The Mysterious Methods of Wing Chun

The Mysterious Methods of Wing Chun

Admin note: Please read this post and chime in with your thoughts! A friend wrote this and we find it quite interesting as it falls in line with our own research on the matter. We want as many thoughts/comments as possible on the subject!

I was talking to a friend in Wing Chun who was telling me about this old woman; she was a Wing Chun grandmaster and contemporary of Ip Man, who took on all challengers and defeated all of them (armed or unarmed) with the 8 Wing Chun methods using just 1-4 movements. This was a mainland version of the art, and in a lineage that has all but died out.

These 8 methods were demonstrated in the swords form, on the dummy, and in empty hand fighting.

Having known that most Wing Chun lineages have 8 sets in the swords form, and having seen 8’s other places in the system (8 methods of kicking for example) I started looking for what these “8 methods” might actually be.

What I found was surprising, and yet not surprising. No one can agree and everyone has different interpretations. Some people have 8 methods, some have 12.  Some have 8 sword techniques, some 8 sword methods, some have 8 sword cuts, and while some have 8 sword sets that have multiple methods and techniques within them. Still others say it is the sword protecting the 8 directions.

Also, Wing Chun culture (and Chinese culture) love the number 8. They make everything into 8 or a derivative of 8 (108 wooden dummy, 116 wooden dummy, etc. Notice there is no 97 wood dummy or 107, etc).  From different lineages you see 8 kicks, 8 kicking methods/principles, 8 energies, 8 power generation methods, 8 directions, 8 strengths (Lik’s), 8 trigrams, 8 palm strikes, 8 concepts, etc, etc. And of course, if two lineages (even if both are under Ip Man) do have the same systems of 8, they almost never have the same 8.  And of course if you try to count these type things out on your own, you can’t always get a clean count to 8.  Sometimes it is 6, sometimes 9…or 20.

So, that brings us back to the original question of, what are the 8 methods, or better yet – what were the original 8 used to by this old grandmaster to defeat all challengers with just 1-4 motions? We would like your input.

What we did at first is go through every Wing Chun hand we could think of and listed the ways it could be used.  And we used our own terminology, with clean modern definitions, to categorize these hands.  The thought was that if we go through everything and list how they can be used, maybe we will find that there are only 8 ways, etc.

So below is a list of 12 methods compiled from several sources, so you can see what is commonly out there.

  • Biu/Bil:                   shooting, thrusting
  • Chi:                        sticking
  • Jeet:                       intercepting
  • Chit:                       slicing
  • Chum:                    sinking
  • Dart:                       joining
  • Dong:                     swinging
  • Kao Saat:               detain & kill
  • Lao / Tao:               leaking/stealing in
  • Mo:                         touching and feeling
  • Tun:                        swallowing
  • Tong:                      pressing

Then, this was our list so far, our top 3 maybe’s, and all the ones under consideration:

Our Top Six Methods:

    1. Inquiring/Listening
    2. Covering
    3. Pressuring
    4. Trapping
    5. Redirecting/guiding
    6. Bridging/Connection.

Our Top Three “Maybe’s”:

    1. Intercepting?
    2. Circling/Flowing?
    3. Attacking/Aggressive?

Under Consideration:

  • Wedging
  • Jamming/Barring (part of trapping)
  • Cutting
  • Sticking (part of pressuring)
  • Pushing (part of pressuring)
  • Pulling
  • Jerking (redirecting)
  • Replacing
  • Scooping
  • Sweeping
  • Nailing (Attacking/pressuring)
  • Lifting (redirecting)
  • Slapping (redirecting)
  • Deflecting (redirecting)
  • Corralling (redirecting/trapping) 

A good example of how we classified hands was with Pak and Tan and Bong.

From our list we analyzed Pak and initially decided this hand is capable of: Covering, Redirecting, Guiding. The other methods do not fit unless the Pak is merged with characteristics of other hands (for example, when you Pak an incoming punch, and then ‘stick to’ and ‘press on’ that punching arm…thus resulting in a Gum sau action).

We did the same thought process with several other hands (i.e. Tan, and Bong, etc) but you get the idea.

So what are these mysterious methods of Wing Chun? What modern-day WC Master can name them, explain them, and more importantly embody them? Contemplating this articles topic could have profound effects on your Wing Chun skills and deepen your understanding of what is typically a ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ system of kung fu.

Wing Chun is a truly unique system of kung fu; being comprised of ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ (vs. “carved in stone” techniques) which can be molded and adapted to fit a multitude of threat situations…and…even everyday life itself.

A beginner level student in the system may not hear of this for some years into their study, others have been in the system for many years and still do not have a firm grasp of this topic. Sadly, these ambiguous methods have been shrouded in mystery, and this secrecy lends itself to the overall degradation of the finest system of hand combat ever to emerge out of China.

In one of the martial sayings of Wing Chun, it states that “the eight cut/chop knives have no equal” (or something similar to this). If this is true, then the methods contained within the knife form must be invincible.  So what are these all-powerful teachings? Are they simply a specific movement done by the knives (and therefore also with empty-hand combat)? Or do they transcend mechanical technique and are merely methods to be used when the time is right?

This article is meant to inspire deeper thought on this topic, as well as any input from readers out there in the global WC community. So, chime in with your thoughts on this and let’s discuss these methods and concepts for the betterment of the entire WC world and so that future generations may enjoy this amazing system of Kung Fu.

P.S. – If anyone knows who created the photo used in this post let me know.  We see it all over facebook and Pinterest, but do not know the creator, and we wish to give them credit.

8 thoughts on “The Mysterious Methods of Wing Chun

  1. I’m a fan of EWC and wanted to weigh in with a different take on the so-called mysterious methods. My remarks will undoubtedly upset some, but I hope you and your readers will hear me out.

    My Sifu is and has always been Emin Boztepe. I started in the mid 90’s in Fairbanks, Alaska when we were all part of Dr. Leung Ting’s organization. Almost ALL of the ‘cultural’ elements of Wing Chun were lost in transference to Keith Kernspecht to Emin Boztepe, down to us in the US.

    Sure, we bow to the ancestors who made it possible to train in this great art. We perform traditional forms by name (Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu, Biu Tze, etc.). The movements have names (Tan Sau, Bong Sau, Fook Sau), but lots don’t (side kick, thrust or stomp kick). Saam Pai Fut is the third set of SNT, but that’s the extent of my knowledge of the cultural element. I still have no idea what Luk Sau is, just like non- Leung Ting or Kernspecht students won’t know what Lat Sau is (our free fighting exercise). I’m certain quite a bit has been lost in translation from Cantonese to German (and Turkish) to English, but not in performance. We don’t assume the Chee Gee Kim Yung Ma stance…we perform IRAS (internally rotated adduction stance). Yes, it’s the same thing, but this begins to get to the point of my response.

    It is our bold stance that there aren’t any mysteries in Wing Chun. Only Physics and hard work. Keeping things limited to the scientific and quantifiable eliminates the guaranteed confusion and disagreement that comes with symbolic numerology, poetic maxims and the like.

    We use scientific concepts, not that different from most other WC families. The primary scientific theories that guide our execution are: Wedge, magnetic zone, spring energy and Queuing. We follow the four rules: “if the way is clear, strike” and so on. Beyond that, we apply those rules like a template to the decision making process: Depth, power, direction of attack…what is my most efficient response given the scenario. We initially and purposefully focus our application on using WC responses for Non-WC attacks: ‘all style’ kicks, punches, grappling, multiple attackers, weapons, etc. The finesse acquired through Dan Chi, Chi Sau, Chi Gerk is always present but doesn’t move to the forefront until intermediate ranks.
    As proud as I am of the art, I’m also grateful that MY foray into Wing Chun has been devoid of animalistic or naturalist descriptions. As a perpetual student and teacher, it has made things simpler and more effective. We prefer to say “Arrow step and punch” because it’s more efficient. Some people, however, want to learn “Leopard emerges from cave to snatch sparrow from twig”, or some similar hyper-descriptive phrase. It has been my experience those folks also tend to want to wear slippers, traditional costumes, claim direct lineage to whomever…they’re into the CULTURE of Wing Chun as well as the art. We’re very up front that we are authentic but that we play up the training and play down the ceremony. But I hope you get my meaning when I say ‘Heaven and Earth’ is easier to teach, prove, and test when I say ‘Adduct, sink, and breath’. Less imaginative and colorful to be sure, but just as effective with less confusion. It’s hard enough getting students to remain ‘adducted and sunk’ without bringing in Chi and Chakras and meridians and the like.

    I’m paraphrasing here, but author and martial artist Bob Orlando said it well in ‘Martial Arts America’ that when an American driver of a VW presses down the clutch, his experience using the clutch is not diminished because he does NOT call it the Kupplungspedal. By extension, I can celebrate (and perpetuate) the brilliant engineering of Wing Chun without all the colorful, CULTURAL mysteries that are traditionally attached to the art.

    Back to our ‘bold stance’…by focusing on the physics and effort required we feel we’re simplifying and perpetuating quality Wing Chun via the universal language of math, science and sweat.

    I’m glad to elaborate on any of the above if you’d like. Keep up the great work you do with the site!


    Graham Weedon, SiFu
    3rd Technician Grade

    1. Hello Graham,
      many thanks for your ideas which are particulary interesting to me as I am a student of the Leung Ting lineage.
      In my opinion WC is using a very sobre and clear language at least since Yip Man. Tan Sau, bong sau and all our other expressions are just phisical descriptions of the action like “rising, deflecting, slapping” and so on. There are no dragons, snakes or other pictures used. One could at least think that such descriptive expressions are easier to translate into English or every other language.But even this seems to be difficult. For example I learned from a video of Sifu David Peterson who is speaking chinese, that all these expressions are verbs not nouns, that means actions not final positions. This was new to me and made a lot of sense.
      But even if I am a friend of clear communication I can imagine, that sometimes more “poetic” descriptions can help to understand more complex movements. For instance it helped me a lot to better connect with the soil by imagining to breath in from the ground through my legs (This was shown to me in a completely different context by a singer 😉

      Enjoy our art!

  2. How would Wedge, magnetic zone, spring energy and Queuing compare to our top 6 methods or ones being considered? Spring Energy = pressuring?. (pushing into opponent) magnetic zone = sticking? Wedge = wedging (which is under consideration) and Queuing, I am unsure about. Can you elaborate on the methods used by your lineage more? Love the scientific application.

    1. Sorry for the delay. The scientific concepts are given a description that the mind can conceive and believe, largely because its middle school physical science. Sure, spring energy is ‘pressure’ but when we say ‘spring’ we mean elastic loading and unloading of energy. We’d all rather land a solid punch than it failing but Wing Chun’s great consolation is Spring Energy because it allows it to be compressed and released as a Fak Sau automatically. This is one of the truly unique aspects of Wing Chun compared to most other arts.
      By ‘wedge’ we mean the apparatus used to split things: a base with two planes coming together to a point and having height. Depending on the scenario, we can be ‘arrow’ precise or broad and blunt like a splitting wedge/mawl (rendering arm length less critical). But wedges don’t perform ‘work’ without movement. Enter the magnetic zone theory: knowing When to engage and when not (attracting or repelling). With enough space and time, i can avoid contact indefinitely (matched polarity) but when i cannot i need to add my own energy to close the gap on my terms (mixed polarity). We’ve all played with magnets and marveled at how they rush towards each other once a certain threshold is crossed. Once we’re in contact, every limb and joint has a job. Queuing Theory tells us that when the hands are busy, to activate the elbows. If the arm is seized, crab step and ram with the shoulder. Kwan Sau for the arms (and legs: kwan gerk?) gives us the natural motion to refresh and activate the next available limb or joint. We all use queuing theory …for my family its at the movie theater concession stand: i stand here, you there, whoever is served first gets all the business.
      Anyway, i hope this fleshes it out a bit better. Obviously more to expound on, but for now maybe this will do.

      Thanks for reading!


      Graham Weedon

  3. Hey guys! Big fan of wing chun, Im not particularly a professional person in this field. Just passing by i happen to notice that there is a very beautiful information, I say beautiful since its the expression of the artforms.

    There is a certain that speaks of 8 being a very constant remark in the techniques/ apects of the moves/movement of punches, kicks..ect. Leaning more on the psychic portion of this art form, as to how we conceive this idea and express..i feel its related to a certain law that is existant in the universe. For instance, i happen to come across a law that happens to be called “the law of seven folds”. Where the manifestation expresses in seven ways, for instance the most commonly known the seven scales of music – do re mi fa sol la si-, and the seven colors of rainbow.

    So how this 7 is related to number 8 is that we understand that the seven scales of music has the eighth note a repetition of the first which is beginning point of the next seven, more precisely the 8th note denotes a flow to the set. Hence -do re mi fa sol la si do-. why is this important? i feel martial arts have a deep sync with the mind, where we enter the psyche dimention. The alertness and quality of being, makes it possible to union of the body and mind. And this art form is composed by tuning in to the universal law, a certain way to manifest this with precision and focus.

    We also notice that martial artist have a discipline very profound, hence the art form moves to its source. So when i hear the word “grandmaster” is god himself expressing this form, synced to the universal pulse.

    If this doesn’t make sense, kindly ignore. Hope it was little interesting to the rest.thanks!

  4. The defeating opponents with 1 to 4 movements got me thinking of the 4 concepts of “Float,Sink,Swallow and Spit”,although core concepts of Southern Praying Mantis and Pak Mei,these are readily found within the concepts of Wing Chun,so perhaps the old lady used the 8 shapes of WC in tandem with these concepts to,defeat her opponents?
    Example: using Tan Da with the 4 concepts;
    Float: the Tan Da intercepts the attack
    Sink: the Tan Da presses ever so slightly on the attacking and intercepted limb,like getting ready to jump off a diving board or gathering and using the energy of the attacking limb to power your attack.
    Swallow: the very gentle redirection of the attacking limb away from harms way.
    Spit; The launching forward of the Tan Da,off the attacking arm,straight at the opponent as a spade palm.
    Using the above as an example you will find that the Wing Chun hand shapes fit in perfectly with the 4 float/sink/swallow/spit concepts.

    1. Nice thought! We did map out something similar for a lot of the Wing Chun hands (you can’t do all concepts with all the hands). It was not these 4 in particular, so it is worth studying more. Thanks for the tip!

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