“For learning the wooden dummy…most people think they will practice their arm very strong … I can break the opponent’s arm! It’s wrong.
In Wing Chun, all the touching is angle. When you touching your angle and using your power point to help your structure you save a lot of energy and you won’t be using force against the force of your opponent….If I am an old man but my angle is correct … I can take your position and hit you out very easy.”
Gary Lam, Complete Wooden Dummy DVD
The Wing Chun Wooden Dummy is a widely misunderstood tool.
Although it’s used in other systems of Chinese martial arts, such as Hung Gar and Choy Li Fut, the Wooden Dummy (or Mook Yan Jong) is the signature tool of the Wing Chun system and one of the most important pieces of equipment a Wing Chun fighter uses to develop their skill.
But from what I see on Youtube, most people are using this equipment incorrectly. In this article, I’ll describe the mistakes people make and the correct use of this iconic training tool.
Ip Man brought the concept of the Wing Chun Wooden Dummy with him from Foshan to Hong Kong, but he didn’t bring any actual dummies. In fact, I think he barely escaped the communists with the clothes on his back! He’d been a military policeman for the Guomindang, the political party which fought the communists for power before losing in the late 1940s. So when the communists won, he had to get out of the country fast.
Master Ip learned how to “play” the Wooden Dummy from Chan Wah Chun on a buried dummy (such as the one Donnie Yen plays in the first Ip Man film).
The frame mount version most of us were trained on was developed after Master Ip moved to Hong Kong with the assistance of a carpenter (Fung Shek). Master Ip was no longer wealthy and lived and taught in high rise apartments, so it wasn’t practical to bury a dummy in your floor, as it would be sticking out of the ceiling of your downstairs neighbor.
Different teachers utilize the dummy at different points in the curriculum, but in the Wong Shun Leung lineage, it’s usually introduced at the intermediate stage, somewhere between the Siu Lum Tao and Chum Kiu forms are taught (or just after CK).
I think many people have only learned the system for a year or two and often have not had proper training in the use of this equipment. So they train on it the way they think it should be used, which is often incorrectly and of little use. Yet people are excited by this tool, so they like to film themselves beating on it!
Looks cool, right?
Here is a list of the top 5 mistakes people make in their Wing Chun Wooden Dummy training.
#1 They use the Wooden Dummy to “condition” their arms.
I’ve seen this in person and on the internet. Someone beats the crap out of the dummy, making a lot of noise and causing the dummy to slide wildly on its rails. While this looks (and sounds) impressive, its wrong and a misapplication of time and energy.
Sifu Gary Lam, tells a story about his teacher, Wong Shun Leung (legendary street fighter of Hong Kong). One of Sifu Wong’s students always practiced on the Wooden Dummy with a lot of force. One day, he hit the dummy so hard, one of its arms broke off. “He very happy and then bring the broken arm to my Sifu. Sifu, I did it! I broke the arm!” Wong looked at the student, took the arm and thumped the student on the head with it, and said, “Now we have to buy a new one!”
The idea that you want to “toughen” your arms by hitting the dummy calls to mind the sort of Iron Palm and Iron Body Chi Gung practices of other Chinese fighting systems. This is not the purpose of this equipment in the Wing Chun system.
Wing Chun is a system of deflection.
We use angle to deflect incoming power. This is one of our “secrets.” Wing Chun does not fight power with power. It fights power with re-direction. This is why, as Sifu Lam says above, even if the Wing Chun fighter is an old man, they can still use the fighting technology of the system to overcome a bigger, stronger fighter. The Wing Chun fighter deflects incoming attacks, not intercepting the power but sending the power off at an angle.
This is one of the ways we “let the power go.”
Sifu Gary Lam often used the story of a Mercedes – Honda crash to illustrate this point.