Utilizing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Stand-Up Fighting (with videos)
Originally Written on Aug 29, 2012, Updated on July 23, 2019.
In an ongoing continuation of diving into the lesser-known techniques in traditional martial arts in our blog, in order to make better sense of how these techniques can be utilized, we bring you Wing Chun Kung Fu, one of the most popular and effective styles of Chinese Kung Fu that is practiced worldwide.
This article is broken into three parts: What Wing Chun is, its pros and cons, and its use in MMA.
Ip Man and Bruce Lee.
Wing Chun is, of course, Bruce Lee's base martial art, in which he was the first to teach it to foreigners in America. For those unfamiliar with Wing Chun, it is a striking martial art originally invented by a woman. Focusing on using speed and straight-line soft style movements to strike and counter hard style opponents, it is one of the more practical styles of Chinese Kung Fu that can be easily used on the streets (especially crowded places like Asia) or in self defense due to its no-nonsense, straight-line approach and its effectiveness at close range. At the highest levels, its speed, accuracy, and ability to close the distance is quite deadly, provided you don't get taken down by a grappler or eat a hook punch from a boxer.
The following Kung Fu Quest documentary follows the training of a Taekwondo / Karate practitioner eager to find out if Wing Chun Kung Fu really is useful or not. Notes of the documentary are included side by side with the videos, with analysis of Wing Chun's practicality on the street and in MMA afterward noted by asterisks.
Kung Fu Quest - Wing Chun (English Subtitles)
- Origins of Wing Chun, how it got passed down from Shaolin to Canton (Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China) to Hong Kong, and eventually the world.
- The protagonist seeks out a low profile Wing Chun master residing in Macau. The Wing Chun sifu was previously a champion of free fighting competitions in Asia.
- Wing Chun core technique, the straight chain punch. Using the least amount of time, energy, and distance to strike your opponent with straight, chain punches. Chain punching is hit with immediate impact but released as soon as it lands for the next strike, using technique instead of muscle, allowing you to chain together many strikes.
- The re-emergence of Wing Chun Kung Fu in pop culture and films due to the popularity of Donnie Yen in Ip Man films.
- Another Wing Chun sifu explains that he is only 5'7, 140lbs. but can fight off a 200lbs. opponent because Wing Chun uses soft techniques to overcome hard strikes. (*)
- Basic Wing Chun centerline theory. Putting yourself in the centerline will open your opponent up for your strikes while deflecting your opponent away from your center line at the same time disables him from attacking. This is the core concept of Wing Chun and why it is so effective in close range combat.
- Wing Chun stance. Sifu explains the square stance allows him to use both hands and feet to attack, whereas the side stance that Karate or Taekwondo uses can only use one side of their limbs, making it too slow to use both.(**)
- Wing Chun theory / version of "rope a dope", late delay attack. Sifu explains that he will allow his opponent to touch him (or graze him slightly) only to lure him into a false sense of security by unleashing an unblockable counter attack that will finish his opponent. This is similar to the rope a dope in boxing where one rolls with the punches, only to open up the opponent further for counter attack or used to waste the opponent's energy.
- Wing Chun Chi Sau (Sticky Hands). The most famous technique of Wing Chun is the sticky hands. Sifu explains that by sticking one's hands to his opponent's hands, he can feel where the opponent moves, what he is trying to do, when he is striking, etc. and counter accordingly just by feeling and without using his eyes (therefore decreasing reaction time and trapping his opponent).
- Sifu also explains that the more calm and relaxed you are while fighting, the better you will perform and the faster and more naturally you can think and react.
- A different Wing Chun Sifu explains the "six and a half" long staff techniques of the Wing Chun style, originating from boat paddlers and sailors in the southern regions of China. The Wing Chun staff techniques complement the Wing Chun style.
- A foreigner explains her reasoning for learning Wing Chun in Foshan, China (the birthplace of Wing Chun).
- Sifu explains another Wing Chun technique, called "entering the stance". This move is used to close the distance between two fighters and effectively engages the techniques of Wing Chun. The placement of his foot also traps his opponent to where he wants them to go, leading them into a trap of Wing Chun sticky hand techniques and chain punches.
- Important quote: "In order to win, you have to lose first. This student is still immature. If you can't accept losing, you can't learn how to win. A true champion must learn defeat before becoming a champion. It's like that for everything in life."
- The Wing Chun style is unique to the southern China region because it is most effective in close quarters combat in tight alleyways and crowded streets. No flashy movements, just quick and effective techniques.
- An MMA self-defense and combat practitioner explains that he teaches a different style of Wing Chun, a system he modified for use in fighting and combat. Here he implies that the old traditional style of Wing Chun isn't enough and that one needs to train it for fighting in order to really make use of it.
- Sifu master teaches the final "secret" technique of Wing Chun. The meaning behind the name isn't from the words "finger" and "thrust". Rather, it is explaining the concept of "if you only focus on the finger while it is pointed to the moon, you miss all the heavenly glory" (Bruce Lee). He is talking about thinking long term, with the end result in mind, rather than focusing on short term and winning short term goals. He explains that there are times where a Wing Chun practitioner will purposely lose one or two moves (give up a move) only to counter attack for a greater effect / shut down the opponent completely. This is similar to the rope a dope foundation he explained earlier.
- Sifu goes on to explain some of the close quarters elbowing techniques to counter an opponent that turtles into a ball from the chain strikes in order to tackle him. (***)
- Not much to be said about the final challenge match. The Sifu is supposedly testing what the student has learned in this one month time span, and the student is trying to only use what he learned from Wing Chun (not any other martial arts techniques) and respects the teacher too much to do anything of note. (****)
Wing Chun's weaknesses
Bruce Lee explained a little bit of Wing Chun himself in the opening scene of Enter The Dragon.
Before we get into how we should use Wing Chun for stand up fighting, let's get the obvious holes out of the way first:
(*) Despite his claims, Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Chun (son of Ip Man) personally has admitted in an interview that Wing Chun while great as a martial art or for self-defense, it is not complete enough as a form of real combat or fighting system. More on this later.
(**) Bruce Lee himself has moved away from the square stance in favour of a boxing stance, with one side in front and one behind in his book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. What does this mean? This means Bruce has been thinking and evolving his fighting style as he moved away from Wing Chun. While the Wing Chun Sifu claims a square stance is more efficient, it is only more useful for Wing Chun-based attacks. One can see that a square stance limits your actual striking power, lateral movement opens your body up for more places to strike than if you hid your body sideways, and also makes you susceptible to tackles and takedowns.
(***) This elbowing technique is practically useless as we know it in modern-day MMA. A wrestler will simply lift you over their head and slam you onto the ground while a grappler will initiate a clinch and trip takedown quite easily.
(****) We can see that using Wing Chun inside the sports world, with boxing gloves and rules applied, is nullified of any real impact. You can no longer strike with your knuckles, palms, knife-hands, and forearms, and are regulated to winging your punches like a boxer. You should just train boxing then if your goal is to fight in a ring, as Wing Chun training is far removed from the sports world to be utilized effectively. With his square stance and chin straight up in the air, this Sifu would easily be knocked out by any decent boxer.
Using Wing Chun Kung Fu Effectively For Fighting
How do we utilize Wing Chun techniques in real stand up fighting then? Let's see Wing Chun in action, done right:
Wing Chun vs. Kyokushin Karate
Wing Chun vs. Taekwondo
Wing Chun vs Muay Thai
We can see that Wing Chun, at a high skill level used by an aggressive practitioner, is quite effective at controlling the distance and striking in close quarters (in a non-sport environment). Wing Chun is arguably able to diffuse styles like Karate and Taekwondo, because it is a martial art that is all about controlling distance. It is also superior in a sense, that it can nullify Karate because Karate relies on a mid-range attack, but once they get too close, the Wing Chun practitioner is able to "stick onto" his opponent and unleash a volley of strikes.
As we can see from the above clip, the Kyokushin Karate practitioner is exposed once he comes too close to the Wing Chun fighter. Because Kyokushin relies on kicks and body punches, but no punches to the face, he is uncomfortable trading punches at close range because the Wing Chun style is all about controlling the hands at close range and returning fire at an open opponent all over the torso, neck, and head.
In the second clip, we see that the Taekwondo fighter (the title of the video is wrong, he clearly uses a Taekwondo stance and only throws kicking techniques) is trying to use kicks from the outside to hit the Wing Chun fighter. While he may initially be able to sneak a few kicks in, stylistically, Wing Chun holds the advantage here because a good Wing Chun fighter will close the distance either right before a kick is thrown or right after it. This means every time a Taekwondo fighter chooses to throw a kick, he will open himself up for a volley of incoming strikes that he will find impossible to defend against because Taekwondo is a long-range martial art, and does not really have any close-range combat techniques (that are unique to its style).
In the third clip, we simply see what a good Wing Chun fighter can do to an inexperienced Muay Thai fighter. He closes the distance instantly, nullifies his use of his boxing or kicks, and immediately strikes him enough times to move him backward - even hilariously smashing the mirror.
We know that Wing Chun's effectiveness (arguably) ends there, as a boxer has a wider range of movement and punching techniques to counter the straight-line techniques of Wing Chun with hooks, body shots, and uppercuts, while a good Muay Thai fighter has low kicks, elbows, and knees from the clinch at his disposal to destroy Wing Chun's close combat range.
When compared to other styles, Wing Chun, like many Kung Fu styles, also suffer from its hard learning curve to practicality ratio. With equal time spent in other martial arts, their techniques can probably be used more effectively than if they trained Wing Chun, which takes longer to learn and master.
But despite this, Bruce Lee, the Godfather of MMA, has actually took Wing Chun concepts and modified them for combat.
Wing Chun Used In MMA
Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee's "fighting philosophy" (not a style like many claim), utilizes many Wing Chun-like techniques. A technique Bruce loves to use is the side kick to the knee. This uses the Wing Chun concept of a straight line attack being the quickest and most efficient way to strike an opponent, used via a side kick (the longest ranged weapon in your arsenal) to the knee (closest target of an opponent).
Another strike, which is also very Wing Chun-like in its execution, is the finger jab. Similar to a boxer's jab, the finger jab is thrown with speed and effectiveness to very vulnerable targets in the human body, the throat or the face (eyes). A great combo Bruce loves to use is combining the two together into the knee kick and finger jab; centerline attack making it lightning quick, very damaging to the limbs / organs, yet still simple and energy-efficient like Wing Chun. He demonstrates both techniques here:
You see that Wing Chun is very much an intercepting style, unique on its own, and that is why Bruce Lee called Jeet Kune Do "The Way of the Intercepting Fist".
In MMA, some of Wing Chun's most damaging strikes have already been indirectly used by fighters like Jon Jones, who uses fingers in an opponents face to keep them at distance and side kicks to the knee cap to damage their legs.
A mixture of Wing Chun Sticky Hands "Chi Sau" hand trapping elbows and boxing is effectively used by UFC Interim Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson.
Last but not least, Anderson Silva has utilized Wing Chun's "Bong Sau" blocking and deflection techniques in order to parry his opponent's strikes and land counter-strikes of his own.
We haven't seen someone use chain punches from the mount, but we can imagine that would be a pretty cool sight to see. On top of all that, we know Wing Chun is useful for females to learn because it focuses on speed and technique rather than strength and muscle. At a high level, the chain punching, hand trapping, and centerline striking indeed can be used in street situations if done correctly.
For all other situations fighting in close quarters, we recommend Jiu-Jitsu or grappling.
- Dynasty Team