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. Most famous of these is centre-line coverage.
Many arts focus on punching through the opponent’s centre line. But Wing Chun demands that our own centre line 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 which again, cover the centre line. Thus there are no round house 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 the art. However, as with anything in life, flexibility is key. There is always a danger that as practitioners, we hold on too rigidly to these principles and become ineffective fighters.
As Bruce Lee famously said; “Be like water”. These principles are guidelines that are designed to maximise our safety “bubble” and penetrate the 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. As we progress in our Art, 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 is designed to develop sensitivity in the arms, so that attacks are deflected intuitively through the use of ingrained habits and structure.
It is quiet common to see advanced practitioners train this drill blind folded. This emphasises the fact that the attacks are deflected and countered by sticking closely to the opponent and sensing their movements, rather than through speed and fast reflexes. Many great boxers, such as Floyd Mayweather, employ similar tactics, where they will stick to the opponent after landing or missing a punch, in order 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 sort of offense.
Boxing has a formidable arsenal of punches and yet, you never see strikes such as hooks or overhang punches in Wing Chun. The reason is because even though these punches are exceptionally powerful, they violate the principle of covering the centre line.
The moment the elbow comes up during a punch, it becomes impossible to cover the centre line and deflect incoming counter-punches. It is the elbow that collects the incoming counter punches, serving as a wedge that jams and deflects the opponents strike, opening the way for the 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 elbow down in order to keep the opponent at bay.
It should be obvious that if one stands directly in front of the opponent, he exposes himself to their full arsenal of kicks and punches. Not so if one manages to flank he opponent and attack from one side. From this position, the arm and leg that are furthest from the flank occupied, are relatively useless.
This is a momentary advantage of course, 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 arsenal, whilst he remains exposed to attacks from both our arms and legs.
Wing Chun’s crossing hands and Bui Jee form a designed to seamlessly 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 it’s relentless forward pressure. The practitioner seeks to always move forward, invading his opponent’s centre line and protecting his own. 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. Unlike combat sports where professionals are trained to slip, block and even take punches for round after round, on the street, a good punch can finish the fight quickly. Wing Chun’s forward pressure is designed to get that punch in first.
1 -Centre Line
Wing Chun’s most famous principle is undoubtedly the centre line. Wing Chun’s structure is designed to cover the practitioner’s centre so that the danger of being countered is reduced.
By keeping the elbows down whilst punching and moving along the centre line, a Wing Chun Practitioner is able to monopolise this precious real estate and deflect counter attacks as he or she moves forward. The opponent is still free to counter by moving around the centre line, through hooks and overhang punches of course, but the idea is that straight attacks through the centre line 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.