This article will attempt to summarize briefly the history of Wing Chun and explain its effectiveness.
The true history of Wing Chun Kung Fu is shrouded in mystery and lost in the mists of time. But we can put together an approximate picture. Before the 19th Century, hand-held weapons ruled the world. The bow was on top (can kill from a distance) followed by the sword and the spear. People who had these weapons (and knew how to use them) had the power.
There wasn’t much in the way of police or military authority on most of the sparsely populated planet – it was the Wild West all over, pockets of civilization surrounded by wilderness and “brigands,” armed thugs taking what they wanted from regular people.
In China, as in the rest of the world, weapons training became perfected. People learned to use their sword or their pole more efficiently to get more of their body weight behind a strike, to move more fluidly and with less effort. At the same time, complementary “empty hand” techniques and systems developed for use in cases where there was no weapon available or the weapon was lost during a fight.
A weapon almost always beats the empty hand, but over the centuries, people developed nearly magical capabilities by using their bodies in the most efficient way, developing their reflexes using training regimens, and by developing other supporting capabilities such as breath work, energy development and so forth.
In the 1700s, the Manchu (semi-civilized Mongols) conquered the Hon, the people previously ruling most of China. From the point of view of the Hon, the situation was much like the movie Star Wars. A militarily powerful “evil empire” took power and dominated the majority population. An underground movement began and rebel armies were organized.
In those days, weapons technology meant building a better bow or a sharper, more durable sword. It also meant kung fu skills. If your soldiers had superior training in the use of their weapons and their bare hands, you could win. So kung fu skills were military secrets – think “stealth bomber” or “nuclear bomb.” You kept your kung fu techniques and training methods secret to keep your edge over the enemy.
This is why kung fu methods were wrapped in mystery for so many centuries – they were military secrets.
What is the secret of Wing Chun?
In the days of the Manchu/Hon conflict, learning a martial art was very time consuming. Learning a system might take 15 years. The Hon needed an army and they didn’t want to wait 15 years (although they eventually had to wait hundreds of years before the Manchu fell).
A number of masters got together and started working on a new, distilled system which could be taught quickly. Think 6 months of concentrated training. They wanted to develop a system which could be taught to a green recruit and in 6 months that recruit would stand a chance against a Manchu soldier who had done the 15 years of training in the classical systems.
In those days, kung fu methods and techniques were military secrets and so often, the most effective aspects of systems were “held back” and taught only to the most dedicated students. Often these secrets were not literally taught, but had to be discerned by the student through many hundreds and thousands of hours of training. The secrets had to be discovered individually and were never taught explicitly.
The inventors of Wing Chun came to agreement on what the most important and powerful aspects of fighting were, the secrets, and taught them first. They took those hidden or held back secrets and taught them to the students starting the first day.
What are the secrets?
To stand the best chance of winning, attack the head and neck (the nervous system and the respiratory system).
Be aggressive – attack the attack. Your attack is your defense.
Attack the weak points. Most importantly, attack at an angle where the opponent is weak. The strongest point of your empty handed attack is a triangle directly in front of you, formed by your shoulders as the base and your arms as the other two lines.
This is also your opponents strongest point. Rather than running into that strong point, you change the angle of attack. You want your strong point to meet their weak point.
Hit with the elbow down and the body aligned for ground power, using what we call “structure.”
There are other :secrets” in Wing Chun. Chaining the attack. How to make your skills a reflex. How to develop your reflexes so your arms can move independently, attacking and defending simultaneously. How to flow from position to position fluidly based on the actions of your opponent.
Wing Chun is, in essence, a compendium of “best practices” and principles for fighting compiled by highly experienced Chinese soldiers in the 18th Century and refined by a series of experienced and intelligent fighters for the next 300 years.
It has been called Ving Tsun, Wing Tsun, WingTsun, and Wing Chun but it is fundamentally a science of how to fight with your bare hands based on the experience on 18th Century Chinese soldiers.
Also see: Wing Chun: A Gentleman’s Art.