under the many
different practitioners since its inception in the 1770s, and each version
is "authentic" in its own way.
About two hundred years ago, there lived in China a beautiful young
woman whose name was Yim Wing Chun. Her name suited her admirably, since
it meant "Beautiful Springtime." She was the daughter of a food
merchant, who sold beancurd from a marketstand. She was betrothed to the
man she loved, Leong Bok Chao. Her father, however, could not resist
boasting of her beauty and gentle character. One day, news of this
beautiful maiden came to the ears of an infamous warlord of the Yunan
province. He journeyed to her town, and upon seeing her, was immediately
struck with a consuming desire to possess her, and, as often the way with
rogues, decided to get his way by force. He ordered Wing Chun's father to
his camp and told him that unless the maiden was given to him in marriage,
he would kill them both.
The father, his heart full of fear and confusion, and horrified at the
warlord's cruel tactics, left the warlord's encampment to return home to
tell his lovely daughter of her fate. There seemed to be no alternative,
since the rogue was well known for his brutal atrocities and powerful gang
Calling young Wing Chun to him, the father told her of the warlord's
"Your name will be honored in our family and you will be esteemed
as a revered ancestor", he said, struggling for words to make the
idea more palatable. "Who knows, you may be able to soften the
warlord's heart and maintain yourself with pride as his wife, if not with
the love I know you have for Leong Bok Chao.
The maiden was at first simply shocked speechless at the demand, but
soon her mind tired of imagining impossible plans for escape. She settled
into a dulled acquiescence. However, Date, or the Tao, or Kimset, or
whatever Force rules the moments of chance encounters in our lives,
intervened. While working at the foodstand, she met a Shaolin nun, Ng Mui.
The nun asked the young woman what was troubling her and soon Wing Chun
found herself unburdening herself to the nun.
Ng Mui was a Shaolin nun, who had lived for many years in the great
southern temple of Fukien. Some years earlier, this refuge of the
contemplative life had been destroyed during a rebellion against the
Manchu dynasty. Ng Mui was one of the few that had escaped the holocaust.
She was an adept of the Shaolin fighting arts of dragon and crane. These
arts had been developed to allow the priests and nuns to protect
themselves from wild animals and wilder men, who would seek to destroy the
peaceful way of the Shaolin order.
When Ng Mui heard of the dilemma that Wing Chun found herself in, the
nun sat quietly in meditation, thinking of a way which, in accord with
Shaolin principles, would cause the least pain and hurt to all. How could
bloodshed be avoided? How was the young woman to avoid becoming a
sacrifice to the lustful appetites of the warlord?
"Where is your betrothed?" Ng Mui asked at last, opening her
"He is on a journey to the south, to Fukien, and has been delayed
by the civil disturbances which caused the burning of your temple",
Wing Chun answered, as she said with bowed head and overburdened heart.
"There is no way to reach him in time, and even if I could, I would
not save myself by his death at the warlord's hands. Yet I fear that he
will attempt to rescue me when he hears and will die and perhaps cause my
father to die, in an attempt to rescue me."
"There is perhaps a way to avoid this death and destruction",
the nun said quietly. "It will demand great courage on your part. If
we can delay the wedding to the warlord for a while, I can teach you how
to defeat him in single unarmed combat. First, would you be willing to
face him in battle?", she asked?
"Better that I should die than others for my sake. Besides, it
would be worth it just to try something."
"It is well. Now we must devise a stratagem to delay the warlord's
demands for a year and then pique his pride by announcing that you have
sworn not to marry any man who cannot defeat you in combat. Being a
boastful braggart, he will not want to appear to fear you and will agree
to the duel. Your father must tell the warlord that that you have agreed
to his demands but ask a delay while a letter is sent to Leong Bok Chao,
formally breaking your existing betrothal. Since the country is in such
turmoil, a year is not an unreasonable length of time," the nun
explained. "He will also believe that preparations for such a grand
ceremony will be lengthy."
All went exactly as the nun predicted. The warlord granted the delay of
a year, certain of possessing Wing Chun at the end of that time.
Wing Chun and Ng Mui left town for the nun's training place at Pah Noh
temple. Ng Mui drilled the young woman daily for a year on the Shaolin
techniques of unarmed combat, concentrating on those which were most
direct, effective, and useful to women. She taught her how to neutralize
any incoming blows without extending herself off balance beyond her reach.
She showed her how to redirect the opponent's force so that the harder
someone tried to hit her, the more devastating would be the return blow.
The year passed and the two women returned to town. Now the second
phase of the plan went into operation, as the father went to the warlord
and told him that his daughter had studied kung fu since childhood and
would feel humiliated to marry someone not her equal in hand to hand
The warlord agreed to the duel with much laughter and lewd comment.
"A spirited woman is more interesting to tame", he snickered.
On the day of the duel, the hopeful bridegroom, magnificently dressed
in silks, stepped into the village square, ready to inflict public
humiliation on his bride-to-be. Wing Chun stepped forward, clad in sober
black tunic and trousers. The warlord, shouting to his entourage,
aggressively charged Wing Chun, intending to knock her unconscious with
his fists. She evaded his attack and returned his force against him,
knocking him down. Getting up, he charged her again. The harder he
attacked, the harder he fell when she hit him. Finally, bruised and
bloodied, the warlord dragged himself away from the young woman who had
barely moved from her initial stance. Humiliated and defeated, he was
borne away by his gang.
The victorious young woman left the town with Ng Mui for Kwon How
Temple in Kwantung Province, where she awaited the arrival of her beloved
Leong Bok Chao. There they celebrated their long-delayed marriage, with Ng
Mui's blessings. In later years, Wing Chun taught her husband what she had
learned, and he in turn taught others this gentle art of life, now named
Wing Chun in honor of the courageous young woman who first used it in her
desperate gamble for happiness.
NOTE: The above story is a recreation of the story of the initial
development of the Wing Chun style. Now famous as one of the most
effective, practical styles of the Shaolin, it was originally developed
with no time or energy to waste on flourishes. The dialogue obviously was
recreated with the help of a little imagination, but all times, places,
and names are as accurate as Shaolin oral history can be.
There are two concepts that are essential to Wing Chun: centerline and
The centerline is guarded meticulously with hands on center and elbows
down and in. Movement is small and extremely efficient, utilizing subtle
shifts of the body to deflect, evade and counterstrike all in one motion.
At its most advanced level, contact with the opponent is maintained at all
times to constantly check arms and legs, trap, and utilize the
opponent’s movement to guide and even to increase power. Once the first
blow is struck, the Wing Chun practitioner will march an opponent back
with a constant barrage of swift, low kicks to disrupt the stance, and a
flurry of cycle punches that serve as both offense and defense, batting
everything off center and continuing in for the strike.
Because of its simplicity, Wing Chun can be used effectively by
beginning practitioners; also because of its simplicity, at its most
advanced, Wing Chun is a devastatingly efficient style.
Wing Chun concepts
Stance and center of gravity
The stance in Wing Chun is either a high horse with weight evenly
distributed, or a T-stance with weight 85% on the back leg. There are
advantages to either stance. Because of the high stance, it is very
important to maintain focus on keeping the center of gravity as low as
possible. At more advanced levels this is done by "rooting." It
is crucial to never lean backward in this stance, even the slightest
amount, to prevent being uprooted. Once balance is lost, it is difficult
to regain the offensive.
When moving out of either stance, maintain a lowered center of gravity
and slide over the ground with each step. Never transfer weight to the
stepping leg until that leg is where you want it to be; a leg off the
ground is easily swept.
Foot checks and kicks
Kicks in Wing Chun are characteristically low and swift. At advanced
levels they are used as much to check advancing legs and kicks as they are
to kick themselves. When checking, be sure to turn the foot out to the
side to gain greater surface area for contact. Remember that a careless
opponent can be taken off balance by checking advancing steps.
The legs are often overlooked in Wing Chun. This is a great mistake
that limits the effectiveness of the style. Do not fall into this trap.
Rotation, along with gate punching, is crucial to taking Wing Chun
to the advanced level. Mastery of proper rotation allows for complete
efficiency, in movement and power. Rotation allows for subtle shifts in
body position that aid in deflecting attacks and generating power over
short distances. But be careful: over-rotation leaves one in a very
vulnerable position, and although one might think more rotation would
generate more power, the opposite is in fact true. Also, be careful to
avoid generating rotation through rotation of the torso on the hips.
Rotation should begin at the feet, which in turn rotate the legs and the
hips. The torso should move with the hips, like a gun turret.
Part of being efficient is parrying instead of blocking. Linear attacks
are more easily guided across the opponent’s centerline than forced
outward. When facing circular technique and not able to parry, employ
rotation or other body movement (usually in and to the opposite side of
the attack), to position yourself inside of the point of power on the
incoming technique. There is less power on a punch as you get closer to
the shoulder. In this case the block you are forced to use is more an
extra assurance than an actual block.
Another important point to remember when parrying is to meet and
intercept the attacking arm as far out as possible. This way, when you
deflect the attack off centerline, it will travel further off to the side
by the time it reaches the distance of its intended target (you). Also, be
wary of applying too much lateral motion to your parries. You don’t want
to follow the attack off centerline; you want to force it off centerline
and remain there. The best way to do that is to attack the centerline with
outward motion. Because your arms come from the side of your body, and
thus off centerline, the motion of moving to centerline itself is enough
lateral motion. The "pop" from your parries should come largely
from forward motion. This way if you glance off your parrying arm will end
up in the face of your opponent, not off to the side somewhere where it
does little good. Remember, strive for efficiency.
In gate theory, the body is divided into gates, or sections, that added
together cover the body from head to toe and shoulder to shoulder. This is
the area that must be protected from attack. In addition, another
dimension is added with the outer gate, so that every section of the front
of the body has an inner and outer gate associated with it. This is to
distinguish whether it is the outer or inner hand that will defend against
an attack to each gate. Certain attacks are better defended against with
the outer gate than the inner, and vice versa. Dividing the body in this
way, the practitioner can classify each technique according to the gate
that it defends against.
The concept of trapping is very important in Wing Chun, the idea
being to take the opponents limbs out of action. There are two main ways
this can be done. The most common form of trapping is to get one of the
opponent’s arms under the other and to press in or down, thus allowing
you to occupy both of the attacker’s hands with one of yours. The
benefits of this are obvious. A simple form of this type of trapping is
crossing the opponent up by parrying one arm toward the center and
pressing inward. This opens up the side of the opponent as well as putting
one arm in the way of the other.
Another type of trapping, less commonly utilized but no less important,
is pinning the opponent’s elbow to their body. A good cycle puncher will
keep one arm pinned to an opponent’s body by checking it on the return
stroke after each punch, and all this while marching the opponent
Gate punching is the ultimate in efficiency, as a gate punch
effectively parries or blocks an incoming attack on its way to its target.
To effectively execute an outer gate punch, one must utilize the method of
parrying described above. In this way, a parry can be continued on into a
strike without a change in motion. Slap parries require a change in
direction to continue on towards an opponent, and therefore cannot be used
for gate punching. In this gate punch, it is the motion of bringing the
arm from slightly off center onto center that facilitates the parry. The
forearm effectively bats anything off of centerline, and then carries the
hand in for the strike.
The inside gate punch is much more difficult to execute, and
involves forcing the opponent’s arm of centerline in the direction
against all of the opponent’s strength. This leaves your arm inside of
his, and effectively amounts to a block. As always, the parry is
preferable to the block, so keep this in mind.
As stated above, cycle punching is more than just hitting an opponent
with rolling blows. Cycle punching actually involves every other major
concept in Wing Chun, including parrying, gate punching, rotation and
often trapping. Therefore the motion of the arms in cycle punching is
critical! To begin, the punch must not, as is often though, begin on
centerline at your own chest. It is the motion of going to centerline that
affords the parrying motion, and allows the continuation on into a gate
punch. Rotation must also be added to cycle punches to provide power.
However, this rotation should be minimal. Also, a punch is not finished
after it reaches or does not reach its target. It is not useless until it
re-chambers for another strike. A returning punch can be used to drop down
and parry any incoming strikes to the lower gates, and can also serve to
keep an opponent’s arm pinned to their side by dropping down in its
cycle and hitting the elbow of the checked arm.
Another important concept to cycle punching is the concept of
circularity. Whatever the circle may be, whether it is in downward motion
to bat attacks downward, or vice versa, at least a slight circle should be
kept in all motion at all time. Linearity requires stopping and
re-starting of motion, something that takes far to long when we are
striving for efficiency.
You will find style specific basic technique here along with 2-person drills and forms.
This video is essentially what we had on our CD-ROMs and is now available for free! For basic gung fu technique,
check out our Training Section.
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