Wing Chun Martial Arts Principles and Techniques Book Review

Article by David Jarrett added on 5 Nov 2012.

Book by Yip Chun with Danny Connor

Review by Wing Chun coach David Jarrett

Weiser Books, San Francisco, 1992

Wing Chun  Martial Arts Principles and Techniques Book Yip Chun is one of the living legends of Wing Chun Kung Fu. In this book, with the help of Danny Connor, he sets out his thoughts on a range of topics in Wing Chun. The book is an important resource for anyone wishing to gain a greater understanding of Yip Chun's Wing Chun - in terms of both its strengths and weaknesses.

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The first few chapters in the book are short at only a few pages each and together act as an interesting introduction to Yip Chun as a person and as a martial arts teacher. The first main chapter looks at the history of Wing Chun. The second is a short essay on by Yip Chun about his father, Yip Man.

Next is an in depth chapter on chi sau, an important training method in Wing Chun. At 33 pages, this is by far the longest chapter in the book, reflecting the importance Yip Chun places on chi sau. The discussion covers many angles of chi sau training and it is interesting to hear Yip Chun's views on this topic - a mountain of internet video footage shows that there is perhaps no better exponent of this training method in the world. Apart from giving some tips for improvement (as with all things, diligent and patient practice is essential), Yip Chun discusses the benefits of chi sau. For Yip Chun, chi sau has two benefits. The first is extensive health benefits. Yip Chun points to his own vitality and agility at his old age as evidence. The second benefit, according to Yip Chun, is that chi sau works for fighting. He explains that chi sau should be regarded as a "bridge" between the Wing Chun forms (movements used to practice techniques) and free fighting. According to Yip Chun "Once you have learned all the hand techniques and forms you must use them in chi sau so that you can explore them for yourself. Then, you can apply these techniques in free fighting. This is the 'bridging' function of chi sau. Once you have learned the techniques through chi sau you can deal with any fighting situation." This is quite a claim. Especially from someone who admits that apart from childhood scuffles he has never had a real fight.

Chi Sau develops four attributes for fighting

Yip Chun explains that chi sau develops four attributes required for fighting. These are:

  • positioning
  • knowledge of energy use
  • sensitivity and reflexes
  • hand techniques

Additionally, these aspects of fighting can be practiced in chi sau without training partners hurting each other as in other forms of fight training. Yip Chun quotes his father saying that chi sau should make up 90 percent of learning in Wing Chun. Danny Connor raises a problem in this regards, stating, "You have mentioned early on that if you play a lot of Chi-Sau your technique and sensitivity will improve. Some people say that this is to the detriment of developing leg skill." That is, in chi sau training partners do not kick each, so someone who trained almost exclusively in chi sau would not be prepared to deal with kicks in a real fight. Yip Chun's reply to this is that "If your positioning and reflexes are good then I don't see that there is going to be any problem at all." The problem with this response is that chi sau, as practiced by Yip Chun and his followers, focuses on practicing positioning and reflexes only against hand techniques. Dealing with kicks (and grappling) is not part of the practice. For me, therefore, Yip Chun's response is unsatisfactory, especially when he has never had a real fight in which to test his theory on the effectiveness of his chi sau practice. In my opinion, by not recommending extensive supplementary training methods to prepare students for dealing with kicks and grappling, Yip Chun puts his followers at risk of not being prepared for real attacks.

The next thirty pages of the book are dedicated to the three hand forms. The forms are discussed briefly with a number of pictures of specific positions. However, with only ten pages dedicated to each form, those looking for a detailed introduction should look elsewhere (perhaps Mastering Wing Chun by Samuel Kwok).

The next section of the book is a question and answer session between Yip Chun and his students. Questions asked include "How does Wing Chun relate to nature?" and "Is there Taoist or Buddhist influence within Wing Chun?" Other questions range from topics including how Yip Chun is able to respond so quickly to opponents' movements in chi sau to questions about his father's life and teaching methods. Yip Chun gives some interesting answers to questions such as these.

The final section of the book is entitled "The Doctrine of The Mean". This section contains a number of inspirational passages with titles such as "Humility is Wise", "Nature's Way is Self-Correcting" and "Genuineness is All-Pervading". The passages, in a manner similar to the writings of many Chinese sages leave the reader feeling uplifted and motivated to be a better person.

The book should be read by any Wing Chun student. This is not just because of the many insights Yip Chun is able to give us through his straightforward way of talking on Wing Chun. It is also because the open way in which Yip Chun talks about his training invites students to consider both the positives and possible short-comings of his training methods - something extremely useful for students to be able to consider as part of their progression. For this reason it is a must read for anyone looking to improve their understanding of Wing Chun.

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