THE PHILOSOPHY OF WING TSUN
“Stay with What Comes ...”
There is nothing mystical about Wing Tsun philosophy. Wing Tsun grand master Leung Ting once summed it up like this: "A fist is a fist." Translation: Whatever you say about Wing Tsun, it's reality alone that counts!
Wing Tsun as a system of self defense is really nothing more than applied philosophy in action. The best example for this is the ancient Chinese version of the core motto of wing tsun “chi sao” or “clinging arms” training:
Stay with what comes,
Follow it as it retreats,
Thrust forward as the way is freed!
Translation: when an attacker strikes you, wing tsun teaches you to strike as well. If your strike collides with the opponent's, you "stick" to his arm ("stay with what comes) and let his force bend your arm into a shape that protects you and moves your body out of the way. When he retreats (to strike again, for example) you follow him with the same springy power he loaded you up with when he attacked ("follow as he retreats"). If, at any time during this process his arm slips off of yours, freeing your arm, you let your arm snap back like a bent rattan cane that is suddenly released (strike forward as the way is freed").
The concept is an application of Taoist philosophy, based on a keen observation of nature. In nature, a rock - the hardest commonly observable thing - is hollowed out by the steady drip of water - the softest of all things. A willow tree bends under the onslaught of a hurricane and then straightens itself out again, naturally, unharmed, while the mighty oak tree breaks from the force. The hurricane itself - nothing but moving air, arguably even softer than water - develops an unmatched destructive force that snaps even oak trees like toothpicks.
It's the same in Wing Tsun. Your attacking arm, when impacted by the superior force of an opponent's attack, bends naturally and then snaps back into his face when released. It works - just like the laws of nature work!
This means that you, as a wing tsun-trained fighter, are not an adrenaline monster looking for a victim. It means that you only respond to actual threats as they come, the way they come. It means you are not nervous or edgy or scared as an attack occurs. You simply attack when he attacks and let his attacking arm “inform” you where it aims, how fast and how strong it moves, and how much follow-through there is to deal with. If there is no contact between the arms, the way for your arm to hit him is free - so you hit him.
It's a very simple concept, and simplicity is key when you are fighting. What is not so easy is to actually make your body conform to this simplicity. That requires training!
The Fighting Theory of Wing Tsun is expressed in terms of very short sayings, or "mottos." Click here to see an almost complete list of Wing Tsun Mottos.
The 'Come What May' Attitude
In the end, “stay with what comes” as a physical principle becomes so natural to you that it soon turns into a mental attitude of “come what may”. You are ready. You are relaxed. You are aware, and you know that you have what it takes to meet and defeat any threat to your safety.
The 'Yin' and the 'Yang'
That is the passive or “yin” part of wing tsun philosophy. The pro-active and “yang” part of your training lies in the fact that whenever another person enters your “magnetic circle” (the radius around your body from which he could attack without first making a preparatory step) with an evil intention your whole body springs forward, just like a king cobra, as your limbs strike any open target on his body.
Where these “yin” and “yang” principles meld together is at the point of contact. If on your way your attacking arm or leg meets an obstacle and that obstacles isn't easily slipped or pushed aside by your own attack, this “passive” principle above automatically comes into play.
All of that happens in split-seconds, of course, and on multiple levels with multiple limbs or other body parts, like your shoulders, hips, knees, feet, thighs or shins, but the long and short of it is that it allows you to keep perfect mental composure.
If a potential attacker stays far enough away from you, you are alert but calm and relaxed. If he intrudes into your magnetic circle, you attack - while staying just as alert, calm, and relaxed. If the encounter isn’t over after your first one to three strikes, you keep on “sticking” to his attacking limbs like scotch tape to paper, obstructing and thwarting every move of his while instinctively filling out every opening he gives you with your own counters until you hit him enough times to either make him want to give up or until he stops moving because he no longer can - all while you yourself still stay alert, calm, and relaxed.
The Great Tao of Life
That’s how wing tsun training turns into applied philosophy. Wing Tsun is, quite literally, philosophy in action. The philosophy behind the physical movements and principles of wing tsun is “Taoism” according to the original writings of Lao Tzu. You naturally respond to the world around you, freely, spontaneously, without undue aggression, excessive passivity, or any contrived attitude. You follow the “Great Tao” of life, as natural as a bamboo stalk bends and straightens under the wind.
That’s the Way of Wing Tsun.