Wing Chun is a southern style of Chinese kung-fu, the most influential Chinese martial art in modern times. Wing chun emphasizes self-defense reduced to its most streamlined rudiments: simultaneous attack and defense with multiple straight-line strikes at extremely close range.
Every punch, poke, strike, slap, or kick in the system has been designed to serve as a defense; similarly every block, deflection, or evasion has been designed to double as an attack. Rapid hand techniques combined with low kicks tend to be featured in an aggressive array of constant forward pressure.
Wing chun students are taught to insure the most effective deployment of their striking techniques by controlling, or "trapping," one or more of an opponent's limbs whenever possible. Trapping skills are developed through a competitive form of resistance training called chi sao, or "sticking hands," which besides strengthening the upper body tends to make a student combat-effective faster than students in most other fighting arts.
Formal wing chun training also includes instruction in three shadow-boxing sets, a wooden dummy set, and two weapon sets. The first shadow-boxing set called sil lum tao, or "way of the small idea," contains the core of the art's techniques although the routine focuses primarily on breathing, balance, coordination as well as correct hand and arm positions. The second set, called chum kil, or "searching for the bridge," teaches defensive maneuvering skills and closing techniques. The last shadow-boxing set, called bil gee, or "thrusting fingers," develops fingers strikes.
The wooden dummy set (muk yen chong) is performed on a training device unique to wing chun composed of a wooden trunk, three arms, and one leg. This set teaches the applications of trapping, controlling, and basic combat techniques. White crane techniques are mirrored in others styles but are usually limited to short fists (hon kuen), pecking hands, and kicks. There are also weapons. White crane has ten weapon sets, each with approximately 100 moves. The two weapons sets develop fighting skills with an eight foot long pole (luk dim boun kwan), which is especially useful against multiple opponents, and with the twin butterfly knives (pak charn dao).
According to semilegendary accounts, wing chun originated in the early 1700s at the Shaolin Temple in Honan Province. At that time in Chinese history, the Shaolin Temple with its long established tradition of martial arts training had become a sanctuary for dissidents, evolutionaries, and secret societies dedicated to the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty. The Manchu government employed professional soldiers who were highly skilled in the martial arts and well versed in the fighting tactics of the Shaolin Temple. Whenever they were sent into an area of Shaolin activity to enforce the Manchu will, they quickly put a halt to the Robin Hood operations of the rebellious monks.
The Shaolin monks eventually realized that they could not rapidly train a young rebel to match the fighting skills of the Manchu soldiers since full mastery of the Shaolin martial arts required approximately eighteen years. A solution to this problem needed to be found. The elders of the temple convened a meeting and agreed to develop a new fighting art which would overcome all others, and which would take a much shorter period of time to learn.
The elders met regularly and engaged in lengthy discussions during which each elder revealed his or her most secret fighting techniques. Soon the elders became so encouraged by the progress of these discussions that they renamed the martial arts training room in which they met Wing Chun Hall, or Forever Springtime Hall. The words "wing chun" expressed their hopes for a renaissance in Shaolin martial arts instruction, as well as for a more effective weapon in their struggle against the Manchus.
However before the new fighting art could be completely developed, a Shaolin traitor tipped off the government and Manchu soldiers were sent to destroy the temple. Most of the temple residents were killed in the attack, and the few who survived quickly fled to clandestine locations throughout China. Among the survivors was a nun named Ng Mui who had been one of the temple elders. After the raid, she hid herself at a nunnery on Tai Leung Mountain between Szechwan and Yunan provinces. She spent her time there finalizing the movements of the new fighting art. Once completed, Ng Mui decided to call the art "wing chun" after the Wing Chun Hall in which she and the other elders had held their discussions.
Ng Mui taught the new art to the teenage daughter of bean-curd vendor Yim Yee Gung who lived in the village at the bottom of Tai Leung Mountain. Shortly before Ng Mui's death, she named her student Yim Wing Chun since the girl had been entrusted with the art's future. For the next two hundred years, wing chun remained a private kung-fu system, taught only to family and friends, until 1952 in Hong Kong when grandmaster Yip Man first offered commercial instruction.
Although over 90 percent of the wing chun schools in the world today can be traced directly to the efforts of Yip Man and his students, the art has evolved into two branches of instruction. The first, which may be termed centerline wing chun, represents the form of the art taught to Yip Man by Chan Wah Shun. Chan was an extraordinarily large and powerful man. His teaching stressed direct and overpowering aggression.
Centerline wing chun, therefore, is based on an imaginary straight line, called the "centerline," which is drawn from the wing chun practitioner's solar plexus to the opponent's chin. The centerline forms the axis for all attacks and defenses. As long as the centerline remains in alignment directly in front of an opponent, the wing chun practitioner can attack in a straight charge, with straight punches, straight up the opponent's middle. The clenched fist becomes the primary offensive weapon, reinforced by secondary open hand work and low kicks.The formal sets in centerline wing chun lack standardization since Yip Man changed them over the years and frequently modif fed them in accordance with each student's abilities.
Grandmaster Wong Shun Leung of Hong Kong is generally regarded as the foremost exponent of centerline wing chun, although other prominent instructors include Koo Sang (Hong Kong), Leung Ting (Hong Kong), Lo Lan Kam (Taiwan), Lee Sing (Britain), Moy Yat (New York), Jason Lau (New York), Alan Lamb (California), Hawkins Cheung (California), Keith Kernspect (West Germany), and Greco Wong (South Africa), Paul Maslak and Grand Master William Cheung (Australia).