Before I met my current Master, Master Wan Kam Leung, I had already practiced Wing Chun for 14 years. When I traveled to Hong Kong and Mainland China to visit the different masters, I never thought that I would change to another Wing Chun style.
Upon meeting Master Wan I was deeply impressed with his interpretation and understanding of the Wing Chun system as well as his martial art skills. I must say that his style differs greatly from what I had learnt before. Firstly the forms:
The forms are completely different from each other. Where as the movements in the previous forms didn’t necessarily match the applied movements, the forms from Master Wan represented a set of applied techniques in a fixed order.
Applied techniques are to be executed in the same manner as in the forms and every single
movement from the forms are readily applicable, hence the name “Practical Wing Chun”. Secondly, the stance is very different; my previous stance was an adduction stance, whereas the stance in Practical Wing Chun is simply a sitting stance. Weight distribution when pivoting or stepping also differs in Practical Wing Chun, which always keeps the person’s centre of gravity in the middle.
Thirdly, the punching theory also differs. In my previous style the fist should be kept in the middle whereas in the system of Master Wan it is the elbow that should be kept in the middle.
Last but not least, the understanding of the centre lines are also different in Practical Wing Chun, which emphasizes on five centre lines rather than just one.
Wing Chun was supposedly created by a woman. Do you think the art is well suited for women against stronger opponents?
I think that Wing Chun is an ideal system for women to learn if they want to protect themselves. As the nature of Wing Chun isn’t about fighting force with brute force, but rather on borrowing or deflecting incoming force, it is very suitable for a weaker opponent against a stronger one.
At the same time, Wing Chun is a very straightforward system and does not require fancy or acrobatic movements and therefore suitable as an effective street defence system.
How does Wing Chun allow a weaker opponent to gain the upper hand against a stronger foe?
Wing Chun follows the principle of economy of movement, therefore all techniques are designed to approach the opponent in the fastest and most efficient way without excess movement. In Wing Chun, we train punching on wall bags to develop short-range power, so that you don’t need to pull back your fist before striking. Because of this, you can reach your opponent in the quickest way possible. Wing Chun is also known for simultaneously defending and attacking or using attack as defence, which all benefit a weaker person who is facing a stronger opponent.
Practical Wing Chun emphasises the use of 5 centre lines. Can you briefly explain what they are and how they are used?
The first centre line in Practical Wing Chun is the same centre line that all Wing Chun systems have, the vertical centre line that divides the body into left and right halves and connects the two opponents. It is very important trying to keep your techniques within this centre line and this is also the shortest way to reach your opponent.
The second centre line divides the torso into an upper and lower part and is measured at the height of your elbow. It is extremely important to keep the elbow in this line most of the time in order to absorb and redirect any incoming force. For example if you straighten your punch (elbow is higher than second centre line), the recoil effect will be directed right back at you, rather than being redirected to the ground. Keeping the elbow at this line also covers against upper and lower attacks.
The third centre line is the crossing point. If you make a fist, the third centre line will be located between your elbow and fist. This is the prefered point of contact with the opponent’s arm. The third centre line always crosses the first or fifth centre line. The fourth centre line is the midpoint of the distance between yourself and your opponent in Chi Sau.
The fifth centre line is important when opponent attacks from the side. The third centre line will cross the fifth when facing an opponent from the side. The fifth line is also important as it is defining our stance.
Can you explain how the crossing-hands are used to diffuse straight punches?
The crossed hands in Practical Wing Chun are very important as all three hand forms begin with it and it defines the diagonal lines in Practical Wing Chun. When facing the opponent, the fingers are pointing towards your opponent’s shoulders. In order to do that, the angles of your arms have to be at 135 degrees. It is not only used to diffuse the straight punches but also for trapping the rear hand of your opponent, so it has both defensive and offensive applications.
The Practical Wing Chun Stance is a little different to the traditional stance. Can you explain to us how your stance is executed?
Traditionally the Wing Chun stance is an internally rotated stance where the hips are elevated. In Practical Wing Chun the stance is simply a sitting stance where the outside of your feet are on a straight line creating a longer triangle. The hips are not elevated but more like dropping downwards. The width of the stance should be slightly wider than the shoulders in order to be maintain balance but at the same time narrow enough to be mobile.
“In Practical Wing Chun, it is very important to sink down in the stance. Sinking down is very important when dealing with incoming force, which is why the hips cannot be elevated in Practical Wing Chun as elevating your hips raises your centre of gravity.”
Most Practical Wing Chun students have a strong stance which is almost identical to Master Wan’s. How is the stance taught so effectively, given that in many Wing Chun Schools, the stance is often very poor in students?
The sitting stance of Master Wan takes time to cultivate and most students in the beginning struggle, but by practicing the stance during every class, it becomes second nature. The traditional Wing Chun stance is a lot easier for the students to practice as one is actually bringing weight upwards with elevated hips, whereas dropping your weight downwards (like squatting) takes a longer time to get used to. Most students adapt in a few weeks or so.
Your Tan Sao has extra rotation and extra emphasis on the elbow compared to other schools. What are the benefits of this?
Keeping the elbow in the middle in Tan-Sau is something that Master Wan always stresses. The Tan-Sau in all Wing Chun forms is placed in the middle but when applied you will often find it moving sideways. Tan- Sau in Practical Wing Chun changes to a palm strike (Tan- Da) and therefore stays in the middle and does not move to the side. The Tan-Sau in our system should be applied exactly like in the forms.
A hall-mark of practical Wing Chun is flanking. How does one learn to flank an opponent effectively?
Being frontal or on the side has both advantages and disadvantages. As suggested, the method of attacking straight in with chain punches seldom works well for a smaller person, and we rarely choose that tactic in Practical Wing Chun.
There are many methods of redirecting power. When possible, we prefer to take the centre line, and move the opponent away from it. This can be done with the hands/arms, you can add rotational forces from the body/stance, or use your legs to off-line your opponent.
In the end it depends on the opponent’s attack, power, speed and distance, and you will have to deal with it accordingly.
Due to the fact, that most attacks are easily redirected, we often chose to “flank” the attacker by moving his centre line instead of off-lining. Movement-wise it is more economical, faster and harder to “read”.
What is it like to be a woman in the world of Martial Arts? Do you feel that some students would rather learn from a male teacher?
Being a woman in a world of Martial Arts has both its benefits and disadvantages. Some people will always prefer a male teacher, as this is what they associate with what martial arts instructor should be. However, there are a lot of advantages as well. Sometimes being a woman it is easier to express the uniqueness of Wing Chun compared to big and strong man expressing it, as Wing Chun is about a weaker opponent against a stronger one, borrowing force and redirecting force.
What benefits can Wing Chun bring to women in general?
Wing Chun is very beneficial to women in general as Wing Chun does not require brute force or acrobatic movements and can be practiced regardless of age. On the other hand, women tend to learn faster because they generally do not rely on their strength and in this way learn techniques more effortlessly. I think it is very beneficial for women to learn to defend hemselves. Wing Chun also gives you other benefits in daily life such as improved confidence, mental alertness and co-ordination.Ω
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