Wing Chun’s most advanced form starts with a widely misunderstood grabbing technique. This underscores the importance of layered learning where it comes to developing skill in a sophisticated martial art.
The Wooden Dummy Form (Muk Yan Jong 木人樁) comprises 116 movements across 8 sections. The first section was not originally at the beginning, but was elevated to the start when Ip Man realised its importance. He is credited with making sequence changes to the Wing Chun system, in order to improve effectiveness of the learning program.
Barry Pang explains that the initial grabbing motion may appear to be teaching a simultaneous arm and head grab. However, it actually relates to one of the most important principles learnt in this form – range setting. By gaining the correct position in relation to your opponent, your ability control and impart power improves. Watch the video.
Grabbing of the arm movements in Wing Chun are not exclusive to the Wooden Dummy Form. It can also be observed in the Chum Kil form, at the beginning of the second section. The technique is about dragging the arm, not gripping it. The fingers do not close around the arm and grip – this would require another motion to release, which goes against Wing Chun’s economy of movement principle. This is also why the Wooden Dummy form must commence with the ‘arms in’, as it allows the practitioner to drag them out in the early movements.
There are other examples of movements in the Wing Chun system that are not fighting techniques e.g. crossing over of the arms at the beginning of the Sil Lum Tao and Chum Kil forms. This movement exists only to establish the centreline and is not a double-handed block. If it were, it would break the rule in Wing Chun to never allow your opponent the opportunity to control both of your hands at once.
In summary, the first section of the Wooden Dummy Form holds the key to learning correct range to your opponent and being able to apply footwork and positioning. Unlike the earlier open hand forms, it also provides physical feedback against your strikes, signalling whether they are correctly applied or not. This is why it so important to master the earlier forms sequentially before progressing.
Article: Written by R Zandbergs. Created from Barry Pang’s seminars.
Main photo: In position to commence the form. Barry Pang and Ip Man.