"Health Benefits of Traditional Wing Chun Kung Fu Training"

By Si-Fu Scott Baker, Ph.D.

NOTE: The photos mentioned in this article are not available online.

Today many people train in Wing Chun throughout the world in various schools and under the guidance of any number of instructors. As with Aikido, some Wing Chun schools emphasis the physical aspects of Wing Chun, while others teach with an emphasis on the more internal aspects. The benefits of training in this popular kung fu style may differ between instructors and schools, but on the whole most good Wing Chun organizations will include as their training many of the benefits that Wing Chun offers its practitioners, including fitness and health.

Leg Training:

As with many different Kung Fu systems Wing Chun traditionally begins training with an emphasis on the importance of developing good, strong stances and dynamic footwork. Several months of diligent training are needed to condition the legs so that the new student has a strong foundation from which to develop the other sophisticated techniques of Wing Chun (Insert Photo 1 about here). The development of considerable strength and stamina in the studentís legs is essential to enable the student to acquire significant skills with the more advanced Wing Chun maneuvers. For example, the development of the releasing skills which enable the practitioner to explode "Far Jing" power through Wing Chunís striking techniques is only possible when the footwork and stance work has been mastered sufficiently. Such mastery should be manifest when the practitioner can display considerable "rooting" strength in the stance, and the ability to move with that strength in the footwork. The exercises often employed in developing this strength and endurance in the legs are both simple and effective. Moreover, these Wing Chun exercises are designed to do more than simply build strong, bulky muscles in the studentís legs. The large, strong muscles characteristic of a good body builder are not what the leg exercises in Wing Chun aim to produce. Rather, long "plate like" muscle groups with both strength and flexibility are generally the desired product.

The static standing posture of the Sil Num Tao form is one of the primary exercises used to enhance the endurance and strength of a new studentís legs. (Insert Photo 2 about here) Students may begin this exercise by standing for only 10 minutes at first, slowly building up the time to an hour over the course of several months. The purpose of this standing posture is to build considerable endurance and strength in the leg muscles, and work the chi energy into the legs as the student learns to relax into the position of the Yee Chi Kim Yeung Ma (charter two adduction stance), sinking his chi through his legs and into the ground. This stance further teaches the student good posture, body alignment and deepens the stance root, as it continues strengthening and toning important muscle groups. Together these qualities offer a solid base from which the techniques of Wing Chun can be unleashed with great power.

The stationary leg training is also combined with considerable footwork drills which add to the endurance and strength of the legs. (Insert Photo 3 about here) The triangular stepping, stance turning, and adduction stepping drills can tax the strength of the most conditioned athlete when combined into a continuous exercise. (Insert Photo 4 about here) Correct and diligent practice of these drills will build explosive closing maneuvers, enabling the competent practitioner to close the gap on his opponent instantly. Significant leg conditioning with impeccable body coordination are required to master this impressive skill. Many athletes in sports where fast reaction movements are required could benefit immensely from this training. For example, tennis players will find that their ability to cover the court and close on the ball will improve, football players with these skills will find their abilities to dodge tackles, block passes and sack quarterbacks will also improve. Such leg conditioning is also excellent for improving overall cardiovascular health. Later, as other footwork drills are added and the kicking training is introduced, the student quickly develops strong flexible legs with remarkable endurance. (Insert Photos 5: a, b, c, & d about here).

The Wing Chun approach is to deepen the studentís ability to relax the legs while increasing strength and endurance. Therefore, the strength conditioning exercises have their best results when combined with slow, relaxed stretching exercises. Stretching exercises improve both the flexibility and strength of the legs. Done correctly, these exercises develop the length and strength of the muscles, ligaments and tendons, packing chi energy into them, allowing the legs to store explosive "Far Jing" power within the joints and muscles. This enables the diligent practitioner to not only deliver devastatingly powerful kicks and punches from the base of a strong stance, but also acquire fast, explosive stepping and moving skills. (Insert Photo 6 about here) The chi gerk (sticky legs) exercise further refines the practitionerís ability to root with his standing leg as he feels and flows with the unending kicking combinations of his other leg. (Insert Photo 7 about here) Leg sensitivity and endurance enable the practitioner to outmaneuver the footwork of his partner and break down his foundation. Endurance, strength, flexibility, and coordination are some of the qualities developed within the legs through the rigorous training of traditional Wing Chun.

Upper Body Training:

The upper body training is also rigorous. Many thousands of chain punches are thrown at a time by diligent Wing Chun students desirous of developing the difficult short power skills for which Wing Chun is famous. (Insert Photo 8 about here) Many hours of wall bag punching, simultaneous combination drills, stretching exercises and chi sau all develop the arms, shoulders and back with the same long, "plate like" muscles and tendons developed in the legs. (Insert Photos 9: a, & b about here) Such strength and flexibility training serves to increase hand speed and power. This training regime may be adapted to Western boxing as a speed training exercise which will also improve short-distance power. In fact, all sports, from volleyball to water polo, which require fast, powerful hand reactions would benefit from these exercises. The huening (circling) exercises built into the three boxing forms also greatly improve the tone, strength and flexibility of the arms. Again, other athletes (like gymnasts) who require their wrists to be both strong and flexible would benefit from the huening (circling) exercises of Wing Chun. (Insert Photo 10 about here) In addition to the above exercises, many of the movements within the three boxing forms of Wing Chun contain hidden exercises which can be worked as drills to enhance the development of the practitionerís body. (Insert Photo 11 about here) Done correctly, these exercises will improve health by developing specific muscle groups, and enhance the free flow of chi through the body as they open up and strengthen the meridian channels. Such exercises also apply a gentle massaging pressure to important internal organs, improving the function and strength of these organs and filling them with vital chi.

More advanced physical development is obtained through working the drills that are taught in conjunction with the weapons in Wing Chun. The legs are further challenged with the low postures (horse stance) of the Luk Dim Boon Kwun (six-and-a-half-point-long pole technique). (Insert Photo 12 about here) Also, many of the exercises used when learning the pole add considerable strength to the arms and wrists. Likewise, the slashing exercises of the Bart-Cham-Dao (eight slash swords) refine the strength and flexibility of the wrists and forearms, packing the muscles and tendons with energy, further deepening the "Far Jing" power used in the inch punch. (Insert Photo 13 about here)

Body Tone and Chi Development:

The long angular muscles developed in traditional Wing Chun training tend to augment the free flow of chi energy. They are flexible and characteristically relaxed compared to the lumpy, tight muscles developed in weight lifters. These large, bulky muscles tend to be excessively tense and inflexible; thereby, blocking the flow of chi or at least restricting it somewhat. The flexible, sinewy muscle groups developed through diligent Wing Chun training tone the body into a healthy, open conduit for chi energy, fortifying the immune system and strengthening the internal organs. Such development not only provides remarkable combat abilities, but significant health benefits through a heightened natural resistance to sickness and quicker recovery from injuries.

The key of relaxation is fundamental to traditional Wing Chun training and applies equally to both the body and the mind. The relaxed toned body is healthy and permits chi to flow through it unrestricted. But the mind must also be conditioned to be relaxed yet focused and alert. The health benefits of aligning the mind and the body have long been known among the Eastern cultures. Today mental training is being reexamined as perhaps the only real permanent cure for stress and the many ailments that accompany stress.

Uniting both Body and Mind -- Meditation and breathing:

Wing Chunís standing meditation and breathing practices were developed to condition the mind and unite it with the body. (Insert Photo 14 about here) The training and control of breathing can offer many advantages to all athletes that require mental focus and physical endurance to be a competitive participant. From marathon runners to swimmers and gymnasts, the ability to control breathing can be invaluable, especially when the breathing training also serves to focus the mind, uniting it with the athleteís body.

In Wing Chun we first train to calm the breathing, focusing on deep abdominal breaths which are long, slow and smooth. Once proficient at this, gifted students may then train in reverse breathing by gently pulling in the Dan Tien as they inhale, pulling the air up the back and exhaling by dropping the lower abdomen and relaxing the stomach, centering the attention down the front to the Dan Tien. Reverse breathing is also practiced in long, smooth breaths with a relaxed physical and mental state. Some of the health benefits of breath training are an increase in the lungsí capacity, improved oxygen absorption, fortified chi flow, and a calm, focused mind.

It has long been a practice to focus oneís attention on breathing to assist in quieting the mind, allowing it to relax and calm down. As the breath calms, becoming smooth, relaxed and "as a silken threat," then also the mind quiets, transcending the noisy chatter of everyday consciousness to the quiet, peaceful state the Japanese call "Mushin". The development of this transcendental state of consciousness gives the practitioner a mental edge, allowing him/her to respond intuitively as the present moment dictates. Many athletes talk about "being in the zone". Often athletes will comment that they feel unbeatable in this state, they feel they are able to perform their skills at their very best and even beyond. This is one of the gifts that the "Mushin" state of consciousness brings. It opens the mind to intuitive insights and a fluid ability far beyond the athleteís performances in normal consciousness. Meditation and breath training are two methods used in Wing Chun to develop this transcendental state. Patient, diligent practice is required to progress to the point that the practitioner can move into this state at will, and eventually maintain the "Mushin" state permanently.

The traditional forms of Wing Chun are a context where the insightful student will train his mind and breathing in this way. Later the advanced training of chi sau (sticky hands) will deepen the acquisition of the "Mushin" state of consciousness, teaching the student to maintain present-moment awareness at all times. This "Mushin"present-moment awareness transcends the common worries of past or future events by freeing the mindís attention, permitting it to be fully present in the moment. Thus the mind is unencumbered by the stress and ailments of the common mental chatter found in everyday consciousness. In time these exercises will bring about a great shift in the practitionerís everyday consciousness. Obtaining this free state of awareness is the end result of dedicated years of training where the mind and body are brought into harmony with life, and into alignment with each other. Such a state is obtained through the full and rich expression of good health, both physically and mentally. This is the goal of traditional Wing Chun training.

About the Author:

Dr. Scott Baker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Brigham Young University in 1995. Born and raised in New Zealand, he began his training in Wing Chun there in 1972 under the direction of Master Tam Hung Fun. He is now a member of the Yuen Kay San line under Zopa Gyatso. Si-Fu Baker resides in New Zealand.




Questions or comments? Send them to: snaerskegg@mainewingchunkungfu.com