Welcome to this series on improving your Wing Chun Kung Fu. I have the luxury of training with quite a few different Wing Chun practitioners, in several different lineages and I have come across a few general groups of errors and failings in training that I think can be easily corrected with just a prod in the right direction (sometimes this prod comes in the form of a vicious burn from Dr Zoidberg of Futurama fame).
Jokes aside each article in this series aims to do the following:
1) Diagnose a particular common issue in Wing Chun practice or programming
2) Suggest helpful training or mindset tips that can help fix this specific issue
Problem 1: Stance and Sinking
Wing Chun is a Southern Chinese close range striking style and as such like all styles in the same family it places a heavy emphasis on hand techniques above kicking. This focus on sensitivity drills (chi sau), dealing with straight linear punches as well as Wing Chun's efficient cut down curriculum compared to many Kung Fu styles (three empty forms, two weapons and a dummy form) leads to rapid improvement in striking skills like timing, sensitivity, touch reflexes and throwing power in the punches. This is all good stuff and rarely a problem in intermediate students and above.
The problem comes in the form of the stance. Too many times I see students pushed too quickly through the first two forms and beginning to learn chi sau without the proper fundamentals;, the hard Gong Fu training. Traditionally Chinese masters were deliberately stingy with their material. This was to test their students intent and to eek out some extra cash from their arts but also to ensure that the proper period of basic stance work had been done before progressing.
In other hard styles or northern styles this problem is rarely seen as there are two vital parts in their early training cycles: stance work and high kicking.
Traditional high kicking training, done slowly like ballet forces the body to be supported on one leg for long periods of time developing the muscles of the core and supporting leg. Long periods of stance training in bow or horse stance also develop sinking and strength in the legs. For this reason Northern Kung Fu styles rarely have weak legs or bad stances.
In Wing Chun a softer more internal approach is often taken with stance work. With long periods of the class and training time spent in the high character two abduction goat stance (I love translations from Chinese!). This is like tai chi training in that over long periods of time in the stance, performed regularly a slow process of sinking relaxing and strengthening happens.
However, many modern Wing Chun programs (for good reasons) do not spend this long period of time standing and settling in and do not get the students to really drill and practice their stances. They also do not really understand the internal process that is occurring and train their art like it was a hard northern style but without any stance training. This leads to the common Wing Chun issue of noodle arms and no legs.
The Fixes: External, Internal and something different
Having diagnosed the problem we can offer a range of possible fixes.
1) Do more external leg work
I would recommend this to Wing Chun lineages that have a strong fighting component like the Wong Shuen Leung Lineage. Basically go get some Northern Legs to add to your Southern Fist! You don't need to learn a whole new style just one stance, the horse stance. Watch a video on Shaolin Low Horse stance and add that into your routine. Do it hard several times a week to failure in sets of 3-6 and slowly build up your time under tension. Then practice kicking more often. Again you don't need to learn any new kicks, even the basic Wu stomping downwards kick at knee height will do. Practice this kick every day do sets on 10 on one leg keeping the leg up off the ground the whole time then change. Do this many times, do it fast, do it slowly, do pause reps where you leave the leg out and/or up and kick a wall bag or car tyre. Just do a lot more kicking.
2) Do more internal standing in you basic stance
I would recommend this approach to more internal Wing Chun stylists like practitioners of the Simon Lau, Leung Ting and Sifu Sergio lineage. There is already a strong emphasis on softness and sinking in these arts but often the training protocol does not give enough time for this energetic and physical procuress to occur and I see even senior students with solid blocky upper bodies sitting on top of rigid stances.
Here we only have a problem of volume in training. You will not get enough in your weekly classes and we must take a tai chi like approach. I suggest daily long periods of standing practice in your basic stance. Either completely still or performing the first section of the Siu Lim Tao very very slowly. Start at 10 minutes a day, add a bit of time as your legs stop shaking and build up to one hour.
3) Something different
There is another internal style famed for its fighting ability that is heavily focussed on hand techniques in China but it practitioners never lack leg strength or sinking: Xing Yi Chuan. The fundamental training method of Xing Yi is standing in San Ti Shi (trinity post stance). This is a back weighted martial stance very similar to the classic 70/30 wing chun stance but with a few tweaks. Adding in San Ti posture to your Wing Chun will supercharge your practice with the advanced internal engine of Xing Yi. For more on this please stay posted on my San Ti series and my upcoming book: San Ti Shi: the secret method of the Chinese army or get in touch and arrange a class with me.
So there you go! A few simple fixes for a big issue that you can fit around your existing training. Give it a try and see if you stance, posture and power improve.