Internal elements of Wing Chun

Had another great Wing Chun lesson from Bear this week. This time we seemed to look at more and more principles that I would call “internal”, which again calls into question if these terms are really useful for describing martial arts…

I mentioned last time that he calls the Wing Chun straight punch a “sun punch” because the fist looks like the character Ri for Sun. Today we looked at two exercises for helping with chaining punches together. For the first one you use a towel. Hold both ends, and punch so it makes a kind of cracking sound. I’ve seen videos of “belt cracking” before, usually associated with Chinese Wrestling, but I have also seen videos of it used in Wing Chun before as well. The emphasis is on being relaxed and getting a nice sharp, crisp movement. And here’s the key – the pull back of the other hand is the important bit, not the punching hand.

In the second exercise you hold a rope around something vertical and solid, (we used a wooden drumstick from the drum kit in the lockup) and you punch holding the ends of the rope. The key to this one is that your rope should not pull on the object it is around, so you’re keeping everything inside a very fixed space. Again, the pull back hand is the initiator of the action, and if you focus on that you get a more relaxed, faster, punch.

While the first exercise was all in front of you, this one involves a muscle/tendon chain going up your arm and around your back and into the other arm. I’ve seen this described before as “tongbei” or “though the back” power. I’m sure I heard Bear say “Bu Bei” which means back or rear, so I’m going to assume we’re talking about the same thing.

He does these punches very, very fast and explosively. Faster than the eye can see. He points out that it’s all about being relaxed, so the power can be “all though the arm” not just in the fist, which it is if you are tense. And the initiator of the punch is the non-punching hand moving backwards.

At one point he says “arrow punch”, and looks at me. I say “Beng Chuan?” And he says “yes!”. He seems to be saying that this is the same as Xing Yi’s Beng Chuan, just without the footwork. That’s something to think about.

When he punches he seems to also emphasise the root in the foot, so the power is coming up from the ground (sound familiar?) and he uses all the joints of the body, in a chain, ending in the fist.

I asked him why, when he punches, he uses his whole body in a very expressive way, with this ‘through the back’ kind of power and dynamic footwork, the “Little idea” form is different? When we train “Little idea” the requirements are very strict – the body stays still and the arm just punches on its own. I think (through translation) the answer was that you are learning to release tension in “Little idea” and not expressing power, so think of it as a conditioning exercise to give you the sort of body that can be used later for more expressive Wing Chun punches and kicks.

So, it appears that once you look beyond the surface-level things about Wing Chun, I’m finding principles that fit right in with Tai Chi and Xing Yi. I look forward to whatever we learn next.

4 thoughts on “Internal elements of Wing Chun

  1. Yes, I didn’t mean to imply that it’s the same. In Xing Yi you tend to strike as you are moving, and in Wing Chun you tend to be planted.


  2. “Bu bei”? This sounds like “not back.” I’m not sure I understand your paragraph in that context. You probably need to clarify his meaning next time.

    I’d like to clarify which part of your training was “internal.” Body mechanics in and of itself and even the awareness of them is not internal. Every action, in sports or daily life, performed with at least one foot on the ground uses ground reaction force (GRF) and has a mechanical kinetic chain.

    My understanding and experience with “internal” involves the mind interfacing with the body to alter its mechanics. Perhaps you are referring to the focus on the incoming hand / elbow in order to create a “dead” striking arm with which to better transfer energy. I’d say this might be marginally classified as internal. I think it is good training nonetheless.

    I liked the other two drills. I haven’t done belt cracking in quite a while. Your post inspired me to get out the old belt to refresh my memory. I think you have the right of it. The key is focus on the pull-back hand, elbow for me.

    I was not familiar with the other exercise, but I think it is a good way to train rotation.

    My small experience with Wing Chun comes from training with two friends and comparing notes. One liked to talk about and demonstrate his art. The other friend and I studied Chen Taijiquan together, I attended a few of his classes. My knowledge is mostly superficial, but with both friends, we did quite a bit of comparing and contrasting our arts.


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