Wing Chun: The Martial Art for Women

Would you like to get fit while learning a form of self-defense which is based on technique rather than brute force? Would you like to learn a martial art which is not only perfect for women but founded by one? Would you like to learn a martial art which is so good that it was practiced by Bruce Lee? Then read on.

For some women, the thought of attending a martial arts class which is typically full of men can be an intimidating one.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I first ventured into our local community hall a few years ago for my first taster of Wing Chun Kung Fu.  After all, it’s not on every woman’s list of ‘must do’s’.  Looking after yourself and keeping fit; yes maybe.   Acting out fight scenarios with a roomful of buff men, well, I don’t suppose it was all bad.

The idea of punching focus pads and standing in butt clenching stances did not exactly appeal.  However, being able to defend myself in this crazy mixed up world; gaining more confidence and learning a new skill without ego getting in the way certainly did.

The Martial Art for Women

One of the great things about Wing Chun is that it is said to be the only martial art founded by a woman and takes its name from its legendary ‘founder’; Yim Wing Chun.   In Chinese Wing Chun literally means ‘beautiful springtime’ or ‘everlasting spring’.

The legend has it that back in 17th century China, the young and beautiful Wing Chun rebuffs a local warlord’s marriage offer, he agrees to withdraw his proposal but only if she can beat him in a fight.  Wing Chun asks a local Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, to teach her boxing and the style they develop enables Wing Chun to defeat the warlord.

Ng Mui had herself witnessed a fight between a snake and a crane in which the crane avoided and fought its attacker simultaneously by use of its wing and beak.  Instead of mimicking the animal movements, as with other styles of Kung Fu, she took into consideration the concepts of directness, simplicity, and conservation of energy and never fighting strength against strength.

Wing Chun later married her intended sweetheart and taught him the style, which he thoughtfully (and probably wisely by the sound of it) named after her.

The style does certainly lend itself to those of us with a smaller stature because it relies on technique as opposed to brute force.   Wing Chun is about understanding the use of force and a successful student will learn to use force correctly; this is a key element in Wing Chun practice.

Developing Your Tool Box


Learning Wing Chun is not dissimilar from learning a foreign language, once you know the basics and get the foundation right, all things lead from there.     As you progress you develop a ‘tool box’ of actions which you can utilize in any given situation.   Of course, all situations will be different and in the real world there are no ‘set’ fight plans, so you have to react before thinking.   Wing Chun practice therefore involves plenty of drill exercises to form the appropriate muscle memory so that your response is immediate and effective.

Although there are many forms in Wing Chun, the basic forms are ’open hand’ which mean there are no weapons involved.  At the early stages, there are no kicks involved either so you are just using your hands and core stability, or balance if you like.

Wing Chun focuses on simultaneous attack and defense, which means that one hand is doing two things at the same time, i.e. attacking and defending.  Important basics in Wing Chun are economy of movement, center line theory and triangulation.  Wing Chun requires you to be centered at your root because the center is the power house, so a good basic structure (stance) is essential.

Without getting your stance right, your core power will be compromised.

Unique to Wing Chun is the practice of ‘chi sau’ or ‘sticking hands’; this is an exercise used for sensitivity training so that you can ‘feel’ your opponent’s next move.

This involves you and your partner ‘rolling’ your arms in certain set hand/arm positions.   As you progress you also include certain other drills to enable both you and your partner to become more skillful.

Chi sau practice provides a link between the forms and fighting.

Getting into Form

At the beginning of each class it is normal to perform a brief warm up and go through the first ‘form’.  A ‘form’ in the most basic sense is a preset sequence of movements set out to enable the correct movements in Kung Fu to be passed on.  The ‘open hand’ forms are practiced slowly and precisely.

In Wing Chun training the forms are not rushed.  Every action is purposeful and deliberate. There is no wasted action.

Although the class I attended was not a fitness class, one does naturally burn up energy by the drills that are practiced.  This includes single and chain punching, and some of the more advanced partner drills practiced once you master the basics can provide a real work out.

With Wing Chun you are required to deliver your attack as quickly and as effectively as possible, this may mean that you are close to your opponent or attacker in a real life scenario.

For this reason you will often find yourself in close proximity with your training partner.

If this bothers you, don’t worry, you will soon get used to it.

Applying Martial Arts in the Real World


One thing I have found with martial arts is that although there are competitions and some schools do have gradings, the real challenge is with yourself.

Wing Chun, like most martial arts, can also have an everyday spiritual and philosophical application to your life.

Wing Chun teachings can therefore be applied to everyday circumstances and not just used for self-defense.   As you develop as a student and your knowledge increases, you may find that you naturally apply the teachings to your life.

Grandmaster Yip Chun suggested that students and teachers of Wing Chun should study Confucius especially a small volume called The Doctrine of The Mean; this would enable students to develop a philosophy to better their chi sau practice, and for teachers it would provide good examples of leadership.  A moral guide if you like.

The most important weapon in Wing Chun is the mind.  Wing Chun is a continuous process where you are always learning and developing.

Searching for a Sifu

A Wing Chun teacher or instructor is sometimes called a Sifu.  Some Sifus will wear sashes and some will not, just in the same way that some schools have gradings.   The main thing when you join a club is to make sure you feel comfortable with your instructor and ask as many questions as you like beforehand.   A good teacher will always give you the time of day to try to answer all of your questions.    Most clubs will allow you to watch a class before joining, or may give some free first lessons.

There are different lineages of Wing Chun so it can also be known as Ving Tsun, or Wing Tsun.  The style and forms can be slightly different but the overall aim is the same.  The trick is to find the style which most suits you.

Exploding the Myth


Although Wing Chun was studied by Bruce Lee, in fact it formed a large influence on his martial arts career, and its roots are from the Shaolin Temples, Wing Chun is not a mysterious martial art with secrets held only by the elders or masters.   In its purest form Wing Chun is a simple, efficient and devastatingly effective form of self-defense that anyone can learn.

For those of you who are looking for something which can be a bit fast paced, which combines an element of spiritual practice whilst learning an essential skill, then Wing Chun is could be for you.

Learning a martial art could in fact save your life.  An important message for any woman who finds herself in an aggressive or potentially dangerous situation would be this; never trade in your backbone for a wishbone.  The way you respond to an attack could literally mean the difference between life and death.

What You will Need:

The following is a list of what you will need to attend a typical Wing Chun class.  The list is not exhaustive and will depend on the school and much of the equipment will be provided so you don’t have to buy your own.

Protective wear will only be required at more advanced stages.

  • An open mind
  • A relaxed attitude
  • Martial arts slippers or normal trainers
  • Top and jogging bottoms.  (Sometimes the school will provide a uniform)
  • Gum shield
  • Training pads
  • Arm and knee pads.
  • Chest defender.

Cover photo:

About the author

Eleanor Goold

As well as being an avid reader, Eleanor is also a big time animal lover; especially of dogs. If you have a tail, four legs and you bark…. you’re in! In her spare time she enjoys swimming, and vegetable gardening… but not at the same time (it can get a bit messy).

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