By Rolf Clausnitzer

Before you attempt to answer the question above, I should like to explain exactly what I mean by the question. Proficiently, Wing Chun can be measured in numerous ways, e.g. correct performance of the Siu Lim Tao and other forms, skill at Chi Sao, proper coordination, timing and power in attacking the dummy, speedy and evasive footwork, sound intellectual understanding of the theories and principles of Wing Chun, etc. My question, however, is confined to your practical fighting ability. To me that is the ultimate test of any and every martial art. In other words, how well can you make you Wing Chun work when it comes right down to fighting an opponent?  I don’t mean another Wing Chun exponent, but every other type of opponent imaginable! Nor do I mean in a friendly, exchange of techniques, but in every situation conceivable.



Perhaps I should begin by explaining what led me to ask the question in the first place. Many years ago, when I was in my late teens, after having “messed around” with Judo, Western Boxing, Wrestling, and a little Karate, I was introduced to Wing Chun in a memorable fashion and was totally captivated by it. To me it was pure magic and I was soon convinced that Wing Chun was the ultimate martial art, virtually guaranteeing invincibility to the competent practitioner. As the years went by, however, amidst the news of Wing Chun successes I began to hear and read disturbing events and incidents which increasingly made me question the faith of Wing Chun. Initially with disbelief and subsequently with grudging reluctance I came to accept reports of Wing Chun men doing badly in South East Asian Kung Fu tournaments, being trounced by Choy Lay Fut boxers in roof top matches, finding themselves unable to cope with expert, high kicks in British open Kung Fu and kick boxing competitions, occasionally losing real life encounters, etc.



Helping to undermine my faith in this once seemingly infallible art was my gradual acceptance of the insidious theme “ The style does not matter, it is not the style but the man behind the style who counts”, which kept recurring time and again in countless articles in martial arts magazines all over the globe. I did not give up, however. Instead, I simply stopped worrying about the subject altogether. After a while, I began asking myself searching questions and talking as rational, logical and objective a view of the matter as I was capable of, without discarding all emotional attachment to Wing Chun. It took me several years to get in the position which I now find myself. This can be summarised as follows:


  • My faith in Wing Chun has been largely restored: I believe that it is almost, if not quite, the ultimate martial art.


  • I do not accept, look, stock, and barrel that “it is the man behind the style who counts”. Whilst this may hold true under certain conditions, ultimately some styles are more effective and efficient, generally speaking, than others. Styles can be linked to tools. I know whom you’d bet your money on if there was a race between two equally skilled, fit, and motivated tradesmen, one equipped with a power drill and the other with a manual drill.





  • The defeats, setbacks, and humiliations suffered by Wing Chun men in recent decades where they are not the result of individual lack of competence in terms of skill, fitness, and fighting spirit, are, to my mind the consequences of poor and inadequate instruction, combined with muddled thinking about the limitations of Wing Chun. Let’s face it, Wing Chun is a relative newcomer, compared with, say, Karate or Judo. Modern Wing Chun, as it is popularly known today, started from a very narrow base, as early as the 1950’s, in the shape of one man, grandmaster Ip Man. He is reputed to have personally taught the entire Wing Chun system to no more than six individuals and to have taught it in an experimental and inconsistent fashion, i.e. in slightly different ways to each of the six.

In turn, because of the relative speed which Wing Chun basics can be learnt, countless students have broken away from their teachers and began teaching themselves often with incorrect or half-baked understanding of the principles and techniques. No wonder there is widespread confusion and controversy today. It says something, however, for the intrinsically analytical and intellectual nature of Wing Chun that broadminded and thinking individual teachers and students of the art are constantly asking questions and seeking answers to arrive at a better understanding of the art. Time is certainly on the side on Wing Chun which is, as already mentioned, in its infancy compared with other arts, although it is heartening to observe its fast growing popularity.

  • The outstanding example of what I regard as poor and short sighted teaching has been the tendency to place excessive if not exclusive emphasis on training one’s Wing Chun skills against one’s colleagues’ Wing Chun skills, in other words, Wing Chun defences and attacks against other Wing Chun defences and attacks, often in the form of prearranged Wing Chun “drills” performed in robot like Karate fashion. This kind of arrogant complacency based entirely on the believe that Wing Chun is a technically superior art can lead to unpleasant shocks when one is confronted for the first time by a windmilling, “do or die” Choy Lay Fut man in a competition, or a vicious, seasoned streetfighter in a real life situation.

  • An example to my mind, of muddled thinking about Wing Chun is the widespread view (one I was guilty of before, I must confess) that Wing Chun does not work well in most open sparring tournaments because the rules generally don’t work against Wing Chun. Because no elbows, shin kicks, palm thrusts, etc. are permitted, the Wing Chun entrant is deprived from a large percentage of his weapons and therefore is at a  gross disadvantage, etc. To me this is a “cop out”. After all, what do the overwhelming majority if winners in open tournaments use? The answer is a universal and mind numbingly boring and limited repertoire consisting a few western boxing techniques and 3 or 4 karate kicks. Surely, Wing Chun chain punching, trapping hands, intercepting punches, evasive footwork, forward aggression, and strong, short action heel kicks are more than a match for kick boxers.

So what is all the above leading to? Well, I am advocating the following:


  • To become really good at handling all comers, training as realistically as possible, by sparring, whether in the kwoon or in the ring, against as large a variety of other styles as possible: Western Boxing, every style of Kung Fu you can think of (beware Choy Lay Fut, in particular), the deceptive and sneaky attacks of Silat, etc. But realistically I mean against actual practitioner of other styles. Practicing against a mate who has little knowledge of Western Boxing or Choy Lay Fut can lull you into a false sense of security and is a far cry from meeting, say a local amateur Western Boxer with 70 bouts under his belt, or a senior disciple of the Lacey twins! Until you have been repeatedly caught by expertly delivered sow choys and back fists, or rapid fire combinations of jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, or roundhouse kick to the head which you didn’t even see coming, and until you have learnt to cope satisfactorily with these attacks, you cannot with all honesty be sure of your proficiency in Wing Chun. Fortunately, amongst our small band here in Perth, of students and sparring partners we can count a competent Karate kicker, a Tai Chi exponent who knows the combat applications, a 2nd Dan in Panca Bela (an Indonesian based Silat influenced eclectic system) a respected local state amateur boxer, an acrobatic Tiger Claw practitioner, a 5th Dan Tae Kwan Do practitioner, a Blue Belt Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner, and a couple of experienced former streetfighters…representing a good variety of styles to test one’s Wing Chun skills against. Our Wing Chun proficiency still has a long way to go, but at least we are heading in the right direction.

  • For ring competition, getting together with other Wing Chun schools if possible, and working on selected Wing Chun techniques (modified, where necessary) for use in tournaments. Let’s be honest, a strong, competent, fast and courageous Wing Chun competitor stands a good chance, if not a better one, than any kickboxer.


  • As far as streetfighting ability is concerned, the only socially and morally acceptable way is to spar, using protective equipment, in the kwoon with someone stimulating a streetfighter or, if you are fortunate, with reformed, ex-streetfighters!


  • Not neglecting by any means, the forms, Chi Sao (another controversial subject!) and the wooden dummy.


  • Not totally ignoring the Wing Chun “drills” or prearranged exercises. I believe that they are very useful in illustrating Wing Chun principles and theories, but lose their value and even become dangerously self-defeating if they are, as appears to be the case in most schools, overemphasised and practised religiously in the mistaken belief that they will improve one’s fighting skills.

In conclusion, I feel that I have reached a stage where my restored faith in Wing Chun is backed by a better theoretical and practical understanding of what makes Wing Chun such an outstanding art. And what better place than here to acknowledge the help and support Sifu David Peterson has given me in arriving at this understanding. From now on let the catchword be realistic training!