Wing Tsun

WingTsun Kung Fu (alternatively Wing Tsun, or 咏春) is a branch of Wing Chun Kung Fu developed by Leung Ting. The main objective of WingTsun (WT) is to be a realistic system of self-defense. WT does not focus on fighting “techniques”, instead relying on fighting and energy principles to be followed at all times.

The central idea is that, under pressure, it is impossible to visually recognize the precise direction and speed of an attack and make a conscious decision on an effective way in which to react, all within the very brief amount of time you have before your opponent’s attack lands. Rather, one must (counter) attack immediately in a very direct and protected manner, and rely on reflexes to determine how to react if the opponent’s attack continues to pose a problem.

Chi Sao, or “sticking hands” trains students to respond reflexively to the speed, force, and direction of an attack based on tactile information – which the human brain processes much faster than visual information.
Origin of The Name: Wing Tsun (WT) is an alternate English spelling (romanization) of the Chinese 咏春 (literally “spring chant” but can also be read as “forever spring”) which is commonly spelled Wing Chun.

The alternative phonetic spelling of Wing Tsun by style founder Leung Ting to differentiate his branch. WingTsun (without a space) is the trademarked form used by The International WingTsun Association (IWTA) and is the preferred form when mentioning the organization.

Principles: The eight principles of WingTsun form a system of aggressive self-defense that allows one to adapt immediately to the size, strength and fighting style of an attacker.

There are many ways to express the principles, since they are essentially very simple. However it takes years of performing the forms and practicing Chi Sao with a knowledgeable instructor to train the body to follow the principles reflexively and to understand their applications in specific situations.

Fighting Principles:

  1. Go forward. Advance immediately in order to establish contact with the limbs (allowing for Chi Sao reflexes to take over) or — even better — to strike first. This counterintuitive reaction will often surprise the attacker, and moves the fight into a close distance in which tactile reflexes will dominate over visual reactions, where the Wing Tsun practitioner is likely to have an advantage.
  2. Stick to the opponent. If you are unable to strike and disable your opponent, but instead make contact with some part of his body (other than his face, throat, etc.), stick to it. Often this will be an opponent’s arm; if you maintain constant contact with his arms, how can he launch an attack at you without your knowing?
  3. Yield to a greater force. Since one cannot expect to be stronger than every potential attacker, one must train in such a way as to be able to win even against a stronger opponent. Chi Sao teaches the reflexes necessary to react to an opponent’s attacks. When an attack is simply stronger than yours, your trained reflexes will tell your body to move out of the way of the attack and find another angle for attack.
  4. Follow through. As an extension of the first principle, if an opponent retreats, a WingTsun practitioner’s immediate response is to continue moving forward, not allowing the opponent to regroup and have an opportunity to reconsider his strategy of attack. Many styles that rely on visual cues prefer to step back and wait and time their attacks, as commonly seen in sport and tournament fighting.

Energy Principles:

  1. Give up your own Force. One needs to be relaxed in order to move dynamically and to react to the actions of an opponent. When you are tense, your “own force” acts as a parking brake — you must disengage it first before you can move quickly.
  2. Get rid of your opponents Force. This is similar to the third fighting principle. When an attacker wants to use strength to overpower a fighter, the response is not to try to overcome strength with strength but to nullify this force by moving your attacker’s force away from you or to move yourself away from it.
  3. Use Your Attackers Force against him. Take advantage of the force your opponent gives you. If an opponent pulls you toward him, use that energy as part of your attack. Or if an opponent pushes the left side of your body, you can act as a revolving door and use that force in an attack with your right arm.
  4. Add Your Own Force. In addition to borrowing power from your attacker, you can add your own force in an attack.

As well as describing the progression of a self-defense response, the strength principles also describe the progression a WingTsun student must follow over years of training: first, form training and a great deal of punching to learn to be relaxed in a fight and to (counter intuitively) punch without tension; second, countless hours of Chi Sao training to be able to yield to — and exploit — the attackers strength; finally, strength training specific to WT to increase punching and striking power.

Training: Wing Tsun training is based around developing reflexes. Training is split into various forms, many of which are only learned when a martial artist has passed the student levels of Wing Tsun.

Chi Sao: Chi Sao (黐手) or “sticking hands” is the principle, and drills, used for the development of automatic fighting reflexes. It directly relates to the main principles of Wing Tsun, where a fighter should stick to their opponent. Through out this contact the fighters entire body becomes sensitive to the opponents moves. Chi Sao is developed through Lat Sao training.

Lat Sao: Lat Sao, or “rolling hands” training, where two practitioners maintain contact with each other while executing techniques, thereby training each other to sense changes in body mechanics, pressure, momentum and “feel”. The increased sensitivity gained from this drill helps a practitioner attack and counter an opponent’s movements precisely, quickly, and with the appropriate technique instinctively, without thinking. This can be called a form of muscle memory.

Through Lat Sao a Wing Tsun fighter can check on the level and quality of their movements without worrying about injuring their training partner. This makes Lat Sao a key part of Wing Tsun training.

Lat Sao is a sensitivity drill to obtain specific Chi Sao reflexive responses. Although it looks and feels combative, it should not be confused for sparring or fighting, as it is a training tool for them, not a replacement.

Basic Forms: The basic forms of Wing Tsun are covered in the student grades, with further refinements of application and technique in later forms. The goal of Wing Tsun is to be a “redundant” form, in that the teaching will build upon movement and reactions previously learned to allow greater understanding of the material faster. Each building block may not be completely understood when it is taught (although it should be understood in the limited capacity that a level explains it), however the earlier training will act as a foundation for training in later levels.

Siu Nim Tao: The Wing Tsun Siu Nim Tao or “little idea form” features a leg form in addition to the traditional hand movements. The aim is to provide the same foundation for the legs that the hand movements supply for the arms.

Advanced Forms: The Chi Sao is split into various forms, many of which are only learned when a martial artist is a qualified instructor. The following describes the advanced forms in more detail.

Biu Tze: Biu Tze (lit. “dart fingers”) is characterized by the use of open hand techniques (as opposed to closed fist punches), and for this reason gains its name. The form teaches how to regain and create a new centerline once it’s lost, and because of this is sometimes referred to as a set of “emergency techniques”. Bui Tze adds full-torso movements to the arm and leg techniques of the Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu forms, though (as with the other forms) some Biu Tze movements are learned in the student WT grades – building on its “redundant” teaching system.

Wooden Dummy: Mook Yan Chong literally means “A Stake used as a Dummy”, as such it is used to take the place as an imaginary partner to practice on. However it is not a literal representation of a person – but a representation of a persons force and energy.

The Shape of the Dummy: The trunk of the Wing Tsun wooden dummy is made of a cylindrical wooden stake of about 5 feet in length, and 9 inches in diameter. Other parts of the dummy include the two upper arms, which are stuck into chiseled holes at the same height of the upper part of the trunk. The third arm, called the middle arm, is stuck into a hole below the two for the upper arms.

The dummy also has a leg which is a short bent stake thicker than the three arms stuck at a hole below that for the middle arm. Together these form the body of the dummy which is fixed to the supporting frame by two cross-bars that pass through holes in the upper and lower ends of the trunk. The two crossbars are fixed onto two perpendicular supporting pillars. The supporting pillars are usually firmly fixed onto the wall or at the ground, so as to stand heavy strikes.

Grading System: One characteristic of Wing Tsun is its structured teaching system. While many styles of martial arts teach techniques in a non-linear fashion, WT’s system is structured like a school curriculum, with each grade building on the previous, rather than just introducing more information to learn.

Also, unlike the traditional master-apprentice model of teaching where a student would follow his instructor for several years or even a lifetime, the IWTA’s structured approach ensures all students receive a complete WT education at each grade level.

A busy individual who can only train twice a week would not miss out on important concepts or ideas that would give their devoted classmate, seemingly always in class, an unfair advantage – though an advantage would likely arise from their classmate’s diligence and further developed skills from the extra hours of training.

Student Grades: The WingTsun curriculum consists of twelve student grades which cover the first two forms, Siu Nim Tao and Chum Kiu, as well as the related Chi Sao training and applications. In addition to the hand forms there is also a standardized set of leg forms that are learned with the Siu Nim Tau.

The student grades can be split into three sections, based on the topics they cover:

1st – 4th, Learning fundamentals across the three ranges.

  • 1st – Basic fundamentals of movement and style, long range engaging, beginning of Siu Nim Tao.
  • 2nd – Long range fighting, with bridging, all of Siu Nim Tao.
  • 3rd – Transitioning from Long to mid-range attacks.
  • 4th – Transitioning from mid to short-range attacks, beginning of Chum Kiu.

5th – 8th, Ranges applied with movement and transition.

  • 5th – Short range attacks, and fighting with two hands simultaneously.
  • 6th – Poon Sao, Chi Sao
  • 7th – Chi Sao 1st attack
  • 8th – Chi Sao breaking bong saos etc..

9th – 12th, Application of the style, against kicks.

  • 9th – Against a single attacker.
  • 10th – Against multiple attackers.
  • 11th – Against a single attacker with a weapon.
  • 12th – Against multiple attackers with weapons.

At student grade 9 the student is considered to not only know the style (as in grade 8 ) but be able to apply it effectively against an attacker. The subtle, but important difference between these two grades means that either one of these, depending on the school, can be considered equivalent to the “black belt” rank. There is no consensus, as there is no direct formal comparison.

In some schools graduation through the levels may be signified by different colored shirts, such as white up to 5, gray for level 5-8, and black for level 9-12. This depends entirely on the convention of the school.

Instructor Grades: Following the student grades are twelve instructor grades. At the instructor levels, the student begins training in the more advanced programs of Wing Tsun:

  • Biu Tze
  • Mook Yan Chong Fa (Wooden Dummy)
  • Luk Dim Boon Kwun Fa (“Six and A Half Point Pole” or Long Pole)
  • Bart Cham Dao (Eight Cutting Broadsword or Butterfly Sword)

The instructor grades are themselves split into three sections:

  1. 1st – 4th Technician
  2. 5th – 8th Practitioner
  3. 9th – 12th Philosopher

Each instructor section name describes the focus and idea behind the quality of fighting that is expected at that level. A technician is expected to fight with technique, a practitioner is expected to be a complete practicing fighter, and a philosopher should understand the mental, and spiritual, elements of the style.

Titles: A students title in the class is determined by their grade and their relationship to the individual that is addressing them. The title naming system is based upon the Chinese family names – showing its origins in tight knit, usually cover, groups – and students who have spent longer training under a teacher are usually referred to as “older”.

There are several commonly used titles in Wing Tsun:

  • Sifu – Father/Teacher
  • Sisok – Younger Uncle (the Sifu’s Sidai)
  • Dai Sihing – Eldest brother – normally, the student who has been with Sifu the longest
  • Sihing – Elder Brother
  • Sije – Elder Sister
  • Simui – Younger Sister
  • Sidai – Younger Brother
  • Todai – Student

There are also other titles that, while used, are much less likely to be found in a training environment and used by students.

  • Sijo – Great Grandfather
  • Sigung – Grandfather (the Sifu’s Sifu)
  • Dai Sifu – Eldest teacher (Teacher of Teachers), The Sigung’s oldest student who is a Sifu, or that has a certain number of Students he has trained to Sifu level.
  • Sibak – Elder Uncle (the Sifu’s Sihing)

The convention is that a students relationship can be described in how the title is written. For example, all Sifu’s use that title, but a student will refer to their specific sifu as “si-fu” likewise a students direct sihing would be written “si-hing” – a subtle way of signifying familiarity.

Sifu: The level of Sifu is significant in that it signifies that the martial artist is an officially recognized teacher by their peers. The official IWTO requirements are as follows:

  1. The teacher is at least 28 years old
  2. The teacher has achieved the 3rd Technician Level and has held it for at least 1 year
  3. The teacher has brought at least one student from 1st Student Level to 1st Technician Level (normally at least a four year process)
  4. The teacher has at least 50 students

Traditionally also the prospective Sifu also needs to give his Sifu a present, this is a personal gift between the two martial artists so raw monetary value is not always a factor, however it usually is a significant item.

Different organisations have differing Sifu requirements, for example The National WingTsun Organization (NWTO) requires 100, or more, active students within an artists network of schools, and they must have produced at least five 1st Grade Technician Level students.

As it is a peer recognition of someones skill at teaching on some very rare occasions there are exceptions and the Sifu title can be given when the teacher has had 2nd Technician Level for at least a year. However this is very rare even exceptional martial artists, such as Sifu Heinrich Pfaff, had 3rd Technician Level when recognized as a Sifu.

Other requirements may be stipulated by different schools (such as total number of students). Usually students who have been with a teacher since before they gained the title of Sifu will still call the teacher by the title Sihing (or Sije), since that was their relationship when they started training. All new students, however, will address the teacher by their new title.

The ‘NWTO’ master includes that you need 500 students under your wing.

Uniform and Equipment: While different schools will have different equipment and uniforms, there are some common elements amongst them.

Uniform: Uniform varies from school to school, however advanced students will usually wear black, and lower level students will usually wear white or, if more advanced, grey. These colors are often, but not always, displayed on the students school t-shirt.

While special elasticated “kung-fu trousers” are often worn for safety (preventing caught feet and toes when training), it is also common to see normal track/jogging bottoms worn by low level students. Each school will have different rules.

Instructors in WingTsun always wear black uniforms, with advanced instructors being signified with red being stripes featured on the uniform trousers. Gold or Yellow highlights are often used to signify additional rank, though this convention is far from universal.

Equipment: While WT is mostly an empty handed style, it does use weapons when the student is sufficiently advanced. It also has some equipment that is used for training.

  • The Muk Yan Jong, or wooden dummy, is used for training of the form named after it.
  • Various punch bags and pads.
  • Small Wooden Pole and Assault Knives
  • Butterfly Swords.
  • Six and a Half Point Pole or Long Pole.

Organization and Growth: The official umbrella organization for WingTsun, the International WingTsun Association (IWTA), is headquartered in Hong Kong and led by Leung Ting. The IWTA has schools in over 60 countries, and has gained a large following in the western world. There are now over 2,000 WingTsun schools in Europe, most of them in Germany and its neighboring countries. With over 1,000,000 practitioners worldwide, the IWTA is currently one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world.

This growth owes mainly to Leung Ting’s German headstudent, Keith Kernspecht. The EWTO the European WingTsun Organisation is situated in langenzell germany which teaches WingTsun full time over six hours a day. In Eastern-Europe Wing Tsun is also existing since 1985 (in current form). The headquarter is in Hungary

German Influence: Keith R Kernspecht is responsible for most of the growth of WingTsun across the western world. Kernspecht organized the European branch of the IWTA, the European WingTsun Organization (EWTO), which has its headquarters at Langenzell Castle near Heidelberg, Germany. He also developed a more practical and applied version of some WingTsun techniques, collectively called ‘BlitzDefence’. These focus on defending against a traditional Western style attacker and ending the confrontation as quickly as possible, while limiting the damage to any involved parties.

Keith R Kernspecht is also known to have trained police officers, international special forces, body guards, and federal agents at the Castle. Keith R Kernspecht is the second highest grade WingTsun practitioner in the world and as such is referred to as ‘Grand Master Kernspecht’ by WingTsun students.