Was the ‘Don” doing Forms or Kata?


At the end of the last video, I said we would dig in a bit deeper into some ideas around moving and understanding the connections in our body/posture/set up.

Before we can do that we must have some kind of consensus about the Wing Chun Forms.

This is no big deal, nothing new, we are just setting up some reference points that make sense to ourselves, no need to inform YouTube about the Great Leap forwards.

I want to start this off by talking about Don Bradman, more than likely the greatest Cricketer / Batsman of all time.

He {the Don} attributed his outstanding ability to the fact that as a child he adopted the practice of hitting a golf ball against the house wall with a cricket stump, hour after hour, day after day week after week.

Focused, deliberate, repetative, consistent.

Are we really to believe this was the seed of his greatness?

If that was the case with a wall and a little patience we could all do it, all become like the ‘Don’.

Or could it be that he was born great and this practice just allowed him to realise his potential?

I like this idea because it allows me to not feel so bad about myself and the fact that I am a pretty ordinary cricketer.

There is a belief, amongst the believers, that Forms are the heart of any Martial Art, that they contain all of the pertinent information for that style.

Form begets Function.

As the people involved in this, Martial Artists, do we think that this is a reality or is it just an M. A. version of the ‘Don Bradman’  story?

The human body has a limited range of motion that it uses to accomplish everything we do.

If we compare actions such as posting a letter, taking a book from a shelf, putting a key in a door lock, paying for a drink, pointing out a direction even ringing a doorbell { dare I add scratching your butt}?   The action is essentially the same.

As Kung Fu tragics, we could say that Don Bradman’s cover drive was just a low Bong Sau and a pressing palm.

Keeping this in mind do we not find it odd that every Traditional Chinese Martial Art has a Form or several Forms that are individual and only suited to that specific style?

I know I do.

Throwing a cricket ball is no different than throwing a baseball.

Or a brick now I think about it.

In my M.A. back story I have, to a certain extent, studied 3 Chinese Martial Arts that all have very different Forms,  Bagu Zhang, Xing Yi Chuan and Wing Chun Kuen, in particular, Buagua Forms are very different, Xing Yi is not quite as weird, and because of familiarity Wing Chun’s Forms appear somewhat normal.

Something they all have in common though is that none of the Forms are useable in any kind of practical way.

They all need to be adapted to the situation, and in doing so all become something else, something very similar.

{As a boy did Don Bradman need to change things when he visited at his aunties house?  Did he play a completely different game at Lords than at the S.C.G}?

Interestingly this is not the way with Japanese Arts that instead of Forms have Kata, shadow boxing sets that can be used exactly as trained.

As a young man, I trained in Judo, BuJutsu, and a little Jujitsu, everything was meant to be used the way we played out the Kata.

When we think about Don Bradman, the golf ball, the stump, the wall, what do we feel?

Was the ‘Don” doing Forms or Kata?

Does it even matter?

After all, we are not the “Don”.

But then again, neither are we any of the numerous long-dead heroes of Wing Chun.


Forms, Kata, Chi Kung, Kung Fu is there really any difference?


In a previous post when I was talking about Qi Kung and Kung Fu I was implying the notion that they are simply different sides of the same coin as are passive Forms and active Kata.

Are we even interested? 

 As it turns out what we are interested in is the result of the work.

Forms as a practice unto themselves are completely useless, it is only as a viewing platform that they create any value.

In this light, do we need to view them from the dynamic of defence or from the dynamic of attack, in the application, it is only attacking that will fulfil the needs at hand.

The work is always in the attacking, this is the puzzle we face, often only defending can create the time and space to attack.

I.M.O. defending is always and only aimed at setting up an opening to attack.

I do not think that defence can be deemed successful if all it does is prevent the Bad Guy from hitting me.

The defence is not the work, it is a precursor to the work, just as Qi Kung is a precursor to Kung Fu.

In practice, as Forms lead on to Function, they pretty much morph into Kata.

There is a balance between the two states that needs a clearly defined transition point or everything fails {to me this is the ‘very heart of the Dummy training and I will go into it on another occasion}.

Any transition, as the word implies, is always about movement.

The very best fighting advice I have ever heard did not come from Mike Tyson despite my admiration of the guy’s attitude, it came from Mr.Miyagi.

In the original Karate Kid, he said:  “Best defence, don’t be there”.

Nothing about Form, nothing about Kata, nothing about Karate or Wing Chun just the IDEA of moving out of the way.








Wing Chun is Boxing, that is what Kuen means.


Yet another Kung Fu Master has been humbled by an M.M.A. Fighter in China, here is a LINK to a video commentary on the event by the China-based professional fighter and trainer Ramsey Dewey, it is well worth watching, Ramsey never just puts people down,  he is polite, knowledgable and impartial.

One thing that always sticks out like Doggy Meat Bags to me is the almost complete absence of anything like dynamic or just plain old strategic movement by these Masters, this one just stood still while the M.M.A. Guy picked his spot, stepped in and turned his lights out.

Over the years I have had many conversations with Martial Artists who believe Wing Chun has no footwork, I would play with them and at least hold my own only for them to claim that I was using my old Boxing training and not Wing Chun.

Haters are going to hate no matter what we show them, but then during training at my Sifu’s school training partners would make the same accusations, I.M.O. this was just them trying to find excuses for not moving.

Wing Chun is loved by lazy students if we are honest.

Wing Chun is Boxing, that is what Kuen means.

Surely in the light of so many Kung Fu / Wing Chun hopefuls falling in a great big pile of doo-doo, we would do well to explore the similarities of what we do and what other styles or sports do?

Something we should all realise is that no part-time Martial Artist, living or dead,  would last long against a full-time professional Combat Athlete and we do ourselves and our style a disservice when we pretend that they would.

The following 2 videos are part of what I teach my students, some if not most of the information you may recognise if you watched my posts on throwing the discus and Wing Chun.





I advise all of my guys to get on Youtube and watch some Olympic Level fencing, Ice hockey, Speed skating, even a few episodes of ‘Come Dancing’, pretty much anything lively and to try to recognise movements that they use that could easily be from one of our Forms.


Movement is just movement, if you are in trouble the only wrong move is to not move.










Sparring should not be seen as fighting, it should be seen as an opportunity to build more trust in what we do.


Ben Judkins in his excellent blog ‘Kung Fu Tea’ recently wrote about the current trend in debunking Traditional Chinese Martial Arts as fake, here is a link to an article that is well written from a man that does his homework and it is well worth reading.

But this is not what I wish to talk about in this space.

In a couple of days, I am taking two of my students to spar with a local Karate School, this is their idea, not mine and I salute them for it.

This post is mostly for them, but there is something here we would all do well to consider.

We have been preparing for what may come on Thursday evening, but we have no idea what that might be, and it has been raising some concerns in my guys.

More than once they have commented that what we do does not appear to work.

To avoid partisan argument let’s just say O.K. Kung Fu is fake and it doesn’t work.

So what?

Compared to others in the Wing Chun community my way of teaching is very physical, almost hard, everything we do is from the MARTIAL aspect of the style and not from the ART aspect.

We train to fight.

So it may surprise you to hear me say ‘So what’ to the claims of fakery.

I am in my mid-sixties and in that time I have had quite literally hundreds of fights.

I started boxing at 7 years and have been active in one style or another since then, Boxing and Judo were my deepest involvement until I took up Wing Chun, competition is a large part of both Boxing and Judo, hence the number of fights.

My formative years in Liverpool in the U.K. where full of violence, not that anyone saw it that way, in the post-war world solving differences with your fists was considered the natural way to sort things out, the semi-mystical Biemo of Hong Kong rooftops was happening all over Europe in all high schools and youth clubs.

I am not in any way boasting when I say I have had so many fights, it is just a statement of fact, anyway it would only be boasting if I said I won them all.

I most certainly did not.

So I have had a lot of fights, in the ring, on the mat and in the street, this was over many years, in these fights I used more than just a few Martial Art Styles and in general none of them where the right tool for the job I was involved in at that time.

None of them worked the way I hoped and expected them too.

That is the point.

Let’s take a parallel view.

I did an apprenticeship as a Chef where I was lucky enough to receive very good instruction in very good hotel kitchens from very good tradesmen and I learned my lessons well, I was at least as good as any of my contemporaries.

Over the next 20 years as I moved from 5-star hotel kitchen to 5-star hotel kitchen, from city to city from country to country my excellent training was never quite enough, there was always a steep and instant learning curve to be endured.

I have no reason to think that this would not be the same in other industries, other trades, other professions.

Most of us know from personal experience that this is, in fact, the case.

New job = new problems.

What made us into decent perhaps exceptional tradesmen was our ability to take our somewhat inadequate training and find a way to make it work in this new environment.

How else can knowledge evolve if it is not tested to breaking point?

How often is it that it is only once our training has been broken and we improve, repair, reinforce what failed that it works at all.

No two fights {or jobs}  are ever the same, even if our training is spot on for the first it will not suit the second or third.

It should be a total ‘no brainer’ that going into a fight with some training, any training, even the wrong training is better than going into a fight with no training.

It is easier to trust in something we know than it is to just hope things go well.

The hidden strength and power of training in the Martial Arts, any style be it, Wing Chun, Judo, Boxing or Karate is that we learn how to trust what we know.

If you do not trust it why would you ever choose to use it?

I was trained to cook in the French tradition, when I worked in Italy I cooked Italian recipe´s in the French manner, it raised a few eyebrows but the results stood up to the taste test of an opinionated Italian Executive Chef, I worked in Spain, Africa, Greece and had the same experience.

Ironically I had the biggest problems when I worked in France, it is a lot easier to poke holes in something you know deeply, think that you own it somehow, just like in Kung Fu, Form can be seen as more important than Function.

In Italy and the rest how it tasted was of more importance than how it was made.

Fighting is not about style, fighting is not about training, usually, it is decided by luck, but as Gary Player pointed out to a snarky spectator that accused him of making a lucky shot, “the more I train the luckier I get”.

Sparring should not be seen as fighting, it should be seen as an opportunity to build more trust in what we do.

We should not approach it with the thought of how do I stop my opponent from doing his thing, but rather how do I find a way to do my thing.

In life, it is trusting ourselves and what we have that gets things done.







What does the dummy have in common with a human being?


To a certain extent when we play on the dummy, we are involved in one man Chi Sau, or at the least Chi Sau with a very stiff and static partner.

Do we approach it with the same outlook as we approach Chi Sau?

A great many people play the dummy at a high pace and high physicality, taking pride in the speed they dance around it and how loud the sound of their contact.

One constant in all of our training should be, indeed must be, asking ourselves…

“What would need to happen for me to need this action being performed in this way, in this space”?

All training is task-specific, all training is preparing us for an event that is at least similar to what we are doing in that training.

What is the dummy doing that we are dealing with?

What does the dummy have in common with a human being?

We should consider these questions seriously and deeply.

It is all too easy when playing on the dummy, or even when playing Chi Sau, to get sidetracked into thinking that this action {or FORM} is teaching us something just by being there and just by us doing it.

It does not, it just becomes a game.

There is an inherent danger in all FORMS that are done in the same way with the same thinking day after day, that is when we turn on the auto-pilot and turn down the thinking, they become nothing more than dancing, or just standing still.

The physical orientation we have to the dummy, or our partner in Chi Sau, is nothing at all like the positions we will encounter if we face violence.

Unless the Bad Guy is a complete moron, he will not choose to stand anything like chest to chest, it is unlikely he will engage both arms, it is more likely that his actions, his choices, will make sure he is not in that place of vulnerability or weakness.

Not ours or our training.

If he is a moron and just walks into our punches we do not need our training to deal with him, if that is the guy we are training to face dancing around a tree probably is enough.

Dummies don’t move, people do, how do we all resolve this dilemma and come up with something useful from all that dancing and drumming?

One IDEA, and it is just an IDEA, a method to bring about a different way of looking at the dummy and Chi Sau is to focus on the transitions.

To become aware of how the dummy stops our movement as opposed to thinking that we hit it, and what we do next.

If we are facing violence and the Bad Guy can stop our movement we are a split second away from getting done in, if we are not aware of this ‘stopping’ and cannot transition from that phase to another phase in the shortest possible time it is game over.

Looking only at how we move in and make contact with the dummy is bordering on arrogance and disrespect for our opponent, this type of attitude very rarely ends well when facing a real person.

Is it practical to develop this type of attitude?

Make easy contact with the dummy, feel it stop you, observe the return forces and what they are doing to your shape and balance {this aspect alone is worth the time}, explore the best and most effective way to regain your shape and balance, then move.

Be stopped, observe, decide, transition. Rinse and repeat.

Learn the FORM, but seek the formless.

Learn it all, then forget it all.

Learn The Way, then find your own way.




Wearing the hat of an Architect/Designer we could emulate this by doing all of our forms in a continuous progression from the pole back to the beginning of the First Form.


‘Form Follows Function’ is an old and much-used provocation, it comes in many flavours, Product over Process, Empirical over Theoretical, often sides are chosen the same way people choose football teams and are defended with just the same vigour.

The American Architect Louis Sullivan first coined the term ‘Form Follows Function’ and this became a battleline in more than just architecture, it is everywhere in the Martial Arts.

I find it enlightening to take a mental sidestep when contemplating anything like this, to put it in an alien context to see what is being looked at.

Think of your favourite shirt.

List the 3 things that you think are most important about that shirt.

Where on the list does growing the plant that the fibre came from sit?

Or how about making the cloth, designing the pattern of the cloth, cutting the cloth.

Usually, it is the fit, the feel and the look that rank highest, these are the things that FUNCTION as a shirt.

Sullivan had a young assistant, Frank Lloyd Wright, who realised how easy it was to misinterpret this IDEA and amended it to ‘Form and Function should be one, joined in a spiritual union’.

Without the plant that the fibre came from there could be no shirt, and equally, without the desire to make a shirt, there would be no need for the fibre.

The most famous example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s approach is, of course, the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Designed in the 1940s with Wright’s IDEA of the unity of purpose and design it still works today even though styles and tastes have changed so much.

On the Guggenheim’s web site it quotes a letter from Wright just before his death that reads…

“Yes, it is hard… to understand a struggle for harmony and unity between the painting and the building. No, it is not to subjugate the paintings to the building that I conceived this plan. On the contrary, it was to make the building and the painting a beautiful symphony such as never existed in the world of Art before.”

As Martial Artists if we can approach our work with the same openness and hope that Frank Lloyd Wright imbued in his designs, to not only look for but encourage a spiritual union between Form and Function, not take sides…

Again from the Gugg’s web site…

This principle is thoroughly visible in the plan for the Guggenheim Museum. According to Wright’s design, visitors would enter the building, take an elevator to the top and enjoy a continuous art-viewing experience while descending along the spiral ramp.

Wearing the hat of an Architect/Designer we could emulate this by doing all of our FORMS in a continuous progression from the pole back to the beginning of the First Form.

Then we might understand the “Art” as deeply as the “Martial” and vice verse.








Perhaps the problem is not the act of “Kicking” but rather what we think the act of “Kicking” is?


One thing that has always confused me has been the role of kicking in a ‘FIST’ art like Wing Chun.

Is it necessary, should it even be there?

What is the historical perspective?

If we go to the Kuen Kuit to get assistance there is practically nothing related to kicking, this is more than odd I think, especially as the Kuen Kuit is the repository of Wing Chun’s original wisdom.

Somewhat concerning is the fact that one of the only times the Kuen Kuit cleary references kicking is in the line “Kicks lose nine times out of ten”, this does not sound much like a positive credit.

The Kuen Kuit also says “Learning the usual ways will allow later variations”.

It just appears that the usual way did not favour kicking.

There are many situations within the ‘Canon’ of Wing Chun were things that make up the backbone of our work begin to fall apart, even contradict themselves, I believe that this is a conflict of translation over interpretation.

My teacher {Jim} Fung Chuen Keung would often say that some things in Wing Chun defy translation to English, if we take this to its ultimate conclusion we westerners that depend on such translations are all, and quite possibly always, wrong, the only option available is a personal interpretation of what is a very cryptic, and incorrectly translated Kuen Kuit.

People, being people, this fluidity leads to ‘Cherry Picking’.

Is it possible that kicking entered Wing Chun because Ip Man was very small, did he elevate kicking because it afforded him the potential of extra distance?

Perhaps the problem is not the act of “Kicking” but rather what we think the act of “Kicking” is?

There is a tendency amongst many Wing Chun commentators to forget that everything we do has a very real physical purpose that supersedes any pseudo – mechanical or semi-mystical deep thinking.

The product supersedes the process.

Any kick has a job to do, and that job has very little to do with how we move our limbs, it is all about distance control, contact, cause and effect, hurting the Bad Guy.

Wing Chun is a ‘Close Range’ fighting style, kicks, on the other hand, are at best mid-range, more often than not long-range.

Approaching kicking as something we do with ourselves as opposed to something we do to an attacker is a road to nowhere.

What do we think a kick is?

Does it fit the Wing Chun ethos?

First and foremost and something that needs to be contemplated deeply is that “Kicking” is effectively fighting on one leg.

It requires exquisite levels of skill to remain in balance on one leg during a dynamic exchange, a lack of balance leads to a lack of power.

A wider and more generalised consensus we can be comfortable with could be…

A blow delivered to an opponent by a foot of shin that has built its energy from a swinging leg.

Kicking is an overt attacking move, often pre-emptive, all eggs in one basket kind of approach, it is difficult to align this with the Kuen Kuit’s ‘he attacks first, but I strike first’ which is alluding to a counter-attack.

Nowhere in any of the Wing Chun Forms does this type of movement exist, in both the Chum Kiu and the Biu Gee it is the body that moves and not the leg.

In Chum Kiu practice we are advised that the extension of the leg must not compromise our balance that we should be able to maintain balance with the leg extended.

This position, this one-legged stance if you wish is called the “Hanging Horse”.

This is a static, solid, stable position that if an attacker walks into is the equivalent of a bike rider hitting a parked car.

If the timing is correct and the attacker makes contact at the exact time that the position is established the exchange of momentum would be almost perfect and extremely powerful.

Seeing this take place from an outside vantage point would look very much like a consensus kick, a swinging leg.

Like so many other aspects of Wing Chun what appears to be is never what is, this can only be taught hands-on, and validated through experience.

I realise that many people reading this will to some extent disagree, and that is cool as I said at the beginning “I am one of those that are in favour of each of us making our interpretation of the work we do, forging our own path ” and of course there is valid and effective leg work in Wing Chun, it is just not kicking.

In Wing Chun we are informed and influenced by an IDEA, to be expected the same IDEA that informs and influences our arms informs and influences our legs.

We do not swing our arms around or hammer them into the opponent’s arms do we, this alone should raise a few flags.

“Greet what comes in, follow what goes out”.

Like the bike rider and the parked car, we offer a place for the opponent’s energy to exhaust itself under Newtons Third Law and the Law of Momentum Conservation.

We then step forward and finish them off.

This is shown in all its simplicity in the Chum Kiu and Biu Gee leg movements, there is no need to add anything.


KICKING IN A FIST ART. from WC INCa’s on Vimeo.


“Greet what comes in, follow what goes out”.

We call this “Jamming”, to anyone that does not understand the finer points this can look just like kicking and as such is frequently taught as kicking with all of its overt, overcommitted implications.

When it comes to a personal assessment of the validity and effectiveness of kicking, I must admit to holding a bias on this point, my first 20 years in the Martial Arts I followed styles that did not need kicking to get a favourable result, Boxing, Ju-Do, Bu-Jutsu.

Add to this that throughout my teenage years, the “soccer hooligan’ years of the 1970s in the U.K. On the occasions when everything went ‘Pear Shaped’ I consistently fared much better against people that tried to kick me than I did against non-kickers.

This, of course, could also be that many people, back then and today, try to kick because they have little confidence or ability in striking.

The more I think about and the more I study Wing Chun I am drawn to the conclusion that overt attacking kicking does not have a rightful place in this art, I know many people will disagree, many have in the past, but in today’s time-poor training world I think we should question the value of training something that the Kuen Kuit says fails 9 times out of 10.

This is not me saying do not train to kick, if you think you need it then train it, I just think that it is a little bit of an illegal import.

A final thought, FIGHTING ON ONE LEG.

Apart from 1970s Shaw Bros movies, this is something that no one with any sense would choose over fighting on two legs.

It’s a balance thing.

Even the most highly accomplished of kickers, Baas Rutten and Benny “the Jet” Urquidez { if these guys are unknown to you hit up YouTube} to name just two of my all-time faves would, on occasion fail and fall down, thankfully in that environment the opponent was prevented from jumping up and down on their heads.

In the street ???????







the way Mandarin was written at the time of the Qing take over the term ‘Siu Lim Tao’ could have been read as the ‘Way of the Shaolin’.


This post is not to argue that there is no such thing as Internal Kung Fu or to argue that it works or does not work, in fact, for this post I am accepting the proposition that Internal Kung Fu is real and does work.

The question I wish to pose is whether or not Wing Chun can be seen as an Internal Kung Fu and still be regarded as Wing Chun.

The genesis myth of Wing Chun talks of the Shaolin Abbess Ng Mei observing a fight between a Cran and a Snake and as such developing the IDEA for Wing Chun.

The emphasis here is Shaolin.

There is an alternative genesis myth that says 5 masters of the mythical Southern Shaolin Monastery convened and brought there best attack and best defences to develop a fighting style to combat the imperial troops of the Qing Empire.

Again here the emphasis is on Shaolin.

Finally, I was told by a very well educated Chinese friend that the way Mandarin was written at the time of the Qing take over the term ‘Siu Lim Tao’ could have been read as the ‘Way of the Shaolin’.

You may ask what is the deal here with Shaolin?

Firstly the Shaolin monastery and all associated with it are Buddhist, everything they do is influenced by their Buddhist philosophies, more on this later.

Secondly, Shaolin Kung Fu is hard, physical and athletic, they are renowned for this, it deals a great deal with conditioning to take punishment, with quick movement and distance control, physical conditioning is super important if any progress is expected.

The influence of Shaolin spread all through the northern Chinese Kingdoms and as a result, northern Chinese Martial Arts are hard, physical, fast, and their practitioners are hardy and well-conditioned what is commonly referred to as ‘External’, being of the body.

Wing Chun’s own history tells of its appearance in Foshan through the players on the Red Boat Opera, although this is highly unlikely, the Red Boats did not appear until late the 1700s, it is worth noting that the Red Boat Opera was a spin-off from the Beijing Opera, northern Chinese, so any style they would off used in the Operas would have been Shaolin.

How did Wing Chun morph into a Daoist style?

In a lot of today,s Wing Chun, especially from the C.S.T. lineage of the Ip Man Tong, are practising what is clearly a Daoist influenced style, it is well known that Ip Mans family where Daoist, they had a family temple that they allowed Chan Wah Shun to use as his Kwoon, and of course there is the story of Ip Mans students copying his ‘Peach Wood’ Baat Cham Do and having him a set made in aluminium.

To a conscientious Daoist ‘Peach Wood’ knives or swords are not weapons of combat, they are symbolic spiritual weapons that the superior man uses to cut the bonds that bind him to the ‘world of men’.

Ip Man would recommend that his student Chu Shong Tin spend many hours doing the first and least effective of all of the Wing Chun Forms, this is the Daoist idea of Wu Wei, non-doing, brought into and influencing Ip Man’s Wing Chun.

The modern followers of C.S.T. Wing Chun spend as much time doing nothing, non-doing, mindfulness as anything that could be considered ‘martial’.

For the thousands of C.S.T. followers out there I am not saying that it is not effective, but it is certainly Daoism influencing the work and not informed by Buddhist philosophy.

Is this of any importance?

Yes, it is.

Viewing what we know as Wing Chun through the lens of Buddhism leads us to the uncarved block, a parable that says we must work hard to remove all that is not us.
We must cut away the softwood and get to the solid heart.

It leads us to the parable of the ‘finger pointing at the moon’ if we waste our time looking at the finger we will never see the moon.

The friend of mine that studied the different type of Chinese writing over the years told me that ‘Biu Gee’ could also be read as ‘pointing finger’, if we spend our time looking at the ‘Biu Gee’ or any Form, then we will never see Wing Chun.

If our approach is tempered by Daoist thinking as Ip Mans surely was, we are working in a realm that is removed from the world of men, ‘action’ that does not involve struggle or excessive effort, this is the philosophy of the thinker, not the fighter.

The Kuen Kuit, the ancient wisdom songs of Wing Chun reads completely differently if you approach it with a Buddhist “work hard to cut away the soft wood, finger pointing at the moon” mentality than it does when you approach it with a Daoist ‘non-action’ mentality.

They become different martial arts.

Hopefully, this post can encourage all that read it to stop following and start studying.

At the end of the day, styles do not win fights, men do, and better thinking is what separates the men from the boys.