Wing Chun

From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia
Wing Chun


Wing Chun is a Southern Chinese Kung Fu style best known for serving as Bruce Lee’s first martial art.1 It is a compact martial art that prefers the trapping range, which is the distance in a fight between long range punching and actual grappling. All the punching techniques are close range and the kicks are low, and generally not aimed above the abdomen. In a fight the Wing Chun fighter will attempt to immediately advance into his opponent, striking through the shortest distance between the anterior vertical centerline of his body towards the anterior vertical centerline of his opponent's body. This control of the “centerline” is a hallmark of Wing Chun.


Internally the system is organized into three empty handed forms: sil lum tao, chum kil, and bil gee. There is a wooden dummy form that traditionally has 116 techniques and is practiced on a specialized piece of training equipment. There are also two weapons sets using the “dragon pole” and two “butterfly” swords. Wing Chun students also spend a lot of time studying chi sao which translates into “sticking hands”, a series of exercises that have pairs of students attempting to roll their hands through various wing chun blocking positions while sensing openings in the other person’s guard and striking though these openings.

Origin and Politics


According to myth, the origin of Wing Chun traces back to the Shaolin Temple through a nun named Ng Mui who escaped from the temple while it was being destroyed by Manchu troops.2 Supposedly, she trained a female successor whom she renamed Yip Wing Chun and she in turn passed this art down to male successors until it was first taught commercially in Hong Kong in 1952 by Yip Man.3 To their credit, many Wing Chung Instructors such as Yip Man’s son, Yip Chun, now describe this story as being fictitious. Their real lineage stemming from one Cheung Ng who was affiliated with the Hung Fa Wui Koon (a Cantonese opera group) and the Hung Suen (Red Boat Opera) in the early 1700s.4

What is undisputed is that the vast majority of Wing Chun Schools in the world descend from Yip Man. Since his death, Wing Chun has greatly fragmented into multiple schools with sifus even spelling its name in different ways, Wing Chun, Wing Tsun, Ving Chun, etc. This has led to many jokes at Bullshido over who has the “real” Wing Chun and the use of the spelling “__ing __un” to recognize this reality. The most noticeable infighting within the Wing Chun world has been between former Yip Man students William Cheung and Leung Ting.

After Man’s death, William claimed that his master had taught everyone else (including by implication, his own son Yip Chun) a modified form of Wing Chun which was less effective then "Traditional" Wing Chun which of course Man had only taught secretly to himself, William Cheung. Others like Leung Ting were outraged that Cheung made these statements. During an infamous incident during the 1980s, A Turkish man named Emin Boztepe managed to knock William Cheung to the ground at a German Wing Chun seminar and pounded him before the fight was broken up. Boztepe later taught for Leung Ting though he has since broken away from Ting. Some observers such as Bruce Thomas suggest that Cheung probably modified Wing Chun to introduce better, more flexible footwork and then decided to attribute his innovations to Yip Man.5 The bottom line is the method Cheung used to justify his modifications put him at odds with almost everyone else who did Wing Chun and helped lay the groundwork for much of the present politics in the Wing Chun world.

The Good

The advantages of Wing Chun are that it contains relatively few techniques and forms. By using its sensitivity drills a novice can reach competency in this art much faster then they can in other, more convoluted art forms in which the essential and most useful techniques are not practiced with the student for quite some time.

The Bad

  1. It has no real ground game.

  2. The footwork is very linear, and not flexible the way foot work is in such arts/sport as Western Boxing.

  3. Because many of the hand techniques involve eye jabs, and bare hand strikes, most Wing Chun schools do not spar full contact.

  4. Students spend a lot of time on the chi sao exercise to “improve sensitivity”. While being able to feel what your opponent is doing by touch is a useful skill, the average person who attacks you will not be holding his hands like a Wing Chun student, so most of this skill is not applicable to real life.

The Ugly

After the 1960s there do not seem to be many Wing Chun students who have tested their skills in public full contact contests where the results could be filmed and evaluated.


1 - Once in America Bruce left this system to pioneer his own way, which has since been called Jeet Kune Do. We’ll skip the argument concerning what Jeet Kune Do actually is.

2 - The specific year this happened is not part of the myth but most accounts place this event sometime in the 1600s or 1700s. The Manchu or Ch’ing Dynasty ruled, or attempted to rule China between 1636 and 1912. For a version of this myth see John Corcoran and Emil Farkas, The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition-History-Pioneers (Pro-Action Publishing, Los Angeles, 1993), pp. 101-102. By the way, how did a nun end up staying for an extended period of time at what was a male monastery?

3 - Ibid, see p. 101.

4 - Yip Chun with Danny Conner, Wing Chun Martial Arts: Principles & Techniques (Samuel Weiser, Inc. York Beach, Maine, 1993), pp. 17-23. See also and for articles by Benny Meng with a different chronology but one that still believes that the traditional myth is wrong.

5 - Bruce Thomas, Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit, (Frog Ltd, Berkeley California, 1994), pp. 307-309.