Wing Choon Kungfu

This Choe Family Wing Choon pattern is not found in the popular style of Wing Chun

Question 7

Why do you think Yip Man style of Wing Chun has become so popular as an effective martial art?

What are the differences this popular style compared to the Wing Choon you teach?

Finally, I´ve noticed that many Wing Chun masters in the West are developing their own personal "Wing Chun", often taking things from other sports/martial arts like Grappling and Boxing, and many of them are overly aggressive and arrogant, and some even violent. What is your opinion on this?

Sifu Daniel Perez


I can think of two reasons why Yip Man style of Wing Chun has become so popular as an effective martial art.

The first reason is that its practitioners spend a lot of time on sparring, whereas practitioners of most other styles spend their time on demonstrating form. The relatively few kungfu sets in this style contribute to this situation. Leaving aside weapon sets as weapons are seldom used in combat nowadays, there are only three kungfu sets in this style, whereas in other styles there are more than a dozen sets. This gives practitioners of this style more time on sparring practice.

Compared to some martial arts, or sports, like Boxing and Muay Thai, where there are no sets, their practitioners focus solely on sparring. Boxers and Muay Thai fighters are generally more effective than kungfu practitioners in using their arts for combat. Their lack of or relatively few sets is a significant contributing factor.

The second reason is the low level of combat today. This is a sensitive issue, and may make some people unhappy or angry. But I prefer to state my opinion honestly, of course without being disrespectful to any martial artists. As I have mentioned many times, what and how they practice is their business, and I have no interest to convince them.

But in my opinion, the standard of martial art today is low. A crucial aim of any martial art is self-defence, but most martial artists today, including advanced ones, cannot defend themselves! They may be good at hitting others, but the fact remains that they are poor at self-defence, to the extent that they accept being hit in free sparring as normal.

In the light of the present situation when martial artists in general regard being hit as normal, if you practice a kungfu style that encourages you to rush in to hit your opponent, without any regard for your own safety, the popular style of Wing Chun practiced today is effective as a martial art. This is the criterion of most people.

But it is not my criterion in judging whether a martial art is effective. In my opinion, the first principle of combat is safety. If you can come out of combat unhurt, even if you lose the combat, I would consider it an effective art of self-defence. On top of this, if you can use the patterns you practice to defeat your opponent, I would consider it a very effective martial art.

There are many differences between this popular style of Wing Chun and the style of Wing Choon I teach, which is Choe Family Wing Choon.

The first noticeable difference, though it may not be significant and some people may not have noticed it, is that we use the term “Wing Choon”, and not “Wing Chun”, though the Chinese characters are the same. I prefer to use “Wing Choon” because it is less likely to be mispronounced by English speaking people, with “choon’ rhyming with “soon”. It is easier to mispronounce “Chun’ to rhyme with “pun”.

A more significant difference is that the form of Choe Family Wing Choon is much closer to that of Shaolin Kungfu than the popular Wing Chun form. We frequently use, for example, the Horse-Riding Stance, Bow-Arrow Stance, the phoenix-eye fist and the leopard fist, which are seldom found in the popular style. It is therefore no surprise that those who are limited only to the popular style of Wing Chun, think that our Wing Choon movements are not Wing Choon movements. Forms that are frequently found in the popular Wing Chun style, like the Goat-Stance, the Four-Six Stance, the cup fist and the finger-thrust are also found in the Wing Choon I teach.

Many people may not be able to tell the difference between traditional Shaolin Kungfu and Choe Family Wing Choon because the forms look the same. But the initiated can tell the difference. Choe Family Wing Choon is softer, and frequently uses the forms of the snake and the crane, whereas traditional Shaolin Kungfu is harder and frequently uses the forms of the dragon and the tiger.

These same many people can usually tell the difference between traditional Shaolin Kungfu and the popular Wing Chun style by observing their forms. Northern Shaolin is characterized by long Bow-Arrow Stance, kicking and jumping, willow-leaf palm and hook-hand, Southern Shaolin by shorter Bow-Arrow Stance, False-Leg Stance, dragon-form and tiger-claw, whereas popular Wing Chun style by Four-Six Stance, cup fist and finger-thrust.

Because of a wider range of techniques, there is also a wider range of combat applications in the Choe Family Wing Choon I teach than in the popular Wing Chun style. While all the combat applications found in the popular style are also found in our Wing Choon style, there are many useful techniques in Choe Family Wing Choon not found in the popular Wing Chun style. For example, moving diagonally forward to a Bow-Arrow Stance and simultaneously executing a ginger-fist, also called a leopard-fist, to an opponent’s ribs, is not found in popular style Wing Chun.

A useful technique often found in Choe Family Wing Choon, known as “por pai sau” or “flank-breaking hand”, which is similar to “Jade Girl threads Shuttle” in Taijiquan, and “Old Elephant Drops Tusk” (where the fists instead of the palms are used) in Shaolin Kungfu, is not found in the popular Wing Chun style. This technique is very useful when fighting in a pub where assailants often rush in swinging a broken bottle. You move in frontally into a Bow-Arrow Stance, using one hand to break his bottle-holding arm, and your other hand to execute a combat-ending strike on his solar plexus.

It is also very effective against a fast Boxer or someone rushing in with a series of chain-punches. Here, you move in from a side into a Bow-Arrow Stance, using one hand to cover your opponent’s two hands, and the other hand to execute a decisive strike on his temple. If he hasn’t felled, you can finish him off with a finger-thrust into his throat or eye. Is this Wing Choon Kungfu? Of course, it is.

Such counters reveal another philosophical difference between Choe Family Wing Choon and popular Wing Chun style. Wing Choon Kungfu is known for its economy of movements. Wing Choon strikes are also vicious. As a combat art for a small sized person against bigger sized opponents, you have to finish them off with just one decisive strike. You can’t afford to play around with a series of 20 chain punches.

If you are far superior to your opponent and wish to play around with him, you can use chin-na or felling techniques, which are found in Choe Family Wing Choon but seldom found in the popular Wing Chun style. Here, the center-line concept, which is an important principle in popular style Wing Chun, is used differently. In popular style Wing Chun, an exponent keeps his center-line. But a Choe Family Wing Choon exponent goes away from the center-line to grip his opponent from a side with a chin-na technique, or off-balance his opponent from his center-line with a felling attack. Is this Wing Choon? Of course, it is, though those who think of Wing Chun as only goat stance and chain punches may call it Jujitsu or Judo.

Wing Choon Kungfu

This chin-na technique in Choe Family Wing Choon is not found in the popular style of Wing Chun

The approach to force training is also different. The wooden dummy is an essential training tool in popular style Wing Chun. Some practitioners of popular style Wing Chun would consider their training incomplete if they had not hit a wooden dummy. Judging from the big muscles many practitioners of popular Wing Chun style have, it is reasonable to conclude that weight-lifting is an important part of their force training.

In Choe Family Wing Choon, we can be quite powerful without having to hit a wooden dummy or lift weight. We can develop a lot of internal force using Siu Lin Tou.

I believe our force training is in line with Wing Choon history and philosophy -- founded by a lady for small sized exponents against bigger sized opponents. Both its founder, Yim Wing Choon, and a great master nicked named Wing Choon King, Leong Chan, were known to be graceful and elegant. It was unlikely they had big muscles.

When I was learning Choe Family Wing Choon from my sifu, Sifu Choe Hoong Choy, the celebrated Bruce Lee made the popular Wing Chun style well known, though, ironically, he abandoned Wing Choon Kungfu for Jeekwondo. I found a lot of differences between the Wing Choon I practiced and the popular Wing Chun style. So I asked my sifu about it.

His reply was most humbling, and greatly shaped my own philosophy and later teaching. He said, “What others practice is their business. We practice, and are grateful for, what our masters have passed down to us.”

Of course, I did not blindly practiced what masters had passed down to us. I accessed my practice to the best of my understanding and experience. Having learnt from Uncle Righteousness, Sifu Chee Kim Thong and Sifu Ho Fatt Nam, who were patriarchs of their own arts, I was already proficient in kungfu philosophy and practice. Still I found my Wing Choon training greatly enriched my kungfu understanding and performance.

I later discovered that the Wing Choon Kungfu I practiced was closer to what was practiced by early Wing Choon masters. I also discovered that Wing Choon Kungfu was a complete art by itself. Not only there was no need to borrow techniques from other arts, these techniques were already very advanced in Wing Choon Kungfu. This does not mean that we cannot enrich Wing Choon Kungfu from our understanding and practice of other arts. This is the benefit of breadth and depth, which is a hallmark of our school.

Earlier I learned an important lesson from my sifu, Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. He said that anyone who developed his own personal style, often taking things from other arts, was either not advanced in his art, or the art he practiced was not advanced. This comment was made at a time when many kungfu “masters” borrowed from Karate, even calling their arts so and so “do”, like Shaolin-do or Taiji-do.

Let us briefly examine the examples you gave that these “masters” took from other arts to improve their Wing Chun, that is Grappling and Boxing. Chin-na, which is more sophisticated than just grappling, is already found in Wing Choon Kungfu, though not many Wing Chun practitioners may realize it. The “tan kam sau” and “seong kam sau”, or “single grip hand” and “double grip hand”, found in the fundamental set, Cham Kiew, are examples of chin-na techniques.

Important differences between chin-na techniques and grappling can be traced to the fact that Wing Choon Kungfu is a fighting art whereas Grappling is a martial sport. An exponent applying a chin-na technique has to ensure his own safety. He would not, for example, expose himself to attacks by his opponent while he grips his opponent. A martial sport practitioner, on the other hand, is protected by safety rules.

A chin-na technique is combat-ending by itself. In other words, having applied the chin-na technique successfully, the exponent can let go of the opponent but the opponent could not continue fighting. In practice and friendly sparring, however, the exponent may not apply decisive force to hurt his sparring partner. But this may not be so in grappling. If the exponent lets go of his hold, his opponent can fight again. Those “masters” who borrow grappling techniques from martial sports probably do not know these facts.

Many people forget that Boxing is a sport, governed by safety rules. If one uses Boxing in a real fight without safety rules, it can be disastrous. When an opponent throws you some Boxing punches, you can cover his both hands with your “tan sau” or mirror-hand, not from your center-line which would be disadvantageous but from a side, and simultaneously kick his groin. Or you can move slightly to a side away from the center-line, and glide your “phew chee” or finger-thrust to his eye, with your thrust arm deflecting his Boxing punch.

As mentioned earlier, Wing Choon strikes are vicious. It ends combat in the fastest manner. Personally I would not use such vicious techniques if I have a choice. But if I have no choice, like an overly aggressive and arrogant master ridicules my Wing Choon and challenges me to a fight, I would not hesitate to pierce my finger-thrust into his eye or smash his groin with a Wing Choon kick to show that Wing Choon Kungfu is not only effective but deadly in real fighting, which it actually is. I am quite sure that Yim Wing Choon herself, or Leong Chan or the famous Wing Choon master, Yip Man, would do the same in a same situation.

Even if we leave aside these weaknesses in using Boxing techniques in a real fight, for which Wing Choon Kungfu is designed, borrowing these Boxing techniques from Boxing is unwise because there are better techniques in Wing Choon Kungfu itself for similar functions.

Boxing punches depend on muscular strength, which in turns depends on big muscles. This is contrary to fundamental Wing Choon philosophy. The striking power of Wing Choon comes from internal force, developed from practicing Siu Lin Tou. I had personal confirmation of this about 30 years ago.

A gang rode their motor-cycles right to the middle of an open training ground of my sidai, or junior classmate, Lau Weng Woh, who was teaching lion dance in preparation for the coming Chinese New Year in Penang. Earlier I told a gang member off when he was rude to his master.

That gang member pointed to me, and the leader of the gang came straight to me and said, “Why do you mind others’ business?”

“I like to mind others’ business,” I replied, and simultaneously gave him a gentle Wing Choon cup fist on his face.

This sent him back about 20 steps falling onto the ground. I was quite surprised at the time, but on hindsight I believe my internal force shocked his brain.

The whole gang of about 10 people attacked me. Had I used popular Wing Chun style, Grappling or Boxing, I would be in trouble. But the Choe Family Wing Choon I practice included Drunken Eight Immortals and Choy-Li-Fatt, which are excellent for mass fighting.

I did not think of Drunken Eight Immortals or Choy-Li-Fatt then, but fought spontaneously. The mass fighting, with me alone fighting about 10 gangsters, as the others were enjoying the show from the side, ended not with a vicious Wing Choon technique (because I had a choice as the gang did not insist that I must use Wing Choon) but with “Lohan Tames Tiger” from Shaolin Kungfu, throwing the leader face-on to the ground. But my control was superb. I stopped just an inch away, letting him smell the cement floor.

Because Boxing depends on muscular strength, a Boxer throws his body forward as he punches, which makes it more difficult for him to defend against counter-strikes. Wing Choon strikes, which can be more powerful even executed by a small-sized exponent, does not have this weakness.

Boxing is limited to ordinary punches, but there is a wider range of hand-forms in Wing Choon Kungfu, like the finger-thrust, the palm strike, the cup fist, the ginger-fist and the phoenix-eye fist. Striking the eye with a finger-thrust or the solar plexus with a phoenix-eye fist is more effective than with an ordinary punch.

Although Wing Choon Kungfu is a vicious art, its training when carried out correctly can make practitioners relaxed, humble and peace-loving. This is due to the way of its training. Anyone practicing Wing Choon or Wing Chun and finding himself becoming more aggressive, arrogant or violent, should, for his own sake, check whether he has practiced the art wrongly.

Not tensing the muscles, not grimacing and not working oneself into a frenzy, which are contrary to what some misguided Wing Chun practitioners wrongly think the art is, is essential in internal force training, which is crucial in an art meant for the small-size against the big and muscular. It is well known from records that Yim Wing Choon, Leong Chan and Yip Man, the great names in Wing Choon Kungfu, were lovable people.

Wing Choon Kungfu

The trident is found in Choe Family Wing Choon but not in the popular style of Wing Chun

Wing Choon Kungfu at Barcelona 6-7 May 2014

Questions on Wing Choon Kungfu – Overview

The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread Wing Choon Kungfu -- 10 Questions to Grandmaster Wong in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.