Wing Chun’s flavour is instantly recognisable. Although it has striking, it does not look like boxing. It has kicks but does not look like Thai Boxing. It even has grappling but does not resemble wrestling.
The reason for this distinct look is that many of its principles set it apart from other arts. The most famous of these is centreline coverage.
Many arts focus on punching through the opponent’s centre line. But Wing Chun demands that our centreline be guarded whilst we attack our opponent’s. Because of this, most punching in Wing Chun is done with elbows down, resulting in a vertical fist.
Similarly, many arts employ powerful kicking, but Wing Chun principles encourage low kicks that cover the centreline. Thus, there are no roundhouse kicks in the system.
Even in grappling, Wing Chun demands that we not grab or hold on rigidly onto our opponent but rather use hand positions and shapes to latch onto their structure. More like a hook than a vice.
These principles are the soul of Wing Chun and contribute to the distinct look of our art. However, as with anything in life, flexibility is vital. There is always a danger of holding on too rigidly to these principles.
As Bruce Lee famously said, “Be like water”. These principles are guidelines designed to maximise our safety “bubble” and penetrate our opponent’s. However, at a higher level, these rules can and should sometimes be broken.
If our opponent is open to a “hook” style punch and the technique can finish the fight quickly and effectively, should we decline the opportunity just because “hooks” are not part of the formal arsenal of Wing Chun? I think not. The goal of finishing a fight as quickly as possible should overrule all others. We must use any opportunity presented to us, and this means breaking our own rules sometimes. With that said, here are my Top 5 Wing Chun Principles.
One of the most recognisable drills in Martial Arts is Wing Chun’s Chi Sao. This drill develops sensitivity in the arms so that attacks are deflected intuitively through ingrained habits and structure.
It is common to see advanced practitioners train this drill blindfolded. The attacks are deflected and countered by sticking closely to the opponent and sensing his movements, not through speed and fast reflexes. Many great boxers, such as Floyd Mayweather, employ similar tactics. They will stick to the opponent after landing a punch to shut down any counter-attacks. If performed correctly, it can be a devastating strategy that leaves the opponent frustrated and unable to launch any offence.
Boxing has a formidable arsenal of punches, but you never see strikes such as hooks or overhand punches in Wing Chun. The reason is that even though these punches are powerful, they violate the principle of covering the centreline.
When the elbow comes up during a punch, it becomes impossible to cover the centreline and deflect incoming counter-punches. It is the elbow that collects the incoming counter-punches. It serves as a wedge that jams and deflects the opponents strike, opening the way for our fist to hit its target.
The principle is that of “hit but do not get hit“. Interestingly, before the advent of boxing gloves, bare-knuckle boxing resembled Wing Chun in many ways. In those days, the punches were vertical with the elbow down to keep the opponent at bay.
If you stand directly in front of your opponent, you expose yourself to his full arsenal of kicks and punches. In Wing Chun, you must try to flank the opponent and attack from one side. Now, the arm and leg that are furthest from the flank occupied are relatively useless.
It is a momentary advantage because the opponent will seek to reposition and square up again. But for a brief moment, we need only deal with half of the opponent’s weapons whilst he remains exposed to attacks from both our arms and legs.
Wing Chun’s crossing hands and Bui Jee form help us move from the centre of the opponent’s structure to his flank by attacking his left arm with our right and vice versa.
2 -Forward Pressure
Wing Chun is famous for its relentless forward pressure. You must always move forward and invade your opponent’s centreline. There is great merit in this idea. In a fight, becoming too defensive can be deadly. You might be able to slip or block one or two punches, but if your opponent keeps moving forward, there is a good chance he will connect sooner or later.
Like in chess, he who gains the initiative usually wins the fight. In combat sports professionals train to slip, block, and even take punches for round after round. On the street, a good strike can finish the fight. Wing Chun’s philosophy is to land that strike first.
Wing Chun’s most famous principle is undoubtedly the centreline. Wing Chun’s structure covers our centre, reducing the danger of being countered.
By keeping the elbows down and moving along the centreline, we can monopolise this precious real estate and deflect counterattacks as we move forward. The opponent is still free to counter by moving around the centreline, through hooks and overhand punches, but the idea is that straight attacks through the centreline will get there first.
So if the opponent attacks through the centre, the attacks are deflected by the Wing Chun Structure. If the opponent attacks through the flanks, the Wing Chun practitioner moves forward and gets there first, through economy of movement.