Developing a Scientific Wing Chun

Wing Chun is often described as a scientific martial art that is based on efficiency. Actually, I disagree with this selection of words based on my own training with Sifu Eric Li. It’s not that he ever said either (1) that Wing Chun is not scientific or (2) that it is not efficient. He simply asks rhetorically, “Is there a simpler way — one that would enable you to have the same outcome using less effort than before?”

At this stage in my development (I use those words carefully because the mind and body changes as one progresses or regresses in the art), Wing Chun is the movement of an idea from one position to another. Hence, the uninitiated may see a fist or baseball moving from one position to another. I intend to argue that what is moving is an idea (or siu lim tao) from one state of existence to another.

Time, I will argue, does not exist in Wing Chun. Because once you accept the concept of an idea (and multiple ideas), then each construct is timeless. (When does your shoulder stop being a shoulder?) Often in class, a student will make a fist and push it forward to strike. Often, new students are not able to change the idea or concept from one state to another. I suffer from the same causal experience believing that the solid (idea or concept) that is Eric Li is there and permanent. Time and Time again, he shows me that I am living in the past; and that the chest that I intended to strike is now dust — it is gone and changed to another state and in another way and in another position.

Time does not exist because every moment of the way, the sensing mechanism (all the parts that comprise you) should be experiencing something. Each idea needs to retain the concept of change: from permanence to impermanence; hardness to softness; being fixed to moving; fixation to rotation; expansion to contraction (and vice versa for each paradigm (or idea) that can be conceived along the causal continuum that it is tan sao, bong sao and siu lim tao.

What is a scientific art? How do we make Wing Chun scientific? I will argue that you need to stop listening to your teachers. You need to be a good scientist and run tests no matter how stupid to determine if it works for you:

I will punch with all my muscles clenched
I will concentrate on my feet and rotating on my soul, heel or ball of the foot.
I will hit with the top of the fist, bottom, side and other side
I will kick high or I will just target the ankle or toe (it might be enough)
I will only hit along a consistent plain. I won’t even attempt an upward angle.
I will expand on my opponent; I will shrink
I will move from the shoulder, elbow or wrist
I will tell my hips, knees or ankles to direct all movement
I will apply chum kiu to a specific joint today
My teacher said sink into the earth; today I will rise.
Dare I commit heresy, and move the centerline to a different location.

Wing Chun is for everyone. All martial arts share a common idea. To be a scientific martial art, everything has to be tested and retested. Of course, you will lose and get hit and beat up by your kung fu brothers and sisters. But, think about how much you will learn! One great teacher, Sifu Stephan Elainey, once said to me “Invest in loss!”

The ideas expressed in this article are my own; but, I think that it is necessary to evaluate everything critically based on your own body. My Sifu often says, “You are all my students; but, everyone does the form differently. Equally, just as I ask you to write an “A” on the board, every student will draw a different “A.” But, onlookers will all see an “A.” [They will have the same idea.] This is Siu Lim Tao. It belongs to you! Find yourself!”


The requirements for scientific investigation are 3 fold: (1) they are based on a hypothesis (such as if I do this, something will happen; (2) the results are observable and measurable (or, perhaps, it can be experienced); and (3) the test is repeatable.

As a martial art moves toward a scientific methodology, one can see that lineages no longer matter. The methodology that works in one lineage should work across lineages. Science removes the loyalty to a lineage or system of knowledge or martial arts. The method being taught needs to work when processed across martial arts and across lineages. It should be repeatable across a number of people. It should be open to scrutiny.

Of course, many will say that “Wing Chun is not a science. It’s an art!” This may be true; but, there are benefits to a scientific approach that cannot be ignored. It means that students can test punching over the arm and under the arm to define for themselves what works. The answer is obvious. But, if we take things for granted, then we are not certain and under what circumstance.

#wingchun #kungfu #martialarts

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