This is an often reprinted essay by Sifu Duncan Leung, student of Yip Man, which has been reposted so many times I don’t even know whom to attribute it to, other than Sifu Leung himself.
What Yip Man Taught Me About Speed
Recently an acquaintance gave me a copy of QiGong/KungFu Magazine, the March 1999 issue, which featured an article written by Master Ron Heimberger. My friend did not quite understand the principles that Master Heimberger was trying to elucidate. Because of my background as a private student of Yip Man, and my subsequent involvement in Wing Chun Kung Fu, he thought I might be able to throw some light on the subject. I ask the reader’s indulgence for my attempt to explain what Yip Man taught me.
Since my English is not very good, I read the article several times. I am glad that Master Heimberger is kind enough to take the time to educate the public. If all Wing Chun instructors possessed an open mind like him, amenable to reason, and were willing to go to the trouble of explaining their ideas and experiences to others, I am sure it would benefit everyone interested in the art. However, there are some parts in Master Heimberger’s article with which I do not agree. Certain points that the author makes are somewhat obscure to me, particularly his references to Jacob Bronowski and Albert Einstein. For example, Master Heimberger mentions that Bronowski — commenting on Newton’s Second Law of Motion — said that force equals mass times acceleration squared. This confuses me because, as I understand it, Newton’s Second Law states that S F = ma, which does not square acceleration.
Since Mr. Heimberger discusses speed in Wing Chun, I would like to take the liberty to share my interpretation of the principles and theories about speed based on what SiFu Yip Man taught me and on my own experience. Naturally, what I write here is filtered through my own perceptions and prejudices; I certainly do not claim to speak for the Wing Chun family, and would welcome any correction that is offered. That certainly would help me improve. It is my hope that many Wing Chun members will share their ideas with all of us, no matter who they have learned from. The experience of using the Wing Chun techniques in fighting is what counts. After all, no single fight is the same. We can always learn something new, or — win or lose — find out something from each encounter.
What makes the Wing Chun style so interesting is that one does not have to rely on physical build, but on a logical sequence of economic movements. Certainly speed is extremely important in fighting. However, no matter how hard one trains, how long one works to improve, there are always physical limitations. You can always meet someone faster than you. Some people are simply born with more talent. Wing Chun allows one the possibility of overcoming an opponent’s inherent superior speed by applying the principles of the art. Yip Man taught that in Wing Chun, there are several types of speed. If you cannot overcome your opponent with one type of speed, you can beat him with another. In other words, if you can apply the Wing Chun theory of speed, you can actually become faster. In this regard, there are four areas of concern:
1. SPEED OF TRAVELING
This is the type of speed we normally refer to, that is, a punch or kick, a speed which speed can be calculated in feet per second. With consistent practice, one gradually improves the speed of the movement.
2. SPEED OF DISTANCE
Wing Chun straight-line theory states simply that a straight line between two points is the shortest distance. Therefore, punching straight is shorter and quicker than a hook punch or a swing. To bring your foot with a roundhouse kick to the head covers a greater distance than a shorter and quicker punch to the head. It is the same as trying to punch to the shin; that is, it is much shorter and faster to kick to the shin. To use an analogy: if you and I both stand in front of a building and have a race to the back door and you go around the building while I go straight through the building from the front door to the back door, you may be the faster runner, but I may get there before you because I have less distance to cover.