Wing Chun is also called Yongchun Quan, the Yongchun Chuan or Spring Chuan. It is said to be created by Yan Yongchun of Liancheng County in Fujian Province. During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820) of the Qing Dynasty, there was a Shaolin Chuan master Yan Si in Quanzhou of Fujian. To escape oppression, he left the city to take refuge with his family, and stayed in seclusion at Liancheng. Yan Si had a daughter called Yan Yongchun. She followed her father to practise martial arts since childhood and later became a Wushu master herself.
One day, when Yongchun was washing clothes at a riverside, she noticed a white crane fighting a green snake. She watched the fight carefully for a long time and came to understand their fighting rules. Thereafter, she combined the tangling and hissing of the crane and snake with the movements of the white crane Chuan and the southern-style Shaolin Chuan, forming the original Yongchun Chuan.
After Yan Yongchun married Liang Botao of Jiangxi Province, she taught her Chuan to her husband. They set up a Wushu club at Liancheng to teach the art. After the death of their father, Yan Yongchun and her husband traveled in Jiangxi before settling down in Guangdong Province, where they taught the Yongchun Chuan at Zhaoqing.
In the 20th year (1815) of the reign of Emperor Jiaqing during the Qing Dynasty, martial arts actor Huang Baohua went to perform at Zhaoqing and met Liang Botao. Liang taught Huang the Yongchun Chuan while Huang taught Liang cudgel plays. They both mastered the arts. In his later years, Huang Baohua passed the martial arts of the Yongchun Chuan and his cudgel plays to Liang Zan who, after mastering the arts, developed them into the present-day Yongchun Chuan. Meanwhile, the Yongchun Chuan became popularized through the efforts of other boxers who combined to improve and develop the art.
The Yongchun Chuan features: steady stances, generation of forces, three tricks with six forces, fists playing close to one’s own body, usage of explosive power, stressing on real combat, focusing on completion of movements, combination of offence and defence by forcing up or crushing down the fists or feet from the opposing side. This style of Chuan emphasizes speed of play, keeping fists and feet close to one’s body for better protection, as well as to prepare for attacks and fighting the opponent at close range. When fighting, Yongchun boxers contain their chest, arch the back, close their elbows and knees, draw in their ribs, keep their thighs closed to protect the groin. When they use their feet for attack, they must also use their hands in cooperation. When they kick they do not expose their groin and when they deliver fist blows, their hands do not leave the front of their body.
Wing Chun History
The history of most martial arts, including Wing Chun, has historically been passed from teacher to student as an oral history rather than through written documentation, making it difficult to confirm or clarify the differing accounts of Wing Chun’s creation.
Some have sought to apply the methods of higher criticism to the oral histories of Wing Chun and other Chinese martial arts. Others have attempted to discern the origins of Wing Chun by determining the specific purpose of its techniques.
Wing Chun starts to appear in independent third-party documentation during the era of the Wing Chun master Leung Jan, making the subsequent history of Wing Chun and its divergence into branches more amenable to documentary verification.
The common legend involves Yim Wing Chun (beautiful springtime), a young woman who has rebuffed the local warlord’s marriage offer. He says he’ll rescind his proposal if she can beat him in a fight. She asks a local buddhist nun to teach her boxing. The style they develop enables Yim Wing Chun to defeat the warlord. She marries her sweetheart and teaches him the style. He names it after her.
Wing Chun as a Southern Martial Art
Wing Chun, together with Hung Gar and Choy Lay Fut are given the name “The Three Great Southern Martial Art Schools of the South” because of their origin and popularity in Southern China.
Wing Chun Chuan Principles
Tenets of Wing Chun include practicality, efficiency and economy of movement. Practitioners are sometimes encouraged to sense the energy behind their movements. The core philosophy becomes a useful guide to practitioners when modifying or refining the art.
Spring Chuan Practicality
Wing Chun techniques emphasise practicality and effectiveness. Most strikes have the intention to injure the target. Wing Chun concept is based upon the fact that the closest distance between two points is a straight line. Its primary targets all lie on the centerline of one’s opponent. The Centerline must always be pointing at one’s opponent.
Wing Chun Characteristics
Balance, Structure and Stance
Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with body structure will win. A correct Wing Chun stance is like a piece of bamboo, firm but flexible, rooted but yielding. This structure is used to either deflect external forces or redirect them into the ground.
Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers quicker from stalled attacks and structure is maintained.
Wing Chun favours a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are positioned across the vitals of the centerline. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out variantly on the heels, balls, or middle (K1 or Kidney 1 point) of the foot depending on lineage. All attacks and counter-attacks are initiated from this firm, stable base. Wing Chun rarely compromises structure for more powerful attacks because this is believed to create defensive openings which may be exploited.
Structure is viewed as important, not only for reasons of defence, but also for attack. When the practitioner is effectively ‘rooted’, or aligned so as to be braced against the ground, the force of the hit is believed to be far more devastating. Additionally, the practice of ‘settling’ one’s opponent to brace them more effectively against the ground aids in delivering as much force as possible to them.
Softness (via relaxation) and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun.
Tension reduces punching speed and power. Muscles act in pairs in opposition to each other (e.g. biceps and triceps). If the arm is tensed, maximum punching speed cannot be achieved as the biceps will be opposing the extension of the arm. In Wing Chun, the arm should be relaxed before beginning the punching motion.
Unnecessary muscle tension wastes energy and causes fatigue.
Tense, stiff arms are less fluid and sensitive during trapping and chi sao.
A tense, stiff limb provides an easy handle for an opponent to push or pull with, whereas a relaxed limb provides an opponent less to work with.
A relaxed, but focused limb, affords the ability to feel “holes” or weaknesses in the opponents structure (See Sensitivity section). With the correct forwarding these “holes” grant a path into attack the opponent.
Muscular struggle reduces a fight to who is stronger. Minimum brute strength in all movement becomes an equalizer in uneven strength confrontations. This is very much in the spirit of the tale of Ng Mui.
While the existence of a “central axis” concept is unified in Wing Chun, the interpretation of the centerline concept itself is not. Many variations exist, with some lineages defining anywhere from a single “centerline” to multiple lines of interaction and definition.
The most commonly seen interpretation emphasizes attack and defense along an imaginary vertical line drawn from the center of the practitioner’s chest to the center of the enemy’s chest. The human body’s prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus and groin.
Wing Chun techniques are generally “closed”, with the limbs drawn in to protect the central area and also to maintain balance. In most circumstances, the hands do not move beyond the vertical circle that is described by swinging the arms in front, with the hands crossed at the wrists. To reach outside this area, footwork is used. A large emphasis and time investment in training Chi Sao exercise emphasises positioning to dominate this centerline. The stance and guard all point at or through the center to concentrate physical and mental intent of the entire body to the one target.
Wing Chun practitioners attack within this central area to transmit force more effectively, since it targets the “core center” (or “mother line”, another center defined in some lineages and referring to the vertical axis of the human body where the center of gravity lies). For example, striking an opponent’s shoulder will twist the body, dispelling some of the force and weakening the strike. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.
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