18 Focus Points on the Wooden Dummy

Sifu Martin has passionately trained martial arts since 1982. In addition to Wing Chun, he has experience with catch wrestling, Jiu-jitsu, Karate, Shaolin Kung Fu, Boxing, Thai boxing and Escrima. Since 1993, Sifu Martin has primarily trained and taught Wing Chun.

In 2007 Sifu Martin travelled around China to find the greatest master alive. On his journey, Sifu Martin trained with and interviewed a wide range of recognized masters of Wing Chun. One of these masters was Sifu Wan Kam Leung, who really stood out from all other Sifus. Touching hands with Sifu Wan was like nothing he had ever experienced before.

It felt like Sifu Wan had super powers, constantly controlling the situation and always many steps ahead. Sifu Wan’s theoretical explanations were so enlightening and logical, that Martin had no doubt – he had found his Master. 

Sifu Martin saw the extraordinary potential in this system and decided to become a full time teacher and practitioner. Since 2007 Sifu Martin has been traveling to Hong Kong several times every year to train privately with Sifu Wan.

He is the first official instructor of Wan Kam Leung’s Practical Wing Chun in Scandinavia and has been traveling around the world with Sifu Wan assisting him on seminars and camps.

Since 1994, Martin also studied and taught sports performance coaching, teaching methodology and biomechanics. Together with his interest in philosophy and psychology, his background makes him a unique teacher in Martial Arts.

Today Sifu Martin travels the world to spread this amazing art and to honor his Sifu and the beautiful culture in Chinese Kung Fu.

Sifu Martin’s vision is to further develop the Practical Wing Chun system, showing the world its greatness and making it accessible for anyone with the right mindset.

There are many Wing Chun linages, which differ in strategies, tactics, methods and techniques. But the basic system structure, and most of the fundamental principles are the same. The many Wing Chun academies also differ in training methods, but the training parameters available are alike, as are the physical laws we follow. Therefore, this article is written in a way which is not limited to a specific Wing Chun linage, but focuses on the elements we share.

The dummy as a tool

The wooden dummy (Muk Yan Jong), is often associated with Wing Chun, but it is actually a training tool used in many different Chinese Martial arts. The legendary story of the special hall of the wooden dummy men, in the southern Shaolin temple has brought lots of interest to the wooden dummy.

The majority of martial arts from southern china claim to be descended from the Shaolin temple. Naturally, many of them have some variation of the wooden dummy as a training tool.

The Wooden Dummy form

Since I started seriously working on the dummy, my Wing Chun skills have evolved to a whole new level. I have seen the same thing happening to numerous of my students. The wooden dummy form is a choreographed selection of techniques from the 3 unarmed forms. The dummy form is not just an “alphabet” you can use as a reference. There is a very specific reason why one technique follows the next. The sequences of techniques relate to specific combinations, which contains strategies, tactics and methods that should be understood.

In that way, the wooden dummy form contains fundamental insights, which will help the student to obtain a deeper understanding of various aspects of their Wing Chun. But once you master the form and the purpose behind the sequence, most of your training should be a mix of movements which isn’t dependent on that specific sequence but instead, trains the various changes between different techniques which fit together.

After years of training, the sequence will naturally flow with perfect accuracy, coordination, balance, economy of motion and use of force. It is then time for experimentation and improvisation.

This kind of strategic creativity will bring you to the next level.

Preparation for dummy training

Before starting the dummy training, there are certain skills that must be mastered in order to get the intended outcome and prevent injury. First you must understand the basic centreline theories, and then you have to master the fundamental skills of stance and footwork. Once you can move fluently, with the right body structure, without thinking, you are ready for dummy training.

But remember, the secret lies in the details, like most things truly worth learning.

The 18 focus points

The dummy provides a method of training when one doesn’t have a training partner, and never gets tired or complains. Techniques can be executed with a high degree of power, without fear of injuring a training partner. It helps you to integrate and apply various aspects of the system in new ways.

1. Insight: understanding the purpose of each technique and how it relates to the next technique in the form. E.g. positions, movement patterns, speed and timing, including amount and flow of force.

This doesn’t mean that you already have all these skills, it just means that you have a clear and holistic purpose in your training, and you know what you need to improve.

2. Positioning: The ability to place your body in an advantageous position and an ideal distance in relation to your opponent. It is about having the right distance, angle, stance and body structure in relation to the opponent. In that way, you can maximize control, target availability and power generation and at the same time minimize your opponent’s ability to have control, reach a target or generate force.

3. Precision: The ability to control movement in a specific direction or at a given intensity. Every single movement should be isolated and trained separately over and over again until optimal precision is mastered.

You can use the dummy to reinforce the alignment of all the body plains, axes, lines, angles and rotations that you need to consider. Your focus should constantly include direction and amount of force, speed and economy of motion. Even the slightest error in your precision tends to be magnified on the dummy and can therefore easily be recognized and corrected.

Due to the inflexible limbs on the dummy, some of the technical movement patterns are limited. This has to be taken into account so as not to develop bad habits. For the same reason, it is a good idea to regularly train the dummy form in the air, so you can practice the techniques the way they should look when used on a movable and less rigid opponent. One tip on the fundamentals of precision is to keep your head still while moving – it is just like shooting a gun. Aiming is easier with at stable eye-position.

4. Balance and stability: The ability to control the placement of the body’s centre of gravity in relation to its base of support.

Balance and stability is derived from the proper alignment of the body’s major joints (ankle, knee, hip, spine, shoulder belt, shoulder, elbow and wrist), relative to the position of the attacker. E.g. the head is stacked above the spine, maintaining midline stability and minimizing changes in midline shape.

In that way, everything remains solid, movements become more economical and it is easier to remain stable under the pressure of combat. The other side to this is the sensation of being well connected to the ground, also known as “rooted”.

Keeping optimal structure and staying “rooted” is often most challenging when training pushing, pulling or kicking on the dummy. In most upper defences the fingers are roughly the same height as the chin and the elbow is at a 135 degree angle for economy of motion and optimal flow of force. This helps with the ability to absorb or redirect incoming force.The other side to this is where the power comes from. Sometimes the power should mainly come from the back and shoulder, sometimes the elbow, sometimes the wrist. The Wing Chun practitioner seeks to take away his opponent’s control of his centre of gravity, by manipulating his body structure and thereby taking away balance and stability, making it more difficult for the opponent to defend or attack.

5. Economy of motion: The ability to shift between techniques, which fit well together, and move along the shortest distance possible and have a mechanical advantage. If you imagine the dummy is an opponent, the moment you pull your arm back or drop the arm, you leave an opening to be attacked. Simultaneity of attack and defence is also a way to optimize economy of motion. It’s about using the optimal mechanical movement pattern and thereby optimizing movement efficiency.

6. Flexibility: The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint. Specially related to upholding the lines, angles and planes of the body while training the techniques. It allows you to be in a constant position of adaptation potential. You can also use the dummy as stretching equipment in general.

7. Relaxation: The ability to use structure in a relaxed way without stiffness or unnecessary tension. It means to economize force and only use the amount which is necessary for the execution of the technique.

8.Endurance/ stamina: The ability to continue working with “high” intensity over long periods of time. It is also the ability of the body to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy. In a fight you might not have time to think about what you should do next, so you need to have trained enough on each technique that it automatically happens as a reaction to the situation. In situations with multiple opponents, endurance/ stamina might also be a necessity.

9. Hardening: The first thing you have to learn is how to make contact with the trunk and limbs of the dummy and determine how much force to use. The most important thing is that you do not injure your self and if you perform the techniques correctly, it should not hurt.  Initially you should only tap the dummy on the surface. Gradually over months/ years of training, you can add some force into the dummy. Even though you shouldn’t focus on hardening your arms as you practice the dummy, the training will still harden your arms as a positive side effect, so that you can comfortably withstand harsh clashing during sparring or actual combat.

10. Power and force: The ability to apply maximum explosive force in minimum time. This is without compromising precision, coordination, balance or timing.

We need to train the ability to generate short explosive power with little effort. You can train with lots of power on the dummy in a way that for safety reasons, can´t be practiced on a partner. In Practical Wing Chun, students start by learning to use power from the stand (base of support), waist (rotation), arms e.g. sinking (gravity) and breathing (internal).

Later, the body becomes unified, working with different kinds of power generation in many directions e.g. explosive pushing, pulling, throwing, ramming, cutting and slinging. Same with kicks. The dummy must be kicked with the “right” amount of force  – neither too hard nor too soft. Through training and proper instruction you will slowly find the “magic touch”.

11. Coordination: The ability to combine several movement patterns into a singular, distinct movement, or sequencing them in a specific pattern with a specific time. E.g. stepping with correct posture, rotating the torso, defending and attacking with the arms and breathing in one coordinated movement.

12. Timing: Coordinating precision, speed and power with distance and positioning, while maintaining one’s structure, posture and stance. The legs, trunk and arms should arrive at the same time, at the right distance with perfect positioning and alignment of the whole body. When you move into, or away from the dummy at various angles, you should always end up at the perfect distance.

13. Momentum: The ability to use ones energy generation to support the next movement. E.g. using a pull on the dummy to support the next sequence. In application, you can use the example of an opponent pushing on you and using that momentum to move or pull the opponent. If the opponent pulls on your arm, you can use that momentum to ram him with your shoulder.

14. Fluidity and adaptability: The dummy’s trunk and limbs aren’t as pliable as a person’s. Working with it helps with the ability to handle a stiff force, flooding around the dummy limbs with optimal body connection and economy of motion.

15. Speed: The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement. Here, speed relates to optimal coordination and economy of motion. Speed also improves when you drill movements over and over again.

Start slow. Speed shouldn’t be an aim in itself. Speed will come automatically when you have trained enough on accuracy, coordination, balance, timing, relaxation and economy of motion.

16. Agility: The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another. In the beginning, it is important to slow down and separate the techniques with a little pause between each movement for clarity, but once every technique is precise, they may be attached together in a natural flow and with minimum transition time.

17. Creativity: Once you have mastered the dummy form, you add the creative and experimental stage. Here, you can visualize different attacks and different reactions and mix them together to create a readiness for any attack. You can freestyle and train sequences that correspond to the unfolding of your visualization and represent alternative battle directions or outcomes, depending on the path you have chosen.

The aim is to become confident with alternative sequences, leading down various alternative paths, so you are prepared to counter any given situation with an automatic advantageous follow-up.

18. Visual reflexes: When the form has become second nature and your training becomes more creative and experimental, you will build your visual reflexes while keeping the right distance and optimal contact point. Remember to always look at the dummy when you train on it.

Working thoroughly on each of these focus points will greatly enhance your Wing Chun skills. 

Each focus point should be trained in isolation with a high degree of mindfulness. Later, all these points will fuse into one unified principle.

The Dummy is an amazing training equipment. As long as you know the dummy’s limitations and train on all the other aspects with equal enthusiasm, great things lie ahead. The theoretical elements in this article have many levels of understanding and application, and the article can be used as a reference that you look back on frequently to explore new insights.

Learn more

In the archives at Sifu Martin’s Facebook profile, you will find explanations on different versions of the wooden dummy, on setting up the dummy, weapons training, the learning process and finally, the dummy’s limitations.

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  • Where can I buy one ?

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  • Wes shuler

    Thanks. Enlightening and practical

  • Laurence Lance

    One of the most intelligent discussions I’ve yet read.

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