The Wing Chun Concepts curriculum consists of three primary elements, Structural Development Forms, or simply Forms, Reflex Development Drills, or Drills, and Tactical Development Drills, or Tactics. There are also two supplementary elements, Weapon Training and Equipment Training.
All of the Wing Chun techniques are first learned from the Forms and Drills. These sequences provide a safe and effective way to practice and polish the skills. It is important to note that the intent, focus, content and sequence of movements for both Forms and Drills can change from lineage to lineage, or even from school to school. The most common curriculum framework includes three empty hand forms, one wooden dummy form and two weapons forms. The Drill progression generally moves from basic blocks, strikes and trapping to various forms of sticking-hands and sticking-legs (chi sau and chi gerk) drills, and finally to pre-arranged and then free-form sparring.
Tactics are a modern evolution of traditional (gwoh sau and maai saan jong) combat sparring. Tactical drills pair Wing Chun technique with Real World situations to create a laboratory for problem solving. Tactics are used to incrementally prepare students for sparring and to test the legitimacy of Wing Chun technique. Tactics may be trained against one or more attackers, with or without weapons present, and you may be defending from a standing position, be pinned against a wall, be seated, or be flat on the ground. Tactical drills often use modern training equipment such as focus mitts, Muay Thai pads and kicking shields.
Below is an overview of the entire Wing Chun Concepts curriculum. It follows a strict linear progression where every completed step in the syllabus builds a foundation for the next. This allows the body to learn, adapt and integrate the techniques until they can be expressed reflexively without conscious thought. The progression also takes into account the changes and transformation in both body and mind. Command and Mastery of each step creates an ever-growing comprehension of the principles and concepts.
Wing Chun Concepts does not use belts or formal, military-style ranking. Instead, it uses simple levels of study, much like the progression through college: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. Since no one wears kimonos anymore, there is no practical need for belts or sashes. Instead, we use T-shirts, marked and color-coded to note the current level of training. There are eight levels in all, including two preparation levels, three core levels, and three optional levels of sharpening, polishing and refining.
LEVEL ONE: INITIATE
This is the introductory level with a focus on orientation. This is like the time spent in high school figuring out your major and the university you want to attend. You learn the requirements for studying Kung Fu, the specific focus of the Zen-based martial arts of Shaolin, and the unique character and objective of the science of Wing Chun. The lessons in this course definitively answer the question, “Is Wing Chun right for me?” Upon completion, if you decide to continue the training, you become an Initiate of the Wing Chun Way.
LEVEL TWO: ORIGIN
This is the foundation level with a focus on building strong basics. This is like summer school prior to the first year of college where you remediate or fine-tune your academics. If you are new to martial arts training, you will want to spend some time at this level to acclimate to the mental and physical demands of training. Building a strong foundation of skill, fitness and mental endurance at this level assures success in future levels and helps prevent injury. Experienced martial artists should briefly review this level, paying special attention to anything that might be new or significantly different from your previous training. You will learn how to hit without breaking your hand. You will learn about movement and about stillness. You will learn about power, and focus, and intent.
LEVEL THREE: FORGE
If Wing Chun were a legendary sword, this would be the level where the metal was forged, shaped and tempered. It is also the level where you are given the Keys to the entire system. You will learn the first of three empty-hand forms, learn the shapes and the uses of twenty different Wing Chun “Hands,” and master all of the foundation-level drills of Wing Chun. You will strengthen your structure and connection with the Earth, develop intrinsic strength in your posture, learn to physically connect with an attacker, cultivate energy through breath, and learn to relax and quiet both body and mind on demand.
LEVEL FOUR: INTEGRATION
In the equivalent of your sophomore year in Wing Chun, you will learn full-body integration, moving instinctively and intuitively as one continuous whole. You will learn the second empty-hand form, learn to flow through all of the Wing Chun “Hands,” and master all of the intermediate level drills. You will begin to refine your technique on the Wooden Dummy or Battle Post. You will learn to move, dynamically retarget, and effectively hit and defend all “Gates” or vectors of attack. You will master the sets of eight strikes, kicks, elbows and fingers.
LEVEL FIVE: SHARPEN
As a junior in the university of Wing Chun, you will be challenged to deepen your understanding of Wing Chun. You will learn the third and final empty-hand form, complete the Wooden Dummy form, and master all of the advanced drills. This is the level of “conscious competence,” where your focus is on sharpening your skills, reflexes and instincts.
LEVEL SIX: FIGHTER
The senior or graduate level of Wing Chun is devoted to Tactics and sparring. This is where all of your knowledge and skill — and your physical, mental and spiritual endurance — will be put to the test. This is the level of “stress inoculation,” where you will stare back into the face of raw human violence. You will learn to problem-solve — using Wing Chun concepts, principles and tactics — the worst-case scenarios of attack and assault.
LEVEL SEVEN: WARRIOR
This completely optional post-graduate level introduces both classical weapons (the long pole and butterfly swords) and modern weapons (sticks, knives, guns) into the mix. This is the realm of crisis and chaos in the Real World. This is the level of “unconscious competence,” where you hone your skills, reflexes and instincts to respond without conscious thought. You literally become “weaponized,” able to use your entire body and any available tool to attack and defend.
LEVEL EIGHT: SIFU
For those to whom Wing Chun has become an inseparable part of their Kung Fu Life, this level provides the skills to become an instructor and take the knowledge of Wing Chun to the next generation. In a sense, this is not the conclusion of training, but rather a new beginning. You quite literally return to the beginning and progress through the system again, but this time with the perspective of learning to articulate and pass on the training to others.
Forms are solo exercises which develop focus, balance, proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. The forms introduce the hand positions, techniques and defining movements of each progressive level of Wing Chun and provide a way to practice without a partner.
Students begin their Forms training by learning the gross mechanical movements, simply learning the "choreography" of the sequence. Once they have the pattern, they begin to carefully refine the structural precision of each movement. They gain a clear awareness of the chains of movement, their shifting balance, and the functional importance of each technique. As they progress, students will develop a sense of flow, control both tension and relaxation, and understand force generation.
The first and most important form in Wing Chun is Siu Lim Tau, or "The Little Idea." This is the foundation upon which all of the other forms and techniques are developed. In just this one form, the student is introduced to Centerline Theory, Wing Chun punching, the Yee Jee Kim Yung Ma training stance, the principles of Elbow Power, and a variety of hand techniques, including the three poison hands of Wing Chun: Tan, Bong, and Fook.
The second form in Wing Chun is Chum Kiu, or "Seeking the Bridge." It is typically considered the most difficult of the three forms to learn, but is also the most popular. Chum Kiu focuses on controlled, coordinated movement of the entire body and generating power through rapid twisting motions. In Siu Lim Tau, the hands merely have to occupy the centerline. In Chum Kiu, you have to turn and move your centerline while maintaining your balance. Chum Kiu also introduces the first elbow and kicking techniques.
The third form in Wing Chun is Biu Jee, or "Standard Compass." This form is comprised of extreme short-range and extreme long-range techniques, low kicks and sweeps, and "emergency techniques" to recover and respond when structure has seriously compromised. Biu Jee was designed to train the hands to return to centerline and the body to recover to balance, even from extreme angles and awkward positions — just as the compass needle always returns to North after any movement.
Drills are often called San Sik (separate forms) or San Sau (separate hands) in traditional Wing Chun schools. Drills range from the repetitive practice of basic motions to simple bridging and countering techniques to free-flow sparring.
Most Drills are loosely grouped into three broad categories: (1) developing basic structure and mechanics through punching, blocking, shifting and stepping; (2) building timing skill through fundamental arm cycles and interceptions; and (3) cultivating sensitivity and kinesthetic "listening" skills.
By design, the Drills in the Wing Chun Concepts course are weighted heavily towards Solo Command and Mastery — drills that you can practice alone using simple and inexpensive equipment. Some are unique to this course, some are adapted from traditional partner drills, and some are adapted from other martial arts, sports performance training, and modern tactical or combative training.
For students who have access to in-person training at a Wing Chun school or who have a dedicated training partner, we also explore all of the most essential partner drills from traditional Wing Chun. For reference, the core partner Drills from Wing Chun Concepts include:
Wing Chun utilizes very specialized training equipment to enhance and optimize a student’s skill. In some cases, equipment allows students to express significantly more force than they could with a partner, physically conditioning the student’s body and providing experience hitting with power. In other cases, equipment fine-tunes and focuses technique for precise application of movement.
The Wing Chun Concepts course will primarily utilize the Wing Chun Battle Post or Da Jong, which combines the most important features of both the Wooden Dummy and the wall bag. The Concepts course includes detailed lessons on how to construct your own Battle Post easily and inexpensively. Other equipment is optional but will be illustrated in the course for completeness.
The traditional Battle Post was simply a padded wooden stake in the ground that a fighter would practice hitting. This is not unique to Kung Fu. A variation called the makiwara is widely used in the Japanese martial arts, and a pell was essential to warriors across the expanse of the Roman Empire and throughout medieval Europe. The Wing Chun Concepts Battle Post is a modern interpretation, using modular components for striking practice, learning the Wooden Dummy form, and training with impact and edged weapons.
The most famous and most easily recognized piece of Kung Fu training equipment in the world is the Mook Yan Jong, or Wooden Dummy. Made from a man-sized wooden log with three arms and a single leg, the Wooden Dummy acts as a "mold" for the student's techniques. Practicing with the wooden dummy refines the student's understanding of angles, positions and footwork, and helps to develop full body power. It is here on the Mook Yan Jong that the open hand techniques are pieced together and understood as a flowing, integrated whole.
The Mook Wan, or Wooden Ring, is a less-famous piece of Wing Chun training equipment used by some traditional lineages. The ten-inch to fourteen-inch ring is most often made of bamboo or rattan, and is used for training the student to seamlessly flow from one technique to another while maintaining a very precise structure.
Many Wing Chun schools make extensive use of the Sau Bao, or Wall Bag, to teach how to deliver force with a strike. The bags are usually canvas and filled with dried beans, but other construction and filler materials are also common today. The training is incremental, teaching first how to hit without injuring the hand, then advancing to ways to fajing or release force into the bag. The methodical training process is simultaneously conditioning the hands for the work of Kung Fu.
The Gerk Jong, or Kicking Dummy, is one of the least-known pieces of Wing Chun training equipment. It is most often constructed of wooden posts sunk into the ground, although some schools have built posts on a frame for indoor training. The training consists of kicking, checking and moving around the posts at various angles and in specific patterns.
Once the student has mastered the ability to generate and utilize Jing or force in the open hand forms, they can progress to the Wing Chun weapons training. The three empty-hand forms train to deliver force to the end of the finger tips. With weapons training, the student is taught to extend that force through the weapon as an extension of the body. The weapon forms are also considered as an advanced form of conditioning training for the hands, wrists and forearms.
The Baat Jaam Do knife form utilizes a pair of large "Butterfly Knives." The knives are shorter that the common Chinese short sword (Dao), but larger than the Willow Leaf knife used by the drummer in Chinese lion dancing. Historically the knives were also referred to as Dit Ming Do, or "Life-Taking Knives." There are two stories about where Baat Jaam Do got its name: one from the knife form having eight sections, another from there being eight slashing cuts in the first section of the form.
The Luk Dim Boon Kwan is a tapered wooden pole ranging anywhere from eight to thirteen feet in length. The pole trains seven key principles: Tai (uprooting), Lan (expansion), Dim (shock), Kit (deflect), Got (cut down), Wan (circle), and Lau (flowing). These same principles are used throughout the unarmed forms of Wing Chun as well. The name six and a half point pole comes from these seven principles, with the last principle – Flowing – counting as half a point.
While not strictly traditional, the Wing Chun Concepts course explores how to apply all of the concepts and principles of Wing Chun to the most common weapons used in the modern world: impact weapons like sticks and batons, edged weapons like fixed blade or folding knives, and revolvers or semi-automatic handguns. This training uses a simple matrix of weapon/counter-weapon tactics (ie, hand vs stick, stick vs stick, stick vs knife, etc), all while seeking Wing Chun efficiency and economy of motion.
The Wing Chun Concepts curriculum covers a lot of material, but is focused on a single outcome: forging a warrior’s skill, a warrior’s body, and a warrior’s spirit. We will conclude this section with a short parable from Kung Fu lore:
A young disciple was training with his sifu in the master’s beautiful garden when the student posed a question. “Master, you have taught me the ways of Zen, the discipline of body and mind, and speak always of peace and non-violence. Yet from you I have learned the deadly techniques of combat and the tactics of war. How do you reconcile the two?”
The master nodded and gestured around him to the moss-covered rocks, flowers and lush garden path. “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
This simple concept was recorded as early as the Shiji or the “Records of the Grand Historian,” dating from the second century BC in ancient China. It is perhaps most widely known from the Latin phrase, si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning, “if you want peace, prepare for war.”
The monks of Shaolin, and all those who follow the true way of Kung Fu, do not want to fight, but are ready to fight. The ultimate purpose of the warrior — his very reason for fighting — is to achieve peace. The goal of Wing Chun and this course is transformation: peace within you, and peace in the world. The discipline, the training, is the Warrior’s Way: to seek peace, but to know if the wolf comes to your door, you are prepared.
NEXT: The Wing Chun Training Methodology
The next chapter explores the unique framework of the Wing Chun Concepts training methodology. The process as outlined in this guide is designed to cultivate maximum skill in Wing Chun Kung Fu in the minimum amount of time and with the least possible impact on the rest of your daily schedule.