Wing Chun Kung Fu is based on a system designed for one purpose – hand to hand combat! The system itself was designed by China’s famous Shaolin monks following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Ching. The monks’ immediate goal was to turn ordinary citizens into elite combat troops in the shortest possible time. Their ultimate goal was to help the Ming Royal Family create revolutionary armies capable of defeating the Ching Dynasty and restoring the Ming to the throne of China. These revolutionary troops, like today’s elite special forces, had to be capable of defeating imperial soldiers possessing years of professional military training and combat experience. Only a complete martial arts system focused on human physiology and based on the principles of simplicity, efficiency, and directness — coupled with a fully integrated subsystem of training methodologies — could be expected to achieve these goals. Every movement of the hands and feet had to be coordinated with body unity and full body energy. At the same time, each movement needed to facilitate direct application of fighting skills. Consequently, every technique needed to reflect the entire system by adhering to the same principles of simplicity, efficiency, and directness while contributing to the sole output product of the system — combat ability. The same can be said of the strategies and tactics needed to employ these techniques. The success of the monks’ efforts to create such a system is highly evident in one of the system’s simplest, yet most elegant and effective techniques, the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Punch.
The punch is so named to give credit to the secret society (the Hung Fa Yi) responsible for passing the monks’ complete system on to secret revolutionary fighting cells and, ultimately, to today’s Wing Chun practitioners. This single technique clearly illustrates the principles of simplicity, efficiency, and directness. To fully understand this illustration, we will examine the following underlying concepts of the Wing Chun system: body structure/unity, the Five-Line Concept, stance mobility and footwork, the Triangle Theory, and the Gate Concept.
The Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun punch is considered by most experts to be the most effective hand to hand combat punch because it is the most direct (travels the shortest distance) and is supported by the entire body structure rather than just the arm and shoulder. In much the same way that a building is supported by a strong foundation, the body structure specified by the Wing Chun system provides the punch its maximal effectiveness. For this reason, prior to training for the development of speed, power, and sensitivity, Wing Chun practitioners first emphasize and train body structure and unity.
In forming the Wing Chun punch, the wrist is never bent. It is held straight such that the bones on the back of the hand are aligned with those of the wrist and forearm allowing for the strongest shock impact supported by the rest of the arm, body, and root. In contrast, a bent wrist engenders two major problems for a combat fighter: the risk of self-injury, and the unintended dissipation of shock energy. The bent wrist is prone to impact-induced injury associated with the wrist bending back violently. Unintended dissipation of shock energy occurs when the bones are not fully aligned; upon impact, the energy from the punch travels two different directions (one forward and one sideward). To further comprehend proper body structure and unity for supporting the punch, the practitioner must fully understand the Five-Line Concept of Wing Chun. It is crucial to the execution of the punch.
The Five-Line Concept is based on reference lines that extend from specific points on the body to specific points in front of the body. The included drawing depicts these lines and their relationship to the upper and middle reference points and the upper gate. The lines themselves can be categorized as three Yang lines and two Yin lines. Two of the three Yang lines, also referred to as “Zero” lines, are located at the borders of the body at the tips of the shoulders. The third Yang line is called the “One” line or “Centerline” and divides the body in half vertically. This line is considered the one true line of the body and covers many vulnerable vital points of human anatomy. The two Yin lines are located midway between the Yang lines and are sometimes referred to as the “Nipple” lines.
The Hung Fa Yi introduce the Five-Line Concept in the opening of Wing Chun’s first form, Siu Nim Tao. The arms are raised, fingers to eye level, palms down, straight up along the Yang borderlines. This motion identifies the border of the body which must be protected. Then, in a single motion, the fists are clenched, turned at a 45 degree angle while aligning the elbow along the Yin line, and the knuckles are lowered to the throat level. The elbows, pointing down, are kept one fist distance from the body and lined up with the Yin lines. When retracting the punch, “Jang Dai Lik,” or elbow power, is developed by drawing the elbows back and out to the sides of the body, while never bringing the elbows closer than one fist distance from the body.
Stance mobility and footwork are emphasized next in developing punch comprehension. The footwork of Wing Chun never advances in a straight line. Advancing straight forward gives the opponent an equal opportunity to attack and oppose force with force, thereby creating a head-on collision of speed and power. For example, if the opponent extends both hands from his body to the centerline, his arms inscribe a triangle surrounding his center space. Advancing straight forward would bring an opponent directly into the tip of that triangle, the point of its greatest strength. Rather than take this approach, the footwork of the Wing Chun system advances through angulation. Closing on an opponent at an angle gives the practitioner control over his own timing and his opponent’s five lines. At an angle the opponent’s five lines are facing away from the practitioner. To provide the needed mobility, the practitioner maintains an equal weight distribution in his stance throughout his stepping and bracing to effectuate the angulation and subsequent advancement.
The next important facet of Wing Chun punch comprehension is training utilization of the triangle theory for maximum effectiveness. Maximum power and support are generated via the alignment of body components in these inherently solid triangular formations. Multiple triangles are created in the opening movements of Siu Nim Tao. The first triangle is identified in the accompanying drawing. The points of this triangle extend from the tip of the shoulder to the elbow (on the Yin line) to the center (on the “One” line). The elbow must line up exactly between the tip of the shoulder and the One line.
By bringing the fists down and back along the Centerline so that the knuckles line up at throat level, another triangle is created between the upper reference point and the middle reference point. The upper reference point is located between the nose and the upper lip. The middle reference point is located in front of the sternum. A third triangle is formed with the elbow, tailbone, and the knee. Combined, these three triangles describe a properly held fist. When a force is applied to such a fist, the elbow, hip, and root support it.
The Siu Nim Tao form teaches the practitioner to keep the tailbone tucked in while punching so as to avoid leaning into the punch. The second point of support is the knee. The hip on the punching side is tucked in and the toes of the same side foot point to the target, the opponent’s center. The toes of this foot must point to the target so that the knee bends in such a way as to have the most effective support from the heel.
The correct structure of the Wing Chun punch can be easily assessed. To test your own Wing Chun punch structure, have your partner start by having one palm over his other palm against your fist. Next, he should lean with all his weight so that he is on his toes and his back is straight. Any distortion in your punch structure, such as an outward turned toe (on the same side as the punch) or the elbow drifting outside the triangle, will result in an inability to support your partner’s weight.
In throwing the Wing Chun punch (or open hand strike), the practitioner always attacks the upper gate, even in practice. The upper gate is also identified in the Siu Nim Tao form. The wrists are crossed like an “X” at the upper reference point (between the nose and the upper lip). The space above the elbows represents the upper gate.
Before the punch extends in Siu Nim Tao, the wrist is lined up in front of the sternum. The fist is held so that the bottom three knuckles create the striking surface. This initial position protects the centerline. If an opponent intercepts the punch early in its travel, the practitioner has two options. A stronger practitioner can overcome his opponent’s weaker energy, while the smaller practitioner must adjust with footwork.
As the punch extends it continues to the upper gate position (knuckles between the nose and upper lip). As this extension occurs, the entire forearm travels in a straight line, followed by constant direct support from the elbow. The elbow is continually lined up on the Yin line but never fully extended. By keeping his elbow on the Yin line, the practitioner can easily intercept his opponent’s inside attack with his own forearm, no matter how fast that attack develops.
When a smaller practitioner punches a larger opponent’s body, it may not be as effective as desired. But the eyes, nose, and teeth, located at the upper gate, are fragile. A strike to the eyes will disable the opponent, resulting in his inability to see and, therefore, his inability to fight. If a smaller practitioner punches low, the larger opponent protecting his upper gate can counter with a Saat Geng Sau (knife hand to the throat). Attacking the upper gate keeps the opponent occupied. The opponent cannot ignore the fact that an attack is aimed at his face. This keeps him on the defensive and the practitioner retains the offensive advantage.
Executed properly, the Wing Chun punch allows even the small practitioner maximum punching effectiveness, because it is supported by his entire body structure. The structure of the punch gives the opponent difficulty in countering with such common techniques as Biu Sau (thrusting fingers) or Pak Sau (slapping hand). If the opponent applies Biu Sau, he would have to uplift the practitioner’s entire body weight to effectively break his structure.
From the initial emphasis on body structure, the Wing Chun practitioner advances into concepts dealing with time and space factors. With an understanding of time and space factors, speed and power become secondary considerations.
In traditional Wing Chun, as practiced and passed on to us by the Hung Fa Yi, techniques become an expression of the application of the arts concepts, principles, and theories. The precision of that expression is constantly evaluated using the sciences of physics and physiology in conjunction with body structure, and ultimately weighed against the all encompassing principles of simplicity, efficiency, and directness. Thus we come full circle back to where we started. Such is the nature of any journey through a true system or any of its properly functioning subsystems. Wing Chun Kung Fu is based on the science of fighting and the absolute sciences of physics, physiology and kinesthetics. It is supported by a highly structured training methodology that ensures the student/practitioner derives maximum attributal development from these sciences. Properly adhered to, the Wing Chun system can replicate elite fighters who can readily demonstrate that the Wing Chun punch has the entire system behind it!
The authors would like to give special thanks to Gee for the technical details provided on behalf of the Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun Kuen.
Grand Master Benny Meng