The Guiding Theory of Wing Chun
In the above, many words have been spent to describe what Wing Chun isn't and what it is. We said, in the introduction, that we would attempt to tighten the circle of meaning around Wing Chun so as to capture its essence. Hopefully, the above description has paved the way to a more specific definition of what constitutes the essence of Wing Chun. We could have begun with the narrow, essential definition of Wing Chun and from there we could have illustrated the specific concept via generalized examples.
However, an argument can be made for working in the opposite direction, i.e., from the general to the specific (in the sense of learning the mechanics first, then the guiding principle that ties it all together), since this actually accords with the mastery of Wing Chun itself, where the practitioner is taught a number of mechanical steps, each new step building on the preceding one, etc., etc., in a continuous progression where the practitioner becomes more and more adept at the mechanics of Wing Chun until s/he is ready to be introduced to the philosophy – or spiritual essence, if you will – that lies behind Wing Chun.
The guiding principle, the spiritual essence, of Wing Chun is to be able to harness one's chi (qi) and then release it into one's hands and feet, firstly, then into the Wooden Dummy and finally, into the weapons – first the Dragon Pole, then the Butterfly Swords (each of these terms will be described when their respective uses are presented farther below). The hands and feet of a Wing Chun Kung Fu (WCKF) fighter, in the ultimate stages of Wing Chun training, become weapons, since the power that they can release is multiplied several-fold, just as a Dragon Pole is not just a long wooden pole in the hands of a WCKF master, nor is a set of Butterfly Swords simply a set of fancy knives; they are both transformed into potentially lethal weapons.
To understand how this is possible one must understand how chi is released, while to be able to release chi one must first be able to harness it, which involves meditation, or qigong ([气功], aka Chi Kung). Without, in this article, attempting to lay out the theory and practice of harnessing and releasing chi (you can read about Qigong here), suffice it to say that with the release of chi, a series of vibrations are set up in the practitioner's hands, the feet, the Wooden Dummy or the weapons, as the case may be, which, when these chi-amplified limbs and extensions of limbs make contact with the opponent, cause much greater physical damage than they would with a corresponding but simple, non chi-amplified strike.*(4)
*(4) A graphic comparison might be the difference in damage to the body that a 22-caliber bullet can provoke when fired by a simple 22-caliber rifle or pistol compared to the damage that is provoked when the same caliber bullet is fired by the M-16 assault rifle (the M-16 assault rifle is a weapon used by the US military). In the first instance, the 22-caliber bullet will poke a relatively neat hole in the body, and, at best (if it is made of soft material or made with a hollow point), can tear a hole in the tissue the size of a fat cigar – or snap a bone in two – whereas the same bullet fired by the M-16 assault rifle rips up flesh and bone, leaving a crater the size of a small bowl; worse, if it hits a major artery, it can cause such severe shock to the artery that the shock waves from it, when they reach the heart, can cause the heart to seize up.
This is because the bullet fired by an ordinary pistol or rifle travels like any normal projectile (think of the way that an American football, which is a projectile of sorts, flies through the air when passed by the quarterback... it spins on its lengthwise axis, wobbling a bit at worse), while the bullet fired by the M-16 assault rifle does not rotate on its lengthwise axis, but flips through the air, setting up shock waves with tremendous force (since the M-16 is an automatic, and since the soldier uses it to "spray" the target, a body (or dummy) hit by such a spray of tumbling bullets looks like it was ripped apart by a mini-tornado – it is not a sight for the queasy, not even when the target is a dummy!).
The M-16 like amplification of movement, if you will, that releases the extra, "explosive" force of chi, called Fa Jin [發勁], is brought about by a self-provoked trembling of the body, which begins at the root (in the feet) and travels through the legs, the torso, the arms and finally the hands – and their extensions, if a weapon is used – as the WCKF master executes the strike. A kind of natural rapid trembling that comes close to Fa Jin (some say that it is Fa Jin) is the sneeze that shakes the entire body. Whatever alien object it is inside the nose or sinuses that triggers the sneeze could not be expelled from the body, say Wing Chun experts, by normal blowing or snorting – or by any other kind of deliberate method – but requires this special trembling followed by an "explosive" release of force, the "Ah-choo!", though a WCKF master just might be able to replicate this effect if he trained himself in the art (it is an art!) of releasing Fa Jin not through the extremities but through the nose : ).
Fa Jin is summoned, as it were, via the chi, and this can only be learned and mastered by intense meditative training (qigong/ Chi Kung) combined with extensive practice, until the WCKF fighter can, at will, tap into his chi, harness it and transmit it through his limbs and their extensions. Just as in karate, the proper blow with the edge of one's hand can break the seemingly unbreakable, a Fa Jin blow with a Butterfly Sword, for example – even at close range (i.e., with very little "swing") – can sever a limb. As can be appreciated, not all students of Wing Chun advance this far.
To do so requires that one learn the mechanics of Wing Chun in the proper sequence, where practice on the Wooden Dummy in particular is what makes for perfection. In fact, the perfection of Fa Jin, say WCKF masters, requires hours and hours spent at the Wooden Dummy, because it is only via the Wooden Dummy that one receives the requisite feedback from one's Fa Jin experiments that can guide one into the correct path of Fa Jin.
Similarly, mastery of Dim Mak (Dian Xue [點脈]), which is supposed to be a Fa Jin like technique for delivering a strike to a key pressure point of the body, incapacitating – and sometimes even killing – the opponent, is said to be best learned on the Wooden Dummy. The Dim Mak technique – referred to as the Touch of Death by an American practitioner, albeit, a Wing Chun practitioner of dubious martial arts credentials – belongs more to the Wuxia genre of Chinese martial arts fiction than to the Wing Chun tradition. Dim Mak is said to rest partly on its psychic qualities and partly on the Fa Jin like vibrations that it is alleged to produce, which, in the case of Dim Mak, are allegedly delivered in the form of a wave.
However, some believe that Dim Mak may actually have a scientific basis, namely, a scientific basis in the very same principles that govern acupuncture, though it is difficult to verify Dim Mak's efficacy in this direction, for the obvious reasons (once killed, opponents tend to stay that way :( ...).
There is a tendency in modern Wing Chun to downplay the significance of the Wooden Dummy (a properly constructed Wooden Dummy made of hardwood is not cheap either!), while those who have progressed far enough with Wing Chun to acquire an insight into the discipline's completeness – and these include at least a handful of currently living, truly insightful Wing Chun masters spread around the world – will tell you that there is no shortcut to learning the completeness of Wing Chun, and that this completeness simply cannot be acquired without intensive Chi Kung meditation ("tapping into one's qi/ chi") and extensive training on the Wooden Dummy, since the construction of the Wooden Dummy is specifically designed to facilitate feedback from the forces of chi that one unleashes into (not onto, as the neophyte might mistakenly tend to believe!) the Wooden Dummy.
Furthermore, these masters will tell you that only after the practitioner has mastered the dialectic, as it were, with the Wooden Dummy (it becomes a veritable "living" dummy, i.e., not a dummy at all, thanks to its peculiar but deliberate construction), is the student of Wing Chun ready to progress to the Weapons forms stage (forms will be defined below where they are introduced). Thus the proper sequence for learning Wing Chun is to learn the Empty Hand forms with a teacher (while integrating them with Chi Kung meditation, or 'harnessing one's chi', of course), then re-learn them (perfect them) on the Wooden Dummy (where one learns not only how to harness but also how to release one's chi), then – and only then – to proceed to the Weapons forms. In the following we will examine these various stages, omitting here, as earlier indicated, the Wooden Dummy, since we have dedicated a separate article to that very important topic.
Read the next section here, The Mechanics of Wing Chun Empty Hand Forms.