Integrative Wing Chun
The New Way of Teaching Wing Chun
by David McKnight and Sifu Chung Kwok Chow
Wing Chun is one of the most popular forms of Chinese martial arts in the world today. It is known for being direct, efficient and concise. The most well known form of Wing Chun stems from the teachings of the late Yip Man. While there was only one Yip Man one will find a diverse sampling of his teachings in his many students. Part of the reason for this is that Wing Chun is a highly personal system which is based on concepts and the understanding of one?s body. Thus, it is quite possible for two students of the same sifu to do things quite differently, at least on the surface. However, the deeper one explores the art the more one finds that Wing Chun does not limit one. Rather it frees us to develop the system in direct relationship to our own body?s needs and structure. Provided the underlying principles of the art are preserved one can have many outward incarnations. The purpose of this article is not to present any one particular method or approach as the "one true way," for all ways have merit. In each lineage or family there are examples of exponents who can make that approach work for them. Just as there are many examples who can not make that approach work. Rather what this article is intended to do is to introduce the reader to one family of the Wing Chun system. We will attempt to explain the reasons behind the variations found within this approach. I will leave it up to the reader to determine if there is anything of value to be gleaned from these pages which can aide them in more deeply understanding their own approach to the Wing Chun system.
Sifu Chung Kwok Chow is a Wing Chun instructor in the city of New York. Always looking for better ways to reach beginner students, he has refined his approach to Wing Chun. Desiring to make it easier for the new student to more quickly grasp the system of Wing Chun has led Sifu Chow to modify his teaching method while still retaining the core concepts found within the system. The new teaching method is one of the innovations of Integrative Wing Chun. Sifu Chow believes that teaching methods should continue to evolve and thus improve much like the training of World Class and Olympic Athletes.
One of the most striking differences, which Sifu Chow has made to the system he teaches, is in the choreography of the first form, the Siu Nim Tau. Traditionally the Fook Sau extends while the Wu Sau retracts. In Sifu Chow?s method the Fook and Wu are reversed, the Wu extends rather than retracts while the Fook withdraws. A good argument for the change can be found by examining the energy of each technique as well as how they are actually applied. Turning to how the Wu Sau is used not only in application but also in the other forms, we find that the Chum Kui teaches the extending Wu Sau rather than a retracting one. Again, in actual use one would extend the Wu and only retract in response to superior energy on the part of the opponent. What Sifu Chow has done is to simply teach the extending Wu Sau earlier thus making it easier for the beginning student to grasp and put into application. 1
The Fook Sau is used to listen to the opponent?s energy. It is used to stalk him and is more passive. You would never, in application, extend a Fook Sau forward towards the opponent while keeping the shape of Fook. Even when basing a technique on the Fook Sau one must take a new and different shape in order to make forward energy effective, thus the technique is no longer a Fook Sau. Some of the outgrowths of the Fook include Chum Sau, Jum Sau and Kow/Huen Sau. Sifu Chow, by stressing the listening concept, helps beginning students to build a firm foundation and obtain a better grasp of when to use forward energy and when to listen and to do so more quickly than may otherwise be the case.2
Sifu Chow has made these changes based on several factors, not the least of which is the quicker assimilation of the Wu and Fook for the beginner students. While the traditional manner will train one to utilize both the Fook and Wu Sau in combat, it is Sifu Chow?s belief that new students will more quickly learn to utilize the Wu Sau when taught to extend it forward rather than to retract with forward energy.
Yet another difference is in the Huen Sau motion done at the completion of many of the movements. Traditionally one would Huen to a horizontal fist with the palm facing downwards. In the Integrative approach after each strike Sifu Chow teaches to perform a Huen Sau but end in the Chun Kuen or Vertical Fist. In addition when one poses the Chun Kuen one also incorporates a Kui Sau or slight dropping of the bridge which provides better defense as the side is covered. The completed movement results in the arm being in the perfect position to strike or punch again. Thus in the method taught by Sifu Chow there is minimal wasted motion and one is in a position to continue the attack with strikes if needed.3
Another change, which has been made to the first form, is in the extension of the Fat Sau. When performed in the traditional manner the Fat Sau or Fak Sau movement, which follows the double Gum Sau movements, is extended directly to the sides. In the Integrative method as taught by Sifu Chung Kwok Chow the Fat movement only extends forward to at most 45 degrees. The reason for this change is that experimentation has shown that a Fat Sau loses energy once it goes beyond 45 degrees. It would be a rare circumstance where you would strike out directly to the side but would instead more likely turn in order to face the attacker. By keeping the angle more forward and utilizing the strike in coordination with ones body structure by turning or stepping one optimizes the power of the Fat Sau. Thus one can see the practicality and increased functionality of a forward rather than sideward Fat Sau.4
Another change to the form, which follows functionality and eliminates wasted motion, is found in the 3rd section of the Sil Lim Tau. Traditionally one performs a Dai Cheung or low palm strike, Huen Saus and then retracts the fist to the side of the body. However, after much research and discussion with both other masters and his senior students, Sifu Chow realized that this left a hole in one?s defense. Based on the physical structure and most efficient means of defending from the Dai Cheung position Sifu Chow now teaches his students to lift the arm upward into a Taun Sau, thus providing defense against other attacks. Of course, at the completion of the Taun Sau is the Huen Sau into Chun Kuen and withdrawal.5
In addition to the other changes Sifu Chow has made some slight modifications to the basic stance, the Kim Yueng Ma. While he still teaches one to sink and to draw or adduct the knees together he prefers to adopt a wider stance. This allows for more stability and a more natural structure, thus allowing one to adapt to this stance much quicker and be more mobile. While he still points the toes inward, it is at a much lesser degree than the Traditional method being in the neighborhood of about 10 degrees or so. He also stresses the importance of a lower stance having found that a lower center of gravity can often result in both more control of the opponent and a stronger structure for the student. The stance allows for very strong balance forward and backwards however it provides for poor balance to the sides.6
Another difference is in some of the footwork used in stepping or while performing Chi Sau. In the Traditional method many students are taught to use the Bic Bo type of stepping. This is a movement where one foot is in front of the other and one advances on a straight line. The Bic Bo provides one of, if not the quickest, method of moving forward in a straight line. However it provides for poor facing if the opponent manages to step very deeply to the side of the lead leg. For example with the right leg forward someone stepping deeply to the right side can become in an advantageous position while you would be out of position. Weight distribution varies but is usually somewhere on the order of about 30/70 or 20/80. While good for distance the Bic Bo becomes less advantages when the gap is closed.
In Sifu Chows Integrative Wing Chun, the Bic Bo is still taught and used for longer range fighting. However as one closes the distance and enters Chi Sau range the stepping is transitioned to a Som Kwok Ma or triangle stance. The advantage to using this stance is that it provides good balance overall in all directions. It also allows for relatively easy and safe shifting as well as good facing of the opponent. The disadvantage is that the groin may be left open if the knees are not closed enough. While some may question the validity of this approach one simply need look to the more advanced forms of Wing Chun such as the Dummy and the Knives to see that the Som Kwok Ma is the one of the best methods for advancing while keeping the enemy faced squarely and maintaining balance. Rather than make his students wait till they reach a very high level, Sifu Chow has decided to teach his students the "advanced" footwork from the very start. In this way they are once again taught in a manner which allows the beginner to more quickly grasp and utilize the art for combat, if and when needed.7
Each of these "modifications" has been made based on research and study of the practicality of the movements in the first form. They are geared towards training a student to utilize the movements and the concepts found within the form more quickly and efficiently than may otherwise be the case. While other approaches of Wing Chun certainly have merit and can result in efficient and effective employment of the art, it is Sifu Chow?s belief, and that of his students, that his approach gives one a quicker and more practical grounding in the core concepts of the art. Having been privileged to study under several different Wing Chun masters I can honestly say that Sifu Chows approach works best for me personally. I have been fortunate enough to have actual experience in applying the skills I learned as a law enforcement officer. First as a correctional officer, then as a housing police officer and finally as a PA State Police Trooper.
I can attest that the skills I was taught served me well in actual encounters. I can also attest that the skills taught to me by Sifu Chow have further improved both my efficiency and effectiveness. In addition by utilizing an integrative approach I found myself with options other than simply striking and kicking. I have been able to employ Chin Na or joint locks and holds and throws. All of which are found within the art of Wing Chun. Sometimes the study of another art may be utilized to open ones eyes to what is found deeper in one?s own system. Or it may point to things, which can be applied or "integrated" to makes ones core system even more formidable. One thing, which Sifu Chow has done, is to encourage his students to question everything and try things out. Find what works for you and then make it your own. He even tells me not to take his word for it but to check it out for myself. If I discover what is or may be a better method then Sifu is open to test it out and incorporate it if warranted. In other words if he can be shown a better more efficient way he is open to doing so.
Wing Chun is based on concepts as well as individual needs. In order to survive and grow the art must evolve. The needs of those today are different than those who created the art of Wing Chun. Rather than stick to outdated methods of training due to "tradition" Sifu Chow believes it is in keeping with the spirit of Wing Chun that we continually re-examine our approach and refine it to meet our needs today. In this way the art of Wing Chun is kept alive and continues to grow. To do otherwise may result in stagnation and decrease in the arts effectiveness. It will be interesting to see where the art is in another 25, 50 or 100 years.
The chart below gives a very brief side by side comparison of the differences between what represents the most common teachings of Wing Chun. While hardly all encompassing this will serve as a quick reference to some of the most common methods of performing the basics of the Wing Chun system. If there is sufficient interest additional articles may be forthcoming detailing and comparing additional advances in the Integrative Wing Chun system.
|1. Traditional Backward Wu Sau||
|1. IWC Forward Wu Sau||Good||Excellent|
|2. Traditional Forward Fook Sau||Poor||Poor|
|2. IWC Backward Fook Sau||Good||Good|
|3. Traditiona Huen Sau Fist||Good||Fair|
|3. IWC Huen Sau Fist||Excellent||Good|
Traditional Fak Sau
|5. Traditional Dai Chueng||Good||Good|
|5. IWC Dai Chueng with Tau Sau||Good||Better|
Kim Yueng Ma
(30-45 degree pointing in)
IWC Kim Yueng Ma
(5-10 degree pointing in)
Traditional Chi Sau Stance
(70/30 weight distribution)
7. IWC Chi Sau Stance
(50/50 weight distribution)
Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 2002.
Written by David McKnight and Sifu Chung Kwok Chow for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM