Wing Chun

How the Wooden Dummy Can Enhance Your Wing Chun Training

Wing chun kung fu expert William Cheung in action with a wooden dummy.“I fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques once, but the man who practices one technique 10,000 times holds my respect.”

The gist of that old Chinese saying is obvious: The key to reaching the highest levels of any martial art is practice. Only by executing thousands of repetitions of your style’s blocks, kicks and strikes will you be able to use your strategies and techniques in a natural and spontaneous way. Without that kind of preparation, in a fight you’ll be forced to think about what you should do next when you ought to be doing it.

Traditional wing chun kung fu instructors address the need for practice by emphasizing to their students the importance of developing their reflexes. They stipulate, however, that you cannot rely on just any set of repeated movements to hone your ability to defend yourself. To ensure that you respond with optimal timing, balance and accuracy, you need to learn the lessons of the wooden dummy and integrate it into your wing chun training.

Enter the Wooden Dummy

For more than two millennia, the fighting monks of China’s Shaolin Temple have used clever training devices to supplement their martial arts education. Legends tell that the old southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian province featured a unique collection of man-made warriors.

Wing chun training grandmaster William Cheung during wooden dummy training.“There was a corridor that consisted of 108 wooden dummies representing 108 different attacking techniques,” says William Cheung, a wing chun training expert and Black Belt Hall of Fame member. “The monks would move down the hall and practice their defenses and counterattacks on them.”

After the Manchus razed the temple three centuries ago, one of the few surviving masters, a nun named Ng Mui, constructed a training device based on the principles of those dummies. “The positioning of the three arms and one leg of the wooden dummy was designed for 108 specific techniques parallel to the 108 techniques performed on the original dummies,” William Cheung says.

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In the old days, dummies were built using a large central trunk — sometimes as long as 9 feet — with a tapered bottom, he continues. “A hole would be dug in the ground, and the dummy would be buried about 3 feet or 4 feet deep with gravel packed around it,” William Cheung explains. “The gravel would give way slightly when the wooden dummy was struck in order to soften the practitioner’s contact point.”

In traditional Shaolin kung fu, hard contact with a training dummy was used to condition the practitioner’s arms in preparation for combat. Although some martial artists still aim for that goal, wing chun training does not focus on making direct contact with the device’s wooden appendages. Instead, it uses the dummy to instill the ability to deflect or release an opponent’s force. This principle is particularly important for people who must fend off a larger or stronger assailant or who simply wish to employ a more efficient and fluid method of defense.

William Cheung Demonstrates Wooden Dummy Exercises
for Use in Wing Chun Training

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Reap the Benefits in Your Wing Chun Training

Wooden-dummy workouts help you develop all the attributes needed to actualize wing chun’s avoid-using-force-against-force principle: correct angle (of deflection), balance, accuracy, timing, mobility, positioning, speed, flow and power. But the training also endows you with numerous other skills and abilities.

Perhaps the most obvious is toughness. “Because wing chun uses the palms and forearms to block kicks — for example, the rolling block and the cross-arm block — it’s necessary to toughen these weapons, and that’s what wooden-dummy training does,” William Cheung says.

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How to Develop
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Even though the dummy is an inanimate object, it can still help you polish your visual and contact reflexes during wing chun training. It does so by teaching you how to execute blocks and strikes in concert with each other, thus making them almost simultaneous parry-and-counter combinations. Just before you execute your counterstrike, there’s a moment of contact when your parry deflects the incoming blow — or the arm of the wooden dummy that represents the limb of the assailant. This contact is your cue to unleash your strike. To an observer, however, your full-speed block and strike appear to arrive simultaneously.

Over time, making contact with the dummy becomes your trigger to launch a counterattack. The result is the development of your contact reflexes, which constitute an essential element of real-world combat proficiency.

Using the wooden dummy …

The Nature and Origins of Chi Power in Wing Chun Kung Fu Training

Wing chun kung fu martial arts grandmaster William Cheung as seen in Black Belt magazine.The aim of wing chun kung fu training is to develop physical, mental and spiritual awareness. These elements transcend to a higher level of life.

Self-awareness, self-respect and a duty to serve should be the goal of every martial artist.

The practitioner should meditate on these principles and make peace through the study of kung fu — a way of life.

Origins of the Chi Power Exercises

The word chi in Chinese can mean different things. In the direct translation, it can mean “air” or “breathing.” However, when it is taken further, it can mean “energy,” “temper,” “tension” or “endurance.”

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The Nature of Chi Power in Wing Chun Kung Fu Training:
Yin/Yang and the Five Elements

The Nei Ching, or the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, is the earliest known text on chi power. lt is believed to have been written during the reign of Emperor Huang Ti (2697-2596 B.C.). The Nei Ching elaborately outlines a systematic method of therapy:

The root of the way of life, or birth and change is chi; the myriad things of heaven and earth all obey this law. Thus chi in the periphery envelopes heaven and earth; chi in the interior activates them. The source wherefrom the sun, moon, and stars derive their light; the thunder, rain, wind and cloud, their being, the four seasons and the myriad things their birth, growth, gathering and storing; all this is brought about by chi. Man’s possession of life is completely dependent upon this chi.

— Nei Ching

The Chinese structured their universe out of ever-changing energies. The balance and harmony of these energies they call “tao.” Tao is not a thing; it is merely a word.

Tao contains the totality of all energy. It exists in the constant state of movement and change out of which all things evolve.

One is expressed as …

Expression of tao in discussion of wing chun kung fu training chi concept.

Image source: How to Develop Chi Power by William Cheung

… and out of this oneness evolved two, two perfect circles evolving and revolving within the one, the tails of each indicating movement, the eternal revolution.

Yin/yang symbol in discussion of chi energy in wing chun kung fu training.

Image source: How to Develop Chi Power by William Cheung

The dark energy is yin, and the bright energy is yang, each holding the seed of each other, and through their continuous evolution, they gave birth to all things and created their polar opposites.

The Five Elements and Their Cycles of Interaction

The Chinese believe that there are five earthly elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. There are two cycles illustrating the interaction between these elements:

The cycle of generation — Each element generates or produces the succeeding element. Thus fire produces earth, earth produces metal, metal produces water, water produces wood, wood produces fire, fire produces earth.

The cycle of destruction — Each element destroys or absorbs the succeeding element. Fire destroys metal, metal destroys wood, wood destroys earth, earth destroys water, water destroys fire.

Interaction of the Five Elements

Chart for five elements energy interaction in wing chun kung fu training.

Image source: How to Develop Chi Power by William Cheung

Body Equilibrium in Wing Chun Kung Fu Training

The elements, together with yin and yang, will determine the state of balance and equilibrium within the body. The live elements, as assigned to the organs and bowels, are the following:

Text chart of body equilibrium factors as they pertain to energy in wing chun kung fu training

Image source: How to Develop Chi Power by William Cheung

Each organ and bowel is governed by two meridians: One flows from the left and one from the right. The human pressure points are the breathing points for the meridians. There are eight other extraordinary meridians that provide for energy to continue its cycle of circulation, regardless of whether any one of the organs or bowels becomes decreased and blocks the meridian’s circuit. There are other human pressure points that cannot be traced to have any connections with the meridians.

Timetable of Meridians Governing Organs

Following is a clock showing the times of the day that the meridians of the organs and bowels are most vulnerable. This is one of the basic principles by which Chinese doctors in ancient days treated illnesses. Furthermore, there is a relationship between organs, which are opposite each other on the clock.

This relationship is governed by the interaction of the five elements. Treating the gall bladder, for example, which belongs to the wood element, benefits the heart, which is of the fire element.

Meridians governing organs in the body relative to wing chun kung fu training

Image source: How to Develop Chi Power by William Cheung

The Death Touch

The death touch, or dim mak, is a specialized technique requiring the striking of a particular human pressure point at a certain time of the day and season. This deadly art was developed by highly skilled kung fu practitioners through the centuries and is based on this relationship …

Yip Man: Wing Chun Legend and Bruce Lee’s Formal Teacher

Bak mei (white eyebrow) kung fu master Leung Sheung proudly demonstrated another self-defense technique to his class: side kick, grab, punch. Leung Sheung executed the movements with as much fluency and precision as would be expected from any 20-year veteran of the fighting arts. The students then imitated the perfection of his form. In the back of the room, the old man quickly turned his head away and bit down on his tongue, swallowing his laughter.

Side kick! Grab! Punch! The old man leaned against the wall for support. Now his body shuddered as he struggled to conceal his amusement. Suddenly, his efforts failed, and his silent chuckles grew into loud roars of laughter.

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Leung Sheung stopped his class, his face red with anger. “Hey, old man!” he snapped. “What are you laughing at?”

“Oh, nothing,” he replied. “Please continue. I’ll try not to disturb you further.”

Leung Sheung took a deep breath and paced across the room. He was still furious. “Look, old man, a few months ago we found you living out of garbage cans in Macao,” he said. “We brought you here to the Union Hall. We gave you a place to sleep and food to eat. The least you could do is show a little respect when I’m teaching.”

The old man perked up an ear. Had he heard the man say “respect”?

“Then the least you could do is show a little respect for the art that you teach,” the old man growled back. “All you do is have your students punch air.” He quickly moved through Leung Sheung’s technique: side kick, grab, punch. “But the air doesn’t hit back. What happens when you face an enemy who will?”

The old man shook his head. “If you are going to practice kung fu,” he said, “you should do so seriously — or not at all!”

“Look, old man,” bellowed master Leung Sheung, “if you think you know something, why don’t you come up here and teach me?”

With this challenge from Leung Sheung on that day in 1952, Yip Man officially opened the doors on his 20-year career as a martial arts instructor and patriarch of wing chun. Standing only 5 feet tall and weighing 120 pounds, Yip Man proceeded to throw the 6-foot, 200-pound bak mei master around the room with almost no effort. No matter how Leung Sheung attacked, he always found himself carefully deposited on the floor.

When all was said and done, Leung Sheung had surrendered his kung fu class at the Restaurant Workers’ Union Hall to Yip Man and had become Yip Man’s first disciple.

The Master’s Past

Yip Man did not happily accept his new role in life. Before World War II, he had been a member of a wealthy merchant family in the southern Chinese town of Fatshan, in Kwangtung province. He had owned a large manor house, a prosperous business and a farm, and he had enjoyed a life of relative ease with his wife and family.

Between 1937 and 1941, Yip Man served in the army during China’s valiant effort to repel the Japanese invasion. He returned to his family in Fatshan during the years of the Japanese occupation. Times were hard. His farm was ruined, and his wife became ill.

The end of the war brought little improvement. China needed to rebuild its ravaged cities and towns but found itself embroiled in civil war instead. The nationalist Chinese government recruited Yip Man to the post of captain of the police patrols for Namhoi County. Although the government appointment helped the living conditions of the Yip Man homestead, it did not come in time to prevent the death of Yip Man’s wife from extended illness.

After the Communist triumph in 1949, Yip Man left his two grown sons in Fatshan and fled to Hong Kong. If he had remained, his position as police captain would have meant almost certain death at the hands of the Communists. Thus, at the age of 51, Yip Man was forced to start an entirely new life from scratch.

“When the Communists took over, he lost all his major tangible assets,” explains William Cheung, one of Yip Man’s most senior disciples. “But he still had whatever he could carry: money, gold bars, etc. But Fatshan was a very small town compared with Hong Kong and Macao. There were a lot of shrewd operators in the city. So he immediately lost some of his money through people cheating him.

“Then the heartbreak of losing his home and his wife and being separated from his family caught up with him. He became disillusioned and perhaps began to pity himself. Soon, the Chinese nobleman found himself destitute.

“Then Leung Sheung and

William Cheung: Hong Kong Bullies, Wing Chun Kung Fu and Bruce Lee

When you think of the traditional Asian fighting arts, you probably envision sword-wielding soldiers hacking away on the battlefield, martial monks exchanging kicks between meditation sessions and courageous karate masters busting bricks with their knifehand strikes.

But do you ever think of good kids defending themselves against street bullies in the back alleys of a place like Hong Kong?

In the 1950s and ’60s, such scenarios played out all too often in Hong Kong, then a British colony dangling off the Chinese mainland. Just ask wing chun kung fu expert William Cheung. He grew up there — in an area called Kowloon — and witnessed street fights all the time.

“When the communist government took over China, they used a lot of triad (gang) members to help them spread their propaganda and do their dirty work,” William Cheung says. “After they completed the takeover in 1949, they purged the triads. So the [criminals] all came down to Hong Kong. By 1951 and ’52, they started recruiting young people — some as young as 10. A lot of kids got hooked up with them, some very reluctantly. By 1954, they were quite established.”

At least one group of young people, called the Eight Tigers, was trying to resist being sucked into the triads. “They were having some trouble, so they heard about me and that I had done a lot of street fighting. They invited me to come in and help.

Fighting Reputations

William Cheung started the martial arts when his oldest brother, who spent a lot of time studying different styles, took up tai chi. That led younger brother William to give the art a try, too.

Years later, William Cheung joined a swim team, where he met Wong Man Leung. “He mentioned that his brother Wong Shun Leung, who was doing boxing at the time, had challenged all these kung fu masters and was winning,” William Cheung says. “He said his brother was going to challenge an old man who taught a kung fu system devised by a woman. We thought we had better go and look. So my eldest brother, Wong Man Leung, Wong Shun Leung and I went.”

The match lasted about two seconds. Wong Shun Leung ended up on the floor. “We got out of there as quickly as possible,” William Cheung says. “Then two months later, we discovered that Wong Shun Leung was training with that old man. He turned out to be Yip Man. He said he thought about it and reckoned he was the best. Later, we started training with Yip Man, too. I was 11. It was the end of 1951.”

Bruce Lee Connection

Bruce Lee started training under Yip Man around the beginning of 1954, William Cheung says. “Because Bruce progressed so fast, within six months he had overtaken his seniors,” William Cheung says. “They got very upset with him and started checking into his background. They found out that he was one-quarter German, and they said, ‘We can’t teach Chinese kung fu to an impure Chinese.’

“So they put a lot of pressure on Yip Man to kick Bruce out of the school. Yip Man came to Wong Shun Leung and me and said, ‘We’re going to ask Bruce to leave the school, but you guys should help him.’ So Wong Shun Leung and I helped him train. Only in the later stages, around 1958, was he allowed to come back to the main school.”

Devotion to the Art

Although Bruce Lee, in essence, left the wing chun community when he created jeet kune do, William Cheung never wavered in his devotion to it — despite the politics. He knew the art, which flourished on the streets of Hong Kong because its methods were worked so well, was helping prepare him and his classmates to survive in virtually any environment.

“Wing chun advocates always putting pressure on the opponent by attacking,” William Cheung explains. “Because of the short, straight punches, it’s very effective and direct. And because it teaches a lot of close-contact reflex drills, the eyes become more effective.”

There were other, perhaps more important, benefits that kept him doing wing chun. “It wasn’t just for fighting,” William Cheung says. “People would be stupid to learn it just for self-defense. Many times when we were in a tough situation, we would have given up except for the tenacity we got from wing chun and the ability to be detached from the situation.”

Such training helps martial arts students avoid freaking out during high-stress situations. “Wing chun training gives you self-confidence,” William Cheung says. “If you can train for three or four hours a day nonstop and get through all the pain, you’re guaranteed to be able to take care of other difficult situations in life.”


How to Win a Street Fight Using Wing Chun Techniques, Part 1

In the martial arts, one school of thought holds that you should change your game to match your opponent’s. Example: If you’re a stand-up fighter and you’re facing a grappler, you should immediately switch into grappling mode. Problem is, that requires you to train to such an extent that each subset of your skills is superior to the skills of a person who focuses on only that range of combat. Your grappling must be better than a grappler’s, your kicking must be better than a kicker’s and your punching must be better than a puncher’s. It’s a tough task, to be sure.

Another school of thought holds that you should never fight force with the same kind of force. In other words, don’t try to beat your opponent at what he does best. Instead, use a set of concepts and techniques that will enable you to nullify his attacks and nail him when he’s not expecting it. The best set of concepts I’ve found is called the science of wing chun, as taught by Black Belt Hall of Fame member William Cheung. It offers a strategic approach to combat that’s guaranteed to help any stand-up fighter prevail on the street.

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Maintain a Balanced Stance
When you’re in a balanced wing chun stance, your opponent won’t be able to read your intentions because you’re not telegraphing the way you’ll fight. He can’t discern your commitment to any move or to any direction.

The stance requires a 50-50 weight distribution at all times. That enables you to move either foot in any direction at anytime. Having maximum mobility, at a moment’s notice, is essential for dealing with armed or multiple attackers. Being balanced also conserves energy, which allows you to channel it to other uses while under attack.

Once your opponent moves, wing chun teaches that you should immediately shift into a side-neutral stance based on the side of your body he attacks. If he comes from your right, you deal with him by using your right arm and right foot, and vice versa. Your stance is now similar to that of a boxer, except that you’re oriented at a 45-degree angle so you’re less open to his blows.

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Attack Your Opponent’s Balance
In any kind of fighting, balance is everything. Strive to maintain yours while attacking your opponent’s. Often, that entails getting him to lean too far into his technique, overcommit to his movement or overextend his body. Without proper balance, he won’t be able to move, block or strike effectively.

In general, grapplers employ a strategy that involves an overzealous commitment to a move. They’ll lean, lunge or throw themselves forward in an effort to take you to the ground, which is their preferred environment. At that point, they’ll attempt to mount you and punch, or they’ll choke you unconscious. That’s all well and good as long as you don’t take advantage of their momentary lack of balance.

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In wing chun, you control your opponent’s balance and then deflect his force primarily by controlling his elbow. As Cheung likes to say, if you control his elbow, you can control his balance.

With practice, you can incorporate the principles of wing chun into your self-defense system no matter what it is.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this Web post in “How to Win a Street Fight Using Wing Chun Techniques, Part 2.”

About the Author:
Lucy Haro has been a disciple of William Cheung for more than 10 years and holds a black sash in traditional wing chun kung fu. A 17-year veteran of the martial arts, she’s also an attorney and entrepreneur.…