The stereotype surrounding Chinese kung fu is that its movements resemble those of a dance. Instructors are keen to disillusion us of this, stressing that effective kung fu doesn’t look pretty. Though the gymnastic posturing and fluid movements of many styles might suggest otherwise, and wouldn’t be entirely out of place in many an avant-garde ballet, it is clearly important to them that the association be dropped. But, if we are to take lack of ostentation to indeed be the judge of effectiveness, then Wing Chun must surely be the most potent of all.
Wing Chun isn’t flamboyant. It’s the super slimmed down Scandinavian minimalism of martial arts, leaving the likes of Shaolin kung fu looking a rather ostentatious Rococo. It lacks the cupolas and fluting of its more baroque cousins, because Wing Chun seeks to embody a direct application of style. Central to its philosophy is the centre line, that middle point which bisects the human body. Wing Chun seeks to ensure that, as all of the bodies more delicate bits are located along this imaginary line, attacks are always focuses towards the opponent’s centre.
Wing Chun emphasises balance and control over all else. This means high kicks and weighted punches are off the table, attacks work in combination with an emphasis on close quarter combat. Wing Chun seeks to develop an understanding of body angles and human motion in order to permit its practitioners to gain mastery. Developed by a woman, this martial art seeks to empower guile in the face of strength.
Wing Chun is a David versus Goliath form in a world which is increasingly encouraging protein shake induced Goliaths. One of the most heartening sights I’ve seen in kung fu is the elderly wing chun master Ip Chun schooling fit young men in their twenties. Wing Chun employs a minimum of force to a maximum impact, the older man was able to push, manipulate, and pass the guard of his opponents with apparent ease.
Strength in Wing Chun comes not from the arms, but the energy passes through the body’s frame, emanating from the legs. This makes Wing Chun an unshowy form as the essential muscle groups are the legs, core, and triceps. Overdeveloped bicep muscles are seen as a disadvantage as they are seen to pull against a punch, reducing its speed.
It’s a stripped down easy to assemble form, which can be applied quickly and yet grow over a lifetime of mastery.
Ikea like though it might be in design and execution, Wing Chun has not gained the dominance that might be expected of such a potent usable style. Wing Chun is a very organic discipline with no external body or regulation. Skills are transferred from master to pupil with interpretations varying between practitioners, each placing their own emphasis on the art. The biggest challenge in approaching Wing Chun is finding a teacher that chimes with your own philosophy and approach. This might make it less accessible, but it still leaves it worth the search.