Looking for Wing Chun

a story by Bill Allen

A Martial Artist spends a lifetime perfecting skills and abilities to be put to use in the few precious moments when one’s survival is at stake. All of the other time is focused on attaining inner balance.

--- Anonymous Martial Arts wisdom

Storefronts in every neighborhood in Chicago are home to Martial Arts schools openly teaching Tae Kwon Do, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, or Kung Fu. However, Wing Chun is often relegated to backrooms, basements, and garages. That’s odd given that this efficient, compact yet deadly Martial Art created in China about 300-years ago has unsurpassed world-wide popularity.

Wing Chun’s popularity can be traced in part to Bruce Lee’s early study of the art and his subsequent rise to world-wide film and Martial Arts fame and also to the efforts of the Leung Ting organization who mass market a lineage of Wing Chun, notably trademarked as ‘Wing Tsun’. However, in Chicago Wing Chun is practically invisible. Why is this?

* * * * *

Towering before me is an ornate gateway decorated with golden dragons.  Sunlight glistens upon eyes, piercing red eyes, which seem to give these mythical beasts life. One step forward and I’m transported onto the crowded streets of Chinatown. I was looking for Wing Chun and here I was sure to find it!

I dodged in and out of storefront shops, even the ones tucked away on side streets. Strangely, everyone around me moved in slow motion. I went into restaurants and talked to waiters, then ducked into kitchens to talk to the cooks. I approached teens hanging out in the plaza. I interrupted old men and women in the park practicing Tai Chi. I asked them all the same question, “Where can I find Wing Chun?”  But I was “gweilo” – a foreigner (and Black at that), so they were tight lipped, pretending not to understand my question. Instead they pointed to neon signs advertising ‘Dim Sum’. Disappointed, yes! But even more so all of the walking had made me hungry.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I’d fallen asleep; my hands lay heavy on the computer keyboard. DREAMING! I was dreaming about Wing Chun.

* * * * *

Okay, no more kidding, let’s get serious. First, I took every opportunity to talk with people about Wing Chun and its history in Chicago. I was told that in 1976 Master Buddy Wu started teaching Wing Chun here after having himself been a student studying under Grandmaster Ho Kam Ming, a senior disciple of Yip Man (the first modern day Wing Chun Master to openly teach this art). Master Wu left Chicago in 1983 to open a Kung fu Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. And in the 1980s Simon Lau and Steve Lee Swift pioneered teaching Wing Chun in Chicago; both have since closed their schools and departed the city. Next, I exhaustively browsed the Internet. There I found only a few schools offering classes in Wing Chun. I read the information in the web sites, called, and arranged visits.

At one school I asked, “Can I sit and watch the class?” My innocent question was met with a hard stare and his stern answer, “Outsiders are not allowed to watch my classes”. He then stepped in front of me, blocking my view and keeping me from seeing, not even a quick peek, around the tattered partitions defining the class space.

At the next school, whose front window was crowded with trophies and medals, an old Chinese man explained that he was a Master in Tai Chi, Shaolin Kung Fu, and Bagua Zhang and that he also knew some Wing Chun. Wanting to impress me further, he then proudly pointed to a poster, “Some of my students were filmed for this Kung Fu video game.”

At the next school I had to wait to talk the Instructor. He was meeting with a fifty something year old man that was busy writing notes. I was able to hear the Instructor say, “Where I studied ain’t important, what matters is that my Wing Chun is effective. I’ll show ya, go on take a punch at me.”

At the next school, actually a small apartment where a wooden dummy and two chairs crowd a tiny living room, an older, settled looking, soft-spoken man speaks to me. He says that he’s traveled thousands of miles to study with Wing Chun Masters all over the country. He says that he’s the only one in Chicago that knows and understands the entire Wing Chun system. He says that if a person can’t tell the difference between a tree and a hallow log then they’re already lost.

 At the next school I watched a class. It reminded me of a scene from a Martial Arts film where hundreds of students are perfectly lined up in an ancient courtyard, punching, kicking and blocking while counting out loud in unison. I’d read that this teaching method is also the modern standard for teaching Martial Arts as it is the most expeditious and profitable. Blocking! Punching! Kicking! Repeated over and over, thousands of times!

Unsatisfied, I was left to question, “What is real and what is fake?” Should I keep looking? Should I go back to the Internet? Read tea leaves? Study the I Ching? Fortunately, I did none of these. On the advice of a friend of a friend I visited one more school, located in large garage. Here I watched the Instructor move about providing individual attention to a small group of students. He moved to one side of the room and guided a student doing forms; then moved over to students doing Chi Sao – explaining it to me as sticking hands, a laboratory in which to explore attacks and blocks; then moved to a student working on the wooden dummy; then over to a student taking a first class. The Instructor explained, “Wing Chun has a structured stance and a centerline punch that comprise the use of the relational structure of bone, ligament, joint, tendon, muscle, lines and angles. The Punch like all hand motions is ‘elbow lead’. Stance develops finding ones center of balance.” Then he spent time showing the beginner the stance and punch. The beginner practiced it over and over while the Instructor watched and frequently adjusted and refined every small detail. I sat for 2 hours watching this class. And I asked many questions; each was answered in a detailed and sensible manner.

I found Wing Chun! And I found it with Sifus who teach for the love of the art and the desire to preserve it and pass it on, just as was done 300-years ago. I learned that Wing Chun … good Wing Chun is not found on every street corner. It will require you to look, but you’ll know when you’ve found it. Just listen to that inner voice that that says, “This makes sense, this feels right”.


Bill Allen has been studying Wing Chun since June of 2006. He found it at the Windy City Wing Chun Gung Fu Federation in Chicago under the instruction of Sifu Ed Cruz and Sifu Ken Weingart.

(Question: How many Wing Chun Principles can you see in this scene? – answer below)

Wing Chun Tips and Treasures
By April Welch

If we were at a party and martial arts were women, Wing Chun would be the unassuming exotic bad ass in the corner watching everyone else fight for attention. Ta Kwon Do would be tall and young with good knees and loads of energy. Wushu would be flashy and pretty with lots of accessories getting tons of attention, though she really can’t hurt anyone. Karate would be rigid and methodical married to memorization and forms. Caporeira would be playful and over exposed. Krav Manga would be a 6-foot tall gun toting solider in drag. The point is Wing Chun is unique among the martial arts and she has no need to flaunt it.

Proficiency in Wing Chun is not based on size and strength. (Though people who couple their size and strength with Wing Chun Principles are extremely formidable) Wing Chun practioners use an understanding of structure, explosive release and center line theory to give themselves an incredible edge over any opponent. To develop these abilities the Wing Chun man or woman will work on finding their center then learn footwork to move with control of their center. They will work on how the Wing Chun principles apply to their personal body structure and emotional state. The they will begin to work on perfecting the Wing Chun punch. Then they will practice the single man techniques until blocks and attacks that respect the triangle and the line are ingrained. Then the Wing Chun practioner will work on chi sao. Chi Sao is not fighting but it is a step up from the drills. Chi sao helps the Wing Chun practioner develop the sensitivity to feel and to control movements- both their own and their opponents. Chi sao gives a person the opportunity to work on distance and leading with their triangle and moving both hands at once. Chi sao helps a person understand timing and it helps them to build confidence in their blocking and ability to attack. Chi sao helps people understand and practice their ability to stick, to equalize and to neutralize. Chi sao tests a person’s stance and footwork and it give them to stage to work on developing flowing motions and learning how to see and take advantage of the line of attack while at the same time learning how to protect their own line and develop that “wall of defense.” Chi sao is like a game and the less thinking the better. The effective Wing Chun man or woman will move with appreciation for setting his or herself up for success and setting his or her opponent up to be hit. Chi sao is used to help the Wing Chun practioner develop the skills that will come naturally in a fight situation. Chi sao is not a fight situation it is a preparation arena used for development with a partner. The best way to develop is to practice practice, practice, then practice with a partner and then to teach what you know to someone else. In a fight situation, anything goes and it is life or death. In a fight situation your punch is your greatest ally and the opponent center line is your only target. There are “hot spots” on the center line to be mindful of. If you stretch your hand out and place your thumb at the top of your forehead your little finger will be in front of your nose (hot spot 1). A clean blow to the nose is hard to recover from especially if it is followed by another clean blow to an opponent who is bent over in shock and pain. If you put your thumb on your nose now your little finger is over your throat, a small but extremely vulnerable target. The next point is the heart. Additionally the center line is dimensional it is not just in the front, an opponent can expose his or her center line from any angle. Wing Chun will exploit this and attack only in the spots that will do real damage and she is not playing. That is why this art is so dangerous, Wing Chun practioners are not trying to fight you, if they do engage they are trying to kill. There is hope though, there is a component to Wing Chun that teaches people to let go of ego, be kind to one another and always seek a path that resolves conflict without fighting. But if the situation is such that there is no other option but to fight Wing Chun will get the job done for sure. 

So, you may be asking yourself where can I learn this power? You may be wondering if there really is a one inch punch. You may be thinking it would be cool if you could defend yourself and others. You may be wondering what else will change in your life if you start learning and applying Wing Chun principles. So again the question looms…”Is it possible to learn this power?” The answer is yes…if you want it. If you commit to it, if you come back to it when life takes you elsewhere the answer is yes. Though the key is finding a school that feels right and finding teachers that are dedicated and willing to take time with you individually. This is not an art you can learn in a big group just by copying what the guy next to you is doing. For me, the teachers I needed were at Windy City Wing Chun. They have already tasted all the option out there and they have skills that I want. Some places have a Jabba the Hut type figure sitting in the background while everyone else works, these guys get up close and personal and show you their skill and help to elevate your own.

(answer- decision, focus, matching, equalize, timing, position, both hands moving at once, adjustment)

The Melancholy
A Ryan Carandang story

      Ever been so depressed that all hope seemed futile? All the years of pride and confidence shattered in an instant? Chances are you’re taking Wing Chun, a.k.a. the heart breaker. Among the many lines of Wing Chun, no, to be more accurate many other martial arts aren’t as tough. Not only is it filled with never ending concepts and theories, but also there is no instant gratification. Sure you’re dripping with seat and have bruises dark as a moonless night, but what have you really accomplished. Wing Chun won’t give you any sort of quick fix of pride, making it one of the few depressing but elite martial arts.

      From the very first day, the very basics are taught. At first you learn the stance and punch with some base level concepts like a good copy monkey. Wing Chun is easy… Yeah right. Standing straight up, feet together yet slightly apart. Cross your hands left over right and roll up to flip. Then bend your knees while rolling your hips forward. Finally open your feet outwards then shift to open to shoulder width apart, slightly pigeon toed. Easy enough right? Saying the stance is too easy is like saying making a perfect counterfeit dollar bill is child’s play. Without careful examination and adjustments a person’s overall skill level will remain at a very low level. The stance is the foundation of everything and without it you’re no better off then everybody else. The stance is meant to train the awareness of the center and to maintain it, yet it is often one of the most neglected with other lines. However, once you do get the basic concepts, there are always more details to go with it. Just when you feel like you’ve got it, you find out there’s many more ways to make it better. Because of that a practitioner never feels any sort of progress, making the entire learning feel like a waste of time. Being able to make it through that is hellish enough, but before that you have to decide if it’s worth it or not.

      Wing Chun at a glance, is a very short system. It consists of a bunch of motions, 7 forms, and about a handful of drills. Within about a year and a half anybody can learn it all. However, learning and mastering are completely different. Also, the mastery has many more levels to go with it. Contrary to popular belief the only person to reach the highest known level is Sifu Augustine Fong, yet it is currently unknown how high he definitely reached by the public. The study of Wing Chun is in a sense being a refiner. You have a metal ore and you work to gain the purest form possible. That fact creates many levels that seems incomprehensible at the present time. So, studying and practicing the art seems somewhat pointless at first. The climb just seems like it’d never end and taking the easy path, or staying at a certain level is what most people usually do. There are only a handful of people who look beyond and desire the to go higher than anybody has ever done. Being at that state helps with the depression, but a little complaining is an unavoidable side effect. Every joy a practitioner gets is short lived until the discovery of a higher level. Wing Chun is like a demanding girlfriend who is never satisfied with what you do. She’ll test you, make you want to quit; but if you really love her you’ll be hooked for life.

      Genius and talent can only get someone so far. Awareness and effort are essential to go further. Not everything can come over night, sometimes it might take years to for something to stick. The ongoing frustration in between the discovery and the click can cause depression, loss of hope, and frustration. It’s like ordering something in the mail and waiting for it to come and it seems like it never will! The only way to speed it up is to be aware of what you’re doing and practicing that. You can practice the centerline punch for hours and accomplish little or practice for fifteen minutes carefully analyzing the punch making it better. Refining is mentally tiring making it an even longer system for most. The only thing we can do is persevere and hope our addiction makes our resolve stronger.

      The frustration has and always will come with Wing Chun. If you do decide to take it, be prepared. However you gain much more than just the ability to defend yourself. You learn fortitude and gain a new outlook on life. You can apply Wing Chun principles on almost anything imaginable. The depression is there, but it’s worth it. Wing Chun, because it’s an efficient and effective martial art is what lures and scares people off.

Wing Chun “The most formidable Fighting Art”
Roland Carandang

Wing Chun is a very unique and complex form of martial art, it require a fully qualified teacher (Sifu) who has a thorough understanding of the science behind it. Students who wish to learn this art should have a lot of patience, dedication and willingness to invest time. It is the only art that can not be learned through tapes, books or by mimicking a person. As my sifus always say, learning this art the students will be in a baby stage. The baby needs to learn to turn over the belly before he or she can crawl, stand up, and walk. This means the student needs to learn the stance to build a strong foundation. Punches, blocks, centerline domination, control and neutralizing the opponent is supported by the stance. The stance alone is a challenge by it self because it requires a lot of time to learn and a full understanding and control of the structure. This means a person is rooted and has total control of his structure and will not be moved when pushed at any direction but agile. The second learning to the stance is applying it to the footwork’s, this means the control of the structure remains while moving to a different position or direction. The stance or structure supports every component of the Wing Chun to be effective. Once the proper stance is achieved, the learning how to punch comes in next. This second stage of learning has to be taught very closely the same way as the stance. The punches have a science behind it which requires a quality practice and understanding of elbow leading the motion, this also applies to all the blockings. The Wing Chun punches are very different from any other martial arts. It is often perceived as powerless, ineffective by other martial art practitioners and to some that don’t have an idea about the finest fighting art system. The centerline or straight punch position is held in the same position as the Taun Sau, Jum Sau, and Fook Sau elbow level as elbow leads the motion principle. The Wing Chun close fist has also detail behind it, the entire fist is relaxed meaning not too tight as it will diminish the optimum power behind it. The only two fingers that have pressure is the thumb over the index finger and the rest are relaxed and curled in close like normal fist. Wing Chun blocks always have a forward motion supported by the structure with control and neutralizing effect to the opponent. This means the feeling of being jammed is inexistence and will have all opportunity to counter the opponent and flow from within with no extra effort or thinking for the move. When blocks are applied in a panic or jittery manner this means the defender have no control of the triangle supported by the structure and basically just reacting chasing the hand of the opponent. The control and neutralization is also inexistence, Wing Chun triangle in blocking is mirroring your opponent with both hands in the front supporting each other to deal with the attack and setup for the counter. These details in this article are my struggles and challenges to get it right and learn barely scratch the surface of everything about this sophisticated formidable martial art were probably lost in the translation during the spread of Wing Chun throughout the world. Not all Wing Chun are alike, even the way it is written so many version and teachers’ understanding and interpretation of the art based on lineage. I and my fellow students are very fortunate to have teachers who truly understand the science and what Wing Chun is all about.

My Journey in Wing Chun
By Ron Langtiw

      While in high school my brother had several friends actively studying various martial arts. One in particular studied Wing Chun. This style appealed to me more than any other, as it was the style that Bruce Lee studied. To a twelve-year-old kid in the 80’s, that was all I needed to know. Everyone wanted to be Bruce Lee. (Except for the untimely death part.)

      Eighteen years later I fulfilled a promise I made to myself by beginning my journey into Wing Chun. Having never formally studied any fighting style before, I quickly came to practice what I consider the most omnipresent of the thirteen principles of Wing Chun, Adjustment. Adjustment must be applied in everything: in life schedule in terms of making time to study and cutting out other activities; in expectations as far as what I would learn and how long it would take to learn it; in perspective by understanding that Wing Chun is more than just a fighting style but also a philosophy and mind set.

      The life schedule adjustment is fairly easy to comprehend. At one point I wasn’t studying and now I am. The time I am now using to train and practice was once allocated to something else. After three years this is still a constant adjustment I struggle to keep up with. With a wife and a son, a demanding job, and the onset of yet another television season, the necessary adjustments to keep developing in skill are difficult. I now do forms while watching Clifford and have my wall bag hanging from my cubicle wall, much to the chagrin of my neighboring co-workers.

      Adjusting expectations was and still is a challenging hurdle to overcome. Initially, I had come in wanting to be Billy Bad Boy as soon as possible. I had been shown the proper structure of the punch during a self-defense workshop about four years prior to formally studying. When I started training I thought that I wouldn’t need to spend much time on learning the punch because I sorta-kinda practiced it on and off in the years between the workshop and joining the school. Three years later, I am still working on my punch. I have since needed to adjust my expectations around how good I think I am and how well I can actually apply my skill. I am aware that my skill is increasing, but by how much and how fast continually do not meet my expectations. 

      While some of this is certainly within my control to change most is not. What I mean by this is that there is a natural progression in learning the art. Proper structure, leading with the elbow, staying square to the target, maintaining relaxation, etc. all must be learned. Then come developing sensitivity and stick and proper power. There are no shortcuts. And though I may have an affinity towards one aspect over another, everything must be in place before the application is acceptable. Once it is acceptable then it must be polished. Then, hopefully one day before I die, it will be perfect. The adjustment in expectation for me is primarily that I’m still working on making application acceptable, not polished and nowhere near perfect.

      A wise man once told me that it takes about a year to get a year’s experience. Too often I overestimate where I should be. This article is a prime example. I initially intended to break down the physics of Wing Chun and introduce my displacement of force theory but it isn’t ready yet. There are still concepts in both physics and Wing Chun in which I need greater knowledge. That was disappointing for me and required a healthy adjustment of expectation. But by constantly adjusting my expectations I can make manageable improvements as opposed to attempting too big of a leap and falling short.

      Perspective. The adjustments in my perspective I find I don’t need to make as often as in other areas, but when I do make them they are profound. My initial intent in studying Wing Chun was to learn how to fight. My goal was, if it came down to it between my opponent and myself, I would be the last man standing. I consciously resisted the notion of any spiritual application of the art. I already felt as though I had a spiritual foundation and was closed to any other philosophy that may interfere with my mindset. However, as I continued to study I began to realize that applying Wing Chun concepts to my mindset only helped.

      Two years ago I put together a volleyball team to compete in one of the beach’s leagues. We made it to the playoffs but then the focus became the fact that we were in the playoffs. As the leader of the team I emphasized the importance of every point and the result was a team that was too tense to deliver a winning performance. I did not stay in control or stay relaxed. 

      Last week I had to deliver a presentation in front of my boss’ boss’ boss, the Chief Technology Officer and all the managers that were in his department. The content was essentially the progress of my primary project and what I was going to deliver before the end of the year. I normally have no problem addressing crowds but there was a significant amount of pressure in this, especially since I only had two days to prepare. Thirty minutes before delivering the presentation I reminded myself of a tried and true mantra: same old, same old. I realized that this was no different from any of my other presentations. The audience did not matter, I knew my material, and all I had to do was stay relaxed and deliver. I knocked it out of the park. 

      The rules of Wing Chun apply in all situations: Know what the situation is; Make a decision regarding course of action; Stay relaxed; and Show No Mercy.

      Wing Chun is about using the natural mechanics of the body to deliver a result. When fighting, the desired result is a killing blow. When not fighting, the desired result could be interpreted as simply avoiding a fight, but that is a narrow perspective. If I am trying to go somewhere there are two natural laws to consider. First, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Second, objects and energy follows the path of least resistance. These naturally occurring principles are completely in line with Wing Chun theory.

      Learning any skill follows the same general outline as Sil Lum Tao: learn the basics, apply them in harmony, and then connect the power of the techniques. In any video game you first learn controls: attack, defend, and move. Then you try doing these moves more than just one at a time: attacking while moving, defending and moving. Then using combinations to really do damage: Frostbolt, Arcane Missiles, Frost Nova and then Blizzard. ‘Nuff said. Even at work the same principles apply: learn the basic job duties; figure out how to multitask; then efficiently use a combination of meetings, reports and emails to delegate your work so it gets done while freeing up time to write about Wing Chun at 2pm on a Friday.

      The point I am making is that Wing Chun concepts, little idea, relaxation and energy, using the right amount of power and keeping the rest in storage, are applicable for more than just fighting. The principles are merely words that describe the nature of the universe that smarter men than I have been studying for thousands of years. It’s far more than just learning how to punch.

      Lastly, I would not be able to write about adjustment without considering its physical application. Certainly, there is adjustment in practice until the motion of the technique is flawless. These are the attempts over and over to ensure that the move is polished, the stance is balanced and the energy flows correctly. There are also the adjustments when in contact with another person. The motions practiced in a single man technique serve as the basis for this application but with each application, during each motion, as the wind blows and the temperature fluctuates adjustments are made. Position, power, structure, timing and distance never stay static when touching hands with another. Adjustments must be made to win the contest of control. And that is the immediate goal when touching hands, control. Adjustment for adjustment’s sake is meaningless and often finds the wrong end of a strike. Adjustment for control is the immediate goal because when control is maintained, the ultimate goal of delivering a killing blow can be achieved.

      But beyond this is the overall adjustment to how I apply my Wing Chun. My sifus instruct me in the basics; teach me how to correct and polish my form, technique and structure; and offer perspective suggestions. They do this to the best of their ability as they try to pass on what they learn from their sifu. But they are not he. They teach their own perspective and interpretation of what their sifu has passed on to them. Even though they have the same sifu, there are differences in the way they teach, roll and fight. This is not wrong, this is the natural order of things, because they are not he. In the same way, I am not they. Though I may still be learning things by rote, I don’t hold my structure in exactly the same manner. I try to be close, but I am a different person. My combination of height, weight and energy is different from anyone else’s. I must ultimately learn to control me and make my Wing Chun conform to me.

      No one represents Sifu Fong except for Sifu Fong. No one can. No one represents Sifu de la Cruz or Sifu Weingart. No one can. In the same way, I represent no one and no one represents me. I learned some time ago that the only person I’m good at being is me. Despite how I desire to have Sifu Fong’s skill, and as much as I try to absorb from my sifus, ultimately my Wing Chun is my own. And that is the ultimate application of the Adjustment principle.

hand, if you are practicing with someone who has less skill than you and they hit you, you are going to feel like you have to prove something to them and to yourself.  Instead, you should be analyzing why you were hit. You’ll be out to prove to yourself that you are better.  Whether a person has more or less skill, there is always something that can be learned.   

While being a student and now a teacher, I’ve seen how having a big ego can impede the progress of a Martial Artist.  When I was a new student, some of the older students would take advantage of my inexperience.  Now there’s nothing wrong with practicing advanced moves on someone, but there is something wrong when those moves end up hurting people intentionally. As my skill grew and I closed the gap, and in some cases even surpassed these people, and they would get mad because they couldn’t take advantage of me anymore.  They also ended up only hindering their progress because they wouldn’t learn from their mistakes.  Instead of trying to help me counter their attack and in turn learn a counter for that new attack they were still trying the same attacks.  They always wanted to have some type of edge.  But eventually that edge disappeared.   Remember, school is for development and not application, and the goal is ton constantly grow and learn from what your doing.  Its almost like having an unlimited amount of quarters when you hit an arcade, if you make a mistake you can still keep going.  So, keep that in mind the next time you make a mistake and leave yourself open.  You can still play again, and there’s no need to let the ego go buck wild.

I’ve also seen the ego problem with teachers as well.  I’m not sure what to call it, other then the beating on the students syndrome.  Skillful teachers can dominate a student without even laying a hand on them, bullies on the other hand pound on the student and don’t allow the student to learn.  Strangely, I’ve seen students actually appreciate this process and feel that if my teacher didn’t care he wouldn’t be doing this to me.  Yeah, its screwed up, but I’ve witnessed this first hand, and this is not rare, but pretty common.  In the end, if you believe this to be correct, then there’s nothing I can say that would change your way of thinking.  But, remember a teacher is there to help you learn, and not so your there to be his punching bag.

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