When we try to explain what Wing Chun really is, we tend to mainly focus on the external characteristics of the Wing Chun system: It is mainly a fighting art, which is recognisable by its direct and efficient moves (mainly at a short distance), many hand-techniques and mostly low leg techniques during which the attack is combined with defence at the same time. We also try to describe what Wing Chun will enable us to do: Surpassing the size (and/or stronger) opponent by using his own force against him. As according to the legend Yim Wing Chun was able gain victory over her male opponent.
The above is all true, of course, but it still does not answer the question: “What is it that makes Wing Chun different from other martial arts?” Wing Chun does not stand alone with the specifics previously described. Many other martial arts make use of the force of the opponent or combine the attack with defence.
These trademarks are therefore not unique. By solely focussing on these we deprive Wing Chun of its merits. What really sets Wing Chun apart are the underlying principles (Kun Kut) which do not solely consist of moves but involve the interaction with an opponent as well and thus Wing Chun sets itself apart from the others making it unique.
Many martial arts and competition fighting pretend not to be a style, but a system. But in truth they are no more than a number of collected techniques. The techniques used have proven themselves to be effective during the past, or have been handed down from generation to generation. Often those arts do not really have a logical and comprehensive content, and as such they are more of a collection of moves instead of a system. A system however is defined by the internal and comprehensive logics which glue the separate parts together.
And it is exactly that which separates Wing Chun from other martial arts.
In GM Wang Kiu’s vision Wing Chun hence was not a style, but a system based on a theory. A theory on how a fight can be approached best. This theory is built up from a number of basic principles, the so called Kun Kut. Freely translated this means: “the principles of the fist”, or, “the principles of boxing”.
These principles guide the Wing Chun systems on all levels:
- technical (how to execute the move),
- tactical (how the move is applied) and
- strategic (how the fight is approached).
Besides the above described applications, the principles have an impact on how the system can be mastered best. And although these principles form the foundation of Wing Chun in particular, they can be applied to any other martial art to make their moves more effective and efficient.
The best metaphor to use to describe this is to compare mastering Wing Chun with the mastering of a foreign language. The separate techniques are the words; the words are threaded together by using a fixed set of rules and thus result in a sentence. This set of rules used within a language is what we call grammar. Within Wing Chun one can compare the principles to grammar.
Learning a language starts with building up a vocabulary. Wing Chun has its individual techniques to master. Then follows the learning of easy sentences. These are often occurring basic sentences which are used at many occasions. And although it may not be completely clear to the student how the sentence has been built up grammatically, this will enable the student to communicate during various practical situations. These basic sentences can be compared to the often executed combinations of techniques of Wing Chun. Gradually the grammar is mastered increasingly, which enables one to create one’s own sentence. The combinations learned are no longer the fixed solution, but improvising can be applied as the situation requires.
At the highest level one has acquired a level of eloquence; the practitioner speaks the language fluently and can subconsciously apply grammar at a high level. This does not only mean that the practitioner is effortless in the execution of the application, but he can also break away from the set form as a poet does with grammar: style becomes “poetry in motion”, depending on what the situation demands. To quote Bruce Lee:
“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”
The purpose of the system is to be able to in the end think for oneself, not to follow a teacher blindfolded, but to find the underlying logic oneself, and to master this. As a Chinese proverb teaches us: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and he will be fed a lifetime.” Studying Wing Chun will teach the practitioner how to “fish”, One strives to become autonomous instead of dependent. And even to let go of what has previously been acquired and what we have to learn as is the case with any theory, Wing Chun is there to serve us, not the other way around.