The history of the Wing Chun long pole is veiled in mystery. We can only make assumptions relying on historical data that we have. The conclusion of my research has led me to believe that the shape of the pole as we know it today, in its various interpretations, did not consist of a complete form until the time of the red boat opera era (1850).
In support of this theory, we must discuss the legend of Chi Sim. It is believed that he took refuge in the red boat opera company, where he taught the pole form to traveling actors. Chi Sim is also credited as the ancestor of the Hung Gar Kyun style. Legends often contain some truth and we can find many similarities between the six and a half points pole of Wing Chun and the form of eight trigrams of Hung Gar.
After the Opium Wars, China was shaken by revolutionary movements aiming to oust the Qing-Manchu ethnicity and restore the Ming Dinasty. This gave rise to anti-Qing secret societies: for example Tian di Hui is the point of contact and exchanges between the two styles.
A question that my students often ask: “Was Wing Chun originally a weapons style that later became empty-hand?”. Empty hand fighting though, has much more in common with sabers than with the pole.
Time, space and energy
Good practice with the long pole is certainly related to technique, but also requires good time and space management. Regarding time management, there are 8 times one needs to know:
Four forward, that is the timing of forward movements and 4 retreating, that is timing of the weapon’s recall.
The Four forward times are:
• Hand’s time
• Body’s time
• Step’s time
• Stride’s time
It’s very important to understand this chronological list because in situations of armed conflict, one must keep in consideration the distance between us and our opponent. Sometimes it is sufficient to move only the arms to defend or to attack. In second time, you have to take into consideration the change of body and feet positioning. It’s the same when you have to pull back your weapon.
When we need to retreat, we have to know four retreating times.
• Stride’s time • Step’s time • Body’s time • Hand’s time
This allows us to use the weapon to occupy the center whilst we retreat. To do this, it’s necessary to be aware of the distance one needs to cover between the tip of the attacking weapon and the target. This way of thinking is beneficial for both defense and attack. Regarding space management, we have to keep in consideration what in our system we call the four rulers:
• Judgment: the ability to judge fighting range. Where you can reach your opponent and where you cannot.
• Measure: the ability to recognize one’s own space for attacking and defending;
• Timing: the ability to know when to attack and when to defend.
• Space: the natural consequence of the three previous points is to be able to take away the opponent’s space and put him under pressure.
We can summarise like this: by judgment I can keep my measure, by measure I can find my timing and by timing I can gain space. Ω