The Science of In-Fighting

By David Peterson


here are, it seems, many interpretations or styles of the Chinese martial art known as Wing Chun being taught throughout the world. Within these variations, like in all martial systems, there are inherent strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points, subtle and not so subtle differences. If what a particular school or instructor teaches is to meet the requirements of what is generally considered to be Wing Chun, a system whose origins are said to be an amalgamation of the most effective combat theories and techniques of several Chinese systems some two centuries ago, then it must meet certain criteria, namely it must reflect three distinct qualities - SIMPLICITY, DIRECTNESS and EFFICIENCY.

At the Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club, all aspects of our training emphasise and refine these three qualities. Our basic philosophy is that if something requires excessive movement, strength or effort, then it is not something we wish to waste time practising if a more practical method exists. In the words of our Hong Kong-based leader, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, "You can always replace money, but you can't replace time." Sifu Wong believed that if a student is allowed to, or worse, made to spend time on something which is unlikely to be of any use, the instructor is not only deceiving his/her students, but also him or herself as well.

Wing Chun is a system based upon logic and science. It requires neither great strength nor great athletic ability. What it does require, however, is a very precise understanding of some very basic combat principles and unless the instructor can get these across to the students, the likelihood is that the students will never fully realise their potential, no matter how skilful the instructor may be. In Wing Chun, it is not just a matter of copying movements, one has to know precisely why something is being done, when to apply it and, most importantly, how to develop and perfect such skills.

This being the case, we at the Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club (MCMAC) do not spend the majority of our training time alone in lines, punching the air, or engaged in make believe combat routines, but in contact with many partners, constantly testing and refining the principles and concepts gleaned from the three basic training patterns or forms of the Wing Chun system, namely (i) Siu Nim Tau, (ii) Cham Kiu, and (iii) Biu Ji. Training on the Muk Yan Jong, or "wooden dummy" also provides a means developing good positioning and accurate techniques and allows for the practise of techniques in a way which would not be appropriate on a "live" training partner. As well as a variety of training drills and reflex exercises done with partners, we at MCMAC also place a great deal of emphasis on the Chi Sau or "sticky hands" exercise to further develop instant reactions and technical precision and to provide us with a linking device for all of the above-mentioned concepts, forms and techniques.

Chi Sau has, in recent years, become a very misunderstood part of the Wing Chun training regime. There are those who say it has no application to combat and dismiss it as a useless exercise, and there are those who do nothing but Chi Sau, but for all the wrong reasons. Chi Sau is quite simply a means of developing practical reflexes and of refining them to the point where conscious thought is eliminated. It is not fighting per se, but it does provide the perfect environment in which to acquire and develop the skills and responses necessary for fighting an opponent at the worst possible range, ie. extreme close-range, a position where many other fighting systems do not have effective responses.

Chi Sau's main purpose is to enable the Wing Chun fighter to develop the means by which they can instinctively find or create gaps in the opponent's defences. The sensitivity developed through Chi Sau is such that whenever the path of an attack (by the Wing Chun fighter) is blocked, he or she automatically redirects the enemy's hands and continues the attack. Should the enemy not put up an effective defence, there is no need for the Chi Sau to be applied. In other words, Wing Chun does not fight by doing Chi Sau with the opponent, but if the Wing Chun fighter's own techniques are trapped, jammed or blocked by the opponent, Chi Sau training has provided him or her with the means to overcome the problem. By its very nature, Wing Chun is an attacking system, the belief being that the best form of defence is attack.

The other great advantage of Chi Sau training over the sparring normally seen in other martial art systems is the fact that it is totally spontaneous, virtually anything can and does happen so that the practitioners are constantly forced to react to very real attacks without the luxury of standing back to think about it. Instead of becoming a session of trading blows, "tit for tat" so to speak, Chi Sau training encourages the student of Wing Chun to treat every threat as a real one and to totally overwhelm the opponent at the first opportunity so as to render them unable to offer any kind of defence. In other words, through Chi Sau the Wing Chun student learns to dominate the situation with skill and controlled aggression, never being afraid to go forward and never making the mistake of trying to trade blows with the enemy.

Wing Chun in fact trains in reverse order to many other systems of combat. The first range to be developed is close-range, the theory being that as most situations end up at this range, one must excel at fighting there. From there, Wing Chun devotees work outwards, realising as they do that the greater the distance becomes, the more time one has at one's disposal and, consequently, the easier things become. After just a short time training at the In-fighting range, the Wing Chun student begins to realise the effectiveness of getting in close and tends to develop a distinct preference for this range. Contrary to what the many critics of Wing Chun may say, Wing Chun does indeed have medium- and long-distance techniques/strategies, and it does utilise kicking and ground-fighting, but it requires these so rarely that many people think that these skills don't exist within the system. Because of its efficient and subtle nature, Wing Chun trains these techniques and concepts in such a way that even some Wing Chun practitioners fail to appreciate their existence and potential.

Sifu Wong Shun Leung, under whom this writer and several of our students have had extensive training in Hong Kong, was a man who believed wholeheartedly in the importance of practical experience and practical training, having himself many times put his fighting skills to the test for the sake of improving himself as well as proving Wing Chun's effectiveness under real conditions. He prefered to refer to Wing Chun as a martial skill, rather than a martial art, simply because a skill is something which can be tested, proven and improved, whereas art is purely subjective. Like a piece of music or a painting, you can't "prove" whether it's good or bad, it's more a question of taste, but if you think that "A" can defeat "B" then it can be put to the test, their skill levels compared.

This then is the MCMAC approach to the training of Wing Chun, being as it is drawn from the training philosophy of my teacher, Sifu Wong Shun Leung, the man who almost single-handedly put Wing Chun on the martial arts map in Hong Kong in the 'fifties and 'sixties when he engaged in countless challenge matches against practitioners of all styles, including western boxing and fencing, emerging undefeated each time. The late Bruce Lee drew many of his fighting concepts from what he had learnt from Sifu Wong during those early days and applied that line of thinking to his own training, the result of course being his own expression of combat, Jeet Kune Do. We at MCMAC believe that not all Wing Chun is the same and that if one examines his or her own training by asking if it is truly SIMPLE, DIRECT and EFFICIENT, it may well be that it just doesn't measure up. Put quite simply, if your not attacking your opponent's attack, it's not Wing Chun; if you have to think, it's already too late! That is the essence of the Wong Shun Leung Way.

In order to maintain the highest possible standards, students and instructors at MCMAC regularly spend extended periods of time training at Sifu Wong's school in Hong Kong. As often as possible, MCMAC invited Sifu Wong to Australia to conduct classes and seminars while he was alive. We at MCMAC are constantly striving to pass on the very best Wing Chun skills possible and take great pleasure in sharing Sifu Wong's teachings with anyone willing to put aside pride and ego in order to journey down what we believe to be a more rewarding path to combat proficiency. You just may find that the Wong Shun Leung Way can answer questions for which you have been unable to find a satisfactory solution. We are confident that we have something of value to share with you.


About the Author

David Peterson has been training in the Chinese martial arts since 1973. He became a student of Sifu Wong Shun Leung after travelling to Hong Kong in 1983. He is a teacher of the Chinese language and principal instructor of the ‘Melbourne Chinese Martial Arts Club’ where he instructs in the "Wong Shun Leung Method". Peterson is one of only two authorised and qualified instructors of Wong’s system in Australia, and a fully endorsed member of the world-wide ‘Wong Shun Leung Wing Chun Martial Arts Association’ and the Hong Kong-based 'Ving Tsun Athletic Association'. He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in many local (Australian) and overseas journals, including "Combat", "Inside Kung-fu", "Black Belt", "Masters of the Martial Arts", "Impact: the Action Movie Magazine", "Eastern Heroes", "Australasian Fighting Arts", "Blitz Australasian Martial Arts Magazine", "Australasian Martial Arts Magazine", "Traditional Martial Arts Journal", "Impact Martial Arts Magazine", "Qi Magazine", "Martial Arts Illustrated", "Kicksider" and "Kung Fu Illustrierte". More recently, his articles have featured on several international Web sites in both the English and German languages.

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