The main objective of Wing Tsun (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.
The eight principles of Wing Tsun 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.
As well as describing the progression of a self-defense response, the strength principles also describe the progression a Wing Tsun 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.
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.
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? This applies for the time only when the opponent is blocking your shortest way of attack. Once there is opportunity, you give up sticking, and go in with your attack (flow).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Add Your Own Force.
In addition to borrowing power from your attacker, you can add your own force in an attack.
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.
Lat Sao, which roughly translates as “rolling hands” or “tumbling hands” training.
Lat Sao is a sensitivity drill to obtain specific Chi Sao reflexive responses. Although it may look combative, it should not be confused for sparring or fighting. Lat Sao is a game, in which one partner plays the part of an attacker, and the other a defender. The attacker and defender generally switch roles frequently, or after a set number of attacks. If one is not paying attention, or if the teacher has not explained the drill properly, the training can accelerate and become competitive; if this happens, the students are missing the point of the exercise altogether. Lat Sao is not about hitting your opponent, but about feeding him attacks that he trains to counter. As your partner becomes better, the attacks can be gradually made more difficult to counter by making them faster or more precise. However, once the attack is consistently getting through, it should be slowed down again, so that the defender can identify his mistake, or “hole” in the defense.
The Lat Sao program is something particular to the European branch of the Leung Ting style of teaching Wing Tsun; the other Wing Chun branches, including the Hong Kong branch of the Leung Ting’s organization generally progress in a more traditional manner from the forms to Chi Sao training to sparring.
Lat Sao can be both beneficial and detrimental when not practiced with awareness of its benefits and its pitfalls. The benefits are generally a more technical and more precise style, because the student spends time testing his limits and finding his mistakes. A secondary benefit is student’s greater confidence and less shock when first confronted with free-sparring programs. The pitfalls are over-reliance on patterns learned in drills and mechanical execution by rote, rather than feeling the opponent’s pressure and reacting to it. It is beneficial to confront the students with unexpected solutions to problems posed in Lat Sao, as an exercise and to demonstrate that each Lat Sao drill is just one of very many possible solutions to a given problem. A good exercise is also asking a student to solve Lat Sao problems using newly learned techniques in each program; even if the things they come up with do not work, the habit of investigating the problem from different angles and not taking Lat Sao as something fixed in stone will help them avoid the pitfalls.
Chi Sao or “sticking hands” is the set of drills used for the development of automatic fighting reflexes. It directly grows out of the main principles of Wing Tsun. In Chi Sao, both must maintain forward pressure, both must stick to prevent opponent’s pressure from coming through and striking, both must yield when opponent attacks with a force that upsets the balance between the two, and both must follow when a way forward opens. The flow of attack and counter attack in Chi Sao alternates, and can be very quick indeed. However, Chi Sao is a partner training exercise, not a sparring or fighting drill, and should not be confused for such. The purpose of Chi Sao is to train the reflexes that let your body know what your opponent is doing, and react to it automatically.
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.
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.
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 person’s 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.
Long Pole, or Luk Dim Boon Kwun Fa
Formally known as the “Six and A Half Point Pole” form, this is the second to last form of the system.
Butterfly Knives , or Bart Cham Dao
Translating as Eight Cut Broadsword, this is the last form of the 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.
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
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 expected to not only know the fundamentals of 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.
Following the student grades are twelve instructor grades . At the instructor levels, the student begins training in the more advanced forms of Wing Tsun including Biu Tze , Wooden Dummy , Butterfly Knives and Long Pole .
The instructor grades are themselves split into three sections, each of which with a particular focus in mind. From 1 st to 4 th Technician level, the student works on his technique, continuously improving and refining it as he learns Biu Tze and begins learning Wooden Dummy. Between 5 th to 8 th Practitioner level, the student learns the final parts of the system, and should have the whole of it, as well as be able to apply everything he’s learned fluently and effortlessly. From 9 th to 11 th Philosopher level, the student is expected to understand the mental, and spiritual, elements of the style, and should contribute back to the style by searching for weaknesses and suggesting improvements in teaching methods, techniques, and drills. The final, 12 th grade is awarded only posthumously, as it presupposes that the one who achieved it, has achieved perfection – and as that is impossible as long as one remains human, it is forever out of reach.
Each instructor grade takes correspondingly longer to achieve. The first twelve student levels take about four years to complete at average attendance twice weekly. The first technician level after that is another year of training; each subsequent grade takes an extra year – so, second technician is two years, third is three, fourth is four, and so on. Of course people can pass their grades faster if they attend class more frequently and train out of class, but generally this is the timeline that one can expect.
A student’s 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. Si means teacher. fu means father.
- Sisok – Younger Uncle (the Sifu’s Sidai ) .Sok means “younger uncle”.
- Dai Sihing – Eldest (kungfu) brother – normally, the student who has been with Sifu the longest. Dai (大) means “oldest,or the first”
- Sihing – Elder Brother
- Sije – Elder (kungfu) 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.
The title of Sifu signifies that the martial artist is an officially recognized and proven teacher. The minimum official IWTO requirements for a Sifu title are as follows:
- The teacher must be at least 28 years old
- The teacher has achieved the 3rd Technician Level and has held it for at least 1 year
- The teacher has brought at least one student from 1st Student Level to 1st Technician Level (normally at least a four year process)
- The teacher has at least 50 students
Traditionally the prospective Sifu also gives his Sifu a present. This is a personal gift between teacher and student, so raw monetary value is not always a factor, however it usually is a significant item.
As the title is a sign of peer recognition of the instructor’s teaching abilities, on some very rare occasions there are exceptions and the Sifu title had been granted when the teacher had 2nd Technician Level for at least a year [ citation needed ] . However this is exceedingly rare, and even exceptional martial artists such as Heinrich Pfaff who taught full-time at the Langenzell Castle headquarters for over 10 years, had 3rd Technician Level when recognized as a Sifu.
Different organizations have differing Sifu requirements, for example The National WingTsun Organization (NWTO) requires 100, or more, active students within the teacher’s network of schools, and they must have produced at least five 1st Grade Technician Level students.
Other requirements may be stipulated by different schools (such as total number of students). The UK National WingTsun Organization (NWTO) requires that the candidate have 100 (500?) or more active students within the teacher’s network of schools, and that the candidate must have produced at least five 1st Technician Level 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.
Uniform and Equipment
While different schools will have different equipment and uniforms, there are some common elements amongst them.
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.
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 has also existed since 1985 (in current form). The headquarters are in Hungary
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.