There are core principles and concepts that govern Wing Tsun. This is the operating system that makes everything else function correctly. This is the framework that all of the techniques are built on, instead of a style that is built around techniques. Being that Wing Tsun is an ever evolving concept based system, you are not locked into certain patterns or techniques like some other styles. Building on this foundation you find freedom to express your interpretation of the art, customized to what suits you and what works for your individual needs at any given time. The only limitations on Wing Tsun are the practitioners ability to understand and correctly apply it.
These fundamental building blocks are the laws of our combat, the glue that makes it all come together as a cohesive unit and function correctly under pressure. If something goes wrong, it's most likely because one or more of these principles has been violated. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, especially once you get into the higher levels of Wing Tsun. But before the rules can be bent or broken, they must first be learned and fully understood, instilled in you to the point that they are natural and no thought is needed. Then once you have achieved mastery over them, you are in control and can bend them to your will how you see fit. But you must first learn the path before you start looking for shortcuts.
There are a ton of these maxims floating around. These poetic words of wisdom are known as "Kuen Kuit", or "Fighting Sayings/Proverbs". They cover pretty much everything from philosophical thoughts on combat, code of conduct, training proverbs, technique execution, etc, and many possess double meanings. Here I have highlighted some of the more important ones.
The Fighting Principles of Wing Tsun
"Loy Lau Hoi Sung, Lat Sao Jik Chung"
(Receive what comes, escort what leaves, free hand springs forward)
1. Go forward: Advance immediately upon the detection of a threat. Intercept and attack the attacking action of your opponent with your own attack. Once contact is made, use your reflexive actions from Chi Sao to control, neutralize, and attack your opponent. If contact has not been made yet, then strike; "Free Hand Goes Forward". Our limbs are always live and dynamic. Always maintain forward intent.
2. Stick: If an obstruction is met, stick. Contact with your opponent will give you the tactical advantage and control. However, even though you are technically sticking to your opponents limbs, what you are really doing is sticking to their center. Do not "chase hands". If the opponents arms deviate out from their center, then refer to #1; you are free to strike.
3. Yield: Do not attempt to meet force with force and engage in a power struggle. If the force is too great, yield. Use your reflexive actions to neutralize, deflect, redirect, or reciprocate the incoming force. Use your opponents own energy against them. By controlling the flow of your opponents energy and momentum, you will have the advantage of superior structure and strategic positioning while rendering their attacks harmless and forcing them to constantly attempt to regain their structure, alignment, and balance.
4. Follow: As an extension of the first principle, if the force retreats or withdraws, you follow. The way is now free to go forward, whether it is the withdrawing arm of your opponents punch or their attempt to flee your attack. You are constantly eating up their space and exploiting the holes that they create.
5. Fight with no mercy, with mercy don't fight: Wing Tsun is a switch; it's either on or it's off. This is not a boxing match where you are dancing around and trading blows for 12 rounds; your goal is to neutralize the threat as quickly an efficiently as possible and by any means necessary, while sustaining minimal damage so you can go home to your family. You have to be vicious and brutal. You can't be hesitant or holding back, or concerned with not trying to injure an attacker who is aggressively attacking you. Always error on the side of caution, as overkill will ensure victory. If you can not commit 110% to doing what has to be done, then run away and do not engage. If there is no way to avoid the conflict, then you are metaphorically deer hunting with a nuclear bomb. You overwhelm them... no mercy, no surrender, no option to retaliate against you, and you don't stop until they no longer pose a threat to you, and you can safely get away.
6. Don't be greedy, don't be afraid: There are two main facets to this concept. The first deals with proper body structure in regards to your vertical centerline, center of gravity, and structure when engaging an opponent. Don't be greedy, meaning don't lean forward head first or weight the front leg. Don't over commit to an attack or charge blindly. By putting your center of gravity forward, you will allow your opponent to disrupt your balance and pull you. You will also be putting your head closer to the attacks. Having your front leg weighted makes you susceptible to sweeps, takedowns, or crippling knee damage from a kick. If you are leaning back, you are in an equally disadvantageous position, as your structure is broken and you can easily be pushed. This also makes it very difficult to maintain forward pressure, especially against an aggressive opponent. When you are constantly trying to lean back, you are lacking forward intent and shortening your reach. Either way, it will be very difficult to employ proper footwork and directional changes, and manage the incoming energy.
The second aspect of this is more of a mindset and the way you strategize the engagement. Don't be greedy and charge in recklessly and "head hunt" without being aware of the consequences. Don't try to muscle or force your way in. Generally this overuse and misunderstanding of forward intent leads to the rest of the principles either being put on the backburner or being thrown out of the window completely. Remember that Wing Tsun is a higher form of intelligent combat. If you attack like an untrained mindless barbarian, you will be helping your opponent to beat you. The other side to that is, if you are afraid, constantly on the defensive or retreat and allowing your attacker to control the exchange while you are holding back, then you are defeating yourself with your lack of forward intent. Your techniques will fail because they are not being executed properly, and you will always be two steps behind your attacker because you remain on the defensive. This also pretty much goes hand in hand with the explanation of the saying "Strike when you should, don't when you shouldn't".
7. Simultaneous attack and defense: Every movement should cover both functions. In Wing Tsun, we don't "block", and we don't have any purely defensive movements. Everything is an attack, everything has forward intent. If you are attempting to block an attack and then counter, you are on the defensive and at least 2 moves behind your attacker. Instead of using static blocks, we "attack the attack" and take the lead, defending and attacking in one swift movement. When the way is free and we make our attack, we do so in a way that offers us defensive cover as well. Avoid things that compromise your balance or structure, or will create unnecessary opening to exploit that you won't be able to defend, like wide swings, cocking back punches, or high kicks.
8. Relax: Relaxation of the body is discussed throughout the various principles and concepts of Wing Tsun. Tension in the body arrests the flow of power and movement and the transition between techniques, causing hesitation, over commitment, and delayed responses. It also helps your opponent to gain leverage over you and break your structure, while making it difficult to absorb and redirect incoming energy. Your movements will be choppy and your attacks will not yield their full potential. Also noteworthy is that our concept of relaxation is more than just the body. In order to to be in control of the situation and your opponents power, you must first be in control of your mind and your emotions. Without this, you will find it difficult to maintain control over your own body and reactions, much less your opponents. Fear and anger are powerful tools if you learn how to control them instead of allowing them to control you. Relax and focus, the cool head prevails under pressure.
9. Economy of motion: Keep it simple, direct, and efficient. Avoid overly complex or flashy movements that are not needed. Your movements should be fluid, your transitions smooth. Don't telegraph your movements. Attacks go forward from point A to point B without having to pull back and load up. Don't search for openings to apply certain techniques or rely on preset patterns. Go with the flow of what is necessary for that specific situation. Leverage and momentum are your friend, use them. Don't exert unnecessary energy.
10. Control the exchange: Break the rhythm of your opponents movements. Control the range of the engagement. Think of the fight as a dance; one person leads and one person follows. The sooner you take the lead and make them dance to the beat of your drum, the better your chances of victory. Don't do what they expect you to do, when they expect you to do it. Don't be where they expect you to be. Attack or counter off beat. Change angles and levels. Timing and distance are crucial elements in a physical altercation.
11. Be Practical: In a life or death situation, trying to show off or do fancy moves or combos like a spinning reverse flying kick are not the smartest thing to do. Keep it simple and direct, using technique instead of relying on brute strength. Do exactly what needs to be done, no more or no less.
12. One Controls Two: "Yat Fook Yee" The theory behind this is that ideally you want to be able to control both of your opponents arms with one of yours (this is called trapping), which leaves you with a free hand to strike with, with no risk of trading blows. Generally speaking, you almost never want to use both of your arms to control one of theirs (unless special circumstances, like employing a lock) because this leaves them with a free hand to strike you, and you are no longer in control of the exchange.
The Energy Principles of Wing Tsun
1. Give up your own force: RELAX! In order to move quickly and employ your dynamic responses and reflexive action, you must relax. If you are tense, then you are giving up your structure and balance to your opponent, you are robbing your attacks of their potential power, you are slowing down your reactions and losing sensitivity, and you are making it much easier for your opponent to gain an advantageous position. If your opponent is stronger than you and you attempt to fight their force head on, you will lose.
2. Redirect your opponents force: This falls in line with the 3rd fighting principle. When an attacker launches a powerful attack, you dissipate the force away from you. Don't meet force with force and clash with your opponent. They are giving you an opening to counterattack. Neutralize the incoming force and it is no longer a threat to you.
3. Use your attackers force against them: Use the force of your opponent to your advantage. If they pull you, use that force to step in and strike. if they push the left side of your body, reciprocate that force back to them from your right side, similar to walking through the yard and stepping on a shovel. The force of your step is redirected as the handle of the shovel flies up and hits you in the face. Whack! But the shovel did not attack you with force, it just used your own energy against you. Your opponent will be effectively attacking themselves.
4. Add your own force: When you reciprocate your opponents own force back to them, this is where you add in your own power. This will allow you to launch devastating attacks much more powerful than you would normally be capable of. There is quite a bit of physics at play here, and the explanation can easily become quite complicated depending on how far you'd like to explore it. Save your force for when the way is clear and your free hand goes forward.
5. Power comes from the ground, and the punch comes from the heart: This is pretty self explanatory about the basics of our structure and the biomechanics of our punch. We learn to cultivate power from our rooting to the ground and use our entire body to generate force. That force, when applies to our vertical punch aligned on our center, relaxed and properly aligned, is devastating with maximum efficiency and minimal effort. The double meaning of this saying is that, you stand your ground in a conflict, and the punch is thrown with intent, with the mindset to cause maximum damage. Kind of like a gunslinger saying "don't pull it out unless you really intend to use it".
6. Glass Head, Cotton Body, Iron Bridge Hand: "Boh Lay Tao, Meen Fah Toh, Teet Kiu Sao" Another multilayered analogy. "Glass Head" could mean a few different things, but is generally accepted as meaning you are to protect your head at all costs, as it is fragile. It is also often associated with having a clear mind. "Cotton Body" refers to being able to absorb incoming energy, as well as being able to dissipate and redirect it. This in effect is like you opponent is punching a ball of cotton, as they can not land a solid blow. You go with the flow of energy, and then bounce back and "expand" as the attack retreats. "Iron Bridge" is often thought of by conditioning the forearms and hands, through Wooden Dummy and Iron Palm/wall bag training. Your arms are your weapons and must be strong and conditioned. Your ability to "stick" to your opponent is also considered an "Iron Bridge", because once you establish contact, you should have an iron bond at the bridge (point of contact) that your opponent can not escape from.
More Kuen Kuit
Without getting too deep into them, here are a few more important and basically self explanatory sayings from the Kuen Kuit.
-The theory of Wing Tsun has no limit in its applications.
-Train diligently; maintain your skills.
-Help the weak and the very young; use your skills for the good of humanity.
-Timing is achieved through practice.
-Soft and relaxed strength will put your opponent in jeopardy.
-Coordinate the hands and the feet; movement is together.
-The application of techniques will vary according to your opponent.
-Siu Nim Tao trains internal power.
-The Wooden Dummy develops use of power.
-Good structure compliments the hands.
-Be fast with your fists.
-Be forceful when applying power.
-Be accurate with your timing.
-Protect your structure.
-Unite your waist and stance.
-Sink your inner Qi.
-Be ferocious when clashing.
-Sink the elbows, shoulders, and waist.
-Do not collide with a stronger opponent.
-The Phoenix Eye Fist has no compassion.
-When chasing an opponents bridge, beware of being led.
-Persistent attacks will surely gain you entry; staying on the defensive will surely get you into trouble.
-Bong Sao doesn't remain.
-The three terrors of Wing Tsun are Taan Sao, Bong Sao, and Fook Sao.
-Do not expect compassion from your opponent.
-Invisible structure, invisible kick.
-As long as you are sticking to your opponent, you are unlikely to lose.
-The elbow must be strong.
-Be steady with your breathing and strength.
The Centerline concept
This is my take on the Centerline theory, reduced to its most basic form. Think of it like this, there are 3 major lines that you need to be aware of: Your vertical center, your opponents vertical center, and the horizontal line of attack that goes between them. So basically, it looks like this:
The vertical center (center line) is three dimensional, like the pole that goes through the horse on a carousel.
The horizontal line of attack (central line) is like an infrared laser sight targeting system that you take aim with, emitting from your solar plexus (middle Dantien; the intersection of the line separating the high and mid gates "Gee-Sin", with your vertical centerline "Wu-Sin"). This is also the main point of cover to protect on your vertical center, as by covering this position, you are creating less of an opening and are equal distance from any opposing point in the inside or outside of the high and mid gates, similar to the hands of a clock sweeping from the center. If you are not covering your center, then you are opening yourself up for an attack, creating holes to be exploited.
If you can take a superior position so your horizontal line of attack is targeting your opponents vertical centerline but their horizontal central line is not targeting you, you then have a strategic tactical advantage. If you compromise your line of attack, you are placing yourself in a bad position. If ever this line is lost, it should be recovered as soon as possible.
This is of course the simplest way to scratch the surface. As you begin factoring in the 6 gates, ranges, yin and yang lines, floating centerline and midpoint, and all of the other coordinates relative to the centerline matrix, it becomes quite complex. However, once you are aware of all of this, you training allows your mind and body to instantly do background processing of all of this information so you are constantly in control of the situation.
As you can see from the second picture above, when the attacker on the right lost his horizontal line of attack (central line), he became vulnerable to the counterattack of the defender on the left. The only hope for the attacker on the right would be to recover his horizontal central line and reengage.
Aside from the Centerline concept, forward intent is probably the absolute most important concept in Wing Tsun. It applies in all things, layers upon layers. The forward intent of your body as you intercept an attack or launch your counter attack, the forward intent of your techniques, the forward intent of your mindset to not surrender to the attack. If your techniques (Bong Sao, Taan Sao, etc.) fail to do their job, it's most likely because they lack the forward intent necessary to do so. If your balance and structure is broken by your opponent, it's most likely because you lost the forward intent of your structure. If your opponent is controlling the timing and distance of the exchange, it's probably because you lack the forward intent needed to take the lead and you are on the defensive. If you find yourself balling up and just trying to get away from the attacks, then you have lost the forward intent in your mindset and have already defeated yourself.
Fajin & Qigong
In short, Qigong is the cultivation of power through breathing, and Fajin is the explosive release of power. Some attribute this skill set to "internal" martial arts. It is creating and discharging a very fast, explosive energy generated from a very short range. The generation of this power comes from relaxation and proper structure, body mechanics, breathing techniques, and alignment and harmony of the seven bows of the body engaged with proper timing. Power is cultivated from the ground, focused in the central mass of the body (mid and lower Dantien, energy flow centers), and sent forward without any need to pull back or load the punch. The effects of this can be seen in the demonstrations of the "one inch punch", made famous by the late Bruce Lee or demonstrations of a practitioner who is standing on one leg and can not be moved when someone is pushing with all of their might. However it's not magic, it's all science. When other styles speak of cultivating and focusing their Qi energy and have all sorts of mystical explanations for it, we quantify energy and force and the use of "internal" skills like Qigong and Fajin through anatomy, physics, and geometry.
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