Feather Ruffling, My Own Opinion

Is Wing Chun a Western Martial Art?


Lets Ruffle some Feathers.
Lets Ruffle some Feathers.


As Wing Chun Students know all to well, Wing Chun is a Concept driven Martial Art, and seeing as it is a Chinese Martial Art it follows that the Concepts are Chinese.

But the Chinese language is notoriously difficult to translate int any Western Language, and Chinese Thinking is not even remotely similar to Western Thinking so are Western Students doing the same Wing Chun as Chinese Students?

Even amongst my Chinese Wing Chun Brothers / Uncles their explanations of the Concepts into English vary immensely, of even greater interest to me is that amongst different generations of my Chinese Wing Chun Brothers / Uncles there is a difference of opinion about what the Original Chinese Characters actually say, with or without translation from Chinese.

My own Sifu would often give me more than one explanation to any translation question, sometimes the explanations had little in common, and his English was exceptional, he once told me that even Chinese born Chinese read, write and understood Chinese differently depending on their upbringing, specifically Social Standing.

I have been studying Wing Chun for over 20 Years, my fellow Students have been a mix of Chinese born Chinese Educated Chinese people, Australian born Western Educated Chinese people, Western Educated people from non Asian Countries like Australia, U.S.A. Canada, Africa and Europeans.

On so many levels we all think, act and look at the World from very different perspectives so how could we possibly interpret a Concept in anything like the same way?

When you consider that the majority of people presently studying Wing Chun on this Planet are Western Educated { or at the very least from societies that have adopted the Western Industrial Society Model}, is it possible that Wing Chun is actually becoming a Western Martial Art?

What are the implications if this is the case?

As an Instructor if I cannot empathise with the Cultural Ideas that bore the Fruit of Wing Chun can I actually claim to be teaching it?

Throughout History the Chinese have tended to be rather Conservative choosing the middle Path, this is not the way of European history, our essential approach to conflict is very different.

Compare these two quotes;

“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” – Sun Tzu

 “It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past”. – Carl von Clauserwitz

Every Wing Chun Instructor has a slightly different take on how to teach and perform Wing Chun, even the few Great Masters that still survive display really quite large differences in their interpretation and with the very sad but inevitable passing of Ip Man’s Original Students will the Wing Chun that Dai Sigung Ip brought to the World simply shatter and fade away?

Or like so many other things will it be appropriated, reinvigorated even reinvented and become just another Historical Fighting Style?

My own Sifu would not talk of Chi or any other overtly Chinese aspect of Wing Chun, claiming that even in Hong Kong {where he was born, raised and trained} Wing Chun was looked upon with as much a Scientific approach as a Cultural approach, I once read an Article by a Nephew of Ip Man that claimed that Ip Man himself withdraw a host of Chinese Symbolism from Wing Chun, in particular the Ba Gua due to ridicule at St Stephens College from the British Boys there about Chinese Mumbo Jumbo { a term my own Sifu was fond of using by the way, and he was from the same class of Hong Kong people that would of gone to St. Stephens.}.

There is an excellent and well written Blog called Kung Fu Tea that the Blogger postulates that Ip Man may of actually created the whole back story of Wing Chun:


and in another post suggests the possibility that Wing Chun was created by Ip Mans Sifu, Chan Wah Shun: { read the blog and decide for yourself}


I have mentioned in a previous post of my own the possibility of Cross Fertilisation between Wing Chun and Western Boxing, if we consider that Chan Wah Shun was born around the time of the First Opium War and the subsequent British Colonialisation and Military Occupation, and was himself a Military trainer that would of been familiar with the British methods, is it not possible that Wing Chun has always been a Western Martial Art that was simply copied by the Chinese?

This would explain the problem with aligning the Concepts but now from the viewpoint that the Chinese could not understand “our thinking, our Concepts” and as such were happy to leave everything just a little bit vague, to pass on the information in Poems {the Kuen Kuit} at a time when they could of been easily documented accurately,  this may also account for its undoubted appeal to Western Educated people more than the majority of Asian educated people.

Presently on this blog I am taking a look at Chi Sau, for something that is so central to Wing Chun training how come just about every Lineage differs.

The Wing Tsun {Lung Ting Lineage} version has the Arms really squeezed into the Centre with the moves separate and relatively abrupt.

The W.S.L. {Wong Shun Leung Lineage} Schools are similar to the W.T. in there intermittent pattern of rolling, are very deliberate and forceful, always pushing forwards and inwards.

My own Lineage { Chu Sheung Tin via Jim Fung} emphasises being Round and continuously rolling as smoothly as we can with the intention of absorbing force.

This is not just a difference in application but a completely different set of Concepts.  

What does Chi Sau  translate to? And what dos this translation tell us?

I do not speak any Cantonese at all so my answer is only what my Sifu told me, Sticky {not Sticking} Hands, there is Common Ground here in the explanation of the Chinese Calligraphic Character  that it comes down from Ancient Book Binding, referring to how things were “Stuck” to each other, but here again there is a real variation in explanations.

The W.T. People that I have known say that to them it {Chi Sau} is about ‘Sticking” to your attacker and not giving him an inch.


The W.S.L. People I have spoken with say that it {Chi Sau} is the Glue that “Binds” all the other aspects of training together.


And my own Sifu would say that it is an action that forces our opponent to ‘Stick” to us, making it almost impossible for them to attack.

My Sifu with his Sifu.
My Sifu with his Sifu.

To make things even more confusing, amongst my contemporaries, who trained with me at the same time with the same Master often as not on the very same Days {so they received exactly the same information that I did}, there is a surprisingly different outlook and interpretation.

This fact alone brings the whole idea of knowledge passed down through  Lineage into the spotlight.

But lets not go there.

Not Today anyway.


3 thoughts on “Is Wing Chun a Western Martial Art?”

  1. Nice post, and thanks for linking to those two essays of mine over at “Kung Fu Tea.” I am glad that you found them to be thought provoking.

    One small point of clarification. I actually don’t think that Ip Man created the story of Yim Wing Chun. As I mention in that piece it is simply seen in too many places/lineages. What I was attempting to argue was a little more subtle. I think that there is good literary evidence that our current version of the “orthodox” Wing Chun creation myth is a product of the 1920s-1930s, a period in which Ip Man was active. But I end up concluding that he probably wouldn’t have had an incentive to actually put the story together as he was not actively teaching at that time. So it was likely someone else in his immediate environment. Perhaps the title to that post is a little too strongly worded. At some point I will attach a note to it clarifying my position.

    Thanks again,
    Benjamin Judkins


    1. Hi Benjamin, thank you for reading and commenting on my Blog, I apologise if through my not so accurate understanding of your Essay I have misrepresented your intentions. I do find most of your post thought provoking and I really enjoy the open point of view you put across.


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