Monday, 17 September 2012

WingChun KungFu

"My instructor Professor Yip Man, head of the Wing Chun School, would come up to me and say, "Loong (Bruce's Chinese name), relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow the opponent's movement. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment." - Bruce Lee in The Bruce Lee Story by Linda Lee and Tom Bleecker.

Bruce Lee practicing WingChun KungFu with Master Yip Man.
WingChun is the most popular kungfu practice in the world, not because of it's pretty or mysterious methods, but because of it's incredibly practical, easy to learn, and accessible form. WingChun was apparently the name of a girl who used a Southern Shaolin Temple KungFu system to defend herself effectively against a stronger male opponent.
A picture of Yim WingChun defending herself.
Northern Shaolin Temple, where Zen/Ch'an is said to have first established itself, has a long history of yogic and martial practices, the former no doubt supporting the monks' (and any nuns') meditative habits, and the latter likely providing them with protection as they moved from place to place. Knowing how to evade attacks and escape could have helped any ordained Mahayana buddhists to continue to work on fulfilling their vows as Bodhisattvas - to practice Buddhism for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Bodhisattvas in various yogic poses painted on the wall of a cave at DunHuang, China.
I began learning WingChun KungFu in 2000 out of an interest in KungFu movies and self defense. My teacher was a black belt in the Kamon WingChun School, the head of which, Kevin Chan, would grade us on our ability as we progressed through the system. I stopped training in 2003 after reaching half way through the course - I felt that I had gained a level of self defense that was good enough for me to feel safe in most situations, and I began looking for a martial system with a deeper spiritual philosophy. It seems that WingChun as it is now taught is disconnected from any Buddhist practices, and is just a fighting or self-defense system.

Kamon WingChun Master Kevin Chan practicing WingChun KungFu with Master Yip Chun, son of Master Yip Man.
In 2011 I regained my interest in WingChun KungFu after my partner expressed a wish to begin practicing, and since then I have been teaching her what I know. I had learnt many of the techniques used to grade the more advanced students, and there is now a wealth of related resources on the internet, so I have been working my way through the system again. Here is a video of me practising a version of the WingChun Wooden Dummy form:


The first pattern of movements learnt in WingChun is the 'Siu Lim Tao' form - roughly translated as 'small idea'. The first third of this form is practiced as slowly as possible, and so this is a kind of meditation. If one's mind wanders, one can easily forget the next step, so keeping one's focus is very important. In the book 'WingChun KungFu: Traditional Chinese KungFu for Self-defence and Health', p129-140, the author, Michael Tse, student of Master Yip Chun, says the following:
 "Your mind should be calm and empty of thought and your muscles relaxed. Breathe normaly through the nose, not the mouth. As you practice your Qi will develop, your strength will increase and you will find that your mind is much calmer and more balanced. You will not easily become overexcited or distracted by other things. [...] The first part of Siu Lim Tao trains the body internally by helping you to develop a calm mind and stillness. Then, when someone attacks you, you will not panic."
 This video shows me doing the meditative beginning of the third section (the right arm repeats what the left arm does, so the clip stops at this point):

As I walk the streets and encounter people who take up potentially aggressive postures, I feel safer having practiced Wing Chun. I think the art is especially useful for women so that they can close the physical performance gap between themselves and men - especially when defending themselves from violent acts.

The author in the WingChun KungFu 'guard' stance.

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