Wing Chun’s Wooden Dummy is iconic in martial arts. Unfortunately, the rush toward something exciting and the urge to modify undermine its potential. Here are the three essential principles for better practice.

Sifu Barry Pang explains and demonstrates the elements of Wing Chun’s most advanced form –Muk Yan Jong 木人樁 – with his Hong Kong-built wooden dummy, which he has been using for 45 years.

Note: The wooden dummy in this explainer video was made by Koo Sang, who developed the modern wooden dummy for Ip Man, specifically meeting the grandmaster’s requirements. This format became the gold standard and was also used by Barry’s instructor, Wong Shun Leung.

Watch the video (3 minutes):

1. Soft hands to control recoil

The first principle is to never practice the wooden dummy until you are an advanced student of Wing Chun. The risk is that you will wreck your techniques and your body in the process. Suspended wooden dummies can be sprung with different levels of tension (or ‘give’), but there will always be recoil when striking them. The jarring can lead to internal injury and joint degradation. You must develop soft hands, correct contact methods and body positioning as a prerequisite. In short, if you think your Sil Lum Tao, Chum Kil and Bil Jee forms are imperfect, do not commence Wooden Dummy training.

2. Power delivery from the body

The second principle relates to the way you strike the wooden dummy. You should never strike it ‘head on’ with powerful, single-impact blows. This gives rise to injury and also goes against Wing Chun’s Chi Sao principles. Conversely, dancing around the wooden dummy tapping it gently is not useful. The right approach is to make contact using the arm, gain the centreline, then release the power from your body. When done correctly, these movements flow into each other, almost simultaneously. This also explains why the wooden dummy has very specifically designed joint movements, allowing both lateral (sideways/up/down) and longitudinal (in/out) slippage. The practitioner clears the path and then strikes.

3. Correct position and distance

The third principle is fundamental to the purpose of wooden dummy practice. It is to apply correct positions and distance to the target, whilst locking the single leg and arms. The arms are short-looking because your contact should be close, ensuring you have your opponent’s elbow under control whilst being within optimum hitting range with your free hand. The dummy set-out and dimensions are very specifically designed and different to those used by Choy Li Fut and other styles. They enable dynamic practice of Wing Chun techniques.

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